Without equal

Untitled, 2014Andy, from ATMTX Photo Blog, wrote an interesting article addressing the proliferation of photographs and the difficulty of creating something unique. He suggests that some people might experience difficulty in finding ways of creating uniqueness in their work though he refrains from going fully into defining what that might mean other than to write “rare equals unique”. You’ll need to read his article to understand where he’s coming from; but in the context in which it is presented, I do not wish to argue.

I dare say everyone would agree that uniqueness of execution or creative process is not a prerequisite for something to be considered art. Ditto where subject matter is concerned. Uniqueness in art or photography does not come from technique or subject matter but rather from what it represents or symbolises. The purpose of art is not merely to be pretty or decorative or even unique; its purpose as I see it is to awaken, tantalize, shock, confound, enrich, disturb, engross, baffle, question, enrage, uplift, enlighten, dumbfound, anger, illuminate, redefine, educate, remind… the list goes on.

This is not to say that uniqueness, however defined, is unachievable, just that it is, by definition, rare. I am quite certain I have never made an original or unique photograph in terms of technical procedure or genre, and perhaps it’s been a long time since anyone has but does it even matter? I would say, probably not. In any case, none of this is the kind of unique Andy was referring to.

What Andy suggests is that if we are after unique photos in terms of their specialness, in terms of value, then we need look no further than family and friends as our subject matter. Candid photos of family and friends are indeed special, precious and even unique; at least in the sense of Andy’s premise.

One of my regrets as a photographer is that I have little to no ability in this area. I have few photos of my children and of those, even fewer that I would rate as special not only in the sense of capturing their nature or their personalities, but also in a creative sense. On the Web, I have seen the amazing results that can come from parents who know what they are doing in this genre of photography. Some keep it simple and some go to extremes but regardless of their methods, I cannot help but feel rather inadequate. I agree wholeheartedly with Andy in that this is a skill worth mastering even though in my case it keeps eluding me.

Having said that, I do manage to make photos of my children that I like (the rarest of all photos) but they do not generally fall in the socially accepted mold of what is understood to make a family photo. Like the photo above, they often tend to verge on the abstract. They are candid in that they are unplanned but in the process of making them I tend to go beyond just tripping the shutter as in this example where I chose a long exposure to create a double-exposure effect. I did this on purpose and for a specific reason which I don’t need to go into but suffice to say that this photo is of great value to me and quite likely, me alone. And I’m okay with that because each time I make such a photo, I do indeed have something without equal.

I would leave some souvenir

Sandcastles in blue

Sandcastles in blue

My post titled “Oblivion” got me some interesting emails. One offered to help me find Jesus while another suggested that I needed more followers which had me all excited until I realised he wasn’t talking about apostles. Oh well. Anyway, I did get a couple of emails asking me to expand a little on the idea I presented about the universe wanting to be noticed but I might leave that for another post.

I also got some comments and emails about my photo retention policy. My retention period is unspecific but sooner or later photos get thrown out. I don’t usually keep my photographic work.

This revelation surprises most people. It shocks a few, especially artists and photographers. On rare occasions someone will nod in understanding.

There are a number of reasons why I don’t keep my work and only one which would make me reconsider. But first the reasons why I don’t.

I’m lazy. Storing physical photos and negatives is time consuming if it’s to be done right. I’ve also moved around a lot and packing photos is a chore I have never cared for. I also never feel the urge to revisit past work so the lack of incentive doesn’t help.

In terms of storage and packing, the digital age has changed things significantly but even this newfound convenience harbours requirements that are not overly welcomed by the truly lazy such as me. The need for tagging, backing up, organising, sorting, rating and whatnot; well, let me just say that I would rather be out for a walk with a camera in my hand than spend time doing such tedious work. And then there’s the need to transfer gigs of files onto a new computer (ok, so that’s only every five or six years for me but still). The truly convenient thing about the digital age however, is the ability to upload a photo onto the Web. Once there, the need to keep it on my computer becomes less important. Of course there are plenty of other reasons to keep photos offline indefinitely but none that I can think of seem significant enough for me to change my ways.

It was suggested that I may want to keep my photos so that my children may know how I saw the world. That, I admit, is an interesting idea. My own parents were not photographers. They did take a few family snaps but little in terms of how they saw the world. Of course, had they been photographers and had they left me with boxes and albums of photos, I would happily go through them and most likely enjoy the experience as I tend to when looking through any portfolio, good or bad. However I would be none the wiser about understanding how my parents saw the world. With both my parents dead, whatever glimpses I would get would be filtered through my own experiences. It would not be how my parents saw the world but rather an interpretation of what I imagined they saw. My parents, like many of their generation, did not freely express themselves with their children, at least not in the way some parents do today and certainly not in the way I do with my own children. My children know how I see the world. We discuss all sorts of topics openly, at depth and from our personal points of view, be it art, music, philosophy, politics, religion, sex, relationships, science, metaphysics. All subjects are discussed for whatever age they are at and revisited regularly as they get older and their view of the world matures. And I might add, I learn as much from them as they from me. What I am trying to say is that my children will not need a box or a hard drive of photos to know how I saw the world once I am gone.

