Twenty thousand days

To me, most Rorschach inkblots look like sand islands surrounded by azure seas.

To me, most Rorschach inkblots look like sand islands surrounded by azure seas.

Today, I am exactly twenty thousand days old. Seems like a lot of days and yet the only one that feels real is today.

As I sit here at a desk typing these words, watching the sun set, I realise that I don’t truly remember any of the past 19999 days, at least not clearly. My memories are disjointed and full of gaps. Even yesterday cannot be recalled in full details from the moment I woke to the moment I went to sleep. At best, I remember past days much as I remember a dream upon waking up. Only today feels truly real. The rest of the 19999 days feel like a notion, an idea. Or dare I say, an illusion.

Maybe that’s the great cosmic joke that I’ve read in those Zen and Buddhists stories, the one that makes people laugh out loud upon enlightenment. Maybe it’s all just a dream and yet we spend so much time worrying and fussing and planning.

Maybe. Who knows? Certainly not me.

Anyway, twenty thousand days… that’s a lot of days and yet it feels like… just one.

Flat lining

The rocks

Consciousness is the software that runs values and attitudes. It is the underlying system of beliefs and biases, the life-support system of the mythos. But in so being is it not part of the mythos itself?

I’m running out of photos to post. An expected consequence of not taking a camera on my outings I suppose.

A friend recently told me about Lightroom Dashboard and got me to use it with my Lightroom catalogue, and the graph showing the number of photos taken over time flat-lined a few months ago. Oh well.

The photo above was taken some time back and is one of the last photos I created which holds some meaning. Actually, meaning might be the wrong word. The picture itself doesn’t have meaning in this case. It would be better to say that this picture holds a meaningful association. This picture was simply an incidental side effect to a train of thought that was occurring at the time it was made while I was out with my daughter. I didn’t even remember I’d taken it but I do remember noticing how silvery the light looked.

It’s a plain photo but I rather like the rocks. And the clouds. And the flatness of the light. It’s kind of neat.

A very small viewfinder

Untitled, 2015

In my previous post I expressed my concern about the accelerating rate of change – especially with respect to technology – and it’s impact on our sense of wonder and appreciation. Having thought about it some more I feel that I must balance this out or failing that, at least place my view in the correct perspective. There is always more than one way to look at the world.

When I look at a thing or a person or a situation I try to remind myself that what I am seeing is not the thing/person/situation but rather my knowledge of it. I consider this an important distinction.

What I wrote in my previous post may have left an impression that I see the rate at which technology is evolving as somehow bad; that it comes at a price, that what might be gained on one side of the equation causes something to be lost on the other. My analysis of the situation – simplistic as it was – is a fragment of a much bigger picture; just as a photo is limited by its frame thus becoming a fragment of a scene rather than a complete picture. Any analytical thought which I apply to the matter of technological change is in fact applied to my experience of it, and my experience, being limited by definition, ensures that my analysis is merely a framed snapshot of what it is. And just like the photo above, it omits far more than it includes.

The reality is that when something is lost something is also created. In other words it’s not a matter of loss and gain but rather one of transformation. All of it is part of a birth and death cycle that is neither good or bad; it just is. Any judgement of good or bad is merely a thought; nothing more.

When I wrote about the loss of wonder and appreciation, I did so from a perspective that was all my own. It was based on my understanding of wonder, my understanding of appreciation and my experiences that for the most part belonged to an age where change happened at a relatively slower pace. As such, I need to look beyond that limited viewpoint. I need to look up from the viewfinder that is my experience and see what’s beyond my frame. Sadly, this is a difficult task because all I am likely to achieve, is simply enlarge the frame a little by zooming out. And should I ever be so lucky as to see a big picture, can I ever be sure that what I see beyond the original frame isn’t just a fabrication of my own imagination?

Still, simply understanding the limitations imposed by my point of view will hopefully go some way in creating some small amount of objectivity. Or failing that, some small amount of open-mindedness.

When I try to look beyond my frame of experience by, for example, looking into my children’s points of view – different frames, different limitations – I see that perhaps wonder and appreciation aren’t being lost but redirected. From my children’s younger, less skeptical perspectives there seems to be a number of growing movements working at simplifying and minimilising various aspects of life by building smaller homes, living more efficiently, pursuing quality over quantity, expressing ideas in innovative and creative ways and so on. Instead of relying on comic idiocy or vulgarity or cute animals, there are people who are using technology to create not only works of beauty but works of wonder and meaning as well. There is a lot going on out there that the news media is not even remotely interested in reporting. That’s a shame.

Of course this view is just an alternate picture within a different frame. Any sense of hope it may portray is not more or less real than the concern I raised in my previous post. It’s just another view, another perspective, another way to look at the world.

What I am really wanting to say in this post is: There is what I think I know and there is what I know I don’t, which leads me to suspect that I don’t know s**t.

