Category Archives: photography

State Street Bank, 1964-1965

concrete

One of my bottomless projects is the 3000+ 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:

Cambria13

collecting

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
electrical3

…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

Montparnasse56

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.

since mid-March

So we went to France in late March, and spent a few days in Paris on either end of a week in Brittany—our third annual Progress in those parts, with the usual eatings and wanderings (the Brittany parts mediated by our dear friends Rob and Barbara). I was able to spend several hours photographing in Père Lachaise and Montparnasse cemeteries, and that provoked another Blurb book project:

Remembered cover

The v1.0 version can be downloaded (it’s a BIG file) here via a right-click and Save As. When we got home it occurred to me to look more closely at graveyards in midcoast Maine, and I’ve been busy on that front ever since. Later this week I’m going to Lowell MA to spend a day with members of the Association for Gravestone Studies, an organization I’d previously known nothing of. It turns out that the first 25 issues of their annual publication Markings are available at archive.org, and the several articles I’ve read have been fascinating.

Another Blurb book project escaped my desktop, a narration of the collection of photos I’ve taken of meals enjoyed at Home Kitchen Cafe:

Order Up! cover

and that book is also available for download here.

And as if that wasn’t enough, I’ve also put together a v1.0 of a project I’ve been working on for about 35 years:

Who Was Joe Wilner? cover

I’m still working on the cover, but the book itself is available for download here.

These books were all produced with Lightroom’s Book module, which is a bit confining (a restricted set of page templates), so I’ve just completed a week-long workshop at the Maine Media Center in Adobe’s InDesign, a vastly powerful program that should make it possible to make much more elegant versions of the six existing Blurb books and a bunch of others that I have in mind to do. Should keep me busy….

Picking up where we left off?

It’s been months since I last posted anything to oookblog, but they’ve been busy months: some Blurb books, a bout of shop work, the usual flurriment around the holiday season. And here it is almost mid-March, and we’re preparing for a fortnight in France (a few days in Paris on either end of a week in Brittany) and contemplating other travels in the summer. A lot of material that I might have posted here (charting day by day encounters with stuff that piqued interest and comment) has gone into writing on paper instead, but I remain committed to the notion that it’s BETTER to put the quotidian flux where others might enjoy it.

The grandest accomplishment of the last 3 months has been a book of photographs and narrative drawn from the family archives that have been my responsibility for the last 40 years or so:


Forebears 3.0 cover

It’s now in its third revision/expansion, and almost ready for prime time release to its wider public, whatever that might be. The project has nudged me back into thinking about genealogical questions and the imponderables of Family, and it’s likely that I’ll pursue those subjects in the next few months.

And of course there’s photography to think about and work on. And the never-ending river of books to read.

Uelsmania

The blog has been quiet for several months, not because I had nothing to say, but because so many things collided during the summer months, and writing happened in other media. The season seems to have been centered on photography and walking, including a pair of week-long Maine Media Center workshops that have nudged me in the direction of publication projects. Our 50th college reunion consumed a lot of psychic energy and turned out to be very interesting. There have also been trips (California, Nova Scotia), the usual array of summer visitors, and the consumption of many books, and of course many memorable meals. I’ve added infrared to the array of tools I’ve been working with, and I’m imagining a series of self-published Blurb books exploring various facets of my photographic archives. My Flickr photostream aggregates a lot of the visual byproducts of these activities, but doesn’t provide much in the way of context or backstory.

Yesterday I took a couple of iPhone photos that provoke some ruminations. I was crossing the bridge at Mosquito Harbor, near the end of a 10-mile walk, and stopped to look at a dramatic cloud pattern. I took out the iPhone and did a quick landscape shot:

Mosquito Harbor
That image captures some of the drama, in a landscape mode that’s quite familiar to me: distant horizon, something significant in the foreground. I lowered the iPhone to set its exposure in the foreground (to try to get more of the detail in the reflection), but inadvertently hit the button and captured the near foreground of cobbles, the margin between stone and rising tide, and the reflected sky:
Uelsmania
Note that this exposure was entirely accidental, composing itself in spite of what I thought I was doing. It wasn’t until I was looking at the results of the day’s shooting on the computer that I recognized the power of the inadvertent image. My immediate thought was that it was reminiscent of the marvelous work of Jerry Uelsmann, whom I’ve been following for 40+ years (see this profile), in which one order of reality glides into another. I got Uelsmann Untitled: a retrospective from the shelf and read Carol McCusker’s essay:

Interesting things happen on the margins of landmasses… his imagery, in which nothing is assured or known and layers of contradictory realities coexist… (pg. 8)

Uelsmann has always worked in black and white, and entirely with analog media (sandwiching negatives, performing a dance of movement among multiple enlargers, masking, dodging, burning…). I converted my color image to black and white:


UelsmaniaBW
and I can’t decide which version I prefer.

We’ve just bought an Epson P800 printer and are about to embark on fancy printing of some of our respective back catalogs of photographs. It’s not clear where this will lead, beyond the creation of portfolios of favorite images, but it does seem clear that we’re both putting more of our attention and energies into photography.