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  • The Secret Books
    The Secret Books
    by Jorge Luis Borges, Sean Kernan
  • Among Trees
    Among Trees
Teaching and Lecturing
Wednesday
Oct192011

The Subject is Love: texting from Africa

Sheilah Gashumba Carol naye uew and lav

Khauka Emmanuel T lav?jst nid e ril tru luv....

Sheilah Gashumba Carol bambii ama pray uew get it

Sheilah Gashumba Carol kale..

Khauka Emmanuel Haa....ha lav z t meks evri ting ril.its jst lyk e rain drop flowin down d prity grin grass

Sheilah Gashumba Carol tunafa...oliiiiwaa luvly smile dt i c up d sky.wea r u 2?

Sheilah Gashumba Carol who ah thoz words tuh...am home

Khauka Emmanuel Jst c-in d prity swit angel face nxt 2 d bright'st star in d sky...n no wat?ma hrt z flyin out ov mi. am also home

deserves all thez words

Khauka Emmanuel D 1 i desire 2 c evri single de n nyt...d 1 dt meks mi smile wen i cry..n dts...Guess

Sheilah Gashumba Carol whooo

Khauka Emmanuel Jst kloz ur eyes n u wil gt 2 no who z dt gal....try 2 guess. ha nem strts wit G

Sande Swico M Kizito lol lo

Khauka Emmanuel Haa....ha...

Sande Swico M Kizito lol lol

Khauka Emmanuel Dts prity cul....Haa...ha

Sande Swico M Kizito Ya man lo lo

Khauka Emmanuel Tru dt@swico.nwe gud mrnin

Sande Swico M Kizito let me chk out

Khauka Emmanuel kale sebo....ande

Swico M Kizito Ya man

Khauka Emmanuel Alrite

Monday
Oct032011

Advice to Mentee: Learning from the Tain, about rhythms and music in the photo sequence.

I sent an email in response to the work of a grad student I am mentoring, and afterward I thought that it might be of interest/use to others. (I could learn from it myself.)

So I've had a look, and I have some thoughts and questions and so forth.

I don't think I can talk meaningfully about individual pictures at this point until I get some sense of your ideas for the where it is going overall. I don't just mean what will ultimately be  the architecture of it, I also mean the inner flow of it.

Maybe thinking of it as music might be useful. In a sense it is like having a lot of songs, and they're all about love, and now you have to make an album of love songs. So which ones stay and go, and most importantly, how do they order in such a way that they build?

Your project is very much not  a story, so narrative is out. What are the alternatives?

Music is again a good signifier. It is not that the photos "represent" specific things, but they can evoke particular energies, and once you can start to feel them in that way you can start to FIND an order, not of photos but of the energies and experiences.

On a mechanistic level, you might want a high energy thematic statement, an opening number, so to speak. Then some things that slow a bit but are still energetic, then a ballad, then a reversal, then a resolution and  a finish. I once showed my idea for a movie to a screen writer, and he encouraged me to break my line down into 48 "beats", which would be scenes in which some definitive change happened, arranged at different heights along an arc.

I didn't do exactly that, but I really understood the concept he was trying to make me see and it really helped me structure the story.

So maybe that's where you are now. I think it is time to think about that arc. No, not think about it, wrong term. I think you have to find an opening for the sequence and then look for where that jumps to and what image it lands on, and then where that points you, etc. It is perhaps a matter of looking for rhymes between images and rhythms of sequences, of things that move along easily or dissonantly. Not about making it fluid, and in fact there are reasons to have it be spiky in places.

There might be some temptation to rely the name of your project (Tumultuous and Tranquil), but you've got to be specific and to make the work,  not the association in the words, do the lifting.

The guy who really took sequencing to the nth degree was Minor White, and if you can get hold of one of his books and look specifically at the relationship and development of the whole line of images it might be useful.

I don't know if I sent you the name of this guy Mitch Dubrowner (http://www.mitchdobrowner.com/) but there's something you might look at there. I saw some of his work in Santa Fe, and one thought I had was that it was waaay too much…at least in terms of classical photography. But I learned years ago NOT to dislike things, to set aside my precious opinions and just hold all doors open. So my next step was to look closely and see that he was skillful and that he was really seeing what was before him and expanding on it, not making it  happen in an editing program.

