Monday, June 29, 2009

Narrative Photography: Central Illinois to Chicago and Back



Ever since I wrote an art review on David del Pilar Potes's photography, I've been very curious about the narrative aspects of photography. Potes's work inspired in me a vivid interest in the possibilities of storytelling through the digital medium. It was only by coincidence that I happened to purchase my first digital camera a day before I wrote the review.

What initially drew me to David's work, besides the remarkable photography, were the arrangements. In my interview with Potes, I asked him about his methodology and reasons for presenting photos in a linear format. He writes:

"The photos shown together help the dynamic in each group. Each photo I think helps the other photo. I've tried to maintain a rhythm in each gallery, a visual rhythm, trying to convey visual poetry almost."

"Each photo helps the other." This is what I'm interested in. I'm interested in the linear relationships between photos, how the progression of photos builds an emotional complexity, or simply carries an idea through.

I don't think I've achieved this yet with my latest set. But I'm experimenting and slowly learning the subtle art of narrative in photography.

These photos were taken over a period of a week or two, between my time spent in Normal, IL where I live, and Chicago, where I spent a short weekend for Father's Day. The two people in the restaurant are my father and sister. The man with the cat on the leash is my neighbor.
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Thursday, June 25, 2009

Opening Pandora's Box: Assisted Suicide


Last night, very very late (I think it was around 4 o'clock in the morning), I was just about to go to bed when I cracked open Pandora's box on Twitter.

I tweeted:

blogofinnocence What is the current state of public opinion on assisted suicide for medical reasons?

And then I tweeted:
blogofinnocenceB/c I feel as though if I become sick and have cancer I should have the right to die.

Unprepared for the deluge of comments on this topic, I shut my computer and went out to the garage to have a cigarette (yes, I'm still smoking). Why was I awake so late? I got back from the bars around 2 am and found myself in a pensive mood. So I began writing. What I wrote down is of no importance, but the realization I had afterward is. I realized that I want the freedom to choose assisted suicide for medical reasons if I ever become terribly sick. This was an entirely personal realization; meaning, the thought was not inspired by anything but my own desire to have this right for myself.

I hadn't heard much of anything about assisted suicide in the news lately, and I began to seriously wonder what the current state of public opinion on the issue was. I wanted to know, "What do people believe?" Because in that moment, I knew deeply what I believed and how I felt.

I'm still exploring the possibilities of Twitter. The ability to tap into a vast and variegated live audience from different locations around the world, and at any hour of the day or night, is a phenomenon that draws my curiosity.

So what did people have to say on this topic? Well, I received a flurry of mixed opinions, but the majority of them leaned toward the individual's freedom to assisted suicide for medical reasons.

I was only interested in one question: "What do you think about assisted suicide for medical reasons?" In my rudimentary approach to sampling public opinion, I seemed to overlook the millions of other questions that went along with my original one; the what-ifs . . .

What if the person is not terminally ill?

What if the person has Alzheimer's and can't decide for themselves?

What if the person is "pressured" into assisted suicide?

While I understood that an abundance of hypothetical situations are enmeshed in the topic itself, I was still looking for some straight answers. These were some of the responses I got:

@salwaansart I agree with assisted suicide for medical reasons.

@dijeratic Depends where you are - some states do allow for it, all states should, in my opinion.

@JamesHancox Still mixed I think. Personally, I support a persons right to choose. Needs to be VERY carefully monitored though.

@buffysquirrel i don't think any of us needs a right to die; dying is going to happen whether we like it or not

@PaulMathers I am inclined to agree although I like to think I would not take that path personally. But as a right I'm inclined to agree

@DavidMunn Yeah, I'm in favor of euthanasia as long as the individual is making the decision without pressure.

@JackAwful You're knocking on an open door here. I was a nurse for 10 years. Kevorkian was a brave man and only the suffering know.

@crazygibbonsorry 140 characters. If someone is in a fit mental to decide state that's fine. Becomes difficult if they aren't.

