Unreal Nature

April 30, 2008

Inappropriate Spaces

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:38 am

“It is an outdoor experience expressed in an indoor place which uses the conventions of that place to keep its meaning clear. It is appropriate to that space as it would be inappropriate to  hang a framed photograph from a tree in a wood.”

The above is a quote from the book Hand to Earth: Andy Goldsworthy.  It is a fairly mundane statement about the photographs he makes of his often ephemeral natural sculptures.

But the quote is bugging me. Think of it in terms of war photography or nudes or wilderness landscapes. Imagine the actual (not the photograph of) war or the (live) nude or the (entire) mountains in the gallery — or the framed photo of war hanging in the bordello, or the photo of the nude hanging in the war … What is this “appropriate” space and what has it done to the content of the image?

I’m in a hurry this morning, so I’m probably just fuddled. You think about it.





April 29, 2008

Pictures Are Made In Your Mind

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:51 am

Marks are made on a piece of paper. You look at the marks and, in your mind, make them into a sentence.

Marks are made on a piece of paper. You look at the marks and, in your mind, make them into a picture.

Marks are made on a piece of paper. You look at the marks and, in your mind, make them into blood stains.

In a post on The Online Photographer called Then and Now and Here and There Youngme–Nowme, blogger Mike Johnston talks about the fun in looking at pictures (or movies) of the same person (or people) taken over the years.

You, whoever you are, are part of the pictures that get made from those side-by-side comparisons. For example, I have seen Nicholas Nixon’s Brown Sisters series  at random moments over the years. The photos in the series (which I have seen many times before) look different to me each time I see them.

If I had photos for the YoungMe–NowMe contest referenced in Mike’s post (one photo of oneself as a child along with a nearly matching pose as you are now), I would make, in my mind,  three pictures from my two presented. There would be the me that I, at the time (as a youngster), saw in the YoungMe picture, the me that I now see in the YoungMe picture, and the me that I now see in the NowMe picture. In theory, there would also be a me that I might have seen as a youngster looking at the NowMe (the old me) picture.

Had I been looking at the YoungMe photo over the years, I would have made different pictures over that time span. Pictures are made in your mind. You, whatever the current state of your being, make the picture as your mind finds it at the moment of looking.

Mike Johnston’s pictures of himself, which he occasionally posts in his blog, are, to me, sometimes pictures of an obviously wise and perceptive man, and sometimes pictures of a complete jackass — depending on how I feel about what he has recently written in that same blog.




April 28, 2008

Happiness vs Art

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:49 am

blue line is the person’s level of happiness, with the top being delirious, climactic, orgasmic; and the bottom being about-to-die, or loved ones about-to-die

red line is the person’s emotional response to — connection to, depth of involvement with — works of art (as opposed to seeing art as primarily decoration or entertainment)

X axis is time

y axis is intensity

dotted line is average — a typical reasonably happy middle-class life in a relatively stable country

Disclaimer – this chart may not be accurate since the data was collected from experiments done entirely in my head.





April 27, 2008

Angelic Intellects

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:35 am

“The poet and critic William Logan … handily skewers the hypocrisy of literary theory in his foreword to Praising It New: The Best of the New Criticism, edited by Garrick Davis: “In classrooms of theory, all readings are tolerated, except the wrong ones—the morally absolute masquerades here as the morally relative and manages to be high-minded about it, too.” Kafka, he adds, “would have smiled in recognition.” In the subtitle to his winning selection of essays, Davis throws down the gauntlet with that word best.  Anyone who has sat around a seminar table with students of literary theory knows this can be a provocative term….”

