Small Things

Discussion in 'Philosophy' started by Phil S, Jun 10, 2017.

  1. I'm looking through Yamamoto Masao's book Small Things in Silence which I received in the mail this week. The images in it when looked at carefully invite contemplation and introspection.

    From his own words:

    "When I look back upon my path, I realize that the one consistent motif in my work was my obsession for small things. I feel joy when I discover seemingly insignificant things that may be easily overlooked. I am interested in those awkward feelings—such as when you miss a button hole or are stalled and lost in a disorienting fog. I prefer whispering my messages in a soft voice instead of speaking them out loud. My messages may be soft as to be mistaken for illusions."

    And from the foreword which also talks about the physical appearance and texture of Yamamoto's prints which can be held in the palm of a hand:

    "There are artists whose large-format images or "strong" subject matter strike us like an arrow, straight to the eyes, in the sole aim of making us breathe in the acrid stench of our time. Masao Yamamoto is not one of them; he stands rather at the antipodes to them. His photographs do not even reach us easily: we have to go out ourselves to meet them; and, because of their small format, we have to get up close to them, as if putting our eye to a keyhole. In contrast to the violent or spectacular nature of many contemporary images, Yamamoto offers softness and subtlety, which is not to say blandness or conformity of any kind; his softness is like that of a mist the landscape and transmutes it.
    Nor does his art corresponds to any of the current formalisms; not even to that dusty old label, established by the avant-garde movements of the twentieth century, which periodically requires artists to pay homage to the notion of a permanent rupture. On the contrary, his personal poetics are faithful to his cultural tradition, and he lives apart from the inertia that propels many contemporary artistic trends." - Jacobo Siruela

    The effects of time is also a central theme in Yamamoto's work and printmaking technique.

    But the question is: Did you ever make a photograph of a seemingly small thing ( not in a physical sense necessarily, but more in a 'lost moment' kinda way ). And what was it that made you take such a photograph?

    I can only think of one such image myself. I took this photograph of a plastic bag that was caught in a tree in Chicago in 2010. A seemingly small thing that meant and still means the world to me when I look at it because of all the ( small ) things that had to happen for me to be there at that moment at that exact spot to take a picture of...fate, a found memory, a lost dream...? Some kind of sensation that I can't put into words.

    Last edited: Jun 10, 2017
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  2. I walk up and down the San Francisco hills every other day for exercise and fresh air . . . and to clean out my head. I often reach this spot because I like climbing up to the city's highest peak. Just a little shy of the peak is Robinwood Way (I know, I know!). As you come up to the apex of the street, this is the view you don't often get of the Pacific which is about 3 miles away. You don't often see the water because most days it's too foggy. I've walked up there enough to have seen the view plenty of times and I never quite get used to it. Even if I don't stop to admire it, it hits me every time. It can't be taken for granted. But still, it's a small moment in my overall walk, because it's become part of my daily routine and I don't stop to rest because I like to keep up the rhythm of walking. This day, fairly recently, I'm not sure what made me stop to take the picture. I remember the boat had something to do with it. Somehow, it's smallness seemed bigger than the view itself. I haven't thought much about how much the picture means to me but it seemed to fit.

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  3. Great image Fred. And thanks for the background story. I like how the lantern kisses the horizon. The tiny boat in the big ocean under a wide sky a symbol of discovery and the journey ahead while the house in the foreground represents safety and warmth. Which one to choose?

    I think these are exactly the kind of pictures I'm talking about in the OP, the ones that live with us without us being sure what they mean exactly except for the fact that they feel and felt right somehow someway.
  4. L99909291.jpg " I feel joy when I discover seemingly insignificant things that may be easily overlooked" Phil.

    Small disregarded objects that have a telling of a story which is a insignificant and forgotten.
    Last edited: Jun 10, 2017
  5. Sandy Vongries

    Sandy Vongries Administrator Staff Member

    I believe that most humans are hardwired to sort from the general to the particular, with small details most engaging My long driveway is pit run gravel, aka glacial and alluvial left behinds -- though I walk it several times a day, I frequently find attractive, and unusual mineral samples, which I collect. They literally jump out of the noise of common stones.
  6. This is the image that currently graces my desktop. It is a crop from a crop of what started out as a curious but not amazing image. Drilling down to the essence of the subject, allowing the eye to dwell on details of weld lines and rust spots, makes this image an ongoing source of curiosity for me. It has become more engaging than I ever expected it to be.
    Rte 66-7306b-sml.jpg
  7. The black surface and white specks resemble space. Maybe the glove belonged to an astronaut. An image of a glove floating in the black of space suggests something both treacherous and benign...

