Saturday, February 11, 2017


Joseph Nicéphore Niépce, View from the Window at Le Gras, c. 1826

Draft of the first page of a hopefully book-length manuscript on photography.  In memoriam Robert Linsley, and for Jamie, Beck and Helga, who asked.


First, an anecdote:

In 1999, just prior to opening the bookstore, I went on a trip to the US Southwest that involved driving around in a rental car, buying every saleable thrift-store book I could find, and UPS-ing them all home to Vancouver.  Most US thrift stores were closed on Sundays, so Sunday became a travel day.  One Sunday found me driving down a stretch of former highway in Colorado Springs.  Motels; taverns; payday lending; hair salons.  Up ahead, a big, attractively weathered sign on a pole advertised someone's garage or autobody shop.  I braked hard; I'd like to think Stephen Shore, Walker Evans, or Stuart Davis would have braked, too.  Somebody honked behind me: no stopping, even on Sunday.  I drove down another block, parked, and walked back with one of the disposable plastic cameras I'd bought to document my trip.  I stood in the business' driveway and focused on the sign, squinting through the camera's cheap plastic viewfinder.  Soon a pissed-off woman came out of the building and down the driveway toward me.

-Can I help you?

-I'm good, thanks, I said, not taking my eye from the viewfinder.

-What the hell are you doing?

-I'm photographing.

-I'm calling the fucking cops!


I walked -- jogged, really -- back to the car and split.

What bugged me back then -- what still bugs me today, if I'm honest -- is that I could not have given a more cogent answer if I tried, not to her and certainly not to the cops.

What are you doing?


Doing what, exactly?

In 1999 I didn't know, and in 2017, definitions don't help much.  "To practice photography."  (  "The art of capturing the beauty of life, the act of appreciating 'the moment.'" ( Or (via "The art, process, or job of taking pictures with a camera" (DEFINITION FOR ENGLISH LANGUAGE LEARNERS); "The making of pictures by means of a camera that directs the image of an object onto a surface that is sensitive to light" (DEFINITION FOR STUDENTS); and, finally, "The art or process of producing images by the action of radiant energy and especially light on a sensitive surface (as film or an optical sensor)."  I like that last definition best; I think it is almost truthful.  The STUDENTS and ENGLISH LANGUAGE LEARNERS definitions are too awed by equipment; their thudding insistence on the camera as the thing-that-does-photography ignores Corot's cliché verres (c. 1850), Man Ray's photograms (c. 1920), Pierre Cordier's chemigrams (1956-present), and hundreds of other counter-examples.  Does a simpler definition exist? Throw out cameras, and film, and anything else extraneous, and you eventually end up with just two limiting conditions: light and a support.  Light understood as an electromagnetic spectrum running all the way from infrared to gamma radiation; support meaning a surface (paper; panel) or plane (projection screen; cellphone screen; computer monitor; camera sensor).  Merriam-Webster's insistence on a sensitive surface is too specific; right away it eliminates James Nizam's room-size camera obscuras, whose images appear on the upright interiors of derelict Vancouver houses, and Abelardo Morell's temporary marriages of internal and external architectural space.

ACT (Aesthetically Claimed Thing): Drew Brayshaw, Ice Storm Glazed Tree, 2017

Robert Linsley:

"Not all artists are noted for their humor, lightness, gaiety and wit. In all the years I knew Jeff Wall I only heard him crack one joke, but it was a pretty good one. I came late to the Bodega, where we used to drink, and he was with Rodney and a couple of other people having a great time making up their own epitaphs. Jeff’s was 'His First Sculpture.' Of course, the secret of art is that one can die and keep on living. Furthermore, the death of the artist is what enables an artwork to become a 'character.'"

(Image credit: RL, Headstone Island, 1999)
Wednesday, February 08, 2017
Insert In My Obituary, Please

Nevertheless, he persisted.
Monday, February 06, 2017

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