photographs since Just A Rock

I looked through the last 6 months of my Flickr photostream to identify images I thought most evocative, and which seem in one way or another to be candidates for the Consequential album. Most tempt me to a narrative explanation of how the photograph happened, or what I am led to think about by looking at it, but some are just graphically successful and want no further comment.


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copper beech BW

Selden

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vent Allegory

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Goreyesque

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HPcolor14

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Mount Auburn beeches

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20x18170 Rock Conversation

20x18144 Bright Phoebus

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young gull

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late November pumpkin

Little Orphan Annie manifests at Drift Inn

The Ecstasy of the Dance, The Agony of the Dancer

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and another project

This one has me thinking about a project on figured wood:


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I have a burgeoning array of photographs of knots and other woody detalia, and have been wondering how to group, narrate, present and otherwise curate the collection. The happy result of the above in color suggests that the unconventional aspect ratio might work to advantage, and that it’s worth reprocessing some of the existing images (which I’ve tended to present in monochrome) to bring out details of figure and grain.

I’ve generally sought faces, as in the Percé P.Q. boardwalk denizens and Gaspereau River DAR Bridge project, but there are other larger forms that want more thoughtful presentation too. The sprawling wood weblet needs another bout of organizing and nudging in the direction of a Blurb book.

Here’s the beginning of lumber portraits.

iconicity is where you find it

Here’s an absolutely iconic image, once seen never forgotten:



(John Tenniel’s Jabberwock, from Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass, 1871)

I remember the frisson when I first opened the book, when I was maybe 8 or 9, and also the pleasure when I first heard the delicious words of the poem: ‘mimsy’, ‘mome raths’, ‘slithy toves’, ‘burbled as it came’, ‘vorpal sword’, ‘callooh callay’, and so on.

Of course there’s plenty of backstory to the poem, and Alice’s response is both marvelous and (Carroll-like) applicable to all sorts of things one has encountered:

“It seems very pretty,” she said when she had finished it, “but it’s rather hard to understand!” (You see she didn’t like to confess, even to herself, that she couldn’t make it out at all.) “Somehow it seems to fill my head with ideas—only I don’t exactly know what they are!

In the magical wood at the end of Horse Point Road I encountered an uprooted tree that was immediately evocative of the Jabberwock. I’ve messed with photographing it and processing the resulting image several times:


Jabberwocky

Jabberwocky again

Jabberwock

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and I suspect there’s more to be done with the material.

perhaps a coloring book?

Some of my photographs and tessellations are just plain overwhelming, with too much going on for a viewer to parse without some sort of guidance to what I see that makes an image worth promulgating:


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and

god of the tidal margins


What to do by way of assistance is something I wrestle with, and betimes I suffer notions of what I might do to build explanations and on-ramps for my more enigmatic photographs.
Andy Ilachinski, always worth attending to, quotes Vladimir Nabokov:

I confess I do not believe in time. I like to fold my magic carpet, after use, in such a way as to superimpose one part of the pattern upon another. Let visitors trip. And the highest enjoyment of timelessness―in a landscape selected at random―is when I stand among rare butterflies and their food plants. This is ecstasy, and behind the ecstasy is something else, which is hard to explain. It is like a momentary vacuum into which rushes all that I love. A sense of oneness with sun and stone. A thrill of gratitude to whom it may concern―to the contrapuntal genius of human fate or to tender ghosts humoring a lucky mortal.

Vladimir Nabokov (1899 – 1977)

My eye went immediately to “I like to fold my magic carpet, after use, in such a way as to superimpose one part of the pattern upon another. Let visitors trip,” which seems apposite to my pleasure in mirroring images to find out what else they have to tell us [as Minor White might have said]. Putting aside the butterflies, or substituting rock and wood for “rare butterflies and their food plants”, the whole rings pretty much true, but of course what I like to do is unfold the magic carpet. And visitors are most welcome to trip.

