Author Archives: oook

On and off the bus

I decided to subscribe to the modern version of Aperture, primarily for the purpose of gaining access to the archive, all the way back to the first issue in 1952. There have been some problems getting set up, and the interface isn’t all that one might wish, but Pandora’s Box is now at least openable, and it’s worthwhile to keep track of some of my impressions and findings as I explore 65 or so years of high-end Photography.

I’ve poked a bit at recent issues, enough to observe that Aperture isn’t focused these days on what I think is photographically interesting, which just means that I have to do some work on understanding the dimensions of my interests, and then start seeking backwards through time for the various turning points and deviations from the Aperture that I knew 50-odd years ago. LensWork is now doing what I think Aperture used to do (and I subscribe to that as well), at least as defined by the criterion of my notions of what’s most interesting in Photography.

One of my tendencies turns out to be a species of mouldy-figism, characterized by a strong preference for an aesthetic based in the past, and emphasizing strong composition in black and white (‘mouldy fig’ is an epithet from the Culture Wars in jazz, one brief narration of which is here).

Think the pantheon of Walker Evans, Paul Strand, Paul Caponigro, Aaron Siskind, Ralph Eugene Meatyard, Minor White; and include more recent discoveries Emmet Gowin, Berenice Abbott, Florence Henri, Margrethe Mather… and of course Lewis Hine and Jacques-Henri Lartigue and Henri Cartier-Bresson and August Sander… and Edward Weston and Brett Weston and (eventually) Robert Frank… (not that they’d all appreciate being lumped together). They continue to define for me the acme of Photography.

So where did I get off the bus, and become identified with crusty traditionalism? Might have been sometime in the 1970s, not too long after Vision and Expression, a 1969 show of the “younger generation of photographers” at George Eastman House. I could admit even the most fanciful of those images into my understanding of Photography, and appreciate the directions of the (entirely black-and-white) experiments at the frontiers of image-making. Soon after that I was in Nova Scotia, far from the cutting edge of the arts world, but Szarkowski’s The Photographer’s Eye (1966) and Looking At Photographs (1973) were the personal cynosure and touchstones for my understanding of Photography.

And then along came John Szarkowski’s Introduction to William Eggleston’s Guide, “the first one-man show of color photographs ever presented at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, and the Museum’s first publication of color photography” in 1976. And the issue that hung me up was probably color. I’ve never quite caught up.

See Abigail Cane’s A Road Less Traveled: How William Eggleston Transformed Photography in America, and Dennis Haritou’s Discussion too. And Perfectly Banal: William Eggleston.

Technologically, the innovation is the vibrancy of color made possible by the dye transfer process

And via YouTube: William Eggleston Documentary: In The Real World and The Colourful Mr Eggleston and Ted Forbes on William Eggleston

I did have occasion recently to see Eggleston’s work in a show at Pier 24 in San Francisco, and I’m now much less puzzled by his modes of seeing than I was. But with many of his photos I still think: so what?

Major Minor

I’ve been reading in Aperture Magazine Anthology: The Minor White Years, 1952-1976, a book I’ve had on the shelves for 5 years but always been a bit daunted by. Turns out to be interesting, useful, relevant… even though many of the articles within are 60 years old, and address a photography that was totally not-digital, almost entirely black-and-white, and entirely within the ‘fine art’ realm. Many of the pieces are by Minor White himself, and articulate his personal vision of mid-20th century camera work. That vision was controversial at the time, and White has always been a polarizing figure: a renowned teacher (CSFA, RIT, MIT, private students), a sometimes-impenetrable seer, a wanderer in spiritual realms, a gay person in an era that was beyond uncomfortable with such diversities, a lightning rod for people who thought differently about photography’s quiddities. And a marvelous photographer. Paul Caponigro was one of Minor White’s students. Also among photographers I revere, Carl Chiarenza and Jerry Uelsmann (see Howard Greenberg Gallery show, 2008).

Sometime in the late 1960s I got my hands on a heap of back issues of Aperture (1953-1964, with many gaps), but my engagement at the time was with the photographs, and not so much with the text. I had too much of the dancing-about-architecture attitude toward writing about aesthetics, but I was mightily affected by the photographs, and however subliminally I absorbed a lot into my own sense of what [I imagined, believed, thought] photography ought to be doing.

But now I seem to be old enough to approach the writing again, and I’m truly sorry (though not surprised) that it’s taken so long. At the moment, Minor White’s articulation of the discipline of reading photographs is what most attracts my attention.

