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Painters, photographers, and law enforcement officers have shown a lot of interest in capturing just one side of us, a side of us we don’t usually see.

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Portrait Paolo Uccello (1397 - 1475)  Roundel with Head, ca. 1435

Italian artists working 500 years ago and more gave us some of the most arresting one-sided portraits we will ever see.  Up top, that’s  Federico da Montefeltro giving his wife Battista Sforza the eye, courtesy of Piero della Francesca.  And that beautiful face in the round frame belongs to an unnamed Florentina painted by Paolo Uccello (1397-1475).  More here


Portrait Fra Filippo Lippi (Italian Renaissance painter, c 1406–1469) also called Lippo Lippi, Portrait of a Woman with a Man at a Casement

Here’s a lady caught at the window by Fra Filippo Lippi (c 1406–1469).  Her eyes don’t quite meet his, and maybe that’s the story here.  From this nicely gathered collection of side portraits.


portrait Bernard exhibit_fivecenturies

Moving up the road to France and a bit closer to our time, we found this lovely drawing by Jean-Joseph Bernard, 1785, at Vanderbilt University. Just pen and ink with watercolor on paper.


portrait profile French_-_Profile_Portrait_of_a_Man_-_Walters_27251

Staying in France for a moment, here is a carved profile of an homme who from this angle seems both aristocratic and capable of beating somebody up.  Image found here

portraits of lawgivers montage

This group called Portraits of Lawgivers lives in the House Chamber of the U.S. Capitol Building. Each of the men depicted is a person who, some say, contributed to the laws that now underlie the US justice system. We think that’s Hammurabi up there.


Portrait Sargeant Madame_X_(Madame_Pierre_Gautreau),_John_Singer_Sargent,_1884_(unfree_frame_crop)

Madame X, as she came to be called, was an American in Paris in the 1880’s who did well in marriage, generated much gossip, and attracted the attention of painter John Singer Sargent who asked if he could paint her.  She said yes and the resulting portrait of her, with her gaze averted stage left, was judged just s bit too, you know.  Despite the averted gaze and the “X” everyone recognized the woman in black as “that woman”.  See her here now, at your leisure.


portrait Jimi jailhouse672a0

Jumping ahead to modern scandalous celebrity, getting your “mug” shot shortly after an arrest, profile on one side and full face on the other, is  almost a rite of passage for film stars and musicians of the last 70 years or so.  Mr Hendrix got out of the Toronto jail soon after and went on to play another day.

Portrait Man Ray of Lee Miller IMAGE-ONE-T

20th century artists like Man Ray rediscovered the power of the sidelong view even when no crime had preceded the shot.  This is Lee Miller in his Paris studio. Some of course thought it a crime that a woman this beautiful could also be a talented, brave, and prolific photographer.

portrait studio-portrait-movie-star-billie-dove-profile-in-silky-robe-and-heavy-jewels-hair-french-short

Isn’t she lovely, actress Billie Dove.  We don’t care what she’s done.

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Audrey Hepburn photographed by Yousaf Karsh and, bless her, she turned just a little toward us.  From

Portrait silhouette ProfileBrightonMahomed

The silhouette was not just a fad, it was an obsession at a certain point.  If you hadn’t been caught from the side on black paper with scissors well you just hadn’t arrived.  This nice example from England found here


Portrait silhouette sturgefamily_092-4-_stu_hug

Many got the whole damned family scissored and pasted. This is the Sturge Family, ca. 1820 presented in the collection of the Library of the Society of Friends (The Quakers)


Portrait sillhouettes book

Some silhouettists snipped black images of everyone they met, apparently.  Here’s a book of hundreds of them at the Smithsonian Institute


ghirland 2 giovanna

Back to where we started, in Italy, this must be counted among the most beautiful portraits ever produced, and it is amazing how much it conveys while only showing us one side of this woman’s story.  Her name is Giovanna Tornabuoni, and she died in childbirth.  Painted posthumously by Domenico Ghirlandaio about 1490. She now lives in a museum in Madrid and was recently the star of an exhibition there reported here.


portrait Johannes_Vermeer_(1632-1675)_-_The_Girl_With_The_Pearl_Earring_(1665)

Much as we love the profile portaits we found, we are very very glad that Jan Vermeer (go here) coaxed this lady to turn toward his canvas and to us.  Perhaps the gift of her gaze is all the more powerful because we have been deprived of it.  Maybe that’s the power of the profile–to increase the appetite for more of her face.





