Sunday, September 21, 2014

Quatrain #33: Échelle Européenne

After taking a three week tour to Europe recently, the perceptions brought home are multi-layered, and intricate, but most of all what I think about is scale. I've been to big cities before, with big buildings, big spaces, and yes, sprawl as far as the eye can see, studded dense with urban constructs. But there's something that makes me blink and do a double take in Europe, and that's about the size of some the architectural specimens visible there. Even on 21st century terms, those folks who designed and hewed were thinking big. No, strike that… I meant colossal. It is sublime to not only stand amongst these wonders, but to think of being part of the human family they have sung to for hundreds and in some cases, even a couple thousand years.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Quatrain #32: Nailed It

Not many ways to express this sort of experience other than shouting, "YES, nailed it!" It was like this after working for weeks on a new website design that took me into the deep, dark, depths of Javascript. It never ceases to amaze me how long it might take to learn something new. In my case it was something as simple as creating a thumbnail rollover to produce a caption under an image. Sounds simple enough, right? Why yes, it only took me about five days to get a handle on, and then perfect the code so it would operate as envisioned. Perseverance is the key to success in so many things. Regardless of the sometimes down-and-out, can't-see-the-forest-through-the-trees, I'm-going-to-try-this-one-more-time state of being, the commitment to finish a job and obtain results after such a long time, is incredibly satisfying.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Quatrain #31: Figure & Ground

Figure is the object of attention; ground is everything else in the perceptual field. The relationship between figure & ground is always bound together because it is quite simply one of the most fundamental aspects of human perception that enables us to identify, order, and group information, process it, and ultimately make sense or meaning from it. We just can't help it. It's just what the brain does with visual information. So as far as the visual arts goes, if there is a strong figure-ground relationship, then the perception of an image is strengthened and offers greater clarity to convey ideas to a viewer. It seems as if no matter how hard one works at it, figure cannot exist without ground.

In the construction of two-dimensional imagery there are two basic figure-ground strategies that visual artists have at their disposal. The first strategy is referred to by its namesake as a figure-ground image, which refers to certain objects, points or spaces that are emphasized and easily distinguished from the rest of the image. The rest of the image is then a supporting visual element, and a viewer perceives a separate figure within the ground of the image. The second strategy, known as a field image, refers to the opposite visual effect, in that each part of the image is just as important as every other part. No object, point, or space is emphasized or dominates perception, so viewers perceive the image as a whole: figure enmeshed and intertwined within the ground of the environment itself.

But here's something to make all that come undone. The aforementioned definitions are based on the idea that all humans see the exact same way, but the fact is, we don't. The sequence in which one perceives figure & ground is clearly dependent upon the cultural and economic structures a person was raised in. Comparing specifically, far-eastern cultures to western-european cultures, University of Michigan social psychologists [Hannah-Faye Chua & Richard Nisbett] have done years of research to reveal this phenomenon. Here's a hyper-abridged version of their research, which is extracted from a newspaper article I found in 2005 that conveys the essence of their work.

When shown a photograph, North American students of European background paid more attention to the object in the foreground of a scene, while students from China spent more time studying the background and taking in the whole scene. Nisbett illustrated this with a test asking Japanese and Americans to look at pictures of underwater scenes and report what they saw. The Americans would go straight for the brightest or most rapidly moving object, he said, such as three trout swimming. The Japanese were more likely to say they saw a stream, the water was green, there were rocks on the bottom and then mention the fish. [View the entire 2005 Associated Press article].

Reading about this research by means of the article I've quoted arrested me, and it has ever since served as a reminder that the worst thing one can do is assume that the person next to you is seeing the same thing you are.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Quatrain #30: Syzygy & Syncopation

Syzygy is a term used in poetry to define rhythmic structure [meter] of a verse, but it is also a term used to define the perception of a linear configuration of three or more celestial bodies in a gravitational system. Let's say for example that one evening you saw the planets Jupiter, Venus, and Mercury in proximity to one another — it's a syzygy.