…there are two good reasons why the reading of photographs is undertaken. First, as an object lesson to thousands that more goes on in photographs than most of us guess… Second, to explore, sound out, measure however inefficiently, not good or bad, but what a picture says. (Aperture 5:2 [1957] pg 48)

…to “read” a photograph is to communicate, to the best of one’s ability, to another person verbally or with written words what one has experienced visually in a photograph or group of them. (Aperture 5:2 [1957] pg 50)

Postpone judgement! When starting to read, experience or take part in a photograph (or picture of any kind) first put aside both like and dislike. Leave criticism to last, or better still forget to criticize. (Aperture 5:4 [1957] pg 156)

Documentary, Pictorial, Informational, or some other kind? White labels the fourth category ‘Equivalents’, following Stieglitz’ use of the term:

I have a vision of life and I try to find equivalent for it sometimes in the form of photographs… [he later said] …equivalent of my most profound life experience drawing on the symbolist notion of synthesis the possibility of suggesting one thing by meaning of another.
(from Order In Chaos, 2013 [includes some examples])

Much ink has been spilled over what Equivalent means/betokens/involves, and explicating the concept really needs its own separate post, but here’s White’s closer for the article, to chew upon meanwhile:

Actually one of the safer identifying marks of the Equivalent is a feeling that for unstatable reasons some picture is decidedly significant to you. Or again, after subjecting a photograph to one or all three of the methods heretofore given, you are tormented by the feeling that there is more. (Aperture 5:4 [1957] pg.171)

Here’s the starting point for this adventure:

The experiencing of a photograph is a personal thing and therefore its course is unprescribable. That feature of a photograph which acts as a magnet for you is the starting point. Hence start with the magnet and follow its lines of force as you feel them to the end of the journey of the photograph… (Aperture 5:4 [1957] pg.162)

I don’t find the typology of Documentary/Pictorial/Informational very satisfactory, because (1) many of my photographs don’t fit comfortably in any of those boxes, but (2) I’m somewhat loath to claim the exalted status of Equivalent for them. And, more generally, (3) where do photographs labeled with the conventional term ‘abstract’ fit? or for that matter, the ‘expressive/creative’ photographs that are by far the majority in the pages of Aperture? What seems most glaringly to be missing in this typology is the vital importance of the stories that accompany and explain many photographs, the narrative context by which they join an oeuvre/’body-of-work’. Thus, Aunt Kate might be judged to be Documentary (seen here stunningly printed on satin):

Aunt Kate printed on satin

‘Documentary’ sees her as a free-standing object, simply a photograph to be read for its inherent content, but her presence in my photographic world is polyvalent. She exists because she’s a rescue, a 2×3 wafer of japanned metal with emulsion, color, an inscription. Her context is that I found her in a bin of tintypes in a Nova Scotia junk store, so she participates in a vernacular history of Nova Scotia society and culture and demography—she’s not an isolate, though we can’t provide her with provenance (no way to know her name, except Kate, or her place of origin). Aunt Kate can certainly be read as a Photograph, in isolation, but her importance and significance is as a member of a matrix of other similarly rescued photographs. Bluenose Physiognomy situates her and hundreds of other rescues as best I can, by linking them into an emergent grand narrative.

I started to make a list of characteristics of my own photographs, as means of escape from the straitjacket of Documentary/Pictorial/Informational, but quickly found myself treading idiosyncratic water as I bethought this provisional array:

  • distillations (paring down to essence)
  • enigmas (what YOU see is what you get)
  • manifestations (something animate appearing out of seemingly nowhere)
  • occlusions (something hiding)
  • apprehensions of the fleeting (now you see it, now you don’t)
  • encounters with the ephemeral (briefest of glimpses)
  • bijoux (preciosities)

Lest this post get too complicated, I’ll stop here for the moment (promising to return to issues raised) and just point to a couple of useful resources in the Minor White vein: John Paul Caponigro’s 22 Quotes by Minor White, and Minor White: The Eye That Shapes (MOMA retrospective, 1989).

