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Neither Cop Nor Criminal

August 24, 2018

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Any image created from the spontaneous interaction of light upon a surface and retained in some form – either as physical residue on glass or film, etc., or as a digital data set on a chip – can be said to be a photograph; a graph of photons.

Wim Wenders acknowledges this with his typically misunderstood little video for the BBC in which he says that “everybody’s a photographer” and that “photography is more alive than ever, and more dead than ever.”

https://petapixel.com/2018/08/01/wim-wenders-phones-have-made-photography-more-dead-than-ever/

His complaint is not that cell phone photography is not photography, but rather that the cell phone camera technology has changed what we do with most of those photographs. He is correct that we hardly, if ever, look at them again and that they are rarely printed. He’s looking for a new word for this activity, because he feels that it is dramatically different than the historic act of photography.

I think he’s right. Whereas historically a photograph was meant to be considered and lingered on by its viewer, the cell phone photograph is meant to be gone in a near instant. It is more like television than photography.

In the field of music, we have the word “jingle” to differentiate an advertisement from what is otherwise called “music”. I think he’s looking for some similar distinction.

Do we need such a distinction? Yes. The difference between the jingle and any piece of music is that music, no matter how frivolous, wants to be considered. A jingle is just meant to catch your ear and be done. There is no there there. Similarly, the vast majority of cell phone pics are just meant to be snapped. Taken and done. It’s a quickie: a quickie pic.

But in the modern surveillance state, cameras, and especially a ‘regular’ camera along with the photographer behind it are seen as instruments of surveillance. Real photography becomes surveillance because the image is meant to be studied. This is the experience of every street photographer who must answer the question “did you just take my picture?” Whereas Sontag would describe the photographer of old as a voyeur, today the photographer is seen as either a cop or a criminal pervert. That one might be an artist with a camera is a difficult conception. That one might take a photograph for its own consideration as such is even more difficult.

So maybe a new word for internet photography would be helpful.

Music, like photography, has many different functions. The great composer John Cage tried to revive an old idea about a function of music: “to still and quiet the mind in order to make it susceptible to divine influences.” We can say exactly the same thing about photography; that one of its functions can be to still and quiet the mind. We need a word for that which makes you neither cop nor criminal.



My photos are on Flickr
Follow me on Instagram @smalagodi

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It Just Looks Like One.

March 22, 2018

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I have a little box, and inside that box is some cellophane and powdered metal. When I’m walking around and I tell that box to blink, it blinks, and in that blinking moment a small amount of the light that surrounds me, that confounds me, that astounds me, that assaults me gets into that box and makes a painful splash on the cellophane, one that will later look vaguely familiar, with shapes and forms that I believe have some importance.  Triangles and squares, some arcs and the shape of mama, or a dog or a tree, a roof over my head; shapes with millions of years of history stamped on to dna molecules like music on vinyl. It’s not a memory, it just looks like one.

Now, you can get a computer to generate those shapes if you want to. Just ask your phone to do it; it knows where you’ve been. Like the Google AI systems that generate generic celebrity photos, they look remarkably like yours. That’s because a computer doesn’t leave time for pain the way a box with cellophane does.


My photos are on Flickr
Follow me on Instagram @smalagodi

It’s Not Enough

March 15, 2018

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You with your advanced music
Me with my vintage camera
Predating even Alphaville
It’s how we have
As Giorno said
Resigned ourselves to being here.

Drinking poison
In this prison
In this place of full control
We imagine a sound
The smash
The destruction crew’s
Wrecking ball.

Fellini’s orchestra rehearses
Because that’s what they know.
They did it yesterday
And the day before.
And the day before that.

We know everything
And it’s not enough.

 


My photos are on Flickr
Follow me on Instagram @smalagodi

Out of control. So what.

January 1, 2018

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Out of control.

Nothing is so insufferable to man as to be completely at rest, without passions, without business, without diversion, without study. He then feels his nothingness, his forlornness, his insufficiency, his dependence, his weakness, his emptiness. There will immediately rise from the depth of his heart weariness, gloom, sadness, fretfulness, vexation, despair.” ~ Blaise Pascal, 1650

Through engagement with mundane affairs the self’s delusion of control is maintained as a method of self assertion during a lifetime of endless distraction. In Pascal’s time, this busy-ness was necessitated  by the rise of science and the growing inability of European mankind to ‘rest’ in the faith of an omnipresent God. But in the modern era, when business, play and passions are all provided and managed by unknowable global corporations, broadcast media and internet providers, this delusion of personal control can not be maintained. Needless to say, for industrialized humanity there is no God in sight. Outside and above the global economy there is … Zero.

So we see the widespread feelings of nothingness, forlornness, insufficiency, weakness, and emptiness rising from heart of society as weariness, gloom, sadness, fretfulness, vexation and especially despair. And we also see the perfectly natural response in the rise of Trump and authoritarians worldwide, along with the rise of narrow and easy identity politics and fake tribalist tendencies in general.

From the mid 1950s onward until his death, John Cage advised us to embrace Indeterminancy. To put aside fear and relinquish the control we never really had; to allow the world to unfold as it will anyway. It was not a call to a stupified, doped-up inaction and purposeful ignorance, nor was it a call to avoid the difficult and unpleasant in favor of a sacred comfort zone. It was simply a call to be relaxed in the face of uncertainty; to stop “grasping at emptiness”, as John Giorno might say.

As I have said before, “Capitalism is killing us, Socialism can’t save us, and no one knows what happens next.” It is the “no one knows what happens next” aspect that is the real terror of our Western time. Embrace it.


My photos are on Flickr
Follow me on Instagram @smalagodi

The Enchantment

December 27, 2017

 

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Music is invisible, and so we say that it is something spiritual, something vital that moves without being seen, that acts without being understood. Its immortality is that of the gods, always alive, always in motion, always elusive, always beyond restraint.

It is the opposite with photography. Because a photograph is visible, imprisoned in a frame, we falsely say it is a memory. We absurdly say we have captured a moment. A captured moment is a dead moment. A photograph has the immortality of a mummy, unmoving and fixed. Fragile, like an insect pinned to an index card, scientific and very much dead. A terracotta soldier.

It is in this motionless, eternal death-mask that we find their sleeping beauty, their enchantment.


My photos are on Flickr
Follow me on Instagram @smalagodi

It all adds up to something we think we’ve seen before.

December 25, 2017

Every bit of matter, every bit, remembers.
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Every bit of matter in the material universe acts as a recording medium.
The mass of a particle in motion makes a dent on the surface of its neighbor.
Like the craters of the moon, a record of impact.
So it is with a photograph.
The photons strike the sensor
A change is made on a surface
And we recognize the pattern.
It all adds up to something
We think we’ve seen before.
But we’re wrong.


My photos are on Flickr
Follow me on Instagram @smalagodi

One Photon Deep

December 16, 2017

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If a photon had depth,
we could say say that just below the surface,
one photon deep,
traced by the layout of the irregular frame,
just below the surface of grass and trees
benches and monoliths of words,
just in back of the alcoholic eyes,
there is a vast emptiness
on which Kerouac Park rests.


My photos are on Flickr
Follow me on Instagram @smalagodi

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