Category Archives: images

Revenant

The term ‘revenant imagery’ seems handy for bits of déjà vu that resonate in memory. Thus:


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My first thought when this came up on the computer screen was “absolutely The Duchess from Alice in Wonderland!” in the Tenniel illustration. And sure enough the retrieved Google image is almost perfect:



daunting graphic skills

Here’s an example of what I aspire to in clarity of line and presentation:



(Clemens Habicht, in Jan/Feb 2020 Atlantic, pg. 82)
(Ida Tarbell, pioneer of investigative journalism)

…but no idea how to get to such fluency. I have been working with Adobe Draw on the iPad, using the iPencil as a tracing tool with some success (see back at Drift Inn from a fortnight ago) but the next step to interpretive drawing is a high one. Two more examples, working from


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And yesterday the Brown Truck brought Raymond Briggs’ absolutely brilliant Time For Lights Out (“an extraordinary exploration of old age in words and pictures”) and I ran across this illustration about halfway in:



I ought to know how to do this sort of digital collage, and I think I almost do, but once again getting to fluency is daunting.

Roger Caillois

I never know where my reading will take me next. Today I was investigating the intersection of Pareidolia, Apophenia, and Mimesis (looking for a better handle on creatures seen in rocks and wood and ice) and stumbled upon the work of Roger Caillois (1913-1978), a sometime Surrealist, sociologist, philosopher and collector of rocks. The term “lithic scrying” appears in several descriptions of his activities.

In his classic work of lithic scrying, The Writing of Stones, Roger Caillois suggests that the pareidoliac’s interpretation of a stone’s pattern depends upon her own personal internalized database of stored images, a database defined by the cultural stock of mediated imagery forged and embellished by personal memory, emotion and psychical topography. For Caillois, “the vision the eye records is always impoverished and uncertain. Imagination fills it with the treasures of memory and knowledge.”

–Paul Prudence (https://www.transphormetic.com/Essays-in-Print)



Caillois’ The Writing of Stones (1985) is out of print and costs a LOT. Part of his collection of rock specimens was exhibited at the 2013 Venice Biennale, and they are bewitching:

Caillois was also drawn to the ways in which stones seemed to provoke an imaginative response in humans which in some way made them difficult to conform to strict systems of classification. Caillois’ writings on stone are nourished by the lyrical tendencies of natural histories which reflect the wonder and confusion of classical and early modern scholars in the face of the hallucinatory pictographic forms of stones and their convergence of the brutal, energetic laws of nature with the play of chance. Throughout Stones, Caillois reveals his love of these kinds of paradoxes, defining stones as a ubiquitous and yet utterly marvelous phenomena. He explores how, through history, stones have fascinated human minds with their host of ambiguities, seeming at once animate and inanimate, organic and inorganic, mineral and vegetal, useful and useless, the stuff of poetic reverie and cultural symbolism as well as raw material, the access to which marks the technological advance of human civilization. Stones for Caillois are both an ancient source of human ingenuity and unchained imagination, both finalized by accident during some inhumanly distant epoch and forged according to certain inflexible laws of nature.

–Donna Roberts, An Introduction to Caillois’ Stones & Other Texts
(https://sensatejournal.com/an-introduction-to-caillois-stones-other-texts/)

Caillois himself, from The Writing of Stones:

Stones possess a kind of gravitas, something ultimate and unchanging, something that will never perish or else has already done so. They attract through intrinsic, infallible, immediate beauty, answerable or no one, necessarily perfect yet excluding the idea of perfection in order to exclude approximation, error, and excess. This spontaneous beauty thus precedes and goes beyond the actual notion of beauty, of which it is at once the promise and the foundation

Just as men have always sought after precious stones, so they have always prized curious ones, those that catch the attention through some anomaly of form, some suggestive oddity of color or pattern. Stones possess a kind of gravitas, something ultimate and unchanging, something that will never perish or else has already done so. They act through an intrinsic, infallible, immediate beauty, answerable to no one, necessarily perfect yet excluding the idea of perfection in order to exclude approximation, error, and excess. This spontaneous beauty thus precedes and goes beyond the actual notion of beauty, of which it is at once the promise and the foundation.