“… The metaphysical poet as a rationalist begins at or near the extensive or denotating end of the line; the romantic or Symbolist poet at the other, intensive end; and each by a straining feat of the imagination tries to push his meanings as far as he can towards the opposite end, so as to occupy the entire scale. [- quoting Allen Tate]

“This opposition between reason and emotion is restated throughout the New Criticism. In the last chapter of Seven Types of Ambiguity  (1930), the English poet-critic William Empson finds the same dichotomy expressed in this passage from the 1927 edition of Oxford Poetry :  there is a “logical conflict, between the denotary [sic ] and the connotatory [sic ] sense of words; between, that is to say, an asceticism tending to kill language by stripping words of all association and a hedonism tending to kill language by dissipating their sense under a multiplicity of associations.” The important point here is that as soon as a poet moves too far in one direction—toward denotation or connotation—the language dies; the object, as Tate says, is to occupy the entire scale.”

“….In his essay on Poe in The Forlorn Demon, Tate attributes poets’ disconnection from reality to the “angelic imagination”: Since Poe, Tate argues,

refuses to see nature, he is doomed to see nothing. He has overleaped and cheated the condition of man. The reach of our imaginative enlargement is perhaps no longer than the ladder of analogy, at the top of which we may see all, if we still wish to see  anything, that we have brought up with us from the bottom, where lies the sensible world. If we take nothing with us to the top but our emptied angelic intellects, we shall see nothing when we get there.

“Ransom says in The World’s Body  that “art gratifies a perceptual impulse and exhibits the minimum of reason.” Still, it exhibits enough reason to keep the poem from escaping the world and the laws of language entirely. The downside of maintaining an attachment to the world is a flattening out of the very imaginative, musical, and emotional flights that constitute the poetic in poetry. This flattening of emotion, of course, is never the aim of any poet, least of all the New Critics, who appreciated with such energy the new vibrations set in motion by modernism. What they wished to define with clarity and force was the limit after which the poetic outpaces reality so utterly that is becomes a diminished thing.”

-extracts taken from the an article in The New Criterion, Grammars of a possible world   by David Yezzi




April 26, 2008


Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 8:50 am

“Feverishly self-aware, and as ambitious as life, photography now ponderrs its many selves.”
– Wright Morris in Photographs and Words

“Some days the mere fact of seeing feels like perfect happiness.”
– Robert Doisneau in Three Seconds From Eternity

April 25, 2008

Whose Will?

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:54 am

Whose will determines the content of an image?

“Whose Will” is the tentative title for my current bird series. The setting is supposed to be an obviously contrived stage — the fixed stone table, the impossibly parallel overhead vine, the tipped-over sky behind. The birds shown are supposed to look like they are acting for an audience, as an improv group of actors does. (Alternate names for the project are “On Stage” or “Bird Improv”.)

A composite image is an obvious imposition of ones will on the scene created. However, in this particular series, the birds are supposed to (appear to) be imposing their will on the scene created (by staging their interaction) — though, naturally, it is the imposition of my will (in making the composite) that makes them appear to be imposing their will.

But these composites start from — use — photographic “pieces”. The birds, as originally photographed, were willing their own actions (eating bird seed). So at root at least that much of the content of the picture belongs to the will of the birds. On the other hand, I chose, by my own will, the particular content (posture, configuration, expression) in the original (non-composite) bird photographs. The bird offers  me the choice but it is I that make  that choice. Offer/make are yin yang, seed and egg.

I doubt most photographers think too much about this. Non-composite photography may seem to be a take-it-or-leave-it proposition. The flexing comes from the photographer’s end (what he does with himself and his equipment; the light that he waits for), not by the stuff “out there” re-conforming according to his will.

As a compositor, however, I obsess about the restrictions on my choices — on my will. I can play with the relationships, the interactions, the system, the space between. But the pieces themselves are fixed. They resist me. They insist, they require  that their own will be respected.

The birds, sky, stone, vine are the words; I make them into sentences. I use  the words; I don’t make  them. I use them to make sentences — which sentences are  my own (my will, my meaning).

I think this is true of all photography. Even those who despise manipulated images are “making” their own sentences every time they make a coherent photograph. The words are out there, but the sentences are not; they have to be made  by someones will.





