LIVERMORE, CA–Livermore’s Bankhead Theatre for Performing Arts, in partnership with Cynthia Patton (Poet Laureate – Livermore, CA) opened “Double Take“, an exhibit featuring ekphrastic collaborations between local artists and poets (January 20 – March 27, 2022). The exhibit pairs a visual art creation (photograph, painting) with an original poem inspired by the art. The result is a unique journey into the creative process, through images and words.
“An ekphrastic poem is a vivid description of a scene or, more commonly, a work of art. Through the imaginative act of narrating and reflecting on the “action” of a painting or sculpture, the poet may amplify and expand its meaning.” – The Poetry Foundation
The exhibit features a collaboration between Vanessa Thomas (photographer and co-founder of the Dublin Arts Collective) and James Morehead (Poet Laureate – Dublin, CA, founder of Viewless Wings, and author of “canvas: poems“). “Ode to Dahlia” features a stunning photograph by Thomas and an original poem inspired by the photo written by Morehead. Both artists shared their thoughts on their creative process.
Viewless Wings: How did you create the distinct look of the photograph?
Vanessa Thomas: “Macro floral photography really excites me as it’s a way to capture the intricate details of the floral world. This particular dahlia image was captured outside the conservatory of flowers. The original image is a perky gradient of orange-red and looks positively fruity! It was however the symmetry of the petals that entranced me and I wanted to remove the distraction of the vibrant colors to emphasise the petals so I used a cyan photo filter, selective coloring and increased contrast to process it.”
Viewless Wings: Your photographs of flowers amplify the complex beauty in nature. What are you looking for when choosing a subject?
Thomas: “In short – interesting details and anomalies! Sometimes a bloom is so utterly perfect it simply calls out for attention as if saying pick me! pick me! Other times is an unusual variation in color, petal location or positioning. Watching the light dance on a field of flowers changes so much of what you see and reveals so much about the complexity underpinning a simple bloom.”
Viewless Wings: What advice can you offer to aspiring photographers looking to establish a unique artistic voice?
Thomas: “Think. Act. Persevere. – That’s my mantra! The more photographs you take the more you learn to see and understand what excites you – so get the first 10,000 under your belt.. The Ansel Adams quote “You don’t take a photograph – you make it.” makes sense once you devote time to the practice, learn about the equipment and experiment with the light. Choose a subject you love and photography becomes a journey of mindfulness.”
Viewless Wings: What was it like having your photograph interpreted in poetry?
Thomas: “It was thrilling and exciting to see how an image I captured translated into another art form. To see the poem reflect the wonder, beauty and complexity of such a transient structure in nature is a delightful way to immortalise it. That particular flower is long gone but in “Ode to Dahlia” the vivid and lyrical description brings it new life.
“Art can allow us to present unique and moving moments like this to bring joy, wonder and appreciation to the viewer – flowers are the jewels of Mother Nature’s treasure box!”
Viewless Wings: How did you approach using Vanessa’s photograph to create an original poem?
James Morehead: “The photograph is stunning. The color choice and symmetry struck me immediately. When writing a poem I start by capturing images in words, without worrying about the form or direction of the poem. I just write. The idea of nature’s ability to create such extraordinary objects was the idea I wanted to build on, and I knew that visually the poem needed to have symmetry, but I start by writing and not worrying about those details.
Viewless Wings: How do you take that initial writing and create a poem that is ready to be published?
Morehead: “The revision and editing process is critical to consistently creating high quality poetry. After creating a raw set of phrases I start revising, and in many cases completely re-writing, using my raw words and phrases as building blocks. At some point the poem emerges from from raw ideas, and when I’m at a reasonable first draft I take the poem to a Poetry Critique Group I’m part of (through Tri-Valley Writers) and to a Poetry Coach I meet with regularly. Finding other poets who can provide critical feedback is so important.”
Viewless Wings: You’ve written several ekphrastic poems, what excites you about the poetic form?
Morehead: “In my debut book ‘canvas: poems‘ I was fortunate to work with artist Kari Byron (co-Founder of EXPLR Media and former star of Mythbusters), who not only created the extraordinary cover art for the book, but also contributed works of art which inspired several of the poems in the book. I love using art, sculpture and found images as starting points for writing. The challenge is creating a poem that is more than a beautiful caption for the image, and finding a way that takes the reader someplace unexpected.”
You can hear more of James Morehead’s thoughts on ekphrastic poetry in a recent Viewless Wings Poetry Podcast episode: