Guilty Pleasures and Publishing, Part I: On Nazraeli Press, Asako Narahashi, Ando Hiroshige (and tea)

A certain confluence of circumstances created specific guilty pleasures that I delight in to this day.

On one of my first trips abroad, I was wandering around Prague’s uneven streets with a fellow photographer that suggested we duck into a tea house. Until that moment, I don’t think I ever thought about tea houses, or their atmosphere, or the kinds of tea that one could get in them. My tea knowledge to that point was limited to thinking that all tea came in bags. My companion ordered a cup of Kukicha, called “Japanese twig tea” because it’s made from the stems and stalks of the tea shrub instead of the actual leaves. A little embarrassed for my ignorance, I ordered the same thing. Small, handle-less cup in hand, I drank down the brown liquid: slightly nutty and slightly earthy, but in a very particular and pleasant way. A happy warmth spread through my palate and being. This was way better than Celestial Seasonings. A curiosity and love of this simple pleasure began. I now hunt down tea houses in the cities through which I travel, have a short-list of favorite online tea distributors (let me know if you want to know what they are), try to push good tea on friends and family as gifts, and several cups of tea are now part of my daily routine.

In my first year of graduate school, I was invited to a get-together at the home of one of the faculty members of the photography department. Another graduate student was house-sitting while the photographer was on sabbatical, and hosted a bbq complete with a view of the fireworks from (then) Comiskey Park. While the highlight for most people that evening was seeing the Flying Elvises jump out of planes, fully costumed, and onto the field, my stand-out moment that night was being glued to the same spot in front of that faculty member’s photography bookshelves. They were floor to ceiling, spanning the full wall length of a very long room and starting near the front door. I seem to remember a funny curtain made from thin fabric that pulled along a skinny steel wire, maybe that was to keep the books from getting dusty. But the books! There seemed to be everything there: first editions, monographs, gallery catalogs and it went on and on and on. Photographers I knew and loved, photographers I had heard of but did not yet know, photographers I had yet to ever hear their names uttered. I don’t remember pulling many books from the shelves that night. A fellow book lover, I know how ungenerous of spirit I can get when unknown characters start pawing my shelves, cracking spines, and leaving oily greasemarks on pristine pages. I remember thinking: this is a lifetime of love and learning. Of investment, trust and community building. The collection that I looked at that night could easily fetch thousands of dollars with just a small selection of titles going up for auction at Photoeye or the like. But what I came to recognize in that instant was the sensation of “sympatico” with the absent photographer/collector, and the knowledge that this too, would become a guilty a pleasure throughout my lifetime. That this love of looking and and learning through the imaginations and work of others would be something that I would most definitely want in my life.

And so what constitutes a guilty pleasure?

Any definition would of course be entirely subjective. I don’t know if other people have thought much about it, or share any of the same qualifications for it that I do. For one, a guilty pleasure is first and foremost Pleasurable. Even thinking about what the guilty pleasure is can be enough to begin a totally solipsistic reverie about what one loves about it, what else there is to know and discover, and what one wants from it next. And the guilty part? This may sound strange and contrary to language and definition, but for me the guilt comes from the fact that there is no guilt. I feel no guilt whatsoever in the (sometimes copious) amounts of time that I spend researching a tea vendor, poring through oolong varietal descriptions, scrutinizing the quality of the tealeaves shown in the online sample, or the community boards I’ve found that discuss high quality pu-erh teas at length (yes, they really do exist). Similarily, there is almost a joy handing over my money to the cashier at an art or gallery museum’s bookstore, or clicking “Submit” on any of the online publishing sites that I count myself a happy consumer. Maybe then what I’m describing is a kind of meta-guilt, one removed of the sting and pangs of conscience because it has to do with the largely cerebral conception of a guilt arrived at for not Really feeling guilty about the useless, unproductive pleasure in the first place.

I’ve been thinking about art publications lately, and art presses, publishing houses, the things that get made in them and the kinds of aesthetics and philosophies that get bundled between the pages and pushed along with the publication itself. Over the next few posts, I want to perform a kind of informal analysis of a few different variations and takes on this theme, but to begin let’s take a look at a long-standing favorite mover and maker.