April 24, 2008

I, I, I, and Random Domesticity

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:56 am

[While the following extract is about poetry in South Africa, I think there are strong similarities to current photography. ]

“… In a situation where I recently began to teach to undergraduates the work of some of the post-1990 local poets who interested me, I came to ask class after class why they were so wary and flummoxed when attempting to engage with innovative poetry. The answer, from students of different backgrounds and viewpoints, was unvarying. They had been taught poetry at school in a way which presumed each poem was a coded artifact of `culture’ beyond their own understanding and experience: poetry lessons were excruciatingly boring procedures where teachers sought to `sensitize’ their minds to ape lofty ideals of sensibility and to unlock already existent meanings. They were taught that the workings of poems were intangible; separate from their quotidian lives, concerns and enthusiasms. …”

“… It is striking the degree to which local innovative poets have also had to struggle against a view of poetry similar to (and perhaps derived from) the `Movement’ poets in Britain in the 1950s: a poetry of polite humanism and suburban irony that eschews `grander themes’, that does not engage with theory and does not attempt too much imaginative wrestling with language, subjectivity and form. Indeed, it can be argued that much of South African poetry — and certainly a great deal of white poetry, even today — shows the characteristic retreat from modernism discussed here. It is especially striking that, in this country, this is as much a refusal to deal head-on with, and accept, the urban environment in which most poets live as it is to engage with global innovations in aesthetics. There are many readers in this country, perhaps, who have become bored with the rote publication of poems exhibiting what Andrew Johnson, reviewing recent South African poetry aptly calls “`I, I, I and random domesticity all the way” — an expressive, personal poetry intent on positioning the reader, along with the narrator, to gaze at various geographical (often natural) locations so that the poet can mouth off about his or her perceptions, sorrows and strivings for insight, as if these were in themselves interesting to anybody else. …”

– taken from a 1997 Rhodes University (SA) page of poetry reviews,  the one quoted being Kelwyn Sole’s review of New British Poetries: The Scope of the Possible. Scroll down to about the sixth paragraph to find my quotes.


If you have time, I would recommend scrolling down the page linked above to find Paul Wessels review of several poetry books. The full review is … entertaining. Here is an extract:

“I don’t like any of this poetry. Confession — so often used in personalised lyric poetry — can amplify ego and soon criticism of the poems becomes criticism of the poets. You can’t help it. For example, most of the poets under review here have problematic relations towards women. It’s hard not to notice it. And to state this is neither a feminist ruse, nor a prudish retreat. It is offensive purely because so embarrassing to read, as we will see later. More broadly speaking, and I am loathe to go into this at all, there is a collective emotional stuntedness shown by these poets, and it compromises the poem time after time. As I said, it’s really none of my business, but it’s made my business. A conspiracy of sameness….”




April 23, 2008

Sociological Images

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:21 am

This morning, I spent so much time on the Sociological Images: Seeing Is Believing  blog, that I am out of time. Try it; I think you’ll like it. I check it periodically and always find it interesting.

Below is the photo from one of their postings, called Feminist Graffiti  from the ’70s (image taken originally from here (link)  on Flickr) — because I recently had a posting on graffiti and touched on feminism … and because it made me laugh.




April 22, 2008

Aesthetics after Photography

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:30 am

The following are extracts from the objectives and the research goals of an ongoing project called Aesthetics after Photography  which is being carried on at the Department of Philosophy at the University of Warwick (UK). Though there are no conclusions (yet), I find their objectives thought-provoking.

“Our project therefore asks: If photography is no longer theorised as an anti-aesthetic artistic medium, what kind of aesthetic theory would be adequate to it? Should photography be approached through categories that apply more generally to pictorial arts such as painting (style, expression, originality, depiction, intention, and the like)? Or does it require its own aesthetic categories to do justice to its specificity as both a medium and a technical apparatus (framing, focus, indexicality, reproducibility, and so on)?”


“… Debates concerning photography often turn on its relation to reality. Photochemical processes are claimed by some to ‘automatically’ create an indexical imprint without human intervention. Others, by contrast, have stressed the way the camera and its operator structure the image. The rise of digital manipulation has reinvigorated this debate. As a result, the photographic image is losing its privileged status as document, and this may have consequences for how we understand the medium in general. By the same token, its capacity to create fictional worlds has expanded enormously. Such transformations have had a striking effect on photographic art practices that calls for sustained theoretical investigation.

