Small Things

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

  1. I think what you did here was try to turn a small thing into a really big deal. In the process you kind of ruined the experience of your good picture for me and undermined the way you originally presented it. Masao talked about missing a button hole and whispering his message in a soft voice. Contrast that with all of eternity.
  2. Uhm, 'eternity' was meant ironic which I thought was made clear enough by the link showing the Banksy piece.
  3. It's impossible to see what's a link on the new PN, at least in my browser, so I missed it. In any case, I've pretty much stopped clicking on many of the links I do see and stopped reading most of the quotes provided that are longer than a phrase or sentence. That will obviously skew some of my responses, but it saves me time.
  4. Eternity certainly seems to play a role too in Masao's work and in the OP but not in an epic impossible to fathom scale or as opposed to the ephemeral and more like in William Blake's opening lines of Auguries of Innocence.
    Last edited: Jun 24, 2017
  5. The book, Landscape as Longing: Queens, New York consists, one half of black and white pictures by Frank Gohlke, and the other half of color pictures by Joel Sternfeld. There is no text on the pages, but attached to the inside of the back cover is a large cream-colored envelope that contains a booklet. It's a story, What Is Remembered by Suketu Mehta, thirty-two pages in length. It begins:

    When Mahesh stepped off the plane from India at JFK, his first experience of the new world was a powerful static shock from the carpeting. It was so powerful that he vibrated in place for a moment, and then sailed forth into New York, humming with energy. Goddamn New York! Fast cars! Zoom!

    He ran past immigrants, past baggage claim, past customs, and leapt into a taxi, which carried him at great speed to his university. Mahesh's subsequent career, at the university, in the business world, was marked most of all by this energy: he did everything slightly faster than others. Unfortunately, the static charge had also wiped out a small but vital part of his memory: his mother's name.

    ... And all that remained with Mahesh of the things he had brought over when he came was something he had found in his pocket, whose purpose or significance he could not explain: a hairpin, an ordinary, black, woman's hairpin.​

    Eventually, to meet the needs of a big promotion, Mahesh has to become a citizen of the US (for security clearance reasons). But the application requires his mother's name. In an effort to remember it, Mahesh goes back to JFK. It turns out that the day he goes is the holiday on which grandparents come from India to remind their children of the values they left behind. Mahesh doesn't get help remembering in customs, and when he leaves, he accidentally gets into the taxi lane at the airport. An enormous family of Indians immediately jumps into his car and demands to be taken to Jackson Heights. His protests are ignored, so he drives them there. When they all get out of the car, the grandmother turns to Mahesh:

    She took a small packet out of her handbag. "Eat this, son, it is Prasad from the Srinathji temple."

    ... He put a bit inside his mouth. It was very sweet.

    ... Mahesh was eating chiki, the memory cake. Each bite had in it a nut — peanut, cashew, pistachio, almond — that contained an individual scene.​

    Thereafter, every little thing seems to prompt a wildly immediate memory story, which leads back to the present, where something else then leads to another outrageous memory story, all entangled with his present need to remember his mother's name and get out of Jackson Heights. Among these are repeated encounters with The Expert Liar in a bar, and the grocer who sells him a used remote control that works on his brain, even though Repeat never seems to bring back quite the same memory.

    Yes, the hairpin is there at the end, which I won't tell you.

    Everything, every smell, sight, touch, that enriches this very rich confection of a story is 'small things.' I'm pretty sure that's why Gohlke and Sternfeld chose to make this the only text they include in their book. Unlike Yamamoto Masao, their pictures don't single out small things. Rather, it's the details of large scenes, the aroma of the landscape that they've pictured. Longings.
  6. The memory cake and how after eating it spontaneous memories are being evoked by and through the encountering of specific things and details is similar to the madeleine in Proust's In Search of Lost Time. The image of the plastic bag in the tree works like that for me, it's the thing that brings back the sphere of memories surrounding it. This is very different than taking a photograph or looking at a photograph of the things or moments themselves that one wants to remember and which is how photography is usually being used in the context of memory.
  7. Looking at examples from the book Landscape as Longing: Queens, New York the images in it are more conceptual in how they start from a concept (an immigrant's longing for their birth country) to instill such a connection of longing in the images of the urban landscapes by making visible to the viewer the signs and symbols of the different cultures living in them whereas Yamamoto Masao's images (which also depict landscapes but in nature) start from a texture that instills in the viewer's mind a concept, also of longing but one that isn't tied to cultural or personal identity but in a way preludes it.
    Last edited: Jun 27, 2017

