Oct 282009

These are tools of my father. My father was a master carpenter and entrepreneur, though his business never got even mid-sized. In a way he was – and still is – always the working man.

It is years ago that I took this image. Just look at the file name or the URL: mid-August 2006! That’s before I began this blog.

I’m still here in Carinthia, beautiful autumn days outside, the trees in their most glorious colors, I confined to the apartment, sick of being sick. Well, not much longer. But of course I was not outside yesterday, thus the archive image.

For no particular reason I began looking for an image from the beginning, browsing my early D200 images in chronological order and … they suck. They really do. Most of them do. No that’s not really differentiating, most of my images still suck, but on any given day, I can be sure that I will have a workable image.

Not so then. Oh my! Not only did my images suck, I made so few of them! I didn’t even properly try to make them not suck.

I can best see it in framing. Today when I frame an image, I normally know what I do. I attempt a certain effect, and this is so pronounced, that even after a long time, even if I don’t remember the exact incident, I can immediately see why I framed the image as it is, I understand what I wanted to achieve, even when the image was ultimately a failure. They are my images and I understand my images.

It’s not that I don’t recognize my early images, sure I do, but so very often I recognize them through the locations. I know the places, I can remember many of the incidents, but what I don’t recognize is the style.

Style? Huh?? Bold word for someone denying having one!

Indeed. Uhhh … well … there’s not only black and white, there are shades in between. I am slowly accepting the idea of style being more than a marketing instrument. I am still convinced that much of what goes as “style” is nothing but self-inflicted artistic petrification, annihilation of creativity from fear of changing from a formula that has been found to sell.

There is a deeper meaning though. While the word style is commonly understood as a characteristic of a particular artist’s work, that can be recognized by the recipient, even without knowing the artist, i.e. understood as a distinguishable property of the work, there is merit in looking at style from the artist’s perspective. Here, style is not a result, it is a process, and ultimately it is a way of thinking, a way of analyzing the world. I may frequently change tools, change between color and b&w, change between realistic post-processing and Photoshop plugins like Alien Skin Snap Art, I may do that from one image to the next, may do it within one post and change back with the next, but I change my way of thinking, of analyzing the world, only very slowly, and only due to an ever ongoing learning process.

This is what I mean when I say I don’t recognize my style in these old images. When I see them, frankly, I have no idea what I thought then. There is not much continuity with what I do now. The images could as well have been taken by someone else.

It’s pretty interesting to see how it all began and where the roots are of how I work today. I have not gone back to the early 5 megapixal Kodak images, I guess I should view them systematically as well, but I guess it won’t make much of a difference. What finally made a difference, was when I bought my second SLR lens.

My first lens was a Nikon 18-200 VR, and when I bought the D200, this long range was actually a step back from the even longer range of the Kodak. I was just used to zooming and to the universal availability of all focal lengths.

My second lens was a Sigma 30/1.4, my first prime, and though I can’t remember why exactly I bought a prime at all, I suppose it was the “myth of primes”, it immediately made a difference. Constricted to a frame of a certain size, I began to compose. Not being able to zoom, made me work harder, think deeper, and from that time on I see images that I can identify with. These are images that I have put thoughts into, and the ways of those thoughts are still traceable for me.

Now, what can be learned of all that? Two things:

Productivity may not be the only key to improvement, but it helps a lot. My productivity increased tremendously, when I began to publish a daily photoblog. If you want to get better, there is no better thing than practice, and the rigid discipline of a daily blog is keeping you practicing more than you otherwise would. It’s not as intense as doing it as a job, but it leaves you more freedom to explore.

The second thing is: the “myth of primes” exists for a reason. Restrictions make you work harder, and that improves your work as well.

The Song of the Day is “The Working Man” from the 1968 self-titled Creedence Clearwater Revival debut album. Hear it on YouTube.

Sep 092009

Sorry for the long silence. I’m not dead and I can’t blame my internet connection either. Must have something to do with being on vacation. In any case I have a real processing problem. Well, some images may turn up another day, when I lack anything usable.

What can you write about a place like Auschwitz? Can you take photos there? People do, and many of them make just the usual images, with their beloved or their friends posing, just not in front of a fountain, but in front of the remains of an electrical fence. That’s just how people are, just as places are what places are.

