Unreal Nature

May 25, 2009


Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:16 am

… Unable to compete with the cultural capital of richer recipients of the program gospel, [Raymond] Carver and his peers turned shame at exposure into the mark of depth, made unwillingness to speak and selective revelation the signs of mastery, and aestheticized their class displacement:

Minimalism was in any case founded on a skepticism of the idea that fiction is emotionally rich when it is emotionally ‘articulate.’ . . . Minimalism had very little to say about emotion. That’s because it was engineered as a way, not of explaining, but of beautifying shame. . . . The excisions and understatements that are the hallmark of minimalism . . . can be understood as analogous to the self-protective concealments, like shielding the eyes, triggered before, during, and after the fact of shameful exposure.

I find that little snip interesting because it’s my impression that much of the resistence to art photography springs from discomfort about exposure of emotions. Just say “emotionally rich” and half your audience will get up and leave the building.  Running, not walking.

The quote is from a review of the book, The Program Era, by Mark McGurl; the review is Shop Talk by Mark Greif in the June/July/Aug 2009 issue of BookForum.




Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:09 am

… I hope he has the good sense to stay with mythic. The second I saw him turn up as an art professor in The Eiger Sanction,I knew he was in big trouble. Not that he can’t make just about anything mythic. (Witness the otherworldly dimension he single-handedly got into Play Misty for Me. He was a disc jockey and he still got mythic in there.) But that one time, in The Eiger Sanction, he put too big a burden on himself. They couldn’t even make the mountain mythic, so what did they expect from an actor who is more or less flesh and blood? (He didn’t give up on that one, either, incidentally. He was mythic in fits and starts, and then he finally got disgusted.) In any case, I wish he’d stick with straight mythic and not try to broaden himself (on screen, that is). Let Al Pacino broaden himself. I’d love to see him just continue riding into Lagos out of some primordial past, go around doing mythic things, and get the hell out of there with the whistling sound. In other words, broaden himself within mythic. Pacino wants to play Beethoven, that’s his business. Let Eastwood keep on refining mythic, although how on God’s earth he’s going to refine what he did in High Plains Drifter is a question I’d rather not have to answer.

Which brings me to another question, one that’s been crying out to be asked since I got into this. The Duke or Eastwood? . . .

Find out the answer in this book excerpt, Some Thoughts on Clint Eastwood and Heidegger, by Bruce Jay Friedman.



May 24, 2009

The paradoxical pulse

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 8:05 pm

This is for Dr. C, who believes in boundaries, sure knowledge, and the solid separateness of things.

… Of the many rhythms beating away inside our bodies the heartbeat is the one we care about most, perhaps because it has always been the hallmark of life — both biological and emotional. Doesn’t the doctor listen to his patient’s heartbeat just as attentively as the novelist listens to his hero’s? Don’t both of them borrow each other’s words to describe the heart’s condition, saying that it is throbbing, fluttering, or fading?

… Only a few years ago medical students had to stand at the patient’s bedside and define in a single breath such basic features of the pulse as its regularity, frequency, intensity, fullness, and tension. The terms used to encapsulate the main quality of a pulse must have seemed countless, as they spoke of a bigeminal pulse, a thready, or filiform, pulse, or when they ran out of adjectives, a paradoxical pulse.

… What a range of facilities there is nowadays for medical students trying to fathom the music of the heart! We lay a diaphragm fitted with an electronic amplifier over the sternum, at the point where the ribs join. It has six pairs of acoustic ducts coming out of it, just like the tube of an ordinary stethoscope. This allows six people to listen to the sounds issuing from the same point above the heart simultaneously. Meanwhile, the screen of a portable computer displays an electrocardiographic curve, and beneath it a phonocardiogram — a nonstop recording of all the tones, murmurs, and other acoustic features produced by the heart. You can stop it, “freeze” it, and analyze it.

… My beloved Oxford Companion to Music defines rhythm as the countenance of music, turned to face time. How might we relate that to the rhythm of the heart?