  8. This is definitely true of Sternfeld's half but equally definitely not true of Gohlke's half. The Sternfeld pictures, are, to me, a big disappointment (I love a lot of his early work). His pictures in this book are sort of Martin Parr without the clever humor. Loud, candy-coated. However, for that very reason, they do work well as a counterpoint to Gohlke's work (Sternfeld follows Gohlke in the book).

    Gohlke's pictures, are, to my taste, very good, but they are very, very dry. Obscure, "empty," not about things but about space.

    From Masao Yamamoto's scroll/book Nakazora — which is much more about space than things — this text could also apply to Gohlke's work, IMO:

    Dictionary Definition of Nakazora:
    The space between sky and earth, the place where birds, etc. fly.
    Empty air. An internal hollow. Vague. Hollow. Around the center of the sky.
    Or, emptiness. A state when the feet do not touch the ground. Inattentiveness.
    The inability to decide between two things.
    Midway. The center of the sky (the zenith).
    A Buddhist term.​

    Or try some Keats:

    ... when man is capable of being in uncertainties. Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason.​

    With the above in mind, I think the Proust cookie is too settled, too precise. Rather than being in a state of suspension, it's found its target.

    Something related to all of this is described by Walead Beshty, in sorting out the difference between screen (surface) and frame (to depth):

    ... each photograph is a negotiation between these. All of this is to say that while we look through frames, we look at screens; we scan the screen for incidents, for points of contact. This emphasis on contact constitutes a distinctly bodily oppositional term to the detached transparency of the photographic frame and the virtuality of the eye. As Roland Barthes wrote, "A sort of umbilical cord links the body of the photographed thing to my gaze: light, though impalpable, is here a carnal medium, a skin I share with anyone who has been photographed."

    ... it is this understanding of photography as a "skin" or screen that accounts for the photograph's empathic power, its ability to create a counter-intuitive sense of connection across time and space ...​
  9. That last quote is just terrible writing if it's aim was to say something useful about looking at photographs and about what it means to look at photographs. Szarkowski's metaphor of photographs being mirrors (Masao) or windows (Sternfeld) is much more useful.
  10. It may need more context (a bigger quote), but it may also be that you're not liking his point ... so I'll let it go. He's definitely not meaning anything like what Szarkowski is after.
  11. Norman 202

    Norman 202 i am the light

    or a bigger font, maybe? hahahahahahahahaha

    (i'm sorry, i don't mean to…whatever, but)
    Last edited: Jun 28, 2017
  12. I think, the plot of the story is an effective attempt in using a cliche to demonstrate something (how small things evoke memory) thats not a cliche. Nice example about the connection between small things and memory. I just wanted to mention that small things don't always evoke specific memories in me, or rather, its not always the reason for me to photograph small things. Its also imagination and history thats centered on the small thing itself, which sometimes motivates me. The picture on the left is about memory and loneliness, but the picture on the right is not about memory. It is about the place itself, and the imagination centered around it. around the small chair, or the stairs leading to it.

    Phil S likes this.
  13. Supriyo, the left image showing crayons, children's scribbles, and a stuffed animal with behind it a streak of sunlight may be about childhood which can evoke specific memories. I don't think the image is about memory itself, but rather its subject can trigger memories. The right image showing a small courtyard with empty chairs can do that just as well, to evoke memory and the sense of time passing (created by certain elements like the empty white chair and the way the eye is led to it by the foreground to background composition).

