Assignment No. 2

Discussion in 'Philosophy' started by unrealnature, Jul 21, 2016.

  1. While in solitary confinement at San Quentin Prison, to complete Assignment No. 2*, inmate Michael Nelson wrote a comparative response to two photos, one by Hiroshi Sugimoto and the other by Richard Misrach.
    He winds up his handwritten work with the following:
    " ... the two photographs both remind me that no matter where I'm at in the world, what time of day or year it is, or how much money I have, there will always be someone(s) who has or can relate with the way that I am currently feeling; the emotions that I experience, good and bad, is shared by others. The photographs of the two picture screens were captured at different times and within different spaces, and are visually different, yet both share the same story and both relay to me the same message: that no one person is every really alone, in their experiences and with their feelings." — Michael Nelson
    That paragraph left me in a warm and fuzzy rosy glow of good feeling about photography for longer than it should have. Because it is dead wrong.
    If I show any two people a photograph of anything, and ask them how it makes them feel, they will argue; they will argue about what they feel, they will argue about the emotions it provokes. Nelson's "shared by others" just doesn't happen.
    I know that. Yet, when shooting, in the past, today, and, I'm sure, tomorrow, I also know that Nelson is right. When in the act of shooting, I believe, without any doubt (aka know) that "is shared by others" is simply true. This in spite of the fact that all of the post-shooting evidence proves that idea wrong.
    I know what Nelson says is true and I also know that it's not true.
    Is this the case for you, too? Does it make any difference, and if not, why not?
    [*The assignments were part of the Prison University Project at San Quentin Prison. "Michael Nelson is serving 25 to life for a first-degree murder he committed when he was 15. He is now 32." You can see the two photos here.]
  2. I don't typically worry about communicating at the moment when I am taking the picture. I take the picture to capture a moment in my life, quite apart from others' lives.
    The same goes for post processing: I do it for myself, to capture or to express something. Only if and when I decide to post or print for display do I start thinking about what the photo might be or seem to be for others--what it might mean for someone besides myself.
    There are exceptions to the above statements, but they are, I believe, generally true.
    HERE is one that I took for myself alone, perhaps because the woman interested me as a subject. In processing, I tried to capture the mood more generally, and so I perhaps began transitioning to how it might look to others. At what point precisely did I start thinking about how the photo might look to others besides myself? I am not sure.
  3. Taking photos for me, that is, fulfills both an experiential and expressive function.
    Expressing what to whom? Well, I don't worry about that, don't even think about it, when taking one of my typical photos. Again, there are exceptions, but what I am saying is generally true for me.
    Thinking back to what I said above in my first post: at what point precisely did I start thinking about the mood that I was capturing (or might be capturing)? I am not sure about that, either.
    I obviously don't know my own mind when I am shooting. I think that I do. Maybe I do not. I am going to try to be more aware of that in the future, unless thinking about my thinking begins to interfere with how I am seeing.
    At what point does taking a photo start fulfilling a communicative function? I am not sure. I am sure that it can vary.
  4. Nelson sees the pictures as witnessing a dying art; he contrasts the "passionate anger" of Sugimoto's to Misrach's "feeling of defeat." (I'm snipping from a much longer, and, IMO, very good description off Nelson's responses.)
    I am a huge fan of Misrach but not so much Sugimoto. but Nelson makes some really interesting observations about Sugimoto that give me much food for thought and reassessment.
    I'm interested in how well this solitary-confinement communing (his and mine) works versus the real world arguing we do where we don't get to assume agreement/connection.
  5. I tend to agree with Lannie on this matter. Whatever I do in connection with the process of photography ultimately is to fulfill my own purposes. In all honesty, I cannot account for how people will respond emotionally to one of my images.
    And, by the way Admin, what was the purpose of moving this to the Philosophy of Photography forum, especially since Landrum Kelly can't respond any further?
  6. Michael, this forum is fine. I started to post it here but couldn't decide if it was 'philosophical' enough. I'm happy for it to have been moved -- I like this forum. :)
    I am sorry that Lannie isn't able to post further, but at least he got to give some of his thoughts before the move.
  7. Is Michael Nelson getting warm and fuzzy because two photographers each took a photo of the a similar subject and where those two photos then conveyed to viewers similar feeling tones? That is, is he emoting because two photographers in different parts of the world felt the same way about a subject and effectively conveyed those similar feelings? And then by extension, Michael feels that since two such photographers aren't alone in their feelings about a subject, no one else is every truly alone with their feelings either? If so then it seems Michael Nelson is creating a homily for himself about his life circumstance of being isolated and confined.
    I kinda think Michael Nelson isn't arguing that his own emotional response to the photographs as a viewer shows unity of reactions across viewers. He instead may be arguing that the unity of mind existing between two photographers is emotionally meaningful to him as a viewer, emotionally meaningful because if the two photographers aren't alone in their perceptions, their treatment of a subject being so similar, then neither is he, Michael Nelson alone and isolated.
    Solitary confinement can be a metaphor for what Julie describes in the OP: "...[viewers of the same photograph] will argue; they will argue about what they feel, they will argue about the emotions it provokes. Nelson's "shared by others" just doesn't happen."

    On the one hand "shared by others" feelings help reduce our sense of isolation and, on the other hand, arguing can exacerbate our sense of isolation. Nelson's circumstances are confinement and isolation. So I think that Nelson's interpretation of the photographs begins with the photographs representing 'significant spaces' (worth looking at) and then he conjures. We conjure as viewers. What we come up with tells us and others about ourselves.
  8. Norman 202

    Norman 202 i am the light

    Nelson sees the pictures as witnessing a dying art; he contrasts the "passionate anger" of Sugimoto's to Misrach's "feeling of defeat."