Originally inspired and constructed to illustrate the post I made in December 2013 about interdisciplinary skills, I re-titled and re-contextualized this quatrain here, and then inserted a new image in that post because it's simply a better fit here in the larger scheme of things. The intention is to bring the idea front and center that images have tremendous agility to change meaning and metaphor based on their respective viewing context, and that sometimes they simply offer stronger visual impact when they are viewed in a specific order or sequence.

Each quatrain has syzygy, and for certain some more so than others, like this one, but the project as a whole offers the viewer syzygy, too. Perhaps a better term to describe some of the connective tissue of the project is syncopation, which more commonly defines how music sometimes uses irregularities to make all or part of a composition unified. The placement of irregular notes, beats, or rhythms [visual threads or accents] are critical components that help tie the whole thing together. My intent here is to overlay the concept because it functions very similarly with visual art.

Take a closer look at how not only this assembly fits into the continuum, but how they visually flow from start to finish thus far, and you might see what I mean. One of the intriguing aspects of this process is that the "project's score" just keeps moving forward to wander, wonder, and find the common, the unusual, and the unexpected confluence of language, visual flow and unification.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Quatrain #29: Presque Canadien

Almost Canadian. Writing about the essence of being Canadian wouldn't be complete without the bilingual, English translation.

Anyway... that's me, so I learned, sitting around a table with my siblings and some extended family one evening over the holidays. When I was too young to remember, my family came incredibly close to moving to Canada. I mean, I'm talking just being a few centimeters shy. Had only one circumstance been different, had one person been thinking differently, it would've happened.

The concept of it momentarily unnerved me, and although it has been weeks and weeks since that discussion it continues to fill me with wonder — what course would my life had taken had it been launched from a different geographic point, culture, political system, measurement system, language dynamics, friends, schools, jobs, and so many other facets of growing up? To be certain, all the unknown is mysteriously more intriguing that what is known.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Quatrain #28: Running Deer

I painted clouds in the sky with a tree and the deer went running.

Even at night the sun was out full force, and the moon levitated over a horizon's gutter.

Limited sight in this snowy desert promised more to see over an edge.

I found that it's all connected, never understanding how or why.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Quatrain #27: En Plein Air

En Plein Air is a French expression that defines the essence of somebody doing something in an outdoor environment. In the late 19th Century it was a phrase frequently used to describe the Impressionists and other groups of painters that preferred to produce their works outside. Today we just might call it working on location.

Nevertheless, what inspires the quatrain is a visceral sense of rawness, exposure to the elements, and the things we do sometimes to seek adequate shelter and protection to endure life's rough edges. Regardless of what form the protection [coping mechanism] takes, what the experience looks like to the outside world can be rather confusing, mysterious, and strange. Sometimes just being agile and adaptable, shifting into survival mode, taking cover, and letting function overshadow form is all one can do. These layers of protection are typically temporary, but sometimes they need to be built for the long term to enable growth and the act of moving forward. I mean, everyone has a security blanket, right? What's yours?

Monday, March 10, 2014

Quatrain #26: Slash & Burn

Last week's theme of stress gets this complementary visual, as Japan is marking the third anniversary of its tragic trifecta: the massive 9.0 magnitude earthquake triggering a widespread tsunami on the Northeast coast, and the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster.

Although the phrase slash and burn refers to a controlled burning technique in forest management, one could just as easily apply the concept to a disaster like this. An unfathomable amount of healing and recovery from this event will take years and probably even generations to achieve a state of normalcy. Let's hope that authorities can expedite the region's recovery process with the best of intentions to benefit the impacted inhabitants.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Quatrain #25: Storm & Stress

In the process of researching a title for this quatrain I discovered that it defines an 18th Century German literary movement that dealt with visceral reactions [revolt] against society. The movement held the natural world, intuition, impulse, instinct, and emotion in high regard. Germans call it Sturm und Drang.

