Kate Abbott: Taking time to see


My friend, Judith Monachina, tells me she likes taking photographs on film. Digital cameras, she says, are too quick.

We are sitting in the sun on a bench in Stockbridge, eating gelato from Love and Chocolate. We've just run into each other at IS183's artlab, where a kindly instructor offered me the chance to play with clay.

I had come looking for pop-up artists' studios, and I'd found tables full of colored paper and scissors with bright rubber handles -- a display of art, but more an invitation to try it. Judith said the same thing: She wanted to make something.

So, we sat looking at the maple keys on the brick sidewalk, and she remembered the pleasure of focusing her old print camera, finding the light and the distance and the texture she wanted.

I have a digital camera on my phone, and I appreciate all its uses as a journalistic tool. I always have it around, and it's easy to carry on a 5-mile hike. It takes good-quality images in seconds and I can put them online in seconds more.

But I think I know what she means. My phone camera is so fast that I don't have to look at what I'm photographing. I remember the drawing class I took as a senior in college, cross-hatching a reflection on curved glass, trying to catch the light and shadow of my own fingers on my knee.

When you draw a thing, you have to look at it and keep looking at it. Your eye moves from the paper to a flower petal or the shadow cast by a fern frond, or the grain of wood, or the line of someone's cheek, shoulder, collarbone.

I'm highly amateur, but I can understand that. If I want to write about a place, or a scene or a person at work, I do the same thing -- look, and look again, look for details and feel the weight of them.

The last time I came through Stockbridge, I came to the Norman Rockwell Museum to talk about the summer, and I got there early, with time enough to walk through the Murray Tinkelman show. Here, as I came in, hung a set of sketches he had made with a friend, walking around one afternoon at a celebration.

The one that stays with me is a woman in sunglasses, with long, dark hair held back from her face. She looks tall and straight in a light shirt.

Tinkelman saw her at a powwow. On film at the center of the room he is talking about the afternoon and evening he spent there, the fry bread and music, the sunset light and the dancers.

I can see him walking around with his notepad, sketching in cross-hatch. He must have looked at this woman carefully to have drawn her quiet expression and the details of her costume.

She is a butterfly dancer. Her dance, the show told me, holds the pattern of a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis. And I had just come from Project Native, where Karen LeBlanc told me that a chrysalis is formed from a layer of protein under a caterpillar's skin -- while a cuccoon is spun -- and a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis has to pump fluid through its crumpled wings, to let them straighten and fill out and dry.

I have never seen a butterfly hatch, let alone danced the motion of it.

It seems to me the patience in that art is worth knowing.


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