    I'm confused. Is the dying art photography? And if so, can it be dying if it invokes feelings of anger and defeat?
  9. Norman 202

    Norman 202 i am the light

    Oh, right. Makes sense. Thanks
  10. Lannie and Michael, I don't think Michael is talking about 'communicating.' I don't equate emotions and feelings in common to be about communicating. I think maybe Charles is circling this same difference as well, but I'm not entirely sure ...
    Marshall McCluhan has written that "Objects are unobservable. Only relationships among objects are observable." Relationships, relating, is not immediately to do with communication; it is about finding, making, discovering, exploring, feeling connections and shared-ness. What would ensue 'because of' those relationships would then progress into efforts at 'communication,' but that's 'reaction,' or subsequent to that first condition of relational development or positioning.
    Phil, I'm resisting the very great temptation to go off on our own comparison of the Sugimoto/Misrach pictures -- much as I would love to do that. It's a big, fat, juicy temptation ... the two pictures are rich.
  11. Norman 202

    Norman 202 i am the light

    Enlighten us.
  12. Marshall McCluhan has written that "Objects are unobservable. Only relationships among objects are observable."​
    Except for a banana peal laying on a white floor ripe to be slipped on. There, an object by itself that communicates by observing it.
  13. What is a banana peel? What is a kitchen floor?
  14. Didn't say it was a kitchen floor, just a white field much like a black field in this famous photo...
    There are pictures of one object in a clear background as if floating in space. It still communicates something. It's still observable.
  15. yet both share the same story and both relay to me the same message: that no one person is every really alone, in their experiences and with their feelings." — Michael Nelson

    This is purely Michael Nelson's experience. For instance, for me, both pictures are rather uninteresting and mundane, saying practically nothing. Julie feels they are "rich," demonstrating how different we can all be when it comes to art.
  16. Circling around what?
  17. The key part of what Steve quotes is "in their experiences and with their feelings."
    Steve, when you are making your own pictures are you thinking "I know this will be uninteresting and mundane to many people" ... ?
    Is disagreement the purpose of art?
  18. "A photograph - and art in general - is only as limited as the perspective we choose to take on it."​
    But does it not entail a sense of or belief in an engagement with another person or other people? And beyond that, a desire for convergence? I say the last because people argue so aggressively, so vehemently for the validity of their own response to art -- what are they trying to do? Why does it matter and what were/are they expecting?
    I'm also a little bit curious about the almost unanimous belief that we are all inevitably 'influenced' everywhere and all the time [see this thread]. Does 'influence' not include emotions, relations and feelings?
    While, as described in the linked thread, I know that I can shoot sometimes outside of influence, shooting that way is (1) very hard to do and (2) the resulting pictures are essentially meaningless to anybody but me (and to me as well when not in that state of mind). It is the challenge of compositing to 'knit' them into my own ideas of meaningfulness. So I doubt that what I do is what anybody claiming to shoot without awareness of what other's feel or think is the one and the same thing. If it is, I salute you for doing effortlessly what I do only with great difficulty.
  19. There's no point in communicating something that's exclusively ours, if the goal is for others to understand or relate to what we're trying to communicate. So we take what's uniquely ours and craft it into something that's also universal.​
    Shooting interiors under available light of my own apartment built in the mid '80's was something I thought exclusively my own thing no one would get. At least for now, maybe.
    I've never felt settled in any of the more than 16 or so buildings I've lived since the day I set out on my own in the late '70's. Most of the modern designs and floor plans of apartments and houses in the past 35 years look extremely homogeneous and sterile especially those in big cities during the '80's Texas oil boom. I hated living in them because they just didn't have that warm, homey, lived in look as those built in the '40's. But I couldn't envision an alternative. I never stayed in them long enough to be motivated to hang pictures.
    Now I'm living and settled in one of those modern apartments now considered old by today's standards with no new IKEA styled modern furniture, just thrift store hand me downs. For some reason the feel of it is not the same as I felt back in the '80's but it's not what I expected or could've imagined as the alternative back then. It's different and because of that it seems special and looks that way.
    Is it the home I've always wanted in my '20's? No. But back then I didn't know what I wanted anyway. Where I live now the looks are a result of things coming together and is what it is mainly from new technology of daylight balanced lights, old carpet, weird looking mixed styles of tile flooring, popcorn textured ceiling (I've always hated but not now), fiber glass mobile home styled bathtub and a circular floor plan of narrow halls and efficiently placed closets. I still don't want to live in a brand new home or apartment. Couldn't afford it anyway.
    So what I'm seeing is my generation's look/style of antique, old homes that don't look as one would expect old to look going by how we defined how homes looked from the 1940's into the '70's. It's differently aged modern and it's quite eerie looking. Almost a parallel universe style of aged modern.
    How do I communicate that in a photo so others get it?
    The only answer I could come up with is to just shoot it and make it as accurate looking as possible (no fancy stylized color effect or creative lighting placement) because this "new" old look has not been photographed and I'm betting many don't know how that would look or look different when photographed.
    Would they get that that is what is being communicated?
  20. Julie said:
    Steve, when you are making your own pictures are you thinking "I know this will be uninteresting and mundane to many people" ... ?​

    Well, yes. I am aware that some of my photos will be regarded as mundane and cliched by some people, and other people will have the opposite response that "its too abstract" or it doesn't follow the "rule of thirds." Many of the portraits I've done are way too informal for some people's tastes, but for me that is what makes them alive. Truthfully, for me many of the post modern, conceptual photographers make no connection with me. And, there are a lot of people with cameras that are trying hard to be "artistic" and sometimes do something that impacts me and otherwise don't quite make it. Its complicated because we are all in a different place with this medium. Nevertheless, I love a quote by Ken Robinson (TED talk on How Schools Kill Creativity): "if you are not prepared to be wrong, you will never do anything original." Hence, I applaud anyone who "is prepared to be wrong" and is not afraid to be original, even if the audience may be small. Sorry about the stream of consciousness here!
