Posts Tagged ‘sense’

Photographic Memory

25 February 2009

Dear J-

Watch the traffic rolling by and close your eyes; do you hear the whirring of engines, or imagine a busy river?  I like the old story about the five blind men coming upon an elephant, each declaring, with justification, that they’d come upon a snake, tree, sheet, brush, or house, depending on which part they touched.  You would imagine that upon hearing the conflicting information they’d each take the time to verify each other’s conclusions, so that’s why the story adds a little addendum about how crochety and stubborn each one was.  Point is that we see so much and, as our primary sense, we believe it best.

Susan Sontag had some interesting thoughts about photography, including that it grew popular amongst cultures with veneration of long work hours (Germans, Americans, and Japanese) because it provided a pleasant sort of work in leisure time.  On vacation?  Sure, go document x, y, and z and bring back proof in some form.  The old cliche first assignment of “What I Did for Summer Break” is so familiar and trite because we’ve all had to do it at some point — I did a double-take when Godai recalled that he had the same assignment when he was little in Maison Ikkoku, more evidence that the inculcation of a work ethic starts young.

Photography serves as an exact record, in miniature, with less effort and expense than doing your own illustration or painting.  One of Sontag’s assertions is that everything has been photographed at one point, and it leads to a sort of overload where the impact of any one photograph is lessened, whereas when it was practiced by relatively fewer people and photographs were not as readily available, the impact of each was greater.  There’s some truth to it — I am guilty of the kittens-babies-sunsets variety on flickr myself — but in the whole I reject that.  Yes, photography plays up to only the visual sense, but there are so many different ways to depict a scene that the images we take and choose to share are inevitably tied to our own aesthetics.

Different people have different photographic styles, what they call a visual voice; it may degenerate to the form of self-parody but I’m reasonably sure that any number of people would be able to tell an Anne Geddes picture from an Annie Leibowitz one, for instance, or Helmut Lang from Duane Michals from Weegee from Arbus from Weston.  The good photographs tell complete stories with one sense — vision — and between voice, mood, and light, there’s so many different methods of relating experiences that  doubt we’ll ever truly capture all the possible images in the whole world.



Spider Juggle

4 August 2008

Dear J-

The last couple of mornings, I’ve managed to blunder into a spider’s web (to be precise, one of the long support lines) coming out of the door with the dogs.  By the time I get back, ten or fifteen minutes on, the web has completely disappeared, taken down either in haste or panic.  They say that spiders can sense threats by the nature of vibrations transmitted through the web — a leaf isn’t going to feel the same as a trapped insect, and no doubt a giant mammal blundering through a web brings on a clear message:  get out, potential predator.  Likewise, the web is usually down by dawn; nothing quite so easy for a bird to spot as a spider dead-center on a web by daylight.

I can’t help but think of the efficiency of the spider and contrast it to work, where, like Kevin Bacon’s character shouts, increasingly hoarsely at the end of Animal House, “all is well.”   Surely the first few reports have come back with discouraging results; I bluntly stated on Friday that we’re headed for the cliff in an e-mail that eventually got forwarded to one of our site VPs.  Yes, I know we’re not going to be able to go back.  Question is, what did we hope for in forging forward anyway?

I’m not much of a multitasker; give me enough balls to juggle and I can guarantee you that I’ll start dropping them before long.  It feels like when I’m not on the phone, I’m answering e-mails or personal supplicants, and there’s just not enough time in the day to do everything absolutely correctly.  As correct as possible, sure, but even that becomes a moving target when you get to reinvent your work processes on a daily basis.