Sunday, May 21, was a good day for Paul Grand. He sold one of his

photographs for $3,000 at an event at the famous Boehm estate in

Titusville, sponsored by the J&W Gallery in New Hope, which just

started representing Grand (he has been taking photographs for close

to 20 years). "(That kind of sale) is unusual given what most people

buy at galleries in New Hope, which is local landscapes," says Grand

in an interview from his Highland Park home. The photo, entitled

"Tafraute: Homage to Mondrian," was an abstraction of a wall in

Morocco.

What’s also unusual is that Grand is a former corporate executive who

retired as a VP of Colgate-Palmolive at the ripe old age of 46, a

self-made Brooklyn boy, the son of a man who never completed high

school and supported his family with a housecleaning service called

the Housewife’s Delight. When Grand was 13, his mother, a housewife

who later became a school secretary, decided her son, who shared a bed

with his brother and slept on the fire escape in the summer, should

escape his lower middle class upbringing and become a chemist.

The frugality he had grown accustomed to as a child served him well as

an adult, enabling him to retire early and follow his bliss –

photography. "I had always consciously lived below my means," says

Grand, who earned a BS in chemistry from Queen’s College in 1963 and a

Ph.D. in 1969 from CalTech on National Institutes of Health and

National Science Foundation fellowships. In 1988, after 19 years with

Colgate-Palmolive, first in R&D in Piscataway and then as VP for its

venture company in New York, Grand went out on his own.

"After many years of decompressing from science to technical

management to business experience, the concept, or aspiration, of

making money was not an embarrassment or a crime," he says. But after

lining up SBA loans and negotiating leases for two espresso cafes – to

be named Just Grand! – Grand says he chickened out. "I wasn’t an

entrepreneur and wasn’t about to put my money on the line to execute

my dream." Instead he took all the smarts he had acquired about coffee

cafes – "It didn’t take much additional brain surgery to appreciate

the power of the concept" – and in 1993 invested 90 percent of his

money in a little coffee company called Starbucks.

Since then, says Grand, "I have spent the rest of my life growing up."

Divorced with two grown daughters, four grandchildren and a fifth on

the way, Grand says "I’m a terrific father and grandfather now." In a

2000 interview in Time Out New York, Grand said "The photography has

done so much for me. The Jewish prayer for the dead talks about

righteousness, and that’s what I’m working on – being a righteous

human being. I’m finally old enough to realize that I wasn’t the

greatest thing since sliced bread as a corporate executive, vis-a-vis

my family. And I’m really trying to be a good guy now."

He has toted his 35-pound backpack of Nikon camera equipment – three

lenses (from telephoto to wide angle) and two bodies (one for black

and white, one for color), and nary a piece of digital equipment in

sight – all over the world. He spent 10 winters and summers climbing

in Switzerland, and has traveled to Oaxaca, Mexico; Morocco; Tunisia;

Egypt; Turkey; India; Thailand; Cambodia; and Laos. He calls his

photography "landscape portraiture a la Ansel Adams. I shoot

everything with a tripod, intimately composed in the viewfinder; there

is never any cropping."

Grand will open "When the Photographer Is Ready Lord Buddha Will

Appear," an exhibit of images of Buddha and Buddhist temples taken in

Southeast Asia, at the Erdman Gallery of the Princeton Theological

Seminary, on Saturday, June 10, with a reception and artist’s talk at

4 p.m. A Buddhist nun, Bhiksuni Karma Trime Lhamo, who lives in

Kendall Park, will precede Grand’s talk with an introductory lecture

and seminar on Buddhism at 1 p.m. She will present basic themes of

Buddhist thought – compassion, generosity, mindfulness,

self-awareness, and the interconnectedness of all creatures – and will

explore the early life and teachings of the Buddha.

`I take photos of Buddha as an affirmation of the calm, peace, and

happiness that I feel in his presence, in every Buddha representation

in every temple. I continue to photograph him in an attempt to better

understand the blessing I feel around him. Although some of these

images may seem `exotic,’ I am more often than not struck by their

universality, universal because we are all brothers and sisters under

the same skin."

First introduced to Buddhism by a former girlfriend, "a practicing

Catholic-Quaker-Buddhist," Grand says he has read a number of books on

the subject. "But I don’t practice because I have a clear

understanding of my purpose on this earth, which is to share love,

happiness, lightness, laughter, and kindness with those who are near

and dear to me."

In his artist’s talk Grand will discuss three "encapsulations" of his

Buddhist journeys:

"The first is a simple saying. My life conforms to an old teaching,

`all of my experiences are to my benefit.’ You can turn any negative

into a positive and any positive into a negative. If you truly believe

`all of my experiences are to my benefit,’ you will lead a more

positive and productive life.

"The second is a question I asked a wise monk. I told him that my

beloved mom died recently. I said that I felt very sad but I felt no

sense of suffering and wondered whether I should. I observed that I

didn’t suffer because I knew that my mom was in heaven wit my dad. The

monk replied that I was experiencing the blessing of acceptance, a

central Buddhist tenet. Part of my fascination with Buddhism developed

from its exploration of consciousness, awareness, acceptance,

compassion, suffering, and love.

"Lastly, a story about the difficulty of communicating. In Luang

Prabang, Laos, a student of English stopped me and asked for help in

interpreting an expression that his teacher shared with the class that

morning. What, he asked, does `costing an arm and a leg’ mean? So

obvious to us and so alien to him. I can only hope that (my) images

clearly and expressively speak for themselves."

Grand says he will expand his Buddhist consciousness this fall with a

visit to Yangon, Bagan, and Mandalay. He is particularly excited about

visiting Bagan, situated in Myanmar’s central plain, where 2,200

temples still exist around the immediate area.

Grand calls his photographic journeys "image safaris. And the subjects

are quite elusive. In an average eight hours of stalking, I take six

to eight pictures. Compare this to a commercial photographer who may

shoot thousands of images on a month-long assignment. I budget way too

much time for all my single day to six-week trips in order to buy the

time to meander slowly, soulfully, and carefully."

Grand has also taken his slow meanderings (and strong legs) to launch

a gigantic project that will certainly take many years to complete:

walking and photographing every street in Manhattan. This project has

already been chronicled on Fox News and National Public Radio and in

Time Out New York and Outside magazine, in which he was quoted: "I’m

consumed by the city. There’s a more expansive palette here than

anywhere else. Depravity, squalor, joy, spirituality – all the world

exists here. That’s why it’s a great place to hike."

Opening reception and artist talk, Saturday, June 10, 1 to 5:30 p.m.,

Princeton Theological Seminary, Erdman Gallery. Photographer Paul

Grand speaks on his exhibit "When the Photographer is Ready, Lord

Buddha Will Appear" featuring images of the Buddha and temples in

Southeast Asia, at 4 p.m. Introductory seminar on Buddhism presented

by Bhiksuni Karma Trime Lhamo at 1 p.m. Register. Seminar and

reception, $15. The exhibit is on view through July 21.

This event kicks off the seminary’s Summer Spirituality Series, which

includes a June 19 seminar, "The Da Vinci Code: Fiction, Christ, and

the Real Mary Magdelene"; and a four-session series, Medieval

Mysticism, July 10, 17, 24, and 31. Both are presented by Paul

Rorem. 609-497-7990.

Gallery hours are Monday to Saturday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; and

Sunday, 2:30 to 9 p.m.

Facebook Comments