Category Archives: photography

Onomastical exegesis

Some of the profounder truths/more ineffable mysteries lurk in how things are named. Why ‘toothless’ for this image, asks Bryan:

toothless 2xadj

Part of the explanation has to do with the momentary flash of inspiration to which I’ve learned to attend as I’m processing images, and which I am happy to identify as macchia (“the total compositional and coloristic effect of an image in the split second before the eye begins to parse it for meaning,” more fully adumbrated in a posting from four years agone, and thanks to Teju Cole for the word). “Toothless” was the macchia that breezed through my mind on first glance at the original image (the right-hand side of the composite mirror image above):

I see, or fancy I see, or saw and then couldn’t un-see an empty eye socket in upper center, and a jagged toothless black mouth on the left side about 2/3 of the way from the top… but as always YMMV. The symmetrical expansion of the original image reveals a very different face: the toothless mouth unfolds into a pair of black eyeholes, surmounted by a crown of vertical elements (feathers?), and susmounted by what seems to be a filigreed snout (which, John points out, isn’t showing any teeth, so still technically toothless).

John also suggested that the image might be flipped:

toothless 2x flipped
An altogether more vulpine visage emerges, not toothless at all, and the former feathery crown transmuted into a rather elegant broad-shouldered cloak.

It’s an essential component of the Homo narrans toolkit that things be given names to celebrate their essence, and perhaps to summon them (or protect against them) at need. But we must always heed Max Nigh’s Dictum: Just because we’ve named it doesn’t mean we know anything about it.

Peri-urban domesticity in infrared

We chanced to spend the night in a motel in Vaudreuil-Dorion, at the confluence of the St. Lawrence and Ottawa rivers, a half-hour commute to downtown Montréal.

St Lawrence1

Along the rivers are houses that enjoy docks on the water, and that give full scope to Quebecois architectural styles. Consider this magnificent faux-château Trianon, and imagine the pride of its owners:





This house’s dock is middling-modest:


And other nearby neighbo[u]rs express themselves variously:





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: