Processing film and riding bicycles

Processed photographic film, especially black and white, has a quality of its own that is so different from digitally printed ones. This is well known. Photo-making in the darkroom is subject to factors — concentration, luck, speed of hands and eyes, patience, and so on — that are not significant in digital photo processing.
Rather than seeing digital photo processing as superseding the darkroom process, they could be better understood as two different technologies opening up different possibilities in the photographic art form. The products of either could be similar or distinct, but each process engages us differently.
Bicycles were never superseded by motor vehicles, although that appeared to be the case for a while. Riding a bicycle is a distinct experience, it is a different process, and although you may reach the same destination, you reach it very, very differently. You are transformed in different ways by each mode of transport.
And since art is probably about re-shaping oneself just as one makes something out of a tuba, darkroom photo-making today is as distinct and wonderful as riding a bicycle. Bring back those film rolls!


on drawing

The great photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson, dubbed ‘the eye of the twentieth century,’ abandoned photography in the last decades of his life to pursue drawing. He had been a painter loosely associated with the Surrealist movement, and is said to have destroyed his own paintings before he took to photography in the 1930s. In a little T&H edition on the master, Clement Cheroux writes that HCB considered the two forms – drawing and photography – to be quite distinct. Photography was for him ‘the spontaneous impulse of a constant visual attentiveness, which grasps the moment and its own eternity.’ Drawing, in contrast, was something that ‘elaborates on what our consciousness has captured of that moment.’ Photography, he said, is an immediate reaction, but drawing, a meditation.

The artist and designer Milton Glaser (of ‘I Heart NY’ fame) in a drawing video recently posted on Open Culture says that drawing for him is a fundamental way of knowing the world, of seeing the world better, an instrument to understand the reality of life. He also highlights the distinction between two ‘games’ of drawing from life (for accuracy) and expressive drawing.

I have noticed that drawing from life makes me more attentive to the world. I suddenly begin to see a whole lot of details in the same scene that my  eye hadn’t noticed, or my mind had otherwise not apparently registered (maybe the information goes directly to the subconscious?) But when drawing, we become attentive to everything, or, as Glaser says, it makes one conscious. There is something terribly frustrating at first about drawing from life. And often in between one wants to simply get up and run. But if we overcome that, drawing from life can be very rewarding. In fact, the whole process seems rather similar to the way practitioners  write about their experience of ‘mindfulness’ therapy.

javed - study 1 - at  the kitchen sink

It took me several hours of patience, and holding my wandering mind to attention, before I finished this piece.

when you say nothing at all

Clown Play: Ferdinand The Bull, at Atta Galatta, Bangalore
Clown Play: Ferdinand The Bull, at Atta Galatta, Bangalore

Watching a clown play today brought me back to the question of not speaking or using words. Somehow it feels easier to do something we really want to, if we aren’t talking. Remember Harpo Marx in Duck Soup? He would get away with pranks involving quick- witted moves of his body and objects around him. And to all the annoyance expressed by his victims  — often in loud words, and counter-actions — Harpo would simply respond with more action.

Thinking about children. They act similarly.  Sometimes repeating their actions despite adult warnings and prohibitions. What is common to Harpo and children is a certain uninhibitedness. What is also common is that they use little or no spoken language.

Harpo Marx represents the Id, according to Slovenian theorist Slavoj Zizek (in that film on films, The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema). The other Marx brothers being the Ego, Superego, etc . That’s the deep part of the mind, according to psychoanalysis, which is desire uninhibited. So, it is interesting to think that language makes us social in a big way, shapes our Superego. In learning to speak, we learn to censor ourselves, too.

And this brings me to the thought that drawing (or visual expression) is closer to the Id, as it is uninhibited by wordly censors. That, if we let our hands flow, we might have stuff on our paper (or walls) that society simply might frown upon. What’s worse, unlike spoken words, they remain on paper to be seen again and again. What’s even worse, they have a quick, sledgehammer impact.


Something to Tell You

In Something To Tell You by Hanif Kureishi, Henry, the playwright and intellectual disillusioned with Blair, writes an op-ed about his own exit from the Labour Party. He believes that the party, ‘along with other organisations, including corporations, had moved towards the condition of being cults, a project which not only claimed your loyalty but also your inner freedom.’