  21. Steve, I agree with what you wrote above, but I think it's not about what I'm after, here.
    'Wrong' is a later word. It just confirms that you didn't think you were wrong before. Or if you did know you were wrong before and did it anyway, you were simply lying. Further, "uninteresting and mundane" isn't about 'wrong' or right. There is photography, good photography, that is intentionally and effectively uninteresting and mundane.
    Read Tim's post, above yours. What do you sense that he's doing? Don't you recognize a familiar feeling, that mental moving around like a person spinning the dial on the radio trying to find a channel, a connection? When you are shooting, when you have the camera to your eye and your subject there, ready, why don't you press the button? What are you waiting for? What will be the feeling of 'now!' that makes you 'take' the picture? Aren't you doing what Tim describes himself doing, above? Feeling for a connection of some kind? With who? With what, when?
    Compare Tim's description, above, to the way Lannie shoots; or at least to what, by his own description in many threads, I take to be Lannie's way of shooting. It seems to me to be more like the instinctive reaction one makes to catch something that is falling. Of course you put out your hand to catch it! Of course you press the shutter when you saw this or that ... But I still see connection in that "of course." Why is it "of course"? Isn't the discovery of that "of course!" an even more primal (if unoriginal) connection than a more considered, particular connection such as Tim's effort?
  22. There is photography, good photography, that is intentionally and effectively uninteresting and mundane.​
    Julie, you believe this and many do, but I’m not in that camp. For me, there is no “effectively uninteresting and mundane.” To make that jump is an intellectual process that I am not interested in doing.
    Reading Tim’s description above I get what he is trying to do, which he explains quite well. But, it is even unclear to him if a viewer would understand this simply looking at one of his photographs. I applaud him for attempting a creative way of expressing himself and his ideas. It’s different from what my “process” is when taking pictures, but that’s OK.
    My own creative process is more typical of improvisation. We now know that during improvisation the frontal cortex, where our usual thinking and planning is done, is “dimmed” in a process called “Hypofrontality.” This allows deeper parts of the brain to interact to come up with entirely new and un-predicted ideas. Some artists even feel as if the new ideas are coming from “outside” of themselves, which would make sense with what we now know about the brain. Very fascinating. Its nice when the result is interesting to other people! Perhaps this is what you are referring to describing Lannie’s “of course,” “an even more primal connection.”
    When I look at other people’s work, I want to sense that “hypofrontality” even though that sounds crazy. Maybe I’m just imaging it. If something seems too planned, thought about, intentional, I lose interest. I want to sense the improvisation, the energy of the deep brain processes emerging into consciousness in that moment of pressing the shutter. It still has to have some organization though, not just random noise. Some people do like that too, however. I especially like strong geometry that stimulates my visual cortex. But that’s just me and what I like. As you point out, there are much larger criteria used by other people and institutions.
    I think all humans are born with a creative capacity. It is necessary for survival if you really think about it. I would expect there would be a wide variety of creative expressions that vary tremendously between individuals, providing different appeal to different people. “Different strokes for different folks.”
  23. Nowadays with every scene I see that compels me to photograph it I ask myself, if my life had taken a different path socially and/or economically, would it have still lead me to photographing that scene.
    My answer to that question on over 1000 shots has always been a resounding no.
    In that sense photography has become a sort of mystical and a bit metaphysical journey that is directly connected to the decisions I've made in the past I had no idea at the time would affect my choices on what I'ld be photographing today by just living in the now and appreciating it and celebrating it by photographing it.
    20 years ago I would've never thought of photographing a bathroom of a 30 year old apartment I would be living in and have it look the way it does in this thread. There's something of a reassuring mysticism about life in general being able to realize that through photography.
    If I had led a life more similar to a lot of folks, the subjects it would've led me to photograph would most likely look similar in style and subject matter. In a way it's a photographic philosophy in its purist sense and I believe explains why my images look so different from other photographers both amateur and professional.
    I look at photos of renovated apartment rooms posted on AirBnB and none look like the one I posted previously with regards to color, composition, contrast and subject matter. Why is that? Different motivation? It's certainly a mystery to me.
    Not saying one has to be poor and suffer in life to come up with photos that look different from everyone elses, but my take is the road less traveled is most likely going to present scenes that would've never entered the photographer's mind if they hadn't gone down that path.
  24. Steve, a photograph doesn't come from the mind -- it comes from the camera. While I can understand hypofrontality in one's response to a photograph or what you're looking at while shooting, it can't be what makes the picture. You know that, I'm just emphasizing it because choosing to pay attention to that reaction and choosing which shot to make because of it is a deliberate intellectual process, IMO.
    I don't think improvisation is un-intellectual at all. I think it's intensely intellectual -- I sense it in Tim's description; I don't sense it in Lannie's self-descriptions. The putting our one's hand to catch a falling object kind of photography is knee-jerk, the opposite of improvisation. That kind of unthinking response is what the war criminal is claiming when he says he was "just following orders." By contrast, improvisation is the perfect prison escape: intensely intellectual because, within impossible constraints, it nevertheless, finds a way to get free.
    Unless you make an effort to see differently, or to "follow" the improviser, no matter how difficult it may be, you won't get to where he got to.