A surge of blood flows to billions of our cells, and, like an ocean wave that licks at the sandy shore, it laps against them before flowing away again, to return after a fixed interval. Our large internal organs, and the cells they are made of, are endlessly rocked by waves that ebb and flow. They can feel and hear the roar and rhythm of the blood, which “binds together distant shores / with a thread of mutual agreement” and tells them about the flow of time.

— from Catharsis: On the Art of Medicine by Andrzej Szczeklik



Item aliud temperatum pullorum

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:55 am

… and now, back to our regularly scheduled programming.

It is assumed that a fully self-present moment of origination, a pure expression of unmixed and unprecedented intentions, usually lost to time, lies at the core of most any early modern …

How does that sentence end? Is it art? Photography? No. It ends, “most any early modern cookery book.”

Yes, I (and the author of this book) am sweeping cooking into the ever-expanding net of what can be considered an artistic endeavor. Is nothing sacred?

The book is Aquecheek’s Beef, Belch’s Hiccup, and Other Gastronomic Injections: Literature, Culture and Food Among the Early Moderns by Robert Appelbaum. Here is the above quote in context:

… It is assumed that a fully self-present moment of origination, a pure expression of unmixed and unprecedented intentions, usually lost to time, lies at the core of most any early modern cookery book. Yet such an origin may well be not only difficult to find — given the difficulty of recovering manuscript material from six, seven, or eight centuries ago — but inherently mythic, a researcher’s fantasy. Even the individual recipe may lack an “original.” What masterly incipit can be found for chickens hunter style, say? When did the “livers and gizzards” get added to the pot? What about the egg yolks? When precisely did a roasted chicken steeped in liquid of a certain kind, with certain additives like livers and egg yolks but not certain other available additives (like onions or saffron), become “hunter style”? One will never find out in many cases, not only because the traces of origin have been lost to legend, but because the recipes themselves often function less as inventions sprung from the mind of a creator than as momentary codifications of sensual experience that afterward take on the appearance of original inventions. Although individual writers and compilers certainly play a role in recording recipe collections, what is first of all in question is less an invention newly strung from the pen of a master cook than an impersonal engagement in the process of a writing of a certain kind — something Jacques Derrida calls the function of the “scriptor” — though which a variety of codes referring to the production of individual dishes are assembled.

… Yet this advanced, elitist, and masculinist oeuvre is all the same a sweet science. It opens a window onto a system for adding taste, texture, and variety to the diet. It appeals to the appetite, to the pleasures of the table and of the community of the shared dish. It adds value to the meal and the necessities, biological and social, that the meal is designed to serve. Indeed, it adds meaning to the meal. The dishes have names. They have provenance. They have status. They come to the table not only as an item for consumption, catering to hunger, but as a distinctive product of craftsmanship or art. They may serve not only to gratify the appetite but to instill a sense of pride in what is being served, whether in the kitchen workers who produced them, the diners invited to the table, or the head of household presiding over the meal, all of whom may well invest a good deal of ego in the food they are involved with. The dishes, to put it another way, are tokens of a civility that has been encoded and encouraged by labors of learning. Situated in the midst of a practical culture where a certain range of products are available for use, where cooks will be brought up in the kitchen and understand basic operations, but where a certain presumably sophisticated form of cookery, with a certain range of dishes, textures, and tastes, needs to be transmitted and repeated, the early cookbook succeeds in providing the text, at once cogent, useful, and orderly, of a portable culinary ethic appealing to pride and disseminating civility.

There is also lots of yummy stuff in that excerpt that has nothing to do with art and everything to do with good cookery. [ link ]



The Urge to Preserve, Weathercasting, the Anthropology of Mud, and Mapping Nipple Church

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:44 am

All of the below are excerpts from books published by the University of Chicago Press. You will be relieved, even excited to know that none of them have anything to do with either art or photography. I just like them.

