Detail from, “From Here I Saw What Happened and I Cried” (1995–96)
“Carrie Mae Weems: Three Decades of Photography and Video,”Cantor Arts Center, Stanford University, Stanford, through January 5, 2014
Perhaps not since Frida Kahlo, has a visual artist so brazenly inserted her own likeness into her creations. Thankfully, this preoccupation with self eventually extends into a larger world, the world of African Americans and their identification as such.
Often, when Weems is both photographer and subject, as in the “Kitchen Table Series,” the photographs seem narcissistic, as if the artist is her own muse. This may very well be the case. But although Weems has once again placed herself in front of the camera in the “Museum Series” and “Not Manet’s Type,” these latter photographs are arresting and poignant. Here Weems has metamorphosed from simply being the source of her own inspiration. Now she paints an isolating portrait of what many are afraid of being or becoming – phantoms and outsiders.
Most of Weems’s photographs are black and white or tinted. One series of tinted photographs — “Colored People Grid” — is striking in its simplicity. When juxtaposed next to “Family Pictures and Stories,” the empty spaces make one wonder: Are there people missing? If yes, who? What are their stories? Will these stories be told and if so, who will tell them? How will they be told? These it seems, are precisely the questions that Weems has been asking all along. She has done a good job excavating truths and untruths and in so doing, has helped create a new history of the African American experience. That she cannot tell it without telling her own story has been her point all along.
In these tinted photographs — part of the series, “From Here I Saw What Happened and I Cried” (1995–96)” — the artist appropriated early photographs and text that have been used to stereotype African Americans:
What are Elephant Seals? We are deep sea divers and long distance travelers. We fast for long periods of time while on land. Our food sources, skates and squids, small sharks and other seafood are so far away – thousands upon thousands of miles – that once we arrive on land, we have to wait a very long time before eating again.
Northern and Southern Elephant Seals
There are two types of elephant seals: the northern (found along the Pacific islands and coasts of Mexico and California); and the southern (found along the Atlantic islands and coasts of Patagonia, Chile, Tierra del Fuego, et al). This article is only about the Northern elephant seal.
Northern Elephant Seals
Northern elephant seals spend most of their time in the ocean, coming ashore twice each year, once to mate, breed and give birth, and the other time to molt (shed and grow new skin/fur). Between the molting and breeding seasons, the northern elephant seal is at sea for six to eight months, swimming, diving and feeding. Incredibly, they remain submerged for nearly ninety percent of their time in the ocean, surfacing a mere two to four minutes during dives.
Season Change at Ano Nuevo
Now that the breeding/mating/birthing season is over, so too are the guided hikes at Ano Nuevo. That means pretty soon we will be entering the roving season. This is when the public can access areas that up to two weeks ago, were only accessible by guided hikes (led by volunteer naturalists like me). The roving season will be less hectic, more laid back and so, I am hoping to do some sketching and painting while volunteering out by the coast.
During the breeding season (December to March), many of the adult males (the alphas, for sure) are on the beach for about 100 days without food. The mature females are on land for about five weeks. The females who are coming in pregnant during the breeding season give birth within 4-5 days of arrival. They nurse their pup for about 24-28 days, mate during the last 3-5 days of nursing and then head back into the ocean to find food to eat.
Elephant Seal Pups
Elephant seal pups weigh about 70 pounds at birth. They quadruple their birth weight while nursing, but lose about 1/3 of that weight during the weaning period. The common belief is that the mom weans her pup, leaves it all alone and it then has to figure out how to survive. The mom in me thinks this cannot be! Momma elephant seal, while nursing her baby is saying things, teaching him/her how to survive and us dumb humans don’t even realize it. That is what I think. I watch mom and pup bonding during those 28 days before weaning occurs and I imagine mom passing on the following tidbits: “Baby, you see that far side of the island over there? Don’t stray there, my love. There are these pretty white sharks who are just waiting to greet and eat my plump little baby. Steer clear my love. Swim in the open. Swim toward the deep my love. Head in that direction over there. If you pay attention to what I’m saying, you’ll be just fine. Good luck my baby. I love you.” That is what I think the mom is telling her baby all the while that she is nursing him or her.
Incredible Divers and Swimmers
Elephant seals dive as deep as 2,000 t o 5,000 feet for food. The average dive lasts about 20 minutes, but they can dive for an hour or more. They resurface for 2-4 minutes and continue this diving pattern 24 hours a day! The females eat mostly squid; the males eat small sharks, rays and bottom-dwelling fish.
The male elephant seals from Ano Nuevo typically travel 5,000 miles round trip, towards the Aleutians where they feed along the Continental Shelf. They make this trip twice per year. The female elephant seal travels a shorter distance, about 3,000 miles along the Northeast Pacific, in the direction of Hawaii. She too, makes this trip twice per year.