Living by the sea can be a swell thing. Where we live, the breezes are mostly mild and scented with salt, sea shells, and mermaids.

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People, lots of people, choose to live in coastal cities, and they always have.  And those who don’t or can’t, come for holidays. Many of the benefits are obvious. Lovely pic of a coastal guy on his lunch break from here.  Experts from all over (e.g.) say that just breathing sea air allows us to sleep better, and that can have real benefits to how happy and healthy we are.

But of course we can’t be blind to the other side of living with the sea as your neighbour.  Our salty benefactor that serves up so much pleasure and good health can also serve up destruction and death. The truth is, sometimes, the bountiful sea doesn’t stay put. Sometimes, it comes calling.

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Venice is the most famous and photogenic example.  And though Venetians are justly famous for just carrying on and wading about their business,  the government is spending a fortune (even by Venetian standards) to try and keep the Mediterranean out of the piazzas and palazzos. One story here


ocean hurricane-sandy-statue-libertyoceans hurrican sandy

New Yorkers got a taste of life with the Atlantic ocean too close for comfort during and after Hurricane Sandy Oct 2012.  Since then, the city has been re-thinking the way Manhattan works in order to prevent similar damage from future, inevitable storms.  Here is one of many reports on the plans.

It is not just New York’s problem. This is something all great and small coastal cities should have on their agenda.  Because there is more water in all the seas than there once was, and the only place it has to go is up, where we are, by the sea.  Why?

ocean iceberg Scientists-Renew-Their-Warning-of-Rising-Oceans-From-Polar-Melt

The ice at the top and bottom of our planet is melting fast enough to cause measurable changes in sea level around the world.  Whether you think the reason is man-made climate change (we do), natural cycles, socialists, or alien misbehavior, the melting of arctic and antarctic ice is real.  It is not a theory or a political platform.  It happens daily, sometimes in dramatic fashion.

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This berg is about to shed a wedge of ice the size of warehouse.  Beautifully photographed in Alaska by Betty Sederquist.  More here.


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At the other end of the earth, this is a giant iceberg in Antarctica about to leave the mother ship.  It was deemed separated in April of this year and weighed in at “the size of Chicago”  or “as big as Singapore”, depending on your source.  Lots of video coverage via this site

What this event means for those of us who live by the sea now is not much, in terms of our day at the beach.  Even if it drifts into warm waters and melts completely, even when Chicago melts, you’d need more than an eagle eye to spot the rise in sea level.  But there are lots more city size ice cubes breaking away and melting.  This is a recent summary report from the NY Times


This beautiful object (wonderful photo by Camille Seaman) may not be much of a threat to modern ships or tomorrow’s day at the beach, but it and its kin are slowly raising the tideline around the world.  Choice property will be lost–some quickly in murderous storms, some slowly over generations.

We can’t stop it, but we can do what we do when we are at our best: we can start thinking differently about how we respond to this force of nature.  We in coastal cities can start planning–as New York is doing–for dealing with higher water when it comes, taking preventative action, reducing the destruction.  Instead of pure admiration or pure fear of the ocean, we need to get more realistic and show more respect for the ocean we love.  As sailors always have.


ocean hurrican sandy carousel brooklyn

It’s time to move the carousel.  Pic from Brooklyn Oct 2012.




EBurtynsky Pivot Irr AZ

This is a pivot irrigation system near a suburb south of Yuma Arizona.  Nice composition and colour.

When people build things to do a job, fill a need, make some money, their last thought is ever ending up in an art show.  But the truth is, like it or not, the visual effect of human intervention on the landscape is often stunningly beautiful.

Ed Burtynsky Greenhouses Spain

These are greenhouses in the Almira Peninsula in Spain 2010.  Muy Bonito–tight but dynamic structure, plus subtle colour and texture variation.

Of course the beauty of these interventions comes at a price, and sometimes that price is very high: a lasting stain on the canvas we all inhabit, or worse, a fatal infection of some irreplaceable part of what keeps us alive.

