In the Court of the Crimson King

Dale Chihuly’s glasswork is humbling

I took up photography nearly 18 months ago and have learned more in that period of time that I could have imagined possible. One of the more valuable lessons, I think, has been understanding the difference between photography and taking pictures. Many of us take pictures. We point the camera or the iPhone at two of our friends out at happy hour and snap. We get an important legacy shot of boy, father, grandfather and great-grandfather at a holiday dinner – four generations, something to be cherished and preserved. We capture the beloved family dog sitting and posing, although she isn’t quite sure what’s going on.

These moments, I’d argue, aren’t about art. They’re about the archive, about community, about history. But rarely is there an attempt at artistry, per se. Taking pictures is a critically important thing – somewhere out there I’m the boy in that four-generation shot, taken in my great-grandfather’s living room 40-odd years ago.

I, though, want to be a photoartist. I want to do the same thing with images that I spent 35 years doing with words. Sort of. I want to make a statement about beauty, about perspective, about culture and technology.

I have learned over the past year and a half that if all you’re doing is taking shots of someone else’s art, that isn’t really art. You’re recording, you’re archiving. This is great, but the other guy is the artist. If I stand in the Louvre and take a shot of the Mona Lisa, that doesn’t make me Da Vinci. Now, if I can somehow get a shot of that gallery that expands the context of the painting, that captures something compelling in the faces of the museum’s visitors as they contemplate the world’s most famous painting, if I can perhaps get one of my low, wide-angle shots of the room in which it’s exhibited, perhaps then I’m doing something artistic.

All of which is to say that I’m not especially interested in taking pictures. But yesterday I sallied forth (I always did want to sally forth some day), along with my friend and tour guide Sara Robinson, to Chihuly Garden and Glass up in City Center by the Space Needle. The goal to take some shots of the venue, to produce some photographic art. And I may have.

But mostly I walked around with my jaw hanging open. If you’ve been in this exhibition you know what I mean. It reminded a lot of my experience visiting l’Accademia in Florence and standing beneath The David until my companions finally threatened to leave me there. It was at once inspiring beyond words and depressing beyond measure, because I knew I could never do anything that magnificent. I felt that way yesterday trying to fathom the imagination of Dale Chihuly.

In the end, I took some pictures. No credit to me, no art on this end. I just pointed and clicked. And I wanted to share some of these images with you. Hopefully some day you’ll get up this way and can visit the place yourself.

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