Croatian Cultural Center
801 5th St., Anacortes
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One of my favorite places to go exploring with my camera is the Olympic Peninsula of Washington State and the best time of the year for this is mid-summer, when two things happen. First, this is when the lowest tide of the year occurs on the Washington coast, and second is that the low tide will attract my oldest brother to visit.
My brother David is an old school photographer. One look at his work and one can see the influence of photographers such as Ansel Adams and Edward Weston. David is most at home hiking in the mountains or on a wild beach with his camera.
David’s love of photography started When he was a student at Stanford. I remember a story he still tells of reading an article about Ansel Adams and his love of hosting students at his photo lab in Carmel, California. This inspired him to write a letter to Ansel Adams and was astounded when he responded a week later with an invitation to come spend a day with him in Carmel.
After this experience, David started making slide shows (to classical music) and would show to the family on his vacations between quarters at Stanford. These shows made a big impression on me (I was in the 5th grade at the time) and I started to play around with a Brownie camera and then an Instamatic. By the time I reached fifteen, I spent a summer working in a carwash in order to buy my first 35mm camera, a Pentax Spotmatic.
After many years I ended up in the Northwest and my brother David and I make it a regular yearly trek to the Beach to photograph together. Our usual gig is to rent a cabin in La Push and spend a week there. La Push is conveniently located near a number of very photographic locations such as: Sol Duc, Hurricane Ridge, the Hoh River Valley, but our favorite is Ruby Beach, especially at the lowest tide of the year. The difference between the lowest tide and the regular low tide is quite dramatic. If you get there early enough, before sunrise, you usually can have the whole beach to yourself for a few hours. However, on this occasion there was a man and his daughter there blowing extraordinarily large bubbles using a soap mixture they purchased off the Internet.
I was only in fourth grade when my twin brother and I began working in my Grandfather’s metal shop. My father, who believed that formal schooling made you stupid, felt that all we needed was a knowledge of how to run all the machines in the shop. It was a strongly held and practical view and I didn’t argue, though I also continued in public school.
While in high school, my art teacher convinced me that I had talent as an artist, and helped me get a one semester scholarship to Columbus College of Art and Design. But there was one big problem: I had flunked two subjects my senior year. The teachers of those classes were absolutely shocked to find out I had earned a scholarship, but gave me the opportunity to raise my grades to D so I could attend Columbus.
My family was not supportive of my decision to go to college, especially an art college. The idea of me going to college and quitting the family business made him extremely angry, while my mother said that I was too stupid for college and needed to stay home.
All the while, my twin brother and I remained very close and never separated. We would even go to the toilet together and pee at the same time. Both of us were traumatized at the thought of being separated. It was hard for either of us to function alone. However, despite our bond, my brother encouraged me to go to college and even offered me his motorcycle to get there!
Surprisingly, there I was in college with only a third grade reading level! Though I excelled in all art classes, I failed art history twice. At the end of my first year I was offered a full one-year scholarship with one catch-that I switched my major in Fine Arts to Advertising. I had no interest at all in advertising. Nonetheless, I took the scholarship and only excelled in my art classes. As a result, I did not receive a scholarship for the following year and decided to go back to work with my dad and brother in the family shop.
As it turns out, my decision was a disaster. My father and brother referred to me as “The Big Shot College Guy” and said I’d come home to work with the peons. After only a few months, it was clear that I would never be a part of the family business again.
While I knew I needed to be back in college, I realized advertising was not for me and that there was no money in fine arts. I struggled with what direction to take and what major to pursue. It was during that time that a beautiful dancer friend of mine took me to an Alvin Nikolai Dance Company Production. I was struck and inspired by the performance, but recognized that I could never put all of its elements in a painting.
Then my California friend, Marius Hibbard, told me about a cinematography program at the San Francisco Art Institute and that got me thinking. Just days later, I was busted for selling dangerous drugs, but the judge gave me probation with the condition that I leave the state of Ohio and travel to San Francisco to attempt to fulfill my dream of being a cinematographer. The judge ruled that I was banned from Ohio for a year and if I returned would be thrown in prison.
When I arrive at the San Francisco Art Institute and began to know the cinematography program, it became immediately apparent the these teachers were independent movie makers who hated Hollywood and believed that the cinematographer should do the entire movie him/herself. I completed my program and set off for Hollywood, but after only a few interviews, I realized my education did not apply there. I was told that you could be a director, editor, gaffer, or any number of other roles, but no one makes the whole movie by themselves. I was asked “What is your specialty?”
With this new understanding, I grabbed my art portfolio from Columbus College of Art and design and presented it to Hanna Barbera and was lucky enough to get into their animation training program. I was hired at an entry level position, as a in-betweener; the person who did the drawings in between the animators’ drawings. I was so happy with the job, thinking I’d really made it, that I broke down and cried.
It was soon apparent to me that I was only working in a cartoon factory, and that there was no creativity at all involved, so I started taking night classes in directing and writing. With this new education, I was able to take my training overseas as a production supervisor. Following this experience, I got a chance to produce and be an artistic director.
In the meantime, 3D animation passed right by me and, since I didn’t keep up with the technology, I soon found myself out of the animation field. Now in my 50’s, I was looking for work from directors in their 20’s who didn’t seem to want an old man on their team.
Then an opportunity arose: to teach children in a private art school. I discovered it was something I had always wanted to do. After a few years with the children, the principal approached me and said that if I could produce enough good paintings, she would allow me to teach painting classes as opposed to just the drawing and coloring classes I’d done so far.
This was just the encouragement I needed to break out my old paints from college and start again. In doing this, my original passion for fine arts was rekindled, and I was led to do this art show I call “Practicing What I Teach”. By teaching young students, I relearned all the basics of my classical art training! It’s exciting to paint again.