Thursday, January 04, 2007

ku # 448 ~ Time to die; thoughts on photography, rage against The Machine, and legacy


"I've seen things you people wouldn't believe....All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.." ~ the last words of Ray Batty, a replicant (androids which are claimed to be "more human than human"), from the movie Blade Runner.

Blade Runner is one of my favorite movies. I was re-viewing it recently and I heard Ray Batty's last words in a whole new light, a lightweight photo-epiphany of sorts. - at least at the time I thought it was lightweight. However, upon further consideration, I am coming to an awareness about the medium of photography which is considerably heavier than I first thought.

In a glib kind of fashion, my first thought (honest, my very first thought) upon hearing Batty's words this time around was...didn't he have a camera? I mean if I were seeing attack ships on fire on the shoulder of Orion and C-beams glittering in the darkness at Tannhauser Gate, I'd be filling up some memory cards like there was no tomorrow. Then again, I'm not a replicant and I don't know the answer to the question, "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" (the title of the book by Philip K. Dick that the movie Blade Runner was based on).

Nevertheless, dreams/memories are a big item in Blade Runner. When designing and producing replicants, the Tyrell Corporation found it important to "program" memories into replicants - memories of childhood and a past life, which, of course, they never had. The Tryell Corporation deemed memories integral to being human and I'm not about to disagree.

One of the renegade replicants, Leon, even has photographs that reinforce his (programmed) memories. In this replicant's case, it would be accurate to say that the photographs are his memories. In order to be more human than human, Leon must have his photographs. In an interesting twist, another replicant, the ever-luscious ("ever", because she has no pre-programmed termination date - unlike the 4 year life span of Ray, Leon and Pris) Rachael, must forget her memories, throw out her photos, and start again in order to begin a new "life".

Either way, memories and the photographs which create, supplement and mediate them, are given due weight in the plot line of Blade Runner.

Anyone who has taken the time to read my Artist's Statement knows that dreams and memories are an integral part of my photography and the motivations/inspirations that drive it. Even though my individual photographs are labeled "ku" (see 2nd entry - titled FYI) , the body of work is labeled Adirondack Dream Memories. No one has to tell me about the importance of dreams and memories. I have been exploring that notion for quite a while now.

What's always puzzled me about my photography quest is "why". I know that I'm curious. I know that I'm visually "gifted". I know that I have a drive to discover and express the unthought known. But, I am beginning to realize that perhaps a large part of my artist-hood is driven quite simply (like Ray Batty quest to meet his maker) by a rage against the Machine.

In my case, The "Machine" has many faces - from a few personal pet-peeves like ubiquitous cliche-driven landscape/nature photography or the culture of consumption which destroys souls and the environment, to the universal grand-daddy of all Machines, death. Ray Batty was certainly exhibiting a formidable rage against that particular Machine.

In the context of the Death Machine, I am struck by 2 other book titles - both written by the great American artist, Rockwell Kent - It's Me, O Lord and This is My Own. Rockwell Kent lived just down the road from me here in the little hamlet of Au Sable Forks. The books are Kent's collective autobiography and in them he lays down his memories proudly and empahatically (I think with a bit of defiance) proclaiming, O lord, this is me, this is what i have created and nobody can take it away!

Unlike most of us artists of the mere mortal variety, Kent's artistic legacy is assured. His works are enshrined in museums throughout the world (especially in the former Soviet Union) and in too many illustrated books to mention (actually, I'll mention one - I received for Xmas a copy of Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass illustrated by Rockwell Kent).

So, all of this has caused me to think a bit more about my legacy, in this case, photography-wise (although, this O lord, is part of me, it is my own). Sure, there are a couple coffee table books of my photography out there: one (photo journalism) in which my work is the featured photography (but not only photography); one (still life) which is based entirely on my photography. Sure, I'm working on getting a book deal done - a monograph of my Adirondack Dream Memories. Sure, I have photographs hanging on walls in homes and a few galleries. Sure, sure.

But, I want more than that and, in today's world of internet-based custom photo book printers, I'm going to get it. As some already know, I believe that custom photo books represent an important step forward, full of possibilities for photographers. I intend to pursue the "diary" as legacy possibilties.

Right now, most of my "diary" is on disks and hard drives. For all intents and purposes, it is rather invisible - a sad state for something so visual. I don't have nearly enough wall space in my house to accommodate my "diary" and even if I printed really small so to fit them all in, my house isn't very portable or reproducible. And, because they're so inexpensive to create (a hard bound book of 20 photographs in most cases costs less than one custom lab made 8x10 print), lots of them.

Make no mistake about it, I really like original photographic prints, mine and other's, but I'm beginning to feel that photo books are my real medium. I like the fact that you can create a more complete narrative than you can with a single print. They're portable. You can print just one. You can print 100. You can lend them to friends. Take them on vacation. You can place 5 different ones on a coffee table and have 100 (or more) photographs within easy reach of anyone. They can be viewed and appreciated in a car, on the can, in bed, on a plane....

