Category Archives: images

Leonardo’s Approval


This from my friends and co-conspirators Daniel and Tamara:

Daniel says that Leonardo would approve;
that all you need for inspiration
is to look at cracks on walls.

I decided to hunt down the background to that excellent precis, and found two nice versions as extracted from Leonardo’s A Treatise on Painting:

Look at walls splashed with a number of stains, or stones of various mixed colours. If you have to invent some scene, you can see there resemblances to a number of landscapes, adorned with mountains, rivers, rocks, trees, great plains, valleys and hills, in various ways. Also you can see various battles, and lively postures of strange figures, expressions on faces, costumes and an infinite number of things, which you can reduce to good integrated form. This happens on such walls and varicoloured stones, (which act) like the sound of bells, in whose pealing you can find every name and word that you can imagine.
(from Goodreads)


Leonardo da Vinci advised the budding artist with creative block to leave behind his blank canvas and stare at the stains on walls: ‘If you look upon an old wall covered with dirt, or the odd appearance of some streaked stones, you may discover several things like landscapes, battles, clouds, uncommon attitudes, humorous faces, draperies, etc. Out of this confused mass of objects, the mind will be furnished with an abundance of designs and subjects perfectly new.’ Leonardo’s technique, which encouraged the viewer to search for meaning in chaos, referred back to myths about the origin of art in accidental shapes.

(from Tate-etc Christopher Turner ‘The deliberate accident in art’)


awaiting a blizzard

This marvelous improbability hung above the kitchen stove at Horton Landing through the 1970s, and surfaces today because I’ve been sorting through saved images on various hard drives. Perhaps I’ll add others I encounter as the day unfolds.

and here comes another one:

Much thinking lately about Time and age cohorts, bringing to mind a painting (by John Faed, 1851) which I have as a print, formerly framed and hung in a Nova Scotia parlour, sporting the title

Shakespeare und sein Zeitgenossen

It shows a fictional/imaginary meeting at the Mermaid Tavern of everybody who was anybody in London literary circles around 1600 or so. Think of them as a cohort, sharing time and space for a few years (moments?). Wikipedia decodes the Dramatis Personæ:

(from left in back) Joshua Sylvester, John Selden, Francis Beaumont,
(seated at table from left) William Camden, Thomas Sackville, John Fletcher, Sir Francis Bacon, Ben Jonson, John Donne, Samuel Daniel,
Shakespeare, Sir Walter Raleigh, the Earl of Southampton, Sir Robert Cotton, and Thomas Dekker.

The yashmak

In the present climate of peril with respect to things one mustn’t say or think, some delightful stuff is fated to be forced underground. A case in point has to do with masking and veiling: masking is now (in 2021, not in 2019) de rigeur in some settings and circumstances, but a bone of contention in others. Veiling is deprecated in some settings and circumstances, but obligatory in others. One mocks with care, and with an eye peeled for the culture police, and never quite knows where the edges are today. A case in point is packed into this image:


which I’ve described as “the yashmak of her wildest dreams” (well, it’s really ‘yaşmak’, in Turkish).

I first learned the term 60+ years ago, via an Elsa Lanchester song that skates awfully close to the incorrect in 2021:

The original image was pretty undistinguished, or perhaps just too chaotic,
and I didn’t process it the day I took the photo (there were much better candidates):
(see Sand for how and why)


but later it occurred to me that mirroring might do something interesting. The first attempt:


Hmmm. Elaborate, but not eloquent enough. So try flipping vertically:


Closer, but no cigar yet. And then I saw those eyes:

How about if I bring them together by taking a narrower slice and mirroring…
and there you have two bewitching eyes and a marvelously ornate yashmak:

So, once again: something from nothing.

verbal and visual

A week or so ago, in response to my pants people post, John-the-son asked this question, which I’ve been contemplating ever since:

I’m curious how you observe your thoughts… Like for a complex thought do you have to struggle to transpose it into words because it’s fundamentally an image?

I don’t have the answer to this, but it got me thinking about various domains I have elaborated and how the mind navigates them. How do my thoughts about music, for instance, realize themselves? How much of my anthropological thought is or has been geographic/ecological, couched in terms of numbers and distributions (which seem fundamentally imagistic). And then what of the familiar experience of waking up with words that need to be written down, and that then unfold into texts (these days often on yellow pads, then transferred into .txt files). The process of writing out my wordly thoughts is an essential part of clarifying and then making them distributable: the old “How can I know what I think until I see what I say?” keeps coming back, but with that verb see at the core. Evidence again for the visual? But much of my thinking does seem to be verbal, a cascade of words, rather than images that require to be translated into the medium of words in order for them to be expressed, recorded, transmitted, distributed.

