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
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
"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
Gallery hours are Monday to Saturday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; and
Sunday, 2:30 to 9 p.m.