Thursday, March 25, 2021

(Pinned Post, See Below for New Content)
  A Policy Note:

I have made a decision to keep this blog virus free from this point forward, at least until the smokes clears. This is not a judgement about other writers, other sources, there's good information that ought to be shared, there are personal stories that are interesting and compelling.

There's also room for other work, and I intend to pursue that here.

If it looks like I'm going to die, I will try to put a note here so you know to delete your bookmarks.

Monday, April 6, 2020


Remember my friend Steve? Well, I ain't seen Steve in 3-4 months. I figured he was in jail, or dead.

Turns out he's neither. He's sober. No drugs or alcohol for three months so far, he's working in the kitchen at the Lighthouse Mission downtown, feeding the homeless guys. He's in a program. A year long thing.

He's even tracking pretty well. Previous bouts of sobriety have left him not-entirely-present. But the lights are on in there this time. Looks good, looks healthy.

Made my day.

Saturday, April 4, 2020

A Thought Experiment

This will ramble a little, and then I will get to the thought experiment.

I was reading an "art-thotz" piece on The White Pube, well, ok, I was skimming it and then after a little bit skipping great chunks of drivel in a desperate race to reach the end before my soul died. So, I didn't really get all of it. Anyways.

The gist seemed to be that some organization, let's call it the People's Front of Judea, has funding, and some other organization. the Judean People's Front, doesn't. Both seem to be social-justice-focused Art Organizations, I guess. I assume that both produce, essentially, macaroni glued to construction paper with an incoherent essay on the back that says roughly "Colonialism was v. bad why won't anyone talk about that."

The fact that the PFJ was well funded and the JPF not seemed to bother the author. I assume that the PFJ is doing social justice all wrong, and the JPF is doing it right or something. I don't know, and the extent to which I do not care cannot be measured with current technology.

This is, essentially, an oft-repeated refrain: There should be more funding for the arts, but it should go only to good art which is, in a bizarre coincidence, made mainly by me, my friends, and a few other people who agree with us about some things we happen to think are very important.

Here comes the thought experiment: Maybe there shouldn't be any funding at all for arts organizations. This neatly solves the problem of allocating funding to good art, but not to bad art. Indeed, I thought to myself, perhaps there should be a limit on the financial size of privately funded arts organizations, because when you get enough private funding in a pile it turns into a grotesque grift anyways.

How awful! What a barbarian! I hear you thinking.

Here's my clever scheme, though. Rather than funding the PFJ and the JPF and the Tate and the MOMA, why not fund people? Everyone gets a check. Not a huge check. Just some money. Do whatever you want with it. If you want to make some art, go for it. If ten of you want to pool your checks and bootstrap a little gallery, go for it. Start an art school. But keep it pretty small, there's a cap.

I'm not sure how amused I am by the idea of the MOMA and the Tate closing, but I rather like the idea of a rotating cast of little schools and little galleries popping up and failing constantly in every town, almost no matter how small.

Sure, there are technical issues (is a graphic design house an Arts organization?) but it's just a thought experiment. Throw out government funding of Arts Institutions entirely, and give that money equitably and across the board to everyone. See what happens.

Yes, it's Universal Basic Income, wearing a prettier hat.

Friday, April 3, 2020

The Punctum

Obvious, the punctum is the dog.

Romeo is the largest pit bull I have ever seen in my life, but he is a very sweet boy.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Is it real?

The world of photography is awash in projects and collections in which cumbersome processes are front and center. This guy takes wet plate photographs of pig's noses, this guy found a huge stash of glass plate negatives inside a piggy bank he bought at auction in Iowa, and on and on. Everything from collections of improbable found material, through cumbersome darkroom processes, to simply I shoot film.

The common thread here, from where I sit, is that all of these things are essentially trivial to fake. Given the sheer number of them, it stands to reason that at least some of them are fake.

Is the Vivian Maier archive fake? Probably not. That one is old enough and got enough traction that, probably, enough people have actually seen some negatives and someone would have said something. That said. John Maloof continues to hold the actual collection remarkably close to the chest. I do not think that one can apply to study the whole archive, even today.

But this is surely the most public of all of them. This is the one that would require the largest conspiracy to cover up, and even there it's probably a dozen people you'd have to have subverted. As any pirate knows, though, that is 11 too many.

Most of these things are really just one person, who is pushing out medium resolution JPEGs onto the web.

What astonishes me is that we have yet, as far as I know, to have seen a Big Scandal in which so-and-so's whatever-it-was is revealed to have been fake all along.

I assume that it's simply because people are not looking very hard, and most people don't even know what to look for.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

I Don't Know

There's tons of people out there who can grab a camera and take a ramble and come back with a bunch of pictures, and in a way, I am jealous of them. Not all of them produce pictures that are any good, and some of them tend toward imbuing these visual beachcombings with rather more weight than I find convincing. But sometimes they're perfectly nice pictures, pleasing to look at.

I could probably do this, technically. At least pretty well. I like to think I have some minimal competence in filling a frame.

The point is, though, that I don't want to. It's not that I am jealous of other people's ability to do it, I am jealous of their ability to take pleasure in doing it. It's just not fun for me, and it clearly is for them (even the windbags, even the people who take junky snaps of nothing.)

