Friday, February 26, 2010

PBS WTTW Arts Across Illinois

Airing tonight on PBS WTTW TV Channel 11, Arts Across Illinois @ 7:30 and 10:30 and Sunday @ 5:30 and 10:30 pm CST

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Devotional Everything

Back to India...

The second night in India I was staying a guest house outside the city of Amritsar, providing refuge from the endless city noise. The owner was apologetic as he explained that there was going to be a concert of Hindu devotional music a few blocks away beginning at 11 pm. I was non-plused, as the transatlantic flight had left me with little energy.
I went to sleep with a hot water bottle in the bed and a crackling fire in the fire place. In the middle of the night my husband woke up and HAD to find the music. I was sure I would never see him again.

© Jane Fulton Alt

And so it is in India. It grabs at you in ways you never would imagine. It was one of the most difficult, challenging and confronting experiences I have ever had. I am processing it daily, trying to incorporate it into my understanding of life. I know there are ancient wisdoms to be gleaned and feel so grateful for having made the journey.

© Jane Fulton Alt

If you haven't seen this amazing skating performance by Merly Davis and Charlie White from the Olympics, it is fabulous. The music is from Bunty Aur Babli Slislla Ye Chaahat Ka & Dola Re Dola from Devdas and takes me right back to India.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Whitney Biennial and Stephanie Sinclair

I have been wanting to blog about Stephanie Sinclair for a long long time, ever since I saw an amazing 'war' photograph from Iraq in the Chicago Tribune a few years ago. She is INCREDIBLY talented and has used her vision to bring awareness to womens issues around the world. Her work is included in the Whitney Biennial 2010.

© Stephanie Sinclair

"Portrait of soon-to-be-wed Faiz Mohammed, 40, and Ghulam Haider, 11, at her home in a rural village of Damarda. Ghulam said she is sad to be getting engaged as she wanted to be a teacher. Her favorite class was Dari, the local language, before she was made to drop out of school. When asked how she felt that day, the bewildered girl responded, "I do not know this man. What am I supposed to feel?" According to a UNICEF study, in developing countries, around 65 million girls were married before the age of 18. Thirty million of them live in South Asia." ---Stephanie Sinclair

Stephanie has covered many subjects, including Self-Immolation: A Cry for Help, “A Cutting Tradition: Inside An Indonesian Female Circumcision Celebration,” "Polygamy In America", and it goes on and on. She has amazing talent, energy and drive. The world is a much better place because of her. More of her photographic essays can be seen HERE and are well worth the time to explore.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


Back to the subject of India (and you thought I was finished)!

I visited Gandhi's Ashram, located just outside Ahmedabad and now a national monument. It was a very moving experience to walk through the "My Life is My Message" Gallery, consisting of paintings, photographs and text of historic events in Gandhi's life.

Gandhi's Visitor Room

"There is an indefinable, mysterious power, that pervades everything. I feel it, though I do not see it. It is this unseen power which makes itself felt and yet defies all proof, because it is so unlike all that I perceive through my senses. It transcends the senses, but it is possible to reason out the existence of God to a limited extent. Even in ordinary affairs we know that people do not know who rules or why and how he rules and yet they know that there is a power that certainly rules. That informing power or spirit is God, and since nothing else that I see merely through the senses can or will persist, he alone is. And is this power, benevolent or malevolent? I see it as purely benevolent, for I can see that in the midst of death, life persists; in the midst of untruth, truth persists; in the midst of darkness, light persists. Hence I gather that God is life, truth, light. He is love, he is the supreme good. But he is no God who merely satisfies the intellect if he ever does. God, to be God, must rule the heart and transform it. He must express himself in every smallest act of his votary. This can only be done through a definite realization more real than the five senses can ever produce. Sense perceptions can be, and often are, false and deceptive however real they may appear to us. Where there is realization outside the senses, it is infallible. It is proved not by extraneous evidence, but in the transformed conduct and character of those who have felt the real presence of God within."
--- Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi

Sunday, February 21, 2010

On Hope and Despair

I was rattled last night as I watched a most riveting play, "Master Harold'...And The Boys, written by Athol Fugard at Timeline Theater in Chicago. (if you live in the vicinity, please go see it)

I have been keenly aware of my own struggle between hope and despair that is manifested as I "channel surf" TV, watching the beauty of the Olympic athletes "working" their dreams contrasted with the reality of current affairs as reported in the news. Much to my surprise, this play was incredibly timely and relevant.