    The small things are the signals that reach out to us in a sea of noise. It can be the view of a mountain in the distance, or the raindrops on a window. Not just any raindrops but those particular raindrops and not just any view but that particular view. Blink and it may be lost. Revisit it later and it may be gone. Take one thing out and the whole thing collapses.

    David, there's a lot of things going on in your image on the level of texture, surface, form. I'm not sure what I'm looking at but it seems strangely alive with each one of the welded spikes / nails having a will of its own like the tentacle or mouth thingies from one of those sea creatures.
  8. That's been a good description of Sally Mann's work. But her most recent Remembered Light is different. In it are pictures from/about her friendship with her neighbor, the painter Cy Twombly. The book is a collection of "small things." People have had a hard time "getting" what small things are about. If you look at the (few) reviews of the book on Amazon, you'll find comments such as:

    Sally Mann is, in my opinion, one of the greatest living American photographers and I was immediately interested. ... But this project is a failure. The photos fail to convey emotion or insight. First of all, photographs of Twombly is [sic] nowhere to be found. The images here are of his studio work areas. No paintings, complete or unfinished, are depicted. ​


    I am a huge fan of Sally Mann's work. I have loved everything she's done so I was very excited to get this book in the mail. ... I am sympathetic to the impulse to photograph her friend's studio. It's a wonderful idea and there are a few that capture his spirit, but for the most part, they feel like grab shots rather than the meticulously crafted images that we have come to expect of this exceptional photographer.​

    Here is Mann talking to Edmund de Waal about the project:

    Sally Mann: The pictures span from 1999 until 2012, but it was a completely casual thing. Normally, when I'm shooting, I'm pretty passionate, and my heart rate goes up, but at the same time I try to think things through, often in a ponderous or methodical way. This project didn't quite fit into my typical approach, it was almost whimsical, carefree.

    Edmund de Waal: You use the word whimsical, which is very telling, because it resonates with a sense of intimacy. It begins by being in Cy's space. He's a friend. You've known him all your life. The project was not initiated by a gallerist or by a publisher. It emerges out of crossing a threshold between friendship and intent, even if it's relaxed.

    SM: That's true and very unusual for me. It was so unfreighted, there was no endgame. The idea of exhibiting these images, or publishing them, didn't occur to me at the time. It was just sort of a caress, an acknowledgment of his being there, right down the street ...​

    [I have what I think would qualify as too many pictures of "small things." I'm surprised the Phil only has one. I expect I'm not understanding exactly what he's after.]
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  9. Julie, no more book mentions I already spent my monthly book budget (I also received in the mail this week Robert Adams' Along Some Rivers, Why People Photograph, and Beauty in Photography which was required reading in school, I also got Leonard Cohen's Beautiful Losers because it can't be all photography). I wanted to get Robert Adams' book Turning Back but it wouldn't deliver to my address. The next book may be another one by Yamamoto Masao. There's one of his that combines his work with drawings but the price of that one is out of my reach. One of the best things about books is opening them for the first time and smelling the paper and ink. Maybe it's time to start making my own...

    'Small Things' when photographed are the visual equivalent of a haiku. A haiku can contain the whole world in 3 verses. Similarly the kind of images I'm thinking about can be small in execution but large in their scope and ability of expressing and addressing something fundamental in terms of personal memory, time, universal being, nature. There are also Eastern concepts at play in Yamamoto Masao's work and approach (the fragile tactility of the small prints is central too) that ring true but are perhaps hard to fully grasp with a Western mind.

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  10. Norman 202

    Norman 202 i am the light

    (i'm not sure this is on topic)
    i just watched that video and was really Pleased to hear Yamamoto say he his prints are small. the only prints i have made, that i enjoyed making, were credit card sized print made on a canon 6x4 dye sub printer. these prints came with a sticky back so i could stick the photos of the area i was photographing (my daily walk to work) to lampposts, bus shelters along my route.
  11. Norman 202

    Norman 202 i am the light

    i do like the idea of smallness in photography. my photos are best viewed small, my camera tiny, the baggage i have to lug around(ipad, flash drives, etc) is minimized but i don't feel the smallness is a constricting factor
    Last edited: Jun 11, 2017
  12. Norman 202

    Norman 202 i am the light

    back on topic, Yamamoto's photos are beauty spots, specs of dust, small things are inspiring.
  13. Yes the physical smallness of a print also invites sharing, and why not, allows for making the street your gallery like you did with the sticky prints. Most people wouldn't notice them but they're meant for the few who do, even if it's only for a second. I also want to make business card sized prints to give away and share.