The first excerpt is from Collections of Nothing by William Davies King:

Then it began, the first real collection of my adult life. One day I started to save the labels of all the food products I consumed — cereal, soup, candy, beer. I did not keep the cans or jars, only the paper or cellophane or plastic labels. Boxes and cartons I cut or dismantled. Everything had to lie flat, like a leaf in a book. Initially I glued each item to a sheet of paper, most of it reclaimed from some other use. Eventually, I decided to keep the boxes unbound, flattened but not cut or glued, so that they could be reassembled if the need ever arose. (“This is a national emergency. We require a Triscuits box from 1986, a complete box! Citizens who can fulfill this demand should report to…”) I did not keep duplicates, but the smallest variations — new graphics, a new incentive deal or coupon, even a change in the quality or color of the printing — seemed interesting enough for me to preserve. Initially I kept the labels in my file cabinet, but soon began to punch holes and place the leaves in a binder. That way I was creating a “book,” and eventually I would have a lot of these books. (“Of making many books there is no end,” Ecclesiastes 12:12) Eventually, though I could not have said it at the time, I would have this book.

… I got carried away by this new project and began riffling through trash bins for nice labels (by then I was living in a flat above one of those mom-and-pop stores), but I soon stopped that and more or less restricted myself to the record of my life and my consumerism.

… A Web search also turns up collectors of candy wrappers, full sugar packets, and beef jerky wrappers depicting NASCAR drivers, but I have not yet located a collector of Philadelphia Cream Cheese boxes or Doritos bags. Honeycombs does not figure prominently on the Big Board, ditto Frosted Mini-Wheats and Maypo. Few have attended as closely as I have to the labeling of mushrooms (I have a whole binder for mushrooms, with more than fifty varieties) or the tagging of asparagus. Some corners of my collection are peculiar to my travels, like the tamarind candy labels from Oaxaca (Mexico also merits its own binder). McVittie’s biscuits, from London, are represented among all the other horse-feed cookies from Britain and the United States, but of them all are the most delicious.

The second excerpt is from Air Apparent: How Meteorologists Learned to Map, Predict, and Dramatize Weather by Mark Monmonier:

Gary England, who broke into weathercasting in the early 1970s, described his first live broadcast at an Oklahoma station that mounted maps on miniature Ferris wheels:

The metal weather maps on the large four-sided drums somehow looked larger that night. Each drum weighed 180 pounds but felt much heavier. Every time I turned a drum, some the letters and numbers would fall off or would assume a crazy tilt and have to be rearranged. It was frustrating those days, the norm.

Some presenters drew in their map symbols on camera: an impressive act to a home audience unable to see the thin red lines penciled in as guides. Skill as an illustrator was a marketable asset for the weathercaster who could quickly sketch clouds, lightning bolts, or a radiant “Mr. Sun.”

Next we have stories from an anthropologist working in Botswana, Journeys with Flies, by Edwin N. Wilmsen:

The way to extricate a vehicle from such a mess is to find a place near a wheel next to which a jack set on a plank carried against such a contingency can be forced under the axle, ratchet the submerged jack as high as it will go — the plank will be pressed into the mud farther than the truck is raised — stuff branches into the space created under the wheel, release the jack, watch everything sink into the mud (maybe two or three centimeters will have been gained), dig out the plank and fill its hole with sticks; repeat until you become convinced that more progress can be made at another wheel and begin on it; do not think of the fact that this one will have to be returned to. In practice, it doesn’t matter which wheel is attempted first; each must be attended — again and again and again and again — working underwater, stripped to underwear. The idea is to build a column of logs beneath each wheel so that the truck sits above mud level and then to pave a path with branches through the remaining muck . . .

