Saturday, October 20, 2012

Via Jamie Tolagson: The Wayward Charms of Cinerama.  Another filmic parallel for the Metropolitans, #63 in particular.

"Like any picture-making process, Cinerama captures the three-dimensional world on a two-dimensional surface. Unusually in the history of cinema, it does it with a semicircular array of cameras. The images from those cameras are projected on a corresponding semicircular surface, in the hope that they will simulate not only the spatial layout in front of those three lenses but also the way the world looks to us.

Fred Waller thought that his invention provided greater realism, because our vision subtends a horizontal arc wider than that of conventional camera lenses. Fred fell a few degrees short, though. Claiming that we take in about 160 degrees, he thought that 146 degrees was a good approximation, but our visual field is actually a bit wider than 180 degrees. (Without turning our head, we can roll our eyes.) More important, though, is the assumption that a faithful image of the world should try to capture the curvature of the image as it passes through the cornea to the retina. We see a bowed world, many have claimed, so our pictures should present the way things look.

Yet there’s a difference between visual sensation and visual perception. Even if the light from the world hits our photoreceptors in a partial or distorted way, what we see is regular and unified. On our retinas, near things loom large and distant things look tiny, but we’ve evolved to adjust to the distortions in early stages of vision and see things in normal size. A person ten feet away is twice as large on our retina as somebody twenty feet off, but that’s not the way they look. We don’t see our retinal image, any more than we see the wildly misshapen image of the world projected to brain areas. The eye is a part of the brain, and the brain reworks the stimulus–cleans it, enhances it, corrects it, straightens it out, and gives it a stability that isn’t there in the raw input.

For the most part, normal camera lenses approximate the way the world looks to us after our brain has processed visual signals. Most images show straight-edged walls and sidewalks, railroad tracks meeting at the horizon, proportional human beings. When Cinerama or other nonstandard image-making technologies present distortions to our eyes, we take them for what they are: not 'what we really see' but rather pictorial displays creating distinct effects of their own.

Hence the irregular appeals of Cinerama. Suppose we’re not interested in seeing the world as it registers on our sensory system. Suppose we’re interested in exploring uncommon pictorial effects."

Metropolitan (68), 2012

"Seven Apollo missions went to the moon, but only six landed. Six crates of 7-Up."

One of the greatest works of interpretive genius I have ever personally encountered.  Worth perusing at length, especially for its conclusion.

"We see short chapters, sliced from Freddie’s time after the Navy, showing what it meant to be knocked aside, rather than swept up, in the nation’s postwar boom. Freddie becomes a photographer in a department store, making out with a model in his darkroom, where he brews a cocktail in a chemical beaker, and then, in one extraordinary passage, taking offense at a customer—a robust and portly type, who wants his picture taken—and laying into him, as though ignited by envy at such unattainable well-being. The colors here burn with the soft, civilized half-glare that we associate with the heyday of Kodachrome—a matchless example of Anderson’s period detail being driven less by fussiness than by his unfading avidity for anything that will saturate the real.

More startling still is the sudden cut to hard, unglamorous gray-greens, and the sight of Freddie hacking the heads off cabbages in a California field. We sense that he is drifting not because jobs are scarce but because no regular slot can hold him or stop him exploding from within; hence the catch-your-breath sequence that sees Freddie bursting through a dark doorway, which is framed like the final shot of John Ford’s The Searchers, and then sprinting and panting across the brown ridges of plowed earth, the camera travelling beside him at a pace that would have left Ford in the dust. And so the Anderson patterns, familiar to fans of Magnolia and Boogie Nights, reassert themselves: elegy followed by convulsion, stasis interrupted by the chronic need for speed, nerves no sooner gathered than lost."
Friday, October 19, 2012
Peter Matthiessen on nonfiction.  Broadly applicable to my brand of photography, too, especially with regard to fact captivity, objective reality, & placement of details.

"Nonfiction at its best is like fashioning a cabinet. It can be elegant and very beautiful but it can never be sculpture. Captive to facts—or predetermined forms—it cannot fly. Excepting those masters who transcend their craft—great medieval and Renaissance artisans, for example, or nameless artisans of traditional cultures as far back as the caves who were also spontaneous unselfconscious artists.

As in fiction, the nonfiction writer is telling a story, and when that story is well-made, the placement of details and events is never random. The parts are not strung out in a line but come around full circle, like a necklace, to set off the others. They resonate, rekindle one another, stirring the reader with a cumulative effect.

A good essay or article can and should have all the attributes of a good short story, including structure and design, pacing and effective placement of its parts—almost all the attributes of fiction except the creative imagination, which can never be permitted to enliven fact. The writer of nonfiction is stuck with objective reality, or should be; how his facts are arranged and presented is where his craft appears, and it can be dazzling when the writer is a good one. The best nonfiction has many, many virtues, among which simple truthfulness is perhaps foremost, yet its fidelity to the known facts is its fatal constraint."
Thursday, October 18, 2012

Metropolitan (67), 2012

People keep asking about these little photographs.  Are they parodies, homages, what?  They are pictures of places I have never been in Los Angeles, a category which, partially because of them, keeps shrinking.

