Priming Time: Photo Logic

When I’m taking pictures of people I’m increasingly conscious of my bias, of what leaks in as sub-text because of my bias or around it. When a photo is in isolation from the event, what makes the cut?

book signings
Joe Rosenblatt of Lunatic Muse signs a book for Alexander, in this case Brides of the Stream from 1983.

I like the intensity of postures, it being self-explanatory of what is going on.

I try to portray people at their most visibly engaged. Partly because people have enough negative mental images in their heads of themselves without making it worse with an unflattering shot of a permanent unhappy looking shot. Partly because it’s challenging because engaged generally is with motion.

At that engagement point a lot of people move their heads. My camera doesn’t have the speed for freezing that. I don’t like any shot where the face is blurred. I am quite content to get arm and hand blur. That is interesting and makes a blend of animation and still, but a face blur alone feels like a kind of violence to identity. If the whole person is blurred, then it is different. It’s a capture of gesture not portrait.

sweet art pho
If there’s a motion blur with food, fine. It brings life back to an inanimate shot.

Other things I’m conscious of when I take photographs: The notion that one keys into stereotypes, that one can cue someone to archetypes, that one can raise consciousness about stereotyped narratives and promotes notions. How is the various category of person portrayed?

I am conscious that if there are mostly males in a picture, or one male and one female that she should not be the only one smiling. All or none.

On a formal panel, if a she is photographed talking, then is she portrayed as dominating? But if a he is talking and she is listening, then is she, arguable, portrayed as passive? It’s a no-win. If people are posing or in idle conversation, the effect isn’t there.

at Alliance Francaise
Joe Rosenblatt and Andrée Christensen in the Alliance Francaise Gallery where her collage art is on exhibit in November. She translated to French his book Parrot Fever into Le perroquet fâcheux / Parrot fever in 2002 by email correspondance, but this is at their first face-to-face meeting.

Few pictures of people with their mouth open in mid-word work neither does mid-laugh; it tends to look mad.

There’s an ideology in photos of what is left out. I have an uncle who always avoids pose and tries to catch those mid-facial expression and awkward gestures because he feels that’s the majority of life and should be documented. It doesn’t need to be made selectively pretty, nor selectively gritty. His view is that Random is Accuracy. I can’t concede it as useful. People need dignity like they need water, food, and air or things inside start to shut down.

In the course of conversation, body language tends to erupt in conflict with facial expressions or language. I tend to not flag as keepers shots where people’s body language is leg-crossed standing or arms crossed over chest defensiveness.

Part of my idiolect of pictures, part of my camera propaganda is being conscious of what is in frame. I crop out beer or alcohol ads as much as possible. Partly because labels tend to be brightly colored and color draws the focus of the frame. Partly I skew what actually was present because the ubiquitousness of beer makes me feel like I’m shooting brewery ads.

Most of communication is neutral-faced listening. A lot of life is waiting for Godot, trying to hobble together a narrative. Listening-face tends to happen when the whole group is listening. It’s audio-channel time so a photo isn’t fitting. That in freeze-frame looks rather grim. I aim for flattering to represent the world as a positive place, selectively let the 90% of less fun on sand wash away, and keep the communicative 10% for carving into granite, (so far as digital capture can be that).

Sometimes I want some representation of an event going on but got nothing particularly good. Neutral, I’m told by a friend, is one kind of offensiveness. Nonetheless, I go with the best I have at times. I sometimes think a picture is too bland but then on flickr even my flat shot of oatmeal got added as a favorite. There’s no accounting for tastes.

autumn woods
A nature walk

Almost every time I see a scene like this, I hear my dad’s voice remarking how an animal would need to be in it for it to be complete, then my cousin’s voice adding that it would be even more complete if he had a 22.

But then I have to shoot as I see fit, what my narrative is. I have to project my own sense of what dignity looks like.

