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This blog is intended to showcase my pictures or those of other photographers who have moved beyond the pretty picture and for whom photography is more than entertainment - photography that aims at being true, not at being beautiful because what is true is most often beautiful..

>>>> Comments, commentary and lively discussions, re: my writings or any topic germane to the medium and its apparatus, are vigorously encouraged.

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civilized ku # 1

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I am surrounded by landscape. After all, I live in a park which is the largest wilderness in the eastern US - bigger than the state of Vermont, bigger than Yellowstone, Yosemite, The Grand Canyon and The Everglades parks combined. Traveling by car from the NE edge to the SW edge of the park, the trip takes 3.5-4 hours. It's big.

It's also diverse; 30,000 miles of rivers and streams, 3,000 lakes and "ponds", 46 mountains over 4,000 ft., as well as being home to approximately 120,000 humans who are spread out in 100 small villages and hamlets. About half of the park is protected as "forever wild" public land. Private lands/development are strictly controlled by the Adirondack Park Agency.

Needless to say, there are about one zillion photo opportunities. For most of the last 4 years I have been scratching the surface of the natural landscape photography-wise, that is, if you can call my ku body of work comprised of over 450 photographs "scratching the surface" (and I do). Recently, I have felt compelled to photograph more evidence of the hand of man in the Adirondack landscape in order to illustrate man's relationship with the natural evironment here in the park. These photographs are being created under the name of "urban" ku, although the word "urban" is not really very apt. Perhaps "civilized" ku would be better.

In any event, I am now expanding my idea of landscape to include photographs such as the one posted here. There is just too much life going on to create photographs that only play only to a particular audience or genre. This relates to my previous post wherein I asked, what kind of photographer are you? As I slip slowly from Landscapist to Documentarian, I think that I will slip a little further and become simply an Observationist.


Please kick the tires

Please check out my test blog on SquareSpace and let me know what you think.

FYI - word verification is re-activated. The spam started almost right away. If commenting is inconvenient, please don't blame me or blogspot - it's all because of the f___ing spammers.

FEATURED COMMENT: Mary Dennis wrote: "I like the look of the square space blog a lot Mark. It's clean looking, (almost like a nice magazine layout) feels compact and logical, links seems to work well and the photos look good too. And no word security gunk. Is it free?"

publisher's comment: Mary's response represents the universal consensus to date. Seems like the way to go. I still have to kick a few more of the tires, but, so far, so good. There are couple of really interesting - as yet unactivated - features that I think you're going to like. How's does a Discussion Forum sound? How about the ability to directly upload photographs to a personal gallery page?

And, speaking of questions, to answer Mary's - No, it's not free. I may have to work some overtime in the coal mine, but at least I won't have to go without boots or donuts this winter.

FEATURED COMMENT: Mary Dennis also wrote: "...hey, isn't there some poetic justice in a "square thinker" ending up in a "square space"?

publisher's respone: It's hip to be square.

ku # 450 - What kind of photographer are you?

I was nosing around, investigating the notion of reading photographs. Steve Durbin's featured comment on urban ku # 20 and comment on intent (see below) was the instigation.

My initial area of interest was Roland Barthes' idea of Studium and Punctum. According to Barthes, Studium stands for the general, cultured interest one has in photographs. Punctum is the personal relation, the emotional side. It occurs when one is deeply touched by a picture. Barthes writes, " is this element which rises from the scene, shoots out of it like an arrow, and pierces me. A Latin word exists to designate this wound, this prick, this mark made by a pointed instrument: the word suits me all the better in that it also refers to the notion of punctuation, and because the photographs I am speaking of are in effect punctuated, sometimes even speckled with these sensitive points; precisely, these marks, these wounds are so many points ... A photograph's punctum is that accident which pricks me — but also bruises me, is poignant to me."

Barthes goes on to state that photos which exemplify studium appeal on "the order of liking, not loving...I glance through them, I don't recall them...I am interested in them (as I am interested in the world), I do not love them."" I don't know if Barthes ever states directly that he "loves" a photograph that "bruises me, is poignant to me, but he does state that "...While most photographs offer only the identity of an object, those that project a punctum potentially offer the truth of the subject....they challenge us outside any generality...these are the photos which take our breath away...", so I'll go out on a limb here and venture, what's not to love about photographs that meet that criteria?"

So, you might ask, what does this have to do with the question what kind of photographer are you? Well, maybe nothing...but, while I was nosing around I also came across this - from Reading Photographs by Hans Durrer : judge photographs by the — perceived — sincerity of the photographer (intent?) is highly problematic. Ansel Adams, who refers to photographers as artists, points out: 'Some of the worst artists, after all, are the most sincere... the only things that distinguish the photographer from everybody else are his pictures,' he should be judged by them, he argues, because 'major art, by definition, can stand independent of its maker'".

