Saturday, October 31, 2009

Nobody (and Nothing) is Perfect.

High expectations being the source of bitter disappointment, any company that claims to be aiming for perfection is doomed to have its product fail. At least philosophically. They are saved by the forgetful nature of the public, and can keep renewing their deceitful slogans at every launch of a ‘new improved’ version of something. The very existence of improvement inherently exposes the defects of the former ‘perfect’ thing, but nobody seems to take notice or mind.

Perfection is an absolute word, and absolutes are abstract concepts with no correspondent in reality. Reality is where we are, luckily, for as long as computer game designers and TV producers will allow us to be. Virtuality is where our minds like to wander if unchecked, understandably given the often-unyielding nature of life to conform to our wishes. It is a pliable multimedia and multi sensorial experience that allows many to play with their avatars, hooked on hard and software in their homes, while few make millions and roam happily out there in the sun.

Yet how often are we confronted with the word perfect, even in relation to apparently common things, like cooking a meal. I watch a lot of TV, with an inexplicable penchant for food shows. Not a gourmet in the RW (real world), I pretty much eat anything put on my plate with the exception of chicken liver, the sight of chefs at work competing with one another or showing techniques mesmerizes me. And can feel very passionate about the choice of the jury, or the judges, probably not unlike those soccer fanatics that never actually kick a ball in the field or even in a park but dream about sleeping with the referees’ wife when their team loses. Michelin stars are the ultimate firmament. For a man to have five (yes, there is such a GOD and HE is French) – given what it takes to get one - I’d expect him to induce gastronomic orgasm simply by looking at a person briefly. But put in the larger scheme of things, can even the best of food ever be called or indeed be PERFECT?

Can a camera be that? NO, not even a Swiss or Swedish made one.
They break eventually, they fail, they are improvable, and they get obsolete, and are replaced. Can a photograph be perfect? NO. So all this stress on perfection really is misplaced.
Why do I mind? Because claiming perfection to be possible leads to a painful sense of inadequacy in every sensible intelligent person.

Wouldn’t it be better to use good enough or quite adequate? Or even to insert an element of obvious imperfection in everything we do, something unfinished, a statement of how we, like any other thing, are not perfect. By doing so willingly we will not only avoid the neurosis of inevitable failure but rejoice in the acceptance of our imperfect human nature and celebrate some spontaneity. Although I probably want my car designer or my surgeon to be a perfectionist, I surely would like photographers to be rather human.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009


It strikes me as self-evident that much of modern art, lacking a definite set of rules, owes much of its value on the trust, or confidence, of the collector’s market. This to the extent that conceptual pieces bear market logic as an integral part of their ‘raison d’ĂȘtre’.

You wouldn’t be hard put in finding evidence of this at top level. At street level, or in the perspective of what is likely to be the direct experience of art for most of us, confidence still plays an important role. When visiting a museum on a Sunday afternoon for instance, it feels increasingly like a retail venue rather than a temple for cultural enrichment: not an alternative to working days pragmatic toil but its natural continuation. Apart from the cafeteria’s that have grown in size and product range, adding calories and cost to the deal, the museum shop seems to be paramount to the survival of institutions and is run on the shrewd principles of any tourist venue: the exchange of cash for kitsch.

Seeking solace in art galleries and artists’ studios will not offer respite. Hidden by a thin layer of wilful delusion, the ugly facts of market economy lures under the surface with open jaws to swallow the unwary and part him/her from his hard earned dollars/euros/pounds/yen. Punters buy into the idea of being collectors: either idealists or investors, they want value and status. Artists want status. Gallerists want money. Roughly.

If you happen to be personally involved with an artist, either in a transaction or in life, you have to recognize a few facts. To start with most artists are self-proclaimed. There is no definite way of identifying the real deal from the decoy; no degree or qualification really stands to prove anything. It is an exercise of will and self deception in many cases – this belief of being an artist - and can cause a behavioural latitude loosely related to a mistaken notion of superiority. This is not only morally wrong, but dangerous as it leads to a grey area on inconsistencies, discrepancies and bohemian depravation, on top of being detrimental to the making of good work.

Those who feel superior lack a sense of honesty and obligation to the others and are thus inherently not trustworthy and incapable of true friendship. They will feel knowingly or unknowingly entitled to beg, borrow, lie, cheat or steal to get what they want. You have been warned.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

What Triggers the Shot 2.0.