Edward Burtynsky Water Baja

Above is Cerro Prieto Geothermal Power Station, Baja Mexico, 2012.  As an image, it has a hyper-electric, saturated intensity.  As a piece of evidence, it is deeply disturbing.

All three photographs above by Edward Burtynsky whose work can be viewed here  and here


Louis Helbig stelcosteelmillo2

Stelco Steel Mill Nanticoke Ontario.  When a gifted, technically super photographer takes on the job of showing us who we are and what we are doing, the results can’t help but be both beautiful and alarming.  That’s after all what we are.

louis helbig Residual Bitumen tarpondsb2410061a

Residual Bitumen, Suncor South, Alberta, Canada.  How do we reconcile that this image of a careless (?) industrial after-effect has some of the same aesthetic qualities as the muscular/spiritual abstract paintings we flock to see in modern art museums?

Above aerial photographs by Mr Louis Helbig, based in Ottawa, but flying all over the country.  Look here


David Maisel Fall_Borox9_MAISEL

Back to Spain, this time above a Borox field with photographer David Maisel.  These fields, like “a grey sea in a desert” says Mr Maisel, are in a mining and agricultural region of La Mancha.

David Maisel AM_Carlin_NV18_MAISEL

Up next, open pit mines in Nevada on the Carlin Trend, a highly productive gold mining district. The downside is mines from this region are the source of mercury emissions released when ore is heated during refinement. Also shot by David Maisel.

David Maisel 3_TERMINAL_MIRAGE_19

This is one of the edges of Utah’s Great Salt Lake where zones of mineral evaporation ponds lie. Industrial pollution creates haunting other-worldly effects than only the artistic imagination can match. More David Maisel here


Mojave night Imperial Sand Dunes

This glowing mound is a portion of the Imperial Sand Dunes in the Colorado Desert Region of Southern California, at night, crawling with recreational vehicles, some of the 1.28 million visitors who visit the area annually.  We know this is not good, but holy crow it looks like an a electric volcano.  Source


alex maclean on black iceaerial4

Photographers keep flying over the land and recording the remarkable things we do when we think no one is watching–and the findings are so often both stunning and rattling.  Alex S. MacLean captured this: Motorcycle Racing on Black Ice, as well as the three images that follow.

alex maclean snowmobile tracks ice AB

Here he records snowmobile tracks on ice near industrial sites in Western Canada.

alex Maclean tracks_of_tomatos

Looks like calligraphy. But it’s tomato fields North Central OH, 1990

Alex Maclean tumbler Frosted Fields Souutheastern MA

And this beautiful image is a shot of something probably very very wrong.

Lots of amazing photos by Alex S MacLean on tumbler and his own site


Edward Burtynsky Nickel Tailings Sudbury 1996

Above Edward Burtynsky, Nickel mine tailings, Sudbury Ontario 1996, found here

There is a show at the Vancouver Art Gallery just now (May 2014) featuring a fine selection of Edward Burtynsky’s photographs.  We may not be doing him full justice, but we believe he sees and n fact seeks the beauty in the interventions that we the people make on the earth one way or another every day.  His VAG show is called A Terrible Beauty.

Should we feel guilty about finding something poisonous beautiful?  Should we feel guilty in failing to acknowledge the beauty of something clearly dangerous to the earth?  To hold contradictory ideas in the mind was once thought a virtue.  For now, all we can say is: it’s the truth


rousseau Boy on the Rocks

If  you ever find yourself in front of a painting by Henri Rousseau, as we did some weeks ago, you are bound to feel a bit queasy, as we did, because you will probably be, as we were, simultaneously charmed and spooked.  First you smile, then you cock your head and give it a shake.


The world depicted by M Rousseau makes no sense, and in spite of that, or most likely because of that, it is beguiling, seductive, addictive. The more you look, the less you know for sure.  His manual skill is adept and refined in many places (branches, leaves), and then you come across something that you think must have been done with his eyes closed and the brush attached to his elbow.

rousseau old-man-junier-s-trap-1908

rousseau football

The composition and perspective are always completely wrong, but never in a way that suggests he actually knows what would be right, and the events, if that’s what they are, are simply wacky.