@desireekoh13 Your responsibility to make decision when in right state of mind, so no one has to be responsible for making it for you.

@NightShiftNurse assisted suicide should be legal. I have seen too many patients suffer.

@StirringTrouble How you can call yourself innocent and promote assisted murder? I'm sorry, but you're off my list.

That last one really caught me off guard. I replied, "I promote the freedom; not murder."

Just as a side note, I call my blog The Blog of Innocence because I cultivate a wonder, an innocence, about the world in my writings. Because, to me, each new experience is a new reality. I feel as though I will always be innocent to life. This naivete is actually something I practice as I attempt to learn more about myself and more about others.

The interesting thing about assisted suicide for medical reasons is how diverse laws are from country to country, and within countries as well. I would like the law in Illinois to reflect my right to die for medical reasons.

I have Hepatitis C, which means there is a 50% chance I will develop liver cancer. In addition, I smoke and smoking is proven to cause lung cancer. Compound these possibilities with my already abused system from years of drug abuse.

And so, these are my concerns. What if I get sick? What if I develop cancer? Can I choose to die?

What baffles me is that people feel they can tell me I don't have that right. But this should be my decision.

My mother died of a degenerative disease. I watched her slowly lose all of her motor abilities, all of her facial expression, her balance, her ability to walk, her ability to speak.

Around forty-five years old, my mother was diagnosed with multi-system atrophy, a variant of Parkinson's. She went strong until everything was taken away from her. Her last three years on earth, she couldn't talk, couldn't walk, couldn't use the restroom by herself.

She never told me she wanted to die. But then again, she couldn't speak. How would I know? It became increasingly difficult to know her thoughts about her situation.

She was completely lucid until her death. Only in the last month, when she was unable to even eat enough food to stay alive, did she show signs of confusion.

The doctors never called my mother's illness "terminal". They called it "degenerative".

I watched my mother suffer. I saw what she had to go through for five agonizing years. And I wonder if such a thing were ever to happen to me, would I want to continue to live?

For more essays by the author, visit Escape into Life.

PHOTO ART BY MARIANNE ENGEL
(via BOOOOOOM!)
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Sunday, June 21, 2009

Re-thinking Iran and Twitter


After writing "Is Social Technology Making Us Smarter?", I felt a twinge of regret for not having capitalized on my argument.

While we all agree that social technology is becoming a greater part of global society, it is easy to get carried away. I've noticed that rational arguments about social technology can quickly become quixotic pseudo-spiritual prognostications.

There have been a half-dozen articles since the huge media flurry over Twitter and the Iran elections that attempt to curb our enthusiasm about the prospect that social media is going to change the world. Here are just a couple from Wired, Slate, and Forbes:

"Iran: Before You Have That Twitter-Gasm . . ." (Wired Magazine)


Let's not get carried away about Twitter power's role in Iran's demonstrations. (Slate Magazine)

Information Is Overrated: Twitter's not gonna change our world. (Forbes Magazine)

Toward the end of my last post, I believe I grew a bit vague, relying on Peter Daou's mystical vision of the "collective turning-outward of human thought". It sounded good at the time . . .

Now I'm going to admit to you that I'm not entirely convinced that social technology is making us smarter. This weekend I got a chance to visit my father in Chicago and one of the things we talked about was Iran and Twitter.

My father knows nothing about Twitter. He's only learned of Twitter's existence from newspapers like The New York Times. He was born in Iraq and lived there until his twenties. So while he doesn't know much about Twitter, he happens to know a lot about dictators. He lived under the regime of Saddam Hussein.

I'm less inclined to believe that social technology is making us smarter after having talked with my Dad. But I still believe we are becoming smarter through the use of blogging, Twitter, and the vast number of social networking sites. The reason for this is so simple I overlooked it in my first examination.