After having had both my ego and my iPhone deftly stroked by my new friend and reader Willem, I was ready to accept positive feed back and constructive suggestions on my latest blog entry: what triggers the shot.
Far from having exhausted the theme, of course I knew it to be susceptible of both deepening and expansion. So here are a few avenues worthy of further enquiry: death, memory and the wish to fix the ephemeral in life, it being almost everything really.

Poignantly, photographs were easier to obtain than to preserve, at the beginning. Once painstakingly discovered or invented (I am not sure which) and at last captured, the photograph simply kept developing itself from nothingness tot meaning only to be subsequently swallowed by murkiness and eventually total darkness. It turned black.

Going through the pages of one glossy imported photo magazine – one that I only flip through at the newsstand as I find it both aloof in tone and prohibitive in price – I came across a technique that could bring us back to that primitive emotion: Photograms on black and white out of date paper.
Place some nicely structured translucent object – like a leaf (or kinky lingerie) – on a sheet of photo paper and leave it in full daylight until the paper turns brownish in the most exposed parts – those not covered by the object – thus revealing an image. It is something like a shadow, albeit a negative one, of both outline and inner structure. A sepia roentgen if you will, of simple or intricate little things.
Left alone in the light, after removing the objects, the print will slowly keep discolouring and darkening until the image is lost. So it needs fixing if it is to be retained for some time.

By trial and error the first alchemists of photography at last came across hypo, a solution of sodium sulphite that preserved the image by removing the unexposed silver from the emulsion. Rinsing in water and drying were the last steps to a durable print. Once easily available, hypo is again something that you need to look for as digital photography made it unnecessary. But it is out there, and at least you know what to look for.

I have drifted a little from the original theme, yet I think that experiencing the pains and pleasures of the dark art of analogue printing will induce another motivation for taking photographs, although maybe a secondary one: the curiosity of seeing how they will turn out on paper.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

What Triggers the Shot (subjective or unusual realities).

As many pant their painful way through this year’s Amsterdam marathon I leisurely witness their stress from a vantage point on top of a bridge. All around me and along the track many cheer and many take pictures, thus setting me to think about what actually moves people to want to take pictures of this or that in the first place and whether their motivations can be at all fathomed or indeed classified in clear and general guidelines. Thirty years into my personal obsession and profession I have taken photographs for all the right, and probably most of the wrong reasons, which somehow should qualify me to tackle the question, also given the fact that on this particular moment I don’t feel like shooting at all and much rather sip on my paper cupped cappuccino and lose myself in abstract thoughts as I am wont to do in the presence of mass hysteria of the sportive kind.

Individual motivations are either typical or unfathomable by definition. Actually I guess the typical is by large more frequent and likely than the original. As the typical has this way of appearing original to the beholder of the thought in question, any attempt at mass investigation or statistics is doomed from the start. So trust my own instinct on this one. If my guess is as good as anyone’s, surely on the same account it is not likely to be any worse than yours, should our opinions differ, and perfectly all right, should they coincide.

Boldly split, the motivation for taking photographs is either evolutionary procreative sexual bodily or aesthetic cultural entertainment and human curiosity (the superior capacity of being captivated by anything other than feeding, procreation and survival). In short: beauty or the beast. Take any picture and you will find that it fits into at least one or more of above-mentioned classes. Whether a picture is more or less effective in ticking its intended box is the measure of how accomplished it is, regardless of any judgement on the legitimacy of its goals and subject matter. The motivation for looking at pictures can be roughly classified in exactly the same way as the taking, thus completing the cycle.

The taking of pictures easily fits into the profile of a species of hunter-gatherers, as an activity. Left to his or hers own evolutionary devices, this is what people do with photography when spontaneous and free. Of course much goes on in photography which is neither, and professionals in particular are able to toggle with many elements at will in perfect awareness and next to perfect technical prowess as to where they want the picture to go and what it needs to say. Then there are the intentions of those who do not control the process but still try to, leading to poor imitations, stereotypes, and boring pictures in general. Bad pictures constantly happen, but boring ones are mostly made intentionally.

As my fellow humans below push on their podistic endurance quest I am for once perfectly at ease with not taking pictures and mildly amused by the unexpected serendipity of my recent thoughts. Of course I have merely scratched at the surface of the problem, but it kept me from the worst indulgence of all in taking pictures: mindless automatic compulsion.