And, finally an excerpt from Squaw Tit to Whorehose Meadow: How Maps Name, Claim and Inflame, also by Mark Monmonier:

… Names scholars can marvel at the commemorative meaning of nipple names, a third of which begin with a personal possessive like Elsies, Marys, Mollys, or Sadies. (The genitive or possessive apostrophe is not normally allowed because the Board on Geographic Names prefers not to show possession.) For whatever reason, Molly outranks all other honorees, with Utah alone accounting for eleven Mollies Nipple, Mollys Nipple, or Molleys Nipple toponyms. Whether a nipple feature tagged with a personal name celebrates the namee as a person or the namee’s anatomy is difficult to discern — an anatomical reference seems unlikely for Dans Nipple (in Wyoming) and Peters Nipple (in Utah). Equally intriguing is nipple’s geometrically baffling application to lakes (in Colorado and Utah), a spring (in Utah), and a valley (in Colorado). With more time on my hands, I’d enjoy delving into the history of Nipple Church, the variant name of a Mississippi house of worship now officially known as Tabernacle Church. Although the name might memorialize a steeple, it seems strangely irreverent.

I have pondered whether dildoes and swastikas may be too much for some of my readers. I will compromise by giving just two sentences on those topics from Monmonier’s book:

… What’s more, some Dildodians no doubt felt the same sense of priority as residents of Swastika, Ontario, who resisted the provincial government’s renaming their community in 1940 to honor Winston Churchill. Defiantly they ripped down the official sign and put up a replacement proclaiming, “To Hell with Hitler. We had the swastika first.”

There you go. A posting that’s not about art, photography, chickens, or free will. You thought I couldn’t do it.



May 23, 2009

Some Assembly Required

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:03 am

Writers I like don’t take language for granted. It’s not just this machine you use to get places.

That’s Aleksandar Hemon in an interview, Toxic Assets and English Syntax: Aleksandar Hemon talks with Bookforum (June/July/Aug 2009).

BF: The narrator’s father, who appears in “The Bees, Part 1,” has a “hatred of the unreal” and isn’t keen on his son’s literary aspirations. Is your own father like this?

 AH: Yes. The most disdainful thing he could say about any kind of narrative art is that it’s unrealistic. He doesn’t really read books — he reads newspapers. No fiction, other than my books. It’s not the absence of imagination — it’s a different kind of imagination. My father is an amazing storyteller. He can turn a visit to a supermarket into a story.

BF: The father has his own literary aspirations, motivated by his need to document what he deems to be the truth.

 AH: Stories, whether they’re told or written, document human experience, and that is different from documenting fact. If I try to tell you what happened to me in ’91, I’ll have to guess about certain things, I’ll have to make up certain things, because I can’t remember everything. And certain memories are not datable. You and I might remember our lunch, but some years from now we won’t remember it was on a Friday. I will not connect it with what happened this morning because they are discontinuous events. To tell a story, you have to — not falsify — but you have to assemble and disassemble. Memories are creative. To treat memory as a fact is nonsense. It’s inescapably fiction.

BF: There’s always embroidery. It’s human nature.

AH: There’s something called the narrative paradigm, which suggests that people think about themselves as a character in the story of their life. We have to organize information to be received through our senses, through our intellect, through other books, into some sort of a story. I think editing is one of the most important parts of storytelling. There’s great pleasure in actually taking out, including the stuff that I might have started the story with, not to mention the sentences with curlicues and the boring stuff.

BF: Your fiction borrows from your life, but you’ve said you hate memoirs.

 AH: I hate confessional memoirs. There are valuable memoirs, no doubt. But you have to have a life worth talking about. Not every experience is valuable. Literature, to my mind, starts from some sort of personal space — and then it has to go beyond that. Whatever experience you may have had, whatever stories you might have to tell about yourself, they have to be transformed into something that’s meaningful beyond yourself. And because it’s transformed at some point, it stops being about you. The person in my fiction is not my life, so we can talk about it. If it were my life, what would you have to say about it? Memoir is not subject to interpretation. That is antithetical to literature. Confessional space is solipsistic: I’m the only one there, you don’t get to enter. You can watch from the outside and as a voyeur, and that appalls me.