He seems to be making it up as he goes along, an improvisation by someone who knew the rules well enough to break them without breaking the spell cast by the people and places he has painted. Our awareness that  things are terribly wrong here adds a tension that may be crucial to the enchantment.    Maybe.

rousseau rabbit-1908

So few people in any field carve their own path, and of those, so few leave behind anything that strongly connects with anyone. M Henri Rousseau is an original whose work stands firmly within the palaces dedicated to the masters of modern art, yet this work seems to be alive and alien in a way that almost nothing else in that palace is.


The giants Picasso and Matisse are part of the family now and can be safely invited to dinner.  M Rousseau?  He is still the outsider who got in, and his work has never been tamed.  Keep your eye on that one.


To those of us who have spent our lives in a moderate climate–ours is moist, mild, misty, and lush–it is stunning to encounter the desert for the first time.   Pic above is a desert in Peru looking to swallow up the highway, found here.

The desert eats me, Uyuni tour

We are here to say that people can lose their heads over this landscape, falling quickly and hard. The torrid attraction to desert heat and space happens not only to ordinary boys and girls off on a road trip (like this smitten traveller in Bolivia seen here ) but to all sorts of exotic creatures, including architects and artists.

Desert vacation home architizer

If you want to do more than just look and swoon at the desert, if you want to live there, find yourself an architect who’s got the desert bug.  Above is called the Four Eyes House by California architect Edward Ogosta, more here .

desert house olson kundig idaho desert house RosaMuerta R Stone DesertNomadHouse R Joy

Say “Desert house” to many an architect and you’ve got them where you want them.  Here you don’t have to worry about the zoning restrictions, the neighbours, or where to put the lumber, trucks, and tools while you are building.  This freedom, combined with the sheer harshness of the physical factors, has produced some beautiful results. Above three desert designs are by Olson Kundig Architects, Robert Stone, and Rick Joy, all found here.

Ant Farm Cadillac Ranch 1974 Photographed 1977

Artists too have found freedom and inspiration in the desert–the flat open space must seem liberating to any artist who feels confined by the canvas and the studio. Above is Cadillac Ranch near Amarillo Texas as it looked when produced in 1974 by an art gang named Ant Farm.  See here.

desert christo oil barrels

The artist who in our time has set the standard for getting out of the studio, Christo, has wrapped up big things (bridges, buildings) all over the world and now intends to place a very big thing in the desert landscape of the United Arab Emirates , as reported here

michael heizer_city

And this is American artist Michael Heizer, image from here.

michael-heizer city wide

Mr Heizer has devoted a good slice of his life and imagination and hutzpah to creating, not a sculpture, not a monument, but a city in the desert of Nevada.  Above image from Treehugger and more from the NYT 

And if you like art and light and you don’t know what James Turrell has been doing in the desert, you need to go here now.

turrell roden crater

Above is an entry into James Turrell’s Roden Crater project found here  

But don’t go getting the idea that it is just the 1% of the artistic club, the superstars, who get their hormones and imaginations all swept up in the desert.  Lots of everyday free spirits with a gluegun and a hammer and a glint in their eye do too.

noah purifoy

This is a portion of the life work of one Noah Purifoy, now known as the Noah Purifoy Outdoor Desert Art exhibit near Joshua Tree CA. Visit here.

Many of the freest spirits who lust for the desert end up at the Burning Man Festival every late August/September.

burning man 2010 boston big pic 15 

Held in northern Nevada in Black Rock Desert, it is about art and life and transportation and fire and lust and freedom and a lot more.  Only a desert seems capable of hosting such a collection of desires. Pic by Jim Bourg/Reuters via

burning man 2010 Boston Big Pic

Before the burning, time for tea.  This image is one of many at the Big Picture site at

Some of the sculpture is wondrous, such as the piece shown below in this photograph by Frederick Larson of the SF Chronicle.

burning man sculpture 2008 F Larson the Chronicle

The desert seems to be able to accommodate and excite all varieties of humanity. It’s not just the unclothed and untamed who fall for it, but the super sophisticates who find something unexpected and rich in the plain hot flat emptiness if it.  How about you?

desert noel2

Mr Noel Coward, 1954 photo by Loomis Dean for Life Magazine seen here


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