Sally’s Mobile Photography Challenge: Challenger’s Choice (Abstraction at Longwood Gardens) (On Another Note, Exasperation Revealed)

25 January 2016


Traveler's Tree Longwood Gardens; Copyright © 2016 Sally W. Donatello All Rights Reserved

1. Traveler’s Tree Longwood Gardens; Copyright © 2016 Sally W. Donatello All Rights Reserved

2. Traveler's Tree Longwood Gardens; Copyright © 2016 Sally W. Donatello All Rights Reserved

2. Traveler’s Tree Longwood Gardens; Copyright © 2016 Sally W. Donatello All Rights Reserved

Let me know which you prefer. Click on image to enlarge, which takes you to another page. If you decide to leave a comment, please return to this page.


The use of the word almost infuriates me, but I’ll settle for exasperation. Truthfully, I revere and savor the human animal’s ability to compose, orchestrate and weave a tapestry of written communication. That fluidity of language is part of my fondness. Words often are resurrected, twisted to become something new, become stars in the culture, live another life as part of the vernacular, and slowly or speedily enter the linguistic arena.

Today’s online world is very much influenced by the stir of language’s invention and re-invention. That word that pierces me as though a razor is moved with tenacity across a surface is curate (curated, curation, curator, curating). It sears my soul.

For many years I was involved in the visual arts as an administrator, artist, collector, curator, editor, educator, gallery director, researcher, student, and writer. For decades I juggled those various roles and continue some today, which makes me a participant and observer in the art of the twentieth and twenty-first century. My time as a curator was a particularly labor intensive and deeply rewarding experience.

So you can imagine my dismay that curator has become so much less than it was. Not only is there a watering of its meaning, but its usage has become overly excessive (almost losing its meaning). Recently, while reading The New York Times, I thought about this irritation and how long the word has been creeping into the popular culture with its new definition.

Nowadays the use of curate can refer to content curation, news aggregation, video curation, curation of social content. The word has reached the status of a cliché or jargon or media speak or even self-proclaimed moniker.

I researched the word’s etymology, and I found some distance. Its history begins in Ancient Rome, where civil servants were called curatores. Its meaning morphed into spiritual guide in the late fourteenth century. Then in the twentieth century a curator became a person who worked in museums to arrange and organize exhibitions. By the first decade of the twenty-first century with the waning of print journalism, the rise of online blogging begins a quick trajectory. Then the phrase “journalist as curator” emerged (first used in 2009 by Jeff Jarvis). From there it was adopted in many fields with the phrase “content curators.” Now it appears regularly. For example, The New York Times uses “curated by” in reference to the content of their online store. REALLY!!!!

(Note: I am a devoted reader of the Times. It has been my newspaper and cultural icon of choice since I was a junior in high school, and that is a VERY long time ago. On only a handful of occasions I have missed a Sunday, but that was only due to travel and locations. Literally, I must page through the Sunday edition. But no longer read the weekly print paper, reading the digital version.)

So curate and its variations has become oversimplified with its excessive appearance across the online landscape. It’s used haphazardly to create a professional ambiance, when mostly it is not there.

During my years as a gallery director, I curated many exhibitions of graduate art students and professionals as well as art faculty. Each exhibition took inordinate hours, days, months and even years to develop, organize and implement. The juxtaposition of the work against the act of curation and the actual exhibit is far more work intensive than is realized by the viewer.

So when I read that this person and that person or this commercial or that blog says: “curated by” or “guest curator,” I am bemused and nonplussed. Maybe I’m overly sensitive, but it has gotten in my crawl, so to speak. I seem to be perfectly fine with other reinvented, reused and newly-coined words. But this one has grabbed me in a way that I must let go. And, of course, there are others.

In the Lens section is an image taken last week at Longwood Gardens, an internationally-recognized horticultural center that I frequent. My grandson accompanied me, and each of us were fascinated by abstractions that seemed to appear.