I found this curious for a couple reasons. One being that the movement's manifesto defines some of the same experiences of producing the photographs for these quatrains. The second being that as I've been watching, listening, and reading about events unfolding in Ukraine over the past several weeks, I've noticed a strangely coincidental and synchronous presentation of news headlines and quatrain theme/titles. Just to clarify… I don't claim to be psychic, I just like to wonder about mysterious and intriguingly unexplainable things, like synchronicity.

Many weeks before #22, Dots & Dashes, we were hearing about the intensity of the protests in Kiev. I like to think that the morse code visually represents thousands of voices, which are impossible to record individually, but collectively shouting for real change. Around the release of #23, Vacancy Signs, the President had been ousted — some would argue in a coup d'etat — leaving a power vacuum in its wake. With the good news of change in favor of Western democratic ideals #24, Murmurations, brought rumors of Russian intervention. Most recently, Russia invaded and took over territory known as the Crimea, bringing a new phase of storm and stress to the region.

Besides the magnitude of all that, life in general has its fair share of storm & stress, but regardless we tend to carry it with such calm and tranquility. Get real and revolt. Don't just think, shout outloud, I'm stressed! You'll feel better.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Quatrain #24: Murmurations

Around the time of first grade, there was this small sign taped in the doorway that was always easily visible as I made my way out of the house. Stop, Look, & Listen… 

It was an easy expression to recall, which as a kid, simply made the experience of crossing the roads on the way to school safer. The expression became sort of a chant, and it resonated in my mind like a good friend who was continuously reminding me in a calm, low, indistinct voice; some might call it a murmuration.

What's kind of funny about this is that the practice to stop, look, and listen never seemed to disappear as I grew into being a photographer. The experience of safely crossing roads became habit, and yet the practice of these simple acts turned up to define the essence of seeing and creating images. On the flip side of this, as a viewer, consider how images inform your other sensory experiences. I mean, upon viewing this quatrain, can you hear leaves falling, or the wind blowing… an airplane engine droning high up above… the shrill of a flock of starlings swooping in the sky, and synchronous to one another's every movement… a low rumble of distant thunder? If not, so be it… I can.

But what about the fish form, and where on Earth did that come from? How is this even possible? How can a flock of birds strike a collective pose as a fish? I believe that it can partially be explained with a quote by Louis Pasteur that I like to murmur from time to time, "chance favors the prepared mind."

Monday, February 17, 2014

Quatrain #23: Vacancy Signs

Viewer participation requested.
Click on the image to enlarge, then
describe what you see…

Use the comments link below.

Viewers writing about this post are to define its idea, not me…

Monday, February 10, 2014

Quatrain #22: Dots & Dashes

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[updated 17Feb14]:
Originally this post was only in Morse Code to convey its idea. In July 1999, the language was officially discontinued from being used as a form of international communication, and replaced by new technologies. So, just in case there's another time that someone sends you a cryptic message that looks like this, just copy and paste it HERE.

Translation of the post:
Photography is the supreme form of visual communication on the planet, and the comprehension of its various forms is integral to surviving in this culture. Although it may sound arrogant the idea is not new. The democratization of the medium was fully anticipated by some in the golden age of morse code, and long before the dawn of digital technologies. Here's one of my favorite quotes to emphasize the point. "The illiterate of the future will be the person ignorant of the use of the camera as well as the pen." Lazlo Maholy-Nagy
Artist, photographer, filmmaker, designer, and teacher. Hungarian 1895-1946
The quote is from the German book Bilder der Photograpie Ein Album Photographischer Metaphern

Monday, February 3, 2014

Monday, January 27, 2014

Quatrain #20: Labyrinth Walking

Like mandalas, labyrinths are typically circular features and they are used to facilitate an experience of mediation, but there are some significant differences between the two. Mandalas are used mostly in Hinduism & Buddhism, Labyrinths are rooted in Christian theology. People interact with mandalas by being in a still state of mind and body, whereas people interact with labyrinths by walking into them while seeking clarity and contemplating serious questions about their life. A central metaphor of the labyrinth emphasizes the idea that we are spirits on a human path, and not so much humans on a spiritual path.