My presumption has been that thinking is verbal, and trying to imagine what visual thinking would be like calls upon pattern and form in their visual plumage. And is perhaps exactly what I’m employing as I stalk the spaces at Drift Inn and Marshall Point. There’s little there that seems to express itself verbally—rather, a recognition of a flow of imagery punctuated by non-verbal recognition of creatures, faces, personalities that I can collect without needing to name. A pattern recognized: eyes, noses, mouths, even in their splayed and warped Cubist configuration. And the more I practise, the more easily I resolve the patterns into versions of the face, often calling upon remembered images to help to parse what’s before me.

Surely I do see things in other things; Broot has said that my photographs “make something out of nothing” where hers are more abstractive, and “make nothing out of something.” I spend a lot of every day seeing things that then reside in my imagination, as readings of sensory input.

How to account for the differences in how Broot and I see the contents of my photographs? She ‘sees’ as I do probably less than 1/4 of the time—the creatures are REAL for me, in my imagination, but often they need to be elucidated, in effect drawn out, for her to ‘see’ them. Is this just a matter of practise on my part, or ‘just’ a manifestation of the Blackmer gene for whimsy? And is whimsy a matter of manipulating, of turning up previously hidden/unobserved facets, of turning things inside out, of treating analogies/homologies as if they could be manipulated to have other readings… and is that somehow a visual/imagistic transformation?

And what of Broot’s and Kate’s highly-developed puzzle-making skills (in which I scarcely participate), an exercise in pattern-matching, a quintessence of the visual? The notions of pattern and form have very strong visual components, and are at the core of Broot’s own photography.

It’s interesting that I sometimes have to revolve an image (while processing it) in order to ‘see’ what it contains, which I might or might not have discerned in the original ‘seeing’ that prompted the digital capture/shutter release. And the process of making mirrorings and tessellations is almost entirely a post-processing activity. The thing about mirrorings is that the beings in them don’t exactly exist, but they are nascent and potential in their seed images, and once created they take on a sort of life and identity that arises in the viewer’s imagination: they are synthetic and imaginary, but recognizable as other-dimensional beings who exude personality. And they are mostly looking right at the viewer, daring the viewer to assign character and identity. The paradox that they really are unliving rock (or ice or dead wood, etc.), while appearing to radiate personality or at least personhood, is a conundrum. Mere figments? Or emergent potentials of being?


The viewer assigns features: that depression is an eye because it looks one of the ways eyes can look. If there’s an eye there may also be a mouth, or an abstraction of mouth-ness; likewise a nose, an ear, a facial contour. The viewer reads the image as if those might-bes really are. There’s so much might-be and could-be, all of it exercises in fitting the perceived with handy templates, many of which are stored-up visual algorithms from a lifetime of image viewing. But how to fit Kian’s 7 1/2 year old view into the calculus? He has the beginnings of image knowledge, and he knows the fundamental eyes-noses-mouth face formula and can apply it wittingly, but he doesn’t have the images of Queen Victoria

or Haydn/Bach
or the various Cubist unconstructions, not yet. So his “that’s like…” is in the early stages of accumulative development, and coming along very nicely.

My own highly-elaborated visual memory is a resource for naming images (often whimsically) with what I see, viz: the ‘nesting pair’ of long-billed creatures in this image:


Or consider the Cheshire Cat, in several manifestations:





Driveway ice

A skim of morning ice is the acme of ephemerality, catch it while you can. Here’s what I found soon after sunrise today:


My first thought was a mirroring, and it’s a nice enough image,
with the expected array of creatures:


And then I saw the familiar illusion in the northwest corner:


So how did it get there? Or was it even ever there, or was it just in my Mind’s Eye? Where did it go? Non-trivial questions.

And a bit later I discovered this in the southern end of the original image:


The jury is still out on what it is, though I’m tempted to see it as a 1950s hood ornament.

The Time of Sands


Sand is an ephemeral medium, intermediate in particle size between the rock which is its parent material and the ever-finer slurry of yet-further abraded silicacious dust. Easily transported by wind and water, sand flows in turbulent and chaotic motion. The emergent forms are transitory: winds and waves build and re-build patterns, sifting particles by size and weight to build dunes and ridges. The willing eye may find aesthetic pleasure in the incessant sculpting and deposition, and the imagination may be awakened to find creatures whose brief lives are rarely documented. Here are a few examples from the last week’s expeditions to Drift Inn beach, less than 2 miles from home (and see a larger sand gallery including examples from the last decade or so).

This image contains the marvelous detail below:



The lady below seems to bloom from the swirl of the upper image:


and another, a begowned goat-faced personage with claws:


A dragon materializes:



…and a rather dopey yellow being arrives as the upper image is unfolded:



how it happens


We were out at Drift Inn just after sunrise this morning, incoming tide and very cold, but a successful venture for me, with a nice set of photographs.

Most images evolve in Lightroom, and sometimes pass through GIMP before making it to Flickr. Case in point:


That one began with this not-very-promising image:


I pushed and prodded and tweaked and tried it in monochrome


before I went back to color and kept nudging until I was satisfied: