A Streetwhale Named Desire

After being inconsistent and greedy reading 5 books at a time (I get bored easily) and meeting a pointless situation out of it, I’ve decided to focus on the legendary Moby Dick. Inspired by a friend that had successfully finished The Great Gatsby by reading it only during bus ride, I’m green with envy I decided to make good use of my time on the subway by reading a book only instead of chatting on gadget, pointlessly daydreaming or constructing scenario of strangers for fun. It’s a great read and I’m currently on page 130 of 536. I think by the time I manage to finish it, I can die happily.

This is the view from the subway station near where I live. These last 2 weeks have been maddeningly freezing almost -15°C. Every. Bloody. Day. Never been this cold in winter since 2007. To compensate, it’s sunny almost everyday.

I hate wearing gloves but now I wear them everyday otherwise my wrinkled fingers would bleed and get numb. That was while waiting for the professor. Last days of going to uni.

I was taken aback as I came to fetch the result of one of the essays. The professor typed his comments using a typewriter. Typewriter for crying out loud, isn’t he awesome.

This is a poor blue bear I always pass by on the way to work. These pics are all taken with mobilephone, and as I’m uploading them now I can’t help but thinking of getting myself an iPhone. Just for the sake of Instagram. The desire appeared again since Bon Iver signed up for it. Pfftt.

Fascination of (Dis)appearance

*a quasi-essay on meaning and photography.

When everything is taken away, nothing is left. That is false. ~J. Baudrillard

Something has disappeared and most of us aren’t aware of it. How come? because it’s now fully occupied with the substitutes or in Baudrillard’s term, the remainder, the simulacrum. So densely populated that we’re not even aware that the thing has already disappeared. As enigmatic as it may sound, the integrity of image as a representation of reality is going through a serious deficiency. We’re all suffering (consciously or not) from a crisis of meaning caused by the pervasive repressive influence of technology in this Information Age, when for instance, advertisement no longer becomes the medium of communicaton but the message, where the question towards advertisement’s credibility is no longer on everyone’s mind but how the ad represents itself is what counts. The experts know best that the clever technique is not to sell goods through advertisements but rather to sell the ad, you are no longer expected to create an ad that draws attention to your product, indeed the masses are drawn to their own prestige with a silent promise of solidity by owning a certain product or using a certain service that you sell. Nothing matters more than appearance.

There is no more hope for meaning. And without a doubt this is a good thing: meaning is mortal. But that on which it has imposed its ephemeral reign, what it hoped to liquidate in order to impose the reign of the Enlightenment, that is, appearances, they, are immortal, invulnerable to the nihilism of meaning or of non-meaning itself. This is where seduction begins.

Images. Everywhere you look, images are devouring meanings and the masses.

The point is I’m heavily concerned in trying to cope with my personal crisis of meaning in the small corner of my self-indulgence: taking pictures using a digital camera. I’m torn between a permanent helpless dependence and a silent disgust at the snazzy equipment.

Baudrillard divides the four successive phases of the image:

it is the reflection of a profound reality
it masks and denatures a profound reality
it masks the absence of a profound reality
it has no relation to any reality whatsoever; it is its own pure simulacrum.

Owing to computer technology, being given the ability to manipulate, we all would choose to do so. Photo manipulation is expected to mask and denature a profound reality, and at the same time it masks the absence of reality (Basically, the act of photography alone is to annihilate the object). I’ll try to simplify this:
A horse is photographed. The digital image of the horse is photoshopped or given a touch of Instagram in such a way that the image no longer bears any relation to reality whatsoever, it has become pure simulacrum. As the eyes tend to rather submit to what’s enticing, people would normally be pleased by the image of the horse better than the real because the processed image’s color has been enhanced and sharpened (in short, manipulated) to please the eyes. Next, even without being edited at all, the image of the horse can easily be copied in a single click creating the exact copy in size and each single details of bytes, just like how a clone derives from a single cell of each part of the human’s body. Now the image of the horse is multiple without one of them being the original one, they are now simulacra. The real has been murdered so that the new image contains no reference at all to it, for “these images were in essence not images, such as an original model would have made them, but perfect simulacra, forever radiant with their own fascination.”

The horse that I pass by doesn’t fascinate me as much as the image of the horse does. Deep in our hearts we still yearn for something real but the real never really has the capacity to be as enticing as the distorted image.

When the real is no longer what it was, nostalgia assumes its full meaning.

No wonder we yearn for nostalgia, a retrospective appetite for the past in which so many things were less fascinating, when imagination still ran freely without being materialized on the screens. No wonder after a while we have reached the peak of technology in image processing, everything reverses. We ache for times when pictures are only in black and white or less rich in colors, wealthier in all its scarcity.

That’s why I’ve been compelling myself to (very slowly) learn using old analog lens paired with my bulky digital camera. It’s a desperate attempt to give a modest meaning to what I love doing. As a friend said that these old lenses were mostly manufactured in those times when cameras could only produce black and white images, “that’s why you couldn’t expect much from the colors it (the lens) produces”. Little that he knew, that is to me where the attraction lies! Despite the difficulty compared to using automatic focus in a digital lens, I experience what’s gradually becoming extinct: human control.

A desire for the extension of power that technologies permit is accompanied by the concomitant fear of a loss of power and the weakening of human control in the Machine, Nuclear, and Information Age. -Scott Bukatman

… or in my term, mehr Mühe geben. Something might still be missing, but at least my left hand, my left eye and more extensive part of my brain are intensively striving in taking a single image. Currently I might interpret it as a way to grant myself with “punishment” for being a part of this easy-quick Coca Cola generation.

Ironically, it reminds me of a one fine afternoon when I was using my little fun toy camera LOMO actionsampler (far less than digital it doesn’t even use any batteries) for taking a photo of a 6 year-old girl. After the shot, the girl approached me and said “I want to see!”. “You can’t see the result now, it’s using roll film”, I told her. With disbelief read all over her face she confronted my cultural conscience by saying, “Huh? Das ist aber komisch!” In this liberating yet repressive digital era in which the idea of having to wait for the laboratory to process your pictures before you can view them appears to be comically absurd, I have to agree with Baudrillard.

Something has disappeared.

Illusion.

Having been inspired by Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave” for quite so long, i’ve been obsessed with taking pictures of shadows everywhere I go (shadow is the representation of illusion in the allegory). How mysteriously beautiful and simultaneously deceiving a shadow might appear and how convenient it is on sunny days to look at them than to look up at the real objects particularly when the nearly summer’s provoking sunlight hurts the eye. But referring back to the allegory, we’ll begin to question ourselves if perhaps the form that we once thought was the real object isn’t really the real object but only the reflection of another object that we can’t perceive with our physical eyes or mind. Aside from that, it’s not just about being inspired by the allegory, I realize that I’m even fascinated by illusion, that sometimes I become too overwhelmed in my own ignorance to even search or know the ‘truth’ of any kinds for it might mean that I have to get out of my long-time ‘cave’, being provoked by new adjustment and fear of the ridicule of being different from the majority, and also because for all this time I believe that ignorance isn’t merely bliss, but it’s also strength.

This pic is one of the series, can you guess what shadow that might be? Since this blog theme’s quality isn’t so satisfying for uploading pictures, I post the rest of them on my so-called gallery. Close the door when you leave it, the wind’s been rough these days.

Jein.

What should you do when the whole world is laughing at your fall out? Laugh along and get up!
Anyway this is how the tree looks like now (3rd pic taken yesterday). Some green leaves are going to appear real soon and that magical moment is called Frühling or Spring. Some people like to call it a new beginning or a rebirth, while to nature it really is. I never think of it that way before but I guess circumstances could really make us see certain things like never before.

shoot and “shoot”

went to the photography exhibition in which the sub-exhibition is presenting “SHOOT! Existential Photography”. When you go to an amusement park you’ll find this counter where you can try your luck shooting with a gun and when you hit the bull’s eye you’ll get a doll or knick knacks. But in this one, the bullet is actually supposed to aim at the the bull’s eye mechanically related to a camera shutter so instead of being awarded with a doll you’ll get a photo of yourself shooting. At the exhibition I couldn’t help myself from being amazed by a series of photographs of Ria van Dijk who was 16 when she first won a shooting self-portrait in this interesting yet strange (at that time, even til now) fairground which was kind of popular after the World War I. She first did it in 1936 in her hometown in Tilburg, Holland and continued doing it almost every year except in the wartime and what amazed me the most was she keeps doing it until now (age 90). I couldn’t stop smiling from ear to ear as I walked through the hall full of her photos ever since she was 16 until she becomes a gray-haired lady with a stick. And the last frame of the row is year 2010 without any photograph yet. You can see her series of photographs from 1936-2009 here.

“Just as the camera is a sublimation of the gun, to photograph someone is a sublimated murder – a soft murder, appropriate to a sad, frightened time” – is the philosophy behind shooting pictures as rephrased properly by the American author and essayist Susan Sontag in her book “On Photography” (1977). So shooting a photo using a real gun in hand is the perfect symbolic act of this self-annihilation. In fact, I saw some works of artists who shot at the lens, producing a mysterious blurry photo of broken (if not shattered) glass of self-portraits. It is to freeze a mortal self in a photograph which in fact transforms it into immortal. Photographs are immortal self freezed and framed at a certain moment which can only be achieved through “annihilation” of the object. I found this really interesting and it tickled my curiosity to know how it feels, so I went to the reconstructed shooting gallery at the corner of the hall. By paying 2 euro you get 3 bullets in return to hit the red circle in the middle, and if you hit it there’s a blinking flash of a camera which means you’ll get a photo of yourself shooting with anyone that stands next to you.

and as you see those 3 black holes, none of mine hit the red circle although the second almost did. the first shot is the one right at the margin of the outer circle. Not bad for a first shooter, said the girl behind the counter who taught me how to fill in the bullets. then I gave it another try after learning from the first, and it did almost hit the red circle (argh!) and unfortunately since there was something wrong in the way I held the gun, the wooden grip hit my left upper lip as it bounced backward and it hurt like someone’s swinging a hammer onto my lip. Because of the unbearable pain I couldn’t really concentrate on the third try so it went the most out of target (the one at the far end). And now my left upper lip was a bit swollen. If only I hadn’t left my wallet in the locker, I would have paid another 2 euro just for another 3 chances. But anyway, it felt good, would be even better if it hits the target. I bet the 90-year-old Ria van Dijk could shoot 100x better than me.

The major exhibition was actually on Robert Mapplethorpe‘s (1946-1989) works. His works were very controversial at the earlier times they were first exhibited. What draws my attention to his works is mostly his polaroid series which in fact appear to be rather elegantly stunning for a polaroid as I observed them closely, as Mapplethorpe said that those polaroid photos are “more honest”. Aside from his famous provocative nude muscular bodies and penis series, I like his children photographs very much. Children aren’t so easy to capture but once you capture the perfect moment of them, you’re the one who’s captured.

As my first visit to see Peter Lindbergh’s “On Street” some time ago unfortunately led to no particular memorable pictures that I could really remind myself of, I never put too much of an expectation. I mean, he’s famous but all I could think of was only how I found that some famous artist’s photographs are sometimes being overrated. I’m not saying that the photographer is overrated, but some of the works. It’s like they can shoot anything they find and put it on the gallery and people would buy it for thousands of euro just because it’s captured by some famous artist. I’m not saying that Mapplethorpe’s better, to say it that way is like saying that zebra is a more interesting horse than horse. I’m far than being a photography expert/critic and when I take pictures all I’m counting on are luck and observing skill, added into a fit proper framing without some strong professional technical skill and background. But this is why I like going to photography exhibitions, to find myself going through a series of questioning what the man behind the lens is like and to absorb the pictures through my innocent eyes and mind, as simple as that. But at the same time, it’s an evolving process where one’s mind and thoughts would always learn and change in the process of “enjoying” other people’s works. Not to analyze the pictures or to compare them with one another, but to tell myself over and over again of how priceless a dark-room-processed photograph is. Everytime I walk out of an exhibition I sense a “disgust” towards digital pictures, although it usually won’t last very long.

I also bought two postcards of Mapplethorpe’s for 1 euro each.

The one on the left is one of his polaroid series taken in 1973 called “Headstand”. The right one is one of the children series that I like, taken in 1985 and the girl’s name is Lindsay Key. If anyone of you wants me to send it to you (whoever and wherever you are), shoot your postal address at: y.wongso[at]yahoo.com