This comes close to a notion explored in a previous post (Ogre-Me on Advertising) that advertisers are appealing to your love and adoration, not so much trying to sell a product.

It makes me think of these corporations as a person. Like who, perhaps, when they have all the money and all the power, all the sales and all the profits, all the rising shares, all the influence in the government — when you have all that you want, perhaps all you want still — and don’t get, because you’ve not been authentic — is love.

And when I say they’ve not been authentic, I mean that there has always been something insincere built into the way most of the market works. It is taken for granted that if one has to make profits, if one has to succeed as a business, if one’s advertising has to work, one must take for granted a degree of insincerity towards oneself (by entertaining and promoting inflated ideas of one’s worth or quality or size or capability), and others (by making them believe these inflations as true). But repeating this over time could leave a person or organisation with a nagging sense of doubt about how much they, and their work, are genuinely appreciated by their customers. I remember a time when my grandparents and parents almost loved certain companies and their products, because they trusted them, they knew these things not only delivered but they were built to last. We humanised them, or thought of them as we would of good friends or pet dogs.

Today, while products are increasingly built for obsolescence, and services increasingly booby trapped with privacy invasions and other issues, it becomes hard to trust corporations – far from loving them. Perhaps it is apt then that their ads express a longing for genuine appreciation? Even love?

I think, to love and be loved, one must try to be as authentic as possible. I guess it is hard, because we are constantly anxious to impress others or defend ourselves against risks such as hurt or fiscal loss. But if, as Hemingway said, all cowardice comes from not loving or not loving well, I guess it takes a lot of courage to be authentic.

Thoughts and the body

Although we’ve been brought up thinking that all the thinking we do goes on in our brains, I have always intuitively felt — and I suppose so have many others — that the way we hold our body and move it, has an effect on our thoughts. On the other side of the same idea is perhaps Michael Jackson’s caveat that a dancer must not think, but must become the music, if he has to really dance.

I’ve noticed that I think in a more focused way when I puff away at my pen held like a cigarette the way writers and artists are shown doing in Paris cafes. I have always wondered if it isn’t the action of that puffing away and that cigarette in one’s mouth, rather than the tobacco or not so much its nicotine that is stimulating thought?

Further, perhaps, putting that thing in your mouth stops you from wanting to speak, and maybe helps you collect your thoughts?

In related news, Prof. Carl Flink of the University of Minnesotta and the Black Label Movement troupe are performing and lecturing in Bangalore next week under the title ‘Bodystorming Hits Bangalore,‘ It is about scientists studying cellular-level movement with the help of dancers’ interpretation. Most interesting, since they seem to start from precisely the idea that one thinks with one’s body.

On Advertising

I remember looking forward to advertisements. In magazines such as the late 80’s and early 90’s Reader’s Digests, especially, and in newspapers and even on television. They were appealing for their images and clever, or sometimes, simple and direct use of words. There weren’t many twists in the narrative, and there weren’t many of these ads popping out at you from everywhere. There was also something about these advertisements that wasn’t intrusive. Not just that they were fewer, but also they had this quality to them:  they weren’t trying too hard. They left you enough space to think about them.

Today, I run from advertisements. They aren’t too good and there are just so many of them to judge that anyway. They are trying too hard all the time. Advertisements are seen and heard tripping over themselves and into every space of yours imaginable: hoarding up your view of the roadside sky, crashing into the middle of your reading experiences and viewing experiences, and texting themselves unsolicited into your phones. love-letters-from-the-mad-men-2-1429820745_b

And now, people are being paid to watch advertisements. I am afraid of a future where they’ll pay us to advertise inside our minds, between thoughts, on waking up, before we sleep. They might even pay us to store ads in our genes so that our children will be born loving their brand. Eventually, they don’t want to sell us any product, it seems to me. They want their names on our hearts. They want our love in a perverse way.

I’ve been clicking pictures of advertising in decay. There is especially something fascinating about large, rotting billboards. Like the masts of large sail-ships laid waste. All that money-blowing aggression, perfection and timing and location gone to nothing, even if temporarily. See more of them here at Love Letters From Ad Men.