No curation, no tactical effort, simply we meandered in a place that we have visited together for years. We just flowed with the spaces and enjoyed that we were two of few on a blustery winter’s day. We didn’t care. The conservatory embraced our visit with scores of nature’s abstract and transcendent beauties.

Tip of the Week:

On occasion I enjoy sharing upcoming exhibitions, not only for their content, but because some offer an opportunity to submit photographic works. Since abstraction was my theme for Challenger’s Choice this week, I wanted to introduce you to a juried exhibition whose theme is the abstract photograph. Held at the Northern Virginia Alliance of Camera Clubs (NVACC), the center is a nineteen-year-old organization created by Joseph Miller, Dave Carter and Ed Funk. It’s meant to promote communication and cooperation among area camera clubs. Their annual abstract exhibition is in its sixth year. From their website:

“Since May 2011 when the First Annual Joseph Miller Abstract Photography Exhibit was held, this yearly artistic exposition has continued to grow in popularity as well as success, and in the process, has become the premier Spring event in the greater photographic community. The Fifth Annual Exhibit received a total of 469 submissions from 115 photographers representing 10 NVACC clubs and its affiliates, along with additional entries from non-affiliated photographers across the United States. The 2015 Joseph Miller Exhibit once again displayed a dazzling variety of talent, skill, creativity and imagination in photographic artistry, and continues to stand as a testament to an ever-increasing interest in and love of abstract photography due in large part to the efforts of its founder and namesake.”

Deadline for submissions is Friday, 26 February 2016. There is a $25.00 entry fee. Click here to go to their site, and get more information. Exhibition dates are 07 May-30 May, 2016.

Northern Virginia Alliance of Camera Clubs

Northern Virginia Alliance of Camera Clubs

View other entries from this week’s challenge:


As always I welcome comments about this post or any part of my blog. My photographs for the mobile photography challenge are taken with an iPhone 6.

If you’d like to join this Mobile Photography Challenge, please click here for details and history of the challenge. If you have any questions, please contact me. Below is a reminder of the monthly schedule with themes for upcoming challenges:

1st Monday: Nature.

2nd Monday: Macro.

3rd Monday: Black and White.

4th Monday Challenger’s Choice (Pick One: Abstraction, Animals, Architecture, Food Photography, Night Photography, Objects, Panorama, Portraiture, Still Life, Street Photography, and Travel).

5th Monday: Editing and Processing with Various Apps Using Themes from the Fourth Week.

This entry was posted in Abstraction, Language, Mobile Photography, Nature Photography, Photography, Writing and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

60 Responses to Sally’s Mobile Photography Challenge: Challenger’s Choice (Abstraction at Longwood Gardens) (On Another Note, Exasperation Revealed)

  1. I can understand your frustration with the use of words being oversimplified, particularly words that have a special meaning to you. But it seems to be an never ending story, doesn’t it. People use words to their own benefits regardless of what the origin is or what the words once stood for. As for the lens section, I have a hard time picking a favourite this time. They both have strong qualities and as such are equally captivating. 🙂

    • Otto, global communication brings an even greater fluidity to all of our languages. It fascinates and frustrates all at once. Technology has increased the alteration and new meanings assigned to words with deep historic and historical roots. Thanks for your response to my exasperation. See you soon.

  2. MJF Images says:

    I’ve never been interested in content curation, only creation. And then there’s the whole “instant expert” thing. Pretty funny and ridiculous actually. I like the color version, ’cause it’s a bit less contrast.

  3. Madhu says:

    Sally, I had only ever heard the term ‘curated’ in relation to museum exhibitions until recently. I have since been badgered by ‘content curating’ sites to register with them and become a travel ‘expert’! I have resisted so far because I haven’t got my head around the whole concept, and frankly, do not have the time. But I gather it isn’t much different from curating an art exhibition. And I suspect quality curators would need to spend as much time as you did in collating and updating their content. The best content on any given subject from across the net (including your own) is then made available in one single stream. Meant to release time constrained followers from a lot of wasted hours wading through useless noise on the net. Technically 🙂

    I prefer the colour version too. The B&W edit doesn’t seem to add much to this image.

