An ink sketch and note done earlier this week after reading through 1 Peter chapter 1.
I wrote this film response for my photography class this past spring. My analysis of the documentary Finding Vivian Maier does contain some spoilers, but the true jewel of the movie is the photographs, so I do not think my spoilers will affect your enjoyment of the documentary too much.
When aspiring author John Maloof uncovers the work of an obscure photographer, his journey of discovery introduces the world to Vivian Maier and inspires the creation of the documentary Finding Vivian Maier. Both artists and art can be quite controversial, and Vivian Maier and her photographs are no exception. At the same time, though, this film’s cinematography, storytelling, and the work of Vivian Maier that it presents are often exceptional, intriguing, and even inspiring.
From the first second to the last, Finding Vivian Maier is full of cleverly-crafted shots. The cinematography has an appealing aesthetic, and I like the way in which the filmmakers link together interview footage of experts and Maier’s acquaintances with Maier’s photographs and personal audio recordings. Because of the film’s clean but creative cinematography, the storyline is easy to follow and interesting without the need for dramatization or actors. Additionally, I think the framing of certain shots is appropriate and effective. For instance, scenes where the film zooms out to show dozens of Maier’s photos laid out in a grid exemplify the photography compositional rule of patterns and repetition, and this is a powerful visual tool for emphasizing how prolific a photographer Maier was. Finding Vivian Maier also includes examples of compositional rules such as the rule of thirds and the use of unusual perspectives, which are nice touches in a documentary about a photographer and add interest to what might otherwise be boring footage. Thanks to the documentary’s high quality cinematography, black-and-white photos linked with interview scenes become a seamless story which draws in the audience.
While high quality cinematography is valuable, however, the storytelling in Finding Vivian Maier is another essential part of the film. According to what the documentary reveals, Maier is a controversial person who is lonely, perhaps mentally ill, and can be alternately wonderful or abusive towards the children she nannies. I appreciate that the movie maintains a relatively unbiased approach to the story. The film is full of personal accounts from people who have known Maier and the opinions of art experts, and how the filmmakers tell the story presents different sides to Maier’s life, focusing on both her strengths and weaknesses. In addition, the fact-based storytelling method and the frequent use of interviews to stitch the story together helps promote the film’s credibility. One aspect of the storytelling that I do not understand is why the storywriters include the uplifting discovery that Maier attempted to have her work published in the middle of the film rather than at the end. Following this exciting revelation, the documentary highlights Maier’s mysterious life and erratic personality and concludes on a sad note with her lonely death. This arrangement of events strikes me as an odd storytelling decision, although I do think the story ends strong in the last scene with its audio clip of Maier and a shot of one of her self-portraits being developed.
The storytelling and cinematography in Finding Vivian Maier help make the documentary interesting, but Maier’s photographs are the most inspiring and intriguing aspects of the film. Maier’s photographs range from clever to stunning to disturbing. Just like Maier, the photographs are often full of mystery and contrasting character. She clearly had an excellent eye for photo composition and natural talents which she honed with constant practice, resulting in the thousands of images Maloof finds in his search. I think Maier’s persistence and boldness in taking photographs teach the importance of practice and pushing outside one’s comfort zone to achieve success in photography. No theories can replace hands on experience. In particular, I like how Maier’s photos are often candid and raw; they show the world as it really is with all its beauty and flaws. I think it is intriguing that Maier was so bold in her photography because, by all accounts, she was reclusive and sometimes even scared of strangers,
In spite of her secretive life, reclusive personality, and lifelong silence about her work, Vivian Maier now has posthumous recognition thanks to Finding Vivian Maier. More importantly, though, Maier has found a voice in her photos that will continue to speak for her. Through the pictures, audiences can meet strangers and gain a new perspective on life and the world around them. These images communicate everyday experiences, emotions, and scenes and also reflect the creative but eccentric artist who shot them. Maier’s story is another example of how some of the greatest artists have broken and lonely lives, yet despite—or perhaps because of—this, they are able to capture beauty and share it with the world.
Note: Finding Vivian Maier is currently available on Netflix Instant.
In the vein of older European comics, which was introduced with Tintin, I now present Asterix. Asterix is an entertaining comic series written by R. Goscinny and A. Uderzo. Both men were born in France and published the Asterix stories in French publications. The comics follow (big surprise!) Asterix and his friend Obelix, two Gauls who live in a small village surrounded by Roman legions. They spend their days eating boar, hurling menhirs, smashing Romans, and having many adventures.
Even though the stories were originally published in French, the dialogue is still very clear and witty in translation. The stories make plentiful use of wordplays in the dialogue, and all the names carry some humorous reference to the character of their owners. Asterix is largely character driven, and the interplay of personalities in the different situations is always humorous to read. The stories provide a good mix of wit, both historical and mythological settings, and an ancient Roman cast of characters to continually keep the adventures interesting.