Take the above photograph: “Sandcastles in blue”.

What would this photograph say to my children, or anyone else, if they were to come across it after I’d gone? Would they see it for what it is? For what it means? For what I saw? Most likely they would see it from their own point of reference and not get the connection I made to the precariousness of life; the transience of all that is around us; the ephemerality of our own existence. This is an abstract and as such it is likely to have many interpretations. What it is, is a city skyline reflected on wet sand rendered blue to symbolise the two things that may outlast all else – the sky and the sea – in contrast to all the manmade things which may as well be made of sand for all the longevity they possess. Maybe, at the very least, the blue will evoke a sweet sense of sadness at the inevitable passing of all that was, all that is, all that will be; even the sky and the sea. Even this photo.

Whether my photos are around for 500 days or 500 years, either way it is no more than a blink of a cosmic eye. What is more, the relevance of my photos lies in the ethereal actions that made them, not in the final print which is nothing more than an echo of a moment.

In any case, at this stage there would be only one reason that would entice me to keep my work and that would come from something Vincent Van Goth once wrote: I have walked this earth and out of gratitude I would leave some souvenir. However my work has some way to go before even coming close to matching Van Gogh’s creative genius but for now, I would humbly offer the little bundles of words and the quiet echoes of moments that is Plop, a blog as useful as a frog jumping in a pond.

The suckiness of life

Innocence

Innocence

Friend: Life can really suck sometimes.

Me: Maybe that’s just the universe reminding us it wants to be noticed.

Friend: What?

Me: You know, maybe the uni… never mind.

Friend: Why would the universe need to be noticed?

Me: I don’t know. Maybe it’s insecure.

Oblivion

Oblivion

Oblivion

Continuing from the previous post…

“There is nothing dreadful in life for the man who has truly comprehended that there is nothing terrible in not living.” – Epicurus

The idea of oblivion, the thought that we will eventually be forgotten does not sit well with most people. That’s perfectly understandable. I get it. This is why when people find out that I don’t keep my photographic work, I get the usual questions along the lines of: Don’t you want to leave a legacy, something to be remembered by? You know, for posterity? My response is usually: Remembered for what purpose, by whom and for how long? I mean, posterity? Isn’t that oblivion’s other, more benign face, as Joyce Carol Oates once said.

The odds that life as we know it, that consciousness and self-awareness somehow happened by accident is too incredible to contemplate, perhaps even too agonising to accept. That our lives should have no point beyond our immediate circle of influence (which for most of us, would at best, extend into a very short period of time beyond our demise) can be a depressing thought. It is more comforting to think that there is a meaning to it all, a reason for our being here. The search for meaning is so common-place that it has become clichéd and yet the search continues, at least with some of us; usually those of us not too busy just trying to survive.

There are a few studies around which suggest that people with religion are generally happier. From what I can make of these studies, it doesn’t seem to matter what your religion is or for that matter what you believe in as long as you believe in something and that the something is something bigger than the sum of the parts. So the woman who told me that we all need to believe in something might have been onto… well, something.

For me however, religion is an impossibility of contradictions and absurdities to which I cannot subscribe. Having said that, I do understand the need for religion and I would not wish to argue the matter with anyone beyond a friendly exchange of ideas. We all do whatever we can to be happy and who am I to deny that from anyone?

So if oblivion awaits me in death, what meaning is there for me in life?

When I proclaimed to the woman in the previous post that Art was my religion, I did so tongue-in-cheek but there was more truth in it then I may have cared to admit at the time. I find a certain amount of amorphousness in art which is akin to the fluidity I find in life. Whereas a rock is a rock, an artwork of a rock will be different things to different people. Art is fluid in how it allows itself to be interpreted. Art will accommodate its audience in sometimes subtle and sometimes forceful ways but more importantly, art encourages its audience to see, to hear, to feel, even to taste. Art provides a looking glass through which the world can be observed as a reflection of our own story.

There are times while out making photographs when the onslaught on my senses can be almost overwhelming. It doesn’t matter if I am standing in a dirty back alley or on the edge of a seemingly endless ocean, the wonder is the same. It may seem strange to compare an alley to an ocean in this manner but the strangeness only exists if I am to judge and compare the scenes in terms of beauty or pleasantness. But by detaching myself from judgement I am left only with wonder at all the things that arouse my senses. All the things, which through some cosmic miracle came to be, as they are, as I witness them, me included; me, just one of the universe’s instrument of self awareness. Because that is my belief: the universe wants to be noticed.

