Unreal Nature

November 24, 2009

Twinkie, Twinkie Little Suet-Filled Sponge-Cake Crisco Log

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:59 am

When I was growing up, Mom wouldn’t let us have anything really good like Twinkies. She fed us organic bread (Mease’s brown bread, bought through the mail from Pennsylvania) before it was called “organic.” Because of this, I was starved for Wonder Bread and, especially, Twinkies. In elementary school, one day of the week, the lunch dessert was Twinkies. I would trade all the dumb stuff on my tray (meat, vegetables and such) for everybody else’s Twinkies (from kids who got all the Twinkies they wanted at home). I’d end up with a gorgeous pyramid of golden depravity on my tray. I did not share.

In the USA, we consume “about 1,000 Twinkies a minute or 16 a second.” From Neatorama:

… Roger Bennatti, a teacher at the George Stevens Academy, wanted to find out the shelf life of a Twinkie, so he hung a pack on the edge of his blackboard (later on joined by a pack of Fig Newtons). That was some 30 years ago “It’s rather brittle, but if you dusted it off, it’s probably still edible,” Bennatti said. “It never spoiled.”

picture and post title from Spy magazine (1989)

I think it was far more traumatic to find out that Twinkies are bad for you than it ever was to find out that there was no Santa Claus.



Cannot Be Directly Transmitted

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:49 am

 … the image is a reification of recorded vision and cannot be directly transmitted. They know that it is the image in its actuality that constitutes “the thing seen” — as much as, and perhaps more than, the contrary proposition.

This is today’s second take from the essay, The Adventures of the Picture Form in the History of Photography by Jean-Francois Chevrier (1989) [translated by Michael Gilson]:

… After the quisi-encyclopedic inventory conducted by Eugène Atget at the turn of the twentieth century, via all of the inherited genres and beyond, auteurs such as Walker Evans, André Kertész, and the young Henri Cartier-Bresson did provide proof of the great flexibility offered by the new mechanical method of recording as long as it is used as a tool for lyricism, and for responding as spontaneously as possible to the attractions and surprises of vision. Newhall, and the majority of historians of photography after him, did not hold to this line of interpretation, not only because they did not perceive it (with the possible exception of John Szarkowski) but also because it was untenable. Nor has any photographer since those I mention held to it: neither Robert Frank (too romantic) nor Garry Winogrand nor Robert Adams (their fields of exploration being too restricted) nor, a fortiori, any Europeans. The photographers of today who consider themselves and manifest themselves as artists — taking into consideration the public spaces in which they exhibit — can no longer merely “take” pictures; they must cause them to exist, concretely, give them the weight and gravity, within an actualized perceptual space, of an “object of thought.” They do not necessarily have to “make” (in the sense of manufacture) them — much less leave their trademarks on them — but they must, before producing them, plan how they will be, where they will be situated, into what narrative they will be integrated. They can no longer deny, or pretend to deny, that the image is a reification of recorded vision and cannot be directly transmitted. They know that it is the image in its actuality that constitutes “the thing seen” — as much as, and perhaps more than, the contrary proposition.

There will be more posts from this excellent essay. I’m barely half way through it.




Precipitations of Visions

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:44 am

… the print brings us back to the moment of discovery, the first glance, the barely assured capturing, the moment when a singularity discreetly breaks free, isolating itself.

This is the first of two posts today, continuing from yesterday’s, taken from the excellent essay, essay, The Adventures of the Picture Form in the History of Photography by Jean-Francois Chevrier (1989) [translated by Michael Gilson]:

… seen in hindsight, in the light of later developments … the … nineteenth century not only retained the essential value of the illusionist criterion (i.e., as a standard, a direction, and a framework for vision, according to the model of the picture as spectacle); it also, and especially, sought (or perhaps invented), within photographic objectivity, harmony between a patient, attentive subjectivity and a depiction of nature brought back to is primitive scale (prior to any cultural ordering) and simultaneously conveyed in minutest detail.

