Category Archives: photography

Allegories and Agglomerations


vent Allegory

I’ve been thinking about this image ever since I captured it back in August, and wondering how to explain what I saw, what it means, and how it fits into my evolving sense of personal engagement with photography.

The train of thought came about during a yoga nidra session, as I lay immobile for 40 minutes or so with no other visual stimulus than a ho-hum quotidian ventilation duct on the ceiling 15 feet above me. The suggestion was that I close my eyes, but they decided to remain open. The eyes seem often to have minds of their own. The wider context included about a year of deep and deeper immersion in photography, including lots of reading and writing and thousands of photographs studied and taken.

Contemplation of the metal duct provoked the insight that narratives unfold —the case with most tessellations, and also with the presentation of groupings of images, exemplified by my galleries of faces on rocks and other materials. As one looks and studies and ponders, unexpected visions and associations arise, and underlying realities emerge, or (as it might be) are imagined.

The duct itself is pretty simple: a utilitarian presence with little or no artistic intent, a piece of unpretentious industrial design, one of many thousands of ducts, formed of sheet metal in a way that is sensitive to function and to market pricing, and surely not imagined by designers and manufacturers as the inspiration for anything. Geometrically it’s just a triangle, mirrored and then mirrored orthogonally into a symmetrical diamond shape. But upon contemplation it’s clear that there’s more to it: a something else that might be a Creature manifests, equipped with eyes and even a tongue. And suddenly the duct is not so simple, and inspires the viewer to consider Unfolding, and Creaturehood, and Allegory.

Namaste, tout le monde.

The next morning I returned with a camera and found that the Creature was still in residence, and was as provocative as it had been the day before.

The Full-frontal Spiritual Manifestations: gods, godlets, daemons and other beings project seems a direct outcome of the adventure with the duct.

Addendum: the wee hours found me considering that Agglomerations consist of Agglomera, and that the singular would thus be Agglomerum; Agglomeratio would be the act of gathering up Agglomera. By itself,

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is just an oddly-shaped rock, but in company (Agglomerated) with others of its ilk, other possibilities emerge:

30xii1832 30xii1833 DriftInn1i1817

DI6ii077 DI7ii059 DI25i18072

DI2i1876 Wass29vii18079 28xii1816

Christmas ephemeral

It began with a dozen very local oysters (Ice House Cove, thanks to Toni and John who presided over their growing). The very local trick for opening them is to put them in the oven for a few minutes, just until the shells open. Absolutely delicious. A byproduct is some of the salty oyster liquor leaking into the pan and crystallizing with the residual heat. Instant abstract, sort of galactic in flavor:

oyster pan

Of course I couldn’t let that be the final act…


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And there were a couple of other captures from the same pan:


oyster pan

oyster pan

enigmata

I like me a good enigma, and I’ve used that word in all sorts of connections over the years, but never thought to inquire into its etymology and various senses. Dictionaries seem to agree that the Greek ainos, ‘fable’, is the original progenitor, but others cited are Greek ainisessthai, ‘to speak allusively’, and Latin aenigma, ‘riddle’. The modern senses favor

  • mysterious
  • puzzling
  • hard to explain
  • inexplicable
  • hidden meaning or known thing concealed under obscure words or forms
  • dark saying
  • baffles understanding

Looking over my own past uses, I seem often to invoke enigma in describing something non-obvious that interests me or piques curiosity or captures my attention. An artful story is what’s required to dispel murk (or mirk). See Narrativium for the how and why.

Most dictionary senses seem to favor the textual enigma, but I’m especially drawn to visual instances, in which there’s something unresolved


Orrs Island mystery

or ???huh???
children at play

or flat-out puzzling

This morning in the Back 40

or ambiguous and suggestive of multiple possible readings

the morning after the night before

or just plain weird

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Edward Gorey on writing:

…the way I write, since I do leave out most of the connections, and very little is pinned down, I feel that I am doing a minimum of damage to other possibilities that might arise in a reader’s mind. (New Yorker Dec 12 2018)

Photographers who traffic in enigma and abstractions of various kinds, and/or explore Buddhist and Taoist notions of the contemplative owe a lot to Minor White. Herewith some of my thoughts from more than a year ago: Major Minor.

