Solnit says again

28 Jul

Yves Klein

The world is blue at its edges and in its depths… This light that does not touch us, does not travel the whole distance, the light that gets lost, gives us the beauty of the world, so much of which is in the color blue.

The color of that distance is the color of an emotion, the color of solitude and of desire, the color of there seen from here, the color of where you are not. And the color of where you can never go. For the blue is not in the place those miles away at the horizon, but in the atmospheric distance between you and the mountains.

- Rebecca Solnit, “The Blue of Distance”

I read A Field Guide to Getting Lost and thoroughly enjoyed it but couldn’t help but pettily rate it one star below perfect out of frustration from seeing Solnit mention many of the stories and sources I would’ve liked to have written about, sometimes quoting the same quotes I would’ve pulled from primary sources. Now I am pretty sure I have to read most of her oeuvre just to ensure I don’t accidentally plagiarize. What’s a girl to do…

Yves Klein

Jackson in the West

24 Jul

William Henry Jackson

The USGS Library also contains some public domain files of the early western expeditions. These Jacksons are from the Hayden expedition in 1871 and are titled, respectively: Yellowstone Lake. “Where the River Leaves It” and The Annie. “First Boat Ever Launched on Yellowstone Lake.”

“First” boat, eh?

USGS Photo library

22 Jul

Jim Vallance

I found the USGS Photographic Library, which is a neat little repository. I looked around briefly and was struck by these aerials of the Mt St Helens eruption. It occurs to me that I’ve never bothered to look at what the mountain looked like before the eruption:


weekend silliness: Robot Monster

19 Jul

Robot Monster promo

You can watch the full length movie, though I don’t recommend it. Someone could do a book of just weird promo shots from all the terrible sci-fi B-movies made during the ’50s.

on writing

17 Jul

First, people somehow trust words more than pictures. Second, people are very good at picking up on a mismatch between what they read and see.

Thus, writing about your photographs boils down to making sure any mismatch disappears. People will pick up on that mismatch right away. You can try to hide it with art speak or quotes, but people aren’t stupid – they’ll see that you’re trying to get away with something.

- Joerg Colberg, How to write about your photographs

This is good advice, though I don’t agree with everything Joerg says. I’d add that it’s perhaps the wrong approach to think of your statement as writing about photography. If you are going to write, then you must address issues that all writers face – writing a statement is an act of writing pure and simple, so to tie it to your images may be doing it a disservice. People make the mistake of thinking that the writing serves the same function as the image, but it does not. The writer is more present in the text than the photographer in the photo, IMO. It is more of an act of creation and needs direction more than the “found scene” of a photograph taken from reality. Reality speaks mostly for itself, at least as an object, but you can’t just throw any old words together on the page and hope it makes sense. (Is there such a thing as truly found text?) If word is thought, then there may literally need to be more thought behind writing than photographs.

So it comes down to having thoughts worth sharing. But worth is a highly subjective measure, for better and for worse. So when people say you need to have an elevator pitch version of your statement, that’s not really about the words so much as whether you have what your work is about straight in your own head.

Aside from all that, there is my personal opinion, for what is worth: I like writing that explicitly includes the author, where the narrator does not try to hide their own subjective agency. You could call that a process piece, and every process piece really only answers the same series of questions – what were you looking for in the beginning and why does it matter? Did you find it? If so, was it what you expected? If not, what did you find instead? Was that new thing worth anything? (Obviously it was if the project exists…) Throw in stuff you saw along the way to fine tune the point of what you’re saying. The end.

That script makes it almost impossible to resort to goobledegook artspeak or vague meandering, unless of course, your work doesn’t really go very deep, in which case it will be almost impossible to answer those questions at any length.

The caveat is that I’m not particularly proud of my own statements. I suppose all the longform writing I’ve been trying to do in the past year or two has become the process of trying to figure out how to write about my work meaningfully without sounding insincere or highhanded. That process eventually lead to some realizations about the strengths and, more glaringly, weaknesses in my work, which is a real hazard if you commit to the process of writing. Since writing is so dependent on thought, you can write your way into unexpected thoughts and dissatisfaction.

What then? Maybe future projects grow out of that dissatisfaction.

Colon cipher

10 Jul

One theory (Christian):

The month after Columbus returned from his first voyage, he began signing his name in a new way—a pyramid of dots and letters. Although he never explained what the mysterious signet meant, he used it on nearly everything he signed until his death 13 years later. Scholars have put forth at least eight possible explanations. One of the simplest suggests this:

Sum Altissimi Salvatoris
Xristus Maria Yosephus

This would read, “Servant I am of the Most Exalted Savior; Christ, Mary, and Joseph; Christ-bearer.”

Other explanations say the letter S used three times in a pyramid represents the Trinity; the letters mean Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus (“Holy, Holy, Holy”). Other versions take the Y as meaning Queen Isabella, Jesus, or John the Baptist.