Social technology, at its core, enables, encourages, and expands collective intelligence. And so, it may seem like splitting hairs, but the real argument is that collective intelligence trumps individual intelligence. Social technology does not make us smarter; we are already smarter in large groups. Because social technology creates the network for collective intelligence, we tend to think it is causing the intelligence but the intelligence was there all along, we just never tapped into it.


Let's put this into a global perspective.

"What allows a dictatorship to function is its ability to isolate the people. To keep the people from communicating. That's how every dictatorship works."

My father continues, "In our country, we had a right-wing hold on the government for eight years. How did Barack Obama get elected? Not because of Bush's failures. It was because Obama's campaign took advantage of the Internet. Obama learned that he could accomplish incredible things using these new technologies."

"Whatever the outcome of the Iranian elections, it's not as important as the fact that the protest occurred and a threshold has been broken. Authoritarian regimes will have a harder time suppressing their populations. The momentum of electronic communications and media is growing every week, every day, creating a massive counter-movement to the traditional practices of dictatorships such as China and North Korea."

In my first article, "Is Social Technology Making us Smarter?", I mentioned an "inscrutable" aspect of social technology. I was unable to pin down what made Twitter a phenomenon on a large scale. I used the word "inscrutable" because I didn't have an answer at the time.

Now I know that the mystery behind Twitter is collective intelligence itself. As I said before, social technology does not make us smarter; we are already smarter in large groups.

From the "Afterword" in The Wisdom of Crowds, James Surowiecki writes:
The growing interest in collective wisdom is the product of a host of different factors, but I think in many ways it's directly connected to the increased importance of the Internet. In part, that's because I think the ethos of the Net is fundamentally respectful of and invested in the idea of collective wisdom, and in some sense hostile to the idea that power and authority should belong to a select few. Many of the Net's most distinctive landmarks--Google, Slashdot, Wikipedia--are the products of the wisdom of crowds, and more generally, the Net, almost by its very structure, seems antihierarchical. It provides a vivid demonstration every day that systems can work smoothly and intelligently without having any one person in charge.
Surowiecki believes that the conditions necessary for a crowd to be wise are: diversity, independence, and a particular kind of decentralization. Social technology seems to embrace all of these conditions, which is why I may have initially seen it as the cause of augmented intelligence. But this is looking at the world through a grain of sand.

We are intelligent, we are collectively wiser, and our latest technologies only reveal this truth more.


For more essays by the author, visit Escape into Life . . .

ARTWORK BY KOLAHSTUDIO IRANIAN UNDERGROUND ART

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Thursday, June 18, 2009

Is Social Technology Making Us Smarter?

L'Oro dell' Azzurro by Joan Miro (via Spaceweaver)

Two interesting articles, one from The Atlantic called "Get Smarter", and another by Peter Daou called "The Philosophical Significance of Twitter: Consciousness Outfolding" reflect in their arguments the growing speculation that social technology is making us smarter.

Both articles come as a sort of rebuttal to the claim held by Nicolas Carr in "Is Google Making Us Stupid?" also originally published in The Atlantic, that our scattered attention in the Internet era means that we are less capable of deep contemplation.

I've written about the fact that my continuous engagement with technology has noticeably decreased my attention span for doing certain things, such as reading literature ("Is the Internet Killing Culture?").

Carr's argument in "Is Google Making Us Stupid?" draws on a similar experience. He writes, "Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages. I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do"(1). He sees the Internet as the culprit because "It injects the medium’s content with hyperlinks, blinking ads, and other digital gewgaws, and it surrounds the content with the content of all the other media it has absorbed."

Cyber-theorist Linda Stone describes the effect of technology on humans as one of "continuous partial attention"(2). Most online users, either at work or at home, can relate to being bombarded by a flurry of instant messages, emails, tweets, Facebook messages, etc. Checking your social media profiles is perhaps the most effective time-waster ever invented.

It seems as long as we are on our laptops, desktop computers, or cell phones, we are part of an information flow that never really ends. The ability to enter and exit this digital flow can be difficult, especially if you are prone to procrastination.

