September 2008 Archives



(4PM northward)



With no history to argue, the location only talks to you about what it is doing as you look at it. Goal: after you stop looking, you can still see it.

By casting things in the roles for the image, the picture tells the location how to talk about itself. What it says is "this is the place" -- but the point is to make "the place" with the picture.


Copyright 2006 Malcolm Ryder



Oakland 2006



Copyrighted, 2006 Malcolm Ryder




Marilyn H. Marks, who edits the weekly alumni magazine of Princeton University, explained the assignment given to the new regular photography feature now instituted in the publication:

"At their best, these images will evoke memories of spots you may have passed hundreds of times with head down or eyes straight..."

So, in this feature, there are always two possible effects:

(a.) the pictures will remind you of the way you thought about these spots -- or ...

(b.) the pictures will use the spots to make you remember other things.

It isn't necessary to have a particular conviction about "scenes" and "memory", but here is a thought: assume a spectrum of visual experience, in which (1.) one end (more literal) holds down a rigorous transcription of observed detail, as a way of deriving a "definitive" scene -- while (2.) the other end (more gestural) holds down an efficient combination of significant detail. Now, we wonder which approach matches best to which effect: will more literal pictures evoke more of (a.) or more of (b.)? How about the more gestural pictures: do they evoke more of (a.) or more of (b.)? If we spin up the combinations, there are at least the four of them to play with, and more than one may be true of the same picture, depending on who is viewing...

  • 1A: mimetic
  • 1B: commemorative
  • 2A: symbolic
  • 2B: mnemonic



What is interesting about Marks' comment is that the comment specifically positions the pictures as "souvenirs" of what for many people may have never been more than ambience; but what makes the pictures intrinsically interesting in this assignment is the possibility that their pictorial approach will describe what the ambience is made of.

That will be an interesting tension -- the tension between the observed and the significant.

But it will still be a step away from necessarily being evocative, and what further remains unspoken is whether the memories would be welcome or unwelcome.

To go the next step: as a regular feature, this feature's pictures have the chance to promote a vast range of potentially random "spots" -- consequently, a second tension will be not so much within the pictures but in the editing that lets one picture through to publication while not another picture.

In the example shown here, we might imagine the verbal evocation: "remember  where we used to sit... under  the big tree with the sculpture ?" If the picture is the question, then since the spot is sufficiently distinguished "in fact" by the bottom portion of the picture alone, what is the purpose of the tall tree? Does it in some way drive the appropriate memory of the "spot"? Or is its additional information more needed to press the rest of the image into being a more indirect or "en passant" observation as per Marks?

It's not a hugely important issue, but it is one of the differences between making a picture for the purpose, and finding a picture for the purpose. (Strictly speaking, the photographer uses the tree to put the viewer more definitively "on the ground" and set scale; but this is a factor that becomes subject to whether the editor "needs" it or not.) 

 To view the photographer's copyrighted picture as presented in its official publication, click here.

On synthesizing nostalgia: Wiktionary / From Late Latin nostalgia  from Ancient Greek *νοσταλγία (nostalgia), from νόστος (nostos), a return home) + ἄλγος (algos), pain, suffering).




To see anything in this place during the day, you see this first, then whatever you saw inside makes you want to see this again sometime. That's the idea, anyway. The lights inside and the flash outside, they are partners --they try to pass you back and forth between them without knowing which might drop you or when. All the pictures inside are dedicated to creating motion; the purpose of this outside picture is to stop you the next time you would be moving past this point.




It's the peculiar nature of property that it holds value like a container: not so much giving or taking as, instead, full or empty or somewhere in between. So it is that we get to a property and we put value into it, hoping that it won't leak out through some hard-to-find seam that has separated just outside of normal notice.


Or anyway, this is the way it is when we want to hold on.










June 2005 - August 2007.

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"W" Discovers the UnDead


Heroin Chic, the Near Dead, has given way to vampires, which as it turns out are a lot more like mannekins and cost less to hire.

