My title, The Pencil of Nature, for this group of iPhone shots, pays playful tribute to the book of the same name by William Henry Fox Talbot, published in London between 1844 and 1846. These images started out as studies for another project shot using a DSLR, but as they accumulated, they took on a life of their own. The theme, which is revealed subtly in the image titles, is very much in line with my work on memory and loss, but the technology that frames the work has even more of a presence than usual. This is unavoidable, since Instagrams and their ilk remain rarely charted terrain in the world of fine art and so my use of them must enter my discussion of the work.
In the passage below from his original text, enamored of crediting nature and not the painter’s hand, Talbot muses about future photographic technologies. He seems to almost predict their many forthcoming incarnations, which we now know range from Calotypes to Instagrams, with countless points in between.
“They are impressed by Nature’s hand; and what they want as yet of delicacy and finish of execution arises chiefly from our want of sufficient knowledge of her laws. When we have learnt more, by experience, respecting the formation of such pictures, they will doubtless be brought much nearer to perfection; and though we may not be able to conjecture with any certainty what rank they may hereafter attain to as pictorial productions, they will surely find their own sphere of utility, both for completeness of detail and correctness of perspective.”
When aliens try to learn about Earthlings by looking at facebook, they will think we are all ecstatically happy and that we compulsively “like” just about everything we encounter. Even our status updates about life, love, politics and the world around us are delivered at a pace resembling a frenzied heartbeat. Multitudes of saccharin comments accumulate like deep breathing methods, but they can’t tame the palpitations that fuel our compulsion to remain engaged in this kind of super-charged, yet ultimately empty communication.
At the end of the day, I am the first to admit that I enjoy facebook. I appreciate all that it has to offer, especially when it comes to staying in touch with friends and associates in the arts and of course family. For the most part, I use it solely as a networking tool and it’s negative aspects are easily kept at bay. You can specify a certain audience for each bit of content you put out there, so you don’t have to worry about offending your boss or your grandmother. Since my expectations about the level of meaningful interaction within social media in general are low, I’m rarely overly disappointed with my experience using it.
With all of that said, I also think it’s important to look at the big picture where these kinds of phenomena in our lives are concerned. There are endless contributing factors to how we got here. Facebook itself has contributed greatly to the recent rise in popularity of internet memes who’s culture jamming effects are reminiscent of the impact the Situationist International’s slogans had on daily life, mostly in Europe in the 1950s and 60s. As part of a specific agenda associated with opposing capitalism, the SI’s slogans were a big part of the 1968 uprisings in Paris. The slogans became a part of daily life in the form of graffiti when quotations from two situationist books, The Society of the Spectacle (1967) by Guy Debord and On the Poverty of Student Life (1966) by Mustapha Khayati, were written on the sides of buildings and subway walls of Paris.
Many of the SI slogans could easily be internet memes of today:
Actual Graffiti Found on Paris’ Walls in May, 1968
Don’t beg for the right to live — take it.
Those who make revolutions half way only dig their own graves.
No replastering, the structure is rotten.
The passion of destruction is a creative joy.
Conservatism is a synonym for rottenness and ugliness.
Those who lack imagination cannot imagine what is lacking.
Unbutton your mind as often as your fly.
Professors, you make us grow old.
Terminate the university
The bourgeoisie has no other pleasure than to degrade all pleasures.
Below is a gallery of images I pulled randomly from Google Images with the search query “Situationist Slogans” typed in.
I was very disappointed when Instagram went down (Crashed) during my trip to Omaha. It happened right after the fireworks display at my aunt’s 90th birthday party. Omaha is such a great city and I was really looking forward to trying to capture, as closely as possible, something resembling the romanticized images of my home town that appear sometimes in my dreams. I often joke to my friends in Buffalo that Omaha is a perfect, wonderful, far off land that they should visit as soon as possible. Here are 4 more shots I was able to take prior to and immediately following the crash, before heading back to Buffalo. Venues pictured include, Film Streams, Homer’s Records, Fireworks at Ponca Hills Farm, Caffeine Dreams.
Dreams pass into the reality of action. From the actions stems the dream again; and this interdependence produces the highest form of living.
– Anais Nin