… That harmony was shattered not because photographers were no longer pursuing it, but, paradoxically, because they were more aware and systematic in their pursuit and because they had to contend with opposing forces, with inequities, with quick decisions and what one might term precipitations of vision (brought on by the mechanical nature of the recording process) that tended to destroy the model whereby a picture would be composed, unified. In trying to seize the continuity of the world (and the subject-object relationship) in a fragmentary condensation or in metaphorical objectivity, as Edward Weston did, photographers were already setting in motion — “provoking,” if you will — all of the centrifugal drifts of subjectivity, when the goal was to “mobilize” them. The picture could no longer be that “form of pacification” that Lacan spoke of (in response to the “pacifying function of the ideal Me”), in which one finds the fiction of an imaginary totality (anticipated based on the subject’s being and becoming), which resolves ahead of time and reveals the turbulence of impulses. When photomontage, conversely, sought to welcome that turbulence and give it its true shape, photography itself, as the setting of an imaginary identity (and the standardization of a vision limited to recognition) had to be contested. In 1921 Raoul Hausmann published a manifesto entitled “We Are Not Photographers,” which included the declaration: “Creative vision is the configuration of the tensions and distensions of the essential relationships of a body, whether man, beast, plant, stone, machine, part or entity, large or small: it is never the center, coldly, and mechanically seen.” Any attempt at restoring order to representation (the famous “return to order” of the 1920s) and returning to the picture-as-spectacle now had to contend with the relativism of points of view. Photography had shattered once and for all the sumptuous “tableau de la nature” that Cézanne still dreamt of.

Today we simultaneously consider the whole and the details (“part or entity,” to use Hausmann’s terms), the composition and the fragment. We now know that a composition is a construction, and that construction is “ruin in reverse” (in Robert Smithson’s view). We can still accept with a certain delight, a view of nature in black and white — even though no painter since Gerhard Richter has executed such a view — because we can better accept the miniaturization of vision than the miniaturization of the painterly gesture. We accept photographic reduction, because we know that it is usually temporary and instrumental. We accept that photographers play at being painters, because we know very well that they are not. We accept photogaphers’ large-scale views, because we know that they have not been “composed,” but “cut out.” These are perhaps remembrances of painting. Yet we believe, with some satisfaction (and pride), that this must be how nature herself remembers painting. We accept the large-scale views of landscape, because they are discreet (and discontinuous) — because any photographic composition remains a fragment of the world. And we tend to prefer the work of photographers, as it traditionally presents itself, in the form of a small, manipulable print, over that of painters … because the print brings us back to the moment of discovery, the first glance, the barely assured capturing, the moment when a singularity discreetly breaks free, isolating itself.




November 23, 2009

The Idea of a Bird

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:28 am

I’m once again photographing birds for future composites. [For newer readers, I do this every winter, from November to early May.] Sometimes I get birds that are cool to look at but that I know I can’t use in a composite. This one, for example. The smeared out wingtips could be moved, but it would take an extraordinary amount of time (to scrub out the current background color/texture and bring in the new background color/texture).

So I’m putting it here. Its brief moment of glory before it disappears forever from this world …

I’ve been having fun thinking about what this picture reminds me of. I think it’s like a partially formed concept in the mind. You get the core of the thing to come true, but the edges blur and smear… Or how about thinking of it (this is how a compositor looks at raw files) as a fossil embedded in earth or rock or whatever. Can you extract it without having it fall apart? [Probably not .]

I do sometimes use birds in motion in my composites, but they have to be especially interesting to make the extra work worth it. Here’s a recent example:

There’s another one at the top of this post. Cowbirds commonly “display” or  flair their wings slowly enough to be somewhat unblurred.



Off the Grid

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:12 am

Photography is something much too serious to be left in the hands of photographers. We shall speak of artists using photography. Some among them also happen to be photographers.

— [quote by] Jean Clair, then editor-in-chief of L’art vivant (1973)

… without denying or rejecting the historical accumulation of images that have value as works (or masterworks, even) that may devolve upon us, it now appears more practical — if one is to favor interactions among the arts (which have always nourished photographic creation) over the production of legitimate works (legitimized by the canonizing effect of history) — to consider the medium as a tool for artistic expression rather than make it into an “art” in and of itself.