And, as Colin Jago wrote on a Steve Durbin post on Art &Perception, "...one of the reasons that I like photo books... When closed they are closed. They are fresh again when I open them."

So, books it is.

After all, I've seen things like you people haven't seen them. I don't want all of those moments to be lost in time, like tears in rain.

FEATURED COMMENT: John Joannides wrote: "Interesting way of putting it, raging against the machine, and in some ways I think it's accurate for many photographers. For me, as an example, my machine happens to be the grind of daily life. Doing things that one wouldn't choose to do except for the need to earn money and fight negative entropy. The rage manifests itself as exploration of life and fantasy via photography and other types of image making. A ying to the yang. Or at least that is a part of it, but then again so many hobbies and callings are in a way. People are just compelled to do them."

FEATURED COMMENT: Steve (no longer semi-anonymous) Lawler wrote (in part): "Roy's time to die scene defines Blade Runner to me; I count it among the most profound in my cinematic experience. It’s compelling precisely because it articulates the fleeting and bittersweet essence of the human condition. As I’d mentioned previously, your work is analogous to the extent that it facilitates this recognition of the divine in the mundane. After all is said and done, it’s about immortality."

7 Comments:

Anonymous Michelle Parent said...

Mark,
I made photobooks for everyone in my family for Christmas this year. I used iPhoto and Apple for mine, but was a bit disappointed in the format, since I had no control on how the photos were cropped by them. The printing was great. Color was excellent, especially since I hadn't changed the profile from AdobeRGB before importing them into iPhoto. It was an excellent way to get a lot of my photos "out there" in a small package that I hope will be treasured. Making them did feel like a "diary" of sorts, yet I did focus each one on the person it was intended for. My grandmother's, for example had more flora photos, since she loves them. I really enjoyed the process as much as the product and the giving. Now I want one for myself!

1/04/2007 05:22:00 PM  
Anonymous Steve Durbin said...

I enjoyed your artist's statement, which I found especially interesting from a neuroscience perspective. Memories are far from the kind of recording on a CF card, and much closer to mental phenomena like dreams. And dreams may be largely about preserving memories.

As for raging against death, I rather delight in the notion that that pile of dead branches in your photo will soon be turned into new life. But the prospect still provides a great motivation to focus on important things.

1/04/2007 07:20:00 PM  
Blogger Rosie Perera said...

Gee, thanks for pointing to that FYI about "ku". Here I was thinking it stood for "known unthought" (reversing that which you have a drive to discover and express).

1/05/2007 04:40:00 AM  
Blogger JohnJo said...

Interesting way of putting it, raging against the machine, and in some ways I think it's accurate for many photographers. For me, as an example, my machine happens to be the grind of daily life. Doing things that one wouldn't choose to do except for the need to earn money and fight negative entropy. The rage manifests itself as exploration of life and fantasy via photography and other types of image making. A ying to the yang. Or at least that is a part of it, but then again so many hobbies and callings are in a way. People are just compelled to do them.

As for Blade Runner, it's also one of my favourite films. Time to die is a powerful sequence but I have come to prefer the ‘Fiery the angels fell; deep thunder rolled around their shores, burning with the fires of Orc’ quote which I believe is a deliberate misquote of Blake's 1793 ‘America, A Prophecy’.

1/05/2007 08:35:00 AM  
Blogger Steve Lawler said...

Roy's time to die scene defines Blade Runner to me; I count it among the most profound in my cinematic experience. It’s compelling precisely because it articulates the fleeting and bittersweet essence of the human condition. As I’d mentioned previously, your work is analogous to the extent that it facilitates this recognition of the divine in the mundane. After all is said and done, it’s about immortality.

Ironic you should use the term "rage against the machine." Pardon the musical references, but their first album embodies this same poignant (in the painful sense) nature of life, neither less nor greater than the subtlety of someone like Arvo Part, and for that matter, your writing and photography. For these I am grateful.

In spite of our rational striving and evolutionary passion, expressions such as the Heart Sutra remind us of the ephemeral character of being. And still we try: there’s simply no other choice.

As Jimi says (present tense):

But then a sight she'd never seen made her jump and say
"Look, a golden winged ship is passing my way"
And it really didn't have to stop... it just kept on going
And so castles made of sand slips into the sea, eventually


(Seems Blogger wants to display my surname this time around. No longer cloaked in semi-anonymity...)

1/05/2007 07:18:00 PM  
Blogger Sibadd said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

11/01/2007 08:17:00 PM  
Blogger Sibadd said...

You can keep returning to Bladerunner like Van Gogh's Sunflowers. They've gone somewhere beyond commodification. I don't understand this. I think it's what you're exploring. The most interesting ideas don't quite surface - they loom. I found your words by mistake or should I say luck. I suspect that many believe we are now on the edge of understanding individual consciousness when actually what we know is infinitesimal and there are territories yet unknown - as vast in scale as our current understanding of the universe and beyond (:))
Simon
http://democracystreet.blogspot.com/

11/01/2007 08:23:00 PM  

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