In the Spring of 1969 we spent most of a week in Death Valley with Kent and Shel and Jaca and her brother Kenny and his dog Pie. For us it was primarily a photographic expedition, and I have lots of as-yet-unscanned negatives from the adventure. Here are a few that have transitioned to digital:
At that point we had a half share in an 8 x 10 camera, with which I wrestled off and on (these photos by Broot, of course):
What brought that to mind today was this marvelous little YouTube drama, the hilarity of which may not be fully obvious to those not deep-dyed in the mystical side of photography. It’s all there: the Equipment Fallacy that especially afflicts male photographers, the Resolution bugaboo, the sweaty palms of setting up and taking the shot, the agony of waiting for a result, the pretense… and zoodles.
You just never know what the day will bring, and how thing will lead to thing.
I started with a chapter from Italo Calvino’s If on a winter’s night a traveler, the second part of the first one, which finds the reader in a provincial town railroad station:
The novel begins in a railway station, a locomotive huffs, steam from a piston covers the opening of the chapter, a cloud of smoke hides part of the first paragraph. In the odor of the station there is a passing whiff of station café odor. There is someone looking through the befogged glass, he opens the glass door of the bar, everything is misty, inside, too, as if seen by nearsighted eyes, or eyes irritated by coal dust. The pages of the book are clouded like the windows of an old train, the cloud of smoke rests on the sentences…
Not in Kansas anymore, hein?
The word that springs to mind is “immersive” but whether anybody else has ever been so sprung upon I know not. At the end of Calvino chapter 1 I begin to read chapter 2:
You have now read about thirty pages and you’re becoming caught up in the story. At a certain point you remark: “This sentence somehow seems familiar. In fact, this whole passage reads like something I’ve read before.” Of course: there are themes that recur, the text is interwoven with these reprises, which serve to express the fluctuation of time. You are the sort of reader who is sensitive to such refinements; you are quick to catch the author’s intentions and nothing escapes you….
Hm. And so I put down Calvino and picked up where I left off yesterday in Becker’s Many Subtle Channels: In Praise of Potential Literature (Calvino having been a Oulipian, this seemed perfectly sensible) and the feel of the reading seems the same, some amalgam of fictional narrative and factual discourse where it’s perhaps difficult or possibly pointless to say what is real and what imaginary…
And then a look at the RSS feed’s latest brought me this:
And I think: A new genre? Meld of sound and metacommentary, which turns out to have been “inspired” by William Eggleston, and in some sense the whole video is aboutWilliam Eggleston.
You know what? Just google him now. Pause this video.
Now, I’ve never gotten William Eggleston as a photographer, and the why of that is surely worth exploring. I accept that he’s widely regarded as one of the modern masters, and I know that John Sarkowski, whom I revere, recognized him with an early solo show at MoMA in 1976 (the first of color photography): William Eggleston’s Guide is Szarkowski’s catalog for the show, and see also a pdf of Szarkowski’s Introduction. Here’s a section of the Amazon blurb for the book:
The book and show unabashedly forced the art world to deal with color photography, a medium scarcely taken seriously at the time, and with the vernacular content of a body of photographs that could have been but definitely weren’t some average American’s Instamatic pictures from the family album. These photographs heralded a new mastery of the use of color as an integral element of photographic composition.
My own photographic aesthetic is deeply dipped in the world of black-and-white photography, mostly before 1976, though I’ve taken to color myself ever since my transition to digital imaging more than 10 years ago. Eggleston’s color and composition just rub me the wrong way, and generally my reaction to his images has been “so what?”, but a couple of years ago I saw a selection at full size at Pier 24 in San Francisco, and began to realize that my judgements have been ill-placed. So I continue to try to reeducate myself away from long-running prejudices. But I’m still leery of Eggleston.
So back to the video, and its “new genre” possibilities, and how all of that might fit with Calvino and with OuPhoPo (the Workshop in Experimental Photography). The text of the video references a New York Times profile of Eggleston, in which he is revealed to be an over-the-top alcoholic.
