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Mystic Numbers, Mythic Voice: A photo session with Jeremiah Lloyd Harmon

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Mystic Numbers, Mythic Voice: A photo session with Jeremiah Lloyd Harmon

“Therefore, without being attached to the fruits of activities, one should act as a matter of duty, for by working without attachment one attains the Supreme.”

The Bhagavad Gita

 

Jeremiah Lloyd Harmon contacted me in the fall of 2015 to obtain headshots for an upcoming voice recital.

The request came at a time when anxieties about some personal issues were mounting. Taking photos started to become a challenge. The excitement I once felt when preparing for a shoot was nowhere to be found. I would get worried about the end result being "cool" enough.

I used to get a similar sinking feeling when I worked various day jobs, but instead of being worried about the hip-factor, the sensation had more to do with work that required me to compromise my ethics in some way. Having since shed all such employment, the reappearance of those feelings was troubling.

It was a time when I learned to lean into a quote from The Bhagavad Gita, which Steven Pressfield paraphrases in The War of Art:

"We have the right to our labor, but not to the fruits of our labor."

The shoot took place on a foggy afternoon in downtown Lynchburg, Virginia. With rainwater dripping all around us in a leaky parking garage, we started off with some traditional headshots. After about an hour of snapping photos on my 5D Mark II and a Pentax MX 35mm, I started to feel a bit more comfortable (submitting to the process). 

I clipped my UE Boom Mini bluetooth speaker to a belt loop on my jeans and let tUnE-YaRdS set the new rhythm. 

 
 


Jeremiah transitioned from formalwear into street clothes, and then into something more representative of his true self: a Lebanese thwab, chalked-up Nikes he wore during high school basketball days, a baseball cap and a hooded green bubble parka. He could have just as easily looked like a cross-dressing hobo, but instead the ensemble felt cohesive and natural. He pulled some recent artwork out of his car, a Sharpie from his pocket and inscribed the number “3” on each palm. 

The singer held the backs of his hands up to his eyes, recreating the scenes with El Hombre Pálido in Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth.

I meant to ask him then the significance of the 3s, but I often get into a moment-to-moment flow while my shutter fires. The thoughts slide away. I’m simply breathing: present and responsive to the human on the other side of the lens.

 
 

NUMEROLOGY

When I sent him some digital samples later on that evening, I shot him a message on Facebook.

“Oh yeah. What’s behind the 3s?”

“33 is one of my favorite numbers,” he corrected. “It’s related to numerology.”

My only experience with something even related to numerology, the belief that numbers have a mystical connection to real life events, is the esoteric Jewish practice of assigning numeric value to Hebrew words from the Torah I read about in Chaim Potok novels. 

I’ve never given it a second thought, but I’m a lot more spiritually open/curious these days. I looked into it, and immediately connected with a couple lines: 

“A 33 used to its full potential means that there is no personal agenda, only focus on humanitarian issues. Someone with 33 strongly featured in their chart has the ability to throw themselves into a project that goes far beyond mere practicality.”

While I have yet to begin any investigation into my “chart,” this sentiment struck me because of the way I approach my life and work as a single practice.

After years of being employed at various functions — copywriting for evangelical higher education, editing advertising-heavy newspapers filled with syndicated content, receiving payment from companies that mistreat their staff and getting glimpses in the national advertising world that hocks harmful products for the sake of profit for a select few — I came to the conclusion that I cannot ethically accept a check in exchange for my complicity with what I believe is damaging to our lives and environment.

No, I don’t wish to help you sell your tobacco product. I will respectfully decline to create video content for a low-prices retailer with an inhumane work culture and bottom-dollar wages. Making any amount of money is not worth the weight of my soul, knowing that I am perpetuating “the problem.”

Instead, I’d like to take the route numerology ascribes to the Master number 33: Focus on humanitarian issues, no matter how “far beyond mere practicality” doing so might seem.

