Digesting the Iguana

This lizard is worth $10. It can feed a family of four for a week once it is turned into an iguana soup. The meat tastes like, well, crocodile. Somewhere between scallops and veal. Its mouth is wired together with a nylon string punched through its cheeks. If it bites a finger, you lose a digit. Its legs are hobbled. The man who caught him is lucky to catch one a week. The man has all his fingers. He has caught more than 200 iguanas and sold them all, usually to people who throw them in their trunk and give them to the maids to cook in the bigger towns toward the south.

In Chihuahua, I bought falcons for $10 a pair and let them go after driving a few miles along the highway to keep them away from their captors. I always insisted on buying the cages, which I would destroy and hide. The military pulled me over one day and an officer screamed at me about trafficking in wildlife and I screamed back that it shouldn’t be my fucking job to police the open-air market in falcons just two miles around the bend, and I’d be happy to go tell my version of the story to any general he chose. But to the birds, privately, who lay on their backs with their claws up in the air, between them and me, I had a sharp rap on the beak and a warning to not be so stupid and fly back into the trap because I won’t be here next week. Didn’t matter. As they flew away, I knew they blamed me. And next week they will be in somebody’s broth.

Turtle eggs sell for $3 a dozen. A ridley can lay 100 at a time. A full-grown Ridley can make a lot of soup, and needs a half-dozen whacks of the machete to be decapitated. I filmed a pretty scene for a movie on a beautiful beach in Mexico two years ago, and a week later some boys came on the beach and killed 80 mother Ridleys in an act so wanton it made the top five stories on Yahoo.

And yet, none of these creatures is any different from a Chicken McNugget or a beef burrito from Chipotle. The iguanas live lives of some freedom, after all, searching for mates and scrabbling for households, so who cares how they get caught up in the food chain? Why don’t I fly into a rage and liberate chicken coops? Or simply stick to soybeans and tangerines?

Can I trick myself into thinking the freedom I buy for this stupid lizard makes me any less the hunter?

The Train of Love

Love is like a train. You board, and then every station you whiz through the people standing on the platform look at you...

Posted by Seanie Blue on Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The Amy Winehouse project, Again

And now Daddy announces his own movie about his daughter, because he didn't look too good in the last one. She would...

Posted by Seanie Blue on Saturday, October 17, 2015

Amy Winehouse project comes alive!

My long-imagined but unworked Amy Winehouse faux biopic gets off to a rocket of a start yesterday, and now I find myself...

Posted by Seanie Blue on Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Seanie Blue in Action

New Fashioned Girl from the musical by Seanie Blue and Peter Fox

I don't get to act much any more, unless it is in real life, but it's fun to watch and wonder why you don't do more of it. Here's me acting away with Internet star Kyla Cole. How many scenes are there in these movies shot in Spain and Mexico, in the Benelux and the Arctic? But proper manners and real life intrude, the escapes get tighter and pricier; the mill, pressing your life into an oil to pour over society's grinding cogs, jeez, why doesn't civilization want you to express yourself? I'm not talking about what you watch, but about what you make. On the phone with a friend last night who is choosing between safety versus time, I blurt out a hilarious line: "Creativity is the only thing you've got that will still be here after you're dead and gone." We don't know too much about how Bach's family felt and thought, but we hum his tunes. He had seven kids and you can't find the ancestral line today if you lived in his hometown, but we still hum his tunes. And once upon a time, in third grade, we were all little Bachs, pitch perfect and singing our heads off. Now we listen to Glenn Gould playing the Goldberg Variations as we plot our tiny flights into fancy, into worlds we've created all on our own, which we hardly dare populate because of the fright of our family's vacation without us. And even as I write, silly old fool, I am prepping myself to resume the regular programming.

Posted by Seanie Blue on Friday, September 4, 2015

Ongoing Notes on Creativity

All creativity has its rewards. In my case, in the middle of a cool summer's night, strung out on schedules and delays,...