This (above and below) is from an essay, The Adventures of the Picture Form in the History of Photography by Jean-Francois Chevrier (1989):

… an art critic, today as well as in the past, will not hesitate for long if given the choice between an artist who exhibits a reflective, procedural, exploratory approach and a photographer (displaying varying degrees of talent) who is content to create variations on the heritage of painterly (or photographic) culture.

At the same time, it is possible today, where it was impossible ten years ago, to measure the boundaries, at once symmetrical and complementary, of the two antithetical systems. One can differentiate between, on the one hand, the dangers of conceptual predetermination, which excessively constrains or limits the potential for experimentation, and, on the other, the reduction of that potential to an interplay of stylistic digressions and of transgressions that are part of an ordered, normative grid.

This is a very long essay that I will probably be posting about further in the next few days.




November 22, 2009

On the Fifth Day

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:39 am

In the beginning God created heaven and earth, and that was a good foundation. To get a clearer view, God said: “Let there be light and there was light.” At that time God ruled over the elements with an iron hand. “


… Now we have reached the fifth day, which is the one we are interested in, and it is high time because tomorrow God is leaving for the Weekend, God knows where.

God said, and I quote: “Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle, and the creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind.” God saw that it was good. Then God said: “Let us make the rooster in our image, after our likeness, and let him have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.” God created the rooster in his own image, rooster and hen created he them.

So it is that rooster resembles God. In any event, in this particular bible it is an indisputable fact. Moreover, we know that God abandoned any number of rough drafts of creation, which he crumpled up into little balls and threw into space without worrying about the consequences. Usually, he’d stumble over the choice of animal he had presumably made in his image, and to whom he’d offer complete domination over the brand new world. They say that these first attempts, certainly superior and skillful approximations, live their life among the stars, or, like bubbles, burst in oblivion, even in the creator’s.

… It should … be mentioned that this creation of the world, known as “Rooster’s World,” resolves one of the silliest philosophical questions ever asked: which came first, the chicken or the egg? Neither one nor the other, it was the rooster. And certainly not in the shape of an egg, since both a chicken and a rooster hatch from an egg and what God wants is a rooster. Therefore, short of believing that God resembles an egg and that he created the egg in his image — of course not — , all eggs resemble each other, while roosters do not, and we know that the rooster created by God to resemble him was a full-fledged rooster, a rooster of a divine and canonic age. …

From the introductory essay, And God Created the Rooster by Jean-Baptiste Harang in the book of photographs, Roosters by Philippe Schlienger (2005).

[There is *something* dripping below the pictured rooster’s nose hole … ]



November 21, 2009

This Imploring Process

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:42 am

This post is dedicated to Dr. C. who has increased my enjoyment of poetry immeasurably. Now whenever I read verse, I take wonderfully sadistic pleasure in imagining him screaming and crying and shaking his fists in the background, calling out in vain, Marcus Tullius, Marcus Tullius, wherefore art thou, Marcus Tullius ?

First (and this really is for Dr. C.) from A Rude Manifesto by Paul Rudnick (1987) in Spy magazine:

Poetry: Small and fey. Poetry is simply poor punctuation. A poem is a thought unworthy of a paragraph, random words tossed on the page, literary lint. Poems are Laura Ashley prints for the mind, unicorn dung. They possess none of the time-honored virtues of fine literature: you can’t curl up with a nice trashy poem. Poems are rarely adapted as miniseries. Your parents would never forbid you to bring that Jackie Collins poem into the house: a volume of Millay seldom falls open to the good parts. People never bicker over who should play Tiresias in “The Waste Land,” Valerie Bertinelli or Pam Dawber.

