This was going to be about Penrose triangles and the mathematics behind the unreal creations of the Dutch graphic artist M. C. Escher. I was going to open remarking on that last week was about my relationship with my mother and how it pertained to my experience with Pixar’s “Inside Out,” and then that would become the perfect segue into my dad taking me to the Smithsonian when I was in fourth or fifth grade to see an incredible Escher exhibit. I was going to contrast my parents as context for this post: my pragmatic mother blubbering at a kids’ movie, and my kooky father as my artistic guru and guide.
But I was undermined by my own mental segue… call it… undermind?
[UNDERMIND, verb, when mental processes seek to undercut or weaken your intended train of thought. BOOM, friends. Just coined that word. Live it. Love it. USE IT.]
My underminding went straight to my feelings on analog versus digital photography because it was my father who taught me on his decades old 35mm Nikon. Now, I’m gonna cheat a bit here and copy and paste a quick rant from my website, (which I will also now shamelessly plug HERE) but I still intend to go deeper, so fear not loyal readers!
I primarily like to offer my services as a portrait photographer. In this rather impersonal digital age of cold, pixilated prints and immaculate, yet intangible images adrift in cyberspace, I believe there is still a niche market for darkroom-printed photos. I’ve come to view digital photography in something of a philosophical light: as a symptom of our culture’s rabid desire for instant gratification. That isn’t to say that I completely abstain from anything but film photography; I’m capable with a DSLR and willing to use one should the situation call for it. I simply believe that my twin-lens reflex medium-format Mamiya C33 will ultimately yield richer, more meaningful photographs.
The photographs I take with my Canon 60D and alter on my laptop never feel “real” – they are messages in a bottle, something that can be communicated and read through the glass, but never interacted with on a palpable level. I send these pictures bobbing off on the waves of the internet; you’ve even glimpsed them on this blog, but they will never be, they will never exist in the purest, verbest sense. [Shall we see how many words I can make up before I end this? Keep tally, dear readers!]
And here I undermind myself again, getting diverted in such a way that, while I may fail to reach my originally intended terminus, my digression determined destination is ultimately more rewarding. The conductor operating my train of thought is often sidetracked, and easily railroaded by creative whimsy, as evidenced by this post about photography being derailed for wordplay — a crazy crime with a locomotive. These train jokes have truly gone off the rails. Alas, dear readers, you are the hapless victims aboard a punaway train, and I, the casualty of my own reckless punderminding.
It was never about Penrose triangles or Escher or my father or digital versus analog photography. No, friends, this is just the old versus the new. This is me writing this post on my MacBook Air in a Starbucks, (unoriginal, I know, I am deeply ashamed, truly I am) while I have a Molkeskine in my purse because I still journal in those… despite having a personal online blog. This is about a bigger question treading on our doorstep, and one so much larger than, “Oh, Pop Pop, you, too, can learn to use Facebook!”
What is being supplanted and what is being lost?
As pixels and definitions grow higher, grainy black and whites go the way of the iPhone4; negatives are a negative. We’re so keen to improve, we don’t think about what we’re discarding, or the merits of what we were eager to toss in the bin. And we’ll probably look back and wish maybe we’d kept some grain, or see those negatives in a positive light. We’ll gain regrotrospective. Yeah! Retrospective Regret, my friends.
[Just Googled it and somebody already beat me to coining “regrotrospective.” Disappointing.]
Honestly, friends. As handy as it, and as much as I love whatever incarnation of iPhone I possess at the present moment, my Mamiya C33 is so much more a part of me. That Machine is an extension of my soul. I’d go to the Sarah Lawrence darkroom at 4 in the morning and work until 10, just me in the red glow of the safe light. There’s something primal about that still, liquid, crimson, world. Almost a return to the womb. And in a way, you do create life. Or at least recreate it. You watch disparate pieces come together to for something greater that wasn’t there before. You watch something fade into being, something that came from nothing — Athena springing from Zeus. How does anyone compare a creative genesis like that to clicking a box of computer chips and then staring at a blue screen for a few hours, manipulating pixels?
I’m not saying digital photography is not art. Only that I can’t feel it when I create it. I’m saying that my digital photography is not art. It’s just pretty pictures. Because what has always defined art for me is not simply the finished product, but how it came to be. “The journey is more important than the destination” has become sickeningly saccharine and trite, but it applies in my case at least. I can only feel like an artist with a film camera in my hands, everything else is just science. But that does not have to be your experience, dear reader!
And with a final picture, I’m going to bring everything back to where this post started: Penrose triangles, a geometric object Roger Penrose described as “impossibility in its purist form.” I promise that next week I will discuss Penrose triangles, and the art of M. C. Escher.