Peter Shelton seeking the turn
in the San Juans
Mt. Bachelor January 9, 2020
I don’t believe perfect exists. I have about as much success wrapping my brain around the concept of perfect as I do grasping the notion of infinity, say.
Perfection is a human construct, something theoretical, ideal; it doesn’t exist in nature. What I do think exist are perfect evanescent moments, perfectly carved turns, perfect hours on the mountain – philosophically impossible, maybe, but nevertheless flawless exceptions that prove the rule.
Today was one of those days. The objective markers tell some of the story. Four inches of new snow overnight, delivered with little wind, groomed judiciously on the main boulevards. And that snow was very low density, extremely low for the Oregon Cascades, maybe six or seven percent water, I’m guessing, where typical “Cascades Cream” is more like 10-12 percent, and the driest Colorado snow (also rare) comes in at about four percent water. The point being, this was dandelion fluff, light whipped cream atop a smooth ice-creamy under layer, snow so insubstantial that skis, boots, shins experienced only a feathery resistance. Temperature: high teens, not even a hint of warming or melting snow. Sky like a gin-clear lake, shrinking the distance to Broken Top and South Sister, all of the mountains, like Bachelor, almost completely white: rimed white trees, lava flows, summit snowfields, the whole white-washed world under a cerulean blue with a low January sun making shadows of every twig, every wind ripple, every curving, new-moon ski track. By mid-morning Carnival run was a virtual Jackson Pollack of overlain scythings, if, instead of endless layers of dripped paint Jackson Pollack had been into gouging perfectly round lines.
There’s that word perfect again. Our old friend and fellow ski schooler, Dick Dorworth, wrote a wonderful short story called “The Perfect Turn,” about an aging ski instructor thinking back on his quest for the perfect turn. It’s one of the best pieces of ski fiction out there. And it cuts very close to Dick’s own (and mine, and many skiers’) pursuit of an aesthetic ideal, on skis. A perfect turn will be different for everyone, but it will feel the same to each of us.
In my case, the turn will be etched into the snow the way a silversmith carves an image in soft metal. The two curved blades on my feet will slice parallel arcs through the snow without throwing any spray, without going sideways at all. Railroad tracks, some people call them. This perfect turn will not live in isolation, of course; it will be part of a continuum. It will have its beginning in the perfect end of the previous turn – the weightless, perfectly positioned setup (“the love spot,” in the perfectly apt phrase of guru John Clendenin), and it will likewise extend into the perfect beginning of the next turn. It’s a continuous flow. Where does the petal’s edge stop and the next thing, the not rose petal, begin?
This turn feels as if it takes no muscle power to complete. My center of mass, my hips, my head, are so placed inside the arc I have but to stand against the snow, easy as leaning against a lamppost. The snow is turning me.
Stringing a couple of these perfect semi-circles together, sine waves, sends me into raptures. It can’t be maintained for an entire run, or a whole day, or lord knows a whole mountain. But these peeks inside the monastery, these glimpses of mathematical, musical even (music of the spheres!) symmetries are enough.
Spoiler alert: Dorworth’s hero had to cross over from one reality into another in order to achieve his perfect turn. Today felt a little bit like stealing fire from the gods. Perfect turns (or close approximations) and the godlike feeling of drawing continuous lines, strings of crescent moons across the volcano’s furrows… Well, it doesn’t get much closer to heaven than that.
A response from a fellow perfectionist of the Turn
Hi Peter !!! The search is a topic close and deep to my heart.
Like Robert Johnson, P. Lev at the crossroads
Andy Warhol brought his camera with him everywhere he went — first a Polaroid, and then his treasured 35-millimeter compact Minox. “Having a few rolls of film to develop gives me a good reason to get up in the morning,” he said. In his lifetime, he produced nearly 130,000 images with the Minox alone, only 17 percent of which had been printed at the time of his death. Like other major artists of the 1960s, including Warhol’s contemporary, Robert Rauschenberg, he was creating a new visual language from a photographic vocabulary, long before the art world understood the significance of the medium. Warhol’s preoccupation with photography is a meaty subject for a show.