[ … ]

BF: In “Stairway to Heaven,” the teenage narrator is trying to figure out how to construct a story out of his time in Africa, to report to his girlfriend back home. How do you make readers take that leap and appreciate an experience so foreign to them?

 AH: The challenge is, how do you talk about other people’s experiences? If you have fear of talking about other people or with other people, of telling their stories and not just yours, then you’re going to end up in a kind of solipsism where everyone speaks individually but nobody hears. Reading fiction is trying to imagine what someone else’s life is like. This transference from private to public, from personal to shared, that’s the exhilarating thing about literature. I can read Madame Bovary — I know it’s not me. I’m not French, I’m not a woman. But I can communicate with her.

In spite of my Unreal Nature moniker, like the father described above, I tend to dislike what is blatantly unreal. I like unreal that could be real. I use unreal to make it clear that my pictures are fiction not memoir. I disassemble and assemble.

Read the full interview. [ link ]



May 22, 2009

Outer and Inter Pretation

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 8:15 pm

In comments to a recent post, There May Come a Moment, Dr. C asked a series of questions. I’d like to answer them here.

Dr. C: In all your multiple posts about who is an artist, and what an artist does, I keep wondering about the boundary between us mere mortals and you, the artist. There are two aspects to this boundary: the technical and the imaginative.
       If I take a technically superb photograph, yet have not imagination (or some secret mental alchemy) am I, for that one shining moment, still an artist? But if I have all the ideological prerequisites (and only the guild can tell me what they are) and have not technique, you will say my photograph is a fraud. That I am not an artist. Just lucky. 

Me: I can’t really understand that one. Either a picture communicates effectively or it doesn’t. Technique has to have something to act upon. It’s not an end. If the picture is good, it is good and it can’t be good merely because it is technically correct. 

Dr. C: What if I take a technically awful photo but patch it up with Photoshop? Who determines the aesthetic and how? I suppose that it is, again, the guild. Can I be blackballed from the guild? 

Me: Photoshop is not somehow separate. When you are making something, there aren’t rules that say “this part is real and this part isn’t.” Photoshop or whatever other means you use to reach your end result is just — how you reach your end result.

The photographer, like the writer, or painter or sculptor or whatever other sort of artist is interpreting the world. This bit from Annie Dillard’s book, Living By Fiction, may help:

If science will not seek human meaning, and if interpreters (critics, anthropologists, etc.) study human events and human artifacts only, then who will tell us the meaning of the raw universe?

… The writer … is the world’s interpreter. The writer is certainly interested in the art of fiction, but perhaps less so than the critic is. The critic is interested in the novel; the novelist is interested in his neighbors. Perhaps even more than in his own techniques, then, the writer is interested in knowing the world in order to make real and honest sense of it. He worries the world and probes it; he collects the world and collates it.

Anybody reading or viewing or otherwise partaking of art can be a “critic.” Anybody attempting to interpret “the raw universe” is a budding artist. For example, we have Dr. C himself, posting this text along with some very nice photographs of the yew trees near his home:

I have been fascinated by this tree since I moved in 9 years ago and it is like an old and steady friend. One of the aspects of yews is that they are exceedingly geometrically complex and, in spite of that, the branches rarely touch. One can think of a zillion human situations for which this could be a metaphor, including aspect of the brain. Fascinating.

It’s not the technique that matters in that interpretation (photographs and text) of yew trees. It’s simply an attempt “to make real and honest sense” of  “the raw universe” — by whatever means.

There is one last question to answer:

Dr. C: Are there secret rituals that one must undergo to be accepted into the clan? Handshakes in the darkroom? Once in, is every photo I take somehow imbued with an intangible aura (an Ansel Adams aura) so that no matter what I do it is considered art?

Me: That goes to art marketing. Yes, there are gate-keepers and bottle-necks and all sorts of hoop-jumping. See, for example, this post by Ed Winkleman.

