Sunday, February 21, 2016

Part II

So where do we go now? I have two unrelated trains of thought. This is the first.

We have our ancient navigator. I'm going to make up some things that have the right kind of shape. So, please don't get fussy about the details. Our guy makes a voyage, using his people's intimate knowledge of and relationship with the sea and the sky. The voyage becomes a celebration, it becomes a song, it becomes his name. In part because it was hard and heroic, but in part because it was a natural extension of his people's culture.

We have the woman driving the destroyer. Her voyage becomes a line in the newspaper. There is no song, there is no name. There probably is a party, a feast of sorts.

The first produces a trail of cultural artifacts that echo through generations. The second does not.

If we wish to create cultural artifacts that echo down through generations, that is, Art of some weight, from which navigator ought we best draw our lessons?

More generally, the methods and patterns of these indigenous cultures seem useful and worthy of our consideration. If we follow the methods of the pundits, the well known authors of fat guides to our cameras and How To Shoot Nudes we will see no connection between the way we cook our dinner and how we make our pictures.

To the Lummi, to the Buddhist, to the Polynesian navigator (I extrapolate and guess, here) it is inconceivable that these two should be separate. To us, the Euro or Euro-influenced technophile, there simply is no connection.

Next time you navigate a canoe across an ocean, or cook a meal, consider how this is connected to the Art you have made and wish to make.

The switchboard through which any connection between your dinner and your Art occurs can only be yourself. The question is whether you permit the relationship to flow. I have no guidance for what that looks like, feels like, to you. I do believe that if you find that path, it can only be for the good.

I don't have the answers even for myself, it seems likely that my answers, should I ever find them, would not serve you anyways. Perhaps it's the search that matters?

I'll let you know if I find out.


  1. Be mindful, pay attention to each moment and everything you do, be open, do not attach yourself to things and plans ...

    Not easy.

    Best, Thomas

  2. I don't know whether you're reading the Sunday New York Times on your Hawaii vacation, but there's an article in "The Stone" column in the Sunday Review Opinionator section by neuroscientist Michael S. Gazzaniga, "On the Road to Humankind With Leon Festinger" that bears remarkably on the theme you are developing.

    It's a long, very interesting article; but I've copied one paragraph that seems to provide a theoretical basis for the story-telling cultural transmission that you're describing:

    "This is why the historian Yuval Harari, in his book “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind,” has proposed that in addition to our personal narratives, we produce collective fictions that are a uniquely human capacity. “We control the world basically because we are the only animals that can cooperate flexibly in very large numbers,” he writes. “And if you examine any large-scale human cooperation, you will always find that it is based on some fiction like the nation, like money, like human rights. These are all things that do not exist objectively, but they exist only in the stories that we tell and that we spread around. This is something very unique to us, perhaps the most unique feature of our species.”"

    Read the whole article if you get a chance.

  3. You are viewing the Polynesian sailor through a poetic (romantic, spiritual, inspirational, whatever) lens, but not so the modern navigator. Could you not view both through a poetic lens? What cannot be viewed through a poetic lens, the creative eyes of an artist?

    1. I dare say you are right. Does it make a difference to my thesis? (That's a real question, I am of course to close to it all to really be able to tell)

  4. If your thesis is that you are the only intermediate ("switchboard") between the mundane ("your dinner") and the poetic ("Art"), then we agree.

    I was mostly reacting to the implication that the exotic Polynesian sailor was more poetic than the high tech navigator. That's what we pick up from our culture, but we need not be slaves to those assumptions.

    Some subjects, often the more exotic ones, are more easily viewed within a culture as grist for the poetic. Some really interesting stuff happens when you can transform an unexpected mundane object into a poetic object. Presumably you please yourself, but you may end up catching the attention of others.

    And as for how to make it happen, well, how does one be creative? There's a lot of literature out there that describes creative people, but I don't think we have a deep understanding of exactly how creative connections are made.

    I like your questions. It's why I read your blog.

  5. As modern humans, at least those I know personally, there is very little connection to how we got to be who we are. I noticed early on in my ignorance that people who were connected to a story about who they were made art that was authentic and resonant to many others, but hard to parse as to why it was so effective.

    At about that same time I realized that much of my motivation for making photographs was to make good photographs, and for the most part they were devoid of an authentic point of view.

    As my life grew more complex, and as I began to confront my own strengths and weaknesses, and truly came to own the good, the bad and the ugly about who I was, combined with the investigation as to how I became who I am, I began to have a more specific point of view. Not immediately about my art, but about the story of my life.

    You see, the ancients probably never really questioned where they came from or who they were. Identity is a modern issue, based on the mass movements of people and the intermingling of those of different backgrounds. This is a good thing as it will probably, in a few generations perhaps, or maybe a few thousand generations, might allow us to be more human and less tribal.

    My quest for owning who I am only goes back a few years, to 1911 when my grandfather came to this country, and also 1929 when my father was born and left as an orphan. These two narratives of my family converged to make me. Before those dates, there is nothing for me to know or understand.

    Leaning how the experiences of these two men have influenced my life, one by marrying my grandmother and making my mother, and the other by making me, and all of them for sticking around to mold me, along with where I grew up and the people that surrounded me at that time, has left an indelible mark.

    For years I tried to deny my upbringing and be someone that I was not. I was a failure at that, and that failure permeated my life until I was confronted with a cataclysm of my own making. At that point I was faced with a choice, continue with my delusion, or make a break for a more authentic life based on owning my influences.

    At this point in my life I am mostly confident in the work that I make reflects who I am in a much more authentic way than ever before. The last 16 years have been the most productive of my life. Yet still the struggle persists. Each day I live a little more and that day rubs off in the work I do.

    And each day I work on the story about who I am, and that story informs my work. And neither will ever be finished so long as I breathe and can continue to make photographs that mean something to me. And if those photos can mean something to someone else, well, that's a great bonus.

    Thank you for writing this blog, and for making a difference. It's a refreshing change from the usual web blather.