I don't think that you should do anything at all this extreme, but I think that when you get some of the initial narrowing down of your sequence you might take a few images and find the eye-path through them, then do some playing around to emphasize that.   You could feel free to take it too far. I had a director who urged us to push things in early rehearsals because, he said, if you wait until the end you will see your work needs something and you just over inflate what's there. Push it, then back off, was his approach. In the end he got very subtle  but very powerful work out of actors, and they loved him for it.

Loose thought: you might vary the sizes of images and the spaces between them, might cluster things too.

I'm also attaching something I came across that is interesting. It is from the Tain, a long Irish 8th century legend. It is mostly straight narrative story telling, but every once in a while it goes into this very impressionistic, imagistic style, and it is very powerful for that shift. I've never encountered just this kind of shift, and my English teachers would have flunked me if I'd tried it, but I think there is something to learn from it, particularly about the uses of inconsistency and variation.

As as example, I'm attaching a page from the Tain, an ancient Irish poem. It narrates fairly straightforwardly, but often lurches into a short piece that is very impressionistic and feragmented. This abruptness shifts the atention and really wakes things up. There's something to learn here.

So that's my response, for what it's worth. I think you should do some looking for the real power of the images.

Don't rely on the subject do the work.

 

Tuesday
Apr122011

The Book of Fabulous Names

Not a book, actually, more like a small notepad. I keep it by the chair in which I sit reading the morning paper. And I pull it out every time I see a name in the news so fantastic that it  would challenge the  christening powers of Charles Dickens. All names guaranteed 100% Google-able.

Here are a few of the best: 

Lt. Col Wisdom Bleboo, African Union troop commander
BamBam Villanuova and Tony Digiosaflatte, two bank robbers who literally washed the money they had stolen
Poony Poon, music student
Ronnie Screwvala, Indian film producer
Paul Privateer, professor of media studies
Vinson Filyaw, kidnapper
Luscious Johnson (a man)
Schoolboy Friedkin, a boxer from the 30’s and 40's
Innocent Chigona, Zimbabwean Lawyer
Spirit Herzog-Bottom, 15 year-old resident of a California town
Travis Trim, murder suspect
Timo Wopp, German juggler
Dimple Gupta, lawyer and congressional aide

New additions

Ruby Ripey-Tourla, had an affir with the mayor of SF

Absalom Sydenstricker, Pearl Buck's father

And a few from history:
Topham Beauclerk, friend of Samuel Johnson
Praisegod Barebones, preacher who lived near Samuel Pepys in London
And his brothers,
Christ-Came-Into-the-World-to-Save Barebones, and If-Christ-Had-Not-Died-Thou-Hadst-Been-Damned Barebones.

 Actually, the last two are a little doubtful, but they are cited in a 17th century reference, so as far as I'm concerned someone would have to prove that they did not live before I removed them.

And this just in: Goodluck Jonathan, president of Nigeria

Thursday
Apr072011

ASMP Strictly Business 3 wrap-up

I  gave a set of presentations at each of the 3 conferences ASMP held for professional photographers held around the country this Winter. My talks were about Creativity, and we did a lot of on-your-feet exercises to get the creative process working. I really wanted to use the facetime for doing rather than talking, so I wrapped up with an email to participants. And here it is.

First let me say what a great time I had with all of you. I am stimulated all over again.

Of course, I realize that asking creative people to do creative things is like rolling stones down hill. Much harder to get us to order our archiving or make cold calls. Those are two of my Achilles heels and they are as bad as anyone’s.

That said, though, while I urge you all to return to creative work as part of your job, it occurs to me that there’s an advantage to having that work be something other than photography, at least for a while.

Here’s the reason: I think of creativity as a large room—perhaps even the room we were born in—one with many doors. We chose the photography door years ago, and did so because it worked particularly well for us. But that door can get clogged over time with misunderstood ideas, things that we didn’t quite hear right, false starts, and even some things that worked out perfectly. So what was unencumbered fun turns into the work of pushing on this stuck door.