Posted by Seanie Blue on Thursday, August 6, 2015

Among the transvestites with a Pin-Up Star

She was at the height of her fame when I wrote her an email and asked if she could play the assassin in one of my...

Posted by Seanie Blue on Monday, July 20, 2015

Blue & Sandra Bishop Start a New Musical

In her brilliant retelling of the Brothers Grimm fairy tales, Sandra Bishop is determined to bring out the monstrous...

Posted by Seanie Blue on Monday, July 13, 2015

Not Jupiter & Venus to Her

They are not Jupiter and Venus to her. There are no such things as planets. She read about them at school, yes, but to...

Posted by Seanie Blue on Monday, June 29, 2015

Small Wild Bird piece is up as music vid

From the Wonder 101 LLC description of Sean's vid:

It's not often that you can find a cool bird to sing about, but this frigate bird off the coast of Belize gives Seanie Blue the perfect opportunity to show off a small part of "Wildbird," the song about a bird who thinks it can use music to bomb the world to its senses. This short piece is less than four minutes of the 33-minute version of Wildbird, and was sculpted into existence by Ariel Francis and Blue a year ago. the plan was to get an illustrator to animate the entire song, but until that happens snatches of it can be presented in similar videos.

Shot by Blue in the waters near Caye Caulker, using a Go Pro supplied by Matt Hoffman on a recent tour of Tikal and Belize. The original jazz version of this song was written by Seanie Blue and Helena Protopapas (aka Nicholas Smith-Jones) with Peter Fox and Sandra Bishop, and this version is part of a radical makeover by Blue and Francis featuring the works of David Huron (on how expectation determines the emotions evoked by music), and by Daniel Levine (on the brain's abilities to shape both the listening experience and the memory of that experience), and by Aniruddh Patel (on how language influences music in the brain).

One of the surprising findings of this project was the discovery that Mr. Blue can actually sing on key!

Triangular Egg: Blue explains a perfectly ordinary shot

Among traingulated rectangles . . .

. . . and Paul Outerbridge triumphs with his "Egg" (1933) after four thousand attempts!

. . . and Paul Outerbridge triumphs with his "Egg" (1933) after four thousand attempts!

It's just an ordinary photograph. Woman applies makeup in a mirror, while voyeur or friend watches. But there are lessons here.

This shot is seven years old, was lit with three lights, and the aperture was wide open at f/2.8 on a macro lens known for its sharpness. I'd become recently obsessed with the tones in the backgrounds of an epic battle between the photographers Paul Outerbridge and Edward Steichen and set out to copy those tones in an ordinary scene. By keeping the model's eyes and personality out of the picture, which is not a portrait, I could force the focus on the tone and on the action in the shot. And there is barely any action.

There are triangles and rectangles, and the most prominent two triangles have corresponding rectangles, with one set light and one set dark, with the triangles above the rectangles in each instance. There are three major highlighted sections of the picture, and three major dark shadowed sections. The highlights complement each other vertically, from ceiling, to cheekbone, to shoulder, while the dark shadows move horizontally across the picture, from her hair, to the dark abyss framing the action of makeup and face, to the dark triangle-rectangle geometry of the left edge. There are also three mid tone greys which offset both the highlights AND the shadows. So there are nine fields of extreme tone in the picture, fulfilling that most basic rule of thirds in its simplest equation: three rows, three columns, nine little boxes.