Paul Caponigro sez

A week hence we’ll zip down to Boston to the opening of Paul Caponigro’s new show. I got out my copy of Aperture 13:1, the 1967 issue devoted entirely to Caponigro’s work, and enjoyed a deep dive into images that greatly affected me when I first saw them 50 years ago. They are as wonderful now as I found them then, and Caponigro’s words are similarly ever fresh and green:

Of all my photographs, the ones that have the most meaning for me are those I was moved to make from a certain vantage point, at a certain moment and no other, and for which I did not draw on my abilities to fabricate a picture, composition-wise or other-wise. You might say that I was taken in. Who or what takes one to a vantage point or moves one at a certain moment is a mystery to me. I have always felt after such experiences that there was more than myself involved. It is not chance. It happens often. In looking back at a particular picture and trying to recall the experience which led to it, that inexplicable element is still present. I have no other way to express what I mean than to say that more than myself is present. I cannot deny or put aside these subtle inner experiences. They are real. I feel and know them to be so. I cannot pass it off as wild imagination or hallucination. It is illusive, but the strength of it makes me yearn for it, as if trying to recall or remember an actual time, or place, or person, long past or forgotten. I hope, sometime in my life, to reach the source of it.

Is it only a bowl of fruit? Or is it invested with something that makes it more than a bowl of fruit? Or am I doing the investing when I look at the picture? Then why do I invest or shape? In themselves, images mean little. what one brings to them or what one hopes or expects from them constitutes a meaning…



A factoid that got me thinking:

Upwards of a trillion photographs will be taken in 2017, the vast majority on mobile phones (only about 10% [still 100 billion] with digital cameras); and something like 4.7 trillion photos will be “stored” by the end of 2017. Around 50 million are uploaded to Flickr (120 million “users”, many inactive) each month.

If a trillion photos are taken each year, how are we to think about the hundreds or thousands we might take? If the world has 7.5 billion people, how shall we think about being just one?

Those questions provoked this note-to-self, scribbled just before the lights went out last night:

Strive for consistency and principled engagement, and to build things that express the qualities you respect and admire. Fashion a legacy, by working to be clear about what you’re doing. Presence, engagement, candor; shun the ignoble and the invidious. Don’t succumb to pride. Practise humility and honor, don’t waste time or energy. Make things. Engage with people. Serve.

Sort of a tall order, but most of it seems entirely relevant to photography and to writing.

Photography in time and space: technologies of memory


Among the axes of my engagement with photography are projects that work with collections of purchased studio portraits (Abandoned Ancestors and Bluenose Physiognomy) and with my own images of cemetery memorials. These efforts mostly deal with strangers who have departed from the living world, and so I keep an ear to the ground for material related to remembering and forgetting.

I also preside over a vast collection of musics from all over the globe, most recorded during the 20th century, primarily by musicians who are no longer among the living.

This morning’s RSS feed brought me a sound sample from 49 years ago, a Batwa innanga zither song from Uganda. The moment captured in the recording is GONE in a profound sense: the performer is no longer living, Batwa culture and society has changed irredeemably, nobody now living plays the instrument or sings the song, and the world of the present finds the people and the music a mere curiosity, roadkill to the Progress which produced present glories/horrors. The same sad tale can be found throughout the world. (For vastly more in this line, see Hugh Tracey‘s catalog…)

Photography and field recordings have a lot in common. The stored images and the sounds are in the strict sense memorials: they enhance and embody memory, and remind us what the present came from. This is no small thing, and worth excavating beyond the superficial.

Another bit of RSS serendipity arrived this morning in the form of a blog posting by Alan Levine (a.k.a. CogDog), whom I’ve been following for 15+ years. This one gathers photos of his parents, and investigates the realms of personal memory.

And that brings me back to Roland Barthes’ Camera Lucida. I continue to try to comprehend what Camera Lucida tries to teach me about thinking about photography, and so take up Part Two, in which Barthes describes his engagement with photographs of his mother at different ages, and instantiates the concept of photography’s noeme: its essence, which Barthes identifies as “that-has-been”.

It is often said that it was the painters who invented Photography (by bequeathing it their framing, the Albertian perspective, and the optic of the camera obscura). I say: no, it was the chemists. For the noeme “That-has-been” was possible only on the day when a scientific circumstance (the discovery that silver halogens were sensitive to light) made it possible to recover and print directly the luminous rays emitted by a variously lighted object. The photograph is literally an emanation of the referent. (pg. 80)

…what I see is not a memory, an imagination, a reconstitution, a piece of Maya, such as art lavishes upon us, but reality in a past state: at once the past and the real. (pg. 82)

The photograph does not necessarily say what is no longer, but only and for certain what has been.