The northern elephant seal was hunted to near extinction for their blubber. By the early 19o0s, only a small group of between 20-100 managed to survive the hunts. Protected first by Mexico (where this small group was found) and later by the United States (as they multiplied and expanded their range), the elephant seals have managed to multiply and increase their population. Today’s population is estimated to be around 175,000 to 185,000 seals. All of them are from the bottleneck, the same gene pool, that was discovered on Guadalupe Island, Mexico, a little over 100 years ago. Researchers at the nearby University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC), are tracking and building a database on the movement and habits of the Ano Nuevo population of elephant seals. With each year comes new revelations. For a brief overview of the work being done on elephant seals by the UCSC, visit their site at http://news.ucsc.edu/2012/05/elephant-seals.html.
The adult females can weigh up to around 1,700 pounds and the males, up to around 5,000 pounds. The mature male has a bulbous appendage for a nose. It is called a proboscis. He uses it to honk and to assert dominance. For more interesting facts about the northern elephant seal, visit the National Marine Mammal Laboratory’s site at:
Photo credit for the male juvenile elephant seal at the top of the post belongs to The Marine Mammal Center. You can see his proboscis is just barely starting to form. Only the males of the specie grow this nose and it seems to serve no other purpose except for asserting dominance, which is crucial in the breeding season. (Not all males get a chance to mate.)
I took the second photograph of a colony of what is mostly young pups, at Ano Nuevo State Park, two weeks ago. The seals in this photograph will be heading out to the ocean soon. They will have many challenges along the way, including figuring out where to go, what to eat, and how to avoid predators like the great white sharks that lay in wait not too far from where they are now. The mortality rate for young elephant seals is extremely high. Only about twenty six percent of them make it to age two. Some of the young die at the rookery but the majority of deaths occur at sea. For more details on elephant seals’ mortality rate, see the UCS”s 1971-78 Ano Nuevo study at:
This was a busy weekend. I BARTed into San Francisco for a look at the light show at the new Bay Bridge and for happy hour at Chaya (across the street from the bridge). I also went on a behind the scenes tour at the Monterey Bay Aquarium (awesome!) and today, re-experienced art in the woods at Djerassic, in the Santa Cruz Mountains (more awesome!!).
Friday Night on the Embarcadero
The new Bay Bridge is nearing completion and is set to be opened soon. Here is a nighttime view of the waterfront along the Embarcadero with a view of the bridge. The new installation art piece (an LED light show) is in the foreground of the bridge. (Those are the lights you see in the upper right hand side of the photograph.) It looks like San Francisco is almost ready for the 2013 Americas Cup!
Moon Jellies and Such, Oh My!
Oh, the jellies I saw! Lot and lots of jelly fishes were on show at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Moon jellies. White moon jellies. Purple sprite jellies. Spotted jellies. Mediterranean jellies. Can you figure out which ones these are?
The history of how the Monterey Bay Aquarium came to be is fascinating. It involves David Packard (of Hewlett Packard fame) and his daughter who was at Stanford University’s Hopkins Marine Station (in Monterey Bay). The senior Packard was looking for a family project to do with his daughter. That project evolved into the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
The Aquarium sits at the far corner of Cannery Row. The entire area was made famous by John Steinbeck in his books, Cannery Row, and The Sea of Cortez. His friend Doc features prominently in both novels and also on the Row, where he died in a car crash. One interesting note is that Monterey Bay is, in fact, a bight, not a bay. It is more open (less sheltered) than a bay and shallower also. The rocks in Monterey Bay are also an indication that it is not a true bay. A bay, by contrast, is a inlet of water enclosed on three sides by the land. Monterey Bay is not enclosed at all. It is wide open to the ocean with tide pools and salt water constantly moving in and out.
Here are some art installations in the woods at Djerassic and also, a window view from the Artist’s Barn.
After nearly a year, I finally got onto a docent-led hike at Stanford’s Jasper Ridge Preserve in the eastern foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Stanford has several studies going on at Jasper Ridge. In fact, the place has been used for scientific studies since the inception of the university. The preserve is the site of discoveries that are important to both the scientific community and to society. Professor Paul Ehrlich’s discoveries about Bay checkerspot butterflies, for example, demonstrated the unique value of long-term research in ecology, and led to federal programs to fund such studies.
Dirca and Indian Warrior
It was a nice sunny day when I visited the preserve. Many flowers and trees were in bloom. The woods echoed with bird calls. The loudest of them all was the blue and white California scrub jay. It and the ravens were out in full force as were the hummingbirds.
The ubiquitous Indian Warrior plant filled in the spaces beneath the oak trees, doing what it does, living off its host. This hemiparasiste survives in areas with hot dry summers probably because it knows to stay in the shade of trees like manzanitas and oaks. Our guide told us that a name change is afoot as Indian Warrior is a politically incorrect name. What will this plant end up being called, I wonder?
A definite treasure at Jasper Ridge is the dirca plant, several of which can be found along the edges of the chaparral. Dirca or western leatherwood are known to grow only in the Bay Area. They are rare and endangered California natives that do extremely well at Jasper Ridge. Their lemon yellow flowers are practically iridescent in the sunlight. It is more than likely that butterflies, bees and hummingbirds are drawn to this plant.
