I feel like I'm shuffling back here like a pair of ragged claws....
Picture Envy took a slight break for the holidays... and a long break
precipitated by some network problems (that have since been solved, it is
hoped). I trust the holidays were good
for all three of my readers. Santa got
me a Canon Speedlite 420 EX flash, so hopefully only 40% of my shots will be
underexposed. Plus, I now have a pile of
books – most of which, I have to admit, I bought myself while shopping for
others – that I now am slowly going through, including The Corrections, Wittgenstein's
Poker, The Shell Collector (done; it was utterly brilliant, and you need to read this book), The Best American Travel Writing of
2004, and Franklin and Winston.
Why I Like It: The proprietor of Unbillable
Hours, TPB, is a lawyer, and mentions that fact every now and then. I
initially read Unbillable Hours for the fiction that TPB would post
from time to time. But about six months ago, TPB radically changed his weblog,
which became more of a photoblog than anything else. It was my first experience
with photoblogging. Now I particularly like TPB's "picture envy" posts, in which he highlights the art of
Evan notes the disappearance of much of my fiction, with
which I got my start in blogging. I
sometimes miss doing fiction on the website, but not often. It took a lot of time to write short fiction:
usually about three nights of drafting the story, one night of editing, and then
one night of style changes. After
writing all day for work, I didn't want to be trapped by an expectation that
would require me to write all night. Plus, to be honest, I hated the self-revelation of writing to
everyone. Photography is revelatory, I
understand, as you're seeing things as though through my eyes when you look at
my photography, but there's a good deal that I shoot – such as It's All So Obvious or this untitled
shot of Asbury Park
– that reflects more the "other," in that pop postmodern sense, than it
reflects me. True, true, the fact that I
see that particular outside stimulus, that particular "other," as
interesting is still reflective of me, but that does not acknowledge the fact
that I would have no power to decide if something is interesting or not, if
something is "other" or not, if it weren't there before me.
This is what happens when I'm allowed to read
Wittgenstein. Things go downhill
Last month, TPB explained why he began to de-emphasize
the written word on his weblog in an interesting post, ironically-titled "On How to Start a Winning Blog," which is critical of
a Washington Post article with the same title. In the post, TPB takes
issue with the notion that weblogs are anything special: "these sites –
blogs – are not intended to be anything more than electronic paper. A
convenient, useful way to write or keep track of information or display
Unbillable Hours is a little hard to navigate.
If you want to check it out, I suggest clicking on a post's
"permalink," then navigating page by page with the arrows at the top.
I recognize that Unbillable
Hours is hard to navigate. I have to
fix that. I've been talking with a
designer that has designed some exceptional photoblogs, and am thinking of
using her services. We'll see if I end
up spending the cash on that. Most
likely, though, I will. Typepad's
blogging tools are not really meant for photoblogging. They're good (well, respectable) for writing and punditry (and yes, there's a difference), but not great for photography.
I stand by what I said in On How To Start a Winning Blog. I don't like the attention given to the "medium" of blogging
beyond the ability of that medium to allow you to express yourself. To wit, if we talked about paper based on how
advanced we thought yellow, 8.5"x14" (legal) pads were in
relationship to 8.5"x11" (letter) pads, I think we'd recognize how
silly the discussion would be. (There
are exceptions to this rule; those who, like myself, adore the little, black,
Italian notebooks known as Moleskines talk about the paper quality and format constantly.) I would rather see people talk about the
quality of writing, art, discourse, and information-transfer on blogs more than
the fact that Typepad is "prettier" than Blogger. (Yes, I know that, despite this, I discuss
why I want to leave Typepad for a better photoblogging software application. I am interested in doing so because I cannot
present photos well on Typepad, as I believe another software application would
allow.) Or that RSS is instantaneous. To
borrow the communications-related cliché, the medium is not the message. The message
is the message.
The above discussion was a great reminder to me that I've
been meaning to direct people's attention to Moleskinerie for a while. I'm in love with the little black Moleskine
notebook – the notebook of Chatwin and Hemingway, as the company often
advertises – and I appreciate how this community has developed to discuss the
act of journaling and the use of Moleskine notebooks. I use three different Moleskine
notebooks. At work, I have a large
graphed notebook for taking work-related notes. The idea behind this notebook is that it is a
"captain's log" of sorts. Each
item in the notebook is dated, and every topic is given its own page (at least)
on which it begins. My second Moleskine
is a small, lined notebook that goes with me at all times. It's my personal journal, scrapbook, to-do-list, contact list, and repository of zen koans. In there I try to
keep together all of my non-work-related (and non-photography-related, as I
shall discuss) photos. Finally, I have
another large graphed notebook for notes that are specifically related to
photography: f-stop ranges, tips on nighttime exposure, tips on how to shoot a
lunar eclipse, etc. That's my most
My grail notebook, to borrow from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.