    • madhu, you’ve brought a huge smile across my day. Cyberspace is yet one arena for the invention and re-invention of language use. I agree there is much “useless nose” across its technological landscape. See you soon. Thanks.

  4. Gallivanta says:

    I like the hint of colour in the second photo. I haven’t noticed the misuse of the word ‘curator’. I am sure I will notice now you have brought it to my attention. The word I dislike at the moment is ‘narrative’. It is much over used in the media. Fortunately, these trendy expressions or meanings seem to have a limited life span.

  5. Virginia Duran says:

    The color one, it’s more balanced and intense. Both are great anyways 🙂

  6. prior2001 says:

    The exhibition sounds like an interesting event. Enjoyed hearing more of your background and now I am chewing on the word “curate”- oh and the b & w is my fav – it has such a rich contrast I almost thought I saw a faint hint of green in the larger version- hm

  7. Su Leslie says:

    Hi Sally. I can’t choose a preferred image this week; I like the composition and geometry of the shot in both formats. I share your frustration with words being appropriated and debased. Having worked with professional curators in the last few years, I have come to appreciate the skills involved in the development and staging of an exhibition, and it does frustrate me to hear/see the word used to describe activities and collections assembled with much less thought and skill. I believe the verb form — “to curate” comes from the same origin as the noun curate (said more like kurit) — meaning a member of the clergy in (I think mainly) the Church of England. However it is said (or used), the origin is Latin — curatus, past participle of curare, “to take care of”. I like to think that curation is a process in which artifacts are afforded great care, not only in themselves, but in relation to other artifacts and the wider social, artistic, political and spiritual context.

    • Su, I completely understand your portrayal of the curator’s role as keeper and even preserver of artifacts. You and I share a personal history of coveting aesthetic and historical objects that have a wide range of interpretation. I appreciate your thoughtful response to my exasperation. See you soon. Thanks.

  8. ChristineR says:

    I hope you felt better once you got that off your chest!

    I recently discovered the meaning of ‘curated’ content, and my understanding is that one purchases an article /blog post from a ‘curator’, tweaks it to conform to one’s own needs and bingo! – a long, thoughtful, helpful post that makes one look smart and caring. To say I was shocked was an understatement.

    As to your images, Sally, I like the second one best. I love the subtle changes in the green leaf colour.

    It’s been too long since I took part here. I’ll be back. 😀

    • Christine, lovely to hear from you. Would be delighted to have you join the challenge’s community again. Well, in truth, it does feel good to hear others’ response to my thoughts on the topic. I appreciate your comment. Thanks.

  9. Maria F. says:

    I like both, but the second one is more organic and alive to me.

  10. thirdeyemom says:

    Beautiful Sally. I too have noticed how some words become so over-used. I hate it when people say they “curate” blogs and social media content. That is just a pet peeve of mine. Thanks for shedding some insight into the deeper meaning of the word and what your work entails. Hope you are digging out after the storm!

  11. restlessjo says:

    Hi Sally 🙂 Life is peppered with small exasperations. I imagine the snow was a huge one!
    2 for me, please. I like the sunlit colour.

  12. Amy says:

    I like both, beautiful details.

  13. DG MARYOGA says:

    Both photos are wonderful,but the first one is a real piece of minimal art,Sally.I so much like the lustrous pinnate pattern of the leaf and its silky pellucid texture.Interesting photography as always and thoughts on the ever-changing languages.I am rather a purist,I agree with you,but as Chomsky says every language is a living organism that undergoes evolution.Internal and universal external forces are inevitable.I share your objections as a specialist that curate and curator were badly abused and affected in every way … Thanks for your stimulating photography!

  14. Jane Lurie says:

    Love the black and white version Sally and your thoughts on the usage of “curate”. You’ll probably see is spelled Qr8 at some point. haha! 🙂

  15. Angeline M says:

    I can’t make a choice today, Sally. I really love both versions. The textures are wonderful and perfect for an abstraction.
    I see your comment to Linda and do wish you much success in digging out. We’ve had days and days of rain…no complaints here! But a little sun the last couple of days has been much appreciated.