The vision the eye records is always impoverished and uncertain. Imagination fills it out with the treasures of memory and knowledge with all that is put at its disposal by experience, culture and history, not to mention what the imagination itself may, if necessary, invent or dream. So the imagination is never at a loss when it comes to making something rich and compelling out of a subject that might almost seem an absence of all life and significance. »

A stone represents obvious achievement yet one arrived at without invention, skill or industry, or anything else that would make it a work in the human sense of the word, much less a work of art. The work comes later, as does art, but the far-off roots and hidden models of both lie in the obscure yet irresistible suggestions in nature. These are subtle and ambiguous signals, reminding us, through all sorts of filters and obstacles, that there must be a pre-existing general beauty vaster than that perceived by human intuition, a beauty in which man delights and which, in his turn, he is proud to create. Stones – as well as roots, shells and wings and every other cipher and construction in nature – help to give us an idea of the proportions and laws of that general beauty about which we can only conjecture.

And Caillois in an article in Diogenes, Vol. 52, Issue 3:

I speak of stones that have always lain out in the open or sleep in their lair and the dark night of the seam. They hold no interest for the archaeologist, artist or diamond-cutter. No one made palaces, statues, jewels from them; or dams, ramparts, tombs. They are neither useful nor famous. They do not sparkle in any ring, any diadem. They do not publicize lists of victories, laws of Empire, carved in ineffable characters. Neither boundaries nor memorials, yet exposed to the elements, but without honour or veneration, they are witnesses only to themselves.

Architecture, sculpture, intaglio, mosaic, jewellery have made nothing of them. They belong to the planet’s beginnings, have sometimes come from another star. So they bear upon themselves the distortion of space like the stigmata of their terrible descent. They come from a time before humans; and when humans came, they did not leave on them the mark of their art or their industry. They did not work them, intending them for some trivial, luxury or historic use. They perpetuate only their own memory.

They are not carved in the effigy of anyone, man, beast or fable. The only tools they have known are those that were used to uncover them; the hammer to reveal their latent geometry, the grindstone to display their grain or awaken their dull colours. They have remained what they were, sometimes fresher, more legible, but always in their truth: themselves and nothing else.

I speak of stones that nothing has ever changed except the violence of tectonic crushing and the slow erosion that began with time, with them. I speak of gems before cutting, of nuggets before smelting, of the hard frost of crystals before the stone-cutter gets to work.

I speak of stones: algebra, vertigo and order; of stones, anthems and staggered rows, of stones, darts and corollas, dream’s margin, ferment and image; of this stone curtain of hair opaque and straight like the locks of a drowned woman, but which does not flow down any temple where in a blue canal a sap becomes more visible and more vulnerable; of these stones uncrumpled paper, incombustible and sprinkled with uncertain sparks; or the most watertight vase where there dances and finds its level again behind the only absolute walls a liquid before water, to preserve which a series of miracles was needed.

I speak of stones older than life that remain after it on cooling planets, when it was fortunate enough to unfold there. I speak of the stones that do not even have to await death…

at play on a Monday morning

This post is a waypoint in the process of learning to use drawing tools to explicate mysteries.

I included this image in Elevenses but hadn’t parsed it for its content—for its component creatures:


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Gradually I’ve discovered a variety of possibilities, beginning with a burro-like creature:

and an elephant:

and just yesterday a woman appeared:

and just maybe she’s holding a baby, though that’s not as clear… yet:

The imp on the shoulder suggests that this is a Sagrada Familia, where the part of Joseph is played by an elephant:



I’m not sure what the next steps are, but perhaps a refinement of my initial tracings would be worth attempting. The iPad/iPencil combo clearly works, but just as clearly I’m only beginning to explore the potentials of the tools. Stay tuned.

orphic or Orphic?