I don’t see reality, I only see my knowledge of it.

And I’m looking through a very small viewfinder.

The pursuit of upgrades

Untitled, 2015Untitled, 2015

Here are a couple of photos I made some months ago while out shooting with my daughter. They were shot late in the afternoon, the light was poor, the contrast low and the tones flat. They took a bit of post work to make them look like this but as they say: no amount of post-processing will make a bad image good. But still, I like how they’ve turned out despite being too soft and a little noisy.

When less than stellar technical results are achieved it is tempting to blame the gear. After all, there are times when good quality gear makes a big difference. Not that I would know first hand since I buy my gear based primarily on one criteria, namely, price. The cheaper the better. In any case there is no doubt that good quality lenses will deliver sharper results than cheaper ones and have bigger apertures to boot. Generally speaking. To be frank, if I ever get back into photography in any significant way (I’ve passed on all my gear to my daughter who is making good use of it), I will seriously consider buying quality equipment even if it means having only one quality lens.

However lately I have been wondering about the “upgrade” mentality that seems to permeate all facets of life these days; be it with photography, mobile phones, tablets, wearables or even cars.

I know of photographers who upgrade their cameras every twelve to eighteen months. They usually justify each purchase by pointing out the latest improvement believing that there is a direct causal relationship between the gear and the quality of the resulting images.

I would argue that considering the quality of each and every piece of gear they buy, any improvements are more likely to be attributed to improved skills on the photographer’s part than improved technology. Surely technology has reached a point where yearly releases of cameras is unnecessary and unwarranted other than for the sake of corporate profits. Of course some upgrades may be warranted if a photographer moves from shooting stills to shooting low-light video for example, but what if he is shooting the same thing?

I recently watched a number of short films shot by a young film maker my daughter put me onto and after watching six or so I noticed that the description of some of the films mentioned the camera that was used. On the first description I read, the camera mentioned was the GH4. Since I had not noticed any difference between any of the movies I watched – on a 55″ HDTV – at least in terms of technical quality, I assumed that they were all shot using the GH4. It turned out I was wrong. Each movie was shot with a different camera including a 5D Mark III, a GH4, a RX100III and a RX100.

Alright, so maybe I simply lack the appraisal skills to differentiate between the output produced by the different cameras in the same way that I cannot always tell why one amateur singer is judged better than another in a singing contest when they both sounded pretty much on par to my ears. After all, I don’t know all the possible reasons that people might have for upgrading on a yearly basis but no matter how I spin it in my own head, it seems, for the most part, rather senseless.

I do not wish for this to come across as a rant or some statement about consumerism or environmental responsibility. That is not my point. When I said that the “upgrade mentality” had me wondering, I meant it in terms of something far less tangible, perhaps insignificant. More of a romantic notion one could say, born out of some nostalgic contemplation.

It is fair to say that technology has become ubiquitous. So much so that many people, especially younger generations, have no sense of wonder when new technologies emerge. Self-driving cars? Whatever. Mission to Mars? Don’t care. More computer power than an Apollo moon mission in a mobile phone? Yeah but can I take selfies with it?

This absence of wonder for the great engineering achievements of the modern world saddens me but that’s not all that does. Appreciation for these things is also disappearing it seems.

The speed at which updates come out has turned most technology into disposable devices. There is no time to appreciate fine workmanship or to value one’s tools of craft. When a new camera comes out, lip service is given to design in as much as it impacts look-and-feel and then the talk quickly turns to pixels and sensors and focus speed, sometimes finishing with what next year’s model should improve on. Is it possible to decry a camera’s shortcomings but still end up feeling any sense of connection to it?

This is the part where the nostalgic, romantic part of my wonderment comes in. I seem to remember – as far as I can trust my memories – a time when photographers had an affectionate bond with their camera. When every flaw of the tool was understood and worked with. When the camera was appreciated for its strengths and loved in spite of its weaknesses. When every scratch and dint told a story of a photo captured or missed. A time when “upgrading” was not something taken lightly and caused a twinge of sadness for the camera that would be shelved. Perhaps I am just talking about caring. Caring for an object which may be inanimate but still has… How best to put it? Soul? Is it not one of our special powers as humans: the ability to imbue personality into an object; to turn a machine into an old friend? At least when given enough time and when our attention isn’t focused on the forthcoming announcement for the next model.

Of course I am romanticising the past but I’m still left wondering if something important isn’t being lost in the constant pursuit of upgrades. Something essential to our happiness.

Out of left field

ContrastI wasn’t going to make this shot when I saw it but changed my mind when I thought it would provide a good example of where my thoughts go when I see certain things.