…WE LEAVE THE OFFICES of the Eggleston Trust and go to his apartment. The first thing one sees upon entering is a bright red plastic sign with a yellow border, printed with capitalized white sans-serif text. It warns, “THE OCCUPANT OF THIS APARTMENT WAS RECENTLY HOSPITALIZED FOR COMPLICATIONS DUE TO ALCOHOL. HE IS ON A MEDICALLY PRESCRIBED DAILY PORTION OF ALCOHOL. IF YOU BRING ADDITIONAL ALCOHOL INTO THIS APARTMENT YOU ARE PLACING HIM IN MORTAL DANGER. YOUR ENTRY AND EXIT INTO THIS APARTMENT IS BEING RECORDED. WE WILL PROSECUTE SHOULD THIS NOTICE BE IGNORED. THE EGGLESTON FAMILY.” It is a devastating thing to see. Heartbreaking. I was also an alcoholic for decades, the kind who had shakes and saw spiders. I’m not even through the hallway and my mind is racing from “I want that sign” to “What kind of doctor prescribes alcohol for an alcoholic? Where was he when I was drinking?”
The text of the song in the video:
What if the thing that helps you live Is also the thing that will get you killed
It’s the damndest thing
I don’t think I’d ever heard of Beauty Pill, but here are two more remarkable videos:
Dog With Rabbit in Mouth Unharmed
which make me realize that I need to make more room in my musical universe.
I’ve been plotting a presentation of wood photographs for a while now, thinking that there would be a Blurb book devoted to that subset of my work with Creatures. I decided to try a YouTube presentation instead, and Wooden Wunderkammer is the result of the moment:
I’m still exploring refinements of the Ken Burns thing, and haven’t really worked at precision of transitions with the soundtrack, so the above is, as they say, provisional.
In the last couple of weeks I’ve been working with photos of Home Kitchen meals, from the last decade of trotters in the trough, using Adobe Premiere and posting the results to YouTube. The results so far are available via http://oook.info/HKC/, and sport soundtracks from my duets with Daniel Heïkalo.
A fourth YouTube video is up: Ken Burns has Hash at Home Kitchen Cafe, again and again
With each of the videos I’ve done I have learned some valuable lessons, and with each I tried out something new to me. After sending links to a few friends, I then made further edits and changes which I haven’t made public.
I have at least half a dozen other clutches of photos that video presentation would enhance, at least in terms of distributability, and I’ve realized that I need some more sophisticated tools, and more careful consideration of where I really want to take this phase of photographic exploration. And so I’ll be doing a 2-day Premiere Pro workshop at Maine Media during the coming weekend.
It’s very useful to consider Ken Burns himself on the “Ken Burns Effect”:
…a very honorable attempt on my part to will old photographs alive…
…willingness to not hold a still photograph at a distance. To just merely acknowledge its plasticity, to not just see its two-dimensionality but to go into its world and to trust that that world had a past and a present. And to activate it. And to be the feature film-maker that I wanted to be with a master shot, a wide shot, a medium shot, a close shot, a pan, a tilt, a reveal, inserts of shots. And to listen to that photograph. To ask the question, “what sounds is this photograph making if it were alive?” That’s what I do…
from Ken Burns: the Kindle Singles Interview (conducted by Tom Roston)
It will be interesting to see how this particular toboggan ride goes.
During the last week I’ve been experimenting with iMovie, initially to build a draft of a video presentation of my Morphic Resonance images for the July show at Granite Gallery, then to construct a Home Kitchen Cafe video to update the Blurb book Order Up! (I’ve eaten a lot of Home Kitchen meals since May 2016), and today to try a video presentation of Lynn English High School graduates, 1929. I have uploaded the three drafts to YouTube, but certainly mean to work on them further, and probably completely revise as I figure out what works and become more adept with iMovie. Here are the three Version 1.0 videos:
At Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts we saw a wonderful Charles Sheeler show, which included the [silent] film Sheeler and Paul Strand made in 1921. The whole 10-minute film is wonderful, but this scene is sheer genius for the time. Or any time, come to that.