Let’s Talk about Truth in Advertising

As she so often does, my amazing friend Celi brought up once again the question of what we photograph, and how, and why, and what it can mean when we do so. As an avid, inveterate and truly—in the old sense—amateur photographer myself, this topic remains of great and constant interest. In the present climate of world politics, especially our wildly messy and weird American version of them, we certainly become obsessed with the idea of which of us has a complete grip on The Truth (absolutely nobody, in my opinion) and how we wield it (selfishly and manipulatively, IMO), and whether we’re arguing about what is real in visual or verbal images it pretty much plays out the same. We’re all generally trying to express how we understand the world, and to convince ourselves and others that our understanding is the smartest or best one.Photos: My HDR 1

Me, I edit a high proportion of my photos, many of them very heavily—but rarely do I do so to many for outright imaginative purposes. Aside from the (at least) 2/3 to 9/10 percentage I cull before using, what I do keep is for illustrative purposes at least as much as for documentary ones, but my intent with my photos is always to show others how I see the world, not necessarily how the world exists in an empirical sense.Photos: My HDR 2

In my opinion, that was always the purpose of photography: even the most rigorous of news and docu- photographers have always only shown us what they choose, and are able, to shoot, and from their perspective. Heck, people were manipulating photographs (early “ghost story” and “fairy” photos, anyone?!) as soon as they could shoot them. Photos are no more concrete proof of Truth than are written or spoken words. Current politics and social interactions merely continue to confirm all of the above.Photos: My HDR 3

So last night I was doing my own version of HDR, wherein I meticulously hand-alter (albeit with digital tools) the light/dark contrast in various parts of shots to replicate what my eyes and brain do as I’m seeing the images live, and my live-in art critic commented on my play with the pictures. And then I showed him how, for example, the pictures I took while he was driving here through west-Texas and New Mexico storms this summer are ‘readable’ only after such an edit, and that if his eyes weren’t already making such adjustments on the fly he’d not have been able to see, headlights or not, to drive in such varied light as the storms make.Photos: My HDR 4Photos: My HDR 5Photos: My HDR 6

I know that when I photograph my own environment, I do so with constant awareness of my version of Clutter Blindness, too, which makes me not see or notice things that are constantly in my environment—until I’m recording that environment with my camera. What an amazing tool is the camera! But it’s only a tool, and the images we take with it only the things we’ve chosen to note or share in our own ways. I love seeing the world through others’ photos, artworks, and eyes; my reality is frequently shifted and enhanced by this interchange of ideas and experiences. But I’ll always think it’s best, whether in attempts at documentation and recording real-life happenings and visions or in entirely handmade and invented artworks, to look with my critical thinking and logical skepticism engaged, and know that what I see and what I perceive to be real are all as ephemeral and dodgy as the brain and heart can possibly make them.

Digital illo: Editing Digital Art [Rumpy]

Editing my own digital art is simply a more complicated version of what I do with photos in order to make them more like I “see” them in my mind’s eye. I’m pretty sure Rumpy would agree that no matter how well-meaning we may be, we are all bound to see things from our own perspective.

Sirens & Sirens

Digital illo: The Siren's DeceptionInteresting, isn’t it, that the same word we use in English to describe those mythical creatures who are said to entice and draw us inexorably to our doom with their alluring song is the name we give to the sound warning us of danger. A Siren’s song is meant to lull me into unsuspecting complacency and reckless desire, yet the alarming noise made to wake me out of complacency and make me alert, focused, and cautious is also a siren. Methinks some wordsmiths enjoy causing such bits of merry mayhem in the pursuit of misdirection and disinformation.

For behold! What’s this? I am suddenly thinking of the vast fields of fact and fancy where the same words that mean truth and beauty to one are terms of terror and falsehood to another. Much depends upon intent; much, too, upon interpretation.

The most skilled and experienced among diplomats, politicians, and philosophers, linguists and liars—not to mention among advertisers and marketing directors, who can of course be at the top of any or all of these fields—know this and use it to advantage. The rallying cry of one group of people warns off another. Invitation from one insults and assaults the next. Even the terrible sound of war’s sirens, the blaring horns shouting at me to take shelter from a bombing raid, a fusillade, or a marauding invasion, these might be a compelling or inviting Siren call to those who invade and attack, the assurance that their glorious reward lies just ahead of them, yes, right where I am hiding in fear. But is it equally true that I rejoice in others’ defeat and destruction when it makes me feel safer, or even merely richer? That I hear hymns of happiness in the dirges of others?