The play addressed the tension in South African during the 1950's era of apartheid but its power was in its incredible acting, dialogue and universal themes of humanity. It spoke of the great heros through out history and art as "giving form to the formless." The play also referenced kites as a metaphor for hope, which have been a photographic obsession of mine over the years.

Chicago in the Year 2000

I also just learned that the 2005 film “Tsotsi,” was adapted from the South African playwright Fugard’s novel of the same name and won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language film. It was a wonderful film and definitely worth watching.

Chicago in the Year 2000

And then this morning while I was in the midst of reading A Fine Balance by Mistry, I came across this passage on pg 228 "...the secret to survival is to embrace change, and to adapt...all things fall and are built again ...sometimes you have to use your failures as stepping stones to success... you have to maintain a fine balance between hope and the end, it's all a question of balance."

how do i find my balance, now that i have returned from india?

Friday, February 19, 2010

Women and Water

There are some very important programs about water distribution and conservation, three of which are spearheaded by local Chicago women; Ann Feldman, Karen May, and Cynthia Raskin.

Karen is working to raise money to create cisterns in Mexican villages through H2O for Mexico.

Ann has created an AMAZING organization, Artistic Circles, in which Water Pressures is one of the projects. She is working on a collaborative project with the Jai Bhagirahi Foundation in Rajasthan, India and Northwestern University students to bring more creative solutions to the water shortages in Rajasthan. So incredibly impressive..

Cynthia has created a program Recycle the Raindrops, in which she is trying to bring greater awareness to our water consumption in the Great Lakes region.

All by women, All about Water....AWESOME!

Thursday, February 18, 2010


I have water on the brain. After returning from Varanasi, I have been reflecting a great deal on water, a subject I have been photographing my entire photographic life. Not surprising as it is so essential to the life force.


I am reading a book MRTYU, Concept of Death in Indian Traditions. It begins, "It has been said that in India death (mrtyu) is not opposed, as in the West, to idea of life (jivan) but rather to birth (jati)." I began thinking of one of my very favorite early images where birth and death seemed to be present in one single image.

© 1995

Th last 2 days of my trip in India I finally settled in and found my photographic voice. The artist statment I have used for years on my website fits the work perfectly...

These photographic images reflect my exploration of the ineffable mystery of the life force, searching for what is true and eternal. This quest is fueled by a persistent longing to return home.

Maybe I don't need to photograph anymore?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Fat Tuesday and Louisiana

Sacred Heart ©1997
taken after visit to slaughter house

Today is Fat Tuesday and I am not in New Orleans or Breau Bridge.

In thinking about all the celebrations tonight, I find myself reminising about when I met Debbie Flemming Caffery in Louisiana for one of her workshops. It was the first time in my "creative" life that I left home and concentrated only on my art for a full week. It was transformative. There is something very powerful about being able to shed all responsibilites and flow with the muses. I highly recommend it.

Smoking Cotton Gin, a precurser to The Burn series

I will be marking the day with a Sazerac cocktail accompanied with great cajun and zydeco music.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Thank you Roberta Smith

There was a wonderful article written by Robera Smith in the New York Times on Sunday, Post-Minimal to the Max. She talks about how museums "rarely transcend the sea of sameness" and that "what's missing is art that seems made by one person out of intense personal necessity, often by hand...Their shows share a visual austerity and colness of temperature that are dispiritingly one-note."

She goes on to state "museums offer shows aplenty, but compelling art, especially painting, made from personal necessity is scarce....The small show devoted to an artist who doesn't have an immense reputation and worldwide market becomes rarer and rarer..." Smith is suggesting to curators that they think less about bringing in the big bucks and more about "tapping into their own subjectivity to show us what they really love."

How very refreshing!

The origin of the word AVATAR and its relevance to India

I mentioned that I have been challenged by my reentry from India. I dream at night that I am in India, only to wake up confused. Traveling to a country that demands so much (physically, emotionally, psychologically and spiritually) combined with the jet lag can lead to feeling a bit off balance.