Somewhere I came across Tony Fouhse who opened up the crackerjack box of taking portraits of crack addicts in town. It seems some feel this is controversial and taking advantage, yet it is documenting lives and the subjects are part of the process. We are submerged in photoshopped flattering moments of thin white strangers selling us things. What about the people really around?Like the neighbours who will be trying to stay in our stairwell or entryway to warm up, or have sex or use their glues, as the weather gets cold.

Sometimes I’m aware of not blogging of something because of the rule of no photo, no one will skim. Part of that may be due to the medium. In print I could make rest stops of white space. In html, the only rest is an image. When this is the case I’m letting myself be driven by format rather than content.

I tend not to show my hand on why I’m selecting a topic. I would like to be an information conduit, letting viewer decide what is useful and to not clutter the information stream with my take, to the degree possible. I tend to under-elaborate across the board in an attempt to not be belligerent in belief because strong non-equivocal strongly-worded opinions tend to make me disengage rather than engage. They tend to shut down dialogue than open up, for me. The opposite is true of others.

Any visual people scene is quite complex and I try to filter out the complexity. I did one writers festival event by shooting only the foot positions on the panel. That was the proxemics linguist in me. It was fascinating how the leg positions were all having their own conversational track. Unfortunately I didn’t have the script to place back along time markers to reconstruct who felt what when. I try to strip off the interactional intimacy that isn’t my business from any public photos. There are often complex dynamics at play in body gestures.

[re: Michael D. Gumer on fear-grin being misinterpreted] First, the macaques were said to have bared their teeth in a sign of aggression. But this display is known as the ‘fear grin’. Macaques don’t display such a grin when they are about to attack; they display it when they are surrendering. The grin is similar to the fake smiles that humans show sometimes, assuring their superiors they know their place.

I tend to aim for smiles of shared humor of someone’s spark of wit rather than social smiles.

Even thought it is natural for people to laugh or peak-smile seconds out of time of one another. It’s normal that there’s a cascade of response and some people shift faster or slower thru reactions. One shot is to represent the entire and person out of step represents the scene as if that person was always out of step. I’d rather not misconstrue that. It could isolate a person as looking humourless.

What to do with shots where people look profoundly ill-at-ease? Even if it true, it’s not useful. What is fair to capture? Whatever I’d avert my eyes from tactfully to not exacerbate someone’s sense of threat or discomfort I would tend not to photograph. I try not to intrude with photos so that people would feel in a fishbowl, compromised whenever they are outside their own door. People are sensitive even of crowd shots when they are small of some tilt of head. It gives the public hard data, more than memory of who sits near who. It gives fodder for making life more complex or contentious. There’s a fine line. I don’t like to document who was where when or it is a disincentive for people to go to events feeling like they are going to be tracked. I want to honour that sense of being in privacy in public.

At artist-run galley 101 where AB series hosted Joe Rosenblatt Nov 13. Art in the background is by Roger Crait.

Photography can be a kind of gossip. Not being there, if the photograph isn’t done tightly enough, it is a kind of telephone game of misconstructing from clues. Is something else being said? I guess that’s why I like crowd shots that don’t reveal too much. If the point is to say, good-sized crowd, it doesn’t need to also say, look at person X and what they were wearing or doing. Or information gap of who was or wasn’t there. People read between lines no matter how tightly spaced they are or how many there are, and mis differently interpret. But to slice away to a tight zoom leaves one with soulless clip art that has little to hold attention for long. It’s a hard balance, oversimplified, or overly complex.

Poetry Link: At any rate, for more account of the Rosenblatt readings, see here.

Quote: “The funny thing is no matter what I say that the truth actually is, either for the book or the film, the thing that drives me to tell the story is the fact that I don’t have an answer to that. If i did there would be no story this story only works because of this absence.” – Emmanuel Carrère, director, The Moustache

16 Nov 2009, 11:16am

(fw:) Parable: Are you a carrot, an egg or coffee?

I’ve got this in my inbox a couple times but you might not have.