    Trying to think of work I think shows improvisation and that we can use as a visual in this discussion, maybe that of Mark Cohen -- his Dark Knees?
    *Tim has posted while I was writing this, and, with a quick scan of what he wrote, I think it ties in with what I'm trying to get at.
  25. Checked out your link to Mark Cohen's Dark Knees, Julie and even though as he indicates he was stuck in Wilkes-Barre in Pennsylvania for 50 years he still managed to come up with images that look nothing like mine or anyone elses.

    Most of Cohen's image samples in the linked page look like random spur of the moment candid's which my digital camera doesn't do such a good job without flash especially shooting people. He uses flash which I refuse to use due to how it made my early attempts at photography with film look like my aunt shot them.

    Decisions, decisions. What a difference they make.
  26. Julie, you stated: “I don't think improvisation is un-intellectual at all. I think it's intensely intellectual –“
    This is the opposite of what I am saying. Here’s a quote from the discussion of the MRI research study of jazz musicians improvising during an MRI brain scan to monitor brain activity:
    Neural Substrates of Spontaneous Musical Performance: An fMRI Study of Jazz Improvisation
    Charles J. Limb , Allen R. Braun Published: February 27, 2008
    Our results strongly implicate a distinctive pattern of changes in prefrontal cortical activity that underlies the process of spontaneous musical composition. Our data indicate that spontaneous improvisation, independent of the degree of musical complexity, is characterized by widespread deactivation of lateral portions of the prefrontal cortex together with focal activation of medial prefrontal cortex. This unique pattern may offer insights into cognitive dissociations that may be intrinsic to the creative process: the innovative, internally motivated production of novel material (at once rule based and highly structured) that can apparently occur outside of conscious awareness and beyond volitional control. Italics added​
    That describes my experience when taking photographs. I shift my awareness somehow to a purely visual mode and “turn off” my internal thinking dialog/chatter. My finger presses the shutter when my visual brain senses the “right” formulations of visual material I’m looking at. I don’t have any sense of control, but instead, I “let it happen.”
    In an interview some time ago, Led Zepplin’s singer Robert Plant put it this way: “"I never even think about these things. When you're in a recording studio and you've got a microphone, and the tape's rolling, and everybody's playing, you just do it. You go into this place that makes sense for the moment.
    That’s it for me too: you just do it. You go into this place that makes sense for the moment. And with a camera, that moment is 1/30 of a second.
    Lets face it. You are very creative and an intellectual. I am very creative but I’m more “psychological” and non-intellectual. We’re always going to be talking from opposite sides of the street. That’s OK. Because we are different, our work is very different and that just enriches the world by creating a greater variety of visual experience for the viewer. Truce.
  27. Steve, I don't disagree with what you've written, above. Let me try to clarify why I say that improvisation is intensely intellectual -- and why I think it is so even for you, by your own description (and from looking at your work).
    Do you play basketball? I do, if that means knowing how to dribble, pass and shoot. I don't play well, but I can do those things. Even five-year-olds can do those things after a fashion. What makes a Michael Jordon different from me and a five-year-old is not that he can dribble, pass and shoot better than we can, but that he has the game in mind. Jordon has no idea how any particular game is going to unfold; he has not idea what he's going to do, probably even as he is doing it (or was doing it before he retired). But all the time, he has the game in mind. Intensely, intellectually, he has the game in mind.
    When Miles Davis plays, the music could go anywhere, but it never goes out of Miles Davis's game. Nor does Led Zeppelin music go out of the Led Zeppelin game. They don't know what they're going to play but they have the game in mind (in this case, a game of their own private devising).
    I think you (Steve) have a game. Tim has a game; Mark Cohen knows his game. Most photographers have no game; they dribble, they pass, they shoot.
    The cool thing is how we who are watching Jordon's and Davis's and Zeppelin's and your and Tim's and Mark and Sugimoto and Misrach's games can 'get it' just because of the way you do it. What is a game, anyway? Well, for starters, it's not knowing how to dribble, pass and shoot.
    Side note: There are questions about the validity of fMRI studies.
  28. The game mentioned in this discussion and all it's refined definitions I would more describe as a language of intuition based on the fact that Julie, Steve and myself and others mention not having to think when they're in the defining moment of tripping the shutter.
    But what's been left out is that we're referencing as example our description of other like Led Zeppelin, Miles Davis and Michael Jordan as viewers/interpreters of their language of intuition.
    Who can argue Mark Cohen may have culled through all his improvisational, spontaneous shots and selected a few for publication which now adds another form/level of intuitive based decision making. The viewer of his work wouldn't know if that was the defining moment.
    All of this is still defined by outsiders viewing/interpreting what a culmination of the creator's decisions evoke to each individual. It can't be parsed and analyzed with an MRI scan due to so many variables outside of the creative process.
    An amateur may be spontaneous and shoot snaps on the fly like Cohen using front flash and maybe only one looks like a Mark Cohen, but the amateur still tosses it and chooses to keep something any of us who can recognize good decision making in the creative process would define as amateur and without purpose and originality.
    It still requires a viewer/interpreter to recognize this. Creators don't have to think about what they do because of this.
    This might explain it better. One doesn't dissect gossamer.
  29. Tim, Julie and Phil, all good points!
    Julie I think we have a lot of similar thoughts about creativity, but the use of the word “intellectual” has a different meaning for each of us. Sort of a semantical glitch. Earlier you said “Steve, a photograph doesn't come from the mind -- it comes from the camera.” My mind “presents” to me photographs spontaneously and involuntarily frequently throughout the day, every day. When I have a camera I simply take the picture that was already presented to me by my mind. I don’t ask for them, they just happen. That’s why I don’t feel it as an intellectual activity. It’s “awareness,” but not “thinking.” All of this does not make me creative at all, but if I do something creative, this is how it happens. Using your game analogy, I must have a game, like you say, but I’m not “thinking” about it, it just is there. Where does this game come from? I like Phil’s observation: “I am the world and the world is a reflection of my thinking and past experiences.” I think that is a good explanation. But I would emphasize "past experiences" like all the images I've seen in my life and the emotional impact they had on me, shaping my preferences and thinking.