“The title of the project, ‘Aesthetics after Photography’, suggests that traditional aesthetic categories are challenged by photography. Yet it also points to the possibility of an aesthetic theory modified in response to that challenge. Our project thus positions itself critically in relation to both those who believe photography signals the end of the outmoded domain of aesthetics, and those who regard the new pictorial photography as largely continuous with the conventions of figurative painting. Aesthetics and photography are clearly fields that already trouble one another. This project seeks to understand the ways in which recent photographic art puts pressure on aesthetic theory, reconfiguring rather than negating it. In the process it will not only extend our understanding of what is now one of the dominant mediums of contemporary art, but propose new models of art writing that draw equally on art history, theory, aesthetics and criticism.”

From the list of goals of one of the research fellows,  Dr. Dawn Phillips:

“1. I argue that we should recognise a distinction between ‘the photograph’ and ‘the photographic event’ and think that this has the potential to resolve a number of problems currently found in the aesthetics of photography. In brief, my view is that a photograph is a visual, material object with a particular causal history which originates in a photographic event. We appreciate the photograph in virtue of appreciating its relation to the photographic event, but the photographic event should not be conflated with the photograph.

“2. My view is that we should understand photographs as analogous to performances of music, rather than to paintings or literature. I am pursuing this idea in numerous directions, including thinking about the photographic equivalents of jazz improvisation, studio multi-layer productions, different interpretations of works of music, the recording and reproduction of performances in different media (analogue and digital). I propose that the music industry provides the best model for anticipating the impact of digital photography on the future of photographic art. …” (she has a third item which I have not quoted)

There is also a very good numbered list of their aims and objectives  that is too long for me to include here. It’s also very interesting and recommended if you have the time.

I will be interested to read the results of their project.




April 21, 2008

Monday Morning Decoherence

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:30 am

What Happens When You Pop a Quantum Balloon?

Decoherence may ensue.

I understand decoherence. If you’ve ever participated in an online forum argument, where people’s balloons regularly get popped, you’ve seen the decoherence that follows. Apparently that decoherence is our fault — for observing the violent deflation.

After reading the article (quotes found below), I feel quite decoherent. I may (or may not) understand what they are saying, but I wish they had explained a bit more what quantum decoherence would be like. What would the particles be doing?

“… Writing in the April 17 edition of Nature, senior author Maxim Olshanii reported that when an observer attempts to measure the energies of particles coming out of a quantum balloon, the interference caused by the attempt throws the system into a final, “relaxed” state analogous to the chaotic scattering of air molecules….”

“… the measurement — which must involve interaction between observer and observed, such as light traveling between the two — disrupts the “coherent” state of the system, Olshanii said…”

“… researchers want to prevent coherent systems from falling into the chaos of thermal equilibrium….”

“… Finding such ‘unthermalizable’ states of matter and manipulating them is exactly one of those things that quantum information/computation folks like me would love to do,” Zanardi wrote. “Such states would be immune from ‘decoherence’ (loss of quantum coherence induced by the coupling with environment) that’s still the most serious, both conceptually and practically, obstacle between us and viable quantum information processing.””


More decoherent bits and pieces from around the net this morning:

Thai theme-park’s sinister naked baby bathroom gargoyles

Chopping down trees to make books is good for the environment, provided you then line your walls with bookcases 
(I like that one. I would have bought books anyway, but now I can feel encouraged to buy even more.)

Which imaginary animals are kosher?

Top 20 Photographs in the New York Auctions – Spring 2008

And, finally, a nice quote  from photographer Larry Fink: “The pictures are taken in the spirit of finding myself in the other, or finding the other in myself. They are taken in the spirit of empathy. Emotional, physical, sensual empathy.”
(not an endorsement of Fink’s work; I just like the quote)




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