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Buckets of Light

 

What to call a new website, one that would showcase my photos?  I wanted something that would combine something about me with something about photography.

BUCKETS

In considering the personal side of the website's name, I first worked with variations on both "James" and "Baquet." But none of these was leading anywhere.

Not that "Baquet" itself doesn't have an illustrious history, and some great--if peculiar--connections.

For example, you may know of the 19th-century medical doctor--some would say "quack"--Franz Anton Mesmer. Mesmer created a method of healing based on a principle he called "animal magnetism." In essence, he felt that magnets had an effect on the healing properties of the body. Needless to say, the orthodox medical community found this questionable, if not criminal. But the people came in droves. So many came that he sought out ways to "heal" people en masse. One such technique was to create a wooden tub which would "store and transmit magnetic fluid." The patient would place the afflicted area of his-or her-body against one of several iron rods coming out of the tub's lid, so that several patients could use the contraption at one time. This device was known as a baquet.

When I was a boy, "Bucket" was sort of a family nickname. Lots of kids called my dad "Mr. Bucket," and some friends just called him "Buckets." I was always told that this was more than coincidence: people in my family commonly believed that baquet meant 'bucket.'" But it wasn't until recent years, and easy access to reams of information via the internet, that I confirmed the meaning. Baquet does mean "bucket." So Mesmer's mystical machine was not simply a bucket, but a bucket of special power, a bucket of energy--a bucket of light!

This is one of the first associations that shows up when one searches the internet for the word "baquet." But also right up there is an association with the roots of jazz. My grandfather, Achille, was one of the early pioneers of Dixieland jazz. Achille's brother George and father Theogene are also well-known for their roles in the development of this most American music. These men exemplify the creative spirit typical of people named "Baquet," whether that creativity expresses itself in music, business, or visual arts.

But here we're most interested in photographers named Baquet. We'll mention a few.

First, the man who snagged the coveted homepage "www.baquet.com" Frank Baquet is a German-born art photographer who produces edgy, abstract images. Next, Arsene Baquet is a photographer and photography teacher who came to California from New Orleans to study with Ansel Adams. He is the co-author (with Steve Holtz) of The Zone System - A Basic Explanation. (The Zone System is Adams' system of exposure and print production.) Another peculiar connection between my family name and photography is less direct. The French actor Maurice Baquet was apparently extremely close to a French photographer well known in America: Robert Doisneau. There are several shots of Baquet made by Doisneau, including a magnificent image titled Maurice Baquet on Brooklyn Bridge. A book of Doisneau's letters to Baquet has also been published.

Finally, a list of Baquets who make photographs would be incomplete without mention of the man who started it all for me. My father's oldest brother, Horace Baquet--better known as "Uncle Hor"--was a weekend wedding photographer. When I was 14, my mother gave me an Argus C-3 camera, better known as "The Brick." Although the camera itself had limited possibilities, these were maximized by an offer from Uncle Hor (pronounced "ha"). He had his own dark room out in the garage of the house he shared with his maiden sister Aunt Til--who lived in the house until she died--and he agreed to teach me the basics of developing and printing black and white pictures. And with that, a monster was born."

All of this, then, by way of explaining the use of the word "bucket" in the name of my site. But now let's move on to the next subject: 

LIGHT

It all starts with light. The first words spoken by God were, "Let there be light." Without light, you wouldn't be able to read this page. In fact, without sunlight there would be no life as we know it on earth. The light energy that comes to the earth from the sun is the power behind photosynthesis--"light manufacture"--which gives rise to virtually all the energy used by living things. We all recognize that water is essential for life, but few of us ever directly contemplate the importance of light (though this would explain the central role of the sun in the worship of many cultures).

Naturally, then, all art depends on light. But somehow, there seems a special relationship between light and the art of photography. In fact, the word photography itself means "light writing." This special relationship was underlined for me in a gallery in Tokyo. The exhibition was called "Picasso and Photography." In one particular image, Picasso had been standing in a darkened room, holding a light bulb on the end of a cord. As a friend opened the lens of a large-format camera, Picasso waved the bulb through the air. When he was finished, the figure of a very Picasso-esque man was recorded on the film, and the camera lens was closed.

I found this amazing on several levels--think, for example, of what this says about Picasso's sense of space.  But the most amazing thing to me was the transience of the whole thing. Realize that the image never actually existed in space at any one time. It only exists on the piece of film, and in the prints made from it.  And this teaches us something about the nature of reality. You and I may be involved in an intimate conversation on the deepest of topics, but the existence of that conversation is as transient as Picasso's man or the life of a flower. Ultimately, it only lives on the "film" of our minds. In the final analysis, every moment is what Henri Cartier-Bresson called "the decisive moment." And every moment is written in light--whether on film, or on our hearts and minds.

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So by serendipity, I juxtaposed the two ideas of "bucket" and "light." "Of" seemed the obvious way to bring them together.

But even though I had cobbled together the expression "Buckets of Light," I didn't really know what to do with it. After all, there was no handle, no hook. A search of the internet, however, showed otherwise.

BUCKETS OF LIGHT

In no particular order, we find the expression "buckets of light" on the net as:

  • a New Age admonition: "drop buckets of Light on people as they come through your doorway at home or the office";

  • the title of a seminar on "Modern Optics and Spectroscopy," and of a chapter in a book called Optical Sensors and Switches;

  • a tag word in some kind of game;

  • a sarcastic sign-off in a parody of a letter from a "true believer": "Loads of love and buckets of light";

  • a description of any number of rooms as being flooded by "buckets of light";

  • a description of what telescopes are said to collect, as well as a description of telescopes themselves;

  • a description of what power flash units produce, not collect;

  • a description of what musicians make when they make music: "[Rubén] throws buckets of light on the lovely throwback 'Aquellos Ojos Verdes'";

  • advice to negative people, who should "go soak their respective heads in buckets of Light";

  • and even the lyrics of a song:

    • I give sky blue for purple
      Three threes for a seven
      A water bearer bringing buckets of light
      For an archer from heaven

All of these uses of the phrase have reverberations for the name of this site. But the most surprising one was that Diane Ackerman's fine book A Natural History of the Senses had a chapter called--you guessed it--"Buckets of Light." And then from Ackerman's book, this quote came to light, which neatly ties up our name with the role of art in our lives:

Much of life becomes background, but it is the province of art to throw buckets of light into the shadows and make life new again.

I love that.

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