On the other hand, you could skip the gallery scene and get an Art-O-Mat.




The Living Tissue

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:58 am

All of the below is extracted from the book, Photographs & Words, by Wright Morris (1982).

… I was put in the upstairs bedroom I had had as a boy, almost thirty years before. The window frame was just a few inches off the floor, due to some miscalculation, the folds of the gathered lace curtains as dry and crisp as paper. The storm window, put up several years before, had not been taken down. On the doily of the bureau a satin lined box that had once contained an ivory handled comb, mirror and brush set, now held several corroded rifle cartridges and the partial handle of the missing mirror. Why had she preserved it? We were alike in that we perceived these objects in the light of our emotions and judged this the mystic meaning they had to give out.

At the start my Uncle Harry ignored me. I saw him pass with a hoe, with a pail of water, with another inner tube that needed repairing, indifferent to my presence. I drew him in with questions. Would it rain again? He replied that it usually did. Soon he trailed me around, offered dry suggestions, tested me with his dead pan humour. He still smoked Union Leader, if and when he could find his pipe. When I suggested a picture of himself — the greatest ruin of all — he was compliant. Actually, he had been waiting. In the museum of relics the farm had become he was one of the few that still almost worked. He pointed that out himself.

I had him walk before me, through the door of the barn he had entered and exited for half a century (Plate 1). He had become, like the denims he wore, an implement of labor, one of the discarded farm tools. A personal pride, however, dormant since the Depression, reasserted itself in the way he accepted my appreciative comments. Why not? Had he not endured and survived it all, like the farm itself? Over several days I had remarked that he changed his hats according to the time of day and the occasion. A sporty nautical number in the early morning, at high noon and afternoon one of his wide brimmed straws. In the dusk of evening he preferred an old felt, with a narrow brim, the color and texture of tar paper. All hats suited him fine. The only piece of apparel we both found out of fashion was new overalls, blue stripes on white, that in no way adapted to his figure or movements and gave off the rasp of a file. He was quick to sense my disapproval and stopped wearing them.

[PLATE 1     Uncle Harry, Home Place, Norfolk, Nebraska, 1947]

It was Clara’s suggestion that I might look in on Ed’s place. Ed was a bachelor, related by marriage, who had died several weeks before my arrival. His small farmhouse was directly across the road. The bed had been made, but otherwise I found the house as a bachelor would have left it. The bric brack of a lifetime, pill boxes, pin cushions, shotgun shells, flashlights, a watch and chain, a few snapshots. Although the bed had been made, the imprint of his body remained, his feet were almost visible in the shoes beneath it. What I saw on the ground glass evoked in me a commingling of tenderness, pity and sorrow, to the exclusion of more searing emotions.

It’s interesting to consider how the presence of a camera changed the relationship between Wright and his Uncle. I think it equalized them a bit; balancing seniority and territory.

Much later, near the end of the text part of the book (the first half), Morris moves from anecdote to theory:

… Although we might describe this as the photographic century, the nature and singularity of the photographic image still eludes us. In the face of all evidence to the contrary, we persist in feeling, if not in believing, that facts are what photographs give us, and that however much they lie, they do so with the raw material of truth.

The simplest snapshot, in its seamless commingling of time’s presence and its suspension, testifies to the photograph’s ineluctable nature. At once commonplace and unearthly, it arouses us in a way that exceeds our comprehension, yet involves us in time’s ineffable mystery. For a bewildering moment we are free of out time-bound selves.

The dawn of consciousness may be the dawn of time as perceived by man. From that first moment of awareness man has sought a piece of time’s living substance, an arrested moment that would authenticate time’s existence. Not the ruin of time, nor the tombs of time, but the eternal present in time’s every moment. From this spinning reel of time the camera snips a sampling of the living tissue, along with the distortions, the illusions and the lies, a specimen of the truth.

The last is a little bit over-the-top, but good nevertheless.