I believe we are coming to a greater understanding of the impact of intellectual technologies on humans. Carr's article, "Is Google Making Us Stupid?" only points to the drawbacks of a culture enmeshed in digital systems. What it does not do is assess the ways in which our collective and individual intelligences are growing.

We first need to concede to the fact that technological distractions are a major consequence of living during this time. If you have email, if you use the Internet, or a smart phone, you cannot escape digital distractions. Google itself is a sort of Siren that draws us to her search bar to make queries and get lost in a sea of ever-changing information. Every new social technology, from the latest Twitter app to Facebook's obsession with development, promises a cooler tool and a greater distraction.

Now that we all agree social technology limits our attention spans, let us examine the ways in which we are becoming sharper as thinkers and communicators, and more effective as individuals and societies.

Many bloggers, including myself, draw on print publications to form opinions and advance arguments. This is not to say that print publications are better, but simply that most of the time paid journalists from respectable sources have done their homework. The bridge between the blogosphere and print culture is narrowing, however; many writers for newspapers and magazines have blogs, and a new crust of elite Internet publications such as Huffington Post and TechCrunch are gaining ascendancy. The growth of citizen journalism essentially means that more people are writing about what they are reading. While it is true that I am reading less literature, I'm also reading more things that impact me in the news and arts. In short, I am engaging in a dialogue with other writers and culture as a whole.

The shift from a readerly culture which privileges paid, professional journalists to a writerly culture in which anyone can post their opinion and discuss a topic has been underway for some time now. What we are seeing, to interesting effect, is how traditional media relies on the same technology to disseminate information as citizen journalism does. Hyperlinks, Page Rank, and social media are not only leveraged by Internet publications but any publication that wants to be seen, heard, and talked about.

I believe an active, writerly culture is far more intelligent then a passive, readerly one. While both writers and readers seek patterns in information, writers do something with those patterns and that information. For example, to write this post I had to read four different articles, some of them with conflicting claims; I had to synthesize them, evaluate each of their claims, and assert my own. This is a much more complex process then reading a book. Even a great book, even literature. This is what people do in college and grad school, except I'm doing it on a regular basis for fun.

Now not every person on the Internet is a blogger. And not every blogger produces the same volume of content. The point is that everyone using the Internet is participating to some degree, forming what publisher Tim O'Reilly calls the "architecture of participation."

Built into the active component of using the Internet is also the social component. Since Daniel Goleman's groundbreaking book,"Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships", we have come to believe that there is more than one form of intelligence. Our abilities to connect with one another characterize social intelligence. What does this mean in the Internet era?

Jamais Cascio writes:
Intelligence has a strong social component; for example, we already provide crude cooperative information-filtering for each other. In time, our interactions through the use of such intimate technologies could dovetail with our use of collaborative knowledge systems (such as Wikipedia), to help us not just to build better data sets, but to filter them with greater precision. As our capacity to provide that filter gets faster and richer, it increasingly becomes something akin to collaborative intuition—in which everyone is effectively augmenting everyone else(3).
Cascio seems to suggest advanced forms of information architecture. These advanced forms are social and participatory, targeted to our needs as individuals, and productive of a kind of collective intelligence.

Communication technology has progressed from oral culture, to manuscript culture, to print culture, and now information culture(4). Digital culture infused with social technology merges the characteristics of three of these four cultures. We can use Twitter as an example. Twitter reveals certain aspects of an oral culture (telling your friends what you are doing), certain aspects of print culture (public announcements, quotations), certain aspects of information culture (hyperlinks), and lastly a more inscrutable aspect that has yet to be defined.

The role that Twitter played in Iranians protesting the presidential election points to the development of this inscrutable aspect of the technology. That is the dynamic that gets created between users and whole populations. The dynamic shapes communication, insight, and action. It is inventive, always changing, and most definitely intelligent.