One-picture-book series, the entire collection.

Nazraeli Press, I love you. You consistently produce some of the most varied, ground-breaking, nuanced and wonderful work in the world of contemporary photography, and I am a devoted and grateful consumer of your wares. I’ve been doing business with you since doing business meant rationalizing the purchase of a new release by a favorite photographer as an “educational expense” with student loan money. I’ve since continued giving you my business even when I could get a discounted price through Amazon or Photoeye, because I want to make sure that I’m always doing right by a press that has given me so much. You have long been championing work and artists that do not get much exposure in their own countries, and might not at all if it were not for your patronage. It is actually a pleasure to spend my money on what you have to offer.

This art publishing house first came to my attention because they were the first to publish the works of Masao Yamamoto, and I have been following them following him ever since his first book (A box of Ku) was published in 1998. One thing that I have been struck by in their attitude towards publishing is how they tend to “adopt” an artist, and create a relationship with them that seems a true collaboration of both artistic vision and commercial risk-taking. They have published works by Yamamoto in a traditional linen-bound book format, but have also produced works in full scroll form (the publication Nakazora, that I was lucky enough to jump on at the time, 18′ in full rolled-out length and complete with a lucite display box and a hand-made print by the artist), or as in the case of Omizuao (Pillowbook), a 14′ accordian-style book that is bound by two lacquered pieces of wood on either end.

© masao yamamoto, Nakazora

© Masao Yamamoto, Omizuao

Yamamoto is not the only artist that Nazraeli makes these kinds of arrangements with: Michicko Kon, long a favorite female Japanese photographer of mine, published a piece consisting of 40 duotone (and display-ready) 6.5×6.5″ cards, and Toshiko Okanoue, a relatively unknown and remarkable female Japanese collagist has a collection of works that are an off-set color printed portfolio of 13×16″ sheets. And then there is their classic and understated “One Picture Book Series” (shown above), a truly sweet feat of artist and publisher collaboration. If the traditionally understood artist’s monograph could be compared to the novel form of a literary author, then the One Picture Book series is the photographer’s equivalent of the writer’s short story. As Eleanor Jane Cardwell writes at A Good Idea on Paper:

Each book in this mouthwatering series of 5 by 7″, 16 page books contains an original print and around eight reproductions, there are 500 numbered and signed copies of each title. How amazing would it be to have the complete collection all lined up on your shelf?

I only wish that I had an unlimited budget to purchase so many of the other items that have languished on my “wish list,” many of which have since gone out of print.

Like a fine but modest-sized winery, Nazraeli Press makes small and short run publications of artists that are hard-sought and hand-picked, and they nurture and expand our knowing of these artists’ work off of the gallery wall. The experiential relationship of reader/viewer from the anonymous and sometimes sterile act of seeing work in institutional spaces as opposed to the far more intimate and personal experience of holding something of that artist in one’s hands is So Very Different, and Nazareli Press possess an inherent understanding of this fact. Aside from consistently producing ground-breaking work in the genre of artist’s books, I often stumble across my next artist-obsession in going through their catalog of works.

The most recent publication by Nazraeli Press that has been bowling me over, and to whom I had not been exposed to previously (though notably a few other favorite bloggers were already in-the-know: Tim at muse-ings , Miguel at [EV +/-] and Ferdinand over at, is their publication of Asako Narahashi’s recent work Half Awake and Half Asleep in the Water. The monograph is part of a series of books curated by Martin Parr, and in his introduction he gives away what delights and terrifies him about Narahashi’s work. It’s worth quoting from the publisher’s site in full:

These photographs make me shudder with fear. This is because I am a non-swimmer, and I imagine it is scenes like this that I might witness at the moment before my head finally goes under the water. One final look at the world. We are surrounded by water and land, and much of the history of landscape photography has used these two familiar ideas as a starting point. Yet I have never seen these two components put together in such a compelling way.

One of the shudder-worthy images that Parr might be thinking of when he looks at Narahashi’s work:

© Asako Narahashi. Zeze, 2005.

