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eye strain, lately

I was embarrassed in Grad School to admit that I didn’t really like looking at much photography, the area of concentration for my MFA.  Many of my peers and professors, though, had to know about everybody, see as much as they could, like in the early 70’s when one had to know the names and albums of even the most obscure bands to keep up, to be hip. I kept up with some photographers whose work I liked but I really just wanted to concentrate on making my own work.

When I started teaching photo, I did have to study trends, examine historical and contemporary work, and be able to speak cogently about it to students. The last few years were exhausting, because of the massive quantity of digital work online. There were times I found something I really liked, smart work or work with heart and genuine conviction. But most of the time I was indifferent to what I saw.

I feel the same now, of photography, fiction, and music. There are occasional pieces that stir me but not many. I am even more selective in what I care to look at, now that I have left teaching. The volume of mediocre images is mind boggling. Most of it is blah: emotionless, diffident, nonpartisan. Does it matter to me that some win critical acclaim despite their shallowness? No. Almost every day I receive emails from galleries and online magazines showing work that has no meaning for me at all. I look away, like I do from anything on television (besides the Weather Channel), because it bores me to death.

Am I a cultural snob? Maybe. If I read the first paragraph of a book and the words do not hit me like hail, I drop it on the hard wood floor, thumping it, allowing the pages to fold over awkwardly, punishing it for wasting my time. Music doesn’t get much better treatment, a few bars and off it goes. Photographic works gets less than one second. Say something or don’t bother me.

I am about to start a new project tomorrow and I am very nervous, feeling I need to screw up the courage to start. I have not shot in the US in a long time. How will I relate to my fellow Americans, when I am so isolated here, so unconnected to my own culture? We shall see. I cannot put it off any longer. I must get to work. It would be unhealthy to do otherwise.

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A Truth and The Truth

A fellow photographer and blogger, Lewis Bush, on http://www.disphotic.lewisbush.com, posted a fine article yesterday about truth in photojournalism. One point of his is that no photograph can be trusted as to the message/meaning ascribed to it, for multiple reasons that he describes very well, the least being the manipulations of the image by the photographer him/herself.

Beyond the photojournalistic image, though, I think there is NO photograph that can reveal the truth; it can only reveal a point of view. There is a difference between A Truth and THE Truth. There are photographic images that hint at something that might have existed for that fraction of time. Beyond that, the rest must be left to the viewer to believe or not to believe. Is how we read it based on our biases? Think of other factors that filter the message.

Even snapshots succumb to the need for close scrutiny. We may think them less contrived. And, yet, remember the false smiles, the cheesy kisses, the demands of the photographer on the subject, for example, to simulate a happy occasion.

I like to look at images and see what I think they say.  Sometimes there are gestures that reveal something unintended by the person taking the photograph or by the subject in the picture. We see only one angle and conclude something, which might not be true at all. The photographer may have chosen it because of the message intended. This image is one example of how a photograph can be read or misread.

AwkwardFampic2

I see a grandmother with her hand on her grandson’s neck. They are dressed for a formal occasion, a Communion, a Bar Mitzvah, perhaps a wedding. Her corsage says wedding but I cannot be sure. The background suggests there is a hired photographer with backdrop, props, and lights taking the picture. I assume it is Grandma because both she and the boy have reddish hair, there is that age difference, and there seems to be a close relationship between them. Grandma’s red fingernails draw attention to her quasi-grip on the young boy’s neck. That is the funny part of the image for me, her hand like a ventriloquist’s, holding his dummy.

This is likely an outtake that survived. Had her fingers not been right there, we could have read this quite differently. Perhaps the one chosen from the contact sheets by the family had her hand behind the boy.  But this one made the list of Awkward Family Photos.

Here is another one I like in that same list.

awkwardfampic1

The members of the family seem prepared with props, wigs, or expressions for the photographer, with one exception, the little girl with her fingers in her mouth. She is caught unready or unsure of what is even happening. Again, the sister or mother’s gesture pressing her two fingers on to the little girl’s shoulder seem to say, “Don’t Move.” The little girl looks a bit nervous, sucking on two fingers, and the balloon just looks sad. To me, to me.

Final thought for the day. Does it matter that we recognize the subjectivity of the photograph? Well, apparently, it does. There is something so convincing about “seeing it with one’s own eyes” that even the most savvy viewer can be seduced by the illusion that it is real or true.

Advertising photography, intended to sell a product, creates a fantasy for us. We may know that, intellectually, but the sales push driven by imagery still works its magic. My current favorite is the Ralph Lauren fashion ad played before and after Downton Abbey, models parading turn-of-the-century-inspired gowns in front of an Abbey-like building. We become the perfect audience prepped for the pitch.

Whatever the image, trust not, at least not completely.

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feast or famine

Sorry for the days without posts. For some it may be nothing at all, not even noticed. For others, it may bring up abandonment issues. Truth be told, I just had to go back to work in the coal mines.

I am still on a Downton Abbey binge fest. Only now I have hooked my husband. We watch on my iPad at night before bed. He is not a glutton so two episodes are the most we watch at a time. I called the Principal at work “milord” yesterday, partly in fun, and partly because I do identify with the kitchen staff. Admin generally see faculty as dispensable as servants.

There was something I was wondering about and finding rather confounding. I cannot remember now; maybe it will come to me as I write.

How about the incredibly gross commercials on TV aired at dinnertime? People across the continent, young and old, have to hear about vaginal atrophy, erectile dysfunction, and the like. I don’t know what is worse, the condition, or the often life-threatening side effects for the medications. I cannot imagine growing up eating supper with such explicit references to uncontrollable bodily fluids. If we were lucky enough some nights to not have to eat at the table, it was time for a Swanson TV dinner, always the fried chicken. If my mother overcooked it, and that was not unusual at all, the browned chicken crust would stick to the aluminum tray. I can still taste it. Now my grandchildren are subjected to overactive bladders and Depends.

They are discovering that there are some additives to fast food that create addiction. No duh. I used to shake like a alkie with DTs when my mom was late with our cheeseburgers from McDonalds. The fries cause serious dependency.

I will post a little jpeg once in a while of pictures I am working on for a book. The photos are of my dogs and their magical ability to enter the paintings they love. I am looking forward to writing the stories they tell when they exit the artwork.

If I think of that thing I was going to tell you, I will need to make a note. I am fearful of the day when I forget where I have parked my car.

PupsandFrankenthaler

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