This photograph also represents the return of the amateur to f/2.8. What does this mean? Every photographer who gets an SLR spends too long chasing the light, shooting at f/2.8, usually the widest aperture on their lenses, and the place you can coax a bit more light out of sunsets or alleyways. But that light is horrible, usually, compromised by noise and extremity in tone, and brings the added dread of a tiny focal field, inches wide, guaranteeing that most of your shot is out of focus. When making a portrait with wide apertures, inevitably one of your subject's eyes will be out of focus. We don't notice it when we do it, because our minds compensate for the clouded darker eye, but very few photos can be declared competent if one eye is out of focus and the other is laser brilliant. So I spent a long time at f/2.8, trying to figure out why my pictures sucked. It took a good six months with smaller apertures ("f/8 and don't be late" is the only advice young photographers got in the newsroom in the pre-digital age) before I understood even the most basic use of light, and I was coming to this from years of using a video camera in the most artistic and experimental ways imaginable. None of that video knowledge translated into help with f-stops. So why do I say this shot represents a "return" to f/2.8? Because this was the first time I dialed down to widen the aperture to its maximum knowing what I would get, which was the action lit prominently in the light: her fingers on the triggers of her weapon, painting an illuminated plane. The noise was acceptable in this case because it set the film noir mood; she is playing a killer on the run. She is taking a moment to obey the sexual/cultural imperative of fifty thousand years of human evolution, even while she is hunted globally for transgressions against polite society. Applying embellishment to gain what, exactly? My approval, my friendship, my interest, my curiosity? In this case, in my fictions, the character knows exactly what to do to keep my attention so I can create a history of her actions: I am her only audience in this bridge between killer mode and magnet of desire.

Kneely, the subject of the photo, is a Cherokee, a Tsalagi. She claims descent from Chief Dragging Canoe, who said:

"Whole Indian Nations have melted away like snowballs in the sun before the white man's advance. We had hoped that the white men would not be willing to travel beyond the mountains. Now that hope is gone. They have passed the mountains, and have settled upon Tsalagi land. Finally the whole country, which the Tsalagi and their fathers have so long occupied, will be demanded, and the remnant of the Ani Yvwiya, The Real People, once so great and formidable, will be compelled to seek refuge in some distant wilderness. There they will be permitted to stay only a short while, until they again behold the advancing banners of the same greedy host. Not being able to point out any further retreat for the miserable Tsalagi, the extinction of the whole race will be proclaimed. Should we not therefore run all risks, and incur all consequences, rather than to submit to further loss of our country? Such treaties may be alright for men who are too old to hunt or fight. As for me, I have my young warriors about me. We will hold our land."

Despite his noble words, Chief Dragging Canoe got beat, and the utterly desperate towns left to Tsalagi rule in the United States produce a rubbish of humanity that future generations will regard with awe. It was from this trash heap that Kneely sprung, self-educated and ambitious, a potential medicine woman for what is left of her nation after fifteen thousand years of fruitful habitation in a land that we now know was a cultivated garden on an epic scale in 1491.

So this is also in the picture, an intimacy in the presence of seething spirit, an anger of community that demands action but is impotent, fragmented and lost, barely wisps of smoke in the hot factory smelt of European ingenuity and profit margins. In fact, these tones and this focal plane on the makeup brush, instrument of disguise, is meant to convey these politics of nationhood, not just in this photograph of course but in its cousins that frame the story.

And in this way we arrive at the most critical aspect of photography: the need to tell a story if you are not merely being a journalist. In my opinion, a pretty picture, no matter how technically adept, is almost worthless, except for its possible commercial exploitation. I have taught dozens of photographers whose chief realization in the past year is the utter uselessness of online galleries of good pictures that nobody sees. Many of these shooters retreat, like the Tsalagi, from the wide open plains of picture-taking to small nooks of commerce and finally to the pinched reservations of "fine art," a graveyard of impulses in which pictures without stories are shredded into fleeting memories. I've posted this picture because it could tell so many stories even though it is not a remarkable portrait in any way. It was born in the deeps of somebody's imagination, and its DNA was puzzled together in long form literature, in the need to illustrate an idea, and any photographer who finds himself discarded in the tiny places left to practice art for a living can find rescue in illustrating what you will never see in the picture.