Her images immediately elicit a feeling of damn, I wish I had thought of that; a mix of professional awe and jealousy that characterizes well-seen and well-felt work. The images are at times vertiginous, an undertow-in-the-making, and others you can just feel the hapless sting of a few droplets of salt water reddening your eyes.

© Asako Narahashi. Kawaguchiko, 2003.

From the perspective of a floating body in the water looking out, we see lake sides and ocean shorelines of a country with a coastline that stretches over 18,000 miles long. Beach-bathers, swan-shaped paddle boats, blossoming cherry trees, a passing airliner and even Mt. Fuji are all within view in the tidal waters Narahashi places us within, buoying our water-filled bodies and blurring our line of sight. The printed monograph offered by Nazraeli includes 59 plates, and the tome itself is a hefty viewing size of 12 x13″. The first printing quickly sold out, and a second printing is available as of August. If you were lucky enough to catch either of her U.S. shows this summer, one at her first U.S. solo-exhibition at the Yossi Milo gallery or in her inclusion in I.C.P.’s summer show of new Japanese photography Heavy Light, you would have experienced large, 35x 53″ sized prints, enough to allow you to slip into a narrative of suspended disbelief, and become engulfed in the half-submerged point-of-view of her work.

The series itself was three years in the making, and Narahashi says that it began with a photograph taken of friends on the beach:

One day in summer, I went to the sea with my friends. While I was swimming, I happened to see my friends, who were having a party on the beach. That was the very beginning. Swimming backstroke like a sea otter, I took photographs of them from the water. After a year, I put the camera into the water more intentionally.

She shot the images beginning in 2000. Outfitting a normal 35 mm Nikon film camera with a waterproof casing, she floated chest deep into waters of her choosing and pointed the camera toward the shoreline, without looking through the viewfinder, often leaving the camera half-submerged in the water. While there is the constant element of chance in such a process, the images that are published and displayed feel honest and true to the experiences of an act that most people, regardless of nationality, have a memory and precise vision of.

The series also places her squarely in the camp of a Japanese tradition that appreciates as an art form the consideration of an omnipresent, mundane subject from varied and multiple views, such as the Edo-era ukiyo-e prints by Hokusai in his 36 Views of Mt. Fuji–the most famous of which, not incidentally to this discussion of Narahashi, is The Great Wave Off Kanagawa:

(part of Hokusai’s 36 Views of Mt. Fugi series created between 1826-1833)

Hokusai’s near-contemporary, Ando Hiroshige, found inspiration and immense critical success in his woodblock series describing the famous Tōkaidō road station series, The 53 Stations of the TÃÑoÃÑkaidoÃÑ (1833-1834) (which he followed up with later in his life with the 69 Stations of the Kiso Kaidō, 1834-1842). For those unfamiliar with the work, the Tōkaidō was one of the five main roads that connected Japan’s city of Edo with the then-capital of Kyoto, and travelers that were headed to or from the court city used this main road and its post stations (at which one could procure food, lodging and meet other travelers) as rest stops along the way. A kind of Canterbury road, or tale, except without the Christianity. These roads were very much known to all Japanese, and made up a kind of collective experience that if not directly shared by everyone, was at least alive in anecdotal tales told by people that had walked them, or in the trinkets and trade that circulated because of them. Hiroshige’s artistic breakthrough with the series was to depict the common and the everyday in this series, to illustrate the stories, the famous views along the station path, and to show these stations and the people that used them in every kind of season, weather and circumstance.

© Ando Hiroshige. Sudden Shower at Shono, #46 in the series of 53 Stations of the Tōkaidō

(n.b. I fell in love with this above image long before I knew anything about Hiroshige or this series. I found a second-strike of this print for sale the summer that I had petitioned for a divorce, moved to a city where I didn’t know anyone, and felt completely overwhelmed by forces and circumstances beyond my control. At the time, this image of travelers fleeing a sudden summer storm was the perfect metaphor for what I felt like I was experiencing. Only later did the context for its creation come, but for my whole life the context for my being drawn to it in the first place will be the one that I remember first.)