The Fall 2008 issue of W magazine makes it gruesome to find the table of contents, but the Neiman Marcus ad section merely leaps out from amongst a stupendous saturation of cold body shots in the 500+ total pages.

Yet, the theatricality of the Neiman's pix - announced in a somewhat dumb way by showing The Set in a few shots - gets completely blown away by the simplicity of the Calvin Klein campaign nearby.

In each of these two examples, it is not much more than the combination of the sculpted hair and a hard edge between the background light and dark that etches the image into your eyes -- that is, not much more than the top 20% of each picture. (See for yourself; cover up the bottom four fifths.) But in the shot on the left, all that impact bleeds away down the dress. In the shot on the right, the point is maintained and even strengthened.



That said, I also actually like just the bottom fourth or fifth of the shot at left, and likewise of the one at the right. (Again, see for yourself with a quick coverup.) Even such excerpts of these crude scans - which distance the view here even more than the absurdly difficult task of identifying the photographers somewhere in the magazine - present an accidental intrigue about the gowns that could have been competitively intentional if a bit... crypt-ic.

Not much of that decides which vamp would be the more interesting one to be bitten by. Too many remaining variables. And no chance that the variables are "copyrighted".



 Always said the same, regardless of how it looks.

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Bye Bye Summer

And now, an odorless, colorless, tasteless picture of an image in which none of that matters in the slightest.

















 Go on. Do it.


Notions of pictorial information cross the boundaries between documentary (a status), realism (a style), and representation (an objective). A photograph does not necessarily blur the distinctions; but viewers often decide what they will allow the picture to do.

A certain kind of photograph is easy to consider as a document of something, providing the testifying information about the "real". In many quarters, this direct, neutral observation is thought to be the most "essential" kind of photography.

But where making a picture is concerned, this risks a false distinction of "documentary" versus "creative". For starters, the same picture is different in a crime lab, a museum, and the mayor's office.


 View image at full size.


But more, the problem is not the idea that there is a documentary/creative distinction; rather, it is that the idea of "creative" is too fuzzy to account for what the picture may be doing to affect the viewer.

Even excluding the issue of creativity, we typically assume that a viewer goes to a picture looking not just for information but for "meaning". The producer might assume that what makes the information meaningful is the selectivity exercised to align the information with something the viewer already seeks. In other words, although information in a picture may be exciting, the viewer decides whether the information is important. Thus, the viewer is finally what makes the picture important. But in making the picture, it is really more likely that the producer is actually trying to align the viewer with what the producer wants to offer. 

What results is a meeting in which the viewer negotiates with the producer to determine what balance there is between their differering predispositions, and what significance there might be in the difference between the two. That is, viewers go to a picture looking not just for meaning but instead for "value".


For the purpose of this discussion, "value" is the intersection of meaning and experience

Here, experience is brought by the viewer, to the picture, as a context consisting largely of memory and associated judgments. (This might manifest itself as "knowledge", but it might also show up as a "questioning" needing an answer...)

 And "meaning" comes from the way actualities and expectations affect each other when they meet. However, the hidden factor in there is that the viewer commonly brings a high degree of subjectivity both to the acknowledgement of actualities (cognition) and in the commitment to expectations (motives) -- in other words, the viewer has a predisposition that could effectively limit the possible range of meanings available to interact with experience. (Like it or not, it simply is the case that human nature allows our experience and our predisposition to each have their own way, sometimes in alignment and sometimes not!)



Meanwhile, picture makers anticipate their audiences, with an opportunity during production to "proxy" the viewer's predisposition.  Or, to challenge it. That is, as a production strategy for the picture, the producer may substitute an alternate predisposition for the viewer's, and then (in effect) exploit the viewer's experience to generate the picture's value during the specific viewing occasion. The issue here is how the producer might accomplish that substitution.

Part of the solution comes, wittingly or not, from the viewer. This discussion also rides on the following additional observation: viewers give pictures responsibilities; and the two major responsibilities audiences give generally circulated photographs are to present truth or present fact. This indicates what the information of the picture is supposed to do.