Finally, though, there is the author, me, and the continuous ballet of self-expression that only art can satisfy. I see Olympic heroes and movie stars and even scientists and inventors through a prism of pity: You had a lifetime, and all you did was animate Shrek? All you did was win four gold medals on the ski slopes or in the swimming pool? All you did was build this city? When the asteroid hits and obliterates the record books and the shopping malls, how will you express the astonishments of a lifetime? This wondrous act of being, what language have you learned not to brag but to inspire other people into using a life as an excuse to invent multiple selves in every situation of love and pain that can be imagined?

Of all the lucks in my life, none is so great as having been the chastity belt for a series of young women in Beirut in the city's reign as the second Paris. Princes and poets would bribe me all night with candy and toy until the time came to move in on my nanny, whereupon I became a snarling dog, hanging onto my nanny's underwear for dear life, and the reward for this protection from my nannies to me was intimacy. And this is the most interesting story I have to tell, even though it is not for everyone: the powers in desire, not for conquest or copulation, but for witnessing the nervous moments of the secret self, when decisions are made to embark on new paths, when somebody wants me to look as a way of affirming that they are being watched, and being encouraged, and this is the heart of the photograph. I may be voyeur here, but I am whispering "Go go go go go," as my friend Sueraya always likes to point out, and this is a powerful medicine to both watcher and subject.

I have a friend, Jonelle, who appreciates this kind of story more than anyone I know, and who also understands my need to tell them as a way to lessen death's approach. I posted another picture of Kneely recently, with the simple tag line of "A fab portrait is not about how the photographer sees, but about how the person being photographed wishes to be seen." Jonelle quickly comments on these pictures as being "magical cross sections where the influence you have on the subject of your lens overlaps with the way they'd like to be seen -- or maybe the way they'd like to feel most of the time but can't due to the company of most men: beautiful, adored and safe to express themselves physically and emotionally. It's an incredible gift -- to be able to allow women this space, to be a wolf in sheep's clothing -- with an eye as sharp as his teeth. How do you refrain from biting?"

And that's really the purpose of every image, to elicit response, to dance with its viewer in a way that becomes its own spectacle. A gem is a gem, until it is found and described, when it becomes treasure. This picture of Kneely applying makeup, carefully constructed and imagined, comes to life seeking definition both from its author and its audience, as any good act must. And despite this longass essay, the boil of the moment comes down to a single impulse, meant for me and the viewer of this picture: "How do I refrain from biting?"

+ + + + +

Regarding Paul Outerbridge, unsung photo hero of the last century, and his duel with fine art posterboy Steichen, here is a fantastic summary by Getty Museum curator Paul Martineau on a recent Outerbridge retro:

"Among Outerbridge's final black-and-whites, The Triumph of the Egg (1932), showing an egg somewhat absurdly perched on an elongated pyramidal element, is a wry commentary on Steichen's well-known Triumph of the Egg of 1921. It upped the ante on the existing rivalry between the two artists. "It was rumored," writes Martineau, "that Steichen had made more than 1,000 photos of teacups. Outerbridge, not to be outdone, let it be known that he had exposed more than 4,000 plates before he 'discovered how an egg really should be photographed'."

Memory ignited: Valentine Snowstorm

woman encircled, 2014

woman encircled, 2014

woman in circle, 2014

woman in circle, 2014

The note comes out of the blue. The romance writer is in Vegas for a Superbowl party, and she writes:

"I am wide awake in Vegas with the pilot snoring next to me. Drank Jack Daniels for the first time since I breastfed six years ago, and of course now I think I'm fabulous and have no audience to exclaim it to. I used to be jealous of your past loves, I can't say I totally understand why. I guess I didn't feel the room for them and for me at the same time. I regret that because I think I would have understood u better had I entertained how u loved and why. I wanted to be special and for u to only feel that passion for me. I was young and immature . . . but man that had its benefits too! I know we don't share that connection anymore Seanie, but i treasure the memories . . . like you will never know. Or, maybe you do know. I know we don't usually talk like this but I'm feeling it now so what the hell."