Peter Daou writes:
In the larger picture, the most intriguing thing about Twitter is not how it is different from other online communication mechanisms, but how it is the same: one more technological innovation enabling the outfolding of consciousness -- the collective turning-outward of human thought(5).
The "collective turning-outward of human thought" is a vision that ultimately means we are growing more in tune with one another. When we are intuitive at a collective level, the potential for local, national, and global re-organization and improvement is possible and real.


The sequel to this post is, "Re-Thinking Iran and Twitter".

For more intellectual essays by the author, visit
Escape into Life.
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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Normal, IL: Documentary Photos Part Two



The first set of photos that I took of downtown Normal only covered half of the main street. This is the other half. Photos of the downtown area would be incomplete without pictures of Babbitt's Books, the local secondhand bookshop.

You'll also notice some construction going on. The downtown area is being completely renovated right now. Parking is horrible and the construction has affected some of the local businesses. All the store owners I talked to are looking forward to the new sidewalks that were poured today.

I woke up at four in the afternoon (because I was up all night). After checking my email, I went into Normal to take the last set of pictures. Most of the stores were closing.

In my last post, I talked about my interest in documentary photography . . . Well, I had an insight tonight about these pictures I've taken in the last two days. At first, I thought there was such a thing called "documentary photography," but now I'm starting to have my doubts.

Although these are pictures of my town, I think they reflect me more than anything. Does documentary photography really just document ourselves?

The first slideshow has a youthful, rebellious feel. I focus on headshops, skateshops, and used CD stores. The second slideshow depicts the town as nearly deserted because of the construction.

I come to the scene late, to take pictures. The workers have all gone home, except one. The giant orange equipment sits idle in the trenches.

Also, notice all the pictures of books, it's because I love reading, I love looking at books, I love holding them. And I've been in Babbitt's Books many many times. I used to go there every day.

No matter how objective we try to be, we reveal ourselves. We cannot help it. The self cannot be disguised. We represent ourselves in everything we do.
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Monday, June 15, 2009

Normal, IL: Documentary Photos



I recently bought my first digital camera. Inspired by the work of David del Pilar Potes, I decided to try my hand at some documentary photography. In particular, I'm interested in how photographs are arranged and the meaning that arises between pictures based on their linear relationship to other pictures. My background in fiction may explain this narrative approach to photography.

A single photograph will of course catch my eye; but for some reason, a gallery of photos produces a greater emotional effect. I want to know what I can do with a gallery. I can tell a story with the arrangement. . . the story can be literal, closer to an objective documentary style, or the arrangement can be more lyrical and associative, more subjective.

I also see myself as a "journalist". Not an old-school journalist, but a new media journalist. I don't work for a newspaper and I never have but my writing is hugely influenced by reading The New York Times. Combining my joy of essay writing and this new appreciation for documentary photography, I can see many possibilities for experimentation.
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Sunday, June 14, 2009

Interview with the Photographer


In my last post I wrote about my subjective experience of looking at David del Pilar Potes's photography. This interview is meant to accompany that post and give some insight into the workings of a professional and artistic photographer.

My first question is about your arrangements. How do you choose an arrangement of photos? Is there a narrative to each gallery? Do you have a narrative in mind for "Jammin with Ash"?

Each gallery on my site has photos shot from either different times and/or places. Each gallery does have a theme; it depends how each group of images I've selected moves me.

The photos shown together help the dynamic in each group. Each photo I think helps the other photo. I've tried to maintain a rhythm in each gallery, a visual rhythm, trying to convey
visual poetry almost.

I love how you mix seascapes with urban settings with portrait. Different subject matter but it all fuses together so well. Can you expand on this dynamic and the unity your arrangements create?

All the different images create a dynamic that somehow makes each subject cohesive. It is intended, but it's not like I go out and try to find trees or oceans and food and friends. I happen to have my camera with me and document my life around me. I'm trying to provoke emotion through the selections and if you have responded to them I am stoked that you can feel
it...

