Sunday, July 24, 2016

Birthday Blog 2016

My 4th Annual Blog On My Birthday
By Rick Doble

You don't choose your art,
your art chooses you.
~ Unknown Graffiti Artist ~

Today I turn 72. As an artist and author, I have accomplished much more than I ever dreamed I would. Often I did not know where I was headed, but I just kept going. In hindsight my creative work has brought me immense satisfaction and consistently steered me in the right direction. It has been the cornerstone of my life.

How my art came to be and came together is the subject of this blog. I write this in the hope that it might help other younger artists who are struggling -- and wondering if they have taken the right direction. My advice: hang in there, trust your instincts, keep on keeping on.


Living My Life As an Artist, an Autobiography: 
True Stories of Art, Love, Family 
& the Creative Process Told in Poetic Form
When I was recovering from a hip operation in 2010, a flood of poetry filled my head. One of my rules is that when "you hear dictation, pay attention." So I listened and as a result wrote what may be the first full-length autobiography in poetic form -- starting at age 4 and ending at age 66, my age at the time I wrote it. I have included four poems from this autobiography in this blog.
This autobiographical eBook is free and online. It is now published under the Creative Commons copyright, meaning you can quote from this eBook without special permission as long as you credit me, Rick Doble, as the author.

You can view and/or download the full eBook in PDF:

You can also download this as an eBook in the standard eBook (epub) format.

Over 2000 people around the world have looked at this eBook since I wrote it.

So here is my story:

I always knew I wanted to be an artist -- whatever that meant. I knew I wanted to be a writer from the time I was seven when I wrote a little book, illustrated it and bound it in a cardboard cover. 

In 1952 when I was 7 years old I wrote this book. 
I bound it in a hard cover, illustrated it and included an inside title page. 
On the left above is the cover, on the right side one of the pages in the book.
I did not remember writing this until 30 years later after my mother died 
and I found it among the things she had saved.

To me being creative was something I had to do, something I was meant to do -- it was really the only path I could take. But of course there was a price to pay. Early on it became clear to me that wanting to be an artist put me at odds with most people my age. They were trying to fit it and were headed for careers and jobs with companies. I was striking out on my own.

Since Feeling Is First
Age 14-17, Phillips Exeter Academy, Exeter, New Hampshire, 1958-1962

since feeling is first
who pays any attention
to the syntax of things
will never wholly kiss you;
wholly to be a fool
while Spring is in the world
~ e.e. cummings ~

Manliness is not all swagger and mountain climbing. Its also tenderness.
Robert Anderson, Tea and Sympathy [about Phillips Exeter Academy]

Hazers are themselves victims, wounded souls 
who are acting out their own unfinished business.
Jayson Gaddis, Men and Hazing

Standing up to pain
became a badge
boys don't cry
take it like a man
be tough
is that all you got?
give me more

as a male it was your fate
to suck it up
never let it get to you
as said in Tea and Sympathy
to be a "regular guy"

and not just physical pain
but also emotional
such as humiliation by a teacher

only there was more to it 
we thought we were just hiding our feelings
instead we were learning not to feel

like all boys I paid lip service
to this show of manliness
later I realized it was like playing
5 notes in a 12 note octave
we were denied the full range,
confined to the sounds those few notes could play
as the depth of emotional chords and complexity
were not available

we were allowed to yell at sports
or to be angry - perhaps the easiest emotions -
but sorrow or joy, hurt and affection
were off limits

and then I saw the results:
teachers whose dead-end lives
meant they took their anger out 
on boys they were mentoring,
their cruelty masked as a rite of passage

a Latin teacher was noted
for taking a chalkboard eraser
and slamming it against the back of a student
when he did not give a correct answer
or took too long;
often the instructor picked on the same boys
who emerged from class
with their coats covered in white 
- like a mark of shame -
and the boys had to pretend not to be bothered

by my senior year I had found the truth:
what they wanted
was a kind of spiritual death,
it meant that my life would be one of shadows
where emotions became so disguised
I could never reach them

so I let some of my classmates think less of me
because as an aspiring artist I knew that
what I felt was at the heart of who I was

"No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader,"
Robert Frost told us
when I had heard him speak at Exeter
revered like a saint,
that was all the permission I needed

In 1966 at the age of 21 I had achieved one of my goals. I graduated with Honors in Creative Writing with a B.A. in English from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. So my ambitions to become a writer were starting to take shape.

But there was more. I also knew I wanted to do something else besides write. So I made a deliberate effort to find another art form to compliment my writing. I wanted to do something quite different -- something that was more intuitive and required less thought, something that I could do with my hands. For several years I made a number of small mobiles out of balsa wood and tissue paper along with abstract drawings and paintings and a variety of other experiments.

