something something photography something

I used to be a camera app junkie. I regularly walked around with half a dozen camera apps on my phone — each of which did one or two things particularly well. I had two apps just for black-and-white work (one in square format, one in 3:2), another app just for awkward lighting situations, one for…well, you get the idea. I regularly downloaded new camera apps just to see what they could do, and discarded them ruthlessly

I’m in camera app recovery now. I only have two apps on my phone — one sophisticated app that gives me a lot of control over exposure, and one app that I’ve simplified in such a way that I can toggle between color and b&w (both in square format). I shoot almost exclusively with the simplified app. All the photographs in this post were shot with the same app.

A few folks have asked me why I bother to shoot in b&w when I could just shoot in color, then process the image as black-and-white. It’s a valid question. After all, a digital image in color contains a more information than a b&w image, and the use of color filters in post processing gives you more control over the final image. It would be smarter to shoot in color.

But I don’t. There has to be some sort of decision-making process that takes place in my head — some sort of algorithm firing in my brain, evaluating the scene and arriving at a decision. But it doesn’t feel like there’s much thought involved at all. I usually know if I’ll be shooting color or b&w when I pull the phone out of my pocket.

I also tend to photograph a lot of stuff that’s not obviously photo-worthy (if there is such a thing as photo-worthy), partly because I often find a photograph of a thing to be more interesting and appealing than the thing itself. Sometimes the entire point of a photo is in the act of photographing, not the thing being photographed. If that makes sense. Sometimes the point of a photo is in the decision of what to include in the frame and what to exclude.

As I wrote that, a thought occurred to me. Over the last several years, I’ve made my living dealing with narratives in one form or another. Now I walk around shooting photos that tend to be narrative-resistant. When you get down to the bone, a photograph isn’t anything but an arrangement of light on a surface. There’s no inherent narrative content. No matter what people say, a single photograph doesn’t tell a story. It can’t tell a story. Any narrative that might emerge comes from the viewer, not the photograph.

I don’t recall who said all photographs are self-portraits. One of those photographers from the 1930s and 40s, I’m sure — the ones who did the grunt work of turning the craft into an art form. It’s a great line, partly because it’s artsy bullshit and partly because it’s got a fuzzy kernel of truth. There’s a decision made behind every photograph. Every single one. And that decision reveals something about who you are.

Maybe you’re the sort of person who photographs kids at a birthday party, maybe you’re the sort of person who is passionate about photographing life on the street, maybe you’re the sort of person who is attracted by the arrangement of weeds growing along a drainage ditch. You might even be all the sort of person who does all three.

I had a point to make when I started writing this. I’ve totally forgotten what that point was. I suppose if the point was important, I’d have remembered it. This is what happens when you think about photography instead of doing photography. You might learn something new; you might also lose the point.

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adding insult to the office

If you read or listen to the news in the morning, it’s always distressing to wake up to the reality that Comrade Trump is still POTUS. But lawdy, some days are just more difficult than others. This is one of them.

Trump is rage-tweet-vomiting again. He began with a three-tweet rant quoting Tom Fitton of the right-wing group Judicial Watch:

The Strzok firing is as much about the Mueller operation as anything else. There would be no Mueller Special Councel to investigate so called collusion but for the machinations of Strzok & his colleagues at the top levels of the FBI. We know this guy was corrupt and had anti-Trump animus. Strzok and others at the FBI should be criminally investigated for the way the conducted this investigation. Instead, Mueller is pretending nothing went wrong. He used Strzok, he used the Clinton DNC Dossier…the whole thing should be shut down. The Strzok firing shows that the fundamental underpinnings of the investigation were corrupt. It should be shut down by the courts or by honest prosecutors.

It’s hard to even know where to start with this wall of bullshit. You need an abacus to keep track of all the errors and outright lies. Was Strzok instrumental in creating the Special Counsel investigation? Nope. Is there any indication that Strzok is corrupt? Nope. In fact, the Inspector General report clearly stated there’s no evidence that Strzok’s dislike of Trump influenced any investigative decisions.

In fact, the ONLY accurate information in all of that is this: Peter Strzok was fired from the FBI. And let’s face it, that was essentially a political act to punish a career law enforcement professional for the sin of thinking Comrade Trump is unfit to be the President of the United States.