Why are poems composed, or perpetrated? To break up the page in The New Yorker. Without poetry Ann Beattie would smush into the cartoons, and the eight parts of ice-making would hurtle against the windbreaker ads. Without poetry high school girls in corduroy jumpers and black leotards might have to make some friends. Emily Dickinson never left her cottage in Amherst, and with just cause: no one asked her to. Don’t invite Emily, she might recite one of her things. …

And now … :

Dangerous Moonlight
by John Ashbery

[from the third verse (which starts in the middle of a quote ) to the end]

There is a poetry in mere existence,
the kind that shopkeepers and people walking around the street lead,
you know, and evenness, that fills them up to whatever brim
is there, and stays, transient, all the days of their lives.
Such enharmonics are not for your poet-person. He sees, and breeds:
Otherwise the game isn’t worth the candle to him. He’d as soon rhyme breeze
with breathes, as walk over to that fire hydrant in the grass
to examine it, see what it’s made of, make sure it’s not an idea in some
philosopher’s mind, that will bruise and cloud over once that mind’s
removed, leaving but a dubious trace of itself, like a ring of puffball dust …”

Suppose we grant its power of conserving to listening,
so it’s really a full-fledged element in the creative process.
Well, others have done just that from time immemorial,
when women wore tall cones on their heads with sails attached to them.
But, as mattering ages, it hardens into something smooth like good luck,
no longer kinetic. Then you can listen all you want
at palace doors, creaky vents …

This imploring process is twofold. First, let’s not forget its root
in implosives. That’s something it’s got up its sleeve.
Did you ever see an anarchist without his round bomb?
And then the someone that’s got to be implored,
how does he fit in? I’ll tell you: like a wedge that was subtracted
from a wheel of cheese, and is replaced, so that it fits perfectly;
no one can see where the cut was. Well, that’s
poetic argument for you. It stands on its own (“The cheese stands alone”),
but can at the drop of a speculation be seen again as a part,
a vital one, of the mucus cloud that is generalized human thought aimed at
a quarrel or a rebus in the lining. And that’s the way
we get old with poetry. Comes a time when no one has a notion
of anything else, and the odor of fried brains contends
with the damp of vacant ancestral halls, to their mutual
betterment, actually. Here, hand me that cod …

[All ellipses are his.]

One last bit from Ashbery. This is a single line from  At First I Thought I Wouldn’t Say Anything About It:

I am in my heavyset pants and find this occupation of beekeeper charming
though I have yet to meet my first bee.

… because I love it.



November 20, 2009

Pipsqueaks of Peaceful Defiance

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:58 am

This is for you … you know who you are. Or, I should say who we are:

… We all agree that reading poetry won’t make you rich, but can it make you poor? That’s what worries me. I am not normally a profligate person — I save, I invest, I understand the sedimentary ecstasies of compound interest — but when set loose in the poetry section of any bookstore on the planet I seem to encounter a version of myself that is thoroughly stripped of restraint. If I want it, I buy it. I become something that I seem to become nowhere else: a shopaholic.

[ … ]

Am I putting my family’s retirement fund in peril for the sake of enjambment and interior rhyme? If the ax falls and I find myself joining the laid-off throngs — I did not know that downsizing had undone so many — will I look at that alpine range of piled-up volumes next to my bed and wince, thinking of all the money I could have saved?

[ … ]

Yes, I’ve considered these questions — not that that has stopped me. I justify my poetry slush fund in a variety of ways. I tell myself, for example, that buying a book of poetry constitutes a gesture of resistance. Gargantuan corporations can now cull, measure, and parse every move that we make in the global marketplace, but picking up a collection of verse is still so minuscule and arbitrary an act that it must surely defy all their algorithms — it feels as commercially untraceable as slipping an apple into your bag at an orchard. (For one thing, you’re not coerced into buying poetry because of, like, ads. You have to make a deliberate effort. You have to seek it out. And even in bookstores that do offer a diverse selection of poetry, merely finding it can pose a challenge: Invariably the poetry aisle is located way, way in the back — “yeah, just turn left at the Sasquatch section and it should be right across from Occult Interpretations of High School Musical.”) The publishing business relies on the massiveness of authors like Stephenie Meyer and Dan Brown to such a degree that a stray underdog purchase of, say, Dean Young’s Embryoyo barely even registers on their Reader Tracking Devices, and that’s what I love about it. It’s a tiny push in the opposite direction — a pipsqueak of peaceful defiance.