A young woman went to her mother and told her about her life and how things were so hard for her. She did not know how she was going to make it and wanted to give up; She was tired of fighting and struggling. It seemed as one problem was solved, a new one arose.

Her mother took her to the kitchen. She filled three pots with water and placed each on a high fire. Soon the pots came to boil. In the first she placed carrots, in the second she placed eggs, and in the last she placed ground coffee beans. She let them sit and boil; without saying a word.

In about twenty minutes she turned off the burners. She fished the carrots out and placed them in a bowl. She pulled the eggs out and placed them in a bowl. Then she ladled the coffee out and placed it in a bowl. Turning to her daughter, she asked, ‘ Tell me what you see.’

‘Carrots, eggs, and coffee,’ she replied.

Her mother brought her closer and asked her to feel the carrots.. She did and noted that they were soft. The mother then asked the daughter to take an egg and break it. After pulling off the shell, she observed the hard boiled egg.

Finally, the mother asked the daughter to sip the coffee. The daughter smiled as she tasted its rich aroma. The daughter then asked, ‘What does it mean, mother?’

Her mother explained that each of these objects had faced the same adversity: boiling water. Each reacted differently. The carrot went in strong, hard, and unrelenting. However, after being subjected to the boiling water, it softened and became weak. The egg had been fragile. Its thin outer shell had protected its liquid interior, but after sitting through the boiling water, its inside became hardened. The ground coffee beans were unique, however. After they were in the boiling water, they had changed the water.

‘Which are you?’ she asked her daughter. ‘When adversity knocks on your door,how do you respond? Are you a carrot, an egg or a coffee bean?

Think of this: Which am I? Am I the carrot that seems strong, but with pain and adversity do I wilt and become soft and lose my strength?

Am I the egg that starts with a malleable heart, but changes with the heat? Did I have a fluid spirit, but after a death, a breakup, a financial hardship or some other trial, have I become hardened and stiff? Does my shell look the same, but on the inside am I bitter and tough with a stiff spirit and hardened heart?

Or am I like the coffee bean? The bean actually changes the hot water, the very circumstance that brings the pain. When the water gets hot, it releases the fragrance and flavor. If you are like the bean, when things are at their worst, you get better and change the situation around you.

When the hour is the darkest and trials are their greatest do you elevate yourself to another level? How do you handle adversity? Are you a carrot, an egg or a coffee bean?

Quote: “I pretend like we actually have something in common, which of course we do (and all that truth would just get in the way of it).” – Jim Griffioen

15 Nov 2009, 7:16pm
General Photos Poets
Comments Off on Ottawa Wins in Victoria, and Around Here…

Ottawa Wins in Victoria, and Around Here…

Poetry News: The Canadian Festival of Spoken Word 2009 is done in Victoria. Over 60 slam poets, performers and spoken word artists competed. Next year, Montreal hosts. Someone needs to update with the results of this year at wikipedia — This week Team Ottawa claimed its first national championship! Congrats to Brandon Wint, Ian Keteku, Komi Olafimihan (Poetic Speed), Ikenna Onyegbula (Open Secret), and Rusty Priske.

Christakos is at ditch,

Johanna Skibsrud reads in her novel launch (The Sentimentalists, Gaspereau, 2009) and Kate Hall launches her new collection of poetry, reading from The Certainty Dream at Collected Works on Tuesday.

I put up some photos of the Joe Rosenblatt and Andree Christensen readings. I’ll probably expand on them at some point with words.

light painting
I’m feeling rather hazy. The musculoskeletal system is being evil. But muscle relaxant is a good. Two days of that. Still my back hovers and wavers on the threshold of being out.

Tired. My joints are all achy. It’s as if I can feel each connection in my ankles and feet individually. The body is playing head games like, push elevator button = eyes watering, gut punch. Let’s see if I can make a fist. Yes, (innocent blink) why wouldn’t I be able to? Oh, let’s reach for that door handle. Shooting spears of pain up the finger bones and waves of nausea. Yes, Body Pavlovian, you “got me” again. Now quit it. Eyeballs were flirting with light sensitivity but hied me away to dim bed and backed away from migraine.