Searsville Lake and Dam
One of the most picturesque spots at Jasper Ridge is Searsville Lake which owes its genesis to the creation of the 120-year old Searsville Dam. The dam, built by the Spring Valley Water Company 1n 1892, was eventually acquired by Stanford University. Today it is part of the Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve.
Like the Hetch Hetchy Dam, Searsville has been a source of contention: environmentalists want both dams removed and the land restored to its original state. Unlike the water source(s) of the Hetch Hetchy, that of the Searsville Dam is not potable, and so, is severely limited in its use. Stanford is now trying to figure out what to do with the dam and consequently, the lake.
There is no disputing that Jasper Ridge is a special place for wildlife, flora and fauna alike. While there I was treated to the spectacle of hole-ridden trees where acorn woodpeckers had hidden their loot. I came across an emerald green hummingbird with a flash of red, an Anna’s Hummingbird. There was no point looking for the orange and black Bay Checkerspot butterfly that once made this place its home. Endemic to the Bay Area, the Bay Checkerspot was last spotted at Jasper Ridge in 1998.
To learn more about Jasper Ridge and also about the Bay Area’s voracious appetite for water, visit:
To learn about the green, sustainable field station at Jasper Ridge, visit: http://jrbp.stanford.edu/fieldstation.php. If you ever visit Jasper Ridge Preserve, remember to look for the hole-ridden tree that is adjacent to the the field station. It is but one of many such caches on the preserve.
the glistening paper-like synthetic slowly peeling off
to reveal the transience of her gift,
adhesive and plastic,
glued onto a shiny metal base,
the cheapest of alloys,
releasing prisms into the air
upon the land.
Elusive, no two the same
never again seen
yet continuous in places
South America, the Caribbean,
Asia, Eastern Europe,
and now, today
this Arabic spring.
***** ***** *****
Yesterday I came across the old video in the link below. Although it presents some of my ideas of what travel and tourism ought to be about – grassroots, local and community-based – it caused me to re-examine the idea, taken so lightly in the video: “Once these wheels were turned by slaves.”
Enjoy the people and the place as you watch the video. Make a toast to great rum everywhere. Most importantly, pay homage to the genesis and evolution of rum in Jamaica and the rest of the “New World.” My doing so resulted in the poem, Ye Olde Arab Fling.
I will be out working with the seals all this weekend so I’m getting this week’s post in early. Sorry to throw you off with my early schedule.
So, back in May I stumbled across those crazy lost and found emails, remember? Thanks to them, I started thinking about my creative side and how that part of my life was being lost or shelved. In those emails I found I had done all this writing and photography and paintings – I created much more than I realized! What’s more, if I could do all that while having fun, how much more could I do if I set goals and got serious about my writing and my art?
So, here then, is the list of goals I set to help me focus on my creative side/work. If you are wondering about the inclusion of trips to national and state parks, don’t! Some (okay, maybe all) of my earlier posts relate in one way or another to nature and the outdoors. They feed my creative side and make me happy too. No wonder I’m so creative here in the Bay Area. It turns out that I have a new old muse. Hello Nature girl.
*Write a short play (done)
Submit said play to x competition (done and done)
*Work on poetry (done)
Submit poems to program xx (done)
Submit poems to program y (still working on it!)
Await outcome (I won’t have the results until April; am crossing my fingers and my toes!)
*Start a blog (done)
Maintain said blog and complete one post each week (done and done!)
Visual Arts: paint, paint paint!
Take a painting class or workshop (done!)
Create at least three pieces I am totally happy with (done!)
Buy a good digital camera (done)
Learn to use and master said camera (still working on it!)
Blend writing and visual arts into creative pieces (done and done!)
Visit and overnight at one state or national park (done and done)
*Sequoia (done and done)
AND in 2013:
*Enter at least one art piece (a painting) into a local and a national competition
*Try to stop destroying writing and artwork that I’m not totally satisfied with (this is a work in progress)
*Enroll in a workshop at the Crucible or take a drawing class (hope I have enough money for this!)
*Visit and overnight at a state or national park outside of California (Yellowstone or Grand Canyon) and/or visit Picasso’s, Guernica, in Madrid museum (hope I have enough money for this too!)
Thank you for hanging with me. Next week I’ll give you my Jamaican Christmas cake recipe. I’ve been busy these past few nights making cakes for family, friends and co-workers. Let the festivities begin!
A little painting, the size of a postcard, caught my eye at the Asian Museum’s, Maharajaexhibition (April 2012). The opaque watercolor, dominated by an eggplant colored background, is of a woman flying a kite. Perhaps the string has cut her hands as both palms seem to exude a red substance. Blood? Perhaps. Or maybe it is simply the color of the kite’s string. I’d like to think it is blood. That makes the painting more profound and poetic. The woman is in profile. The plaque accompanying the painting tells you that this is a nazar painting, a gift for the Maharaja. Kite flying is symbolic of the woman’s feeling for a loved one who is far away. She misses him.
Below is the nazar painting and my response to it. My painting is a mixed media collage on Japanese rice paper. The opposite sketches are from my notebooks. All are in response to the exhibition.