I’ll admit it right away: I am a fog-addict.
Fog is a re-shaper, a re-former, a hider and a seeker. It melts all forms in its great, grey kettle and forges them into mere ideas of themselves.(more…)
One can read from time to time that photography nowadays is an online medium, something to be produced and consumed while staying in the digital domain. And, yes, certainly many if not most photographs today go from a phone to social media never to leave the world of bits and data. Then, there are artists who specifically produce work that needs presentation on screens, like the animated genre-busting video- /photographs of Yang Yongliang.
Still, I think, living with art has its own value. But how do you hang digital files on your wall? At least for now digital photo frames don’t quite cut the mustard. Let me explain – and welcome to Dinosaurilandia…(more…)
Since its inception, photography has been associated with the notion of realism. We even coined a word, “photorealistic”, for it. And even though we know (or should know) better, we cling to the idea that photographs basically are “true to nature”.
Manipulation, however, has been part of the photography tool set from the beginning. Already 19th century photographers replaced unpleasant skies. Photography has also followed almost all trends in art from impressionism, to modernism and abstract art. The whole point of these styles and movements was to present a modified experience of reality. And until we have free roaming drones only guided by artificial intelligence, every camera is placed and pointed by someone. Every photograph has a point of view, which robs it of its objectivity and makes it a form of expression.(more…)
Towards the end of winter there is usually a time here in Finland, when we have a number of cold and sunny days. At the coast one can then often indulge in one of the greatest pleasures of winter: walking on the sea in sunshine.(more…)
Sunt lacrimae rerum et mentem mortalia tangunt.
(Tears are at the heart of things and we are touched by transience.)
Like “yūgen“, “mono no aware” is often seen as one of the core concepts of Japanese aesthetics. The term is variously translated as the “pathos of things” or an “empathy for things”. It reflects an aesthetic response to transience. But as we can see from the Virgil quote the response and the sentiment are not only part of Japanese culture. They are part of our common human heritage.
So let’s talk about transience.(more…)
Some words have a peculiar history. The term “sensibility” is among them. If we can trust Wikipedia (and we do, don’t we?) then the term was coined around the end of the 17th century to describe a scientific-philosophical concept were sensory input and ideas are connected. Then, the word and attitude became fashionable in the 18th century and young people detected their feelings. Finally, the term fell into disregard. In 1811 Jane Austen’s “Sense and Sensibility” was published in which sensibility was rebuked and ridiculed. Since then the term has never really recovered.Now it is used mostly in the plural form and not in an entirely positive way.
Still in the jungle of English terms regarding the senses, it remains one of the few terms describing the connection between our senses and our inner life.(more…)
“As for landscape, its material form exists, but its flavour is incorporeal.“
Zong Bing (around 400 C.E.), Preface on Landscape Painting, transl. James Cahill
Earlier I have written about the mood of a landscape much in the way Zong Bing talks about its “flavour”. What both terms mean is an inherent quality of a landscape, something that the artist detects, not something he or she adds to it. What the artist attempts is to become a conduit for the character, mood or “flavour” of a landscape.
During the history of landscape art this has been one of the major approaches to the subject, often called something like the “objective” school of landscape art. Whenever such a school became dominant, however, a counter-movement, a “subjective” school, was sure to follow.
Instead of searching for the flavour of the landscape, the subjective school imbues the landscape with a “flavour” or a message that is not inherent, but a reflection of the artists mind and mood. I paint this in a rather broad brush and these schools actually were at times difficult to distinguish. As a further disclaimer, generally I am certainly closer to the objective school and don’t want to sound too negative regarding the subjective approach. Everything in art is equally legitimate.(more…)
One can make a simple experiment: to stand on a plain or at a shore and to look out on the horizon. The question is: where within the field of view is the horizon? Right, it is close to smack in the middle. But this exercise is not quite straightforward. When looking straight out, everything close to us becomes blurry and we tend to ignore, or only half-see, the foreground. The angle of view of sharpest focus is much smaller than the overall angle of view our eyes can cover. This influences where we see the horizon and we really have to concentrate in order to see it in the middle of our overall field of view.
The above experiment also only works on a flat plain like the open sea. As soon as our position is elevated or depressed our perception of where the horizon lies changes. Where is then a good position for the horizon in a photograph? That is an excellent question and thanks for asking. Let’s think about it.(more…)
If we see nothing, then this does not mean that nothing is there.
John D. Barrow, The Artful Universe
It is not really news that human perception is limited. We hear only within a certain frequency spectrum, we can only see within a certain range of wavelengths and only things of a certain minimum size. Our perception is also optimised for a certain time window.
No wonder then that humans have been wondering forever what it is out there that we don’t perceive. The “known unknowns” and the “unknown unknowns” to quote a former U.S. politician. Photography can stretch into some of these unknowns but that opens questions of its own.
The physical range of our sensory apparatus has of course an explanation in evolution. Our senses are fine-tuned for detecting food and predators. Optics of all kind (like microscopes or infrared devices) have helped us extend this sensory range. So have cameras. Even without any post-processing on the computer the camera can extend our vision significantly. It can change our angle of view, the relative sizes of objects and the time window for perception – to name just a few of these possibilities. The effect can be quite dramatic. Long exposures remove the ripples in the water and make it seem calm. The picture at the top was made on a stormy morning with waves up to half a meter. Therefore even a four-minute exposure didn’t quite smooth out everything. With clouds the effect depends on the structure and speed of the clouds. In the photo cloud banks were moving very fast and thus got smeared out. With clouds moving at a slower pace instead of a general blur more dramatic movements would be revealed. We can say that a shifted time window can either erase information (e.g. removing ripples and waves in water) and or introduce new information (e.g. the path of clouds).(more…)
“It is like an autumn evening under a colorless expanse of silent sky. Somehow, as if for some reason that we should be able to recall, tears well uncontrollably.”
Kamo no Chōmei, An Account of my Hut, 1212
Many aesthetic terms and concepts are elusive. That might be because they often seem to stem from emotion first and only afterwards are translated into concepts. Something, we can’t quite put our finger on and still can’t resist to try. And while the concepts often seem culture-bound the underlying sentiments, I believe, often are universal.
One of the most elusive aesthetic concepts I have encountered is the notion described in the quote above and called in Japanese “yūgen”.(more…)