Tom Fitton

But this is pretty much what you expect from Trump and Tom Fitton. Who IS this Fitton guy? He’s on the Board of Directors of Judicial Watch, which describes itself as a ‘watchdog’ group. You’d think, as a frequent FOX News analyst on judicial behavior and as a member of Judicial Watch, Fitton must be a lawyer. Or at least has a background in law. Or maybe some significant professional experience in law enforcement. Or a graduate degree in some area of criminal justice. Or even an undergrad degree in a related field. But no. Tom Fitton has a B.A. in English. Oh, and he was a talk radio host on a conservative station.

Fitton is probably best known for his ‘work’ on the Benghazi attack. He posited the theory that the attack was actually part of an Obama administration conspiracy. Obama, he claimed, wanted Libyan militants to kidnap Ambassador Stevens. That would allow Obama to do a prisoner swap — Stevens for terrorist Omar Abdel-Rahman (the blind cleric convicted for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing). It’s not clear why Obama would go to such elaborate lengths to free Abdel-Rahman, but it probably had something to do with him being a wily secret Muslim. Unfortunately, Stevens was accidentally killed during the assault, so the plot failed. In an interview, Fitton admitted there was no actual evidence to substantiate his claim — but he asserted that lack of evidence was, in itself, evidence of the Obama cover-up.

The sneering, volatile, cruel, self-centered, would-be tyrant who occupies the White House.

This is the sort of person Comrade Trump looks to for expertise and support. Every day Trump occupies the White House is an insult to the nation, every day he remains in office further degrades the presidency, every day he attacks the institutions of democracy is an offense against the men and women who work to protect it.

And every morning I wake up and read what new outrage Comrade Trump has committed is a gut-churning reminder that we can’t for a moment stop resisting.

putin’s pocket

Had a buddy tell me “I can’t get interested in the Manafort trial, since it’s not about Trump.” I told him, “Dude, of course it’s about Trump.”

I sorta kinda lied to him. I mean, it IS about Trump since it’s about the Russians, and you can’t throw a ruble without hitting Comrade Trump. But it’s not directly about Trump. At this point in the trial, it’s as much about Vladimir Putin’s pockets — and who Putin has tucked away in those pockets — as anything else. Allow me to ‘splain, since Rick Gates has finished testifying. Just follow the numbers.

Rick Gates, who 1) worked for Paul Manafort for several years before 2) becoming Trump’s deputy campaign director, and who has 3) already pleaded guilty to a handful of felonies, testified that he helped Manafort, 4) who was Trump’s actual campaign director, 5) commit a buttload of felonies by 6) covering up Manafort’s numerous overseas bank accounts in which Manafort 7) hid and laundered the millions of dollars he earned by 8) helping get Putin-supported Viktor Yanukovych elected as president of Ukraine before 9) Yanukovych was run out of his country for 10) stealing hundreds of millions of dollars, after which 11) Yanukovych found asylum in Russia, where 12) he bought a house for US$52 million. Okay, that bit about Yanukovych buying a house really isn’t relevant to the case, but it shows what sort of company Manafort keeps.

Putin and Yanukovych

Gates also 13) helped Manafort illegally obtain 14) more than US$20 million dollars in bank loans by 15) falsely inflating his income and 16) failing to disclose debts, including so-called ‘loans’ totaling around $60 million from 17) Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, who is usually described as 18) Putin’s favorite industrialist. Loans without a repayment date are 19) a common way of laundering money.

Putin and Deripaska

So what we have is Gates and Manafort siphoning off a lot of illicit coin from Russians. What does that have to do with Comrade Trump? Good question. Here’s the answer.

While Manafort was running the Trump campaign, some unidentified campaign aides pressured the Republican National Committee to make a change — the ONLY change the Trump campaign insisted on — to the official Republican Party platform. The change was to remove a call for the U.S. to provide arms to Ukraine in response to the Russia invasion, occupation, and annexation of the Crimea province. Why did the Trump folks want to make that change? The answer seems to be: because Putin wanted Crimea.

Gates and Manafort

So here’s the thing: Gates testified that he was in the pocket of Manafort, who was in the pockets of the Ukrainian Yanukovych and oligarch Deripaska, both of whom are in the pocket of Vladimir Putin. LOTS of evidence suggests that pocket is also occupied by Comrade Trump.

