Category Archives: images

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:


20x1944

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


NFLDrock1

NFLDrock4

NFLDrock3

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).

StLawrencesatellite

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.

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…

first, catch your beech tree

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


7x18MtAuburnbeech11

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:

inverted beechx2

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)

invbeechx4

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

inverted beechx4inv

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.