  16. Tina Schell says:

    I prefer the B&W because of the graphic nature of the image Sally. Hope you’re all dug out!

  17. Finally at the library for my internet time. I like the second photo. I like the color and as it’s so uniform, I don’t find that it distracts from the textures and lines of the leaves. So glad you’re dug out there, but with so much snow, the overall efforts are SO difficult and time-consuming! It’s hard to imagine, as I’m in Arizona, anyone getting that much snow. 🙂

    I’ve bemoaned the changing of the meanings of words as well as the utter disregard for the way they’re supposed to be used. Don’t even get me started on the debasing/trivializing of meaning, such as using “Awesome!” for everything and everything definitely NOT awesome. Grrrrrrr!!

    Have a lovely week!


  18. Suzanne says:

    I can understand your objection to the current use of the word – curate. In this town the fashion shops have formed a trader’s group and advertise their shops on TV by saying they have lovingly curated a fashion collection. They are retail shows selling expensive seasonal clothing! I really like your history of the word. Experience counts for little these days – ego is everything.

    I like both your photos. The dynamism of the second one especially.

  19. I love the B&W Sally. The detail just seems to come out more.

  20. Usually I would prefer the monochrome image but today I rather prefer the coloured version – it adds more detail to the leaves.

  21. I like the first one without the color because you can see the architectural detail of the leaf more clearly. Beautiful!

  22. Allan G. Smorra says:

    Hello, Sally. I like texture and form of the B&W and find the color of the second one quite soothing and pleasurable. You have inspired me to find a photo of a similar leaf from my adventures in December:

    Your observations and experience with curation make for a lively discussion. I wonder if the obsession with “hoarders” has in part watered down the idea/value of proper Curation by justifying a mental condition (but I’m a ‘Collector’…)?

    • Allan, since our society is ego driven, it’s really not a surprise that such concepts are popular and have become the usual. It’s shame that such proliferation exists. Everyone is trying to be everyone. (I sure have an opinion on this topic.)

  23. Meredith says:

    Really appreciated your voice regarding words, and usage. We teach each other so much when we share knowledge, experience, as well as our talents.

    I enjoyed both photos, but felt the second picture invited more discovery. The variance of hues deepens the textures and lifts the value, it seems.

    Really enjoyed this post. Thanks!

  24. Sukanya Ramanujan says:

    I once used the term “Curate” to describe myself when I was putting together a photo exhibition on cricket. I feel guilty now!

  25. pattimoed says:

    Hi Sally. Happy Monday! I love the subtlety and detail of the first shot. The colors/highlights are wonderful. I’d love to see this enlarged and printed. I understand your frustration with the shifting definition (and importance) of the curator role. It bothers me too when one my professional roles (instructional designer) is misunderstood and minimized in corporate settings. After working so hard at the job and striving for professionalism, it’s a tough pill to swallow when the role is diminished by those who don’t understand the scope and depth of knowledge needed to successfully perform the job.

    • Indeed…what frustrates is the power of technology to direct and redirect the language, most assuredly in the popular culture. Maybe that’s as it “should” be. Thanks so much.

      • pattimoed says:

        Yes, I think it’s best to relegate this terminology change to popular culture…which is always evolving. In time, it will change again. Hopefully the current obsession with using “like” to fill conversational gaps will disappear too. Ah…patience!!

      • Patti, indeed, the fluidity of today’s language seems to be increasing. Technology is the culprit and the triumph.

  26. Hi Sally. I prefer the second one with the color left in. It seems to bring out more of the highlights and seems a bit more pure to me. I don’t blame you about the watering down of certain terms in this day and age. It seems that so many parts of the English language are being “curated” as individuals see fit (pulled together, sifted through, and selected for presentation as music or for a website []). HA! Stay warm and happy Monday! 🙂

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