I’m not sure whether to be offput, amused, informed… or just what by Andrea Scott’s Reframing Modernism at the New MoMA. On the one hand, I love the basic characterization in her report of “The Shape of Shape” exhibit:

The ethos of the new MOMA—to revise the myth of modern art as a triumphant procession of great white men and instead tell the glorious, untidy truth of a bunch of weird human beings…

but I am less than charmed by

…the emphasis is on oddballs like Clough, whose orphic 1985 painting “Stone” is included.

Well, it’s not Andrea Scott’s fault that I am left cold and baffled by the “orphic” tag on a piece that seems to me to have nothing discernable to do with Stone in the sense that I understand Rocks. I did have to explore the Lexicon a bit to figure out just which “orphic” she meant: there’s the mystic, the oracular; the fascinating, the entrancing; and the “having an import not apparent to the senses nor obvious to the intelligence” (vocabulary.com). I’m going with the lattermost, which leaves Orpheus entirely out of the picture.

Pullman, Purcell, Grandville

As is often the case, Chance is favoring the mind as it Prepares for a week-long project-centered workshop on InDesign (which I’ve used to construct most of my Blurb books, though clumsily). The first episode, a couple of days ago, was this fortuitous quotation that jumped off the page/screen of Philip Pullman’s just-published The Book of Dust: The Secret Commonwealth:

You won’t understand anything about the imagination until you realize that it’s not about making things up, it’s about perception.

(Much of my attention in recent years has been pinioned by the polyvalence of Imagination in my photographic life).

And then I stopped in at Hello Hello Books, as I frequently do, to eyeball the Photography shelf for anything new, and found Rosamond Purcell’s Bookworm, a beautifully designed book of her collages, constructions, and photographs of books “inevitably invaded by forces of nature and decay.” The whole issue of design is one I hope to attend to in the InDesign workshop, and Purcell’s book is a magnificent example.

And yesterday’s email brought me a pointer from my co-conspirator Daniel to an essay on Grandville, whose work I’ve loved since discovering it long ago via a Dover book. The author (Patricia Mainardi) goes into some detail on a late and little-known book that Grandville inspired and illustrated, but which was never translated or republished after its first edition in 1844: Un autre monde. The subtitle seems absolutely on the money as a characterization of what I hope for my photographic work:

Transformations, Visions, Incarnations, Ascensions, Locomotions, Explorations, Peregrinations, Excursions, Vacations, Caprices, Cosmogonies, Reveries, Whimsies, Phantasmagorias, Apotheoses, Zoomorphoses, Lithomorphoses, Metamorphoses, Metempsychoses, and Other Things

This illustration from the book seems an ideal accompaniment to what I wrote two years ago in Reflection on my own Body of Work at the end of the Andy Ilachinski workshop:


The I is
playful, wry,
in search of
paradoxes, epiphanies, essences,
curiosities, ambiguities, amusements,
the occluded, the improvisatory,
stories.

Rocks from whom one learns


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Last night I took this specimen along on a visit and our hostess said “oooh is this a gift?” and I was immediately protective. “Certainly not!” I said, and immediately regretted my vehemence in defense of my rock, as I hadn’t even photographed it yet. I did make its portrait today, and thus recognized a Lesson in Attachment—one I might have learned (but had clearly forgotten) with the Bodhidharma example cited at the end of the Morphic Resonance post. In what wise is this rock my rock? Why should I wish to hold on to it? Wouldn’t it be better to appreciate it and pass it on so that others could enjoy its verisimilitude? Isn’t it enough to have discovered its several personalities and felt its agency? Yes, yes, 10,000 times yes.

of Morphic Resonance

It’s been months since the last post here, almost 3 quite busy months since our return home from this year’s cross-continent trip. The last six weeks included a very successful gallery show for Broot and a one-day pop-up show for me, and we’re now in Nova Scotia, just finishing another 3-week trip, this one a 55th anniversary circumtransit of the Gulf of Saint Lawrence (four nights by freight boat from Rimouski to Blanc Sablon PQ; ferry from Labrador to St. Barbe, Newfoundland; north to L’Anse aux Meadows, then down the west coast to Gros Morne National Park, then ferry to North Sydney NS, and finally to Horton Landing; home to Maine by the weekend).

