Thursday, September 29, 2005 - The Pentagon's Picture Problems - War Room: "The Pentagon's picture problems

As quickly as it began, the Army has apparently ended its probe into whether soldiers have been uploading photographs of dismembered Iraqis in exchange for free access to amateur porn. But it's going to be harder than that for the military to rid itself of its problems with pictures.

A federal judge in New York ruled today that the military must release photographs and videotapes showing incidents of alleged abuse at Abu Ghraib. The American Civil Liberties Union began seeking release of the photos in 2003, but the Pentagon has resisted, insisting that citizens of Iraq and Afghanistan might riot if they saw more pictures of what U.S. soldiers and contractors have done.

In his ruling today, U.S. District Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein said his job is 'not to defer to our worst fears, but to interpret and apply the law, in this case, the Freedom of Information Act, which advances values important to our society, transparency and accountability in government.' He said that terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan have proven they 'do not need pretexts for their barbarism.'

-- Tim Grieve"

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Katrina photographic currents from Boing Boing

Boing Boing: Katrina:

"Farhad Manjoo from Salon says,
This might be the most informative, compelling, amazing thing I've seen so far about the storm. A photographer/hotel worker/Nicaraguan immigrant who lives in the city took about 200 pictures from the time before the storm struck, during -- including the eerie, beautiful calm when the eye passed through -- and after. There are some fantastic pictures of what the wind did to the city before the flooding came through, all the surreal damage (a line of cars whose back windows only were blown out), buildings completely destroyed. And then you see how things got progressively worse, how the devastation of wind was compounded by water, how the looting began, how the whole thing was destroyed. It takes a while to get through, but it's well, well worth it. -link-

And Boing Boing reader Gabriel says,

"Cool" people can be truely tastless sometimes, as you can see here with Imitation of Christ's take on the sidewalk memorial to Vera, an elderly woman who died on the street in New Orleans from the effects of Katrina. Presumably she was someone's mother, friend, sister, daughter. -link-
He was responding to this snippet and photograph from a recent fashion show:

A model wears a look from the Imitation of Christ spring 2006 collection, Friday Sept. 9, 2005, during Fashion Week in New York. The quote on the back of the dress, 'Here Lies Vera, God Help Us,' are in reference to a photograph taken of words on a sheet covering a victim of Hurricane Katrina. (AP Photo/Diane Bondareff)

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

The Ghost in the Darkroom with Flusser

In Towards a Philosophy of Photography, Flusser writes of how photography was invented when historical thinking was at its peak in its struggle against the image (human thinking was increasingly rational as opposed to magical - images being regarded as having transcendental or eternal properties), and popular understanding of the world as a historical march was both widespread and cheap (due to popular, cheaply printed texts on the subject). Photography then reinvigorated the image, at once retaining the said magical aspects of the image while maintaining an objective facade: Flusser writes that viewers see them "not as images but as windows", "symptoms of the world through which it is to be perceived."

This review of a New York show of spectral and occult photography touches on elements of this struggle between historical and magical thought, using the "magic" of the image as evidence of other more explicit sorts of magic.

The Ghost in the Darkroom - New York Times: "...The 120 pictures in the exhibition are by turns spooky, beautiful, disturbing and hilarious. They are also, by and large, the visual records of decades of fraud, cons, flimflams and gullibility - though there are also some pictures, like those produced by an eccentric Chicago bellhop, Ted Serios, said to be purely from his thoughts, in the 1960's, that have never been adequately explained.

...The pictures are a window onto a bizarre, and almost forgotten, period of American and European history, when the camps of spiritualism and strict rationality battled it out on the front pages of newspapers. The 1869 fraud trial of William Mumler, a Boston and New York photographer who was the first known practitioner of spirit photography, became a public spectacle. The mayor of New York himself ordered an investigation into his practices, and P. T. Barnum testified for the prosecution, speaking as the Amazing Randi of his day. But Mumler had many defenders. His patrons included Mary Todd Lincoln, who visited him after her husband's assassination; she took away a photo that shows his ghostly form standing behind her. (Mumler was acquitted at his trial, but discredited, suspected of manipulating photo plates.)

Spirit photography began in a typically American burst of entrepreneurship, and for this reason serious European spiritualists were slow in joining. One wrote that while the United States had taken the lead in many things, it had also 'left us far behind in the invention of false rumors.' But the practice soon took off in France and England, and produced groups whose names seemed to be lifted right from the pages of H. G. Wells or J. K. Rowling: the Society for the Study of Supernormal Pictures, the British College of Psychic Science, the Occult Committee of the Magic Circle.

By World War II interest had peaked, but the exhibition makes clear that it has never really gone away. The show includes some of the famous Polaroid images produced by Mr. Serios, who claimed to be able to project his thoughts onto film and whose work remains one of the best documented and most hotly debated cases in the field. Even today, fascination with the practice is widespread, aided by video technology and the Internet - just type the words 'ghost hunter' into Google and you can find thousands of examples of contemporary images purporting to show otherworldly emanations."

Monday, September 05, 2005

Pass Christian House Before/After

a post-Katrina photo found on Flickr.

Photographs from the Minnesota State Fair


Butter Princess History


The Butter Princess holds court


Pumpkins and People

Racist Captioning

This link I found on, but thankfully such stories have been all over the web after a number of bloggers started this buzz.
SPIEGEL Surfs the Web: Hurricane Katrina: Is Looting a Question of Skin Color? - International - SPIEGEL ONLINE - News: "Hurricane Katrina: Is Looting a Question of Skin Color?

If the pain and destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina wasn't enough, now the looting has started on the streets of New Orleans. But many people simply need to feed their families and are consequently forced to 'borrow' food from waterlogged grocery stores. So what makes somebody a looter? And does it have anything to do with the color of their skin?"

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Flusser and the Walker's Shadowland: an exhibition as film

Today I began reading Vilém Flusser's towards a philosophy of photography, and it's fantastic. Thank you, Chuck. The first section, The Image, expands on the introductory note and premise of the book that "the invention of technical images" marks the second fundamental turning point in the history of human culture (the first was the invention of linear writing). The Image then draws out the ways in which images and linear writing make meaning, or rather how they and the people who read them make meaning together. One of the big distinctions he makes is the "magical" space and time of the image ("everything is repeated and everything participates in a significant context") versus the linear world of history ("in which nothing is repeated and in which everything has causes and will have consequences").

And then comes my favorite paragraph, perhaps ever:

Images are mediations between the world and human beings. Human beings 'ex-ist', i.e. the world is not immediately accessible to them and therefore images are needed to make it comprehensible. However, as soon as this happens, images come between the world and human beings. They are supposed to be maps but they turn into screens: Instead of representing the world, they obscure it until human beings' lives finally become a function of the images they create. Human beings cease to decode the images and instead project them, still encoded, into the world 'out there', which meanwhile itself becomes like an image - a context of scenes, of states of things. This reversal of the function of the image can be called 'idolatry'; we can observe the process at work in the present day: The technical images currently all around us are in the process of magically restructuring our 'reality' and turning it into a 'global image scenario'. Essentially this is a question of 'amnesia'. Human beings forget they created the images in order to orientate themselves in the world. Since they are no longer able to decode them, their lives become a function of their own images: Imagination has turned into hallucination.
He then goes on to describe the relationship between images and text, particularly how written language is essentially elements of the image abstracted into separate pieces and transcribed linearly. And then - even better - he discusses the relationship and struggle between text and images, mentions the idolators (pagans) and their clash with 'textolators' (Christians), who actually absorbed images and thus became pagan, explaining it thus:
"Texts admittedly explain images in order to explain them away, but images also illustrate texts in order to make them comprehensible... In the course of this dialectical process, conceptual and imaginative thought mutually reinforce one another... images become more and more conceptual, texts more and more imaginative."
Of course, writing is also a mediation and, he notes, it doesn't only mediate between people and images, but can also obscure images or even make images irrelevant (e.g.: the theory of relativity). Flusser's makes the point that other examples of 'textolatry' are no less hallucinatory than idolatry, citing examples in Christianity and Marxism wherein "Texts are projected into the world out there, and the world is experienced, known and evaluated as a function of these texts."

The Walker's Shadowland exhibition so clearly and elegantly elucidated these principles. I started in Cameron Jamie's BB, an 8mm B&W film of a bunch of guys wrestling in a makeshift ring in their Los Angeles backyard. Consistently violent, pathetic, and at times charming, the efforts of these boys - as well as their expressions, gestures, movements, actions, and environment - were exactly modeled after WWF/WWE/WCW American pro wrestling: the images of wrestling had remapped themselves into the So-Cal backyard, 'reality' is now modeled after image.

Right next to it is the 2-screen installation by (*) of European teenagers in clubs, isolated against a white background, but where they can still hear the music. Their self-consciousness in image, gesture, movement, as well as their comfort and discomfort with their likeness being recorded makes for a beautifully fascinating installation.

On the walls, right around there, are photographs of the names of movie stars superimposed onto clouds, a galaxy painting by (*), photographs of interiors by Richard Prince (fantastic!), a big, beautiful Jeff Wall piece, Joseph Beuys' sculpture Das Scheigen (The Silence), and then, around the corner, a SGP by Frensh photographer Patrick Faugenbaum, a simple portrait but so beautifully and subtly lit, with such wonderful grain and low contrast that the overall effect was stunning.

Finally, Doug Aitken's film Diamond Sea which impressed me so much that I scribbled the following notes:

a beautifully shot color film: landscapes, industrial interiors, seascapes, all shot so as to be almost abstract in a way, w/ a similarly beautiful soundtrack by Autechre, etc. Not a human in the film, but human machinery, machinery moving and sorting dirt, then nature moving and re-sorting dirt. Wild horses. a sort of documentary including human culture but transcending it. it's super-national, super-political (which is to say it's above politics, above nations, above categories (culturally and aesthetically)).

It seems that by abstracting his documentary footage, Aitken achieves something rather profoundly conceptual without any sort of text (although, of course, being a time-based medium, the film does have the linearity Flusser associates with text).