These heavy cathedrals of stone fall before me whenever I come to witness the blues melt into the golden shores and the ink spill across the molten sea. This hungry mouth tilts to swallow its treasure whole. I hear the random slap of waves below and watch these muscular cliffs tug and yank at this opulent rug. I stand where the scene slips away and know that all I could ever do was get close to what is far beyond me.
Let’s wander away to the Big Rock Candy Mountain!
One evening as the sun went down And the jungle fire was burning, Down the track came a hobo hiking, And he said, "Boys, I'm not turning I'm headed for a land that's far away Besides the crystal fountains So come with me, we'll go and see The Big Rock Candy Mountains -Harry McClintock, Big Rock Candy Mountain
Before digital photography, photographers were used to working with negatives in order to produce the desired print from the exposure. In digital photography, there is the label of a digital negative but that refers just to a type of file called RAW which is about retaining as much information as possible. Digital photographers might use the negative or inverse in some part of their process but it really has disappeared from the collective consciousness since we’ve lost most of our one hour photo shops (or home dark rooms as I grew up with). I’m not a luddite so any sentimentality I have for the old ways is quickly dashed by the fact that film was far more expensive and time consuming. It’s funny to see people now shooting on film as if it has magical properties. Surely, if we handed a digital camera from today to someone back in the 70’s, it would be seen as magic. In addition to the pleasure of looking at the world in any way our naked eyes cannot (which is the main purpose of photography in my opinion), I like the ironic feeling of making a negative as the final result from a digital file.
Here’s a small diversion from Blue Monday. Yesterday, I snapped shots of the clouds passing over my backyard.
Which one of these is not upside down?
The only one not flipped upside down is number seven. Thanks for playing!
There is a poem by Walt Whitman from Leaves of Grass that has resonated for me ever since I read it as a teenager. It’s about the struggle of existence with the transitory nature we have found ourselves in. The turbulent foam we move in. Perhaps even the quantum foam of spacetime itself as John Wheeler hypothesized.
This poem shows the empathy we have for others struggling as Whitman had for this swimmer. I knew such a courageous swimmer of life who died in a tragic accident roughly a year ago. He too was in his middle age. Never did I think when I read this decades ago that it would eventually embody a dear friend I thought would outlive me.
I see a beautiful gigantic swimmer swimming naked through the eddies of the sea, His brown hair lies close and even to his head....he strikes out with courageous arms...he urges himself with his legs. I see his white body....I see his undaunted eyes; I hate the swift-running eddies that would dash him headforemost on the rocks, What are you doing you ruffianly red-trickled waves? Will you kill the courageous giant? Will you kill him in the prime of his middle age? Steady and long he struggles; He is baffled and banged and bruised....he holds out while his strength holds out, The slapping eddies are spotted with his blood....they bear him away....they roll him and swing him and turn him; His beautiful body is borne in this circling eddies....it is continually bruised on rocks, Swiftly and out of sight is borne the brave corpse.
And through his empathy, Whitman sees himself as the swimmer and through poetry becomes the swimmer as much as the witness. All of us in the foam. All of us swimming through randomness. Bound by our common struggle. Illuminated by our undaunted courage. Holding out against forces beyond our control.
I rediscovered sepia this weekend. I like how sepia suggests that this image is of the past. A past moment suspended in the now. A ’54 Chevy suspended on this page. Lately, I’ve had this recurring thought that wherever I go, the moment has passed by already. And time appears to me like a shadow-line moving over what was in the light and I’m standing at that line mesmerized at the movement itself. Paralyzed by thoughts about the experience of time.
Then the illusion is blown by a row of city bikes in the background. The 1954 feel / time bleeding out of the main object betrayed. I remember the point Roland Barthes made so well about a photograph being more akin to a hallucination than any kind of memory (actually a counter-memory that blocks memory). His quote from Camera Lucida about what a photograph is has always struck me as closest in my experience, “The photograph becomes a bizarre medium a new form of hallucination. False on the level of perception True on the level of time: a temporal hallucination, so to speak, a modest, shared hallucination (on the one hand “it is not there,” on the other “but it has indeed been”): a mad image, chafed by reality.”
Photographs. Our dear sweet little false memories. As yummy as apple pie with a little hot pepper in it. I’ve always felt this push-pull from photographs. And I feel it when I photograph. Something maddeningly ordinary but also hints of something gone awry. The maddest image tries to tell you that it’s as normal as a car parked on the street. Even objects and places tell us how they want to be seen.
The more experimental or expressive the photograph, actually the less mad it appears to me! Closer to its medium as an image-maker rather than a truth-teller. The utterly mundane being most mad of all. But who doesn’t love madness in art? And that might be why some artists like me tend to be most mundane of all. Blending in. Hiding to better witness the mesmerizing shadow-line of time.
As memories sink into the subconscious, light bends the appearance of a log on its return to the soft wet earth. Into the waters of time, the slow slide of experience is transformed into the rich material from which myths arise. The still pond dreams of craggy ramparts overrun by a verdant army.
The morning light yawns across the desert.
In the dark sea of the desert, there was an island. As we sailed by in our car, I snapped this shot. The sight matched an image inscribed in me decades ago when I saw Arnold Böcklin’s painting Die Toteninsel in Berlin.
How strange to be driving in the Southwest decades later and suddenly think of someone else’s dream. And to feel the tone of that dream image materialized to such a scale that it stretched entirely around our car. For a brief absurd moment, it felt as if I were suspended in that dream visiting a cemetery of shadows from the window of our moving coffin.
The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus is one of those books, my favorite kind, that has worked on my consciousness for years after reading it. When revisiting certain passages, it strikes me that I had been thinking along these lines to the point that now the words sing to me more than ever.
The gist of the book’s message is to live the most (not the best) by focusing attention on the experience of existence while acknowledging the absurdity of our condition (that we yearn for meaning in a random existence, so we “color the void” with our images).
“It is during that return, that pause, that Sisyphus interests me. A face that toils so close to stones is already stone itself! I see that man going back down with a heavy yet measured step toward the torment of which he will never know the end. That hour like a breathing-space which returns as surely as his suffering, that is the hour of consciousness. At each of those moments when he leaves the heights and gradually sinks toward the lairs of the gods, he is superior to his fate. He is stronger than his rock.” Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus (p. 121)
When I’m feeling the tragic fate of existence, it is this private victory that I keep in mind.
On one of my regular walks, a sense of waiting overcame me. Earlier I had been thinking about how a photograph is really a suspension of a present moment. So I went for my normal walk through the neighborhood and took snapshots with my cell phone of whatever ordinary stuff seemed to involve my attention. Somehow interlinked in the desire for a walk was this feeling of waiting reflected in the ordinary things around me. And by the end of the walk, I felt as if a walk is very much about moving through a world waiting all around. Even I, though moving, was waiting to walk to the cafe and then waiting to get back home. Waiting for ordinary signs of waiting to stick out at me. And even though other people were engaged in activities, I saw them more like moving bodies waiting for something else to happen.
Wait Eucalyptus tree.
Wait wide open space.
Wait debris on steps.
Wait empty chair in the shade.
Wait balloon on grass near a dandelion.
Wait seed pods to drop.
Wait long shadows.
Wait horse tethered to a tree.
Wait pigeons perch.
Wait red truck at red light.
Wait shadow of stop light.
Wait paint on brick wall.
Wait bagel with gentrification.
Wait wall for next rebellious poster.
Wait empty store.
Wait sticker on a bench on a tattoo parlor.
Wait windows clean.
Wait unload truck.
Wait street cross.
Wait hair cut.
Wait old Pontiac locked up behind a fence.
Wait mail outside motel.