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The usual welter of thoughts and reading and explorations of this’n’that accompanied, of course, so there’s much to get caught up.

The Flickr photostream tells many tales but also leaves out happenings that didn’t happen to get photographed. I’m just uploading the bountiful harvest of our week in Newfoundland, and thinking through What It All Means. And wondering what’s next. There are Flickr Albums of faces, surfaces and abstracts, and landscapes as a first stab at sorting the hundreds of images.

The perennial puzzlement of how to think about and what to do with the vast array of anthropo- and zoomorphic images of rocks and wood and water seems to be heading toward a resolution, but the complexities and leaps of association that underlie will take some explication. The cut-to-the-chase of the moment is an evolving scheme for a multimedia gallery presentation next summer, the provisional title for which is

Morphic Resonance:
Portraits in Stone, Wood, and Water

but the emergence of that title takes us back more than 3 million years, to the Makapansgat Pebble, which is surely an anthropomorphic form.:




The hominin ancestor who picked up and carried the pebble some 20 miles from its geological origin seems to me to represent an early (I’m tempted to claim the earliest) instance of aesthetic Consciousness in our own evolutionary branch [“possibly the earliest example of symbolic thinking or aesthetic sense in the human heritage”]). My own pursuit of wholly imaginary faces in various materials seems a direct descendant. I’ve been chewing over the deeper significance of this for the last year or so (since I learned of the Makapansgat Pebble). A couple of weeks ago the phrase “morphic resonance” drifted through my mind, and seemed somehow portentious (though I can’t remember when/where I first encountered it). It turned out to be a coinage of Rupert Sheldrake:

Morphic resonance is a process whereby self-organising systems inherit a memory from previous similar systems. In its most general formulation, morphic resonance means that the so-called laws of nature are more like habits. The hypothesis of morphic resonance also leads to a radically new interpretation of memory storage in the brain and of biological inheritance. Memory need not be stored in material traces inside brains, which are more like TV receivers than video recorders, tuning into influences from the past. And biological inheritance need not all be coded in the genes, or in epigenetic modifications of the genes; much of it depends on morphic resonance from previous members of the species. Thus each individual inherits a collective memory from past members of the species, and also contributes to the collective memory, affecting other members of the species in the future.

This seems akin to notions of ‘distributed consciousness’ with which I’ve been toying in the last year or so, and surely skates on the rim of mystical hoo-hah. I direct your attention to the Bodhidharma posts of February 2018 for earlier instances, and of course to the Just a Rock: a lithic menagerie book; see also Form Finds Form and Just Another Rock and Allegories and Agglomerations for more kindred threads.

sources and sensibilities

I’ve been reading Mark Dery’s Born to Be Posthumous: The Eccentric Life and Mysterious Genius of Edward Gorey and finding all sorts of relevant things within. Here’s one that seems to shed useful light on photographic issues of the moment:

E.Gorey’s Great Simple Theory About Art
the theory … that anything that is art … is presumably about some certain thing, but is really always about something else, and it’s no good having one without the other, because if you just have the something it is boring and if you just have the something else it’s irritating.
(in Floating Worlds: : The Letters of Edward Gorey and Peter F. Neumeyer, pg 39)


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Thinking it over, it’s difficult to gauge how very much of my sensibilities I owe to Edward Gorey, whose work I think I first encountered in 1962, thanks to Laura de la Torre Bueno (The Curious Sofa was the gateway drug).



The groundwork before that was surely laid by Charles Addams and other New Yorker cartoonists (via The New Yorker Album: 1925-1950) and of course by Walt Kelly’s Pogo (which I first imbibed in the early 1950s, and have never been without ever since), Don Marquis’s Archy and Mehitabel
and before all Abner Dean’s What Am I Doing Here?
and Heinrich Hoffman’s Struwwelpeter.
Some would diagnose a very odd childhood, and I suppose that’s true, but I thank the gods for it.