I hope that the island of rock toward which I paddle and swim for its sense of safety from the tormenting skies, the rough seas, and their swarming contingents of deadly monsters isn’t the very promontory on which I will meet my doom, drawn there by the false promises of Sirens. I know from experience that some of their art lies in convincing me to sing their songs in my own voice, even in my own head, making it easier for me to find the stories palatable and believable, and teaching me to hear other people’s voices automatically as contrastingly suspicious sounds. I hope that I am old and wise enough to recognize that different tunes are sometimes only music that I haven’t yet learned. I hope I’ll never willingly (or even unwittingly) sink the hopes and dreams of others simply because the song of my life, of my truth, differs from theirs.

Is that sound we hear a chorus of idyllic oracles inviting us to ultimate sanctuary, or is it only the illusory music of rolling, sounding waves meant to draw us inexorably toward hidden rocks that will shatter us, will jettison the jetsam into a bottomless vortex of ignorance and ignominy? Only those around for the grand finale will know which song comes last.

Historical Associations

Photo: "The Amazing Feat of 'Sparks'"The small number of vintage family photos I own are a pleasure to view. I’ve admired some of them for their sheer aesthetic value, some for the clues they give to my ancestors; lives, and (indirectly) how the led to mine, and some for both qualities. But I’ve found that, like so many other belongings, the more I see them, the less I notice them. I should know this by now, having lived in around a dozen locations in my life and done the revisionist-revisiting of my personal history that comes with every sort-and-pack adventure. Objects, no matter how I imbue them with meaning and attach to them with affection or nostalgia, are still just objects. I have often enough regretted a hasty or wasteful acquisition, never mind the long-term storage and maintenance of it; I can honestly say that not one de-accessioning has left me seriously sorry. My memory is sufficient.Photo: Mormor & Morfar at Eitland

The family photos that have hung on my walls become—no pun intended—relatively invisible over time. It’s really the stories with which I have come to associate them, true or imagined, that make me revisit them, and this is far more often in my mind’s eye than in physically examining them.Photo: Otteson Family in Norway 1

I haven’t lost interest in my loved ones, unknown relatives, friends, or acquaintances when I stop looking at their pictures any more than I have lost interest in food and drink when I part with a vintage serving bowl or beautiful stemware; it’s just that I have so internalized my affections for them and the personal associations I have with them that those internal images become as real and significant as the things themselves. If I have enough to keep me content and well-filled—bowls, glasses, pictures on the walls—any extras become unnecessary to my pleasure; they go, and the enjoyment remains for as long as I have the memory to revisit it.Photo: Otteson Family in Norway 2

And when the memory goes, I’ll never know it’s missing, will I.Photo: Bolstad Family Grocery, ca. 1912

Kath & Mouse

I’ve been blogging daily just long enough, now, that I find it impossible to remember every post I’ve put up thus far, never mind any larger percentage of my life’s epic episodes. It’s nice that many of those events and adventures eventually reappear, at least in teeny-tiny increments, in my shadowy, foggy memory, but I suppose it’s far from essential. We all lose traction in the paths of life at times, and get by as best we can in spite of it all.

Maybe hanging out with the next-door kitty cats so much lately has distracted me a bit more than usual and I can blame their attentions for my current inability to recall if I have posted this little set before; perhaps my brain is already pretty furry anyhow. It hardly matters. I’ll just give you another look. Or a first one. It’s all just a tad cat-and-mouse anyway, what we do here on a day-to-day basis, isn’t it.Drawing + text: Cat and Mouse

Memory is such a volatile, ephemeral, thing, and so subject to filters and interpretation. Like human history in general, if I may say. When I wrote this, I certainly wasn’t expecting (let alone happy to contemplate) that Differentness—racial, gender-related, cultural, and so forth—would still be such unfunnily real divisive poisons in the current day and age. I hope that this will one day be only the humorously cartoonish tale it was designed to be, when I posted it before (if I have), when I blog it today (as I will), and whenever I post it again (for I might very possibly do it all over again, consciously or forgetfully. Ha. Joke’s on me.