Not only are the dialogue and stories well done, but the comics are also splendidly made from a visual standpoint. The panels are laid out in a grid pattern and are easy to follow. The artwork is very clear and well rendered, and Uderzo does an excellent job of exaggeration in his art, adding a humor outside of the dialogue. These factors make the comic very easy to read. Finally, regarding color, either the comics were originally printed at a very high quality, or the illustrations have been masterfully re-colored. Needless to say, these comic books do not look like they were printed nearly fifty years ago, but are sharp and vibrant.
If you want some humorous, light reading, give Asterix a look. With witty dialogue and stories –accompanied by a superb cartoon style –you can’t go wrong.
Christmas has inspired many traditions, stories, and poems which fill the season with delight – the best of which point to the original tale from Bethlehem. The following are three lovely books that I hope my readers will find time to enjoy this December. Above all, I recommend reading Luke 2:1-20 and the Scripture passages found in Handel’s Messiah.
An Illustrated Poem
I have read many of Jan Brett’s Christmas books, but only this year did I discover her illustrated version of Clement Moore’s poem “The Night Before Christmas.” Brett’s illustrations suit this famous Christmas poem. The pictures are full of warm, cheery colors and funny human and animal characters. I also like how there is a second little story playing out in the pictures in the margins.
Despite its uninviting title, The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski and illustrated by P. J. Lynch is one of the best picture books I have ever read. The writing style, story, and illustrations are splendid. I especially love the onomatopoeia and parallelism that Susan Wojciechowski uses.
A Short Story
Other than The Muppet Christmas Carol, I have never liked a movie version of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, and until this year, movies were all the experience I had with the story. Then in February, I read A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens and illustrated by P. J. Lynch.
Pervading the story A Christmas Carol is an eeriness uncommon in Christmas stories. But despite its ghosts, somber spirits, and icy-hearted main character, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is a beautiful tale of character change.
Confronted with a future of death and despair by the ghost of his former business partner Jack Marley, Ebenezer Scrooge fears he will never have a chance to change his life. Is it already too late? If so, why did he receive a warning? Full of desperate hope, Scrooge travels with three spirits, remembering his past, seeing his present, and passing through what could be his own future. Each story points Scrooge to new resolutions of personal change. With the 20-20 vision of hindsight, he views his past mistakes regretfully, understanding better what he should have been, but failed to be. The stories from the present show him the kind people he has mistreated and turned against himself – yet another reminder of his failures. The future reveals that Scrooge’s current path will lead to ignominy and lonely death. What kind of man will Scrooge be remembered as? Or will he even be remembered?
Though there are no open references to Christianity and Dickens held a works-righteousness worldview which plays out in Scrooge’s character changes, hints of the true meaning of Christmas and the Gospel shine through. The Ghost of Christmas Present demonstrates Christ-like attributes of mercy and the spread of goodwill. The possibility of heart-change echoes the message of the Gospel and reminds Christians of how wonderful, undeserved, and inexplicable God’s abundant mercy is. Even though Scrooge “saves” himself by good works and generosity, he would never have changed without outside forces acting upon him, and this is a good reminder of man’s lost condition without God’s condescending grace. Also, the fact that Scrooge is spared when many, like Marley, were not emphasizes the truth of unconditional election. Nothing requires God to save all men, or even any men. But in his inscrutable love, God has chosen to spare some.
With its very own title, A Christmas Carol reveals what this story truly is: “a song of praise or joy, especially for Christmas” (“Carol” 241). Dickens is reminding the world of the joy, hope, and redemption that Christ brought at Christmas for sinners that are just as selfish, miserly, and lost as Ebenezer Scrooge.
Patrick James Lynch was born in 1962 and has worked as an illustrator of children’s books since leaving Brighton College of Art in England in 1984. He has won many awards including the Mother Goose Award, the Christopher Medal three times, and the prestigious Kate Greenaway Medal on two occasions, first for The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski, and again for When Jessie Came Across the Sea by Amy Hest (“Bio”). In recent years Lynch has designed posters and sets of stamps in addition to illustrating books. P. J. Lynch has lectured on his own work and on art and illustration at the National Gallery of Ireland, The National Library of Ireland and at the National Print Museum of Ireland, as well as at numerous conferences and colleges across the U.S. He illustrated beautiful versions of A Christmas Carol and The Gift of the Magi in 2006 and 2008 respectively. With his gorgeous and richly-detailed paintings, P. J. Lynch makes picture books a delight to read. P. J. Lynch lives in Dublin with his wife and their three young children (“Bio”).
“Bio.” PJ Lynch. 2011. 14 Nov. 2015 <www.pjlynchgallery.com/biog.html>
“Carol.” The American Heritage Dictionary. 2nd ed. 1985.