    The story may mention small things or small objects that trigger memories but small things in context to the OP does not refer to small objects in photographs. It refers to small moments more than anything to do with the physical size of the subject. Just like my image in the OP isn't about the plastic bag that's in it. It's about the whole of the image as the record and/or representation of a seemingly small moment.
    Last edited: Jun 28, 2017
  14. I received The Pond today (it's as amazing as I hoped it would be). I looked through it slowly from page to page and image to image this evening to find out what it's all about. There's a lot of ambiguity in the way The Pond pulses from the tranquil to the foreboding. That the images themselves aren't ambiguous but have a matter-of-factness about them only adds to the overall effect of disorientation I felt. But disorientation is never that far off from wonder. The Pond seems to be less about longing and more about belonging and the consequence of choice that this brings. The image the book ends with (LINK) is symbolic to man's split between nature and culture which both seem to give an uncertain perspective.
    Last edited: Jun 28, 2017
  15. I think this "smallness" is a quality of Zen, especially in Japanese art. Small simple things or moments, vaguely glimpsed and portrayed, but they somehow connect to the universe and become large. Philosophical fractals. But here is one photograph I did with small things in it, that sort of captures that quality, (if I do say so myself), but then I may be the only one.[​IMG]
    Phil S likes this.
  16. This, from an interview of Gossage by Thomas Weski, shows small things can work in many different directions/ways:

    Thomas Weski: The third chapter [of There and Gone] reminds me of an experience I had when I came to the US for the first time. I thought I knew everything already because of movies, television, and other media. And then the longer I stayed, the more I realized that things were actually as foreign to me as they could possibly be. This is also the feeling I get from the third chapter. There are familiar objects, but they have a second layer — an unknown and sometimes even spooky quality. Is that in line with your intentions?

    John Gossage: I think that's part of it. One of the best ways of rendering our culture accessible is through commonplace objects seen with particular attention — things that seem to have the wish to stand out for you. What has often been a question for me is what part mistake or metaphor plays in the quality of an art object. And is that not virtually the measure of quality, of fascination? These works set up the problem of being defined by their captions — labels that in fact refuse to define them. The captions, in Spanish, are from Mexican lotteria cards that have been used over the years for everything from gambling to fortune telling to teaching the language to small children.​


    Francesco was driving: John was up front, his Canon Mark III on his lap. I was in back, behind John, with Guido.

    We'd been on the road for almost an hour. Guido had fallen asleep, his glasses askew, his blue polo buttoned to the neck.

    Francesco and John had stopped talking. Only our movement and passing vehicles spoke.

    The dashboard was swallowing the lines in the road, its dials lighting up whenever an overpass broke the sun. A couple packs of Kleenex, an iPhone, and Francesco's bandana were stashed in the molded shelf below.

    A bat dangled from the rear-view mirror.

    [ ... ]

    Light flickered in the upper right corner of my sunglasses, creating a small steel-blue square on which two strands of my hair were magnified into thin lines that sketched free-form landscapes. They floated unhindered until the square broke into three disjointed petals traversed by fine dark lines. I looked up. I remembered something I'd read about bats, about longevity and happiness, about listening, and about eyes not being the only way of seeing.

    Breathing was an opiate. The red in the fields began to blend with inner echoes of Gregorian chant. I fell into myself, conscious only of the warm sun on my right cheek.

    I don't know how long I stayed in that world. Seconds. Centuries. Until a fly landed on my hand and someone's phone pinged.

    We got off the highway and turned into an AGIP at the corner. I remembered something about gas stations somewhere in John's past but I couldn't recall the whole story.

    We stopped in front of the pump. Francesco and John got out of the car. John took his camera. Francesco filled the tank. He and John started laughing about something. John took his picture.

    A white car pulled up on the right. The boy in the back pressed his lips to the window. I smiled; he turned away.

    [ ... ]

    by Marlene Klein in John Gossage's book pomodori a grappolo​


    John photographs everyday things. They have no specific provenance or national identity aside from being found in that place, on that day, at that moment. They are something, nothing, and then something else in the involution and inflorescence of life.

