28 March 2008

Notes on Uncommon Ground: The Mythic Eden

Our approach to nature is framed by the narrative where
"...an original pristine nature is lost through some culpable human act..."
"The myth of Eden describes a perfect landscape, a place so benign and beautiful and good that the imperative to preserve or restore it could be questioned only by those who ally themselves with evil."
Echoes the appeal to nature. The similar religious zeal with which science is protected from dissent by accusing those who question prevailing thought as either delusional or malicious. This similar approach to questioning emerges from Enlightenment thinking, ironically, since this is the source of the "question anything" admonition, yet is also the source of dogmatism, once an idea has been baptized as "fact," which can only be questioned by the allies of evil (witness the scientists who say a "new dark age" is threatened by advocates of intelligent design. The imperative becomes hysterical when the prevailing identification with an idea is threatened, the new idea threatens the utopia the person has invested in, whether religious, natural or scientific.

The most popular images in photography, since the middle of the 20th century, are pictures (surrogate realizations) of that perfect, benign and beautiful landscape depicted in the mythic Eden. These are the images of Ansel Adams, which directly contradict the humanist, compassionate, images of the social realists who vociferously rejected his work as a betrayal of their conception of art as a means for bringing about social justice. He may not have thought of it, but perhaps his critics were right, he was unwittingly bending photography to an anti-humanist agenda. One thing is sure, without the emergence of the mythic Eden into the popular consciousness in the post second world war era, his photographs would be obscure, known to only a few collectors. It was with the emergence of the cult of wilderness, centered around an "Edenic narrative" that his photographs gained wider significance. This remains the prevailing wind filling the sales of photography, perhaps it is time the wind changed.

(refer to p.37, Cronon, Uncommon Ground)

Notes on Uncommon Ground: The Appeal to Nature

"This habit of appealing to nature for moral authority is in large measure a product of the European Enlightenment."

Explains why "science" is used as a non-negotiable trump card against dissenters--one must be delusional, ignorant or malicious to oppose "scientific truth" used as a cudgel by opinion shapers to silence their enemies.

My ideal of nature has always been the one that suits humans, which we have every right and obligation to construct and maintain in order to sustain our existence. This includes the city, which I love, the suburbs, like Arlington with its special character, where I was raised and live and also love, and the country, which I am not so much in love with, but respect and enjoy visiting.

(refer to p.36, Cronon, Uncommon Ground)

23 March 2008

Life is an occurrence

Life is an occurrence.
People come and pass,
pass into the night
like thunderstorms
while you dream.

What threat is a
thunderstorm once
it has passed
into the night?

To me, people
hung like specters
over me, long after
they had passed
into the night.

For me, the past
was always real
and peopled, like
the other world
peopled with
willful spirits.

But life is an
occurrence, and
the spirits have
passed into the night
like thunderstorms
while you dream.
-sek, 2008

21 March 2008

The Situation Room

Trapped in the
situation room
I long for peace
and freedom.
Trapped in the
situation room
until I turn off
the television.
-sek, Mar 2008

09 March 2008

Silver Stream

Reflections and shadows
Ebb and flow in
Cadenced oscillations
Brushing silvery washes
of shadowy branches
Across the dark mirror of
The silver stream, a
Picture developing
And redeveloping
In hypnotic fascination

Steve Knoblock, 2002-2005
Relating to an experience visiting Silver Lake, DE and my fascination with photography.

07 March 2008

Olympus E-420 First Look

I always admired the Olympus OM-2 when I first got into into photography in the late 1970s. I could not afford one then, but I gravitated to the smaller, light weight SLR cameras represented by the OM-1 and OM-2. I decided on a camera I could afford, the Fujica ST-605, which was introduced in 1977 and designed along the same compact pattern as the OM-1. When it came time to look for a digital SLR camera, I was impressed by the compact Olympus E-410. I decided on the E-510 because the 410 lacked image stabilization and a few other features. It was aimed at a less serious photographer, although a fine camera in the hands of anyone. At the time, I thought this would make a wonderful "street photography" camera if it had small fixed focal length lens available, especially a thin "pancake" lens.

Olympus has answered our prayers with the E-420. An upgrade of the E-410 with a 25mm f/2.8 pancake lens. The first pictures are out. The pancake looks nice, very much like the lenses Pentax is well known for. I would prefer a similar lens with a wider focal length, about 17mm, which would give an effective field of view of a 35mm lens on a 35mm format camera. This would be the ideal street photography lens in my view. At f/2.8, the lens is fast enough to be useful in evening or available light while avoiding some of the image quality problems faster lenses can introduce (such as poor bokeh). I also love the simple, symmetrical lens designs like the Tessar. These lenses often make up in bokeh for what anything they lose in sharpness.