Alternately (Jewish):

According to British historian Cecil Roth’s “The History of the Marranos,” the anagram was a cryptic substitute for the Kaddish, a prayer recited in the synagogue by mourners after the death of a close relative. Thus, Columbus’ subterfuge allowed his sons to say Kaddish for their crypto-Jewish father when he died.

Estelle Irizarry, a linguistics professor at Georgetown University, has analyzed the language and syntax of hundreds of handwritten letters, diaries and documents of Columbus… At the top left-hand corner of all but one of the 13 letters written by Columbus to his son Diego contained the handwritten Hebrew letters bet-hei, meaning b’ezrat Hashem (with God’s help). Observant Jews have for centuries customarily added this blessing to their letters. No letters to outsiders bear this mark, and the one letter to Diego in which this was omitted was one meant for King Ferdinand.


8 Jul

Retablo de San Cristobal

Saint Christopher was a third-century martyr known as “Christ’s Carrier.” Born as Offerus or Reprebus, he wished to use his enormous strength and uncommon size to serve the most powerful king in the world. But he found fault with all of them [the kings]. In his search, he met a hermit who spoke to him of offering his gift to Christ. The hermet converted and baptized him. From then on, Christopher offered to carry people form one bank to the other of a powerfully flowing river as an act of devotion.

One day he had to carry a child whose weight increased as he drew near the shore. When Christopher asked the child about this, the boy identified himself as Christ and answered that, as Lord of the Universe, he had to bear all its weight.

Jean Fouquet

4 Jul

Jean Fouquet, Virgin and Child

Also seen in the Prado, on loan from Antwerp.

I wonder what sort of art European painters would have made back in the day if religious art wasn’t so prevalent. I like Fouquet’s colors and the flatness of a lot of medieval art. I almost seems of a mind with what some photographers have been doing with flattening scenes with strobes.

And happy July 4th! This is the closest I came to finding something in red, white and blue…

Ann Agee

2 Jul

I’m not an academic. I’m just a lover – hungry, voracious – I like it all.

- Ann Agee

In March, while at Davis for a recruitment day, I attended a lecture from visiting artist Ann Agee, who works mainly in ceramics, though she also makes wallpaper, prints and installations. It was surprisingly difficult to find good images of her pieces online, since there are a lot of installation and environmental shots which make small details hard to see, and some works were not online. I love the net, but every once in a while I see something that reminds me of how badly it represents 3D work.

I would love to see a retrospective of her work at some point, see all of it up close. There’s range and variety to her work, but the way she spoke of process and concept drew a line through all of it – she skewered it all on one stick. (Maybe there are shishkebab artists and there are sirloin steak artists?)

She spoke about the irreverence that figurines can get away with in a way that large scale sculpture cannot, and about the her installation at the Philadelphia Museum. The museum wanted artists to perform “interventions” in an existing room of the museum, and she chose the kitchen because she was struck by the contrast in the functions of the kitchen and drawing room. In one, work is done while in the other, no work is done. Which room you spent most of your time in indicated which class you belonged to, at least in the context of the type of 18th and 19th century rooms that are now showcased in museums.

She said: “materials spoke of class to me.” So a choice of what medium or material can be a choice to comment on class issues.

Messein figures / physical beauty

30 Jun

How do you define the fine line between gaudy and tastefully bold? On which side of the line does this stuff fall?

I’m curious about ceramic. They seem to have a liveliness that is hard for 2D works to carry, and retain the advantage of not being limited to reality in the way that photography is.

I’m also struck by how abstract human figures can be in ceramic art and still retain personality. There is a similarity to painting. Another similarity – beauty is less of a factor these days. I can’t tell you how frustrated I am with the fact that outside purely journalistic or documentary photography, the faces that photographers want to shoot are still the beautiful ones. Maybe it’s the influence of advertising, but photographers still for the most part favor pretty people. Sometimes my online streams are such a litany of pretty faces that I start to think that us plain looking people don’t even exist in the world anymore.

I suppose it’s inevitable that we all come to instantaneous conclusions about a real face’s attractiveness as soon as we see one, so the deck is stacked, and I don’t blame that on photographers, but sometimes I wonder how much of the bias towards prettiness is a function of most widely known photographers still being male. I could use a break from all the beauty – it gets a bit oppressive in a way that men don’t quite understand (believe me though, the ad world is coming for you guys soon too). It does seem easier for males to enjoy all our depictions of female beauty without any impact on the viewer’s own sense of self. Imagine seeing chiseled shirtless dudes everywhere on billboards and beside your online content. Pretty soon you end up feeling fairly flabby and second-rate.

There’s Earth Day and Black History Month and anti-consumerism days where people are encouraged not to buy anything, but how about a week or a month where we just look at art that shies away from beauty worship?