There is nothing like an evil place. It’s all about the people, and what can you say about a place that was a rural village for centuries, and then, all of a sudden, strangers came, performed their incredibly cruel deeds, turned the place into hell, stayed for five years and vanished again.

It is pretty impossible to conserve the horror. Yes, Auschwitz I, the original base camp, still has something sinister in it. It’s the contrast between neatness of architecture and the horror of the double electrical fences. If at all there is something left of pure horror then it’s there.

Auschwitz II, Birkenau, is different. It’s a vast area, mostly ruins, and it’s there that the masses were killed. It is much less graphic, but in its largeness there is an abstract monstrosity that suddenly makes all those big numbers of millions of killed people comprehensible. This is a place that obviously was built for that purpose, a place that had the capacity.

Still, the question remains: what can you photograph at such a place? Can you show anything meaningful beside the cliché? I don’t know. What you get today is a detail from a fence in Auschwitz II, a view from the monastery Tyniec on top of a hill overlooking the river Wis?a, and the Image of the Day is a birch tree shortly after sundown.

The Song of the Day is “Going Places” from Paul Weller’s 2003 album “Illumination”. See him perform live on YouTube.

Aug 182009

I read an article about jazz today, about the festival in Saalfelden, Austria, and about how jazz is completely accepted as art. You can’t provoke a scandal with jazz anymore. This made me think. Do we need scandals?

The history of the visual arts is a continuous progress towards ever more perfection, and it reached its high point during Renaissance. There was no way to get more realistic, no way to get more detailed, and from then on, it went the other way: towards abstraction. You see it begin in Titian’s colors, how he mixed red and green, you see it much stronger in Tintoretto, Rubens used a rougher brush with longer strokes, El Greco and the late Goya pointed up to our times, impressionism re-invented color, expressionism warped it, and with Kandinsky and Mondrian that second progression finally came to an end.

There was always a tendency to mix art and scandal, because scandal sells almost as good as sex, but the art of the 20th century was especially characterized by the tendency to shock the viewer and that is very much due to the fact that art had to search for a new orientation. The gesamtkunstwerk was born.

I understand all that and I understand how necessary this was in many cases, but there is also the question of what becomes of a piece of art, when the performance is over, the shock has worn off. Is it still art? Does it keep its value? Can it persist in spite of being isolated from the original context?

This weekend I have got my copy of “The $12 Million Stuffed Shark” by Don Thompson. I have not read it yet and won’t do so during the next weeks, but I guess this book will answer some of my questions, at least from the point of view of economics.

For me the most important point is, that we live in a post-modern world. Of course this is old news, but it is essential to realize, that this gives us enormous freedom. The river has come to an end, there is no more need to swim with or against the current, there is no current any more, we are floating in an endless sea of possibilities. This is scary but liberating.

It is possible to take up pieces from older times, it is possible to combine, it is possible to simply do what you feel you need to do, regardless of trends and fashions. There is nothing to win by trying to swim with a current when there is no current at all. You can as well be you and be happy with it. In an age of ubiquitous and instantaneous communication you may not get rich, but you will find your audience.

The Image of the Day is one more bicycle for the book, and the frogs were hanging outside of a shop. A sad and a happy image, that’s it for today.

The Song of the Day is “Sad Song” from Lou Reed’s 1973 album “Berlin”. What a wonderful song. Hear it on YouTube.

Aug 102009

This is an image from last week. No circus image, sorry. What more can you do than ask? At the beginning of the show though, they announced that taking photographs is forbidden “for copyright reasons”.

What do they expect me to do? Copying their acrobatic tricks? Acting like the clowns they are?

I was furious at first, but then … I simply enjoyed the show. No focus, no exposure, no camera settings, no hunting for pictures. Just plain fun, and that was not bad either 🙂

The Song of the Day is “Money Changes Everything” from Cyndi Lauper’s 2005 album “The Body Acoustic”. See the video on YouTube.

Aug 062009

One of the most wide-spread misconceptions about democracy is, that it, once given, perfects itself, in other words, progresses towards an ideal of justice.

The problem is, democracy is only an abstract concept, not an actor. It does not do anything on its own, it does not even exist as an independent entity in the first place.