I would much rather film a low-budget sizzler for a local yoga studio than create another wine commercial. Or, like in this instance with Jeremiah, help a fellow artist bring more beauty into the world. 

TURNING PRO
Up until the day of this shoot, I had only known him as the fiery-haired singer-songwriter who kept popping into my periphery through the landscape of the local music scene.

About a year before, my brother sent me mobile footage from a coffee shop performance where Jeremiah played an original tune, “January Eyes,” on a harmonium, and also a cover of Gnarles Barkley’s “Crazy” — both of which challenged the capacity of my iPhone speakers despite the simple live setup of one voice and one instrument per song. I was shocked by his level of vocal ability, a cross between Jónsi, Jeff Buckley and a soulfulness uncommon to his complexion.

I texted back to my brother: “Holy shit.”

He’s an anomaly: a ginger who sings in a gospel choir, performing solos simultaneously transcendent and reserved that break through already-powerful backing harmonies. And his personal work draws heavily from electronic experimentation, otherworldly folk music, jazz, eastern philosophy and esoteric knowledge. 

For a transient town such as ours where bigger talents pass through from time to time — but only to get a degree and shove on to bigger cities to find room for self-actualization —discovering an artist’s artist such as Jeremiah is a rarity. He isn’t waiting for greener pastures to flex the fullness of his creative muscle. Instead, he’s actively engaged with the process of fertilizing his work in the “here and now” of a strange (yet lovely) Bible belt city.

Pressfield, in Turning Pro (his follow-up to The War of Art), lists this attribute in his twenty Qualities of the Professional: 

“10. The professional plays it as it lays.”

Even pro golfers foul up a stroke from time to time and send the ball into the cut. There’s no option but to submit to the reality of a bad shot (“play it as it lays”) and get back into the game. The lesson is that any amateur wanting to turn pro must learn to not approach these moments with discouragement, but to perceive shortcomings as opportunities to embrace her or his current skill level and to attempt a course-correct. 

Accept and work with reality. There’s no other way to progress.

No, Lynchburg isn’t the most opportunity-laden town for artists of any medium (at the moment), but a true artist like Jeremiah practices regardless of externalities. I pass by his room now late at night (I now rent a makeshift “studio” — a spare room in the midtown duplex where he lives with two other singer-songwriters) and hear him live broadcasting his painting and songwriting process on Periscope. Or I come by in the middle of the day and hear him experimenting with outlandishly beautiful sound samplings and beat makings on an Akai keyboard. I hear him pumping away on his harmonium while he allows his voice to effortlessly float with the powerful, always-on-pitch control that a show tune singer would envy.

And while the experience of his art (like I said earlier) is one of transcendence, a near mythical vocal quality infused with the musings of a mystic, there’s also an undeniable practicality to its practice — an application of ass-to-chair (to paraphrase Norman Mailer), an application of Self to simply do the work we feel compelled to do while letting the unknown results of that labor come about of their own accord.

Perhaps this “mere practicality,” attributed to the number 33, the number Jeremiah wrote on his outstretched palms doesn’t mean impracticality, but rather a far greater practicality. Perhaps if instead of doing things merely for an anticipated and assured outcome or gain we did them simply for the sake of doing — for self and for humanity — we would find a far greater reward than we could have ever conceived.

Click here to see additional frames from this shoot.

 

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The Transition from Dreaming to Doing: On Going Fully Freelance (PART I)

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The Transition from Dreaming to Doing: On Going Fully Freelance (PART I)

PART I — DREAMING

 

For all of my life, I’ve been a dreamer. The self-directed "doing" part has always been a bit of a struggle.

 
 

I have memories of playing rec soccer in New York as a child. The son of an Argentine and the younger brother of an already promising athlete, I imagine my parents figured I’d jump right in and enjoy myself.