I rely on memory to ignite certain feelings, especially those tiny flames that can burn down a life, but memory is like a JPG image: every time you open it up you change it a little bit. There is no non-destructive edit that can be done to memory. Each sliver of self morphs under memory's microscopes. So a message sailing in like this, from the lover in her bed with somebody else, remembering me under the influence of whiskey and gamble, sears into my projects and scatters all priorities, an asteroid interrupted. The cloud of hazy dust raised by her impact will block reality's light for weeks, and I will record and embellish the hints and hopes refracted in these shards of desire now in front of my eyes. "Now I think I'm fabulous and have no audience to exclaim it to." How do I illustrate this?

The model looks like the younger version of the lover and is happy to play the clay in my thoughts. But the model is on the cusp of knowing that you fuck with your mind and not with your limbs or your smell or your kiss. She, too, is looking for that conversation that melts into love-making, when the lovers wrestling with an idea find to their surprise that they are entwined and enflamed. The model is curious: how often does this sort of conjoining of imagination and intercourse happen? Every single time, I say. How could it not? The model, playing the lover, now tries to remember: how do you impact somebody's self to the point that you are always there, in them, even when they themselves are not?

Lost in this formula, I realize I do not know the score of yesterday's game, and a weird pride swells in my throat. Who will remember this score in a decade? In a century, the game will never have been played, and no record of it will be checked by anyone. What information can you tell me about football's championship game played in 1913? And yet the streets were empty and the bars full, as I fell again into the lover's orbit, likewise unimportant and destined to be much more forgot in a century than even something as trivial as last night's contest. But in these small notes to myself, these pricks of my skin with temptation's tingle, I shovel my memories into a mountain of lust, intending to block my own horizon with a past I have not yet stopped living. Who cares what thrill comes tomorrow, if yesterday's thrall still spills?

(The dust sprinkled on my head, absorbed as an inward-bound pheromone, has caused me to forget or ignore or misplace my original subject when I sat down to write: Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, and their two approaches to expression that can only lead to a fight. Delayed but not lost! Thanks for reading this far; I am incredibly buoyed by everyone's enthusiasm for these small notes. I promise they are leading somewhere, collectively!)

No audience to exclaim it to . . .

The performance on Saturday is not so much a lesson about falling in love -- this is an easy trick for anyone -- but of how to remember love and turn it into something worth remembering continuously. That's a very rich connection. You are the giant in my landscape of fond memories. If I live another 50 years I could have a different recollection about you every day. Who else gives a writer such a thing? So when you drop a loaded note like last night's into my mailbox, with the amazingly saucy line about feeling "fabulous and have no audience to exclaim it to," how could I resist turning your nectar into honey anyone can spread on his tongue? That I can be your audience, even on the cellphone, means that I get to interpret what you say. And the older we get, the less censorship you'll impose on my recounting of what you felt, and in this way the character explodes into the future.

In the Arctic Circle, looking for clues in the sky.

A Live Performance, Finally!

Presently circulating the promo stream in cyberspace

A lecture by Mr. Blue about love & celestial mechanics
presented in Photographs, Videos, Song, Poetry & Economics

This SATURDAY at 6pm at CDIA in Georgetown
NOV 16 • Lecture begins at 7 sharp
1055 Thomas Jefferson Street, NW

Sean first went to the Arctic Circle looking for the Aurora more than a decade ago, and next Wednesday he goes back for the 14th time. He went to get over a broken heart, looking for inspiration from the sky. But in the stars he found a way to remember the love affair differently, and by confronting his memories he was forced to see differently: Why pursue love, to what end, or for what purpose? Falling in love is easy, but remembering its collapse and then writing its history can become either a tiny jewel of art or a lifelong obsession.

He'll be at the CDIA school in Studio A on Saturday evening to make a presentation of his explorations beneath the Northern Lights, and since he teaches at CDIA there will be an element of discovery in his lecture. But this is not a classroom, and there is no textbook for his subjects: photography and memory will bind his stories about Iceland, Vikings, George Orwell, perfect pitch and the way we remember songs, and how homo sapiens defeated the Neanderthals because of a small bone in our throats that lets us sing to our mind's delight.

