Category Archives: photos

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:

 

La Lupa

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I am frequently asked if I have children– I don’t ask people why they ask me that question.  Is it because I am a woman of a certain age and it’s a “natural” assumption to believe that women over 25 should have children?  Is it because I’m not obviously a hyper-masculine bull-dyke and I wear Mary-Janes with quirky socks that coordinate with my clothes that are straight out of an L.L. Bean catalogue?  Is it because my behavior codes as maternal, in my brusque & busybody kind of way?  Is it because I work in a “helping” job and am usually the one with the common sense and resources/information to untangle people’s messes for them?  How do these qualities come to be associated with maternal/”do you have kids?” rather than just “oh my God, you people are idiots, step aside and let me fix this,” which is sometimes what my inner narrator feels like a lot of the time?  I try not to let that uncharitable & condescending sentiment show outside my head if I can.  Is it just that we live in a society where asking about children is part of trying to get to know who someone is?  (Why is that?) Continue reading

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).

OIive Oil & Yogurt Cake with Strawberries

It was snowing like hell on Sunday and I needed CAKE.   I’d wanted to make this one from food52, but I didn’t have an orange or unsoured milk (I had the Grand Marnier though, hah, just not the real food staples), so I had to look elsewhere, because it was messy and I was in serious nesting-hermit mode. I also had a pound of strawberries frozen from a sale at the store over the summer so I said, hmm, strawberries & cake, and then started googling.

I found this recipe, a variation on ones from Chocolate & Zucchini as well as Smitten Kitchen, and then took inspiration from this recipe to add strawberries in. 

I tweaked the first recipes thusly:  I added an extra 1/2 tsp of vanilla, a 1/4 tsp cinnamon because I think cinnamon and strawberries go well together, and the cake took another 20 minutes to bake because the strawberries were still frozen when I stirred them into the finished batter.   I should have probably let them come to room temperature, but I was also afraid they’d bleed into the batter at room temperature and make the batter too soggy.

The cake still looked good, though, in a homely, craggy, fragrant, quick, brew some tea and cut into it NOW kind of way.  It’s moist as heck because of the olive oil, and could have stood another 5 minutes of baking, but olive oil cakes have a wonderful flavor in general, and I’ll be making this one again soon with the rest of the berries lying around in the freezer.  I didn’t bake this one gluten-free, because I wanted to try the recipe as written (ish) first– but next time, I’ll try it with the Bob’s GF blend and see how it goes.