I started making them early in the morning and late at night because I felt overwhelmed at my job, and thought that I might never leave, or work "creatively" again. 

At first the pictures were unpopulated and then I thought that if they were to be an accurate record of the city they purported to depict that there should be figures.

I think about these photographs as abstractly as I can.  I like the tension in the figure's body and his hat and bags and glasses, but I also like the white crosses and dashes of the empty parking stalls, and the graceful curlicues of the windows' safety bars, and the "swarming" quality of the triangular tile wall, and the flat graphic quality of the painted sign and the long shadows that define the lower right edge of the frame.  All of these details are significant; all of these things have meaning.
Wednesday, October 17, 2012


Metropolitan (66), 2012

Metropolitan (65), 2012
Via the Blue Book:

"If you want a vintage Dan experience like we had today load the Weather outro on a portable device and go to a field with a timberline where the leaves are changing before dusk on a clear nite. Leaves should be perfectly colorful [...] at this time for a psychedelic effect. Kick back with a nice 'pipe' and some brandy and loop the Weather outro as the sky turns azure behind those leaves, and the stars switch on."
This guy's tone is a little too weedy & LRB for me right off the bat -- "I am not suggesting that I know better than he does what methods are appropriate for him, but I wonder what else he might have written if he had sought the company of writers such as Tolstoy or Dickens or Chekhov or Kierkegaard" --but I'm reading the same Neil Young book as him right now and he's not wrong about it.  And that's speaking as someone who both admires Neil and the reviewer's careful language, which steadily improves as he goes along, and makes manifestly clear, in an oddly melancholy way, how much he admires Neil, too:

"My longest encounter with Young was several years ago, when I wrote about him for another magazine. I had read Shakey, the fanatically specific biography of him written by Jimmy McDonough, and had encountered the remark made to McDonough by Young’s manager when McDonough had asked to spend time with Young. Neil doesn’t hang, McDonough was told. The magazine I was writing for had arranged for me to receive the engagement Young offers to journalists. A driver delivers you to the parking lot of a restaurant in the hills south of San Francisco. (The restaurant, when I arrived, was closed for the season.) Redwoods surround the parking lot and tower over the restaurant. Shafts of light come through the tops of the trees, and the trees are so tall that the scale of what you can see seems altered, so that you feel the disproportion of size that a child feels in a room where a table, occupied by adults, seems to loom above him or her. Eventually an old jalopy shows up with Young, who collects and restores old cars, especially cars from the period of his childhood, at the wheel. Over the course of about two hours, he drives you in a circle that goes down to the Pacific and along it, through a couple of small towns and back up into the hills, past the house where Ken Kesey lived in La Honda and the early acid tests were held and the sixties began, and a bar where Young used to play with his band Crazy Horse, where he would announce to friends in the afternoon that they would play that evening, and the place would fill up mostly with people the band knew. What Young is doing is driving you around the borders of his ranch, which run from the redwoods down toward the water.

On the ride Young told me that he didn’t read, but I might have guessed anyway. He was a reserved and slightly grave figure, and talking with him was like being trapped with someone whose mind had no reach. He could only talk about what he felt or had seen or thought. I couldn’t respond to one of his remarks by raising an idea it had made me think of and have him make some connection to some other thought and then respond to that. A part of him seemed to have been arrested at a very early age. I am, of course, accustomed to meeting people I don’t feel able to talk to, or who aren’t interested in talking to me. I hadn’t expected, though, to find that someone whose work had ranged so widely had no curiosity about such an obvious possibility for enlarging the imagination, or to have been so indifferent to it. He seemed like someone who had worked at the same factory for years and years without ever wondering what lay to the left or right of the gates."
Tuesday, October 16, 2012
"There are always exceptions, there are always people who are serious about what they're doing and really want to express themselves in some sort of artistic way."

Metropolitan (64), 2012

"You know what? Not everybody knows your rules, Larry. You’ve got your own set of rules and you think everyone’s going to adhere to them, but they’re not because nobody knows them.”
"The relationship between various approaches to photography is never defined and people who try to define it always end up doing something less successful. I have every kind of camera – I have a digital one, I have a camera phone, I have an analog one as well – and I use them all. If I decide to be Cartier-Bresson, I do this. If I want to be Steven Spielberg, I do that. The photograph allows you to be anyone and, in a sense, to steal an identity, even if only for a few minutes."


Larry David's House, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Seasons 5-7, 537 Monero Avenue, Los Angeles, CA, 2012

For Mr. Aaron Carpenter. Calling it.

Powered by Blogger

.post-title { display: none!important; }