see2think

thinking with pictures


Leave a comment

Too many pictures?

Images have proliferated together with the mobile phone equipped with lens for still and moving pictures. Only a decade or so in the past it seemed functionally conflicted to add instamatic-quality cameras to phones. Now quality is much better and phone users have grown comfortable with leaving purpose-built cameras at home, except for specific events or picture taking projects. The upshot is that text lacking in picture comes to seem threadbare, as if the proven authorial power to Paint Pictures with Words is defunct. Not only do readers expect images to be part of any communication or declaration, but by the glut of visual information there is less power in what once was a treat or specially added expression supplemental to the text. And so I ask: are there too many pictures?
Once an elderly staffer of the city library in rural west Japan told me that color had become so common to daily experience that the older generations living in tones of wood, grass, soil and a few standard colors of black, white, browns and other natural dyes have given over to people today living in visual landscapes of neon and all sorts of plastic structures, signage, and synthetic fabrics. The result is the beauty of a blossom or the artistic forces of silkwork in kimono is lost among all the riot of colors everywhere.
Maybe the same is true of photos. Instead of savoring a single shot, black and white or in full color, we rapidly browse through dozens before anything stops us in our tracks, either by its capture of a certain glint of light, or by its arresting composition, conceptual collage, or some curiosity about its location and subject matter. What to do about de-sensitivity to visual express? Do without for a while; sort of like fasting, but in visual terms. And the practices of mindfulness (e.g. eating with focused and full mind) that Thich Nhat Hanh and other Buddhists advocate may point the way to deeper visual appreciation of one’s surroundings, including the ones that call out for photo capture and sharing and reflection by others.

Advertisements


Leave a comment

Old tree near harbor of Leland, Michigan – a trace of long ago

This tree is a time traveler, standing still among the passers by.

This tree is a time traveler, standing still among the passers by.

The tree rings would reveal the number of years from seedling to the time the tree trunk was cut down to the present size. But judging from the girth, it well may have stood on that spot for 150 or more years, around the time of the U.S. Civil War that ended in 1865. In a brief history of the village of Leland, the county’s first capital thanks to the convenience of water transportation compared to land travel, one of the first enterprises by settlers crowding the Native Odawa who valued the river’s outlet into the big lake as a trading location was to form the iron smelting business from ore taken from the Upper Peninsula, hence its name, the Leland-Lake Superior Iron Company, founded in 1870 and active for about 20 years. Then other sites overtook them and lumbering was raging nearby. Once the trees were all cut it was commercial fishing for Whitefish and Lake Trout that employed local hands for a few generations. Today it is the short season of summer and early fall tourists who motor to the peninsula for diversion and relaxation far from their ordinary responsibilities. This tree witnessed all these changes and now boldly stands from long ago as a reminder. UPDATE 10-2015: brass plaque faces the lake beyond with a full story of this “champion” tree designated by state organization: felled in 2011 after 110 years, and after it’s buds were used to create 60 clones of this 100 foot cottonwood.


Leave a comment

Food and music – simple fun or complicated conjunction?

Annual ticketed event for live music, local wine and brew, hot food - or is there more to it?

Annual ticketed event for live music, local wine and brew, hot food – or is there more to it?

At first glance there is nothing notable: people in nice cars come from near and far to the afternoon of live music, tasty food and drink. They buy an entry ticket for the day and take in the sights, sounds, smells and flavors responsibly, remaining isolated consumers in an aggregate defined by the orange fencing all around the harbor parking lot and the sheriff’s deputies at the edge. But on wider reflection this way of spending time, money and fuel to get there could be regarded as strange. For the musicians, the event organizers and those setting up, controlling gate and monitoring communications, as well as cleaning up, not to mention food and drink vendors all of this effort is the pinnacle of the service economy: rather than to produce a tangible good, an experience is being shaped for those who pay to play in the space of this event. For the ticket buyers the logic of attending is seemingly straight-forward, too: it is to spend the time engaging is pleasurable activity, or for more goal-oriented attendees it is a chance to discover new foods and drink and music – a sort of life-long education outing; or possibly a search for a special flavor, dish or method of presentation. And if there is some social connection or family relationship to performer or vendor or organizer, the rationale may include this social layer, too. A few may mildly feel their participation supports local arts and culture, even if the offerings are not specially to the attendee’s taste. Still others may have worked very hard for their position of leisured time and money and not knowing exactly their own mind when it comes to life other than gainful employment, they may look around for clues and arrive at the idea that attending such events of food and music is what a leisured person *is supposed to do* or one imagines this is the life of ease and pleasure – to motor to a place with the expectation of tickling the palette and pleasing the ears together with other beautiful people who have achieved something of a charmed life. By contrast, someone with little free money or time could see the intersection of tasty treats and delightful rhythms and dismiss the significance of it, baffled why a person would spend the transportation time and cost, as well as price of admission when the time and money could or must go elsewhere by the standard of a laborer’s days. Stranger still, when using the lens of a religiously streamlined person of little earthly means but whose interior life is deep and strong, all the hubbub must look to be dissipation of effort, energy, precious hours in one’s life, not to mention the opportunity cost of putting money here when it could do good for others in different ways than this.
By placing the picture is a wider frame of discussion that the initial recognition and regard of what is represented, it becomes possible to take something familiar and make it seem foreign or unfamiliar. In fact “de-familiarizing” the everyday parts of one’s world is one half of the process for getting to know people and places very different to one’s own times. The other half of the exercise is to “de-exoticize” others ways of living; taking something that first seems outlandish or improbable and learning enough of the meaning and intention so as to make sense of it; a cultural logic that recharacterizes the actions and makes the exotic seem normal and even expected and desired.
Thus equipped with the power to de-familiarize something ordinary and the power to de-exoticize something that seems weird or even repulsive, one can then look at the annual Wine and Food day at the harbor ground close to Lake Michigan and find a razor-sharp view of the proceedings – seeing it as normal and natural on the one hand, but at the same time a little odd, too.