Category Archives: photography

bricolage in Austin NV

My fascination with cemeteries continues, each locale presenting novel styles and unprecedented content, enlarging my sense of cultural and temporal variety.

Each image fits somewhere in an emerging construction, the outlines of which are pretty clear (having to do with the Memorial and the Marmorial: with both the impulse to Remember and the [seeming] compulsion to make the Remembering as permanent as materials permit), but the details of linkage and explanation unfold bit by bit, as more images join the corpus. I’m not sure what the ultimate destination will turn out to be for this project, and it’s possible that it is in fact bottomless, but it proceeds site by site, and insight by insight.

As with so many others in my stable of enthusiasms, this project asks the question: How shall we account for what we see, what we encounter? Each bit [image, text fragment, etc.] is a holographic fragment of a grand edifice, and each fragment is productively considered as fundamentally linked to every other. We may explore the bonds, the implications, the entanglements, but grasping the whole seems to be beyond our meagre and measly powers.

The cemetery (actually cemeteries: the Catholic Calvary cemetery and the Shoshone graveyard are adjacent but separate) at Austin NV (a 19th century mining boom town) includes these elements [click on an image to embiggen]:

Basque surnames:



Native American surnames:
AustinNV34 AustinNV33



people who came from far away (Cornwall, Scotland, named counties in Ireland):

AustinNV11 AustinNV14

AustinNV18 AustinNV48

the ever-present deaths of children:

AustinNV16a AustinNV10

AustinNV12 AustinNV3


evidence of active grave tending, next to the forgotten:


opulent displays imported from afar side-by-side with the most basic and temporary of materials:


AustinNV40 AustinNV41

novel iconography:
AustinNV44 AustinNV46

and sometimes bits of stories of the decedents’ lives. Google tells me that one young man died in a SCUBA accident in Monterey Bay, but was brought to Austin for burial:

that another man survived a gunshot wound to his throat when his cousin’s husband tried to shoot her:






And of course there’s lots more that I may eventually distill from the photographs I took during the visit to Austin cemeteries.

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