“The Letter” by Jean Baptiste Camille Corot is a portrait of a seated woman holding a letter. Darkness and gloom shroud the scene, leaving only the figure illumined. The woman is seated in a dark chair which hints that it might be green. With her downcast eyes, slumped figure, and listless hands, the figure looks like “Melancholy” in human form. Her face is softly shadowed, her expression more resigned and emotionless than sad. Though her dark coils of hair are neatly arranged and tied with a red ribbon, her dress is slipping off her white, drooping shoulders, as if she is too distracted to notice or care. As the dark chair and shadowed background focus attention on the woman, so the downward curving lines of the woman, from the arched eyebrows to the wrinkles of the dress to the curved fingertips, draw one’s eyes to the white letter which her hand clasps in her lap.
The entire painting is full of mystery and questions. “What news did the letter bring to affect her so?” Corot makes his observer ask. Even the indistinct background leaves one guessing. Is that a room behind the woman? If so, what is in it?
Corot uses bland colors for most of the portrait. The room and background are dark, and the woman and her dress are primarily a pale off-white. Only the red hair ribbon, green bodice, and white letter stand out.
In his painting “The Letter,” Camille Corot masterfully demonstrates how to focus a painting on one object in it. Though the concentration of a portrait is usually on a person, the lighting, lines, and title of this work direct one’s attention to a small, white object in the person’s hand. Having accomplished this, Corot has created a story with his painting. “The Letter” by Jean Baptiste Camille Corot is a very intriguing and well-painted portrait, and its air of melancholy and mystery makes it unique and memorable.
And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. -Genesis 1:3
Being made in God’s image, man has the desire to create. Granted, he cannot simply speak and have fully developed, three dimensional, living things appear, but this desire can nevertheless be found in everything man does: engineering, computer coding, construction work, art, and music – just to name a few. Drawing is one area of creating that has always fascinated me, and I wanted to share some of the insights that I have had during my limited experience to help encourage others thinking about taking it up as a hobby (or career), and hopefully help you waste less time than I did actually learning how to really draw.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Like with anything else, nothing can replace just drawing. Early on I probably spent as much time reading ‘how-to-draw’ books as I did actually drawing. This was not completely unhelpful, but there is no substitute for taking up the pencil and actually applying it to the paper (or digital stylus to the computer). One great way to practice drawing (or anything for that matter) is to set aside a little bit of time each day to work on it. During my senior year in high school as part of a fine arts credit, I had to draw for a minimum of 15 minutes each day. I would encourage anyone interested in improving their drawing skills to try and set aside time on a regular basis (daily, weekly) to drawing from life.
However, if getting the motivation to actually sit down for an extended period of time seems difficult to muster, try to find a friend or sibling who would also like to practice and make the drawing practice a group event. I find that most things are more enjoyable with a group of people. Also, by teaming up with another person, each person can critique and evaluate the other’s work. This can be useful as it encourages progress and prevents ruts.
While drawing regularly from life is the best way to learn, drawing from the imagination is also beneficial. Requiring the knowledge of God’s creation gained from drawing life studies, it requires the artist to take reality and then tweak it to visually communicate to the viewer. And even though I don’t really know what my message was, I always found drawing bearded guys with swords a lot more fun than drawing flowers anyway :).
Note: The notion that only a few gifted people are actually capable of drawing well is not true at all. Just like anything else, drawing is a skill that must be nurtured and learned. Like most things in life, drawing does come easier to some than others, but that does not mean that it cannot be enjoyed by the rest of us.
Know the History
Studying artists and the history of art was probably one of my favorite parts of learning to draw. While studying and copying great works of art from history is not a substitute to drawing from life, the importance of the techniques, stylistic nuances, and inspiration that existing art provides cannot be underestimated. Almost everyone has an artist or artists whose work blows them away. These artists are often the ones whose work directly influences our own. Personally, I was always drawn to the work of Michelangelo, Hokusai, Arthur Rackham, John Howe, and various comic book artists. While most of my drawings look absolutely nothing like these artists work, they have all had a shaping influence on the style that I do have.
As I mentioned earlier, the ‘how-to-draw’ section at Barnes and Noble used to be the first place I would go every time I got a chance. However, there is a lot of useless junk whenever it comes to books on drawing. Most of them seem to mainly consist of copying, step by step, the art of the author of the book. However, I have read a few books (or partially read) that I hope will be useful to others who are interested in drawing, and will hopefully save some valuable time being wasted searching the drawing section at the local library or bookstore. First, even though I never finished reading it, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards is an excellent book that helped me approach drawing in a more constructive way. For those interested in human anatomy, Gray’s Anatomy by Henry Gray, and with drawings by H.V. Carter, is an excellent way to gain a rudimentary understanding of the structure of the human body without a lot of the morally questionable drawbacks inherent in most artist anatomy books. Finally, if finding people who are patient enough to let you draw them is a problem like it was in my family, books of famous people of history with large pictures are often a decent substitute.