While in Varanasi, our guide talked about the balance of life. It reminded of the movie Avatar. I then learned from him that the origin of the word, Avatar, is Sanskrit! Why am I not surprised?

Pronunciation: \ˈa-və-ˌtär\
Function: noun
Etymology: Sanskrit avatāraḥ descent, from avatarati he descends, from ava- away + tarati he crosses over — more at ukase, through
Date: 1784
1 : the incarnation of a Hindu deity (as Vishnu)
2 a : an incarnation in human form b : an embodiment (as of a concept or philosophy) often in a person
3 : a variant phase or version of a continuing basic entity
4 : an electronic image that represents and is manipulated by a computer user (as in a computer game)

I revisited the movie for a second time in 3D yesterday. It was just as awesome as the first viewing. The ancient wisdoms that were touched upon make so much sense to me...

"Our great mother does not take sides, Jake. She protects only the balance of life."

"All energy is day you have to give it back...."

"Every person is born twice, the second time when you are in your place among the people forever.."

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Saturday, February 13, 2010

On Smoke and Fire

I am so grateful to this blog and to you readers. It has provided me with a wonderful outlet for my re-entry into life after visiting India. I went into the city (Chicago) yesterday for the CAA conference and felt so raw and out of place. This is probably not uncommon after an arduous trip to a far away land.

train station in Delhi

As you know, I have been working on my Burn series for a couple of years now. The first few days in India felt like I was in one of my smoky photographs...the entire northern part of India was cloaked in a very dense fog.

Golden Temple

This morning there was an article in the Wall Street Journal titled, India's Holy Ganges to Get a Cleanup. Every Hindu has a dream of being creamated on the shores of the Ganges for complete liberation, adding their ashes to the holy river.

It is a city where life and death, water and fire, light and dark are inseperable. I don't think it was coincidental that I came to Varanasi, the city of eternal fire.

Hindu priest at daily religious ceremony paying homage to fire

I just located another blog by Daniel Gerber, that gives you a very interesting look at Manikarnika Ghat, where most of the creamations take place. He gives a very indepth description of his visit. I was amused and comforted as I encountered many of the same interchanges with the locals at that particular ghat (stairs or a passage leading down to a river).

Friday, February 12, 2010

More Reflections on India

I am back just a few days from a trip from India and feel changed in some fundamental way. I wake up at 2 or 3 every night, not knowing where I am. I feel like I am dreaming in Hindi, a language I do now know, consciously, at least. My strongest suit is the visual so here are a few more images to share.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Buddha and the Mustard Seed Story

While driving from Jaipur to Delhi, I passed many fields of glorious yellow mustard plants which reminded me of a well known story of the mustard seed.

My teacher and spiritual guide in Varanasi, Jai, retold the story under a tree in Sarnath, the place where Buddha gave his first sermon after attaining Nirvana.

"The reputation of Buddha Shakyamuni had spread far and wide. Not only was he renowned as a great, compassionate and fully enlightened human being, but also as a skilled teacher and a miraculous healer who could even bring the dead back to life.

One day, a woman approached him after a teaching begging that he do something to restore her dead child to her. The Buddha listened patiently to her plea and saw how great was her despair. He said to her, "Mother, if you bring me just one mustard seed from any household in which no person has died, then I shall revive your child."

The woman was greatly encouraged by the Teacher's words. She traveled from door to door throughout her own village, but could not find even a single residence in which no one had died. She went out of town, wandering to this hamlet and that in search of the tiny seed that the Buddha had requested. Days later, muddy and footsore, she returned to the place where the Buddha and his followers were passing the rainy season.

She was ushered into the Teacher's presence worn out, but not discouraged. "Master, try as I might, I could not locate the token you requested as an offering. But I have come to understand that death visits every household and eventually, every single one of us."

