Category Archives: photography

Two remarkable photographs

Accidents happen. Sometimes old negatives go awry, the emulsion reticulating because of heat or moisture or the passage of mysterious subatomic particles…or just because.

I’ve been scanning negatives from Sarawak 1965-1967, uncovering events and locations I’d forgotten, and two of the frames on one roll had developed spontaneous reticulation that could be felt as ridges in the emulsion. I scanned them anyway, and when I opened them in Lightroom and tweaked them a bit, marvelous images emerged. These were taken by Broot at a ceremony for the raising of the first house post in the New Village that we were involved in building (a story in itself, and not a very happy one for the people who were being resettled).

a happy accident

another happy accident

Somewhere I think I have 50-year-old prints of these photos, without the added grace of reticulation. Don’t know where to start looking, but if and when they show up I’ll scan and blog them too. Meanwhile, enjoy the early work of a marvelously gifted and subtle photographer.

Another new project: Abandoned Ancestors


Over the years I have collected lots of pictures of unknown folks, the most coherent subset of which is arrayed in Nova Scotia Faces and also configured as a book, Bluenose Physiognomy. The images that have no direct relation to Nova Scotia need their own site, so that I can begin the process of organizing them into a book. The springboard is a separate suite of web pages, which I expect will sprawl and interdigitate in the by-now-familiar mode. The beginnings are available at Abandoned Ancestors. Stop by for a look.

co incidence

I really admire Andy Ilachinski’s photography, and often enjoy the enlightenments of quotations he pairs with images in his Tao of Digital Photography blog. This morning’s Schopenhauer passage projected me into a 3-way conjunction with a deceased wombat and a decaying stump:

…All the events in a man’s life accordingly stand in two fundamentally different kinds of connection: firstly, in the objective, causal connection of the natural process; secondly, in a subjective connection which exists only in relation to the individual who experiences it, and which is thus as subjective as his own dreams, whose unfolding content is necessarily determined, but in the manner in which the scenes in a play are determined by the poet’s plot….

This morning I happened to learn that Patrick the Wombat had expired in Ballarat, probably around the time I discovered Patrick’s visage at the dead center of a tessellation of an elm stump at Horton Landing, Nova Scotia:

elm stump5x2

(zoom in to inspect the visage more closely here)

Just sayin’

State Street Bank, 1964-1965


One of my bottomless projects is the 2400+ negatives I made on the job site of the first high-rise building in Boston’s financial district. There’s a book in there somewhere, but in order to think about the images I need to be able to see them, sort them, decide on narrative directions and contents and so on. So I’m gradually building a Web locus for the project, intending to treat it as a workspace for trying out presentation ideas, generating supportive text, and basically sand-boxing. You’re welcome to watch:

State Street Bank, 1964-1965

coming to grips with our lack of understanding

I was listening to a recent (July 14 2016) episode of Open Source as I walked yesterday, in which Greil Marcus was interviewed by Max Larkin about three songs (Dylan’s Ballad of Hollis Brown, Geeshie Wiley and LV Thomas’ Last Kind Words Blues, and Bascom Lamar Lunsford’s Wish I Was a Mole in the Ground) that Marcus has written a book around (Three Songs, Three Singers, Three Nations). A short segment seemed especially relevant to issues of art and creativity that I’ve been thinking about lately, so I transcribed it when I got home:

To me, works of art, whether they’re songs, whether they’re novels, whether they’re paintings, whether they’re movies, are fictions: they’re imaginative constructs that people create and then they inhabit and then they tell you stories from that position, as if they’re true. But they’re making things up, they’re lying. These things didn’t happen. And so the fact that Geeshie Wiley and LV Thomas were from here as opposed to there, that they lived at this time as opposed to that time, all of that is interesting and will tell you something about how these songs came to be musically as part of a tradition, but will not tell you anything about why the recordings they made, and especially Motherless Child Blues and Last Kind Words Blues, are absolutely unique, why there is nothing like them. That is because they had the tools and they had the will and the desire and the genius to be able to turn that into an artifact that we can listen to and say “who ARE these people?” and when we say “who are these people, we don’t mean “are they really from Houston?” which is where they were from, was LV Thomas really a lesbian, which she was was. That’s not what we mean by “who are these people?”. It’s like, “what is this ABOUT?” How can people DO these kinds of things? It’s our sense of awe in the face of great art. It’s a sense of coming to grips with our lack of understanding of how something so beautiful, so preordained, so unlikely, has come to be.

click to hear:

The sense of the sublime that inhabits the art that moves us (musical, graphic, narrative, photographic, whatever) is hard to pin down or distill into words. We knows it when we sees it, and that sense of knowing may or may not be transitive: others may not feel or apprehend or catch or get it. I’m aware of this feeling with every batch of photographs I process and put into my Flickr photostream—there’s an ineffable something that inhabits some images, often because of some imaginative construct that I’ve put onto them in capturing or processing. Sometimes there’s a story, either manifest or lurking under the surface. Sometimes it’s just a portent, or an allusion that only comes into focus within a set of images. Here’s one that produced that sort of frisson, though I haven’t yet imagined the narrative into which it might fit:



An early morning walk in Menlo Park CA, where we’re visiting for a couple of days, produced two apparently unrelated images that provoke a single meditation on collections and patterns:

Menlo Park power pole Atherton police blotter

If you collect a lot of anything [pictures of electrical supply, snippets from newspapers, gravestones, whatever] and then work with the collections in an analytical sort of way, seeking the patterns within the collections, eventually stories/narratives begin to emerge. That seems blindingly obvious, and I’ve been through the procedure many many times, but I realize I haven’t always known the formula/method. So I’m trying to reconstruct when I began to employ it—when I began to be a collector, a pattern-finder, an analyst. I can’t recall that anybody ever suggested the procedure to me, though it should have been an element of my education. I don’t know when I first formalized the collect-analyze-narrate process for myself. Surely my Flickr albums are just this sort of gatheration, and I ought to do more along those lines.

As for today’s examples: the power pole belongs in the collection that includes Electricity in Ajijic and

trolley wires

…and as for the Atherton police blotter, it reflects the irreality of life on the edges of Silicon Valley, where “service persons” are essential elements of domestic life, and the outside world is full of “suspicious people.” Such things are everywhere one looks.

v2.0 sent off to Blurb


I’ve been revising my cemeteries/graveyards book, yclept Remembered, and just sent it off to Blurb for a test print. It’s the first I’ve composed with InDesign (and yes, I DID finally solve the vexatious Adobe/Amazon snaggle, by getting my “subscription” via Adobe, a deal with Lucifer himself… but not without many calls to Customer Service and much grinding of back teeth). Remembered v2.0 can be downloaded (it’s a BIG file, a pdf of 150 pages) by any enthusiasts out there. I’m sure it will be further revised once I can see it in print, and in the light of future skulkings in graveyards.