Geometric furniture from salvaged wood by Samuel Allison

This is the first furniture I built, after-hours in the woodshop where I worked in Vermont. The idea was to use only scrap & off-cuts from local species – walnut, maple, cherry, poplar & white pine – to build functional objects that showcase geometric patterns. First came the “bookshelf,” which is based on the Sierpinski fractal of nested equilateral triangles. Then I built the honeycomb table with 29 cells in a hexagonal lattice. The most ambitious (foolhardy) project was the pentagonal tables. In this design, a Penrose tessellation of two rhombuses with different angles forms both stars & cubes, depending on how you look at it. The angles were quite tricky to get exactly right on the compound miter saw, and the glue-ups took many days longer than anticipated. But they came together in the end. These projects taught me volumes about how much planning & precision it takes to pull off woodworking projects. And to always aim for simplicity when the design gets complex.

Ode to the studio by Samuel Allison

Here’s a collection of snapshots looking back at where the magic happens.

After setting up several studios over the past few years, I’ve realized that a good creative space becomes its own work of art.

There’s a universal law dictating that a studio gives in return precisely as much creativity as the artist brings in over time. The walls echo back the day’s productivity or procrastination, triumph or self-sabotage.

Ideally it’s got a view onto trees that catch the wind and bustle with birds & squirrels. At night it’s the most solitary place in the world, like a hermetic cell buried under lost dunes of the Sahara.

Over time the studio becomes a little museum of sorts. Everything on view – the books, postcards & tear outs, oddball quotes tacked up, works in progress strewn about, skulls & feathers on the mantle, a growing collection of weird foundlings from nearby beaches & forests – all this stuff contributes to a mishmash biography of the artist. Where would he be without these myriad sources of wonder & inspiration?

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Sol y Sombra – snapshots from Oaxaca, Mexico by Samuel Allison

Oaxaca is a street photographer’s dream realm. In the high desert of southern Mexico, the contrast of sunlight & shadow couldn’t be starker. It’s like an invisible set designer is splashing uncanny displays of light & color all over the place. And there’s no end of human pageantry in the colonial streets & plazas, where the people of indigenous pueblos wear their traditional clothes, speak their ancestral languages, and bring their time-honored crafts to market. You never know when you’ll run into a festival, procession, or spontaneous art performance. The joy & mystery in the streets of Oaxaca are inexhaustible. 

For me, coming here meant following in the footsteps of one of my idols, Mary Ellen Mark, who led photography workshops in the city for many years. I limited myself to a pocket-sized camera with a fixed 35mm lens for this series. It was one of those back-to-basics exercises that photographers need periodically to reconnect with the magic of capturing light & shadow in frozen images. And perhaps along the way, I communed with the spirit of one of my photographer heroes.

So many circles by Samuel Allison

Here are some progress shots as I filled in the 10,000 circles of the apollonian gasket fractal, then shaded the array of 6 star tetrahedrons. Many hours of work in 4 shots.

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Mandala origins by Samuel Allison

This series goes back a decade to when I started using photographs to digitally generate mandalas. First I played around with a spliced nautilus shell illuminated on a light table, rotating & overlaying the spiral in composite images. Then I started using macro photographs of leaves, water bubbles, honeybees & a dragonfly. I made “snowflake” radial patterns where the image was multiplied 4, 6 or 8 times. I quickly got bored of this digital technique, but it led to some surprising results.

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Animal portraits, India by Samuel Allison

With all the animals roaming around the cities of India, the four-legged often have right of way over the two-legged. I find that making portraits of animals can be as poignant as photographing people. With friendly beasts it’s easier up close – no need to ask their permission.

The making of a yogi superstar's book cover by Samuel Allison

This is a shoot I did for the Danish yoga teacher extraordinaire, Simon Krohn. It wound up leading to the cover of his first book, Facing Reality, on Indian philosophy, the everyday practice of yoga & his own hero’s journey. 

The location was an old concrete pavilion on the beach in Varkala, South India. We waited for a sunset sky with roiling clouds over the Arabian Sea – the perfect compliment to his serenity in these extreme postures.

Check out Simon’s work here:

www.MindYourself.dk

How India taught me to see by Samuel Allison

I traveled to India for the first time as a vagabonding teenager. My camera was the trusty Canon AE-1 with 50mm f/1.8 lens, a gift from my father. I carried a grab bag of Fuji film, much of which was expired and yielded weird color shifts.

Back then I was obsessed with the legendary photographers who shot in South Asia. Mary Ellen Mark, Raghu Rai, Michael Ackerman, Eric Vally, Steve McCurry, and Raghubir Singh all became idols as I learned about their lives and how they witnessed the lives of others. 

The work of these photographic artists powerfully influenced me, but I had no idea yet how to capture images at their level. It was India itself that taught me how to see and connect through the lens. Gradually I learned to observe the human world as a stage where any actor can take on a transcendent glow in the right light, from a certain angle, at the decisive moment. 

I developed a tactic of chatting with people whose portraits I wanted to take, getting some quick snapshots, and returning a few days later with prints to gift them. They were often the first photographs these people had of themselves. This routine led to some delightful friendships, and allowed me to stay with people as the light shifted and the conditions for a portrait coalesced.

I was instilled with a sense of reciprocity, an instinct that the photographer always owes his subjects something material or emotional in return.

Above all India taught me this: Keep getting closer, with your eyes and heart before your camera.