It is we who have to act, or better, because “we” is a weak concept as well, it is I and it is you who have to act. To demand moral behavior from a government is futile. A government is nothing but a compromise between concurrent forces within a society. Those forces are not driven by ideals, they are driven by egoistic interests. A government is a mirror of the balance between these forces.

But “government” is also a weak concept. A government consists of actual persons and they represent egoistic groups on the one hand and their own egoistic interests on the other hand. When you think of that, it’s a miracle that they even get anything done at all.

Democracy is a weak concept, it does not exist as an actor, it does not exist as an entity, and therefore it does not have any force of its own. Democracy does not perfect itself, it does not progress, it is a weak, unstable configuration of political forces, and that we have enjoyed it for so long, does not mean that we will be able to do it perpetually.

At the moment we see a decline. It is world-wide. Democracy is strongly coupled to freedom, but freedom does not mean a thing to those who are free. People don’t value freedom, they value security. People may have their problems with what is, but they fear to change it. People are inherently conservative.

In the moment, governments all over the world use lies and deceit to erect walls around us, to take away our freedom, and they do that under the pretense of conserving our security. The problem is, and that is what most people don’t get, the most secure of all places is a prison, and that’s exactly where the decline of our democracy leads us.

Why should governments do that? Well, it is because they consist of politicians, and although politicians represent the forces of society, they normally don’t represent all forces. They represent the wealthy, the well educated, the elite. It does not matter what party, it does not matter what political program, the political actors are normally representative of only a small part of the society, and therefore democracies naturally tend to decline towards oligarchy.

The pet enemy of most politicians seems to be the Internet. The more naive among them regard it only as a new mass medium that they can’t control, mostly because of its international structure. And even if some of them understand what the Internet is, a universal, ever changing communication infrastructure, pure anarchic power, raw democracy, the most concentrated political force of all times, the universal memory of mankind, the voice of voices, the ultimate negation of political lies – it naturally scares them.

No, it is no coincidence that so-called democratic governments throughout the world, along with openly undemocratic governments, use the fear of terrorism and the phantom of child pornography to erect walls, to circle us in, to keep our voices down.

Don’t let them get away with it.

Most of the time the lyrics of the Song of the Day don’t have any connection with either image or text, but today I find them well matched: The song from the 1990 James album “Gold Mother” is all about breaking down “Government Walls“. Hear it on YouTube.

Jul 172009

Mark “The Landscapist” Hobson did it again. He wrote one of his usual rants against what he calls the “pretty-picture crowd”, and as so often, I mostly agree.

He argues with the two Japanese concepts of “hade” and “shibui“. Both mean a form of beauty, “jimi” being a third one, with shibui being roughly the ideal middle between flashy, gaudy hade and dull jimi.

From “The pursuit of comparative aesthetics” by Mazhar Hussain and Robert Wilkinson we learn that

Restraint is one of the ingredients in shibui. Shibui art objects are unobtrusive, unostentatious and modest with understatement as a characteristic style. An underlying notion is, that the less powerful object will probably be the more artistically effective.

For Mark, the full saturation mindset of the “pretty-picture crowd” is of course hade, and he insists that hade, while not intrinsically wrong, is only endurable against a backdrop of shibui. So far, so good, and I agree, but it may be worth looking deeper.

First it is worth to notice, that hade and shibui are not necessarily connected to certain levels of saturation. Mark oversimplifies. Vincent van Gogh’s pictures probably have more characteristics of shibui than of hade, but when you see them hanging on a wall, you are almost blinded by the saturated colors.

Furthermore we can’t reduce hade and shibui to purely aesthetic categories, they are as much defined as behavioral concepts, as lifestyles, which probably best explains the attributed relative values, and as I understand Mark’s attitude, his gripes seem to be more with behavior and intent than with measurable physical qualities like (over-)saturation.

I guess what we artistically pursue, hade or shibui, it all boils down to why we do it. It’s not even a matter of being a leader or a follower, we all are always both of it to a certain extent. No, it’s a matter of why we pursue art. Do we do it essentially for ourself, meaning: are we free, or do we do it to impress, meaning: are we dependent upon positive feedback, do we strive for admiration?

The more we depend on others, the more we will compromise, the more we will try to please, and pleasing in a Koyaanisqatsi world always and at first means getting seen at all, something that hade perfectly accomplishes.

