Category Archives: flickr

Ways of looking

I follow the English public thinker Alain de Botton on Twitter, and while I don’t always agree with him, he does provoke thought in his posts, books, and links, which of course is the whole purpose of being a live, working philosopher.  Yesterday, he tweeted about the “evils” of photography versus learning to draw and linked to an article in The Philosopher’s Mail about phone-photography versus sketching.  I don’t agree with the article, by and large.

The points I chose to take away from the article were:

1) we shouldn’t be living our lives through our gadgets, and that phone camera snaps shouldn’t substitute for being actually present in a moment, for noticing the minute details versus just collecting proof that Kilroy Was Here before we move on quickly, because there’s a (socially constructed and inherently false) schedule to keep to so that we can document to the next snapchattable moment, and,

2) by cultivating a “slow” skill such as drawing, especially when it’s something that doesn’t come naturally to us, we learn to take in the world in a different way, to truly notice the depth of beauty all around us and all the fine details that we can breathe in if we just look,

3) the ability to look and perceive both the whole and its details is important.

I agree, fully, that there are too many of us who are distracted in our everyday doings, but it didn’t start with the camera– perhaps with the telegraph, or same day post.  The fact is, life is fast and has been getting faster since the invention of the printing press (darn that Gutenberg, he had no value for the small quiet value of hand-inked vellum), and “drawing” as a way to stop & smell the roses is all well and good as a metaphor.  It’s not so great as a general moral proposition.

The points inherent in the article with which I take issue are, if not legion, ones that have been brought up by people far more articulate than me–

1) that a camera phone photograph cannot inherently capture finer details,

2) that the takers of camera phone photographs are all rushing, rushing, rushing, rather than– pausing to notice and focus in on that detail– the cornice of that building, that tulip, that couple embracing,

 

3) that the takers of camera phone photographs do not take the time, later, to share that captured detail with other people later, either in print or on one of the many social media sites where photographers congregate to share photos, look for those details they personally find beautiful and worthy of documentation and sharing (Instagram? Flickr?  Twitter?  Does Mr. de Botton not know about photography social media platforms, or that photos can be shared on the platform he uses?)

4) that all the details & moments captured on camera phones are inherently “shallow”– selfies or fashion shots or pictures of expensive meals or other consumables rather than externally objective objects of beauty– travel, nature, animals, smiles, architecture, “what a wondrous thing is man” when he manages to capture a macro of a peacock feather– when, in fact, a review of any mobile photography website will show you the whole range of human and earthly existence,

5) that drawing is inherently and always better than phone (or any other) photography, and that photography is not, therefore, art, however “art” is defined,

6) that camera phone photography, as an “art” and a “skill” is something that does not inspire the doer toward improvement, toward other forms of the art, toward more technique or toward gatherings with like-minded persons who likewise seek to gather & appreciate the beauty out there in the world.  (One word/hashtag: #instameet.)  I didn’t start out with a camera phone, for my own self, but my little point & shoots, and my desire to improve my own naked eye shots of the things out there in the world have certainly caused me to read more about how to frame, how to compose, whether to upgrade to a DSLR (and I did) so that I could capture better, finer, more beauty than I had been able to heretofore.  I have met and know many, many, many folks online & in person whose “gateway” drug was the point & shoot or the iPhone, but now they go on photo safaris & print out real art, real beauty, real moments that reflect our world as it is– or as we’d like it to be.

I have no problem, at all, with people who have the time and perseverance to sketch, paint, or engage in other forms of non-photography art.  I admire the talent and ambition and stick-to-itiveness that it takes.  But it is an unassailable truth that life does move quickly, and all the slowing down and taking time to smell the roses (or sketch them, as the argument would suppose) doesn’t change the fact that in the every day churn of it all, sometimes we don’t have the time to stop and sketch, because we haven’t got the concatenation of timing, life circumstances and courage to choose to do anything other than get to work and take care of our selves and our loved ones in mundane, material ways.

It would be nice, lovely, ideal, to live a more artistic, more reflective life in more moments over the spread of a lifetime– but sometimes, realistically speaking, a camera phone shot and five minutes to notice whatever image you saw is all the time you have in a day to notice the beauty and humanity around you.

Five minutes’ pause on your way is better than none.

I also freely admit that there are a hell of a lot of pretty pictures of flowers and beloved children and cats of no particular artistic inspiration on the internet and in photo albums all over the world– though I would also argue that art isn’t always the point of a photograph, because it is also useful in capturing a moment, preserving a memory, and whether it does it with more or less technique or artistry is less important than the preservation itself.

In that regard, photography in its speed does what sketching (and those without patience or time or talent or any combination of those you choose to combine in your moral judgment) does not– it preserves a moment in time which, looked back upon, recalls happiness, even if it is done artlessly.

I’d also argue that today’s selfie might be someone else’s coup de foudre— art is at least partly subjective, after all, and however much sarcasm someone else might inflect the term with, to the aficionado, an iPhone shot of “nail art” has meaning and increases the general quantum of happiness– if some of it is at the shallow end of life’s pool, why does everything have to be deep? I’m not trying to say that there is no objective truth, or larger, important set of truths, but if a shallow happiness works for that person in that particular moment, or if something that seems trite to one person is meaningful to another– well.  I’m happy to wait while someone is standing on the sidewalk before me, taking a camera phone shot of something they find to have meaning.

 All pictures taken on my Google Droid phone, and uploaded to my Flickr, via Instagram & its various automatic filters.