    Why are some people more creative than others? That’s an interesting question that probably has to do with genetics more than anything, unless you want to factor in being an “old soul” or something like that. Like Phil says: “Whenever a great player comes along, the game has been changed yet all the rules are still the same. And this is true in sports, photography, music, . . .” A mystery!
    Julie, the MRI article is interesting, thanks. I have no doubt though, that creativity is a very different brain activity than analytical thinking. There’s a good TED talk about writers and the Muse in regards to creativity by Elizabeth Gilbert, who wrote “Eat, Pray, Love that gives some fascinating examples of the way some people experience their creativity:
    Great discussion folks.
  30. “Whenever a great player comes along, the game has been changed ... "
    I don't think so, just because I think there is no 'the' game; a game is individual -- Jordon's game is not Magic Johnson's game. But they work on each other; feed off of or nourish or goad ...
    So why is my argument of yesterday completely wrong? Why does Sugimoto, who is kind of a nerd with almost zero interest in social-commentary, write of his theaters series (from which one half of Assignment No. 2 comes):
    'One evening while taking photographs at the American Museum of Natural History, I had a near-hallucinatory vision. My internal question-and-answer session leading up to this vision went something like this: "Suppose you shoot a whole movie in a single frame?" The answer: "You get a shining screen." Immediately I began experimenting in order to realize this vision.'​
    Now, here is what Michael Nelson wrote in his assignment:
    'In "Theatres," Sugimoto uses the darkness of a theatre to frame the illuminated screen, the point of the photograph that the eye is forcibly drawn to. The light shines outward, exposing what appears to be a stage, and the architecture of the theatre, including the ceiling. The light attempts to further seep downward and in between the first two rows of seats, causing them to look like rows of teeth. ... ' [he goes on, but that's enough to make my point]​
    Nelson doesn't get, has no reason to get, that the screen is anything more than empty, so he 'reads' what else is given.
    Backing up to my basketball analogy, if you had never seen a basketball game and someone showed you a five second clip of Jordon in all his glory, what would you see? Not the regulation game, but definitely not nothing. I think you would, in fact, see 'Jordon's game' (which is not 'basketball' per se) in a sort of minimal manifestation -- a haiku, or just the aspect, the scent of his game.
    Add to that the slant or inflection caused by the 'and-Misrach' presentation of the Sugimoto theatre, and I think it is still the photographers' games that are being seen, just not in ways that are easily reached when asked for a verbal response.
    Applying this to my OP bit:
    ... when shooting, in the past, today, and, I'm sure, tomorrow, I also know that Nelson is right. When in the act of shooting, I believe, without any doubt (aka know) that "is shared by others" is simply true. This in spite of the fact that all of the post-shooting evidence proves that idea wrong.
    I know what Nelson says is true and I also know that it's not true.​
    If you are at a performance, be it basketball or jazz, the one-thing filling of your mind by that performance makes you (or at least it does me) feel as close to the other people in the audience as I ever will with people I have never and will never meet or know anywhere else. I compare that to the way I feel when shooting -- all by myself but with the camera to my eye. There's just one-thing there (in eye, in mind) and an audience feels as 'there' to me as it does at a public performance.
    But when, outside of that performance, when there is not only not a one-thing visual or audio performance presentation, when I have to verbalize, when myself and my ongoing concerns in all their multiplicity, are now part of the performance, the meanings of what I see or saw adhere, infect, colonize, etc. and I'm back in all my differences.
    The two photo-slice out of two different games (Sugimoto/Misrach) is kind of interesting. Try putting one of Steve's portraits next to one of Hellen van Meene's, for example. Or try one of Tim's interiors beside on of Joel Meyerowitz's Cape Light interiors.
    Last minor note to this too-long post. This morning, I was trying to think of any photographer that I like who doesn't shoot to a game. I came up with only one, but what a doozy -- Edward Weston. He seemed to shoot whatever caught his fancy. For example, when he got his Guggenheim, he and Charis just drove around California looking for "Westons." This worried me, but I finally figured out that he did have a game, it just wasn't about content ... but I won't say what I think it was about; I'll leave you in suspense.
  31. Great stuff Phil! I'm a big fan of all those guitarists because of their unusual level of creativity. "How does one do this?" you ask. I posted a link earlier to a TED talk by writer Elizabeth Gilbert on creativity that I think is pertinent to your question. I'm going to post just some excerpts from this talk because they are transcribed by the TED organization. I'll break it up into two posts.
    But, ancient Greece and ancient Rome -- people did not happen to believe that creativity came from human beings back then, OK? People believed that creativity was this divine attendant spirit that came to human beings from some distant and unknowable source, for distant and unknowable reasons. The Greeks famously called these divine attendant spirits of creativity "daemons." Socrates, famously, believed that he had a daemon who spoke wisdom to him from afar.
    The Romans had the same idea, but they called that sort of disembodied creative spirit a genius. Which is great, because the Romans did not actually think that a genius was a particularly clever individual. They believed that a genius was this, sort of magical divine entity, who was believed to literally live in the walls of an artist's studio, kind of like Dobby the house elf, and who would come out and sort of invisibly assist the artist with their work and would shape the outcome of that work.