But even if it is shibui that we pursue, we must ask ourselves why we do it. Is it for us or is it to impress, because there can also be vanity in modesty. Less obtrusive, but only to a degree, and it does not even cater to a different crowd, only to a smaller one 🙂

I think another aspect of the same thing is, that we should realize we have time, how much time we have, and that it is OK to take time. When I begin to express myself in any creative way, I have all my life to fool around, to try things, to change, both myself and how I work, and I have the freedom to allow myself to do that.

I don’t mean to pray isolation here, that would seem quite ridiculous for a blogger, but I do pray being a little more relaxed. It’s OK when I don’t get raving comments on every photo, and it’s OK when some of my blog posts are met with indifference or are simply ignored.

Relax. Whatever the crowd does: keep doing what you do if you like it and feel compelled to do so.

I also don’t mean to play down the value of feedback, positive or negative. Feedback is OK and it is important as a means to determine where we are in relation to others. It only does not nourish us. What nourishes us, what gives our efforts substance, what gives us freedom, is to stand deeply rooted in our own experience and our own judgment. Other people can help us find out where we are, but it is up to us to know where we want to go.

Having said all that, I notice that my latest images were far from being public successes on SmugMug. Still, they indicate a turn from the playful experiments with Snap Art to an exploration that centers more around content and ambivalence, and this is exactly what I chose as my current side-project. At the moment I like it and feel compelled to do so 🙂

The Song of the Day is “Seen And Not Seen” from the 1980 Talking Heads album “Remain in Light”. Hear it on YouTube.

982 – Three Ways to One

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Jun 212009

OK, the rain stopped, in mid-afternoon I took the car, drove into the next forest, looked for a way, some nice lines, anything that would possibly work with an ultra-wide, and here is the result.

I have used a polarizer, set the minimum shutter speed for Auto ISO to 1/8s, and then I took a series of images in this place.

I tried to get as low as possible, in order to use the cracks of the asphalt as foreground, I tried to keep any high-contrast sky out of view, and because the resulting image was too much tilted even for my taste, I have warped and twisted it around in Photoshop until it would fit 🙂

Today is summer solstice, and as bad as the day was in between, it ended in the most magnificent sundown I have ever seen in my life. Imagine a clear, bright sun coming in very low. Above a dark cloud cover. A sunlit rural church, behind it the most impossible storm clouds, dark violet with mixed in patches of deep orange. Honestly, in Photoshop I would not dare to do that. I would pull the trigger, I would tone it down, because no sky will ever look like that and … Damn, it did and I was on the train!!

Yup. That’s the reason why you get nothing but a forest road. Sorry for that 🙂

But there is another thing that I have learned and that I want to share. It’s nothing photographic, more philosophic, but I try it anyway.

Michael visited us today and confronted us with a hypothetical question. He had been to a discussion in Salzburg where the question arose, and the hypothetical situation was the following:

Imagine a trial for rape. The defender argues that the victim had invited the rapist with her provocative clothing. The judge is a muslim woman wearing a hijab. The prosecutor claims the judge to be biased.

Actually the situation is rather stupid and my solution would be, that as long as there is not a law that forbids wearing certain clothes while executing certain offices, there is no merit to the claim at all. The judge may indeed later be found to have been biased, but the same could be true for anyone, and everything beforehand is nothing but prejudice.

Michael argued in a different way. He says that we are a secular society, and that religious symbols, regardless of the actual religion, are incompatible with the function of a judge. Openly wearing a religious symbol is always a public embrace of a certain set of believes, and believes are by definition prejudices.

OK, that’s the setting. The interesting point now is, that Michael and I come from the very same position. Both of us agree that we live in a society that at least claims secularity, that a truly secular society is what we should strive for, and still we go different ways.

Michael’s idea of banning religious symbols in certain contexts where the bearer acts as a representative of the state, is more or less the French way. My own position is liberal, relaxed, probably libertarian, basically it’s “Judge people by their doings, not by what they wear, and you can’t judge them before they act”.

What I find so fascinating, and why I share this stupid scenario, is my sudden realization, that a philosophical position in no way determines your actions. Both ways can be argued and defended on good grounds, and both of us could claim the same reasons. Still we would execute either tolerance or force, trying to defend the same position.

