Monthly Archives: May 2010

Sic Transit

Sic Transit

Natural beauty is a temporal phenomenon.

That’s one reason that we have the phrase “She looks good for her age.” (For example, I was the mutt of my family, but time has been been generous with me.) It’s also why the preservation of youthful beauty into advanced years just looks weird and wrong at a certain point.

I was brought up with what I was told is a Quaker axiom: Comparisons are odious, what e’er the matter be. In practice, however, that phrase was actually invoked in only two contexts: money and looks. And let’s face it, that’s what most people really are interested in comparing, isn’t it?

So let’s not compare age and youth. Let’s just enjoy the contrast.

Remember: there is always someone more beautiful, more intelligent, wealthier, whatever (you name it). But there’s never anyone more you than you, so you might as well work it.

Eyes to See

Iron Bench

I have walked past this bench at least a couple of time a week for 17 years: let’s say, somewhere upwards of 2000 times. If you had asked me, “Is there a building with benches outside it in your neighborhood?” I would certainly have said yes, and could have indicated where it was in the next block.

My eyes have received light bouncing off those benches over and over, for nearly two decades. But I had never really seen them myself until today. And the only reason I stopped to look at them carefully was because Bob took a photograph of one of them as part of a little visual quiz for me, to see how well I knew my neighborhood. I chalked up a giant goose-egg on this bench.

Look at how lovely it is! The whole thing is just gorgeous. I’ve been missing out the whole time, failing to notice this little piece of artisanry right next door. Ms. More-Aesthetically-Aware-Than-Thou hangs her head in shame.

So here’s my question to you: what are you missing right around you? And who is there in your life who might be trying to point it out?

[Update: Bob writes about his perspective (in more ways than one) here.]

Industrial Decay

Construction detritus

I am not alone!

It’s always a comfort to discover that others share your secret obsession. I hereby give you: The Industrial Decay Network brought to you by Chris Smart. There’s a Flickr pool, and they’ve even published some books [IDN 01 and IDN 02].

I really can’t account for the visceral, sensual thrill that these kinds of image impart to me.

[I'd love to put some pictures from these sources in this post, but just about every image is designated "All Rights Reserved." Please, go visit the links.]

The Edge of Decay

Tree stump with moss.

Moss, mold, and mushrooms are the three Ms of organic dissolution. When mechanical things collapse, they bloom into the slow fire of rust. When organic things decay, they transubstantiate into life and more life.

Not Simple

Artwork at the Aria Casino, Las Vegas, NV

There are some common rules in photographic modernism. One of them is this: keep it simple. There’s a huge prioritization of big, clear, graphic elements, arranged in ways to “lead the eye” to a point of resolution.

I’ve got nothing against that, per se. Some wonderful photographs abide by those those principles.

Nonetheless, I frequently find myself making images that are not simple. Often, at first glance they are cluttered or confusing. [More than once, critics have dismissed my photographs as being busy; I prefer the term 'energized.' ;-) ]. I like to think that persistent, active viewing reveals layers of order. The dictates of modernism often cause people to throw the twin babies of nuance and subtlety out with the bathwater of fussiness.

Complexity should rarely be an end in itself. Complexity is especially valuable if it conveys information otherwise not transmissible, or if it sparks connections, evokes reactions, and inspires insights that are otherwise unavailable. But complexity can be beautiful in itself, and it has the added benefit of demanding that the onlooker linger to get the most from it.

Contemporary society hates complexity because complexity demands that you think. You cannot discuss complex subjects meaningfully in soundbites. Complexity does not lend itself to slogans or chants or taglines. It’s damn hard to sell complexity. No one wants to break a sweat.

It is not just our art, but also our politics and our marketplaces and our educational institutions that are cheapened and impoverished and neutered by a lack of willingness to engage with complexity. The hard parts are often where the good stuff is. They take effort and time to make sense of, but are ultimately incredibly rewarding. And sometimes the only path that will solve a problem lies through a thorny thicket of complexity.



This is Valkyrie, the daughter of friends Molly and Mark. I hereby predict that she is going to be stunningly beautiful as an adult.

Add 20

Older Lady at Japanese Restaurant

This lady was sitting at the table next to us at East Restaurant (fabulous Japanese food) in Manhattan. When I got my camera out, she leaned over and asked about it. Was it an SLR, she wanted to know. We had a conversation about cameras and computers. Her interest was so palpable, I offered her a chance to try my camera out [see thumbnail, below], something I’m generally reluctant to do — especially with strangers. She was sharp, curious, enthusiastic, eager to learn. She admitted to not being quite up to speed with every bit of new technology, but she was undaunted by the prospect of acquiring new skills.

If I’m like her in twenty years, I’ll be quite content.


Pools of Water at Great Falls, VA

On this afternoon’s visit to Great Falls in Virginia, I didn’t take a single photograph of the rapids. Instead, I found myself drawn to the details of rocks, and the intensely green lushness of the late spring foliage. Although being there afforded plenty of beauty, I’m afraid little of it made its way effectively from the exterior through my cameras lens to the CMOS sensor or the recording card.

Father & Bride

Abbie and Dave

Abbie and Denis’s wedding was a lovely occasion: good music, good company, good food and lots of love all around. I took a whole passel of photos (and some video), almost all of them highly informal. I’m sure their official wedding photographer will have captured all the standard family poses, as well of course as the bride and groom looking glamourous.

This, however, is my favorite among those that I took. I feel the happiness, affection, and humor radiating out from this image, and it just gives an optimistic boost to my view of human nature.


Chrysler Building, Manhattan

Some visual icons deserve their status. No matter how many pictures you see of them, no matter how well you think you know them from having seen endless second-hand depictions of them, the impact of being in their physical presence is a wholly different and much more impressive experience.

I have found this to be true of some artwork (Boticelli’s Venus comes to mind) and not others (The Mona Lisa), for natural phenomena (the Matterhorn is just unbelievable), and for architecture and engineering feats as well. The Chrysler Building definitely is one of the latter.