If oblivion awaits me in death, then my life’s purpose is to notice the universe.

Every.

Bit.

Of it.

Of course, it’s just a belief, no less absurd than any of its religious counterparts.

Light on the rocks

Light on the rocks

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The dead have the last laugh

The dead have the last laugh

The dead have the last laugh

Some photographs can seem innocent enough; pretty and colourful but without substance. This is one such photograph, and yet, it did ignite a memory…

I don’t remember how the conversation got started – it was too long ago – and I can’t be sure exactly where it happened but this photograph brought it back, if not from the dead than at least from the land of forgotten memories. Beyond this point this post stops being about photography per se so feel free to stop reading now if that is what you are looking for. This particular writing is about one of the ways I view life, namely: life from a perspective of death (hence the photo).

I was taking photos when a woman asked me to take a photo of her and her infant using her camera. Happy to oblige, I took the shot and handed back the camera. At this point a conversation started up and somehow, for a reason I cannot recall, we got onto the subject of religion and she asked me if I was Christian. I told her I wasn’t and she automatically jumped to the conclusion that I was an atheist. Again I said no and before I could explain, she asked if I was Buddhist (‘It’s rather trendy these days isn’t it? Zen and all that Eastern stuff’). I shook my head. She named a few more religions until she admitted defeat. ‘I give up,’ she said. ‘What do you believe in?’

‘I prefer to hold no particular belief; including a belief in nothing.’

‘Well, everyone needs to believe in something, anything.’

I thought about this for a while and finally I said ‘I believe in Art.’

‘Pardon me?’

‘I believe in Art, with a capital A. Art museums are my cathedrals and Art galleries are my churches. Curators are my priests. The dark room is my confessional. Van Gogh, Monet, White, Dali, Picasso and Ray are but some of my saints. Inspiration is my Holy Spirit and light is my Saviour. So I guess you could say: Art is my religion.’

‘Oh… Okay… Really?’

‘No, not really. I was just yanking your chain. Sorry.’ I laughed, hoping she’d see the joke.

‘Oh, sure. Right. Well, I still think everyone needs something to believe in. Something greater than us, than all of this,’ she said waving one arm about (fortunately not the one holding the baby). ‘You need to believe in something and if you don’t know it now you’ll probably figure it out on your deathbed.’

I’ll figure it out on my deathbed.

Bring together the right mix of people and any conversation about the afterlife can quickly get overheated despite no one knowing the truth. I mean, the reality is that in the end only the dead get the last laugh and, considering the wide disparity in beliefs, only some of the dead will get the last laugh with the rest of them having to endure the endless we-told-you-so’s for all of eternity. Unless of course, the atheists have it right in which case no one gets a laugh. Too bad for the atheists, they have no chance of uttering a single told-you-so.

I’ll figure it out on my deathbed.

Despite being brought up a catholic, I started to question the “meaning of life” at seven. I won’t bore you with my seeker’s story but it suffices to say that eventually I decided that truth, if it can be known at all, is extremely elusive and so, rather than spending my life looking for it in boring texts and scriptures, I figured if it could be found at all, I was just as likely to find it in art and photography as anything else. And I’ve had more fun ever since.

I’ll figure it out on my deathbed.

However before getting to that point I went through a bunch of beliefs from Heaven & Hell, reincarnation, Nirvana, souls, the Matrix, computer simulations and so on but I eventually settled on oblivion. It seemed to me that oblivion made the most sense, the only possible end to this cosmic accident that we call life. But then somebody comes along and tells me that I need to believe in something greater than me, greater than the sum of all the parts and it is implied that this need will at the very least be realised when most needed.

I’ll figure it out on my deathbed.

Does life really need to have meaning? And if there is some meaning, does it matter if I am to remain ignorant of it? Does believing in something, anything, make for a better life? Does it make it easier to die?

To be continued…

Maybe.

(And by ‘maybe’ I mean if I’m not too busy, not because I’m on my deathbed ready to cark it at anytime, though technically speaking I could cark it at anytime but let me say, it would come as a total surprise.)

In all infinities lie all possibilities

The little mermaid

The little mermaid

I like blur in the photographs I make. I like capturing motion. Nothing stands still; everything moves. Some things just move more slowly than others but nothing is immune from motion. No matter how big, no matter how small, no matter how tangible, no matter how ethereal. Even time moves on relentlessly.

And is there anything more agitated than mind?

Anything?

Imagination perhaps? I mean, why not? All the imaginings of the impossibilities.

Maybe, just maybe because in all the infinities lie all the possibilities, all the imaginings.

Like a little mermaid, bathing in the shallows at dusk.

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