My room faces the Hudson and some nights the wind comes across hard and cuts in and through my windows and howls at a pitch you can’t imagine until you’ve heard it for yourself, seems like hell’s own machinery, and its cold rubbing up against the kind hiss plus drip-drip-drip heat of my old steam radiator. Kind of ominous and it re-inspires brooding thoughts from earlier today that people are all characters, types, prearranged narratives…old news, which I guess Shakespeare covered centuries ago and Foucault decades ago, but still the consistency and predictability of said characters is stunning. We are stereotypes. We are cliches. We’re not, despite what has been suggested to us, very unique at all.
Honest to God this disappointments me as much as it does anyone. Inspiring contempt and compassion at the same moment, the thought is surprisingly remorse, and rightfully so, but there’s more to it b/c then after all I think there’s the capability of one, even while understanding that their entire being is completely obvious, to at some point muster some authentic action, to create some new thing, to manage out of their fragmented self an entirely distinctive new fragment…something new to add to the pool of fragments – ad infinitum. And, this, I suspect can happen on large and small scales, like little tremors or like fundamental alteration of the paradigm.
The thing of it is, the point is, at the end of the day, history or gawd or some memory of reckoning, these forces will only remember acts, not intentions.
I recently spoke to a class at Parsons, invited by the wonderful fine-art photographer and super sweet gal to boot, Amy Stein. Seeing what interested this next generation of photographers and the fashion work they were doing was enlightening for me and took me completely out of my usual box of viewing the landscape of photography. I had a feeling I left the talk more inspired than the students!
We of course touched on technique and equipment, and it was nice to see most of the students embracing 35mm for fashion work and their surprise and positive reaction to much of my work being on 35mm. It’s obvious from this blog that I’m far far far from an equipment junky or even from being interested in equipment beyond its working and not breaking. I will use about any camera within reach or that I happen to have film for, but with that I’ve always been fond of 35mm b/c it’s a format, like all, that if given a certain kind of love can give unique results other formats can’t. The smaller negative if well shot has a bite and crunch to it that can’t be mimicked by other formats, and well shot is the key word here, b/c you really need to be a technically superior photographer to shoot well on 35mm: any errors are magnified many fold when repro sizes get big: try printing a soft 6×7 neg to 11×14 and it’s pretty; try it with a 35mm neg and it looks, well, soft…that is if sharp is your cup of tea, which it may not be, like H.C. Bresson you might facetiously humor focus as conceit of the bourgeoisie. Also, a lot of people pick up 35mm and default to candid on all production fronts including the very basic use of light, while a seasoned 35mm photographer (hey, Peter Lindbergh) never forgets that good light is good light, no matter what size the film is. You know? Anyway, this is an ode to those guys who don’t shelve the Nikons on shoot day and to those up and coming kids I met burning up all 36 of them frames. 36 chances at fame! Keep doing it.
I’ve mentioned Eggleston before but have never done a post on him, b/c I wouldn’t know where to begin or stop…I mean, I have hordes of awe for his vision and his pursuit of it, b/c you see, in so many ways, he is the father of modern fine-art photography. He brought color to fine art photography, and banality, and irony, and the vernacular, and…and pretty much anything you see in color hanging in Chelsea today. Indeed, he’s one of the handful photographers I’d, without hesitation, call a genius of the medium…not ingenious, but truly genius.
I still don’t plan on saying much here b/c it’d become painfully long-winded, so I only wanted to share this picture from his book William Eggleston 5×7. It caught my eye as being so beautiful. It’s not even particularly Egglestonish; it’s softer and lacks his usual detachment; but it’s for this very reason I’m attracted to it.
For more on this picture and the taking of it read this Smithsonian article.
Recently I was researching modern Japanese photographers, trying to understand their aesthetic of transforming and expanding simple content (visual haiku?), their use of space (often empty, often black…), and finally what I see as their consistent perturbed and psychologically dislocated conclusions.
Shomei Tomatsu was one who’s work stood out as being important to me.
Dubbed part of the holy trinity of modern Irish lit – alongside Joyce and Beckett – Flann O’Brien’s (born Brian O’Nolan) piece of mastery At Swim-Two-Birds is a must must must (etc) read for one and all. Joyce and Beckett had super smart senses of funny, but O’Brien is of the laugh-your-guts-sore sorts. To the extent that I’d suggest to read him in private. No kidding. Further differences may be generalized as such: I recognize Joyce as one of the acmes of modernism, while Beckett I think is a key to a bridge between modernism and post-modernism, but of the three, O’Brien has his foot the furthest into the post-modern sensibility with his cobbled-meta-fiction and light yet somehow still dark humor that would later become so predominant with the late-post-mod-literature-of-exhaustion satirical writers like Barth, Vonnegut, and suchlike…
So, read O’Brien.
It’s been so very linear here lately, with hairy heads down, with seriously forged lines of direct direction, with every motion seeming to be endued with an ineradicable notion of progress. Eyes and hearts and lives are set on that glittering goal, that green light manifesting distant across the bay, burning like a cold soft brutal gem. Naturally, you can imagine that all disruptions are frowned upon; relaxation and imagination are intent-full…inefficiency at some point even became efficient…still, sometimes, even with that, I stop strange on the corner, like a rock dropped in a fast shallow stream…and when I look close a heavy thing fills my chest as I see most self-awareness – of which there’s plenty – smothered out buy a mix of obsession, hope, and a group-wide conviction that the purpose is absolute. You know, I can’t help but think this momentum is not innate; think that there’s the possibility of a whole lot being tremendously let down at some point… A student of history might know that this movie’s been played before, or might not…I don’t know. Yet, we manage to elude or maybe reconcile disappointment, b/c what is innate is the ability and skill to convince ourselves of anything to satiate our basic motives. For good and bad.
Anyway, the point I wanted to tell you is that I considered our savior and our ruin probably reside in equivalent qualities. Hope you’re well.
Sight-seeing, or gleaming artifacts of not-so-soon-history. Who knows?
Who doesn’t seem “odd?”
So put the number on speed dial. And if you doubt, dial.
Check it before they wreck it.
This is a welcomed accolade for a photographer. PDN’s 30.
A thanks to PDN for the opportunity, specifically staff members: Jeanine Fijol, Jacqueline Tobin, and Anthony LaSala.