It is not without significance that Adams is referring here to the concept of 'beauty in photography', so the title of his book, and as far as the aesthetics of form is concerned, one cannot but agree with him. Documentary (photography), however, is not only about form, which is exactly why sincerity and biography do matter. As Stott says: 'The heart of documentary is not form or style or medium, but always content.' Furthermore, documentarists stress feelings, '... they believe that a fact to be true and important must be felt.' This is not to say that form in documentary is without relevance, this is only to say that documentary aims, primarily, at being true, not at being beautiful. Yet what is true is often beautiful.

From that I infer (and believe - always have, always will) that intent matters. Point In fact, I believe that it matters very much. Almost to the point that I believe it is a photographers (artist's) responsibility to state his intentions.

That said, the question that came to my mind after reading this excerpt was, "Am I a documentary photographer"?

I tend to think of myself as a Fine Art Landscape Photographer, although I have not ever really been comfortable with the phrase "fine art". At various times in my commercial life I have randomly functioned as a Still Life Photographer, a Fashion Photographer, a Corporate Communications Photographer, and, yes, a Documentary/Journalism Photographer (periodical feature/editorial type, not news).

Now, I know that some could care less what kind of photographer they are. They are just photographers. OK, but I think giving yourself a well thought out label, just like writng a well thought out Artist's Statement (statement of intent) is an important part of self-knowing. The only problem I have in this regard is finding the right word to use as my label. The more I think about it, the more I realize that none of the "classic" labels fit. Mostly, I feel like an observationist.

But, when I encountered the ideas that "The heart of documentary is not form or style or medium, but always content." and "...that documentary aims, primarily, at being true, not at being beautiful., and the absolute deal-clincher. "Yet what is true is often beautiful.", I must admit that the label, Doumentary Photographer, starts to sound and feel pretty good.

What kind of photographer are you?

civilized ku # 4

Finally Up to 10 inches forecast for today and a protracted cold spell to back it up (-7F tomorrow night). Time to tune up the xc skis/snowshoes and haul out the winter mountaineering camping gear.

urban ku # 20 and a comment on intent

Intent - The notion of photographic intent was raised by several of you in comments about the Prakarsa/McIntosh comparo. I think that McIntosh's intent is clear and straight forward - drawing attention to the plight of the impoverished/exploited and ultimately to the roots of that poverty/exploitation. Prakarsa's intent is not so clear and some wanted to reserve judgement until more could be learned.

IMO - I have always believed myths, fairy tales, story telling, etc., to be very valuable in passing on ideas, traditions and values from one generation to the next or, for that matter, from one tribe/culture to another. Their intrinsic beauty is that they function on several levels. Like good photography (Art), on the obvious surface of things (like the referent in photographs) they can be/are seductive and entertaining, but of course they also contain "hidden" value as well (the connoted). To my way of thinking, they are both illustrative and illuminating - the 2 qualities that I think are to be found in Art (but not in art). I also believe that these qualities are found in Art because the artist intended to have them there.

I bring up the notion of myths, fairy tales and story telling in this context because I have discovered another Indonesian photographer, Andi Hermawan, whose photography of Indonesian children is nearly identical (albeit not as technically accomplished) to that of Prakarsa.


The question that comes to mind is this - unless Hermawan is nothing more than a Prakasrsa wannabe, is there something in Indonesian tradition, myth, culture about children that we should know about before passing judgement here?

To that point, Ott I-don't-even-like-roses-that-much Luuk asked (although not expressing himself with anything close to my eloquence and erudition), "... (as) For mistaking them for real - does everyone who takes photos in the Far East really have to fight the ignorance of the western man"?

FEATURED COMMENT: Steve Durbin wrote (in part): "...The question of intent is fascinating on a human level and certainly would inform our judgment of the photographer. Anything we know about intent is also likely to affect our judgment of the photos. But the overwhelming factor in my reaction to an image is the image itself, and how it relates to my own experience, aspirations, etc. Intent was important in making the image what it is, but from there it's just pixels until my mind engages it.:"

Jonathan McIntosh ~ a different kind of Jakarta landscape

Jonathan McIntosh is an digital-media artist, social justice activist, photographer and Indymeida journalist living in the Boston/Roxbury area. I found these photographs when I was looking for some info about Jakarta. My curiosity was picqued after posting Rarindra Prakarsa's photographs.

