spirit and making

i know it’s a pedestrian wish, but i wish weekends were longer. the space of two days of time to do with what i will is just enough to begin to return to myself, to have a sense of what i’d do with my time if all of it were mine. i plan and cook meals; i can read in good long stretches; this evening i went to the library and filled out endless interlibrary loan requests; and now i’m rolling around different stray thoughts on photographers and how they describe themselves (and the world) in my head.

i found this great article on eikoh hosoe, in which he is describing seeing gaudi for the first time in barcelona. about how he couldn’t even begin to photograph it then, he had to experience it first (and not first mediate an experience through camera) and then come back to it, thirteen years later. he’s describing some rocks that are arranged seemingly arbitrarily int he architecture, and then he realizes:

“i found that the order was not arbitrary. They were placed with cosmic order like the sun in the center of rotating planets…what gaudi was ultimately pursuing through his architecture was a zen spirit. maybe what i was looking for was not the design of the architecture, but a zen spirit hidden in his body of work.” (interview with darwin marable, history of photography, v.24., #1, spring 2000)

it’s this notion of someone’s work being imbued with spirit that’s interesting to me (nice dovetail to earlier in the article when they’re discussing hosoe’s shinto roots: his father was a shinto priest and he grew up in a shinto shrine). it was occuring all through the kawabata book i just finished, the master of go. in it, kawabata describes the playing of go by americans and europeans, and that how it is as if they understand the rules but nothing of the spirit of the game, of the deliberate dance and individual wills of the players involved. of how the tone of each move is answered in kind by the rejoining move, and that to not acknowledge this in a play can be insulting and “in poor spirit.”

have also been remembering a startling personality that slips from my memory for periods of time, and then my memory searches for his strange, exclamatory-sounding name. vojta! vojta dukat! i can’t dig much up on him on the internet, and i think he prefers his obscurity. but i found this:


vojta was a guest lecturer at a short-lived program i attended several years ago in prague. the school was a documentary photography summer program, and it attempted to expose very western, very american young impressionables to some central european sensibility in the form of these guest lectureships of different (mostly czech) photographers. there were some more famous names of people i’ve seen in aperture and such since, but it was vojta (such a great name) that made the biggest impression on me. he came to the room not with the customary slides, but with a great (like two feet thick) stack of smallish photos tucked under his arm. he started putting them all on the table, one after another, like cards. each image was astonishing, simply and beautifully seen. he had magic light in nearly everyone, and the overall their tone was quiet, usually interaction between two or a few people. intimate. i remember thinking he was like what rasputin would be if he were a photographer instead of a sensate holy man, or that maybe in fact vojta was some sort of sensate holy man, able to insinuate himself into profoundly quiet moments without ever being insinuating.

the room was respectfully quiet while he talked and layed out his photographs. and then, as was custom, when he was done students volunteered to be “critiqued” by the guest. a girl, one of the more confident ones, started to bring out her photos. vojta picked over them, going through them faster and faster. finally he looked into her. “why did you make these?” he asked her, in all sincerity. “it’s as if you were thinking of nothing as you pointed your camera, that you saw nothing as you looked through the lens. arbitrary, messy and thoughtless. why make any photographs at all in this manner? why waste?” and there was more i think, that he said which i don’t remember, and she was more than a little startled. and it’s true that the workshop was comprised mostly of amateurs, hobbyists, and those looking for a little direction. but i think about how one is taught to make and make and make (especially in the beginning) as much as possible, to make in such a frenzy that precludes thought–and how refreshing it was to hear someone (with the image archives to back it up) that no, it is important to see, or to learn to see, before one goes on a manic making spree. my partiality to slowness comes, to some degree, from this memory.

2 thoughts on “spirit and making

  1. The Pedestrian Universal

    Ha! I know I’m unduly ignoring the big, profoundish body of your entry, but “pedestrian”? Ha! That literary self-acknowledgement makes me hoot. It IS indeed pedestrian to entertain such a desire, however, dealing with the stark, fragmented social conditions behind such a desire seems more dire and consuming: commonplace perhaps, but not pedestrian. Earnestly desiring the Elysian breezes of Pebble Beach is truly pedestrian: Target, Kafka, Gursky, Brian Ulrich, Norman Rockwell, Fox News. I’m reading Thomas Mann (in translation) (again) (I suck) (but it would take literally six years to read in German) (are these parentheticals pedestrian, i suddenly ask myself?) — Thomas Mann’s “Doktor Faustus” in which everyone’s an artist, intellectual, or ardent cultural devotee. Strict, obvious, and contentedly accepted class divisions reinforce Mann’s fictional ability to supersede the pedestrian and linger in a site of metaphorical purity and reification: the sterile peaks of the Magic Mountain…

    The moral of the story… (maybe…)

    For better or worse Mann’s literary aristocracy has been swept away. Everything’s become pedestrian. Its unparalled commonality both divides and unites us. My parents dragged me to banal paradise after paradise– island after island. Ha! It would have been perfect “This American Life” fodder: comic impotence of the subject before the pedestrian universal.

    Is not photography itself pedestrian? Does not its history– as well as its innate formal proclivities– seem dangerously entertwined with my father’s hellish Hawaii and the exaltation of the merely ordinary? Is it any surprise that Mann’s world rapturously unravels at the first moment that recorded sound is heard: ontology, politics, and photography collide and collude…

    It’s really a much bigger bite than I had intended to chew on upon just waking and methinks I shall eschew the remainder and instead plunder my morning coffee: a pedestrian event?

    v. van

  2. I also attended the Prague workshop where Vojta visited, maybe we were classmates? If it wasn’t the exact one you describe, it was another that unfolded in exactly the same manner. And the impression left on me – by him and by his unbelievable pictures – remains profound. At the time I was a newspaper photographer making a kind of transition to personal documentary work. I did offer up my then-portfolio to him, which he responded to much like he did to the girl in your post. But I did and still do consider his example to be perhaps the highest ‘bar’ in photography of this kind. The fact that he’s almost entirely unknown (seemingly by choice) is remarkable.



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