    And this is how people thought about creativity in the West for a really long time. And then the Renaissance came and everything changed, and we had this big idea, and the big idea was, let's put the individual human being at the center of the universe above all gods and mysteries, and there's no more room for mystical creatures who take dictation from the divine. And it's the beginning of rational humanism, and people started to believe that creativity came completely from the self of the individual. And for the first time in history, you start to hear people referring to this or that artist as being a genius, rather than having a genius.
    And I got to tell you, I think that was a huge error. You know, I think that allowing somebody, one mere person to believe that he or she is like, the vessel, you know, like the font and the essence and the source of all divine, creative, unknowable, eternal mystery is just a smidge too much responsibility to put on one fragile, human psyche. It's like asking somebody to swallow the sun. It just completely warps and distorts egos, and it creates all these unmanageable expectations about performance. And I think the pressure of that has been killing off our artists for the last 500 years.
    . . . And how are we to relate to it in a way that will not make us lose our minds, but, in fact, might actually keep us sane?​
  32. Continuing on:
    And for me, the best contemporary example that I have of how to do that is the musician Tom Waits, who I got to interview several years ago on a magazine assignment. And we were talking about this, and you know, Tom, for most of his life, he was pretty much the embodiment of the tormented contemporary modern artist, trying to control and manage and dominate these sort of uncontrollable creative impulses that were totally internalized.
    But then he got older, he got calmer, and one day he was driving down the freeway in Los Angeles, and this is when it all changed for him. And he's speeding along, and all of a sudden he hears this little fragment of melody, that comes into his head as inspiration often comes, elusive and tantalizing, and he wants it, it's gorgeous, and he longs for it, but he has no way to get it. He doesn't have a piece of paper, or a pencil, or a tape recorder.
    So he starts to feel all of that old anxiety start to rise in him like, "I'm going to lose this thing, and I'll be haunted by this song forever. I'm not good enough, and I can't do it." And instead of panicking, he just stopped. He just stopped that whole mental process and he did something completely novel. He just looked up at the sky, and he said, "Excuse me, can you not see that I'm driving?"
    "Do I look like I can write down a song right now? If you really want to exist, come back at a more opportune moment when I can take care of you. Otherwise, go bother somebody else today. Go bother Leonard Cohen."
    And his whole work process changed after that. Not the work, the work was still oftentimes as dark as ever. But the process, and the heavy anxiety around it was released when he took the genie, the genius out of him where it was causing nothing but trouble, and released it back where it came from, and realized that this didn't have to be this internalized, tormented thing. It could be this peculiar, wondrous, bizarre collaboration, kind of conversation between Tom and the strange, external thing that was not quite Tom.​
  33. So, I believe, that creativity does come from within us, but it doesn't always feel like we are the author, but more the conduit. Frusciante "breathing a guitar" or when I watch Hendrix too, or any of the greats in jazz I sense that its flowing through them and they are in a special place to allow that to happen. Now some people are much more "hands on" in the creative process and think a lot about what they are going after, and there are a lot of people where its a blending of the two approaches. I think it is more like a spectrum of approaches and all variations are valid and can produce truly creative work.
  34. Gilbert mentions that maybe its better to put the "genius" back into some mysterious "other" entity that, when we are lucky, it "gives us" our inspiration, rather than put the burden on the individual. Interesting thesis.
  35. Hello, other bodies ...
    Steve, I love hearing about ways to or into (or, better, out of) frames of mind that inflame or else give a terrible thirst-for making. I love that what Gilbert is saying rings true for you and that you give it to me/us in these forums which are, too often, IMO, the forums of "NO!" and/or of ridiculing other people's passions.
    However (there is always a however ... ) I wish she hadn't included a this-not-that quality to her talk. I think there are as many ways to creativity as there are people on the planet; it can be rational or irrational; it can come from outside or inside; it is not separate from or 'before' its manifestations. That being said, I think it's more valuable than you (may) know to have posted Gilbert's description to this forum because, if there are more people who find her way liberating or inspiring, then that's fantastic.
    Now, turning to Phil, who seems to have suggested that an awareness of the artist is a negative ("When I listen to Hendrix or Zappa, I can always hear them playing a guitar.") On that, think about this, from Lucy Soutter's book Why Art Photography?:
    " ... the photographs of [Nan] Goldin, [Wolfgang] Tillmans et al. are performative in that they go beyond stating the visual facts of subcultural lifestyles in announcing the presence of the maker's body within the world of the work. Such work uses visual clues of subject matter and photographic style to foreground an embodied, subjective "I" that guides the viewer's looking. Lowry and Green do not regard the subjectivity that emerges from the work as leading towards any kind of interpretation but rather as pointing mutely."​
    Awareness of the presence of the maker is an integral part of some kinds of expression/work. Not the only way, and/but not necessarily better or worse.
    Finally, to nudge all of this a little back on topic, this quote from Deleuze and Guattari is really interesting when thinking of a 'game' outside of itself, as spectators; i.e. once we spectators leave the stadium or the musical venue or the single-artist show or book, or, as with Assignment No. 2 when comparing/contrasting work by two different artists:
    "We will never ask what a book means, as signifier or signified; we will not look for anything to understand in it. We will ask what it functions with, in connection with what other things it does or does not transmit intensities, in which other multiplicities its own are inserted and metamorphosed, and with what other bodies it makes its own converge."​
    ... there, again are those "other bodies."
  36. Julie, to be fair, I only pulled some quotes of Gilbert out of context without explaining the main thesis of her talk, which was about her own struggle with having a best selling book at a relatively young age and now having to measure up to that standard the rest of her life. I agree with you "there are as many ways to creativity as there are people on the planet"
    I have to admit that last quote you give regarding Phil's comments I literally do not understand or comprehend! I just don't analyze as deeply as some people I guess.
