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"What are the Clouds? An architecture of chance? Perhaps they are the necessary things from which God weaves his vast imaginings, threads of a web of infinite expanse.  Maybe the cloud is emptiness returning, just like the man who watches it this morning" 
- Jorge Luis Borges from "Clouds (II)"
What are the clouds? Some days they are a giant sky-high Rorschach test in which we may map the intricate workings of our mind's imaginings - one minute an elephant, the next a garden of sunflowers, and then a whole school of fish, skittering, flying by into a vast sea of sky-blue-pink. Other days they are abstract paintings, fine calligraphic swatches of golds, greys and white on an ultramarine palette, and on another like a memory, not of the past, but of the unremitting present. We know they are an aggregation of cold water droplets, condensation, ice and air made visible, but surely something so capable of inspiring awe, wonder and amazement must be more than the sum of physical properties.

As a photographer, I avoided clouds. Yet I found myself constantly looking at the sky, gazing at the infinite variety of shapes and form and texture found the clouds for the longest time. They seemed not to be a worthwhile subject, vague, transitory, and certainly not serious. And besides who could ever match anything that Alfred Stieglitz had produced in his series of cloudscapes called "Equivalents." Stieglitz was one of the first to say that a photograph was not necessarily about what it was of. Photographs, he proposed, were more than merely a document or a record, but could offer other interpretations conveying semantic as well as poetic meaning.

I first "saw" clouds from the back window of a 1957 Dodge, the kind of car that had a window with a ledge in the back big enough for a ten year old to lie head to toe face up with a perfect view of the sky flying by as the car traveled down a back road in Western Massachusetts. It's a day I remember perfectly, a summer afternoon, the weather warm, my sister and brother in the back seat playing a game of count-the-cows, my parents in the front talking to each other. I was in my own secluded world, afforded a small bit of privacy by my elevated position in this windowed chamber. Mesmerized and meditating, I was considering what I would do with the rest of my life. I had been asked one too many times "What do you want to do when you grow up, dear?" The question had been troubling me because while I knew what I wanted to do today, right now, I wasn't sure how that might translate into what the grownup world was calling "work." What I liked to do was draw and paint. Somehow it came to me clearly then that I would be an artist, and that my work would be to paint the wonderful white abstractions that floated past my skyward eyes in an ever changing array each minute more beautiful than the one before.

And then I forgot about the clouds. In high school I was drawn to the work of John Singer Sargeant almost entirely because of the way he painted skies. I spent hours looking at books and copying his work, in particular one painting, "The Fisherman's Wives." I cut out a reproduction of it from an old TIME Magazine and tacked the 3" x 4" image to my bulletin board, deciding to copy it on the largest canvas sold in the local art supply store. It was a major undertaking requiring months to complete. Wanting to get it exactly right, I looked at the tiny reproduction and imagined the original to be huge because of the way Sargent depicted the vast and billowing clouds. Years later, turning a corner in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, I was stunned to come across the original of "my" painting: stunned because it was so much smaller than my canvas. I learned later that the Boston Museum's painting was indeed only a study for a much larger work by Sargeant, and that there exists a mural size edition of the work which I have never seen.
 
 
 

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