And enjoy myself I did as the ball would roll in my direction, a hoard of gleaming smiles chasing not far behind. But I didn’t register any of that. With the coach yelling, frustrated yet bemused, “Marcelo, honey ... the BALL!” I would watch the way my shadow played against the field, read between the blades of grass in search of four-leaf clovers (I'm still looking). Breathe in and smell air that was the envy of anyone who lived just 60 miles away in the chaos of Manhattan.

The ball would skip right past me and I was none the wiser. My coach would shrug and move on to shouting across the field about the next play. I was only 5 years old, so the stakes weren’t all that high. I was simply happy to stare up at the shifting clouds during the game, and to make funny faces with my teammates with triangles of chopped oranges between our teeth after the game.

Naturally, my parents didn’t sign me up for the following season.

 
 

In the years since, I’ve had to find ways to keep my mind engaged on the physical plane: the here and now.

Conversation can be difficult, as one word can send me spiraling deep into a rush of associated memories and ideas. It can take minutes for me to realize that I’ve ceased to be present with the person before me, and I have no clue what they've been saying. (For this, I apologize to my wife without end.)

Sometimes — by myself or while I should be paying attention to a conversation — I travel to an always out-of-reach future, where my ego wrongly stores my hopes and desires. I think about what my life will be like when things are "better." Or, I travel to the past, where I can further feed that ego's strength with bygone accomplishments and perceived failures.

I have not been aware of the debilitating strength of all that egoic noise, though, until this past year. Matt and I started officially working together as Foster & Asher in February 2014. Since that time, we’ve filled numerous hard drives with original photo and video content that makes us happy make and share (much of which we still have yet to share). All the while, however, I’ve been spending my daytime hours holding down a full-time job and daydreaming about all that I hoped F&A could become. What I could become.

 
 

Essentially, my life was one of continually resisting the reality before me in preference for the mental projections that had yet to be. I ceased being present. I grew more and more anxious and depressed. My self-efficacy wavered, which made me more anxious, depressed and focused elsewhere. The incongruence between my daydreams and my reality invited in a persistent voice telling me thatreason why I’m not where I want to be is because I’m not smart enough, not talented enough, not skilled enough, not creative enough, not interesting enough. 

I endured, somewhat. Eating healthy foods (and abstaining from processed ones) helps. When I can be so disciplined, getting a good night’s sleep helps, too. I tried medicine years ago, but it only made me aware that I wasn't doing it on my own, and I prefer to not have to rely on some external, artificial aid to get through my day. 

Daily practice of yoga and meditation, I've found, are the only things that have really worked for me, to the point that even when I skipped only a couple of days, my mind was left prone to time traveling and self-doubt.

To cope, I would again whisper to myself about the future could hold — once I was fully self-employed, things would be better. As of August 10, 2015, however, I’ve no longer had the luxury and torment of daydreams. My once sought-after future became my present. The funny thing, though, was that the depression, anxiety and negative self-talk didn’t exactly evaporate at the moment I put in my two weeks. Instead of experiencing a rush of relief, a new stress set in: “Oh shit — the rest of my life is up to me and only me, and how I decide to use my time." 

I had grown accustomed to dreaming about joy as something to find in the future, instead of cultivating it in my daily habits. Life depends on what I do — in there here and now — and not on what I dream could be. For many people this may be obvious, but it's a truth I wrestle with moment-to-moment. And it’s not that dreams are bad, but that they sometimes can supplant the necessary processes that we must engage with (on a daily basis) in order to push on. 

My goal in all of this is to work with to tell stories through words, photos and films (through personal and client work) that encourage others to be more present, more mindful, more intentional about their daily living and the way they do business, and less encumbered by the lies we are continually telling ourselves about ourselves and the world we live in (which to me is the only chance we as a species have for long-term survival).

That's all rather nebulous, though. How does one do that? How does one achieve that? What are the processes? What is the end game? Well, for me, I'd like to test the theory that the process and the end game are one in the same.