    [ ... ]

    Space remains infinite until it's confined; once bounded it grows newly boundless.

    Marlene Klein, from the Epilogue to pomodori a grappolo​
  17. Julie, do you have The Pond. What do you think of it. I'm completely perplexed by it. Mesmerized. It looks so effortless, like a nuance of seeing but looking through it it makes me feel more alive and potent as a photographer. Atget is always there on the fringes but other than that The Pond is so completely an original way of being and seeing yet without losing a deep sense of and for the communal in its central message and in what it shows. Everyone should get this book.
    Last edited: Jun 29, 2017
  18. Yes, they mostly remain vague in the cacophony of a perpetually existing visual existence...But once in a while they break and shimmer and pierce through the lines of all the random code. Here. Here's a flock of birds and a disc shaped cloud and the breaking of a wave. Here it is.

  19. Imagine you are a member of a bomb squad. You are the one assigned to defuse a bomb, you're in your bomb-suit, you've approached the thing, you're looking at it, and it's like nothing you've ever seen before ... but you know, without a doubt, that it is a bomb. What do you see? What do you do?

    For one thing, you don't think about anything else; your mind is owned by that bomb. How does it work?

    That's Gossage — and that's Atget (think of the famous "crime scene" description of his pictures). That's not Yamamoto Masao or you, in your OP picture. Yamamoto Masao's and your pictures are means of escape, portals, levers out of the picture to other things, places, times. The mind leaves. That's the absolute opposite of Gossage and Atget.

    So why are both kinds in this thread? Because they are never pictures of "this." Gossage gives you the evidence, as does Atget, but neither ever judges. You have never seen this bomb before. You know the power; you don't know the how.

    Gossage's books, if looked at without explanation, seem almost incomprehensible. For example, the pictures in The 32" Ruler look like ... innocuous, random bits and pieces of suburbia. But read the opening sentence of the book, "I started to think about these pictures on September 12th, the day I first became aware that Donald Rumsfeld was my neighbor." And, like the title The Pond, you know the shape of the bomb. But you don't know how it works.

    In the rare instance when Gossage includes the sublime (think of the flock of birds in the sky near the end of The Pond), it's there for a reason, not to send you away.

    Here is Gossage from Snake Eyes, the book he did with his then-wife, Terri Weifenbach. He's comparing his pictures to hers (which do tend to the sublime):

    I, though, am the collector of clues, with a prejudice toward paths and borders. A lookout for the stones that have already been turned.​

    You will stay in his pictures.
  20. In Who Do You Love: Twelve Reproductions, Gossage tried something different (he's always trying something different). You'll probably have to Google some examples from the book to understand what he's done. Here he is in conversation with Darius Himes:

    [ ... ]

    John Gossage: ... Here's a crude analogy [to what he's trying to do in this book] I've used: these are crash tests. I wanted to put precious cargo — my photographs — inside this vehicle, race it towards a brick wall, and see what happened. The question was, how much distraction could I introduce alongside the photographs themselves and still have them survive, if you will.

    Darius Himes: Can I ask why?

    JG: That's a good question. The truth of it is that I think most artists question the whole pursuit at some point. This is what I've spent my life doing, and I started very young. At certain times you just say, "Is this all worth it? What foundation is it built on? How strong is it? What might it mean?

    DH: Questions lie at the heart of this pursuit. Back to this "turn off the road." Where did it come from? Is there a genesis that you can identify?

    JG: It's trivial, as most beginnings are. I once noticed a hair inside a framed photograph in a museum. Someone hadn't caught it, or didn't care, and it was pressed between the mat and the glass, just to the side of the image area. That little element was so invasive, and I was very curious about that invasiveness.

    DH: How so?

    JG: Photographs touch the real world through a fiction of a pictured real world in a way that is generally unquestioned. They act as a guide to the previous and elsewhere; from the present back through the window, to another place.​

    [Compare this to my previous quote from Walead Beshty, above, post 208, that Phil doesn't like.]

    There is much more good stuff in this interview, but I have to run.

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