The thing is that there are other doors—the writing door, the music door, the drawing door, the poetry door, to name just a few—and because we have no investment in them, we can simply push on them and they swing open. And then we are back in that creative space and we can just romp around and get our batteries recharged. Then we can just walk over to the photography door and quite easily open it from the inside.

So that is why I suggest that you might want to do a bit of creative work in some area other than photography, something you have no investment in. It is not about actually becoming an actor or a singer or a poet but about experiencing the pleasures and discomforts of creativity. Then, when you dig back into photography it can regain that unanchored quality that it held for you in the first place.

I realized some time ago that, the kind of thing we did can be a bit hard to explain up front, but it quickly seems obvious after doing it. I take that to mean that it really doesn’t function verbally but gets to some kind of natural knowledge that is in us.

Another point is that once you get things moving again, it will need some practice to really claim it and expand it. There are a number of ways to go at it, and I have set some out below. You will think of others, and it matters less which you do than that you do something…steadily.

If you want to challenge yourself  photographically, I have found that what works for me is to go to someplace that is strange, new, a place that I can’t really manage or control. This is why I was so happy to stumble across the Kampala Boxing Club. I have made several trips there simply because I love the way it pulls the rug out from under me.  You can pictures on my website, if you’re interested, and also the bare beginnings of a video here.

 Going on from this point:

Here is a list of a few assignments and investigations that you might want to try going forward. I have done a lot of these in classes over time, and they are quite wonderful to do together. They are all designed to lead you, not to some completed goal but to movement. If you just move, you get someplace, and if you stay aware of what you’re doing you’ll be able to claim the movement and the results.

 1. Make a notebook, using it particularly to jot down images you can’t stop to take, and also things that catch your attention but are not necessarily photographic.

2. Translate. That is, take one of your best photos, or one of someone else’s, and redo it in some transformative way, saying the same thing but differently.

3. Write down the story that emerges from someone else’s photo. Treat it as the beginning of a short story or movie, and extend it through time beyond the image that the other photograph shows. Use your imagination.

4. Take a picture you like, and then make a picture that rhymes with it visually. Don’t use the same subject matter, but look for similarity of contrast, shapes, color. Put them side by side and see how they enhance each other. Then do another, and so on.

5. Here’s one from the artist Larry Rivers; Do something. Then do something to that. Then do something to that.

6. Photograph the same thing—person, theme, subject—again and again. Make a project and return to it over and over, extending your first impulse. Let the work reveal your vision, instead of trying to impose your vision. Let the process tell you where to go, with your pictures as footprints.

7. Learn to enjoy the plateaus as much as the peaks, and to enjoy them for what they are. The work is done on the plateaus and manifests on the peaks. They are the same thing, and we live on both.

8. Make a working schedule that is regular and rhythmical, and don’t wait for inspiration. Take writers as your example. Inspiration arises out of doing, rather than causing the doing.

9. Write a description of a place you’ve never been. (Italo Calvino wrote a whole book called Invisible Cities, in which Marco Polo describes imaginary cities to Kublai Khan).

9.  Go to a part of town you don’t know. Walk into a strange bar. Order an unfamiliar drink. Pull out some paper, and without speaking or asking any questions, write a short biography of someone at the bar. Don’t write it well. Just follow the process. See where it goes. 

Above all, stay awake!

Thanks again for all the fun,

 Sean

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wednesday
Feb092011

Overview from Cairo

This article by Hassan Khan, the son-in-law of a friend, appeared in Le Monde. It offers a good sort of ground-level overview.

 

This situation is not about politics. It is about something much more than politics. It is not about cabinet reshuffles, changes in administration; it’s not about standing in squares, resisting violent, brutal and fatal onslaughts, first by “Central Security” (Egypt’s large, mindless and vicious corps of riot police) and then by psychopathic thugs on horses and camels wielding whips, crowbars, swords, knives, Molotov cocktails, gas canisters, and, ultimately, firearms. Of course, it is about all of this but it is also about something much more, which is harder to explain.

 

What we have here is a society, not just a system that has been corrupted to its very core. To do anything, to act in daily life, one has to undergo a process of daily humiliation. In such a system, money (in a visible and material fashion) can guarantee some sort of bought respect, ultimately enforced by brute police power. What guarantees the purchasing power of that legal tender is the enforcer: police power. Therefore everything and everyone is for sale. This means that money does not only buy services, it actually buys people. Within such a system, corruption cannot be understood as a deviation from a social accord; corruption is the social accord, and the basic measure used for everything is one of repression.