If you live and die by your camera, or design for a living, you won't want to miss this talk. Because of all the points he wants to make, Sean will be sure to remind you that his chase of the Aurora is something all of us can do, cheaply and easily, as long as we are willing to spend a little passion.

Lethal Attractions & the Beauty of Desire

The lover and the actor who played her falling in and out of love both shyly reach out to me as the event on Saturday piques their interest. The original and the copy (one of several) don't care how I portray them in my long effort to connect the rules of lovers to the construct of stars and moons. They're both happy the story lurches forward. I tell one that the performance will be about our lethal attraction toward the beauty of desire, and to the other I write: "Your timing is always precisely calibrated to the emotions between us collapsing into ideas, like gases in space forming planets where life can have a future." It's been years, but the sparks still cause burns, however slight, and we move closer to the cutting to let the shards of memory pierce our feelings to become the scars we rub for each other in the future. There is a sort of dreamy calm that comes from pressing properly into your bruises, isn't there? You rub the people who love you as balm for the maddening rush of social survival in a world of contracting margins, and they respond as flowers might, leaning however briefly into all suggestions of light. The petals soothe, the bruises heal, and the memory of both evolves in tiny mutations that give any observer a story worth telling, especially when there are witnesses still bruised willing to testify that yes, they adore the feeling of blooming in your dreams, guarded temporarily from the inevitable process of forgetting.

A little less video, please

At long last, I have no more excuses. I have theorized about the perfect video for years. I hate the garish perfection of video! I want tiny depths of field, thin slivers of attention in soft clouds of dazzle. As my old school meets my new school, I've got it: the lens on the left of this contraption is a 30-year-old Nikkor 180mm designed for railroad model enthusiasts, one of the best lenses ever made. I've also got an 85mm 1.4 that is simply gorgeous, and now both lenses will give me the look I want, lush, lovely, lit. The whole thing is in my trunk, and the mustang is pointing south, to Mardi Gras and Better Than Ezra's Michael Jerome on the drums: I'll get his sticks tickling the rims, sinews smashing cymbals, sweat bombing into spotlights. Sandy and Andy and Alana (and Tad!) from the Wonderbox will help me get the bizarre and the brazen, from Bourbon Street to the outer contours of the bayou, the soft places that barely rustle for visitors no matter how foreign. I have no excuses now, not with this thing in my hands. Dave Adams just hands over the Redrock Micro that joins the Nikkors to the brilliant XDcam, and as I walk out his door he says to me simply, "I thought you'd put it to good use," the words of a teacher, though he's far younger than me, and I'm not going to let him down. This gift will give a lot, I promise, because I will catch exactly what I wish to see: My eye is now a bazooka.

Notes from Amsterdam & La Mancha

Onward with the production of my movie about the drummer Michael Jerome, as he tours with Richard Thompson and then with John Cale:

From Amsterdam:

The frenzy of being me stops. I am walking to the Van Gogh to look long & hard at his Wheat Field with Crows, his deathsong. But filming one of the world's great guitarists for 3 days has me filled with hope & vim. And conversations with one of the world's great drummers has me keeping time a bit more wisely.

From the highway between Madrid and Caceres, in Extremadura:

Leaving Madrid to the wild west, extremadura. Anguished flamenco on radio, new turbo diesel has only 500 miles, first stop is with truckers at smelly joint for manchego and chorizo and bread we can only imagine anywhere other than Spain!

From Portugal:

. . . don't like to spill beans, but in Coimbra, Portugal, where last night I had a very interesting experience watching John Cale (ex-Velvet Underground) and getting a lesson in rock and roll. The movie about his drummer Michael Jerome looks cool, and this very fresh (to my ear) sound jumping out at me was 100% surprise. Life, a trip! Two more shows, then USA, then Mardi Gras, another band, more movie, more hilarity!