By way of illustration, Barthes shows us Alexander Gardner’s riveting portrait of Lewis Payne/Powell, about to be executed for the attempted assassination of W.H. Seward (1865):

The photograph is handsome, as is the boy: that is the studium.
But the punctum is: he is going to die.
I read at the same time: This will be and this has been.

I shudder over a catastrophe which has already occurred.
Whether or not the subject is already dead,
every photograph is this catastrophe. (pg. 96)

The photograph is unsettling in several ways, and for some viewers the unforgettable punctum may be the manacles; for others, it might be the far-away look in Lewis Payne’s eyes, or perhaps the angle of his head as it rests against the implacable cell wall.

As if the above wasn’t plenty of psychic exercise for one day, the mail brought The Art of Frederick Sommer: Photography, drawing, collage (Yale, 2005). In a Tribute, Emmet Gowin says

In 1966 a chance encounter with a single photograph by Frederick Sommer changed my life… To all who now hold this book in their hands: hold on, your life may never be the same. (pg. 6)

Keith Davis wrote the Introduction, which raises the bar still higher:

Sommer photographed things in order to give life to ideas. To a degree unparallelled in any other body of American photography, he used the camera as a tool of invention, transformation, synthesis, and allusion (pg 10).

Sommer’s devotion to drawing taught him—at least intuitively—many fundamental things. He learned that representation (in any form) is mimetic in only the most simplistic way. At heart, any depiction is an act of synthesis and invention. Representation can never be disinterested or neutral: it is an inevitably personal process, a product of individual ideas, associations, and skills…. All of Sommer’s subsequent work in photography was informed by his experience in drawing. His photography reveals a deep concern for the formal coherence of the image—the relationship of internal elements to one another and to the edges of the paper. (pg. 13)

And here’s Sommer himself on Composition:

Photographic composition is the conjunction of how elements want to come together. To what degree they interact positionally. My first thought, when I look through the camera, is how does this fit on the ground glass? Is too much missing or is there too much there? Does it explain its presence? Does it have any connectedness to things? If you can’t find any way in which these elements work together and are justified in being in each other’s presence you haven’t got anything. The trick is to find what kind of combinatory art has brought together the things that are penetrating. (pg. 211)

Sure enough, the images in the book jerk me back to my first encounter with Sommer, probably in a 1962 issue of Aperture, where (as with the Caponigro 1958 image) I was suddenly aware of new ways of seeing, which continue to resonate up and down the harmonic series.

What a ride. But really every day is as varied and exciting and full of the unexpected.

A sow’s ear

Some photos seem promising in the viewfinder, but once displayed on the computer screen turn out to be underwhelming. I can see what I was after (but didn’t achieve) with this one, but didn’t process it further in the first round:

It was only later in the day, when I was considering possible symmetrical unfoldings among the day’s photographs, that it occurred to me that this one might be a candidate for the GIMP copy-flip-join treatment. I observe that my previsualization of the effects of this procedure is chancy at best, in that I’m usually surprised at what the transformation reveals, and I don’t often make exposures with the intent to produce symmetrical arrays of the resulting images. The products are mostly serendipitous.

Anyway, the result of the transform opened a whole new world of interpretation for the image, and my first thought (and hence the title of the image) was “empty wings”.

empty wings

Now, wings don’t usually have the property of emptiness or fullness; they may adorn the backs of angels and mythological beasts, and be integral to birds and bats and insects, and might be glorious or workaday or fluttery or super-aerodynamic, but empty? Not so much. But this pair of wings seems to have a life of its own, their sweep echoed in the snow-like pattern to either side, and they almost seem as if they might be donned, tried on by a wing-shopper for fit and sartorial effect, taken out for a run around the block to assess their loft and effulgency.

The image partakes of the myffic, because there aren’t really any wing haberdashers in our world. Looking at “empty wings” we are led to imagine that there might be, and imagine that angels might wish to rotate through a wardrobe of wings for different occasions, and that somehow a photograph has transported us thither. Or the viewer might say “humph, seaweed on the beach, just twice as much of it” and pass along to some other image.

I’m trying to pull together the vocabulary to think and talk about the effects and affects and applied aesthetics of photography—about how and why some photographs work in the sense of transfixing the viewer with an epiphany, and in the sense of spawning a feeling of unforgettability for the image. We all have our own catalogs of such images, and there’s not necessarily a lot of agreement among appreciators of photography about what truly belongs in the canon. It’s subjective and personal, and that’s basically a good thing, in the many-mansions sense.