Vintage-Montages

I love Old Stuff. Maybe it’s the increasing affinity I feel as I age, myself. Maybe it’s the lovely and mysterious history carried by venerable objects, the sense of time folding back upon itself to reveal hidden, intertwined stories that intersect, and somehow remain embedded, in the visible and tangible archaeological detritus of the past, whether immediate or ancient. I’d guess it’s both admiration and affinity. I like to think that eventually, somebody bulldozing through the dust-heaps of unremembered time will come across a mark or two of my having existed and find, rather than the dull and quotidian facts of who I was or what I did, a trove of enchanting imagined possibilities colored by the rust and the wreckage.

On this past summer’s travels, it was, as it always is for me, a magical treasure hunt for old and arcane stuff that would feed my imagination just as much as it was a journey of love and learning and newly delightful experiences. Much beauty, a bit of humor, and lots of mystery. So I give you now a collection of the images I found that filled this particular vault of my affections, with more—undoubtedly—to come.Photomontage: Dolly's Destiny

Photomontage: Milk Bottles & Machinery

Photomontage: Rust/Rusticity

Your Mileage May Vary

Is there any time machine more reliable for Americans than a car manufactured in the years of their youth? I’m not even that much of a car nut, myself, but this weekend’s car show on the square in our town reminded me that a quick trip back to my formative years is only a muscle car grille away. The town’s annual car show is not one of those high end, multimillion-dollar auction deals full of people who phone in their bids from some remote private island and send their Handlers to pick up the two or three classics they’ve nabbed just for parts. This is where you go to watch little kids waddle around and have their tiny, mustard-coated hands pulled away from the chrome at just the last second by Daddy, who had turned around to talk with the next guy down the row about his customized low rider while Mom was off listening to the live music across the street with the lady who is showing her two vintage tractors at the meet.

The local preference, at least this year, seems to be slightly in favor of mid-century muscle cars, which suits me fine. I’m a mid-century model, too, as it happens, and while my gears are hardly a matter for general admiration, I’ve managed to keep my chassis from getting too badly dinged up so far, and my motor still revs a bit over anything from the great tail fins of the late-’50s models that dominated when I was a young whippersnapper to the sleek, hard-edged lines of the amped ‘Cuda or Cougar in whatever dangerous-looking color some daredevil chose in the early ’70s.

I never got to buy or drive one of those—the closest I ever came was the ’58 Mercury I was sorely tempted to buy for my first car because it did have a trunk big enough to tempt a mafia don (“room for the whole Family!”, if you know what I mean). But being a realist, I knew I had better invest my meager savings in a sturdy station wagon with a solid engine, so I could haul all of my tools for the few years I worked as a painter-slash-gofer at my uncle’s construction company between undergraduate and grad school days. It would’ve broken my heart to mess up that sweet Merc. As it turned out, the studly slant-six engine of my dorky looking station wagon took the sting out of the tradeoff pretty neatly, being able to handle anything I threw at it, and I did put some money into a sound system worthy of shouting along with ZZ Top, Van Halen, and Oingo Boingo tapes (depending on my mood) in the car, a fair consolation on the long drives to more remote job locations.

In any case, I was never the most spectacular driver, so practicality would, and will, always win for me. So it’s all the more entertaining on a beautiful Saturday afternoon, to wander around the parked prizes of other car owners’ loves and reminisce just a little about that brief period of my younger days when a car was more than just transportation to me.Digital illo: Your Mileage May Vary

Totems, Tokens, Things Taken

Since I got on the tangent of thinking about various indigenous-culture/immigrant persons and themes in recent times, I’m now in that phase one has of noticing connections with them everywhere.