May 21, 2009

There May Come a Moment

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:41 am

This fusion of close observation of the physical world, a passionate specificity, and the heart moved to wonder. Each time passing through the liquid mirror, which so conceals what lies below, the artist quite clear he’s delivering himself into the power of something greater than the self, that only by its grace can he (hope to) return.

That and all that follow are taken from the introduction, written by Thomas Farber, to the book, Through a Liquid Mirror: Photographs of Wayne Levin (1997).

Levin’s photographs and the text I will be quoting are about photography in the ocean. I would like the references to water and the ocean in the quotes to be considered as metaphorical, not literal. Metaphorical to what? You’ll figure it out. [Please note that the ellipses within the text are in the original. Ellipses at the beginning of a section have been added by me to indicate a break from one quote to another.]

… if, since childhood you’ve been fascinated by seeing the world through the viewfinder of a camera, the way things appear at the edge of the frame, pass across it, then vanish . . . and if as an adult you photograph, say, window displays or dioramas, shooting through the glass, making images that superimpose that larger world the windows reflect onto the “make-believe” world of the display — itself intended to simulate the “real” . . . and if you think of glass as a former liquid and know that water is often “glassy” . .. . and/or, if as a young artist you’re working at “street photography,” the gist of which is that the photographer, visually inconspicuous in the midst of life, reacts — fast! — to a moment, seeking to catch events rather than objects . . . the photographer then culling those few exposures compelling in composition or in content — which, ideally, transcend what the photographer knew or intended . . . Given all this, there may come a moment when, long since in love with surf, you purchase an underwater camera and head out with mask and fins into the turbulence and tumult of breaking waves.

… We come from the ocean, they tell us. May, some day, return. Live, like cetaceans, between two worlds. Are “merely highly advanced fishes,” ichthyologist/paleontologist John A. Long argues in The Rise of Fishes. Not surprisingly, the artist is affected, transformed, by his time in the medium in which he works. Though moved by reef animals, the dazzling array of colors and strategies of the miniature, it’s the larger marine creatures which come to him to seem the gods or spirits of their realm. Feeling this as he yet again swims, paddles, or submerges in search of them, waits for them in the broiling sun. This fusion of close observation of the physical world, a passionate specificity, and the heart moved to wonder. Each time passing through the liquid mirror, which so conceals what lies below, the artist quite clear he’s delivering himself into the power of something greater than the self, that only by its grace can he (hope to) return.

… Photographers and water: both of them into magic, conjurers of reflection, refraction. Surely a bond. Then too, there’s the ocean’s siren song; it’s a twice-told tale that one must heed its call. Think of mermaids, among other seductions; or Odysseus, for years still voyaging, allegedly always in order to return home; or the great Polynesian navigators, perhaps driven into the deep blue to build a new life, or with a passion for exploring, or led on by the irresistible, evanescent but recurring tracks of migrating birds. It may also be true, however, connected to the ocean for whatever nexus of reasons, that long since the photographer has no more choice than any artist possessing — or possessed by — so insatiable a hunger.

… Over and again, at sea level or at several atmospheres below, over and again I’ve seen this photographer leave my field of vision — appear, so to speak, in the viewfinder of my eyes at the edge of the frame, pass across it, and vanish. The photographer free diving, wake of bubbles trailing from his fins, at a range of fifty or seventy-five feet merging into the murk. Or, in his kayak, scanning the horizon, paddling away from shore though day’s waning, toward the sunset and so beyond the capacity to make him out, until he’s no more than a filament or a memory in one’s eye. This insatiable artist surely as difficult to apprehend as the almost-mirages he’s for so many years so ardently pursued.

This book, Through a Liquid Mirror: Photographs of Wayne Levin, is wonderful. Very highly recommended if you are interested in buying such. To see Wayne Levin’s photography, please visit his site. I love his stuff.



May 20, 2009

Eat Meat or Emigrate

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:50 am


Pack your bags, Felix.

(I read it on the Internet. It must be true.)



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