Large painting (about 9' X 3') in the style of early Jackson Pollock (1967)

Drawing Calligraphy in the Sand
Age 22, Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, 1967
calligraphy based on the late works of Paul Klee

A drawing is simply a line going for a walk.
~ Paul Klee ~

I had learned not care 
about what others thought
not even what I thought myself
when the pen in my hand meandered 
across pieces of paper
drawing line after line

after months a kind of alphabet
or hieroglyphics
had evolved -- 
yet it was more drawing than writing
and interlocking, 
each 'letter' part of the next

by that time
the characters had become automatic
like speaking in tongues
like a language that my heart knew
but my brain could not decipher

buying reams of blank paper
I often stopped after only a stroke or two
while other sheets were more complex
"What do these mean?"
a friend asked
"I don't know," I said

then on a weekend
at the beach
the shore empty late at night,
I drew in the canvas of the sand

like a calligraphy brush 
that can draw thick or thin
I straightened my fingers 
to plow wide grooves
and then turned my palm sideways 
to carve sharp and narrow -
after minutes I used my feet as well

the work went 
for ten yards
etched around seashells
outlining driftwood
and across the side of a dune

when the tide came in
it erased most of my script
but left an edge
above the high-water mark

later on Sunday
a breeze blew
and my writing merged with
the wind ripples in the sand
Very small abstract pen drawing, slightly larger than shown above, 
in the style of Alfred Otto Wolfgang Schulze known as Wols (1968)

Discovering Photography
Age 24, Durham County & Apex, North Carolina, 1968

Film photography portrait of my good friend in graduate school, Frank Renfroe (1970)
I developed the negative and made this print in my darkroom,

You don't choose your art, your art chooses you.
~ Unknown Graffiti Artist ~

He has found his style, when he cannot do otherwise.
~ Paul Klee ~

The sensation was hard to explain:

lets say it was like memories
that I threw into a closet
until it was stuffed, overflowing 
and when I believed what I had been told
- that I was not visual - 
I pushed the door shut,
squeezing scenes I had seen
all my life:
from the car's rear window at age 5
the snow on the mountain
the civil rights marches
the smiles of my friends
the nakedness of girlfriends -
I had to push the closet door hard 
to get it to close

years later when I picked up a camera
I was only going to take a few abstract photos
just for fun
instead the closet door popped open
and a thousand memories feel at my feet

then a few months later
in a darkroom I saw my memories
or whatever they were -
maybe dreams I had made real
maybe quiet moments I wanted to freeze -
become black and white in the developer,
while the pictures -
like pieces of paper 
in the pond where I grew up -
floated gently in the tray

that first night after printing
I floated in my bed - 
the scenes emerging
like ghosts from a forest

and then there were 
those architectural pictures
a few years later,
my first foray into color:
the abandoned Holly Springs high school 
with peeling paint
doors ajar
sun splintering through a rounded window
echoes of students running in the hall

in the ground glass of an old
Rollei twin lens reflex
I saw my past
about lost time, lost love
lost desires
at boarding school

later a painter told me
she had come to my photo exhibit
but had to leave - 
the sadness of those
empty hallways
moving her to tears

The abandoned Holly Springs school 
before it was demolished in Holly Springs, NC (1973)

The visual, physical, hands-on, outgoing aspect of photography was the perfect compliment to the internal, mental, cerebral requirements of writing.

But having to master two crafts meant that it would take me much longer to put my artistic statement together. No artist knows how long they have to live and whether they will live long enough to say what they have to say. I had essentially added ten years to the normal length of time it should have taken to master my craft. And to add another wrinkle, at the time photography was not considered an art by most people and was not well respected. 

Again, I felt I had no choice -- the two art forms felt right. But my friends wondered why I had not settled on one or the other. 

Yet photography, it turned out, allowed me to freelance and make a living -- an unexpected benefit. I taught photography classes independent of any institution -- and was able to attract more students than the Arts Council or the community college. I did this in part because I wrote a column for a local monthly magazine in which I featured the photographs of area people. This was the first time I was able to combine my writing and my photography.

"When you come to a fork in the road take it."
Yogi Berra

Then I hit another fork in the road. In the early 1980s, when I was almost 40, cheap personal computers became available. I felt sure they were a key element to what I was trying to do and that they were the technology of the future, so I added this third discipline to my skill set. I had no idea how they were going to work with my art -- but I was certain they would. I became fluent in the BASIC computer language and again added another ten years to the learning of my craft so I could master the digital world as well.

Age 39, Durham, North Carolina, 1983

Meta- (from the Greek...), is a prefix... 
meaning transcending, or going above and beyond.
~ PC Magazine ~

For words are to thought what tools are to work; 
the product depends largely on the growth of the tools.
~ Will Durant, History of Civilization: Part 1 ~

BTW: This may be the only poem with lines from an actual computer program.