These photos seem to me works of art. Almost every one of them, I would say is "art". Are these pictures you take off the cuff? Or do you patiently wait for the right moment?

As a photographer timing is essential to the shot. Most of my photography is off the cuff, but sometimes I do wait for the moment, especially shooting people. I appreciate you considering my work art! I approach my photography as my art.

What is your "method"? Do you take hundreds of photos and one or two come out to look so beautiful?

You know, I am shooting constantly. Each finished roll I throw in a bag until it reaches to around 20-30 rolls then I send out to process them. So the 20-30 rolls, each with around 36 images each, is sometimes shot in a period of 3-6 months.

My method is the editing process. With each roll there are so many images. Some rolls I have maybe one photo I like, some 2-3, and so forth, editing down the batches of rolls and creating a "gallery" for them. If I could I would publish each "gallery" as a book; that is sorta how I intended them to be.

Can you talk about process? I know nothing about photography. Do you work in a dark room?

I shoot all b&w film in which I process the rolls. From there I would print in a dark room and/or scan the negatives.

Do you also take pictures in color but choose not to display color photos on your site? Why do you like black and white?

I do shoot color but I haven't delved too deeply in it just yet. I plan to, I'm just not ready for it, art-wise. I actually have a big bag of color rolls I haven't processed. I have around 100 rolls or so that I've shot the past 3-4 years or so. That's gonna be fun when I tackle that... with b&w I do love the emotion it provokes, the grain you can feel, the simpleness of it, the contrasts...

In your bio you describe yourself by saying, "However, with his background in self-publishing, he strives to move within multiple genres of the medium. " Can you explain a little more what you are doing in terms of "moving within multiple genres of the medium"?

The past couple years I've integrated my career into my photography. For work I shoot commercial photography. I have different portfolios that I'm still figuring out how to integrate on my site. I have a difficult time separating the two, right now its oil & water, trying to combine them both.

It shouldn't be so hard, but initially I want to present myself as an artist. So the past years I've been trying to integrate my work as an artist by collaborating with other artists, creating different zines, apparel, trying to get my fingers in different projects. And as a commercial photographer, I'm trying to get different gigs shooting product and fashion. The whole art & commerce has a balance I'm trying to find.

Last but not least, why photography? Why did you choose to express yourself and create art primarily through this medium? And if you practice other creative arts, tell me what they are?

You know I never aspired to become a "photographer". I've been shooting for the past 15-16 years now and finally committed as a "photographer" about 2 years ago. I've always wanted to be a writer, but I stopped writing in my early 20s because I felt I needed to live a life to even write about one. I'm a poet at heart and my images I create allow me to have some release creatively.


More of David del Pilar Potes's photography can be found at his website.

Follow David on Twitter.

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Monday, June 8, 2009

The Photography of David del Pilar Potes


Ultimately, photography is subversive, not when it frightens, repels, or even stigmatizes, but when it is pensive, when it thinks.

Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida 1980

I'm interested in photography. Some believe that photography is fundamentally different from other forms of representation. Roland Barthes happened to believe this and he made it the focal point of his short book, Camera Lucida, Reflections on Photography.

My mother owned this book by Barthes. I borrowed it from her many years ago. Her notes are still in the margins, scrawled every which way. To write this review, I retrieved the book from my library, attempting to gain some knowledge . . .

In all honesty, I don't know if photography belongs in a special category or no category at all. But the effect of certain images on me is beyond a doubt mystifying. And this was the case when I looked at the photography of David del Pilar Potes.

I'm going to try to recount my subjective experience.
While surfing the Internet one night, I found this image:


A man sits beside a Banyan tree, reading. The primordial world hangs over him in luxurious, gargantuan branches.


At first I couldn't situate the image in my mind. That is, I didn't know exactly what I was looking at. The grotesque musculature of the tree trunk seemed to conceal the tree itself. And then I noticed a little man sitting beside the tree on a bench and a garbage can about ten feet away. As I scrolled the bottom bar, I witnessed a seamless collection of photographs nothing like this one, but all of them strangely connected.