 

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Round & round

Always lead with a zebra.

There’s a carousel at the Boston Common Frog Pond, one the city improvements made during the Menino administratration.  It’s apparently a wooden carousel built in 1947 by the Allan Herschell Company from upstate NY, a company that made amusement rides, including ornate carousels.  I always enjoyed merry-go-rounds when I was little, but back in those days you had to go to an actual amusement park to ride one– not like today, when there are two lovely go-rounds like this for public viewing and riding here in Boston.

Soon enough, my niece will be big enough to ride one and I can stand next to her and use that as an excuse to climb aboard. In the meantime, I’ll just admire the details.

The mane event.

Easter is serious business.

This is what you’re watching out for on those road signs.

Clearly a fantasy, since no cat would wear a saddle when there was fish to consume.

He’s kind of scary. In all the most awesome ways.

Wings!

Always looking up.

 

Schoolyard reminders

I was walking by a schoolyard last Thursday on my way to visit a friend, and was struck by all these life’s little reminders, right there in their schoolyard.

Kindness:

Let your reach exceed your grasp:

Be present-minded:

Play nicely with others:

Smile.  You could be someone’s– maybe even your own– rainbow.

Don’t forget it has to start someplace, so be brave:

You’re only as alone as you let yourself be.

And the most important of all, because without it, you can’t do the rest full-heartedly:

 

Decay & goosedown

We took a late winter walk yesterday– the light was leaving, but there were still some good shots. Photos taken with the zoom lens, mostly, and I’ve been practicing more with the manual focus (even in mittens with flip top thumbs & fold-back tops, a photographer’s boon, because if you can’t tell by the light, it’s still raw & cold out).

Number 173

I had a lot of thoughts while I was on vacation about places and reasons, opportunities, thresholds, and whether and how to keep various doors open or closed.  I had a couple of conversations around some of those topics this week with a couple of different people– with different takes but all with constructively critical feedback– but I’m still trying to sort out some of the things I’ve realized (or gotten out of denial about) in a few giant gulps, and am now still digesting.

Doorways & thresholds– there’s lots of potential, even the ones in the farther corners of the world, like this one, if you just reach out and take hold of the handle.  (Even when you sometimes can’t see through the window to what’s behind the door, you just know you need to cross.)

One man’s trash

… is another man’s treasure, isn’t that the saying?  That little set of six glasses, espied through the window of a vintage stuff & art gallery called Hudson’s at MassMOCA in North Adams, was priced for $25.00.  I have a set just like it– maybe?

The set belonged to my mother, and she picked it up for some cheap price at some church white elephant, because she had notions of what kinds of things one was supposed to own in order to maintain a proper household.  When she moved to California to express her displeasure that I wasn’t giving her granchildren find her bliss in the sunshine, she pushed them off on me along with other sundry glassware, some of which I wanted because it had been my grandmother’s, and most of which I thought was just junk.

I say maybe I own something like it, because I really cannot recall if it’s sitting, wrapped in a box in the basement, unused with my grandmother’s china and other still-wanted possessions, or if I took the chance of leaving my husband to give it to the AIDS Action Committee thrift shop for them to sell to someone who might think that six tiny pressed-glass cordials or whatever the hell you call them would somehow make your life more complete than if you just bought some all-purpose lowballs at Ikea or Crate & Barrel.  Who knows?  Maybe the owner of this shop bought this very set from the Boomerang in JP, and it’ll bring someone else way more use and pleasure than it ever brought me, cluttering up the bottom shelf of the hutch full of shit I didn’t use and had had foisted on me by family insisting on the right way to set a table, entertain, put on a spread?

Seeing that set in the window got me thinking about the things that we keep and the things we discard– not so much that I’m going to go hunting downstairs through my stuff– but in terms of the trash versus treasure conundrum, and how invested we get in other people validating our treasure, and telling us how lovely it and therefore we are. Failing to take an interest in the same things as you is taken as a wholesale rejection of you as a person (and heck, sometimes it is but I do have some manners and usually manage to be polite, but asking for pom-poms and a brass band is too much).  That perceived rejection is a cause for drama, accusation, pouting, shaming, guilt or outrage (I don’t know your family, I just know mine, all those options are possible, sometimes within the span of five minutes), and if you dare state anything as inflammatory as a disagreeing opinion, you’re a terrible person.

You’re trash, in a word, for rejecting someone else’s treasure.  (Though you haven’t, you’ve just said you don’t want any yourself.)

People mistake the collections of objects they amass for pleasure and success, and project that mistaken impression of accumulation of happiness via stuff onto you, in a nutshell.  Go your own way, and you’re telling them that you think they’re all wrong.  It’s not that, necessarily (though sometimes it is, and sometimes it only becomes that after our progenitors start insisting you follow The Old Ways) but changing the arrangement and type of objects is deeply unsettling to some, and the lack of stuff is even moreso.  When I tell people I don’t have a TV or a car, it earns me these looks– and when I look at the house I have only one room in and think– the things I could do if I could get rid of all of this stuff– well.  I’m sure it’s crazy to some.  But I like not having to deal with the weight of so many things (or wanting them, any more) physically & mentally taking up space that could be better spent swinging into warrior pose, or spreading out in a sunny patch on the rug with a shelf-space conserving Nook.

In the two years that most of my stuff has been in the basement, there have been maybe four times when I’ve needed something.  Maybe it is time, in fact, to go down and unpack– not for keeping’s sake, but shed to even more.