Shore of the Ganges River, Varanasi © 2010

Monday, February 08, 2010

seeking the divine in India

home less than 36 hours
my mind scattered
and yet
centered more than ever

daybreak on the Ganges River

Ragdale Weekend Workshop

Weekend Workshop: Capturing the Ragdale House through Words and Images

With Janet Desaulniers and Jane Fulton Alt

March 5-7, 2010
Ragdale House and Grounds


In March, 2010, Ragdale will close the Ragdale House for a long awaited renovation project for a full year. Before the furniture is removed and the major construction begins, Ragdale is providing a unique opportunity for individuals to come for a weekend workshop of writing, photography and creativity – focused on the Ragdale House.
Over the years the Ragdale House has provided artists a sanctuary to create great new works of art. Under the exciting direction of author Janet Desaulniers and photographer Jane Fulton Alt, students will spend time discovering their creative voice while responding through pictures and words to the Ragdale House and Grounds.
All levels of photography and writing will be accepted. The workshop, however, is not designed for students looking for instruction of how to use their equipment, their computers or Photoshop. A working knowledge of students’ cameras and equipment is required. Students will be working digitally so they are expected to bring a digital camera, laptop and printer, if possible.
Join us for the last opportunity to be and create in the Ragdale House with two award-winning Ragdale alumni before it closes for a full year!


Janet Desaulniers’ story collection, What You’ve Been Missing, won the 2004 John Simmons Award. Her fiction has appeared in The New Yorker, Other Voices, and Ploughshares, among other publications; been widely anthologized, including in the Pushcart Prize series; and awarded fellowships from the NEA, the Michener-Copernicus Society, and the Illinois Arts Council. She teaches in the MFA in Writing program at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she is an Associate Professor.

Jane Fulton Alt has exhibited extensively both nationally and internationally. Alt is the recipient of numerous awards and her work can be found in the permanent collections of the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, New Orleans Museum of Art, Beinecke Library at Yale University, Centro Fotografico Alvarez Bravo in Oaxaca, Mexico, Center for Photography at Woodstock, Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, De Paul University Art Museum, Southwest Museum of Photography and the collections of William Hunt and Rick and Deann Bayless. Alt is the recipient of the 2007 Illinois Arts Council Fellowship Award and the 2007-2009 Ragdale Foundation Fellowships. In addition to photography she is a licensed clinical social worker, with a practice of over 35 years. Her most recent work on Hurricane Katrina has been published in a book entitled Look and Leave: Photograhs and Stories of New Orleans's Lower Ninth Ward. Alt will also be appearing on WTTW TV's Arts Across Illinois program, The Transformative Power of Art, airing Friday, February 26th at 7:30 and Sunday, Feb 28th at 5:30.
Alt’s photographs explore universal issues of humanity, reflecting an interest in the mysteries of life and the non-material world. Her photographs ask us to consider issues of love, loss, and spirituality, which transcend notions of race, religion and culture. More of her work can be viewed at


Overnight workshop participants will stay in the historic Ragdale House or the Barnhouse. Daytrippers are welcome for a reduced fee. The workshop will begin at 5pm on Friday and end at 5pm on Sunday.

Rooms are single occupancy, with some twin beds and some doubles. Private baths are available on a first come, first served basis. Workshop is limited to 16 participants; 11 overnight, 5 daytime – REGISTER EARLY!
Overnight / Ragdale House $595.00
Overnight / Barnhouse $525.00
Day-tripper $295.00

Register with Leslie Brown by calling 847.234.1063 x. 205 or by emailing her at

The Ragdale Foundation
1260 North Green Bay Road, Lake Forest, Illinois 60045
phone: (847) 234.1063
© Copyright 2007

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Maybe this is why we travel....

The real treasure, that which can put an end to our poverty and all our trials, is never very far; there is no need to seek it in a distant country. It lies buried in the most intimate parts of our own house; that is, of our own being. It is behind the stove, the centre of the life and warmth that rule our existence, the heart of our heart, if only we knew how to unearth it. And yet - there is this strange and persistent fact, that it is only after a pious journey in a distant region, in a new land, that the meaning of that inner voice guiding us on our search can make itself understood by us. And to this strange and persistent fact is added another: that he who reveals to us the meaning of our mysterious inward pilgrimage must himself be a stranger, of another belief and another race.
__Heimrich Zimmer

from The Burn © Jane Fulton Alt