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man & nature # 102 ~ the cruel

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Window ice after a stormclick to embiggen
Relative to the last entry and the idea of "nameless and commonplace", I like these words from James Agee:

In the immediate world, everything is to be discerned..with the whole of consciousness, seeking to perceive it as it stands: so that the aspect of a street in sunlight can roar in the heart of itself as a symphony, perhaps as no symphony can: and all consciousness is shifted from the imagined, the revisive, to the effort to perceive simply the cruel radiance of what is.

I absolutely love the phrase, "the cruel radiance of what is". It speaks to me of the real stripped of myth, dogma, and the fanciful - the world as viewed in the cold hard light of day. As most who have followed The Landscapist know, I am quite a devotee (in my picturing and in my life) of "the real" as viewed in the cold hard light of day. Which is why I also take a certain form of delight in Agee's view of picturing:

The camera seems to me, next to unassisted and weaponless consciousness, the central instrument of our time.

IMO, there can little doubt that Agee felt this way about "the camera" as a result of his close friendship, association, and collaborations with Walker Evans, one the first and foremost practitioners of picturing and revealing "the cruel radiance of (the) what is" of his time.

It is no coincidence that Walker's pictures were described as the genesis of the notion of artless art. IMO, and that of many others, he was the first to practice on a grand scale the idea of straight picturing - that is, simple direct seeing unaffected by the conventions and mores of Art. The objective being to just show what things look like.

an aside - the idea of artless Art - that which ignores the conventions and mores of Art - has, of course, evolved into conventions and mores in its own right.

But here's the thing about pictures that illustrate and illuminate "the cruel radiance of what is" -

Most seem to perceive such pictures with an emphasis upon the notion of cruel. That such pictures are "cold", "heartless", and very often "depressing". And, in fact, sometimes and in some cases, they are cold, heartless, and very often depressing. But, in most cases, I don't see them that way.

To my sense and sensibilities, they are "cruel" only in the sense that pictures, which depict the cruel radiance of what is, leave us with no place to hide - that is, they most often strip away all of the notions of myth, dogma, and the fanciful in/with which we all take refuge from the inconvenient truths of the real world.

IMO, pictures that strip away all of the notions of myth, dogma, and the fanciful are, indeed, beautiful. I truly and deeply believe in what it says at the top of this browser window - photography that aims at being true, not a being beautiful, because what is true is most often beautiful.

I truly and deeply believe in making pictures that strip away all of the notions of myth, dogma, and the fanciful because:

If the proper goal of art is, is as I now believe, Beauty, the Beauty that concerns me most is that of Form. Beauty is, in my view, a synonym for the coherence and structure underlying life. ~ Robert Adams

It may seem very contradictory (to the notion of "cruel") that I agree with Robert Adams when he writes about singularity of Hopper's influence (whose work typically illustrated and illuminated the "cruel" notions of isolation and loneliness in America) when he states that it was Hopper who enabled his artistic realization that:

One did not need to be ashamed of having a heart

I agree with this idea of "heart" because I always strive to make pictures with a heart and from my heart. And, I truly believe that pictures with/from a heart are inherently beautiful and, at their root, are filled with the hope of recognizing and realizing the coherence and structure underlying life.

IMO, and to my eye and sensibilities, pictures that point to the cruel radiance of what is are pictures that point to truth. And truth, while it may be hard and inconvenient to swallow, is never cruel.

As far as I am concerned, the only pictures that are cruel are those fanciful creations that ignore the cruel radiance of what is, and, consequently, give rise to false hope. Those pictures, when viewed in the cold hard light of day, would most commonly be labeled as lies.

Posted on Tuesday, March 3, 2009 at 02:18PM by Registered Commentergravitas et nugalis in | Comments1 Comment

Reader Comments (1)

This blog and your photos are beginning to cause a shift in my consciousness.

"...because what is true is most often beautiful."

I would rephrase as: "...because what is true is often most beautiful."

March 4, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMark M (the other)

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