je suis charlie

I’m only vaguely familiar with Charlie Hebdo, the French satirical magazine — and I’m only familiar with it at all because it’s so often been involved in controversy. I became aware of the magazine in 2011 when the magazine’s office was firebombed for publishing an edition with this cover:


100 lashes if you are not dying of laughter.

It’s a cheezy cartoon, but a great line. One hundred lashes if you’re not dying of laughter.

Today at least twelve people died — were killed, to be exact — in another attack on the magazine, Three more were wounded and are in critical condition. Two of the dead are police officers — one who was detailed to protect the magazine office, and another who apparently responded to the scene on a bicycle. The rest of the dead were employees of the magazine — the editor, cartoonists, writers, support staff.

They were killed by two or three masked men armed with Kalashnikov rifles. Killed for publishing cartoons and articles that offended some Muslim extremists. The operative term there is extremists. It’s always the fucking extremists who engage in this sort of cowardly bullshit. And it IS cowardly, and it IS bullshit.

Stéphane Charbonnier, one of today's dead, outside the firebombed office of Charlie Hebdo in 2011.

Stéphane Charbonnier, one of today’s dead, outside the firebombed office of Charlie Hebdo in 2011.

It’s cowardly because this is the act of people who are afraid. If you’re confident in your faith, then an insult to it can’t hurt you. Be offended by the insult, certainly, but to silence the people who made the insult — to silence them by killing them, to hope to silence others by the killing — is effectively saying your faith and your religion are too weak to withstand mockery. And it’s bullshit because all this does is heap more scorn and loathing on the religion these jackasses are trying to ‘protect’.

Charlie Hebdo attackers killing a police officer as he's defenseless on the ground.

Charlie Hebdo attackers killing a police officer as he’s defenseless on the ground.

People will talk about finding an ‘appropriate’ response to this attack. There IS NO APPROPRIATE RESPONSE to extremists killing people over cartoons and caricatures. There is only a range of inappropriate responses. Here’s my personal inappropriate response:

Fuck you.

Fuck you, if you think this is going to help your cause. Fuck you for being so stupid and hateful and afraid. Fuck you if you think this will stop people from mocking Islam or the Prophet Mohammed. Fuck you, because I’m going to buy a subscription to Charlie Hebdo, even though I don’t read French. Fuck you with a passion for thinking you can silence people who disagree with you. Fuck you for thinking you have the right to shut people up. Fuck you and your pathetic guns, and fuck you and your stupid masks, and fuck you for shitting on Paris and on France and on the world. Fuck you, you gutless jerkwads, you deserve any ridicule that’s directed at you. Fuck you in the neck.


You think you did something brave? You think you struck a blow for Islam? Well, fuck you. You made Charlie Hebdo famous. You made people all over the world stand up and say “Je suis Charlie.”

And when I say “I am Charlie” what I’m really saying is this: fuck you. I hope you and every other extremist in every cause and in every religion is listening. Fuck you. All of you. Fuck. You.

oblique nouveau-neo-new topographics

Twice in the last couple of weeks I’ve been asked about my ‘photographic style.’ The first time I basically said “Dunno, never thought about it.” I mean, who thinks about stuff like that? The second time I said “New Topo, laid on its side, and turned 45 degrees to the left.” I said it as a joke, but after I said it, I sorta kinda became the type of person who thinks about stuff like that. And hey, it turned out to be sorta kinda true.

Back in 1975 a guy named William Jenkins curated an exhibition of a new school of landscape photography: the New Topographics movement. Landscape photography to that point in time had generally followed the path of landscape painting, which for the most part consisted of romantic depictions of ‘undisturbed’ nature. We either had the Ansel Adams approach (epic vistas photographed on a grand scale in black and white) or the Eliot Porter approach (intimate color images of a few trees or a handful of leaves scattered on a pond). Nothing wrong with either approach, but that was basically it.

Traditional New Topo approach

Traditional New Topo approach

Then along came Jenkins and his New Topo crew. His exhibition consisted of 168 black-and-white prints of warehouses, industrial sites, suburban tract housing, filling stations. The idea behind the exhibition was to present the modern landscape as it actually existed rather than in an idealized way. Most art photographers used the camera as a device for self-expression. The New Topographics photographers reduced the camera to its most basic function.

The camera, after all, is a tool that records everything in front of the lens. Every goddamned thing, not just the pretty stuff or the majestic stuff. And it records it all with the same precision. It records with a detached, unemotional, deadpan eye. That’s all a camera does. With that idea in mind, New Topo photographers deliberately attempted to remove any notion of ‘artistry’ from the act of photography. Their intent was to depict the objects in front of the lens in a way that merely mapped their surface. In other words, to reduce the subject of the photograph to an essentially topographic state.

Neo-New Topo

Neo-New Topo

The exhibition garnered a lot of attention. Not all of it was positive. Hell, relatively little of it was positive. Most folks thought the photographs were bland, uninteresting, boring, even ugly. And hey, those folks were right. I tend to agree. In my opinion, a lot of those photos really were butt-ugly. But they were interesting.