So, yeah. Dude, of course the Manafort trial is about Trump.

alchemy, hermetically-sealed trump, zosimos of panopolis, and other stuff

A lot of folks I know are baffled by Comrade Trump’s apparent popularity among Republicans. As of this week, 84% of Republicans approve of his job performance. That’s huge. How is it possible, they wonder, for them to support a president who blatantly tells lies, who has repeatedly cheated on his wife, who routinely bullies and vilifies his critics, who brags incessantly, who claims to be a Christian but is ignorant about Christianity, who deliberately undermines the nation’s law enforcement and intelligence services for his own political purposes? How the hell is that possible?

The simple answer is…wait. Hold on. Have you ever known me to give a simple answer? No fucking way. So allow me to digress. And I mean seriously digress. I’m going to explain Comrade Trump’s apparent popularity by turning to Zosimos of Panopolis.

Zosimos of Panopolis, with an alembic.

You’re almost certainly asking yourself (well, you’re actually asking me, but…wait, never mind), Who the hell is or was Zosimos of Panopolis? He was an Egyptian alchemist and mystic who lived at the end of the 3rd and beginning of the 4th century AD. Zosimos wrote one of the earliest books on alchemy. In it, he describes several devices invented by an earlier alchemist known as Mary the Jewess (who was also known as Mary the Prophetess…because apparently only men can be prophets, which is a whole nother thing I haven’t time to get into, along with that whole ‘Jewess’ business). One of those devices was a…okay, wait, I feel another tangent coming on. The early alchemical practices were known as the ‘hermetic arts’, for Hermes, the Greek god of science and art. One of the devices invented by our Mary — not the one I’m going to mention in a bit, but a different apparatus — was an airtight container. This is where the phrase ‘hermetically sealed’ comes from. Cool, huh? I now return you to the original digression.

Zosimos’ book credits Mary with inventing the alembic (although this is probably not so). What’s an alembic? It’s a sort of gourd-shaped container with a hollow half-ball thingum on top, from which a tube runs…well, hell, just look at the illustration below.

An alembic.

An alembic basically works like a moonshiner’s still. You put a liquid in the container, heat it until it creates steam or vapor, the steam rises into the upper ball where it cools by contact with the walls and condenses, the condensation then drips down the tube into another container. This is the process of distillation, and it works whether you’re trying to create alcohol or perfume or medicine.

That distilled liquid is the essence of the original liquid. If you take that essence, put it back into the alembic and distill it again — and do it a total of five times — you end up with a quintessence. A very pure form of the original liquid.

Right. Now apply that concept to political parties. In 1944, 38% of U.S. registered voters identified as Republican (41% were Democrats, 20% were Independents). As of July 11th of this year only 26% of voters identify as Republican. Although the numbers have fluctuated, there has been a steady decline in Republican numbers (as well as a more gradual decline in those identifying as Democrat (30%), with a corresponding increase in Independents (41%)).

We’re talking political distillation here. A slow process of separating out impurities. Both political parties have been distilled, though Democrats, who’ve historically been more tolerant of ideological impurity, remain considerably less pure. Both parties have boiled off Independents, though at radically different rates.

But here’s the thing: after the distillation process — after all the good stuff has been boiled away — there’s still stuff left in the bottom of the alembic. That, you guys, is the modern Republican party. After a few decades of boiling, Republicans are left with a residue of mostly older white Christian uber-nationalist racists. Among whom Comrade Trump is immensely popular.

Faust, with an alembic and your basic homunculus.

Oh, and back to our boy Zosimos of Panopolis for a moment. In his book, he includes a series of mystical dream/vision sequences (remember, we’re talking 3rd and 4th century Egypt here; they were hot for that dreamy-visiony stuff). In his dream, Zosimos meets “a priest of inner sanctuaries” who proceeds to chop Zosimos up. boils the bits, and from the steam he creates a creature that is “the opposite of himself.”

The idea of an alchemically-created homunculus is said to have influenced an alchemist named Johann Georg Faust, who was possibly the inspiration for Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s drama of a man who made a pact with the devil. The notion also intrigued another alchemist named Johann Conrad Dippel, who was born in (and I swear I am NOT making this up) Castle Frankenstein in the village of Darmstein. Dippel was almost certainly the inspiration for Mary Shelley’s character Victor Frankenstein, who created the monster that…well, this could go on forever, couldn’t it.

The residue left at the bottom.

Anyway, it’s all down to alchemy, Zosimos, Mary the Jewess, Mary Shelley, and…and at this point I’ve totally lost track of my point. But that’s why Comrade Trump is so popular.