just a stump

Digital processing is really a marvel, especially in the ease with which one can tweak an image to express different flavors, moods, attitudes. The danger is that it’s easy to take the tweakage too far, but that’s really subjective. Here’s one from yesterday in which various changes are rung (as Bill Skinner was wont to say). It’s worthwhile to contemplate why one might prefer one or another version.

the unedited original:
stump as shot

cropped and adjusted, subjectively pleasing:
stump1

monochrome, with green filter:
stump b+w green filter

using Lightroom’s “Infrared” preset:
stump "IR"

using Lightroom’s “aged photo” preset:
stump "aged"


Of course I see a creature, probably a large-mouthed fishy person (a staring eye in the upper center)

Found Objects

The faces that seem to peer up at me on rocky beaches are indubitably creatures of my imagination, but no less real for that. I’ve been trying to invent broader contexts and aesthetic provenance to clothe their ubiquity, but it was only yesterday, as I was reading WJT Mitchell’s What Do Pictures Want?, that it came home to me that my delirious panoply of rocks are objets trouvés, found objects in the full sense of the term. Behold:

Lincolnville19ix18001

…just two criteria for a found object:

  1. it must be ordinary, unimportant, neglected, and (until its finding) overlooked;
    Wass29vii18012

    it cannot be beautiful, sublime, wonderful, astonishing, or remarkable in any obvious way, or it would have already been singled out, and therefore would not be a good candidate for “finding”; and

  2. its finding must be accidental, not deliberate or planned. One doesn’t seek the found object, as Picasso famously remarked. One finds it. Even better, it finds you, looking back at you…

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Once found, however, the found object should, as in surrealistic practices, become foundational. It may undergo an apotheosis, a transfiguration of the commonplace, a redemption by art…

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pharaonic

If it really works, however, we have a sneaking suspicion that the transformation was a trick, a comic ruse engineered by a deus ex machina; and the plain old thing with its homely, familiar name is still there, blushing and smirking at us in the spotlight of aesthetic attention, or (better) ignoring us totally…


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The true found object never quite forgets where it came from, never quite believes in its elevation to spectacle and display. It remains humble to the end, a poor thing caught up in the push and pull of desire and demand…

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Another key to the found object is its tendency, once found, to hang around, gathering value and meaning like a sort of semantic flypaper or photosensitive surface.


20x18170 Rock Conversation

(in WJT Mitchell What Do Pictures Want? pp 114-155, 118)

photographs since Just A Rock

I looked through the last 6 months of my Flickr photostream to identify images I thought most evocative, and which seem in one way or another to be candidates for the Consequential album. Most tempt me to a narrative explanation of how the photograph happened, or what I am led to think about by looking at it, but some are just graphically successful and want no further comment.


6v18tires01a

copper beech BW

Selden

MesaVerde016

MesaVerde019

MesaVerde027

MesaVerde041

NaturalBridges20

NaturalBridges56

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2vi18013

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20vi18Colma20

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MP24vii1834

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vent Allegory

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Goreyesque

Islesboro25viii18021

Islesboro25viii18001

Apppier46x2adj

Lincolnville19ix18001

HPcolor14

Perceboardwalk03

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7x18MtAuburnbeech01

Mount Auburn beeches

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MP10x1804

DI14x18038

20x18170 Rock Conversation

20x18144 Bright Phoebus

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young gull

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late November pumpkin

Little Orphan Annie manifests at Drift Inn

The Ecstasy of the Dance, The Agony of the Dancer

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naughtyfenceface6

and another project

This one has me thinking about a project on figured wood:


naughtyfenceface6

I have a burgeoning array of photographs of knots and other woody detalia, and have been wondering how to group, narrate, present and otherwise curate the collection. The happy result of the above in color suggests that the unconventional aspect ratio might work to advantage, and that it’s worth reprocessing some of the existing images (which I’ve tended to present in monochrome) to bring out details of figure and grain.

I’ve generally sought faces, as in the Percé P.Q. boardwalk denizens and Gaspereau River DAR Bridge project, but there are other larger forms that want more thoughtful presentation too. The sprawling wood weblet needs another bout of organizing and nudging in the direction of a Blurb book.

Here’s the beginning of lumber portraits.

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

6xi1819


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:


3xi18044

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…