©Ando Hiroshige. Night Snow at Kanbara, #16 in the series of 53 Stations of the Tōkaidō

Narahashi’s Half-Awake, Half-Asleep series shares with these examples an emphasis on the subject from a variety of conditions, locations, seasons, views and distances. Like Hokusai and Hiroshige, the photographs also depict a readily identifiable, inherently omnipresent facet of Japanese life: its engulfment on all its narrow geography by water. Curator Michiko Kasahara, who included images from this series in her show “Kiss in the Dark” at the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography, said of the work:

The title of the series […] is very cleverly expressed. Her works, while betraying the stereotyped images of resort areas, somehow make visible as a shared recognition the image of the sea that people embrace. Therein, an uncomfortable feeling like seasickness and a pleasurable feeling of floating and entrusting yourself to the sea lodge side by side.[…] They call forth an ambivalent feeling.

I have only been able to see a few prints in the ICP Heavy/Light exhibit over the summer, but she is currently in a solo show here in Germany at the Gallery Priska Pasquer in Köln, through Nov. 6th. The second printing of Half-Awake just went on sale at Nazraeli Press in the past month, and if I’ve learned anything buying art and artist’s books over the years it’s this: Buy It Now. Before the publisher decides to raise the price, before it goes out of print, before it becomes something that you have a severe case of buyer’s regret for not buying.

perfect images, written photographs and the absolute

this picture has been lost and i will never again feel that same emotion…i suspect that [a] recomposed image will no longer please me in the same way, or with as much force, since it will have had time to make its way to my head, there to crystallize into a perfect image, and the photographic abstraction will happen by itself on the sensitized surface of memory, to be developed and fixed by writing, which i resorted only to free myself of my photographic regret.

—herv√© guibert, ghost image

i may know better a photograph i remember than a photograph i am looking at…ultimately–or at the limit–in order to see a photograph well, it is best to look away or close your eyes. “the necessary condition for an image is sight,” janouch told kafka; and kafka smiled and replied: “we photograph things in order to drive them out of our minds. my stories are a way of shutting my eyes.”

—roland barthes, camera lucida

i often think of the image only i can see now, and of which i’ve never spoken. it’s always there, in the same silence, amazing. it’s the only image of myself i like, the only one in which i recognize myself, delight…

…so i’m fifteen and a half.
it’s on a ferry crossing the mekong river.
the image lasts all the way across.

—marguerite duras, the lover

there are photographers who are manic beings and photograph constantly, using the camera to mediate life and the experiences that cross the path of their lens. there are writers who do the same thing with words; as they are in the midst of an event–either mundane or profound–there is always something in them thinking of the most perfect way to describe the thing they’re experiencing that very moment, which word or phrase is not too heavy or too frivolous, in short, the sentence that goldilocks ate. for these writers and photographers alike, experiences somehow only become valid and real once described, and whether in words or in a cropped field of vision, experience and event are complete when treated and translated through their respective media. and for these types, there are always two experiences being had: the actual event that is happening that very moment, and the description/transcription of that event. to live with this duality is nearly an unconscious thing, it becomes second-nature, a non-event, and indeed is a more difficult thing to unlearn to do than to pick up and begin doing.

(in fact, when photographers and writers are “taught”, they are told to photograph constantly, record everything, write everyday, even if it’s nothing. that to practice this is a way to inscribe it into your life, to make it a natural extension of yourself and your artistic expression. i am reminded of the story “a pilgrim’s progress,” in which an earnest religious acolyte is bade to find a method to “pray without ceasing” and when he has done so, he will have attained enlightenment and peace.)

i happen to practice a very different method of both of these things. and the manic version (of which i have an internalized voice of one that lives within me) scolds me and calls it laziness, but i only think that this is partially true. the other method of experience and description views the manic’s method as anathema. the rapid fire of the shutter being able to capture moments at 1/3200th of a second, or in eight frames a second, becomes a vulgarity to both time, memory and experience itself. when one is already thinking of how something will look or sound or read before one has even looked or tasted or felt is to have a record and not a memory, a version without meaning. i read, listen and look widely. i believe instead that to experience anything, it must be felt and wrung through body and mind utterly before thinking about thinking on it. only when the moment has passed will i allow myself another new moment, the one that shuts me in a room alone and quiet to write about it.