Right, now, that process involves:

  • Morning ashtanga yoga flows
  • Meditation throughout the day
  • Reading and analyzing fiction and screenplays
  • Studying, capturing and editing photos. Writing fiction, poetry, music and screenplays
  • Shooting films
  • Making time to put everything aside to spend time with my life partner and our daughters
  • Getting better with money
  • Pouring into mutually-beneficial relationships
  • Quick yoga poses between tasks to loosen the body, clear the mind and find my way back to the present moment
  • Keeping my work and living space tidy
  • Doing a better job of scheduling my time
  • Replacing harmful (albeit pleasurable) food and beverage products for ones that heal and energize
  • Saying "no" to tasks and projects that don't allow me to pour my heart and ideas into, so I can create room for those that do
  • Taking risks
  • Being vulnerable
  • Practicing self-compassion as a means to cultivating empathy
  • Taking time to not work — allowing myself to decompress so I'm not stressed or anxious for the next day, when I will take yet another step (or two) forward. 

In this life, there's no such thing as stagnation. Our only choices are progress or atrophy. Dreaming or doing. Living in the present or not living at all.

So, stop for a moment. (Seriously, give it a try — none of this makes sense when decontextualized from praxis.) 

Close your eyes. Focus on matching the length of your inhales with that of your exhales.  Recognize the percolating thoughts as thoughts, and let them pass. Return your attention to your breath and your internal space. Be aware of your physical self. Quiet the ego and give your true self the opportunity to simply "be," free of internal judgment.

Now open your eyes. You are here. You are now. You are free of daydreams and negative mental chatter.

What do you want to do? Say it out loud. Write it down. Now go do it.


— MARCELO ASHER QUARANTOTTO

 

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Kristina Petrick (Digital)

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Kristina Petrick (Digital)

Canon 5D Mark III
Styling by Gladiola Girls
Hair/Makeup: Bethany Jane
 
 

I'm relatively new to photography and videography, but I think a lot about "staying fresh."


 

Until 2013, the only creative work I'd ever done had been in writing and newspaper design, so branching out into a new medium reinvigorated my artistic flames to such an extant that I want to continue stoking the coals to see what happens.

 
 
 

Working with Matt has taught that me that if you want to stay sharp in anything, you have to keep pushing your limits. That way, each time you set out to shoot, write, run, stretch, or play becomes a brand new experience. It helps you maintain a "beginner's mind" as opposed to an "expert's mind," the latter of which leading only to stagnation.

_O3A1211.jpg
 
 

For this shoot, we wanted to do something different. We've taken thousands of photos in natural scenery over the last year, so instead of bringing the charming and talented Kristina Petrick out to the tall pines we've been drooling over for the past month, Matt did the unexpected and picked up the blue-grey muslin cloth you see in this set. (*These are the digital selects. Film scans are coming soon.)

 
 
 
 
 

The plan was to start somewhat traditionally — a studio shoot with a model in front of muslin, but from there to begin breaking the form by having Kristina interact with the backdrop, first in the studio and then outside.

 
 
 

I shot digital (and some 35mm) while Matt used his minty Contax 645. We experimented with light sources and fill lights, and stumbled upon some odd mixtures that we'll definitely be duplicating and expanding upon for upcoming projects.

 
 

This outdoor location is an abandoned library less than a mile from our studio. Kristina said wearing a somewhat cheery floral print in such unkempt scenery felt incongruent, almost like she were a ghost haunting the place she'd died. (Not shown: Photos of Kristina making creepy poses. Perhaps we'll bring those out later.)

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

We spent the day experimenting with locations and poses, eventually using the muslin as more than a backdrop. Trying to figure out how to use something that I've considered to be from an era of photography with less-than-refined tastes (see 1990s rec sports photos) was a challenge, and one that has helped me reconsider my tendency to dismiss an idea before really giving it a try.

 

 
 

 

Thank you again, Gladiola Girls, Kristina and b. jane, for being such pros and so much fun. Looking forward to our next collaboration!

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