Generally, the information is expected to be either evidence or (in the sense of argument) a proof. But when picture producers are seeking differentiation from each other's work, the information is usually not offered benignly. Instead, it is offered with a dose of rhetoric as follows:

- whereas Truth is about the viewer's idea of "reality", Fact is about the viewer's idea of "nature". From that we get the notions of realism and naturalism. Those are two of four key rhetorical influences of the precondition. The other two are...

- Supernaturalism: the function of the supernatural is to reveal facts that have otherwise been obscured by truth. (The key demonstration of the supernatural is "asserted evidence".)

- Superrealism: the function of superrealism is to reveal truths argued by a logic of belief. (Superrealism's key demonstration is "the asserted proof".)

In short, this rhetoric generates the offered meaning of the picture. In the following, we consider how it is intentionally exploited in production. The producer can manipulate the strength and balance of how perspectives and attitudes are included in the picture, while choosing to align or not with the anticipated viewer.



This rhetoric's use shows up as an underlying source of variation within two major compositional genres of pictoral information: the celebratory and the philosophical.

See these connections in the image below. Simplified, what this means is that the picture production will start out with an approach to either amplify the status of its subject (celebratory), or to critically examine and explain the subject (philosophical).

Between them, those two approaches, distinct but not mutually exclusive, may very well accomodate the majority of generally circulated photography. That said, it is not important to determine how much work can be fit into this view; the goal here is not to "pigeonhole" pictures. Instead, what is significant is how readily any given image -- particularly those that appear to be neutrally objective -- might be described in these terms.


Thumbnail image for GenreRhetoric.jpg
 View image




Some pictures are given the job of recording how "seeing" differs from "looking". In those cases, there is no important psychological difference between drawing and photography. Looking discovers, and seeing selects and organizes. Some seeing is more predisposed than others, and that can lead to pictorial habits. Even then, some habits are way more interesting than others.

But it is probably harder and more interesting to not have the habits and instead to do the work each time.

These things shown here came in a bunch, but I like the fact that they pretty much all happened at once, and that I don't feel like I need to do it again. At the same time, there's the matter of having only one opportunity to do something, so what you get done winds up being a document of your performance. There was this band called Blind Faith that did only one album, and I don't prefer the same tracks from it every time I listen. The tracks don't change but I guess I do. So there need not be more Blind Faith cuts; it's good enough that there are many different listenings.

I think these ought to be ceramic tiles. Having thick, borderless edges would help emphasize that the picture is assembled more than found. That still leaves them drawings to me.
























































artdotdotdotcom logo 2008.jpg
art dot dot dot com sprouted when I dreamt. In the dream, someone at the far end of six degrees of separation tried to sell me one of my own pictures, not knowing it was my own work. I felt I should go ahead and buy it, but the ersatz seller refused my low offer. Later that day I flooded the internet with anonymous copies of the picture. Within a week, many of them surfaced elsewhere on the web, attributed to other people. Not long after, the random postings became scarce, but I'd printed many of them on 20lb. office paper, 8.5 x 11, from the webpages where they had been appearing. The ad hoc prints, snatched like mosquitoes from the backyard air, became prized possessions. I priced them each at an exorbitant and arbitrarily different price and kept them in a box. Occasionally someone came over for dinner and afterwards I would spread them out on the table with their pricing. After failing to sell one, I would see it was usually worth just giving it away, so I did. At the end in the dream, I received an old shoebox in the mail, full of negatives from some place in Canada near a beach. Each time I held up the negative to a light, the image would quickly fade into oblivion. I set aside a long afternoon and some dry tacky gloves to handle the negatives more carefully. I sat at a cleared table with the box and grabbed a negative from it for a close intense look before it disappeared, then quickly the next negative and the next and the next until I hit the bottom of the box. I thought that most of the negatives were of the same one or two things but I wouldn't be sure until I tried to make new ones like them.