One of the writers who has put systematic effort into exploring these matters of photographic essence is Roland Barthes, in Camera Lucida. I’ve read through the book several times, with each pass assimilating a bit more terminology and Barthian viewpoint, but it’s very French and demands a lot of a North American reader. I am no expert but…

Barthes does something very clever, while disclaiming any expertise (or, indeed, interest) in technical photography. He uses 25 photographs (many of them not familiar to most readers) to exemplify aspects he discourses upon. Who, for example, has ever given much thought to this image of Queen Victoria sitting on a horse?

(Queen Victoria, photographed by George Washington Wilson, 1863)

Barthes uses the image to introduce the idea that the photograph has a clear studium, an aboutness, something that it relates about its subject: it’s Queen Victoria, in the flesh (well, shrouded in a vast black dress) sitting on a horse. That’s what it’s a photograph of, its “historical interest” and identity in the wider world. But Barthes then points out that for him the photograph also has a punctum, an element that grabs the viewer and makes the image into something with a personal and memorable significance. Barthes’ punctum:

…beside her, attracting my eyes, a kilted groom holds the horse’s bridle: this is the punctum; for even if I do not know just what the social status of this Scotsman may be (servant? equerry?) [in fact he’s John Brown… and the horse’s name is Fyvie], I can see his function clearly: to supervise the horse’s behavior: what if the horse suddenly began to rear? (pg.57)

For me the unforgettable punctum of the photograph is John Brown’s sporran, that which marks him as a Scotsman in full folkloric costume. That’s where MY eye is drawn when I look at the image.

So here we have a couple of tools to help us talk about those effects and affects and applied aesthetics of photography to which I referred above. Barthes offers a number of others that I haven’t decoded yet myself, so another pass through Camera Lucida is on the docket.

And, going back to the “empty wings”, for me [and for sure Your Mileage May Vary] the image has a punctum in the homunculus that seems to form the point of attachment of this set of wings to our imaginary angel’s back:

As so often before, I wonder aloud if the wings and the homunculus were there before I unfolded the original image. Or did I create them? Or are they purely imaginary? When we read a photograph, are we just projecting a personal and idiosyncratic interpretation? Is a photograph a document whose significance is contestable, or maybe even fungible? Deep waters.

photographic tides

Quite a full day in photographic realms. Soon after sunrise we were at Drift Inn beach, a couple of miles from home, and the tide was going out, exposing rocks and seaweed and such-like. I did the usual thing of taking a lot of pictures, moving from one inspiration to another, and then spent several hours processing them. There’s always more that could be done, but it’s gratifying to get a set uploaded to Flickr and sent off to people who would enjoy them.

At lunchtime today (at Home Kitchen Cafe, of course) I chanced to find myself sitting next to Paul Caponigro, one of the photographers I most revere. I told him that I’d been a fan for 55 years, and that one of his photographs had changed my life, indeed set me on a path I’m still swinging along.

(snagged from Cornell emuseum)

He said “there’s a horse in that…” and it occurred to me that I’d known that immediately when I first saw the photograph (probably in Aperture, long ago), and that I’ve been seeking creatures myself ever since. About 5 years ago I was reacquainted with the image as a silver gelatin print that I could stand inches away from, at a Caponigro Retrospective in the Farnsworth Museum.

There’s a show of Caponigro’s prints from negatives he’s never exhibited, opening in Boston on September 9. We’ll be there, but meanwhile here’s the gallery catalog for the show.

on vexed questions of Art

I’m reading Guy Tal’s More Than A Rock: Essays on art, creativity, photography, nature, and life and Richard Zakia’s Perception and Imaging: Photography – a way of seeing, in preparation for the workshop with Andy Ilachinski, and I’m currently embroiled with the vexed question of whether what I do with photography is art. On the one hand, it just doesn’t matter what the answer to that question is, since I’ll keep on doing it anyway, and don’t got to show no stinkin’ badge. But on the other hand, the answer might be NO, in that I don’t choose to wrap my doings in the garments of pretense, or engage in invidious comparison, by staking a claim as an Artist and seeking a public. I’ve been here before, with respect to my identity as a musician (I play mostly for myself, avoid performance, but take pleasure in being recognized as skilled), with many of the same insecurities.