Apparently life for children in Jakarta is not all skittles and cream as Rarindra's photographs might have us believe.

I'll have a bit more to write about this in an addendum to this post over the weekend. An in-law from NJ with a car load of kids is due very soon, so I don't have time right now. While they're all out skiing tomorrow I'll write my peace/piece. Feel free to chime in any time.

FYI, I haven't had any contact with Jonathan Roxbury. I downloaded and posted his photographs under a Creative Commons attribution license. See more of his photography from The Garbage Ring - Jakarta Indonesia

FEATURED COMMENT: Jim Jirka wrote: "So in seeing this and Rarindra's images, would you then consider the former to be "ecoporn" of a different type?"

publisher's response: Jim, my first response is somewhere between rage/anger and the calm cool collectedness it will take to write a 10,000 word response. I am going to try to contact Rarindra again and get a fix on his "intent" although I'm not certain how much that really matters.

FEATURED COMMENT: Joel Truckenbrod wrote: "It's clear that our concept of "poverty" in the U.S. exists in another realm from what these people experience everyday. I am humbled and am not quite sure what else to say."

publisher's response: I am humbled as well - and angered (not at Jim J.) at a world that allows this to exist) and I am also struggling with "what to say". It seems somehow....well....not "wrong", but not "right" either to natter and blather about notions and ideas regarding the medium of photography.

To speak to Joel's reaction of not knowing what to say, I find it nearly impossible to view McIntosh's photographs as photographs in any of the ways in which photographers often view photographs - these photographs do not seem to have "composition", "quality of light", or any of the other photographic trappings we commonly employ. Both the referent (the object of the camera's gaze) and the connoted are so powerful that any "things-photographic" thoughts are simply obliterated.

As Mary Dennis opined, "...The power of imagery is truly awesome, is it not?

Ott Luuk's comments (not too harsh at all) spoke to Jim Jirka's question of truth vs beauty. Ott stated/asked, "My guess is that Rarindra`s photography is just a form of escapism, knowingly creating a blissful dreamworld to hang on the wall for those times you really don`t want to look out of the window....should I be scorned about growing a nice garden with roses and stuff around my house when my country`s forests are being cut down for quick profit...?

I would asnwer that question by stating that it's all very much a matter of intent. If, along with some roses, you also planted your head in the dirt - ostrich-and-sand-wise, I'd say that, yes, you should be scorned. Is that what Rarindra is doing? I don't know for certain, but, in the absence of any statement of intent otherwise....

Rarindra has a very broad presence on the www. I can find nothing about his intent other than his statement to me - "You should visit my beautiful country someday.", which is usually accompanied by a statement about the "millions" of beautiful places and "objects" available to be photographed. He seems to love and take great pride in his country.

Sure. OK. Fine. But, if Rarindra had offered even just a hint that his fanciful photographs spoke to the "innocence lost" in the face of the horrid human degradation that exists in his beloved country, I might not be inclined to venture that Rarindra's photographs are a very fine example of fiddling while Rome burns.

Or, to put it an American context, how would you feel about idyllic and fanciful photographs of black children frolicking carefree in Elysian Fields as representative of our "beautiful" country?

urban ku # 19

The Blue Spruce Motel on Rt. 9N near Au Sable Chasm. I think The Blue Spruce is a seasonal motel but I am not certain about that. It's just down the road from Au Sable Chasm and I imagine that many tourists who stayed here stopped by Clare & Carl's for a Michigan.

I absolutely postively love the fact that a really big real blue spruce in the coutyard wasn't enough to convey the idea of "blue spruce" (although the real blue spruce certainly was much smaller when the place was built than it is now). They just had to add that funky man-made one as well. Don't you just wish that someone would open a really big - a couple acres or so - museum of authentic 50's roadside neon signs?

urban ku # 18

Another "decaying" Mom & Pop establishment along Rt. 9N. just south of Plattsburgh, NY. Although, in this case, it's a thriving landmark business during the spring/summer/fall season. And, believe it or not, the camera was dead level - Clare and Carl's is an authentic architectual fun house.

Around these parts Clare & Carl's is known as the in-place to go for the finest Michigan hot dogs or a "Michigan", as they are commonly called. A Michigan is a steamed hot dog on a bun smothered in a meat sauce, onions opptional. The name "Michigan" originated in Plattsburgh, NY around 1927 at place called Nitzi's, which was also on Rt.9. Clare & Carl's dates from 1942. It's kind of odd that, even though you can get a meat sauce smothered hot dog in Michigan (the state), nobody there knows what a "Michigan" is.