This building (it is all one building, part colourful and part not), while interesting enough as a piece of architecture, got my attention not because of its design but because of a mental association I made with aerial photography of farmlands. I had only just an hour or so before, overheard a couple talk about the Amazonian deforestation in Brazil. They were talking about the absurdity of converting rainforest to farmland and how the soil could only sustain one or two seasons of crops before it became useless and arid. Hence the photo above: fields of crops on the left, arid and dead on the right, and the knowledge that the line in the centre will make its way to the left, little by little with each tick of the clock. A bit abstract but there it is.

On a side note, I perceived the couple I overheard as being somewhat high and mighty about the deforestation of the Amazon basin and the Brazilian government’s apparent lack of concern. There is no doubt that what is going on with the Amazon is a tragedy but I wonder if this couple took a moment to think about the great forests that once existed in Europe, North America and Australia, the ones which we saw fit to turn into malls and parking lots over time. Sitting around at leisure over a latte and pointing a finger at the indiscretions of others sometimes seems a bit hypocritical and arrogant. Or maybe that’s just me.

The social ignoramus

Cloudscape, 2015Cloudscape, 2015I haven’t been here since February… where did the time go?

So it’s been a while since I’ve posted and it’s been a while since I’ve made any photographs. In the last three months I’ve only been out a couple of times with my camera and on each occasion it was simply to accompany my daughter. Each time, the only shots I took were to show my daughter examples of composition or camera settings.

It seems a little strange, sitting here, writing about it and realising that I have not missed making photos. For some time now I have had no desire to take photos much less carry a camera around. Recently I had the occasion to spend a day in one of the most beautiful National Parks in South East Queensland: a sub-tropical forest bordered by golden beaches in gorgeous little bays and coves skirted by azure seas. And yet, in spite of knowing full well what I was in for, I didn’t get the urge to take my camera nor did I regret not having it once I was there. This situation probably would have upset me once but not now. It may be nothing more than a passing phase or it may be something else. Whatever it might be I’m fine with it.

I can’t say why it is this way because I don’t know. There would have been a time where this complete lack of desire for photography would have depressed me. Especially the lack of desire for creativity. I was never much of a snap shooter but I always liked recording the scenes that touch me on some deeper level but now, for the most part, I am happy to just see, feel and move on.

Anyway, I’m sounding like a boring old fart or grumpy old man, even if I don’t feel that way at all, so allow me to change the subject to an unintended consequence to this absence of creative desire. I had never realised until recently, how much time I dedicated to photography, be it in the taking, processing or simply in the consumption of photography-related news and information. When I stopped taking photos I stopped having a reason for being on my computer and not being on my computer freed up rather large chunks of time. Far more than I would have anticipated.

My home computer barely gets used now and my use of the internet revolves around looking up addresses, buying books or movie tickets, listening to music and reading the handful of blogs I follow (those listed under “People I Follow”). And all those things I do on my phone. The good thing about the phone factor over the home computer is that it doesn’t encourage me to spend more than 10-15 minutes on it at a time, unless I’m reading a book or streaming music or, on occasion, researching some specific subject (admittedly, where the latter example is concerned I will usually boot up my computer). The small (even if it is considered a large phone) form factor doesn’t incite me to do more than I need to. I might think of a friend for example, lookup what he or she is up to and that’s usually it. Or I might finish a book which will prompt me to get on to Goodreads and find another book from my list, read some reviews or recommendations, buy a book and done. All quick and easy without getting side-tracked into a rabbit hole of YouTube videos, Facebook pages, forums, news sites etc., and wondering where the last hour or two or three went.

Like photography, I don’t miss being on the internet which is not something I would have thought only a few months ago. However, on the down side, I have almost no idea what’s going on in the world. I don’t know about big news events unless I hear about it from someone, I don’t know what new cameras are out or what the latest “must-have” gadget might be. I don’t know what celebrities are up to or what the meme-of-the-day is. I guess I’m becoming a bit of a social ignoramus. Actually I am not sure that this is a “down side”, perhaps I should have just said: “on the other hand”, and let others be the judge of whether this is good or bad. I can’t say I feel any sense of inferiority due to my newfound ignorance but it has made me wonder about something, namely: what particular pieces of knowledge are actually worth knowing or worth chasing?

A question for another time perhaps.

Impossible realities

Four pillarsThis is another photo taken on the same day as the previous bridge photo. There was something Escher-esque about the scene that caught my attention and when a boat went past, creating the ripples and distorting the reflection so beautifully, I had no choice but to make the shot.

Of course this is not a true representation of the scene. Out-of-camera, the image was vastly different to this one. The light was warmer, the contrast more subdued, the plume of smoke in the background was white, the sky was blue and the water looked far less inviting. That image was closer to what the general consensus would call reality but it was not the scene that I had seen in my imagination.

As I mentioned before, I got a sense of Escher’s impossible realities in this picture. However, rather than creating irregular perspectives or quirky perceptions, I played with textures and colours. That’s one of the wonderful aspects of visual creations is it not? The possibility of bringing to light the impossible realities of our imaginations.