It all rarely lasts for more than a couple days so I’m likely close to the end.

On a more cheerful note, spotted around town…
and requisite public toilet condom machine
The requisite public toilet condom machine… no, wait, high temperature?? 2 minutes??

hair suddenly feel flat mid-outing?
Apparently if you hair becomes unacceptable mid-outing you can recrimp,.. no, (reading, yes, it is a skill) flatten your hair.

That’s the oddest thing I’ve seen since an eyelash curler.

Quote: “A book is a mirror: If an ass peers into it, you can’t expect an apostle to look out.” – Georg C. Lichtenberg, German physicist and satirist, at Quotations Book

13 Nov 2009, 11:54am
1 comment

Image and Stance

Correct me if I’m wrong but I’m pretty sure I never posted this photo from a month ago.

I captured the rainbow but stole its soul. 😉 It faded immediately after.

Like how the little moss anthers seem to be chatting at a cocktail party.

It’s funny how the lens is such a quick feedback for my mood. Symmetry is easy when I am centered. And impossible when I’m in a grump. I can’t anticipate a moment or angle coming when I’m tired. It’s like needing to turn off the radio when there’s an intersection coming when there’s not a huge amount of free buffer space. Single tasking is always better practice, perhaps.

Poetry Events: The last event has a post up: Q&A with Robertson and Reid. Tonight at Gallery 101 (at 301 Bank St.), Joe Rosenblatt is reading for the AB Series. Tomorrow Zachariah Wells does the Ottawa launch of Track & Trace at Collected Works at 7:30. At the same time Joe Rosenblatt does another reading in Gatineau at Art-Image Gallery, 855 boul. de la Gappe. And Sunday afternoon Catherine Owen is at Dusty Owl.

Technical Aside: We’ve migrated to the new servers of the new web host.

Quote: “A wise man will make more opportunities than he finds.” – Francis Bacon

News and Views

An oak asserts its place
the oak asserts its place
as Canadian as any maple.

The sky
funky sky
was extraordinary the other day.

Ottawa Poetry: The Tree reading tonight will be at 8 pm with Lisa Robertson and Monty Reid but from 6:45-7:45 I’ll be giving a workshop on poetry (what people bring to share and a focus on line breaks). The next workshop will be in 2 weeks will be the first of a 4 session cycle with Sandra Ridley. Facilitators will rotate over the year so that the catalyst will keep changing.

Other Blogs: Perhaps that notice should go over at pesbo. [done.] I try to stream things…the Bywords issue launch and mullings over the functions of punctuation and the line in poetry are over at pesbo. 40 Words is its own thing (now stable at every second day). That wouldn’t make sense to merge back over here. Eaten Up is doing fine on its own and better readership or eye-ership than all of the rest combined.

The function left for Humanyms tends to be more of a parlour. Although, it being most read by people I actually know, it is the best place for broadcast of anything I want to tell quickly. It’s a channel I want to keep open with small things.

Other Places: A constant enduring format is structurally reassuring. Like Presurfer. There Gerald recently passed along the concept of baragami, the artful arrangement of slices of toast. It’s nice to know. My life is not more complete to know it but my day gets an upward bump. It’s like observing a flower arrangement, or attending to a breath, or really seeing the pattern in tomato seeds. It’s an overlooked small way to live and inject beauty unnecessarily, impractically. It’s being softer than one has to be. Taking more care than one needs to.

Other Times: One wants to control or give up but as Sri Chinmoy said, “Peace begins when expectation ends.” Or as Deni Bonet sings (#11 on her sidebar), “I probably should give it up and stay in bed today, but I say, Fuck It.”

Quote: “Attack life, it’s going to kill you anyway.” – Steven Coallier

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