From Absolute Necessities: The recession confession of a poetry shopaholic by Jeff Gordinier.

[ Also interesting, though having nothing whatever to do with the above (I just want to post the link) is the list (with explanation and hundreds of comments) 6 Insane Laws We’ll Need in the Future on Cracked.com (Nov 9, 2009). ]




Original Goal vs The Whole Story

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:52 am

This is from  the middle of an interview, Robert Adams: Summer Nights, Walking by Joshua Chuang in Aperture 197 (Winter 2009). They’re talking about Adams’s release of the revision of his Summer Nights (1985), now titled Summer Nights, Walking (2009):

JC: You’ve republished Summer Nights, but with an altered title and expanded selection of images. What motivated you to change it?

RA: I wanted to get closer to the experience of actually being there. On the assumption — debatable, I admit — that it usually helps to know the facts. What’s old age for, after all, if not to attempt to be more accurate? My original goal was mainly to document some of the evening peace and mystery that I remember as a child, those dusks when the lightning bugs came out. But I should have been suspicious — I hadn’t seen any lightning bugs for over a quarter century. And after Summer Nights was published, when people asked about the experience of making the pictures, I found myself admitting to some unpeaceful incidents, experiences that led me to hire a bodyguard.

[ … ]

JC: Given the nature of these incidents, why did you, in Summer Nights, originally offer the impression of a more serene experience?

RA: Because there is something quiet about the night. I don’t want to lose track of that — it’s important. The problem is that it’s not the whole story. And so as the years passed I began to wish I had made the book tougher, closer to what I had tried to do with The New West, denver, and What We Bought. A little more in the spirit of something my Shakespeare teacher said, wryly — that “books should bite people.” So I went back and discovered on the old proof sheets that there was considerable evidence of a mixed experience. It was a reminder that, thought I could sometimes be adventurous when I was out photographing, I could also be a coward at the editing table. I don’t fully know why that is, except that it’s so wonderful to be out shooting. When I’m in thrall to a subject, it seems to elicit a better me than when I’m standing in the studio, perhaps having read the newspaper, done all manner of drudgery, and re-entered the tame world of being a careerist and all the rest of the things that you don’t want to be but inevitably slip into being.

JC: Would you comment on your editing process, since it seems to be at the heart of your work as a photographer?

RA: I think photography is editing, start to finish — editing life, selecting part of it to stand for the whole. …

In that last fragment (a small part of his response to the question), it’s clear that Adams acknowledges that there is no “whole story” just as there is no “whole map.” There are just different stories. I wonder if his revised Summer Nights reflects an old man versus young man mindset as much as it does a more “whole” story. In any event I appreciate his honest description of a photographer’s  ongoing revisionism.




November 19, 2009

Cheap Art

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 4:09 pm

This Dennis Potter quote is taken from within an essay, Songs Left Out of Nan Goldin’s Ballad of Sexual Dependency by Greil Marcus in Aperture 197 (Winter 2009):

I think we all have this little theatre on top of our shoulders, where the past and the present and our aspirations and our memories are simply and inexorably mixed. What makes each one of us unique, is the potency of the individual mix …

I don’t make the mistake that high culture mongers do of assuming that because people like cheap art, their feelings are cheap, too. When people say, “Oh listen, they’re playing our song,” they don’t mean, “Our song, this little cheap tinkling, syncopated piece of rubbish is what we felt when we met.” What they are saying is “That song reminds us of the tremendous feeling we had when we met.” Some of the songs I use are great anyway but the cheaper songs are still in the direct line of descent from David’s Psalms. They’re saying, “Listen, the world isn’t quite like this, the world is better than this, there is love in it,” “There’s you and me in it” or “The sun is shining in it.”

So called dumb people, simple people, uneducated people, have as authentic and profound depth of feeling as the most educated on earth. And anyone who says different is a fascist.

[Blogging in the afternoon … yeah, it’s raining. Been raining for two days.]



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