Related, and even more important in my tiny insular philosophical corner of the world, is that I find myself unable to force a story to emerge from snapped pictures.

I am certain, as sure as I am that the sun will rise, that if one simply goes and takes photos on some theme, that some sort of project can in theory emerge. One can, eventually, construct a sort of poem, a sonata, or a story, by simply starting out shooting and letting the project emerge.

I can't do it.

I absolutely cannot do it. I have tried, and it does not happen. I have to have some sort of project idea to start with, or nothing happens. What emerges may not much resemble the initial project idea, so in theory I could have started anywhere, right? If the end of the journey is far away from the beginning, why does it matter where you start? And yet, somehow, it does.

I have over the years preached variations on this process, this method that does not work for me, so if I suckered you into it and it didn't work for you either, I apologize. On the other hand, maybe it worked beautifully for you! In that case, I do not apologize.

As always, I dare say there is a spectrum from no idea whatever to a very clear idea indeed and all I can really be sure of is that I need to begin somewhere near the clear idea end of the spectrum. Where, exactly, is a bit murky. All I know is that if I am too far off in the weeds, I end up with a pile of photos and no will whatsoever to look at them after a little while.

So, I Don't Know! Maybe you should always start with a pretty clear project idea!

Monday, March 30, 2020

Another Video from Jörg!

To be honest, he keeps making them, and I keep watching them. Kinda. Anyways. This one had a fascinating little moment in it early on which I thought I would share, because it says something interesting.

Here is the video: Michael Schmelling: Your Blues which you can watch or not as you choose, I'm only really interested in a few seconds of it.

At the 2:37 mark there's a picture of a piece of paper taped to a wall. Jörg proposes that it is good picture, and that any photographer that would take the picture is a "really good photographer." This is, well, it's a position, isn't it? It strikes me as the sort of thing a follower of Miksang might take, or a fellow testing his camera, or an art student who's trying too hard.

There are several possible interprestations of Jörg's remark, here.

The first one is that this is a desperate cry for help. What have I done with my life? cries the regret-filled Art Professor, please send strong liquor. This is my preferred reading, of course, because it's the funniest one.

The most likely reading, I think, is simply the face value. Jörg genuinely thinks this is an amazing picture, all by itself, and that the taking of it is a sign of a remarkable artist.

Well, ok. It still looks like Miksang to me, and googling that term will show you endless photos that feel about the same, and probably a few pictures of blank paper taped to colorful walls. It's certainly pleasing, an exercise in color and framing. Nothing wrong with that, but it's not exactly rife with meaning.

The point of the picture becomes clear on the next page of the book, at about time mark 3:01. The same wall, the same rectangular shape taped to the wall, but the rectangle is a picture of a man instead of a blank white page. This is not an accident. If instead we back up a page we see another rectangular shape, an abstract thing of some sort. If you flicked rapidly from the blank page to the picture of a man, it would appear that the man spontaneously appeared on the blank page.

So we have abstract rectangle thing, blank rectangle thing, a man appears in the blank rectangle, followed by a series of pictures of people.

I know just enough theory of musical harmony to make an ass of myself, let's see how big a mess I can make. There is concept in the theory of harmony of a preparing and then resolving a dissonance. You have some chord that basically sounds bad. It "honks" when you play it. So you set up for it, by playing a series of pleasing chords that aurally approach the dissonant one (prepare for it), and then you play the honker. Then in the next chord you fix it by, say, moving one note of the chord so that it is no longer dissonant (resolution) and now, harmonically, you're in a new place.

This book just did exactly the same thing. The blank page on the wall may not be actually dissonant, but it does raise a question. What is this picture doing here? or maybe I wonder what was on that paper? or Is there writing on that page? and so on. The dissonance is resolved in the next page, and brings us to a world not of things but of people.

Indeed, there is a subtle extra step here, because they first person we see is, as Jörg notes, a picture of a picture. The picture of the man is transitional, it is a picture of a print (a thing) as well as a picture of a person (the man in the photo).

It's a very neatly managed transition, and I do not think any of it is accidental.

You could probably make an analogy here with that film transition where the camera appears to enter a picture.

What is striking to me is that Jörg just sort of skips over that resolving page with some vague "picture of a picture" remark, which makes the third and final reading of his remarks a bit dubious:

It is possible that what Jörg means by "really good photographer" is a reference to the whole sequence. You have to be a really good musician to be able to successfully deploy a dissonance like that. Any fool can mash a random collection of keys on the piano to produce a ghastly honk. Successfully preparing and resolving that same ghastly honk demands skill, producing the honk in the first place requires none.

I continue to struggle with how little Jörg talks about structure, about picture-to-picture relationships. Is he not seeing it? Is he reserving this Special Knowledge for paying students? Or is it simply so obvious that it's not worth mentioning?

If you do happen to watch the whole video, it's worth noting that the 8 picture grids that dominate the middle of the book all use very strict color discipline, but Jörg does not appear to notice. In fact, be doesn't seem to notice any structure in the book at all, other than the overall pacing (which, to be fair, he talks about quite a bit and seems to get perfectly right).