 

A regime of power and humiliation such as this can only operate effectively by using a collective symbol. This symbol, this scepter, is there to ensure that the process of humiliation is effective. And for that symbol to work it has to discredit all other symbols. As a result, you have a system that focuses its efforts on attacking all civil, social and state institutions, in an almost cancerous fashion, with the purpose of creating a condition of paranoia, distrust, and lack of self-respect. A consistent policy of promoting civil strife renders any sort of unity very difficult to achieve and, perhaps more importantly, creates a situation in which no Egyptian can respect any other Egyptian because we are all implicated within that same corrupt system.

 

These are not theoretical propositions. These are lived conditions, a nightmarish reality. Within this situation, every citizen must understand themselves as existing in a state of war with everyone else: You need to unpack what every person you meet is saying and calculate what to say in order to get what you want even in the most banal and everyday circumstances. If you are not perceptibly wealthy (visibility is important because the system operates on a symbolic level) then you must constantly strategize to win basic respect from each individual you deal with. Everyone is, therefore, living in a state of psychological civil war propagated by the regime of power whose policies, but more importantly whose very mode of existence, have deliberately exacerbated all class, religious, and gender differences.

 

This is a system that reproduces itself by undermining people’s system of worth, by spreading chaos and dissent, and, ultimately, by eating away at the very fabric of society.

 

Although for the past decade I have been pessimistically foretelling the implosion and chaotic collapse of Egyptian society, I had no way of predicting the incredible and organic response that erupted on the streets beginning on January 25. The significance of what happened in Tunisia lies in the fact that it made clear to Egyptians the possibility of an actual change. The power of this possibility lies in its promise that people can regain a sense of self-worth and self-confidence.

 

What began on January 25 is the production of an organic antibody; a structural corrective to the state of near collapse society had reached. What we have witnessed on the square is all differences being put to the side and abandoned for the sake of one central goal: the removal of the president.

 

There are two important catalysts for this newfound unity: First, the moment people felt that actually possessing a fully valid voice seemed plausible, such differences lost their significance and importance. The second has to do with the nature of the symbol of the system itself.

 

The president must go. This is incredibly important, not because he is effectively responsible for the corruption of the whole system and because his disappearance would immediately fix everything—far from it. There is a whole apparatus, as well as social class that have benefited from the kind of corruption perpetuated by this presidency. And getting rid of them will be difficult. Rather, it is important because this system and its ethos are understood to materialize in the very person of President Mubarak. His presence, even if he has been stripped of all actual political power, would be read as an insult to everybody’s dignity. His presence is the very aura of the system that sought to undermine personal respect and social solidarity. As a result his departure becomes so incredibly empowering that it acts as a sort of guarantee for the people seeking change. The guarantee needed for a successful transitional period is the resignation or removal of the president. Mr. Mubarak must leave office before the pathological condition of Egyptian society can begin to heal. And heal it will (I am now convinced for the first time in my life) if this very simple thing happens.

 

Today banks have opened for the first time in a week and when I went to the bank in the morning I witnessed an extremely telling scene. People stood in a long queue, waiting patiently to be let in one-by-one. The moment certain individuals tried to cut in line and demanded (on the basis of their wealth or importance) to be let in ahead of others, those around them immediately responded by insisting that everyone wait in-line as equals. They volunteered their opinion that the time of “wasta” (connections and bribes) was over, and that people must learn new ways. Interestingly enough, it was the bank officials themselves who made things chaotic by trying to create some sort of hierarchy: first by asking for the establishment of a separate line for individuals with “premiere accounts”—a move that was completely rejected by those already in line, some of whom insisted on standing with the bank officials at the door and made sure that people entered according to their turn. However bank officials kept persisting and, at one point, the situation almost spun out of control. Two army special-operation officers appeared with machine guns to remind us of the power of the state, and finally two lines were made: one for customers with personal accounts and one for customers with commercial accounts. However citizens continued to insist that people adhere, as closely as possible, to the original order. The solution was not ideal but it was a beginning.

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