    In Yamamoto's case it's the size combined with the content of the images that gives them their unique transcendent quality.
  14. These small things are a grateful subject, in my view. Often enough the resulting photos tend to being ambiguous, or open to various interpretations. Not photos that prescribe much to the viewer how to look at the image, and what to see.
    I guess I've got quite a number of photos that apply; it's things that just hit me, catch my eye for some reason, and when I carry a camera, I'll oblige to the urge. For example: Songs of solitude | .

    Personally, I feel these small things are an area where photography can be very expressive. As many people regard photos as displaying "the real world", showing them those little snippets of hidden moments in that real world often works as a nice eye-opener - both with regards to how much we do not see when we look around, as well as how photography maybe shows more than just that perceived real world.
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  15. The only negative thing I can say about Yamamoto is that in the other book of his that I have (Tori) he quotes some of the most painfully obvious poetry ... it kind of kills the mood.

    Oh, oh, oh, Adams' Turning Back is good! But do you already have Skogen? That may be my favorite of his more recent work.

    Of course, since you say "no more" I won't mention the new Meatyard book (American Mystic) that has a lot of stuff that I hadn't seen before. But almost every picture is accompanied by a lot of descriptive text by Alexander Nemerov that is so irritatingly wrong that it's almost good (makes me think, anyway).

    (The "small things" of mine that I am not posting are private and personal almost by definition. They will not be seen on the internet.)
  16. I think small prints also invite intimacy with the image and the print itself. Small prints often get people closer to them and, once they're up close, they seem to linger a bit. While one might assume some important details might get missed when printing small, I think those details might actually be more noticeable, because of the kind of attention paid. When I hung my gallery, I chose more intimate photos to print small and I liked the way people seemed to relate to and focus on them.
  17. Wouter, I couldn't find a way to link to the individual photos in your gallery but I think Catching my ray of sunshine and Escape work particularly well together as tokens of seeing the beauty in the small (when seen together Escape could benefit from a vertical crop).


    Has the world gone mad
    Or is it me?
    All these small things they gather round me
    Gather round me
    Is it all so very bad?
    I can't see
    All these small things they gather round me
    Gather round me
  18. I don't even have a Meatyard book yet but it's also on the list. Meatyard was also influenced by Eastern concepts if I remember correctly. In Why People Photograph Robert Adams mentions the 4 volume set The Work of Atget by John Szarkowski and Maria Morris Hambourg as the best criticism that can be read on the work of a single photographer (and on photography for that matter). I already have a lot of Atget books but I should get those too before they are impossible to find. I recently got a copy of the first issue of the tabloid A/FIXED on Japanese photography. The world of Japanese photography books is so vast that it isn't really affordable to get into too much. When collecting photography books I start with the classics first before working my way to the more obscure stuff.
    Last edited: Jun 11, 2017

  19. For some reason I thought you had told me you had that four book set: they are excellent ... and very hard to find at a good price. What I do is bookmark the used-book page at Amazon and check it every few days. Eventually, one will usually show up that's 'very good' from a well-rated buyer. The longest I ever waited was three years (!) for the Fraenkel Gallery book Edward Hopper & Company which is about photographers who derive from that painter. I was not that interested but was curious. Turned out, when I finally got a copy (at a good price), the book is excellent. Fraenkel always does good stuff, in my experience (they did the current Meatyard book).

    I buy very carefully from Japan -- often directly from publishers as their price is often better than US sellers. I am not crazy about (or knowledgeable about) many of the diverse styles, so pick and choose warily.
  20. Wouter, I think the folder you linked to, Songs of Solitude, is a nice example. For me, it's not so much about the smallness aspect of the OP but in the "lost moment" aspect. In that sense, though they are photographs OF ordinary found things, the expressiveness you mention is the filter through which the things are experienced photographically. At one moment, I can adopt the perspective which allows me to see these things as things, and it's kind of nice to do that, but it's the atmosphere and feeling created by their isolation in their environments, the way you capture night, the way you capture the darkness of tree branches and leaves even in day, the way you utilize grey tones in many cases that creates the mood which kind of surrounds the thing and the viewer. So, it's like the lost moment both belongs to the thing and transcends it at the same time.
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