Today’s little starting episode was that of walking up my front yard path and spying on it a lovely wing feather. I’m quite certain it was shed by the same hawk that I’ve heard giving its piercing cry and seen circling over our place on numerous occasions, and that I saw a couple of weeks ago slurping up a foot-long snake like so much hawk spaghetti right out under my backyard flowering pear tree. I’m relatively sure it’s a Cooper’s Hawk that watches over me here at home, and I love it. I’ve mentioned before that I’m fond of and fascinated by animals in general, birds among the favorites, and corvids and accipiters my particular royalty. I may have even noted earlier that I specifically think of a hawk as something like my personal secular icon, or the companion of my heart, given how often I find I’ve seen one nearby, seemingly watching over me at various times and events that turn out to be important in my life. This, of course, can be attributed to the aforementioned habit of noticing that one cultivates, but I like to think there’s room in the coincidence for a causality conundrum, a chicken-or-egg puzzle, too. Either way, I admire hawks.Photo: A Fugitive's Feather

So I was pleased to see the wing feather there, looking to my mind’s eye rather like a “thinking of you” note left for me by my guardian hawk while I was away, or sleeping. I picked it up and pondered it. I set it on my table as I started writing my post.

Then, reality began to set in, of course. A very quick web search in an attempt to confirm or correct the identification of my hawk companion led me to discover that I was suddenly a criminal, since American law forbids possession or use of migratory bird feathers, a law enacted during a period of mass avian murder on behalf, mainly, of milliners and their customers in an era of highly feathered fashions. Given those massacres, not to mention the extermination of whole animal species, both native and not, in times past in this country, I am neither shocked that such a law would have been deemed necessary nor opposed to the intent of it to protect animal life. I have no desire to hunt any animal for sport nor to denude it of its natural beauty for my amusement.

But I can understand those who are irked by the hard-line status of the injunction, given the common experience of finding shed or molted feathers of all sorts on every beach, in every garden. “No animals were harmed in the making of this” object. Still, the law is the law. So my feather went back outdoors to disintegrate naturally, as we all will do. (With the exception, I guess, of plastinated creatures, but that’s decidedly another topic altogether.)

Not before I took pictures of it, of course, because I am allowed to photograph things I’m not allowed to own.Photo: Birds of a Feather aren't Necessarily Allowed to Flock Together

And that law, of course, led me back to the whole idea of ownership with which these native-vs-nonnative thoughts are inextricably tied. The indigenous or aboriginal peoples of the continent I call home, and where I consider myself equally native though my ancestors immigrated to the place in times past, are known to have had religious and practical reasons for thinking of ownership as a notion that simply couldn’t be applied to nature: that one existed at all was a gift of nature, and whatever one did in life and death should be done with respect for that benevolence. I’ve no doubt that some applied this attitude better than others, as is true for all people and their beliefs and rules, but the concern was deeply enculturated and not easily ignored—at least until the near culturcide brought on by the colonization of the continent by various immigrant powers.

We did not inherit Mother Earth from our Ancestors…..
We have borrowed Her from our Descendants.
Attributed to Chief Si’ahl (Seattle) of the Suquamish People [to whom is also attributed the magnificent speech and subsequent letter about the impossibility of land “ownership” in response to the new government demand that the natives relinquish their home territories to US rule and non-native occupation]

Man belongs to the Earth…Earth does not belong to Man.
Attributed to Black Elk of the Lakota People

As an enthusiast of little biological or scientific knowledge of, but great admiration for, nature and all of its wonders, I find I walk a wavering line in my relationship with it. The attractions of living creatures, of all sorts of things animal, vegetable, and mineral, are often for me first noticed as visible beauties and/or curiosities, or as other sensory (often, sensational) experiences. I am drawn to the amazing characteristics and anomalies of the whole natural world. But I also live in it. I depend upon its resources for my life and health and happiness. The very fact of my existence affects, and can even destroy, other parts of nature. When I take a breath, I process the air into something that it was not before, and send it back out into the universe as a new and different thing.

I don’t begrudge myself my breath. I don’t feel I’m evil for intruding on the rest of nature by means of my very existence. But I hope that with every breath, every moment I do exist, I grow a bit wiser in what it means to be allowed to exist by nature, this planet, and the vast Otherness that holds us all in its spacious embrace. And I promise that when I do die, I will return whatever I can of what I took with me, feeding later generations of nature’s bounty with the space I once occupied, the physical remains of what I garnered from this plane, and the hawk-befriended spirit that will be grateful for as long as is possible.Digital illo from photos + text: The Earth is Our Mother