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We Don’t Know How

I’ve written posts before about the inspirations or events that come to us, without our having planned or willed them, to spur or add force to artistic works (you don’t need to read or re-read these for the purposes of this post): for instance, “Who Really Made That Photograph?” Parts 1 and 2 (December 2016) and “At Home in the Secret” (October 2016).

The events that I’m going to tell you about in this post went a step further along that road. The experience that led directly to the making of my photograph, “Spies,” was unique in my image-making life to date.

If you’ve looked through the works on my photography website, , or if you’ve read certain posts of mine, including “The Heroines’ Unpinned Hair” , you know that I have an ongoing, slowly growing series of images called “Marion under the Moon.” Part of the goal for each of those is to capture some aspect of my wife’s, and of women’s, personality and life. One of those aspects, among any number, was that part of my wife that worked for years as a magazine journalist and interviewer (GQ, Business Week, Discover, many more publications): curious, penetrating, who not only could get just about anybody (from Bill Gates to Maya Angelou to Joe Montana) to talk about just about anything, but who also inspires strangers to suddenly begin telling her their intimate troubles while standing in a supermarket checkout line, and who eavesdrops on conversations on the train or peeps through the blinds of our bedroom window to see what’s going on in the street.

Marion and I associate all that with the title character of the children’s movie, Harriet the Spy. Harriet, as Marion does, keeps copious journal entries about whatever she sees, whoever she meets, whatever she hears. (Marion says that one day her journals will provide the substance of a hilarious comic biography of her husband. She’s read me excerpts from time to time, and I’m afraid that it’s a completely credible threat!) So I often refer to her kiddingly as “Harriet.”

On the afternoon of February 17 this year, I was feeling a little tired and decided to take a nap. (As Marion likes to quote, for comic effect: “Naps are our friends. They give us a nice disposition.”) And, as sometimes happens, particularly if my blood sugar is a little low, I didn’t fall asleep, though I wasn’t restless at all and didn’t engage in active thought, but just lay there peacefully, part way between waking and sleeping, as thoughts passed through my passive mind.

When I got up a half-hour after lying down, the plan for a new “Marion under the Moon” picture was fully formed, without any conscious effort on my part: not only the image, but every technical detail for its execution – what camera and lens, where I would stand, where Marion would stand, what lighting equipment (stand, flash bracket, flash units, color gels, light modifiers) I would use, where it would be placed, what Kelvin temperature setting I would use, what kind of weather conditions I needed.

As if this wasn’t remarkable enough, when I reacquainted myself with the world around me, I found that I was very shortly going to get precisely the kind of cloudy evening sky that I wanted. So within an hour of my rising, I said to Marion, “I have the idea for a new ‘Marion’ shot, and I think that tonight’s sky is going to be perfect for it. Will you be up for a photo session in about an hour?” She was surprised, but said that she would be.

The session, once I set up the equipment and tested the lighting, lasted only ten or fifteen minutes. The gear that had been chosen for me to use included some items that I’d only just purchased: the now-popular Godox AD200 flash and the only-recently released MagMod MagShoe and MagRing, along with various other items of Canon and other gear. I finished the post-production work and put the finished work up on my website that very night, which was extremely unusual, maybe unprecedented, for me.

As you will have guessed, the photograph at the top of this post is the finished work, called “Spies.”

Blessing is certainly a major subtext of this post, so let me add to this story the fact that it wasn’t long before this image had some public success. In less than two months from the photo’s taking and making, I got the news that it had been chosen by Juror Cecily Cullen for the hyper-competitive OPEN Exhibition of the Center for Fine Art Photography in Fort Collins, Colorado. A few months after that, in August, I got an e-mail telling me that photographer Ralph Hassenpflug had chosen “Spies” for the “Personal Narrative” exhibition at PhotoPlace Gallery in Middlebury, Vermont. It was also chosen by the curators of the Flatfile at Artspace New Haven (I’ve already explained what that is in the right-column page on my photographic accomplishments & won’t bore you with a repeat of all that) for a print of it to be included in my flatfile folder at the gallery.

All this by way of testimony. All this by way of praise for the Source of unwilled artistic creation – Who, while we “sleep,” makes those seeds spring and grow up, we knoweth not how.

Lawrence Russ View All

Was the Alfred P. Sloan Scholar for the Humanities at the University of Michigan. Obtained a Master of the Fine Arts degree from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, where I was selected as a Writing Fellow in Poetry by the Program faculty. Have published poems, essays and reviews in many magazines, anthologies, reference works, and other publications, including The Nation, The Iowa Review, Virginia Quarterly Review, Parabola, OMNI, and the exhibition catalogue for Art at the Edge of the Law at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum. Received a law degree from the University of Michigan, and have changed the law and created educational programs in the fields of arts law, historic preservation law, and public construction and contracting law in the State of Connecticut. My photographs have appeared in international, national, regional and state juried exhibitions, and have been selected for awards including Honorable Mentions in the Architecture, Fine Art (series), Nature (series), Open Theme (series), Portrait, and Seascape categories from the international Fine Art Photography Awards, and an Honorable Mention in the Fine Art-Other category from the International Photography Awards. Photographs of mine have been selected for exhibition or publications by or in the 2019 International Juried Exhibition of the Center for Photographic Art (Carmel, CA), 2019 International Competition of The Photo Review, the 2019 Open Exhibition of the Center for Fine Art Photography in Fort Collins CO, F-Stop Magazine, Shadow & Light Magazine, Black Box Gallery in Portland OR, Praxis Gallery in Minneapolis MN, the Darkroom Gallery in VT, PhotoPlace Gallery in VT, A Smith Gallery in TX, the New Britain Museum of American Art, and many other journals and venues. My work has also been selected for inclusion in the Flatfile Program of Artspace New Haven (CT). My photography website is at .

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