of course, not carrying pen or camera around everywhere does leave you without the tools to sometimes finish seeing the thing you were open to and only you could see, or to remember all the details of something after the moment has passed. every writer or photographer, whatever their persuasion (and an infinite variety exist between the two points i have described above), know and have felt this. the lost moment. the perfect image gone forever, the beginnings of the great story lost to the overcrowded mind. i have been meditating lately on these lost moments, and wondering how they affect both memory and experience. are we nostalgic for these images lost to us, forever shifting details in our memory? are they made more perfect as we recount or remember them precisely for their not becoming document, and thus, concrete thing? are these imperfect moments more precise because of their changeable ambiguity? what is that ache we feel for what we did not encapsulate, this different memory we have, different from the kinds with contour and light and shade, made somehow unchangeable because of their definiteness, their recorded existence?

i have come and come again to herv√© guibert, roland barthes and marguerite duras, who all have much to say about memory, regret, experience and selfhood. i have visited them each differently for different reasons, but as i write here now i imagine a situation where they are all three in the same room together. i don’t imagine they all get along. but they are all sympathetic to one another. all of them go to great effort to articulate a particular lost moment, and what losing that moment does to their memory of it, and of themselves.

hervé guibert, self-portrait:

guibert wrote a tome (which i am forever indebted to james for introducing me to) of amazing essays on photography, ghost image. the book is a series of informal essays, conversational and diaristic, which treats fragments concerning photography, what it is to photograph, what it means to look. it has become one of my favorite meditations on the subject, and guibert’s voice is clear, lyrical and embarrassingly honest. in it, he describes his ultimate “lost” photograph, a moment he missed camera-less while vacationing on the island of elba. the image, that of, “four young boys stood in a row beneath the great foaming mass, a small distance from one another, facing the water, braving the waves that washed over them, allowing themselves to be rolled around by them,” was glimpsed for a few moments, enough to have had captured had he the proper equipment. instead, he looked out on it, noting its ordered perfection, ephemerality and particularity. he seethed in anger because as he watched this perfect image, unable to record it, he knew he would also watch its passing, the moment in which it, “decomposed and crumbled into pieces before suddenly transforming itself into a regret.” he has the passing flirtation with the possibility of coming upon the scene again the next day–the light will be the same, the boys may return to the water, but he soon abandons this for the only course that may do the scene justice: he locks himself in a room and writes about it. but with a difference. the writing for him does not do what was missed in the act of photography, it instead reminds him of the limits of the image and of memory:

if i had photographed it at once, and if the picture had turned out “well” (that is, faithful to the memory of my emotion), it would have become mine. but the act of photographing it would have obliterated all memory of the emotion, for photography envelops things and causes forgetfulness, whereas writing, which it can only hinder, is a melancholy act, and the image would have been “returned” to me as a photograph, as an estranged object that would bear my name and that i could take credit for, but that would always remain foreign to me (like a once familiar object to an amnesiac).

guibert asserts that if he had been able to capture the moment on film, he would have “owned” it, and it would have “become” his. added to the catalog of images, it would have been a pleasing visual arrangement, “the perfect image,” but, he admits, he would have not had the memory of the event had he not conjured it through writing, through trying to relive the image in his mind once deprived the relic of the photograph.

if photography provides the visual “proof” that we were there, and we saw what is depicted, does writing give us back our memory of the event lived, or at least a version that cannot be alluded to in images? if the photograph is evidential, is writing the emotional?

roland barthes and his mother:

roland barthes was not a photographer, nor even a maker-of-things, but he accomplished in his writing what every good philosopher aspires to in their thinking: he began to understand something of the thing itself, and for barthes that thing would be how images and the visual function, and how this intersects and necessarily affects the personal. in camera lucida, he spends a good portion of time parsing out both general assumptions concerning photography as well as his own very individual response to a highly charged and personal photograph which he will describe in great detail but in the end, refuse to show his reader. the photograph is one of his mother, referred to simply as “the winter garden photograph,” and she has just recently died and barthes is in mourning. he is scouring the image reservoir for an image, the image, that will give back some essential quality of this much-loved person to him, that will show him something that will signify as “real” visually for something that is felt “real” emotionally.

