July 2009 Archives

Nightly News



Halfblock-IMG_1854bw.jpgCopyright 2009 Malcolm Ryder



 Oakland, CA


Pickets-IMG_1877aBW.jpgCopyright 2009 Malcolm Ryder


This would be the LP album cover for the neighborhood soundtrack.

 We transformed the "real" sign. Literal evidences of change were already in the sign; we made them into analogs proposing the "real" mood of the location. Visually we tried to emotionally mimic the phonetics of reading the sign, along with the happy accident of certain key letters being different from the others -- letters that distinguish and nail down the very ambition of the word's usage. The mimics become analogs of the real.

Like good advertising, the analogs act to prescribe what to expect, and so by substituting prescription for description it activates mythology.

But many residents might agree that, for representing the nighttime of the neighborhood. the analogs (or mythology) created are more "truthful" than the untransformed sign.

So, for its purpose, in the end this isn't more interesting than the real untransformed sign; it's just more obvious.


Copyright 2009 Malcolm Ryder





Copyright 2009 Malcolm Ryder

Only A Mother Could




VW-IMG_1724A2bw.jpgCopyright 2009 Malcolm Ryder

Wikipedia entry on Nostalgia states:

"The term was coined in 1688 by Johannes Hofer (1669-1752) in his Basel dissertation. Hofer introduced nostalgia or mal du pays "homesickness" for the condition ...describing a longing for the past, often in idealized  form."

Portraiture idealizes a preferred notion of the presented subject, with a strategy of burdening the superficial details to point towards the intended idea. By both serving and preserving that idea of the subject, the encoding of a portrait intends to be "characteristic" of the subject -- yet it may also be entirely invented both as a code and as a presentation. Nostalgia relies on a similar technique of referring to a "characteristic" presentation, preserved through memory. Memory serves not only to retrieve the idea; it is also highly involved in creating the idea in the first place, applying filters and other selectors to the information that can be used as part of its code. Memory's portraits are critical to nostalgia.

Understanding this mechanism, we can see why neither portraits nor nostalgia must necessarily have fidelity to any so-called "objective" (i.e., other party's) observation of the subject; they need only have directness, if not efficiency, in shaping and holding onto their own idea.

On occasion, a portrait can become iconic, at which point its picture can readily trigger multipe levels of reference. The iconic Beetle automobile, representative of an era as well as of an aesthetic, can readily lend nostalgia to pictures, even while the picture is new. Because of that, a new picture of the icon also can seem to be a picture about nostalgia, even while the picture is not yet itself a nostalgic object. One of the risks of nostalgia is to have it and then be confronted with the actual current surface reality of the same subject that is memorialized in nostalgia. Photography's capability to offer and support sustained precise examination of surface details gives the opportunity to assertively create portaraits but also strong means to refute memory. So we might imagine that nostalgia could suffer from the problem of contrary evidence. But the charm of nostalgia is primarily that it readily dismisses contrary evidence, as it is often more interested in itself than in anything else -- a primacy of private truth over public fact.

With the portrait above, most viewers will first share in a kind of instant recognition during which they will experience either disinterest or their nostalgia more than they'll experience the picture's facts. The picture is fairly calm in its way of playing with these things. It is organized such that there is an invitation to appreciate the simple geometry of the car, the basis of the iconic form that has made the car famous to even more people who have never owned one than to those who have. And the remaining items in the picture are modest, yet unambiguous as to how they suggest that the car actually belongs where it is, not that it just coincidentally sits where it is.

Meanwhile, the car's  overall apparent simplicity is gently and largely counterpointed by the near complete absence of refinement in the lines and surfaces that organize its appearance. Gaps, seams, edges, trims, skins and planes of the car are all distressed. Except for the hubcaps, which hang out like a new pair of shoes. (Shoes from someone who doesn't see Our Beetle but instead sees My Bug.)

The Stop




Hot hood. 2 flats. Copyright 2009 Malcolm Ryder





 Copyright 2009 Malcolm Ryder






Copyright 2009 Malcolm Ryder






"Photographer Richard Heeks...used a fast shutter speed of 1/500th of a second and chose a perfect wind-free day so nothing would disturb his shoot, while his wife Sarah provided the all-important finger."

Heeks' capture of the bubble's transition state between "not burst" and "burst" shows structure that is an unusual  experience but is not an unusual fact.

Copyright of above image shown in the image.

Having noted that this representation is possible, it is furthermore interesting in that it is premeditated. Compare that to the full premeditation executed by the architecture firm SITE in the 1970's when they produced the Best Stores as new structures that, in their finished form, represented what common experience considered to be transition states. As most of these structures, each unique, have since disappeared, the visual documentation of them stands to generate the same level and type of excitement as experience that we have with the incidental rareness of a bursting bubble observed.


BEST_Store__int_ext04rev_t.jpgCopyright for Best Store image owned, or researchable via, Metropolis Magazine, April 2003

What is finally interesting as well is that we normally believe that we are watching a bubble deconstruct, or the bulding deconstruct, unless we are told otherwise. We quickly find it plausible but odd that the building was constructed to remain in the state we see. As for the bubble, the picture does not in fact tell us that the bubble is deconstructing. It only tells us that the bubble is in between some two other states that we think we know of. If we are told that we are seeing the bubble being constructed, or even that we are seeing its finished state, then we make a conceptual decision to adopt a different perspective, which might call on our terms of acceptance at a major museum, or our terms of acceptance at a Harry Potter movie.



