Sunday, September 24, 2023

Learning to Grow

John Snyder at Schartner's Farms in North Conway, New Hampshire in the early 2000s. I was riffing on Edward Weston who believed that photographing Monumental Heads, his term, was best done against a featureless sky.

Same victim. Same station. Highly stylized but effective.

And finally John's longtime partner, Ginny Howe, in their North Conway chalet as shot with my spanking new Canon 24-70mm f2.8 lens and side light from the front window.

As we were driving to Taos from the Grand Canyon a week ago I got a call from my friend John Snyder in Maine. We spoke for at least an hour and our conversation wandered from the personal, to the professional, to politics and the meaning of life. He called because he wanted me to hear the singer and musician, Tom Russell. “He’s in his seventies and he’s still got it. You need to look him up. Do it while you’re driving. You’ll like him.”

For as long as I have known John, thirtyish years, he’s had a library of artists on his car audio system. Then as now his taste skews toward folk and Americana. He thought that as an old folkie I’d enjoy Russell. I did not search for Russell then. I don’t listen to anything but my thoughts when I’m driving. No music. No news. No talk radio. No nada. It’s ironic for a guy who called himself a musician sixty years ago.

Then John told me that he was taking guitar lessons via Skype once a week. He said that his mentor was very demanding and that he could get cranky if John didn’t perform precisely as he expected. But he said. “We’re cool though. I like the man. He has the same politics.”

He said he was practicing a very complex finger style of playing using various exotic tunings. I played a rudimentary finger style in the dark ages so I had some sense of how hard that could be. I even dabbled with flamenco which is a very fingery pursuit. The four-finger tremolo was the zenith of my achievements.

Two things dawned on me. One, that John, an accomplished man generally, was still learning and studying and, two, that I’m a lazy, undisciplined dog and that I learn just enough to get the job done, if that. The gap between his diligence and tenacity and my inertia is the Grand Canyon of vastness.

So, you’ve got John Snyder who bought a 1967 Martin D-28 guitar when he was still in high school in Queens and was playing daily when we met 30 years ago in New Hampshire. And I'm an octogenarian slacker who plays twice a year for fifteen minutes and hasn’t learned new song since struggling with “Fire and Rain” in 1972.

It got me to thinking which is a breakthrough unto itself. Here’s John a writer and photographer, a licensed Maine Guide, a pilot, a seaplane pilot, a boat captain (sail and power), a pilot boat skipper, and a lifetime learner and here I am flailing at the void.

On Tuesday I decided that I would learn something every day or relearn something I once knew and have since forgotten. What I’ve forgotten would fill a very large hard drive. I started with a couple of relearns. I figured that would be easier than something from scratch. On Tuesday I relearned how to take a time exposure with my Sony A7r 111a camera. That’s pedestrian stuff that should be intuitive but after two YouTube videos I figured it out and hope I’ll remember the next time photograph the night sky. Then Wednesday I relearned making a video with an external microphone and my iPhone. I did it first with the phone’s internal mic and then with a modest Comica mic. The external microphone did produce better sound, but the improvement was modest. I, however, was using natural light and looked like a nonagenarian with a hangover. Next, I’ll introduce fill light to see if I can erase twenty years. After that I’ll video an interview with an unsuspecting victim. And on Saturday I started learning Italian for an upcoming trip to Venice and locales as yet unchosen. There are enough similarities to Spanish that everyday Italiano will come quickly. What happened to Thursday and Friday? you ask. Those were rest days if you must know.

On my life of learning docket are relearning my folk set from the Sixties. Then there’s blues guitar that is made for my unintelligible rasp. There's really studying Spanish instead of treading water. Video editing is a daunting contender. Writing regularly and for more grand purposes than a weekly blog read by few and a bimonthly article for an online magazine should be primero on the list of growing goals but doubtlessly won’t be. That would take real commitment.

Thanks for the kick in the ass, John. You got my attention and respect.

As to Tom Russell, you're right. The dude can play and still has his pipes.


Blacks Crossing said...

Love the second shot of John Snyder, looking down. And of course, your stellar writing and musings about learning to grow and growing to learn. Life-long learning, as it has been dubbed, is essential to longevity and contentment. John seems to be a great example of that, along with the much maligned former president Jimmy Carter, who tried something new practically every day. If he thought wine was too expensive, he started making his own. Woodworking. Check. Home building with Habitat. Check. And within photography, as you said, new explorations are endless. You could add drone videography to the list.....Go for it, Amigo! You are endlessly talented.

Anonymous said...

Jeepers what great photographs of John!!!!! He is definitely an inspiration. Keep learning Bub. It's what makes the world go 'round.

Steve Immel said...

Thanks to you both. John is an inspiration. Lots to learn from the man. Jimmy Carter is one of my idols. Learning throughout his life, teaching Sunday school well into his 90s. A truly fine human being.