I venture out on a photographic adventure and see thing after thing, possibility upon possibility, line and pattern and design, reminiscence and allusion. Many of my digital captures only develop on the computer screen as I recognize unanticipated (or anyhow unconsciously expected) graphic elements, and some only mature once I’ve lived with the results for a while. That’s especially true of those I decide to try tessellating: few images are taken in expectation of their products once mirrored (that is, I rarely see the potential mirror image in the camera’s viewfinder), and I can’t often predict what the result will be until I try the old flip-copy-join recipe.

And there a difficulty arises. My fevered imagination draws upon a lifetime of images seen and takes special pleasure in graphic analogy. I see things that are manifestly not there. Broot (adept as she is at the abstract) summarizes the difference between our approaches to photographic exploration, “you make something out of nothing; I make nothing out of something.” She also notes, sagely, that if she saw all those faces, she’d not be able to see the abstract.

So how can I convey what I discover in my images to audiences? The enigmatic or whimsical title, often alluding to something I draw from the image, is a happy affectation, but doesn’t convey its message very clearly to puzzled viewers. I know what I need next, but I’m not sure how to realize it. Herewith an outline, thanks to a book that rolled in a couple of days ago, By the Glow of the Jukebox: The Americans List II [Conceived and Compiled by Jason Eskenazi (Author), Jno Cook (Illustrator)]. This is just the sort of tiny-niche bit of bijoux fugitivia I love to discover and possess, but it needs a bit of explanation.

Robert Frank’s The Americans is arguably one of the most influential photographic books of the mid-20th century (first published in 1958), and is still making waves among photographers, still being discussed and influencing the work of new discoverers of its singular (well, multiple) views of America. Here’s the Amazon description of By the Glow:

While working as a guard at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, Eskenazi began to ask photographers he knew visiting the Looking In exhibition [2009] about Robert Frank’s The Americans, to choose their favorite image and why. In the years since he quit, as he himself got back out on the road again to shoot, he complied hundreds of photographers’ answers in this unique book destined to become a classic in photography education…

I got the first edition of By the Glow a few years ago, and hadda buy the second. I was delighted to find Jno Cook’s spare but effective drawings of Frank’s photographs, which are just the sort of thing I need to convey to viewers what I see in my photographs and tessellations. Here’s one of Jno Cook’s renderings of an iconic image from The Americans:




I didn’t know it until a Google search just now, but am delighted to find that Jno Cook made a Robert Frank Coloring Book (now long out of print and very pricey!), so Kentlee’s notion that I should make a coloring book was prescient as well as brilliant.

But how exactly to proceed? How can I make the drawings that reveal what I see? The technology surely includes Layers in Illustrator or GIMP, and probably the Wacom tablet I bought a while ago with high hopes, but haven’t yet managed to tame to my purposes. And of course the skills to create a workflow that I can actually live with…

apprehensive Cucurbita pepo

Here’s one of those bits of visual serendipity that keeps me barreling down the figurative mountain of photographic wonderment. Ever on the lookout for interesting patterns in rocks, and especially for little faces peering up at me, I collected this one a few days ago:


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I wish I understood better the geological processes of formation and erosion that produced the laminar structure of this cobble, with its pupil’d eve and the vein of quartz seeming to define a mouthful of teeth. I’m almost content to accept them/it as Nature’s gift to my Quixotic search for rock persons, though I know it’s basically my overheated imagination at work.

Still, it wasn’t until I mirrored the image that the message of this particular lithic citizen emerged:


late November pumpkin

I’m learning to trust my own first thoughts when a mirrored image appears on the computer screen. For this one: Late November Pumpkin expresses something of the existential dread that accompanies the slide into Winter, when the leaves are down and the nights are colder. This pumpkin senses what’s coming, the inevitable Sartrean desuetude and decay and consignment to the compost heap… There’s something Charlie Brown-like about that crinkle of the mouth, the inevitable snatch-away of the football just about to be kicked.