Although visually complicated, labyrinths are not mazes because they typically have one point of entry and one path that leads to the center. The way out of a labyrinth is the same path in, and the basic design of its geometry is divided into fours [hey… like a quatrain!]. The intention of this posting is to affirm the act of producing photographs on a daily basis for the sake of the longer term. I think that producing images of only the "great stuff" encountered can limit potential and the extended range of vision. Producing images of even the most mundane fragments of subject matter too, over an extended period of time, can provide an intriguingly deep trail of salt while walking the day-to-day journey in. Because when editing on the way out what's rewarding is mysteriously found visual patterns, interactivity and continuity. When intuition whispers, photograph that, don't stop to question why... just do it!

Monday, January 20, 2014

Quatrain #19: Mandala Ensemble

Mandalas are rooted in Hinduism and Buddhism. The word in the ancient [India] Sanskrit language translates to circle. They are graphic representations [symbols] of the universe that can be rendered with a wide range of media, and that serve as instruments for meditation.

I first learned of mandalas while studying the works of Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell, circa 1990. Many years later while pursuing my graduate degree, I revisited the semiotics of these visual forms and produced interpretations of them. Upon completion of that body of work, I thought that it was the last time that I'd spend such a measurable period of time investigating and visually distilling their potential meaning, but this is simply not the case.

The moment these four parts coalesced into a whole I began searching again, just to make sure that I understood what a mandala is. Here's a straight-up definition that raised my eyebrows when holding it up to the visual, and from which a connection can be realized. The alignment of linear visual elements gave me several minutes of pause and appreciation of how the subconscious finds ways of presenting itself.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Quatrain #18: Vicissitudes

The word vicissitudes was a stunning find unto itself using a trusty, old thesaurus, and it immediately struck me as being the perfect integration of language to this visual. I like to use "expensive words," as one of my kids' language arts teachers describes it. She conditions her students to practice writing and editing with compelling adjectives — instead of saying good, say marvelous — and I concur. I mean really, when's the last time you used the word vicissitude? Certainly, I haven't until now, and that's going to change.

I made a post a few weeks ago about change and the idea of it being such a normal aspect of our day-to-day, high-technology existence. That was a professional rant, but this one is from a more personal place. Let's face it. Change can be highly charged with the idea of unfamiliarity, and straight-up fear of the unknown depending on the situation. Having said that, it makes me reflect on how I've seen others deal with change, and then even, how I deal with it. Somehow, I have this naïve idea that most people simply accept change and move forward without hesitation or disruption to their life flow. They are liberated by change. Then there are others that I've known, who grew up through the [1st] Great Depression for instance, that would become practically immobilized by change, because change caused them such great stress, anxiety, and hardship. That, by the way, is called misoneism — a hatred or dislike of what is new or represents change.

Everything in moderation, I guess.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Quatrain #17: White Water

People ask on occasion if I'm still working on "that quatrain project," ...and well, yes I am… actually. Looking at the posting date of Quatrain #16 means that it's been two years, so looks like I'm on schedule. What I mean to emphasize is that the time frame is intentional and that relatively long spans of time are integral threads of the project's identity. It requires lots of time and hundreds of photographs to produce an adequate range of works to edit and select. This next set draws from just as many images that were produced for the first collection of sixteen.

[updated 27Jan14]
January has proven to be the coldest and snowiest in recorded history around here. Interesting to see the timeliness of this posting, because of its inherent subject matter mostly, and because this was the type of weather statement frequently encountered via weather services. Maybe this can offer your sense of temperature some connection to the visuals, maybe not...