So often, stuff has been looking at you the whole time, and you probably even saw it but you didn't look at it.


 TableTops-IMG_1733.JPGCopyright 2009 Malcolm Ryder

While photographs, like all pictures, provide and may rely on any number of visual effects, photography has always been strongly appreciated for how practitioners exploit rhetorical devices for presenting objects in the picture. One overview of the rhetorical universe of presentation is as shown in the matrix below.

To demonstrate the matrix, assume that there is a "theme" of a picture, which is "Soldier". For simplicity's sake, assume that the theme is, effectively, the idea of the image, for which the picture is one overall presentation. We would look at items in our picture, and "categorize" them by placing them within the positions in the matrix (below) that we thought were most accurate. That is, within the picture, we would find that objects may be provided (presented) in various ways to finally combine and reference the image:


Presentational Properties - artdotdot2.jpg



In the layout above: 

  • Agents provide "relatives" or "designators".  An example would be the rifle or the flag.
  • Tokens involve synecdoche. An example would be a helmet, or dog tags.
  • Documents are the direct impression of the item as it draws or projects itself in the picture. An example would be the particular soldier's face or body.
  •  Signals and Codes supply a substitute for the item that is an assigned equivalent from a different system of description. An example would be the word "troop", or the stripes that indicate rank.

Often, if there is a degree of uncertainty in where the pictorial item falls in the matrix, that can be attributed to the amount of specificity or generality about the item as offered by the information that presents the item in the picture.

This difference is sometimes experienced as a degree of abstraction versus concreteness. But visual abstraction and visual concreteness do not necessarily equate, respectively, to conceptual abstraction and conceptual concreteness. Cases in point: something visually concrete may stand for something conceptually abstract; something visually abstract may stand for something conceptually concrete; etc.

How does this work? In large part, the purpose of context, which is largely a conceptual phenomenon, is to help establish how directly or indirectly the pictorially presented item "maps"  to (or "signifies") a particular idea.

For any given picture, context can range from being traditional and conventional (presumptive) to unprecedented and experimental (propositional). Oversimplifying, genres tend to be presumptive; but innovations are usually propositional, setting up relationships that have not been accepted before but ask to be accepted in the heat of the moment. A single picture may include both approaches, however.

Another of the options held by the producer of the picture is to predetermine a working context for viewing, by setting or controlling the incidental environment of the picture's exhibition or interpretation. This in turn invites the picture's viewer to use, for example, inference or deduction as interpretive techniques that establish what image the picture represents.

The overall effect of the complexity of the picture relies on how the various uses of the pictorial objects blend to navigate the viewer's perception to certain points of view. This point-of-view is essentially singular, and serves to bind the pictorials together in a rich experience.

As an example of that, consider what it is like to look upon a "shrine", composed of all manner of items dedicated to the same person or idea. The range of items that "belong" to the shrine -- or literally, that are "appropriate" to the shrine -- stretches from symbols to historical fragments to notes or messages, to decorations, and on to offerings. These various items refer to the subject of the shrine in many different tactical ways, together composing the unit whole. The rhetorical diversity within the shrine is what we may also be able to find in (or use for) a picture.

Site Bite


"Campbell's Breakfast", snapshot


Copyright 2009, Campbell and Malcolm Ryder

On several occasions, art world museums or major galleries have organized and studied the "snapshot" for its own potential aesthetic, generally as distinguished from photographs made with more deliberate production or more professionalism -- or both. Typically, this has meant qualifying pictures in terms of the "amateur" status of the photographer, and/or in terms of compositional conventions being subordinate in the picture.

Because so-called "serious" amateurs tend to use the compositional conventions, many of their efforts are often disqualified in this milieu. And photographers with professional (or "expert") reputations are disqualified when they are intending (so says the judge) to appropriate the effects of qualified amateur efforts.

But where photographers attach their names to a wider sampling of their efforts, it becomes apparent that those producer-status boundaries are very fuzzy lines that are readily crossed, as often as not without anyone noticing -- and this indicates the inadequacy (or immaturity) of the usual criteria above.

A more appropriate criterion would always be that the picture in question was the result of a motivated attempt to capture something. And a proper accompanying criterion would be that the moment of the depiction (not the depicted moment) is not expected by anyone to recur. In other words, the picture is essentially opportunistic.

Originally a hunting term, "snapshot" must always refer back to the essential motivation, that being to aim at a target. What intrigues critics and students of imaging, most often, is the coincidence of peripheral data that proposes a resonant context around the presumed target; or else, some other interesting collaboration of information that proposes another target, perhaps more complex, than whatever seems the most likely direct single provocation of the picture's production. This "extra" and circumstantial data, however, may readily be even more interactive with information not included in the picture -- such as memory, presumptions, or symbolism -- than it is compositionally busy with other information within the picture's visible frame.

As a result, we can understand that it is not very important to work on isolating a "snapshot aesthetic" as a genre of product. Instead, it is more important to recognize that a snapshot mode of production generates pictures that span approximately the same potential range of formal values, meaning and impact as pictures of any other genre.