Thanks to the unexpected appearance of the November Pumpkin, another Project is in the offing, starting to gather downhill speed as I rifle through the archive of tessellations with a weather eye out for appearances of super-naturals. I have a working title

Full-frontal Spiritual Manifestations: gods, godlets, daemons and other beings

and soon there will be a Weblet to display the work in progress. Stay tuned.

first, catch your beech tree

A technical exercise in transformations, starting with a photograph of a Mount Auburn Cemetery beech tree:


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It occurred to me to wonder how the image would be changed with a simple black-to-white inversion, easily accomplished in GIMP (with some cropping, to clarify the image). The result seems to emphasize the form that first attracted me to make the original image:

inverted beech

Creatures manifest, if one is open to such things, but in this case I decided to work further with the abstract forms via a mirror image and vertical flip:

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I can read this version in several ways, imagining for instance the head-on view of a duck in flight in heavy weather, or a wrathful English judge in full-bottomed wig about to deliver a death sentence (the black cap on his head…), though you may be excused if you see neither of those figures.

The next thought was to make a 4x tessellation, which produces an image of a vajra (Sanskrit) or dorje (Tibetan), understood by Mahayana Buddhism as representing a diamond or thunderbolt.

A diamond is spotlessly pure and indestructible. The Sanskrit word means “unbreakable or impregnable, being durable and eternal”. As such, the word vajra sometimes signifies the lighting-bolt power of enlightenment and the absolute, indestructible reality of shunyata, “emptiness.”
(see more at thoughtco.com)

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…and that led to wondering what would happen if the image was inverted again, back to its original black-is-black configuration:

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The last two images are also reminiscent of illustrations of magnetic fields, as seen with bar magnets and iron filings.

So what, or where, does all this flipping get us? Certainly a long way from the original beech tree, and (if we choose to go there) deep into representation of the mysteries of cosmic forces. Each transformation is a flight of fancy, an excursion into what if…, a disclosure of possibility, and an alternative reading of the implications and thus the meaning of the antecedent image. Form Finds Form.

still more imagination

Some creatures only appear once, never to be found again, accidents of light and angle and fate. This is one such:


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It took me a day or two to see the elephant and the sharp-goateed tiger:

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and not until today did I discover (1) the muppet Statler on the left side:
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and (2) a nameless musk ox on the right:

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I don’t think I could find that rock again, and even if I did, I doubt that those creatures would manifest again.

Other readings are of course possible. The ‘musk ox’ could be a disgruntled chimpanzee, and the ‘elephant’ may be an open-jawed creature about to bite Statler’s head off as the tiger looks on. YMMV.

the morning’s fun

This one has enough enigma to satisfy any devotee of the obscure:


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It’s a fissure in a large rock mass, but the two sides seem to have had quite different histories of erosion. The left-hand panel seems obviously to sport a grinning but rather lopsided face, but the right side is less easily parsed into something that makes sense.

So: in search of hidden essences, I first mirrored the left side and produced a rather more unsettling face, reminiscent of The Mask of Agamemnon:

leftside

A quick mirroring of the right side also produced a sort of face, perhaps a bearded figure not unlike my friend Daniel Heikalo:

rightside

…and then it occurred to me to flip that panel vertically, to reveal a gently smiling portrait of a being with an insectoid headpiece:
right side upside down

The conceit of the moment is topological: the two halves are meeting at a corner of tesseractoid hyperspace. But other readings are possible. At the bottom of the left side there might be a demonic motorcyclist:
left side detail1
or it may be that the mirrored left side should also be flipped vertically to reveal a wrathful or perhaps merely disapproving godlike being:

wrathful

yes, rather a stretch

After a 24-hour period of contemplation, this image

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resolves into a Dwarf (note pointy hat, beard, general air of lawn ornamentude)

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being shouted at by an irate customer (possibly a baboon) wth elaborate purplish headgear
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OBO