Form Finds Form

I’ve been seeking subsetting and organizing principles to cope with the vast complexities of wood and rock portraits I’ve been collecting, and yesterday an interesting candidate presented itself as I was reading Rudolf Arnheim’s Visual Thinking (1969):

A concept, statistically defined, represents what a number of separate entities have in common. Quite often, however, a concept is instead a kind of highspot within a sweep of continuous transformations. In the Japanese kabuki theatre, an actor’s play suddenly petrifies into an immobile, monumental pose, the mi-e, which marks the climax of an important scene and epitomizes its character. (pg 182)

Mi-e generally follow a pattern, serving to focus our attention on a particular character or characters at an important moment during the play. Mi-e crystallize the action into a formal picture. More than mere focal points, mi-e are used to express to the audience a climax of great emotional tension. To perform a mi-e the actor must physically and emotionally wind himself up to the desired emotion, be it anger, fear, indignation, or surprise. Most mi-e are accompanied only by the beating of the wooden clappers (tsuke) … struck in a pattern called ba-tan, the two beats of which serve as a framework for the climax of the mi-e, in which the actor, while holding the pose rotates his head toward his adversary and crosses one eye, the other looking straight ahead.

The first beat, the ba, is hit as the actor strikes the pose. Then, as he rotates his head and glares, the mie is completed by the second, tan beat. The tsuke beater, or tsuke uchi as he is called, has the great responsibility of not only timing his beats to the actor’s movements but also feeling the emotional climax of the mi-e with the actor. (from Ronald Cavaye Kabuki: A Pocket Guide)

“How very like the moment of photography!” I thought. And sure enough some of my creatures are caught in mi-e, communicating directly to the viewer.


More commonly, the creatures appear self-absorbed, going about their business, brooding or just being grumpy or dozy or fey, not interacting with the watchers, or simply being unaware of their audience. I’ve assembled a gallery of some that seem to me “immobile, monumental” and performing for the viewers

Form Finds Form is a phrase I’m continuing to unpack and trying to more completely grok. My mother was wont to say it, and via Ann Berthoff it has crept into the field of Rhetoric and Composition. It seems to resonate with many things I’ve done over the years (photographic projects, surname mapping, improv music…), even though I can’t fully explain just what it Means. In this instance, my almost accidental discovery of the Form mi-e educed the subset of images, each an exemplar of that Form. But which found which?

Just turning to October

It’s been far too long since the last post, a lot of travel has filled the last four months, and hundreds of new photographs grace the Flickr photostream. There’s a new instrument (a Veillette Gryphon, cute as a bug), and the 54th anniversary and 75th birthdays are now behind us. New projects have been spawned by fateful encounters, and that’s likely to keep happening over the next four months. A Blurb book or two may eventuate once the current leitmotifs condense. Betsy has photos in the next issue of Seeing in Sixes and has just had a portfolio accepted for publication in the December issue of LensWork. And my new Nikon Z7 should be arriving soon…

I’ve vowed before to make more use of the blog to record photographic discoveries and conundrums, and I’m vowing again. I continue to bounce from project to project, never sure whither I’ll turn next. Reading a lot, looking at lots of photographs, trying to Make Sense of it all.

These four images have a common thread, though I can’t articulate its dimensions very well:



might as well be Chagall


What do you see?

where DO these things come from?

I woke up this morning with the first line of a haiku waggling in my mind:

boat-namer’s hubris

and in the next few minutes the succeeding lines assembled themselves:

nautical catastrophe
Neptune’s amusement

It’s not as if I am much concerned with the naming of boats, though we’re surrounded by them here on the St. George peninsula. Perhaps I should pay more attention to this curious corner of local culture.


Each day’s reading and photography is pretty much guaranteed to present me with unexpected conjunctions and insights. This morning I read this in Ralph Eugene Meatyard (Steidl 2005), from a talk he gave to the Louisville Photographic Society in 1959:

I have, at the present time, twelve methods, series, subjects that I am working on… They are: general photographs (that is, on any subject not otherwise covered), rock photographs; wall photographs; pictures of cemetery sculptures and sympathies; ice photographs; glass photographs; light photographs; painting in ice; uncanny photographs; emotionalist photographs; no-focus photographs; and the latest, photographs made through the influence of Zen. (pg 34)

I think of Meatyard and Clarence John Laughlin and Frederick Sommer as inhabiting many of the same quarters of the photographic landscape, where the ineffable reigns supreme and everything is more (and even spookier) than it seems to be at first glance. And I’m delighted to find that I have been, though unbeknownst, treading in his footsteps with about half of those “methods, series, subjects.”

I’ve been exploring the possibilities afforded by a new lens, an 11mm ultrawide Irix. Three rock photographs from this morning’s visit to Marshall Point:


(glacial scarring on display)


(note the enormous feline presence in the NW quarter)


(glacial scarring and a wonderful splash of intrusive lighter rock)

…and, nearby, a marvelous troll maiden, with seaweed tresses:
irix07 troll maiden

I’ve been reading Blake Stimson’s The Pivot of the World: Photography and Its Nation (MIT Press, 2006), which discusses three photographic Projects: Steichen’s The Family of Man, Frank’s The Americans, and the work of Bernd and Hilla Becher. Among the rumination-worthy bits I found this passage on aesthetic experience:

…The moment of feeling the pleasure of beauty or the fear of sublimity… [quoting Adorno] “the moment in which recipients forget themselves and disappear into the work; it is the moment of being shaken. The recipients lose their footing [and] the possibility of truth, embodied in the aesthetic image, becomes tangible.” (pp 25, 26)

I have occasionally felt that frisson, recently in coming upon a wall of Bernd and Hilla Becher’s images at Pier 24 in San Francisco, and also with a few of Paul Caponigro’s prints. One simply falls into the images and is vastated, never quite the same afterwards.