That’s it. No big image, no big insight, only the conclusion that things can get pretty complicated when you begin to look into the details 🙂

The Song of the Day is probably a little less song-like than some may expect. It’s “Three Ways to One” from Ornette Coleman’s 1997 album “Colors: Live from Leipzig”. Yes, that’s the guy whose album “Free Jazz” gave name to the whole genre. I personally know some people who strictly refuse to call that music, but on the other hand, I keep getting the same reaction to Schönberg as well 🙂

Deezer has the album for you to hear. Give it a try, relax, go with the flow, and you may even find yourself tapping, maybe even itching to move to it 🙂

Apr 072009

In a comment to “904 – The Harmony Of Industry And Nature“, Ted spoke about workplaces of the past and what might have become of them: “What’s become of the stripper palaces? The warehouses? Were they all made of wood that long ago became food for worms, bugs, and bacteria?

Well, it is a fact that many of those places have not survived because they were not treasured for their architecture (and in most cases quite rightly so), and the factory grounds of the past have become foundations for the shopping centers of our sprawling cities.

Apart from the fact that this image is a fine example for how to not shoot people (click on the thumbnail to see a hilarious 200% detail of the central portion of the image), it also shows one of the typical areas in Vienna, that were once industrial suburbs populated by the working class. Living quarters for the poor.

Things have changed substantially since. Today Vienna’s 7th district is one of the most expensive areas in the city and a center of art and craft. It has a high density of galleries, artisan workshops, in other words: it has become fashionable. The fact that much of the substance has survived the inferno of the Second World War only contributes to that.

Cities are layered. The most glaring example, that I know of, is Rome. There you see modern appendixes to medieval buildings that were built into ancient ruins. More than 2000 years of architectural history in one place.

It’s nowhere else that extreme, but we Europeans love our cities like that. We live with a long past and we tend to modify, not completely tear down.

The Song of the Day is “All Our Past Times” by Eric Clapton. A video on YouTube indicates that it has been played in “The Last Waltz”, but it is not on my 2CD copy. I have it on the 1980 live album “Just One Night”. Hear the original album version on YouTube.

Mar 132009

Every once in a while there is a scandal about the appropriation of images. We had two lately, the affair about the original image that was used by Shepard Fairey for the famous Obama “HOPE” icon, and Richard Prince being sued, but of course this comes up every once in a while.

Now, the question really is, when is using art in arts simply appropriation and plagiarism, and when does it produce a work that stands for its own? Is this something to be avoided? And if so, is it just to play safe, or do you feel a deeper moral obligation? Or is art just another subject of art?

Well, I don’t know if Rembrandt had objected against my use of a poster for his exhibition, but I guess I would not object against finding one of my images in a Rembrandt painting 🙂

Both of today’s images were shot with my new Nikon AF-S 35/1.8G. This is a fine lens and I may write more of a review-type post this weekend, but to wrap it up in one statement I might say: If you are a Nikon DX format shooter, get this lens!

Both of today’s images? Well, yes, the Rembrandt poster with the traffic in the background, and the image of the trees that I have overlaid 🙂

The Song of the Day is “This Sad Burlesque” from the 1993 Elvis Costello / Brodsky Quartet collaboration “The Juliet Letters”. I have no more samples than what Amazon provides (click the ad), but YouTube has a live performance of another piece from the album. This is one classic album not to be missed. Highly recommended!

852 – Innocent When You Dream

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Feb 122009

This is the second day that I try this shot, it’s time to post it now, it won’t get any better. Tuesday morning I tried it with the Sigma 20/1.8, yesterday morning I did it with the Nikon 24/2.8. Not that anybody would care. Rather odd way to introduce a new lens, huh?

There are many ways I could have gone in post-processing, B&W would have been one of them, and even there I would have had a hard time deciding between “Infrared” and “Maximum Black”. I finally settled with color, because I wanted it to be more like a strange, undecided dream than like a nightmare.

The Song of the Day is “Innocent When You Dream” from Tom Waits’ 1987 album “Franks Wild Years”.

YouTube has a brilliant live performance with questionable sound quality, and it is outright the best version that I’ve ever heard. You don’t want to miss it, if for nothing else, then for the introduction.