Here’s a passage from Guy Tal that has me wondering if I could possibly live up to what he invokes:

Being an artist is about living passionately and deliberately, placing curiosity and awe and honesty and significance above social conventions, celebrity, and material spoils. It is not about finding interesting anecdotes, but about discovering them within, creating them anew, elevating and sharing and celebrating them in defiance of all that is corrupt and cynical and cruel and bigoted and shortsighted… (pg 37)

But if what I do is not art, what IS it? Most of my images have some narrative purpose, or seem to me to evoke stories of some sort; but generally the stories come from the images, or fit into some larger narrative project as exemplars (e.g., all those gravestones, or all those Abandoned Ancestors). Something prompts me to frame and click, and once I see the result in post-processing, a story may emerge that seems to explain something about the image. An example from the Acadia National Park adventure:


Lichen on rock. Just an interesting pattern that fit happily within the field of view of a 100mm macro lens, no obvious expository insight in the viewfinder. But as soon as I saw it on the computer screen, the notion of Pursuit couldn’t be unseen: the figure on the left side, sharply defined by a line of white sketching its back, with an outstretched arm showing the direction of movement, is obviously being chased by the marvelously indistinct figure on the right, whose whitish feet (in the lower right corner) are clearly running… T’ang Dynasty, perhaps? Susurrus of silken robes? The art might be in the happenstance of lichen growth on granite substrate [not MY circus, not MY monkeys], or in the accident of my framing [definitely MY circus], or it might reside entirely in the post-hoc tale-making [positively MY monkeys]. It’s difficult to imagine that a print of the image, matted and framed and hung on a gallery wall, would have any salience for viewers without the interpretation.

And just why does any of this matter? It’s those daunting but fascinating books, along with a bunch of others in realms of photographic history and aesthetics, that pile up around my reading chair. They keep nudging me to explore further, but also remind me that I’m in search of my own vision. Sure, Stieglitz photographed clouds and made them into Equivalents, connecting them to his own mental states:

A symbolist aesthetic underlies these images, which became increasingly abstract equivalents of his own experiences, thoughts, and emotions. The theory of equivalence had been the subject of much discussion at Gallery 291 during the teens, and it was infused by Kandinsky’s ideas, especially the belief that colors, shapes, and lines reflect the inner, often emotive “vibrations of the soul.” In his cloud photographs, which he termed Equivalents, Stieglitz emphasized pure abstraction, adhering to the modern ideas of equivalence, holding that abstract forms, lines, and colors could represent corresponding inner states, emotions and ideas. (from The Phillips Collection)

Doesn’t mean I should or shouldn’t photograph clouds, does it? Or see/not see things in them that aren’t “pure abstraction.”


Yesterday’s foray to Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens was timed to coincide with the Eclipse (not much more than 50% in Maine), with the idea that colors might be affected by the altered light. That wasn’t particularly noticeable, but I got engaged with looking for novel forms in the vegetation, and found myself using f4.5 and a macro lens for almost everything I photographed in color (I also did a bunch of infrared, but that’s another story). The shallow depth of field produced a lot of interesting results, and nudged me into thinking differently about post-processing. In these three examples I’ll try to summarize what I did and why, mainly to remind myself of my thought process and sequence of decisions. Each of the images could be handled quite differently, and I may try other approaches once I’ve lived with these for a while.

I feel pretty insecure about color, and in general prefer monochrome. That’s partly a matter of age: I began in the days of black-and-white (early 1960s), wasn’t attracted by the anemic color in prints of the time, did a lot of didactic slides in Kodachrome and Ektachrome in 70s and 80s, and only got my hands on manipulable color with the advent of digital imaging. I greatly admire Betsy’s use of color and emergent mastery of color printing, and I’ve enjoyed tessellation experiments that are deeply reliant on color, but I’m still more at home in monochrome. Not that I “see” in black and white—indeed, that has been an elusive goal from the beginning, and I don’t seem to make much progress.

The three examples were processed in Aperture. I’m part way through the conversion to Lightroom, but still find it easier to do quick manipulations in Aperture. And ‘quick’ is what I seem to prefer: I want to see the results sooner, and perhaps return to successful images for more extensive processing later. So I nudge sliders and try black and white filters and generally mess around until I see something that looks more or less optimal. It’s pretty seat-of-pants and tentative, scarcely to be dignified with the label ‘workflow’.