but it is a frustrating task. because photography is slippery. because memory second-guesses and doubts the veracity given in images. because what we see does not always correlate to what we remember, and barthes is wary of images becoming memory. he wants to reclaim his memory from the visual repertoire, not have it given him from it. while looking for the image that will inform memory, he writes, “…a photograph is always invisible: it is not it that we see.” what he is searching for, instead, is something which causes a disturbance, something that will prick memory, wound it and him in some way. it is in this essay that he names the idea that became the namesake for this site, where he calls “punctum” that detail in a photograph which renders an image subjective and particular, that which pierces through what we already think we know.

he is in his mother’s apartment looking for a photograph. he does not know the photograph he is looking for, this is not a searching for something he has once seen and needs to recover. he will know what he is looking for once he has found it.

there i was, alone in the apartment where she had died, looking at these pictures of my mother…looking for the truth of the face i had loved. and i found it…
lost in the depths of the winter garden photograph, my mother’s face is vague, faded. in a first impulse, i exclaimed: “there she is! she’s really there! at last, there she is!” now i claim to know–why, in what she consists. i want to outline the face loved by thought, to make it into the unique field of an intense observation, i want to enlarge the is face in order to see it better, to understand it better, to know its truth. i believe that by enlarging the detail, i will finally reach my mother’s very being.

satisfied that he has found it, and perhaps drained by what he has come to understand because of the searching for it, he makes another confession: why what pierces him in this photo must, in order to continue to pierce him, remain private. he will not show us the winter garden photograph; he declines to make spectacle of his memory, or of contributing another “indifferent picture, one of the thousand manifestations of the ordinary…it exists only for me…in it, for you, no wound.”

marguerite duras and her mother:

guibert, barthes and duras were all contemporaries of one another. guibert and barthes were social with one another (and guibert inhabited the same building in paris as another french luminary, michel foucault); barthes and duras sparred about one another in print; duras was arguably the most famous. her most famous novel, the lover, tells the semi-autobiographical story about the writer’s first love affair as as a fifteen-year-old girl, with an older chinese aristocrat, while growing up in french indochina. the book is sparse, selfish and spectacle all at once, and written in a signature second-person past conditional tense for which duras had become known. duras was also a film director, and her visual sense in that media spills over in descriptions in her novels; scenes are succinctly detailed but richly so, and images are described as complete visual realizations.

i found out some time ago that the working title for this novel was originally la photograph absolu. in interviews she has said that the origins of the novel began as a commission, when she was asked to comment on a family photo album. inspired by the images, she began writing the novel. but one image she returned to, as if in refrain. significant because it is the only image that does not exist, the image of herself before she would become the self familiar to her for the rest of her life. it is an image of herself on the mekong ferry, the day she would meet the man who would become her first lover.

i think it was during this journey that the image became detached, removed from all the rest. it might have existed, a photograph might have been taken, just like any other, somewhere else, in other circumstances. but it wasn’t. the subject was too slight. who would have thought of such a thing? the photograph could only have been taken if someone could have known in advance how important it was to be in my life, that event, the crossing of the river. but while it was happening, no one knew of its existence. except god. and that’s why–it couldn’t have been otherwise–the image doesn’t exist. it was omitted. forgotten. it never was detached or removed from all the rest. and it’s to this, this failure to have been created, that the image owes its virtue: the virtue of representing, of being the creator of, an absolute.

i remain struck by her insistence that this image is important because it never became “detached,” which i take to mean singled out and remembered as a photograph, a representation of an event instead of something which alludes to a specific memory. psychic event versus actual one. that the image of the image becomes more important than the fact of the image itself.

the above passage shows that duras is in agreement with barthes that photographs act as a block against memory, an aide in forgetting. perhaps if a photograph of this moment, of duras crossing the mekong existed, the fact in the photograph would speak against her memory of the event, and banalizing it, would diminish what without its existence, becomes seminal in the life of her personhood and as a writer: the moment she sees herself seeing herself–something which could not happen if she were actually able to do so in the act of viewing herself in a photograph. barthes had written:

not only is the photograph never, in essence, a memory, but it actually blocks memory, quickly becomes counter-memory…the photograph is violent: not because it shows violent things, but because on each occasion it fills the sight by force, and because in it nothing can be refused or transformed.