  37. "that last quote"
    Which one? I'm going to elaborate on the Deleuze one because I think it's more both obscure and more interesting.
    I think he's saying, what does the [thing] do? Not what does it mean (in and for itself), but what does it do? What does a photograph, what does Michael Jordon, or Miles Davis, or Steve J Murray do to another person?
    Michael Nelson has been in prison for more than fifteen years. He's now in solitary confinement, where he says, "the level of noise here is always at a high volume; I can barely hear my own thoughts! I have yet to receive my personal belongings ... " What does a Sugimoto, or Misrach, or Steve J Murray photograph, or a Michael Jordon performance, or Miles Davis's music do to or for Michael Nelson in his life? Deleuze: " We will ask what it functions with, in connection with what other things it does or does not transmit intensities, in which other multiplicities its own are inserted and metamorphosed, and with what other bodies it makes its own converge." How (if at all) do those things weave or hook-into or become ingested into Michael Nelson's life?
    Not 'what do they mean?' but 'what do they do?'
    Further, this from Richard Serra on not knowing what a thing 'means': "The doubt and anxiety, and frustration that a viewer might feel, in confronting a work and then carrying that confrontation home with him, could be the stimulus that would bring him back not the same experience but to another experience of the work." What did that art do?
    A more realistic comment from Serra, which is very applicable to photography as a medium that crosses so many usage boundaries, about whether on not the viewer, any viewer will carry "that confrontation home with him." He says: "I know that there is absolutely no audience for sculpture, as there is none for poetry and experimental film. There is, however, a big audience for products that give people what they want and supposedly need but not more than they understand. Marketing is based on this premise."
    Many people are not interested in "more than they understand." As art is not entertainment, this means that those "many people" aren't interested in art. So it is and always has been. Oh well.
  38. I do understand what you mean by "what does a photograph do?" as opposed to "what does it mean?" I just received a nice comment by a person who has been looking at a series of photos I've posted on my facebook page of portraits I did in the late 1960's:
    I don't know these people, and I still love each image in the series. They capture something that seems intriguing, and causes me to study the image further. I wish I could put my finger on it, but the humanity seems to come through in each one.​
    Its clear the photos are "doing" something to this viewer. He's not talking about their "meaning." And truthfully, I had no "meaning" in mind when I took them, just an attempt to capture them as they were at that time/moment, and maybe in the back of my mind thinking that there was something important about just doing that.
  39. Meaning/doing in photography is really interesting because it parallels closely the inform/persuade threads of upholding/departing-from the documentary so central to photography of all kinds.
    "In essence, it is not what the photographs bring to us that is ultimately persuasive. It is what we bring to the photographs; and what we bring is what makes these photographs matter."​
    That's Daniel A. Lindley. Jr. writing about Walker Evans's sharecropper photos from Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (I hope you're familiar with them; they are among his most well-known). Lindley goes on:
    "We bring ourselves into these photographs because there are points of similarity between our experience of the world and the contents of Evans' images. Other photographers working for the FSA or for the magazines -- Arthur Rothstein or Margaret Bourke-White, say -- accomplished less than Evans because they sought out and accentuated differences between themselves (and us) and their subjects, and in so doing made their audience's interpretation of their photographs an easy, often trivial, task."​
    This leads Lindley to note an "apparent contradiction": difference is necessary for meaning/communication. If I say to you, "Red is red" there is neither meaning nor communication. If I say "Cherries are red" then both occur, because 'cherries' are different from 'red.' Lindley presents this conundrum: "we expect the documentary to emphasize differences, and we are moved by the unexpected attention to the common ground shared by ourselves and these subjects of Evans' camera." He goes on:
    "For example, in the photograph of Floyd Burroughs' wash stand the whiteness of the towel (in fact a piece of flour sack), the readiness of the enamel dish, the pristine floor, all reflect a shared preoccupation with neatness and cleanliness. But even more important, the whole photograph speaks of an acute sense of where things belong, a sense of the 'rightness' of how we arrange our own things, our own rooms, the idiosyncratic rightness of comfortable habit.
    "A small correspondence, perhaps; but take the placement of a similar dish at the exact center of the mound of earth over a child's grave. The dish is placed as a gesture, a reflection of the universal need to 'do something' in the face of death. The mound underneath the plate seems to have taken the shape of the body underneath it, whether it really has or not; but the plate sits lightly on top, white and very touching, a sign that there are people about, still alive and still caring: as we are, and as we do."​
    ... "as we are, and as we do."
  40. I always enjoy Szarkowski. Actually 'enjoy' is too weak; he always has something fresh to say and writes it beautifully. And I'm already doing a mental argument with the last line of the quote (billiard table isn't quite right ...). I love that kind of provocation. Thanks!
    I am astounded that you bought Assignment No. 2. That is just fantastic! I will look forward to your response to it. (And the proceeds go to a good cause.)
  41. ... while waiting for further on Assignment No. 2 ...
    ... this book, Astres Noirs, which is by two people, Katrin Koenning and Sarker Protick, using phone cameras, is IMO a really good example of how images can flair and thrive off of each other.
    Publisher's description:
    Astres noirs is the debut book for both Katrin Koenning and Sarker Protick, artists who live thousands of miles apart whose peculiar photographic wanderings create a hauntingly beautiful dialogue. This book presents photographs taken on mobile phone cameras, devices used to capture their everyday in an impulsive and almost obsessional way, documenting life from their doorsteps to far afield.​
    Sounds awful, doesn't it? Give it a look; I think you may be surprised.