People who thought about photography as an art — not just viewed it, but consciously and deliberately thought about what photography was and could be — those folks found the exhibition fascinating. Why? In part because they realized the emotionally detached camera opened up a visual world in which people could see the stuff that had previously been filtered out. The ugly stuff. The old tires, the broken sidewalks, the trash cans, the old telephone wires, the litter. All the crap photographers normally worked hard to exclude from their photographs.

Nouveau-Neo-New Topo

Nouveau-Neo-New Topo

But there was a problem. Humankind has spent something like twelve thousand years unconsciously building the foundation of aesthetics. It’s really difficult to just toss all that aside. It’s hard NOT to look for beauty, hard NOT to try to include that beauty in a photograph. That’s a lot of human nature to overcome.

So a sort of Neo-New Topographics style emerged fairly quickly (and yeah, I just made that name up). It’s a style in which photographers still photographed the same anonymous human-shaped landscapes, and continued to objectively map the surfaces of whatever is in front of the lens — but with the recognition that even industrial sites and warehouses can be beautiful. And after that, a Nouveau-Neo-New Topo approach, in which photographers actively sought out what beauty can be found through surface mapping.

Oblique Nouveau-Neo-New Topo

Oblique Nouveau-Neo-New Topo

That idea has become a big chunk of my photographic patch. Over the last few years I’ve been working in a sort of Oblique Nouveau-Neo-New Topo style. Surface mapping at a slant. New Topo, laid on its side, and turned 45 degrees. Because I prefer my surface to have depth. I like a surface that extends itself. A surface that sort of falls away.

ONNNT (which is also the sound a Canada Goose makes when landing in icy water)

ONNNT (which is also the sound a Canada Goose makes when landing in icy water)

I can’t really say that’s my ‘style’ since I shoot all sorts of crap. But when I’m deliberately looking and seeing photographically, that’s pretty much my default approach. Find an interesting surface — then either photograph it straight or find an angle that allows the eye to shift off into the distance. Oblique Nouveau-Neo-New Topo. Takes longer to say than to shoot.

But hey, at least now I have a response the next time somebody asks me about my photographic style. ONNNT.

The photo that sparked the question the second time.

The photo that sparked the question the second time.

a tragedy

Okay, yeah…it’s a tragedy. The two-year-old who accidentally shot and killed his momma in a Hayden, Idaho Walmart. The toddler who managed to find his momma’s handgun in her specially-designed-to-carry-a-handgun purse, then squeeze off a single round that hit his momma in the head. It’s a complete, horrific, total tragedy.

It’s a tragedy that poor kid will have to relive over and over. As he grows up he’ll want to know how his momma died. As he gets to know new people — at school, at college, at work — they’ll ask about his family. He’ll have to tell — or think about telling — the story of how he accidentally and inadvertently killed his own momma thousands of times. It’s unspeakably tragic.

And not at all surprising. This shit happens all the time, kids accidentally shooting people. Parents, siblings, aunts and uncles, friends, strangers, pets. It happens all the damned time, all across These United States. It happens for obvious reasons.

walmart logo

It happens because kids are curious. They play with things. They want to handle new things. It’s what kids are supposed to do. They see things, they pick them up, they explore them. Toys, guns, fruit, dog turds, cell phones, staplers, doesn’t matter — kids will pick them up and mess around with them.

It happens because kids learn really early about how to hold and shoot a handgun. They may not understand exactly what a handgun does, but by the time they’re toddlers they’ve seen tens of thousands of images on television and in movies of people holding guns. Kids learn by imitation. Of course they’re going to play with a gun if they find it.

It happens because that’s what guns are designed to do. Kill things. Firearms really are an incredibly efficient technology. Masterpieces of design. Their only function — and let me repeat that; their only function — is to explosively propel a missile at high speed toward a target.

Unbeatable prices! Save money! Live better!

Unbeatable prices! Save money! Live better!

It happens all the goddamned time at big box stores like Walmart because big box stores are essentially fixed point attractors. People congregate there. It happened in Columbus, Indiana; it happened in Phoenix, Arizona; it happened in Antioch, Callifornia; it happened in Jasper, Indiana. Hell, there’s a website devoted to nothing but shootings at Walmart.

It happens because here in These United States we have a gun fetish problem. We have a culture that romanticizes firearms, and celebrates the people who use them. We have a culture that places a higher priority on firearm ownership than on health and safety. We’ve created a culture of fear and suspicion that’s so pervasive, some folks actually believe it’s necessary to be armed to visit Walmart.

Happy Walmart customers

Happy Walmart customers

So yeah, it’s tragic that a two-year-old boy accidentally shot his momma in the head while they were shopping at Walmart. But that shit happens all the time. And nothing will change because of it. And that, of course, is the deeper tragedy.

Editorial note: You can buy a large assortment of firearms and ammunition at Walmart; their prices are unbeatable.