You might find it odd
to read a poem about computers:
bits, bytes, and Boolean
but I will do just that

all at once in '83 
cheap computers were everywhere
and everywhere I went 
some kid had tweaked the thing
so it repeated his name
"Chris Jordan was here Chris Jordan was here Chris Jordan was here..."
graffiti and 
the urge to declare existence
now entering the electronic age

and I thought
"Well, if a kid can do that..."
so I set about figuring it out 
watching youngsters in the stores 
punch in text commands in BASIC
as the early computers required

after a couple of weeks I typed in:

10 print "Rick did it "
20 goto 10

and like fireworks
"Rick did it Rick did it Rick did it Rick did it" 
filled the screen
side to side and top to bottom
scrolling endlessly
until the store pulled the plug

that night I could not sleep
my dream world pixelated
broken into computer bits - 
the digital world was calling

in spite of what my friends said - 
that computers were just a passing fad - 
I took a sharp right turn
and went from cameras and f/stops 
to RAM and ROM

I cannot tell you 
what I understood at the time
but it was something about
a digital common denominator
of the future
about power tools for the mind

Before digital photography, I invented a form I called 'computer photography' 
in which I digitized black and white photographs from the landmark work 
by Eadweard Muybridge of the human figure in motion. 
Then using computer programs I wrote, 
I colorized his black and white photographs. (1987)


In 2003 this was the graphic I used to announce my ideas of a new kind of photography in which long exposures could reveal a different kind of photographic imagery. At the same time it was a style that was purely photographic and did not use computer manipulation. This kind of imagery was virtually impossible before digital photography. Yet the basic idea had been around for about 100 years, when Anton Bragaglia, a photographer associated with the Italian Futurists, did some similar work in black and white -- but the technology of the time was not yet up to the task.

Now that I am 72 all these things that seemed so different, that seemed to be flying off in different directions, have come together on the Internet and in digital form. 

My writing compliments my photography, my photography compliments my writing. My computer skills allowed me to make the switch to digital cameras ten years before most of my colleagues. And because I was then on the leading edge of digital photography, I was asked to write three print books on the subject, one by the second largest publisher of photography books, and also to write an expert column online for my publisher.

My third book about digital photography was published in 2010 by Lark Books, one of the largest publishers of photography books. My idea of Time-Flow photography has proved to be controversial in the US as quite a few people love it and a number of others hate it 
-- but it has found wide acceptance in Europe and Asia. 
In any case there have been a number of misconceptions about this style of photography so I wrote a Time-Flow Manifesto in which I answer the critics of this style. My ideas about the connection between Time-Flow photography and the 100 year-old Italian Futurist art movement were validated by one of the leading experts in the field, an Italian Professor Dr. Mauro Francaviglia, who wanted to bridge the gap between science and art.

My Facebook page for my book and Time-Flow photography has 1,172 likes:

In 2009 on the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Italian Futurist movement, I co-authored and presented a paper entitled The Future of Futurism to the Generative Art Conference in Milan, Italy -- the birthplace of the Italian Futurists. 

Dr. Mauro Francaviglia invited me to be part of the SCIENAR (Science/Art) exhibit in 2010 in Bucharest Romania at the University there. My photograph of the violinist is at the top of this poster. In addition to my photography, the show also included my explanations of my work and my approach. 

Top: Film photograph in 1980 of a close-up of condensation
 on a window in my home in Durham NC
Bottom: Digital photograph in 2003 of a close-up of rain on the windshield 
of my moving van in an 8 second exposure 
-- a picture that required digital photography


The conflict between writing and working visually did not exist for me. 

My ability to do research and verbalize has led to a number of ideas in my photographic work, such as the connection between the Italian Futurists of 100 years ago and the new capabilities of digital photography -- which led to my style of photography that I call Time-Flow photography. 

My photography, in turn, has helped me illustrate and explain my ideas and my thoughts.

Finally computers have helped me put this altogether to reach a global audience. More than half of the tens of thousands of pageviews and document downloads I have received have come from 100 countries outside the United States. 20 years ago it would have been unthinkable to reach such a wide audience.

Everything I do now is digital: my writing, my photography, my publications, my publicity, my art. I have had an art Internet website since 1997 -- one that I designed myself.

While it seemed for at least a decade in the 1980s that I was slipping behind, it turned out I was actually 10 years ahead of my colleagues in photography when the digital world took over because of my knowledge of computers. So instead of being behind, it turned out I was on the leading edge of the photographic arts.

While most artists do their best work in their 30s or 40s and almost none do it in their 50s, I have done my best work in my 60s. 

Seems like I am always breaking the rules just a bit.

Self-portrait (no assistance), 8 second exposure, using only one handheld flashlight. 
This self-portrait could only have been done with digital photography technology. (2003)


I have worked independently for most of my life which has given me the freedom to work on original ideas without having to worry about what others might think. When the Internet came along I was then able to continue my independence with my own website, blogs and documents. At the website, I am listed an an independent researcher: 

During the last four years I have recorded over 50,000 pageviews of this blog and other material such as documents posted online at academic websites. More than have of these have come from outside the United States from over 100 countries -- or half of the countries in the world, from Albania to Zimbabwe. On occasion one country seems to take a special interest in my work such at the sudden 1600 views from Norway of my PDF eBook The Art of Selfies & Self-Portraits.

I have over 50 documents at
which are free to view and/or download
with no ads and no strings attached

General address of my work at

My Website -- Online since 1997 
2500+ pages, 1 million+ pageviews