    To my eye, none of the pictures is really outstanding on its own, but seen in pairs, as dialog, as they are presented in the book, I think they really work, sometimes brilliantly.
    See page-spread pairs of images from the book here (click the next button to page through it).
    See a Photo-eye blog post review of the book here.
    I'm still mulling over how the energy of their image pairs (but not the pictures solo) snags me into their conversation.
  42. I got very much the same overall feeling that you do, though you make interesting additions (in particular, "as a call to be heard, to not be alone with his feelings" -- that whole paragraph).
    Something I'm noticing as I repeatedly open and re-read the project -- thank you for posting the image of what it looks like -- is how, in addition to the OP points about pictures connecting and reaching out, the frame being a locus of interaction; now I'm feeling the screens in the Sugimoto and the Misrach do the opposite. They have an intensely centric feel to them.
    On my first viewings, I took the screens in the two pictures pretty much as (movie) screens, but after many further viewings, I'm noticing that they have kind of a devouring, demanding, vortex inward draw; they are needy; they want to be filled. Like mouths (as Nelson has pointed out, already) but also like blank sheets of paper needing to be used or filled or something.
    I had been thinking of them as sort of locations of time-passing-passed both literally and figuratively -- losing power, dispersing, dissolving -- but the more I look at them the more they become ... highly seductive, inward-drawing. I could even see them as religious icons (exaggerating in order to make my point).
  43. The over-use of solitary confinement in this country has been widely criticized and supposedly is going to be used more fairly in the future. We shall see.
    An interesting comment from Doug Dertinger in the linked interview you posted, after they got into the eternal question of the "truth" of photographs. The teachers explained that there was no truth and the prisoners weren't happy about that (having been subjected to judgment ... ). Here's what Dertinger said:
    "They explained it to us once: They get one picture from home once every 6 months, they pour [sic] over every detail of it and the desire is to create a narrative that they can fully believe and fully immerse themselves in. It was hard for them to understand that at first, at least, that there could be five different opinions about what a photograph was and each one kind of had equal weight."​
    That goes to my conundrum of the OP, but also to a kind of craving that we all have for there to be somewhere that we can kind of melt into a safe place -- "home," or the imagination or the theater, maybe?
    Another Dertinger quote from your linked interview:
    "Was it Wordsworth that said the imagination is the untraveled traveler? It seemed like when we went to class we all went on these journeys that were very significant for all of us. They were ready to travel."​
  44. Now I have to explain why I don't like James Casebere ... (a good exercise for me).
    Casebere's work is (IMO) commenting on the way we see. He assumes, as has most of philosophy since Descartes and therefore general popular belief, that we perceive meaningless sensory input via our senses, and the mind puts it all together into a coherent whole. By using models and letting us see that they're models in unavoidable but not overpowering ways, Casebere is making us notice how we use those cardboard pieces and painted colors to piece together "houses" and "streets" and so forth. He's looking at where ideas come from; how ideas are shaped, etc. out of the pieces. "Pieces to whole. How? Why?"
    I don't accept the starting premise that the whole is created by the mind from the sensory parts. I think that the world is received whole, we are of the world. If we choose, that whole which is always already there, always already embodied, can, by the mind be broken into its component sensory parts, but this process is the exact reverse of what Casebere is tacitly assuming. (There's a growing body of philosophy that goes this way; I am not alone in thinking this and it's my feeling that anybody who thinks about their way of being in the world would notice that it doesn't arrive piecemeal ... but let's not go there in this forum ... )
    From Casebere's point of view, he's making interesting discoveries about perception and the mind; from my point of view he's just proving my point.
    For Nelson, solitary confinement isn't something that he pieces together from sensory input; he is of it, it stains, discolors every part of his being, unavoidably and immediately.
  45. What the intellect sees (which is what Casebere references in his models) is a tiny subset of what being has awareness of.
    'Comments' arrived at from photography are projections from the former or the latter.
  46. To tie my last post to my previous:
    The common belief is that, in perception, we go from sensory-received 'pieces,' via synthesis by the intellect >>> to the whole. Casebere is giving us things that are obviously 'pieces' and expecting us to thereby gain access to the whole (which is not really given).
    My belief is that in perception, we are of/in/given wholeness, from which, if we choose, we can use the intellect to query the senses and get >>> 'pieces' that are components of that whole, i.e. the reverse of Casebere's assumption.
    If I give you pieces, you will get pieces. They don't 'go' to any necessary whole (as opposed to Casebere and common belief that pieces >>> whole). He gives me nothing that I don't already know other than a heightened awareness of the impoverishment of the intellect's ability to receive the world.
  47. I don't think Tillmans is fragmentary. Can you explain why you say that? I don't think any of the Neue Welt photographs are 'model-able' i.e. could be rebuilt intellectually from parts. It's almost a definition of a Tillmans pictures that everything is 'in solution.' [I have the book if you want to pick one image for discussion.]
    If you've seen Tillmans The Cars and Fruit Logistica, you've seen him hammering at perception(s) (I love his work -- he's way beyond what I've already 'figured out').
    You wrote: "Columbus' world was new so too will ours one day be old again ..." The world is always new. What's old is something that is not the world. Photographs are to do with the latter.
  48. I think we're talking about two different things. The 'pieces' I was talking about in Casebere's work are within each picture. He builds from pieces within each individual picture.
    But (thinking about it as I write), Tillmans work over many pictures still works to a unified intent or undercurrent that I think he expects us to find or feel because of the samples/examples or variations on the theme that he gives. Not, to my eye, because any of them are pieces of some whole but because each itself is an instance (example/sample) of that whole.

Share This Page