For the rest of the night I tried to understand what it was about David's photographs that stirred in me such a visceral, intense preoccupation. Looking at them, my heart raced, and soon I needed to contact the artist and tell him that his photographs were producing this response in me. I would have to write a review of them; there was no choice. For the review, I would need to sample his images; how else could I convey to my readers the mystery behind these photographs?

The next day I returned to the pictures and studied them more closely. I wouldn't hear from David for another two days. At this point, I remembered the book by Barthes that I had inherited from my mother. I started reading it.
The studium speaks of the interest which we show in a photograph, the desire to study and understand what the meanings are in a photograph, to explore the relationship between the meanings and our own subjectivities. (1)
Yes, I was interested in these images. What else could explain my "enthusiastic commitment" in Barthes's words? It was this interest that drew me back to David's website again and again.

The studium is a result of my volition, my will to study the photographs.

There was meaning in the photographs, but the sort of meaning you scooped up with your impressions and created yourself. There was no pre-existing meaning, only suggestions and possibilities, which made studying the images similar to looking at artifacts in a museum. You could play with the storyline of each object, invent the characters and their relationships, tease out the latent emotion of the scenes--


A teenager sprays graffiti on a concrete wall. How far is he from civilization? Or
is this civilization?

You're looking at one of my favorite pictures by David del Pilar Potes. Again, we have the juxtaposition of the natural world and a single human being. A teenager is figured prominently in the foreground, but in more than half of the picture, the forest soars over the concrete walls.

We seem to be looking down into the mouth of the embankment. It's hard to identify exactly what or where the location is. Some place in the mountains.

The inability to situate the image, like with the Banyan tree photograph, provokes me. Barthes would say this detail "pricks" me. He calls it the punctum.

At first I think the teenager spraying graffiti also "pricks" me--or rather his vandalism does.

But then I realize that I'm not against the subject-matter. I connect with the youth who in the middle of nowhere scrawls his name on the wall. Although he's vandalizing property, it's not the vandalism that bothers me.

The concrete walls, the hollow embankment, bothers me. Ugly, massive, and intrusive. I would vandalize the walls myself . . .

Already, I've created some value, some meaning, for the teenager's act. This meaning gives the picture its wholeness. Not only does my private meaning forgive the teenager's act, but I also know that whatever is happening in this photograph, it is exactly how it should be.
The punctum (a Latin word derived from the Greek word for trauma) . . . inspires an intensely private meaning, one that is suddenly, unexpectedly recognized and consequently remembered (it "shoots out of [the photograph] like an arrow and pierces me”); it ‘escapes’ language (like Lacan’s real); it is not easily communicable through/with language. (2)
These definitions are not taken from Camera Lucida. If I quoted from Barthes's text, it would shed little light on what I'm talking about. He has to be read in context. I'm relying on Kasia Houlihan's annotations of the book.


Her eyes are closed and she's pointing to infinity.
The city smiles in the background.

David del Pilar Potes excels at describing humanity. The breadth of the subject-matter, the comprehensiveness of the photos, capture many different lives held together by a common spirit.

Potes says his "primary aesthetic is in documentary photography, focusing on people and landscapes." I scroll through each of the five collections on his site, discovering seascapes, rock formations, dolphins, fires, prophetic graffiti, dogs playing in a gully, solitary boats, theater performances, a couple in a diner, portraits of strangers, a motorcyclist in an empty parking lot, ethnic festivals, pictures of food, acrobats . . .

And you cannot pin down the photographer. He disappears into his work. He does not privilege spectacles over mundane aspects of life. He lovingly documents all. And when his arrangements do include photographs of the bizarre and fantastic, the pictures stand out as they would in real life. Because sometimes our world is purely odd.

More of David del Pilar Potes's photography can be found at his website.
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