The comfort of writing in these notebooks, and in
structuring my life in an organic, simple fashion, is what pleases me, and is
what, I think, is recognized by the Moleskinerie
community that follows the use of these notebooks.
See: Images is a
collection of shots related to the use and enjoyment (man, it's sad that I now
find myself writing that phrase in non-legal contexts). A lot of the images in this gallery are
reflective of the pleasures of the writing life: the moment in which one is
able to withdraw from the world, from the noise of the people standing around
you… from the world moving around you. This
is what gives the tactile pleasure of paper such meaning to bibliophiles. This is what makes the word – the world of
the story – something that takes hold of people with the force of
Daily Dose of Imagery is one of the photoblogs that is
comparable in popularity, amongst photographers, to Scrappleface or
Lileks. Run by Sam Javanrouh, who had a
fantastic series of shots from
that first turned me on to the site, the site also has this, Orange Clouds, a surreal shot of Toronto.
Sometimes, cities take on this sort of surrealistic
character. They carry within themselves
the ability to appear sinister just by taking the overcast character of the
weather or the reflection of incandescent lamps. Orange
Clouds is Javanrouh's somewhat industrial and decaying take on Toronto's
One of the things about my del.icio.us collection of photography links is that I can freely and quickly add shots, so that, by the time they've entered Picture Envy they've largely been forgotten by those that saw the shots when they were first published. People can see something new, all over again (I think I owe Yogi Berra royalties for that line).
Man with a Ladder came out in early December on Joe Cunningham's Photo Journal, and I was struck by the shot. Most likely, I found the quality of color and light reminded me of Tim Burton's Big Fish, a film of which I'm quite fond. The image seems to reference a lot fo Americana-based mythology, with the foreground occupied by the heroics of sport (the basketball net) and the distance displaying a wanderer climbing a ladder, seemingly up into the darkness or the evening sky. To his right, the prototypical symbol of Americana: a red barn. The image has a dreamy quality to it, and it's worth noting that one could do worse than to attempt to portray, say, Jungian dream symbolism in photography (provided one was particularly good with photoshop).
I'm unrepentantly fond of Americana. I'm an American; it's all part of my mythology, just as the stories of the gray suffocation of Communism and blood-red violence of the Nazis are part of my Polish heritage. How we endure horror, how we rebel against oppression, these things are part of our culture; Americana is more subtle, though, as it points out that how we dream of wandering the continent (think of the "cross-country trip across America" and the hold it has over so many writers and musicians, i.e., Kerouac, Steinbeck, William Least Heat Moon, etc.) along with the contradictory love of and desire to remain in small towns (i.e., Thorton Wilder, Garrison Kiellor, Sherwood Andersen, etc.). I listen to a lot of what gets labeled "alt country" (a label I dislike for some reason), and I find myself drawn to those rough songs of driving or small-town tragedies like an urbanist must be drawn to urbanism's unphased cyncism (which used to appeal to me, but does less and less for me each year; I am clearly not meant for the city).
Recently, k.d. lang came out with Hymns of the 49th Parallel, an album of covers of classic songs by Canadian singer-songwriters. I bought it, and listened to it incessantly, during the week when I was at home recovering from my biopsy. k.d. lang does two covers of Neil Young songs (Young was a favorite musician of mine in high school), After the Gold Rush and Helpless, that convey the Prairie heritage of Western Canada (much as the jigs and reels of Cape Breton must convey a sizeable portion of Nova Scotia's character).
There's a town in North Ontario, With dream comfort memory to spare and in my mind, when I need a place to go all my changes take me there...
Neil Young, Helpless
Cunningham's image is here because it reminds me of my project that I began last summer, The Sea and the Sand (which I will pick up again this summer), which is an attempt to photograph the approximately 130 mile long strip of beach that runs the Southern length of New Jersey (i.e., the "Jersey Shore" of Springsteen and Billy Joel songs) where I grew up. The ragged beach towns of Sea Bright and Highlands and the high Victorian society of Spring Lake and Avon-By-The-Sea are in my dreams of America, and my Americana mythology. The sand in your feet as a child, the crack of a bat, the highway that leads west to the mountains and deserts, the marble sanctity of a courthouse, the red barn, the smell of woodsmoke on Thanksgiving, the never-yielding sense of hope, and the admiration for, yet freedom from, the past.
I've got something different planned for the coming weeks. I'm going to try and present to you, in as coherent a form as I can, an interview with one of the better photobloggers out there on an amazing shot of his. Picture Envy will probably move to weekend duties, just so it's easier to bang out for me.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, New York
I've been quiet for a while due to a network problem. I haven't actually been able to access my email or Typepad for about three to four days, and I know I owe you a Picture Envy. It's in the works, I promise; let me just get ready for court first. Thanks go out to Notes from the (Legal) Underground and Minor Wisdom for their link to On How to Start a Winning Blog. Actually, thanks should also go out to Notes from the (Legal) Underground for the kind review of Unbillable Hours.