The first image just seems an obvious candidate for conversion to monochrome, and it’s a stronger photograph once the green is stripped out. Obvious and derivative, little that’s original in viewpoint or handling, but satisfying as an encounter with the unique genius of this particular plant species:

approximating the RAW files

Eclipse Day at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens

The second image seems to me much better framed with a substantial crop (should have seen that in the viewfinder, didn’t). Contrast, Black Point, Definition, Highlights, Shadows nudged to enhance drama. I’m tempted to see it as a rooster in mid-crow. But what, I wondered, would happen if it migrated to monochrome? The Red Filter darkens the blue most gratifyingly, and a bit more tweaking (Definition,Mid Contrast, Black Point) brings it to a satisfactory graphic conclusion.

approximating the RAW files

Eclipse Day at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens

Eclipse Day at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens

The third image is another sort of challenge/opportunity. The original photo doesn’t amount to much, with blown-out highlights and nothing very convincing in the forms/shapes, but some fiddling with parameters (down Mid Contrast, up Contrast, up Black Point, up Definition) makes it more interesting. Something worthwhile is beginning to emerge from the shadows, a sort of background abstraction. Not bad. But take away the color and apply the Blue Filter (and up the Shadows, the Definition, and the Contrast) and suddenly we’re in new territory. Ready for tessellation, headed in the direction of a fabric design. Maybe a reason to explore split-toning.

approximating the RAW files

Eclipse Day at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens

Eclipse Day at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens




fingers on the pulse of the Zeitgeist

I seem to be running into more and more instances of eloquent now-just-hold-on criticism of technological triumphalism, indeed seeing them wherever I turn: the finishing a few days ago of Adam Greenfield’s Radical Technologies: The Design of Everyday Life [really cheap ($2.51) as a Kindle ebook…], an article in The Guardian recently on the decline of retail jobs (End of the checkout line: the looming crisis for American cashiers), and then via my RSS feed from O’Reilly, Fredrik deBoer’s post Study of the Week: Of Course Virtual K-12 Schools Don’t Work. All of these have the same basic caveats about the smoke and mirrors of the digital world, and similar warnings about trafficking with the ogres who lurk behind the curtain.

Another instance, via long-form journalism in the [unfortunately paywalled] London Review of Books 17 August issue, is John Lanchester’s You Are The Product, which reviews three books (Wu’s The Attention Merchants, Garcia Martinez’ Chaos Monkeys, and Taplin’s Move Fast and Break Things), and is mostly concerned with the evolution of Facebook. An especially trenchant bit:

…even more than it is in the advertising business, Facebook is in the surveillance business. Facebook, in fact, is the biggest surveillance-based enterprise in the history of mankind. It knows far, far more about you than the most intrusive government has ever known about its citizens… its users don’t realise what it is the company does. What Facebook does is watch you, and then use what it knows about you and your behaviour to sell ads. I’m not sure there has ever been a more complete disconnect between what a company says it does – ‘connect’, ‘build communities’ – and the commercial reality.

My years as a librarian and early adopter of emergent technologies more or less ended when I retired in 2005, and I’ve been pretty choosy about entanglement with the subsequent social media silos—no Facebook, no Twitter, no Instagram. Flickr yes, because it offered an easy means to store and distribute photographic images (but one dreads what Verizon might do with the product). And I’ve been blogging since before instantiation of the term ‘blog’ (I called them ‘logfiles’ and used them to keep track of and distribute my various projects). I like to control and manage my own digital real estate, and pretty much everything I’ve done in the last 20+ years is tucked away somewhere at, including the self-hosted WordPress blog in which I’ve been tracking my doings [somewhat fitfully] for 13+ years.

For me, the epiphanic enabling technology was hypertext, and I’m still back somewhere in the 90s in terms of my sophistication with html. Basic html has served me well as a means to construct and distribute documents, to who-knows-what audiences. And, fact is, I don’t really care much about the scale and scope of Audience; the stuff is out there to be discovered via Google and Internet Archive, and linkable by me whenever I want to pass something along to one of those like-minded others. I’m content to be little-known.

Which is a long way of saying that I want nothing to do with thefacebook, with its fatuous likes and insidious back-end data mining. I won’t claim consistency in re: the latter, since I’m happy for Amazon to send me stuff I want via Prime, and to bewilder Google with off-the-wall searches that they can’t possibly monetize. But for Facebook, it’s the Nancy Reagan option: Just Say No.