Friday, August 13, 2010

Highway #5

Ellen needed some extra time to say goodbye to her Middlebury friends, so Al and I took an excursion to Shelburne, VT, specifically to the Shelburne Museum to see an Ansel Adams exhibit. We figured it would take an hour at most to view the photographs, and then we’d seek out a hiking trail at nearby Mt. Philo State Park or possibly head over to Ben and Jerry's for a tour and a treat.

The Shelburne Museum turned out to be a very strange and in some ways, sort of interesting place. We ended up spending all afternoon there.  It was created by Electra Havemeyer-Webb who was somehow related to both the Vanderbilt and the Domino Sugar fortunes. She was interested in everything from big game hunting to children’s tea sets and the museum is as unconventional as she was. The collection includes items as disparate colonial New England farm implements (just what is a tin whimsy anyway?) and original paintings by Monet, Manet, Degas and Cassat. On site is a barn with early American wagons and sleighs, an old paddlewheel steamer, and even a lighthouse.  You can see working printing presses and Jaquard looms or if you prefer, a collection of quilts memorializing victims of Alzheimer’s Disease. It is a very strange and eclectic mix of a whole lot of stuff.   The Ansel Adams show was predictably great. Most of the photographs were very typical of his style, but a couple surprised us. But the real treat of the day came from a Canadian photographer that I had never heard of, Edward Burtynsky.

Like Adams, Burtynsky shoots huge landscape style photos. The difference is that Burtynsky is interested in man-made landscapes, so his images are of slag heaps and oil drums, highways and quarries. He attempts to capture the juxtaposition of (and I quote) “attraction and revulsion” and “seduction and fear” of human activity and its impact on earth. His artistic composition is perfect, his colors are vivid and lush, and his photographs are simultaneously stunning and frightening.

There were several that really stood out. One of these is called “Highway #5” and is an image of the highway system in Los Angeles. I was particularly moved by this photograph.  It is huge—probably 5 feet tall and 7 feet wide, so the thumbnail above really doesn't do it justice at all.At the bottom is the complex and confusing highway interchange system which is juxtaposed with an array of linear city streets. Somehow, all of these crazy highway ramps, interchanges, and bridges seem to converge on a single highway that splits the image in half. Somehow chaos is channeled into order. The crazy mishmash of roads on the bottom of the image crystallizes into something sensible and clear.

To me, this image perfectly captures how people think. Or at least, how I think. At first my ideas are floating around in a confusing and overlapping tangle and nothing seems to make any sense. It is not clear that any line of thought will lead anywhere, except possibly in circles. But somehow, and I really can’t explain how, the thoughts begin to take form until, quite miraculously, something coherent and even logical emerges.. Suddenly, the path is clear, the confusion gone and I know exactly where I am going.

Today I am grateful for artists and the beauty they create, sometimes in unexpected ways and in unexpected places


  1. I just saw your blog on the Family Blog referring us to this one. I have spent the last 2 hours reading and re-reading all of your posts and I am profoundly impressed with the inner workings of your mind, your determination and your courage in sharing yourself with all of us. As your sister, I thought I knew you well, but you have proven me profoundly wrong. You are a truly amazing person. I wouldn't have thought it possible, but I think I love you at least 100 times more than I did this morning. Thank you for being you. I plan on checking every day going forward. Keep up the extraOrdinary Ramblings... I love it!
    Hugs and Kisses - Kathy

  2. Hi Kath!
    Glad you're enjoying this blog. Thanks for reading!