my thoughts on these three conceptions of absolute, or perfect images, are anything but precise. i think that more than the example of three articulate and well-spoken writers all reflecting upon their subjective, personal moments-as-image, i am concerned with the recurrent theme of memory-trumping-image, of the notion of taking back memory from images themselves. is photography the regret we have against experience? is it like the uncertainty principle, and an event photographed is an event interrupted, tainted, somehow, by its observation instead of its pure participation? does the act of “taking” the moment in a photograph “take” something from the moment, and the you having the moment, as well? is it nostalgia or regret that keeps us purveyors of images? are the two the same? i’ve been steeping in these thoughts for a couple of months now, re-reading texts that i’ve read under different circumstances, different versions of myself. i only arrive at more questions. there is no practical application to knowing the whether or why to any of what i’ve posed here. i suppose i am striving instead for an awareness: in what barthes has referred to as the “three intentions” of photography: to do, to undergo and to look.”

stray thoughts, more words

the quote i read that sucker punched me this week:

I pursue no objectives, no system, no tendency; I have no program, no style, no direction. I have no time for specialized concerns, working themes or variations that lead to mastery. I steer clear of definitions. I don’t know what I want. I am inconsistent, noncommittal, passive; I like the indefinite, the boundless; I like continual uncertainty.
–Gerard Richter


if artists were weather patterns, what would richter be? a plodding, thick, continual rain? tenacious and thick with mist?

and i learned this week that the japanese use large department stores as exhibiton spaces for photographic projects. it seems i knew that about miwa yanagi’s work, but had not applied it mentally across the board. this mode of aesthetic representation at once seems horrid and fascinating. more the latter than the former. and the department stores often have hired curators as well, to manage collections. i guess alot like corporate collections being managed here, except that in a department store all sorts of everyones will see the work. i like that better. the idea that one can be shopping for bras one moment, and then be displaced by art in the next, while never leaving the same space. shouldn’t that be a tenet of art anyway, displacement?

many stray thoughts this week. finished reading ghost’s image, and am seized with the desire to hear that voice once more. he has another book i’ve been told i’d like: to the friend who did not save my life, and i will order it in the coming weeks.


i’m chastising myself because i went on a book-buying binge and am waiting for the avalanche to arrive. of everything i ordered, however, i am most excited about the copy of masahisa fukase’s the solitude of ravens that i found for a decent price. i cannot wait to see the whole project as he laid it out in book form, and i hope there is some writing by fukase in it as well. been a bit obsessed with the idea of photographers that integrated superstition or folk lore into their own representational personal psychology. emboldened by that find, i also looked into trying to find a copy of hosoe’s kamaitachi, which was a body of work produced in the 1960’s involving a country myth of a weasel-like demon that enters a village, charms the villagers, seduces ladies, and then lies in wait to steal children away with it in the end. an eastern pied piper? hosoe wanted to revisit the myth because the dancer he used to portray the demon was from the same place he had been evacuated to as a child fleeing the cities during wwii, seeking sanctuary in the countryside. the exotic expanse of the countryside fueled hosoe’s imagination as a child, and he remembered being haunted by this story while living as a refugee in a place that was so foreign to any context in which he had been raised. in any case, i entered bizarre territory when researching this book, finding only two copies both of which went for around $5000.00. my god, i thought, i’m entering the realm of the ninth gate! never before had i entered a book title in a search engine and generated a sales price into the thousands. sigh.

i would still love to see the complete folio one day, though. one i dug up just now that i’d never before seen:


striking me: when you encounter work that, to borrow van gogh’s language, “hits the yellow high note,” it is at once made known to you that what you are responding to is an articulation of your aesthetic that you had yet to realize, something within that you are confronted with, and that once confronted you know that your task is to find a way to wrench it from your being and put it out in front of you. like that which you are looking at, but to have it come from you.

i believe that if my aesthetic were a character, its character notes would be that which was ambiguous, and a little bit darkly so.