That show is “Andy Warhol Photography: 1967-1987,” which highlights the artist’s photographic output with a range of gelatin silver prints that record the most ordinary moments in his random daily activities, as well as his Polaroid portraits, still-lifes and nudes, filling both of Jack Shainman gallery’s Chelsea locations. Many of the 193 pieces have rarely, if ever been seen before. The handsomely installed exhibition begins with a sequence of framed Polaroid images of objects: a bunch of bananas; eggs in an egg carton; knives; a mélange of high heels. While these images echo product shots in retail catalogs, they are as refined in detail, composition and color as still-life miniatures.
In the 1970s, Warhol carried his Polaroid camera around as “his date,” as he called it, a tool that enabled him to engage his subjects while imposing distance at the same time. Among the dozen or so Polaroid portraits in the show, each distinct in gesture, color, and lighting, are those of Tina Chow, Joe Dallesandro, Bianca Jagger, Robert Mapplethorpe, Rudolf Nureyev and Lee Radziwill. “The Polaroid gets rid of everybody’s wrinkles, sort of simplifies the face,” Warhol noted. “I try to make everybody look great.” Nine Polaroid self-portraits of this ultimate icon of pop inscrutability are included, too, though Warhol is less kind — or more honest — in the pictures of himself.
It is edifying to see a show of Warhol photographs isolated from the rest of his work, a compelling counterpoint to the monumental Warhol retrospective at the Whitney last year. The language of photography resides at the core of his practice. In fact, the photographic image was always hiding in plain sight throughout Warhol’s work, from the photo booth images he made as the basis for his early silk-screen portraits to the found press pictures of “Marilyn,” “Jackie” and “Liz’’ layered with colored inks on canvas, and the newspaper pictures at the foundation of his death and disaster paintings. He was fascinated by the optical clarity of the mechanical eye, even as he exploited photography’s role as a documentary requisite for fame.
Throughout the 1960s, as Warhol first gained recognition, photography was given scant regard as anything other than a graphic art, and yet, the march of the photographic image through the studios of the most prominent artists in that decade — including John Baldessari and Ed Ruscha — is undeniable proof that the upstart medium formed the backbone for so much artistic exploration in that era.
Writing in his journal, Warhol recounted telling a friend, “I didn’t believe in art; I believed in photography.” The remark stands on its own as “a kind of one-sentence manifesto,” Richard Meyer, the art historian, writes in “Contact Warhol,” a book he published with Peggy Phelan about the archive of Warhol contact sheets at Stanford University. “Warhol’s abiding belief in photography shaped both his creative enterprise and everyday life.”
Wilson Bentley known for his microscopic snow photography. And Hal Borland was a writer with interest in natural history – Borland was a favorite contributor to among other publications, the NYT and he wrote an article about Bentley’s obsessive passion in the 1971 January issue of Audubon. Here it is for all you snowviewers.
Roaring Fork Monk (B. Arndt) Some Years Ago, During His Jousting Days. Billy Roos (L) With The RFM And Some Of His Alpine Disciples
Much like Jack Kerouac, Abuelo Wells (Matt) was/is the Great Remember-er, but with photos instead of words. Gracia Abuelo
photo credit, Bernie Arndt
“As you know Denny Hogan had impeccable form no matter the terrain. Billy Roos coaching.”
Fun to see that old photo. Thanks to Matt and Billy for leading the way! It was taken on Chalk Mountain would be my guess and we were all coached by Billy. I am sure Bernie, Harry, Redmayne, Walter, Chuck and others were there for this impromptu session. But really don’t know any details, just speculation on my part, Winter Staff Training at the old 3rd Pole base!
Hogan version of a Rutschblock
test ! Burnie Arndt