Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Photog 2: Family Photo Albums

Going into our discussion of family photos in class this week, one of the things that I found lacking most in the articles we read was the consideration of emotion in dealing with something as intimate as family photos. I think it probably had a lot to do with having read several articles on feelings and emotions for the last session of our theory class. To be clear, I'm not trying to say that the authors didn't deal with emotions at all. McAllister and Chambers addressed emotionality head on because they were dealing with their own family photos and family history. Both recognized their attachment to the photos' contents. Where I found awareness of emotion most lacking was in the authors' analysis of the purpose of taking photos and compiling photo albums.

Chambers contends the function of family photographs is to immortalize the high points of family life, to connect families to symbols of nature and high culture, and to record white colonization of suburbia. Langford argues says that the purpose of a photo album is to record the story of a family, that the photo album is a performance. Smith maintains that albums - baby books in particular - are a product of eugenics and a need to chart the proper growth and evolution (or devolution) of the white race and that these elements are still present in the moments that we choose to memorialize in our photo albums. To an extent, I agree with all of these assertions.

Yet, I feel there is something more here at work that none of the authors addressed to my satisfaction. What about the emotional element of a family photograph? Yes, typically we take the camera out at special occasions. We take photos to memorialize the important moments of life or to chronicle our life as a whole. But, particularly dealing with family photographs, is it not possible that a person might take a photograph because they love the person they photographed? (Although I suppose that could count as

To explain, I'm going to use a few pictures of my neice, Anastasia Leone. I call her Mija.

As any dutiful aunt might, I photograph my little niece extensively. As Chambers suggests, I've taken photos to memorialize her childhood. The picture below is a picture of Mija and her mother Annie making fish faces at each other. It was something she did for a few weeks this summer and knowing kids as I do, I knew it wouldn't be something that she'd always do, so I wanted to get a photo of her doing it. To my mind, the fact that their lips making the fishie face are almost dead centre of the photograph suggests that was my purpose.

This photo most fits under Smith's umbrella of charting a child's life, although I can assure you that I didn't do it for eugenic purposes, I would be willing to concede that the idea that we need to photograph and chart a child's life from birth to kindergarten, graduation and beyond stems from a eugenic past.

I'm also willing to accept Chambers' contention that part of family photography and family photo albums is a need or desire to record what a particular culture deems to be hallmark events. Below are two photographs - both are from Mija's first birthday. The one of the left, as I mentioned in class, is the aftermath of her birthday cake. Until seeing Jim's baby book in class I had no idea that this was a eugenically promoted pose. I took it because it was her first birthday erego her first birthday cake. The photo on the right is also from her first birthday. It's one of her presents, but in my mind I took it because she was still learning how to walk. Another milestone.


My brother's friend also took this photo, much like those McAllister examines, it suggests the coherence or unity of the family unit. Or it could memorialize a holidy.

However, humans are not fully rational creatures and even our rational decisions are influenced by our emotions. The choice to photograph something or to include a photograph in a particular album in a particular spot may not have a rational explanation. I took the photo of Mija making her fishie face to remind myself ten years from now that she did it. It could also be argued that I took it to memorialize that moment and to record it as a part of my family's story.

Then there are photos like the one below that I really couldn't tell you why I took it or why I kept it, except that it's of Mija and I love her. As a photographer, the photo irritates me because of the bad lighting. As a "family chronicler" I have no need for it. It was taken the same day as the fishy face photo. It wasn't an important day and there's no important event. There's no consumer aspect to the photo as she's not posed in front of a car or a house. I really can't understand why I put this photo in my album except that it's my niece and I'm not sure where that reasoning fits in all of the articles we've read. I'm not sure that it does.


Sometimes what motivates people to take pictures or keep them is emotional and there isn't a strictly rational reason to be found, like the pictures McAllister mentions of the unidentified children playing in the snow. Why were those photos kept? And why did people continually sneak cameras into the internment camps to take photographs? I feel there is something that goes beyond wanting to keep a family record, suggest family coherency, attempt normalcy, or control the way families appeared to outsiders. I think all of those motivations are contributing factors, but to me they're not enough to explain why people took photos of houses they were ashamed of, families that were struggling, and children that weren't their own. There's something more there, although I can't criticize McAllister for not identifying it. I can't. But I think emotion needs to be considered.

More than any other, this week has brought back a question I started pondering at the beginning of our class: why do we take photos and why do they matter to us?

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

The Lonely Middle Sink...

I've been through six years of university. I've heard my share of drunken tales. I had a guy bang on my door in first year (almost to the point of breaking it down) demanding ravioli. I had another guy try and fly up our hallway, a friend who tried to swim up a hallway, and a slightly frightening night involving a very rowdy clown. The intoxicated mind goes to many a strange place. It's unpredictable, flighty, disturbing, hilarious, and so many other adjectives. And as I've listened to these stories all of these years I've come to realize that my mind, stone cold sober, has gone to stranger places than most intoxicated minds could ever hope to conjure.

Part of me would like to blame it on my crazy family. Everyone's got a crazy family, but my family is special crazy.

Regardless, I don't think I can blame this abnormality on them. As I was telling one of my friends the other day, I went into the washroom at work to wash my hands. I approached the middle sink, turned the faucet, and then realized that the soap was inconveniently on the far side of the two outer sinks. Rather than do what any rational human being would do - switch sinks - I stayed at the middle sink. Not only did I stay at said middle sink, I did so because I decided that because the soap and the paper towel dispensers were so far away, it was probably lonely.

The sink...



I proceeded to laugh at myself, realizing just how ridiculous I sounded (or so I thought). Yet, when I told this story to my friend, my commiseration for the lonely middle sink reached a whole new level of weird. I really think the poor girl was seriously considering my commitment to a psychiatric facility.

Okay, so I talk to/sing at inanimate objects on a regular basis. This I can blame on my grandmother. Rarely do I humanize those objects to the point of attributing them with feelings. Still, it didn't seem SUPER weird. As I have recently learned, however, normal people don't think about the middle sink being lonely. For about a millisecond I was distressed, until I realized that I've never been conventional. Anything but, really. And it's these strange little thoughts that make stories magical.

I am an avid reader of John Grisham, P. D. James, and Dan Brown (or at least I am when not trying to pull a thesis out of my butt). These guys, while incredibly creative and gifted writers, probably have never thought about the middle sink being lonely. They can craft a riveting mystery or weave a sticky web of intrigue, but they do so (typically) within the bounds of reality. They're imaginative.

I, on the other hand, am zany and tromp all over reality til all that's left is a fractured, jumbled mess. I think about lonely sinks, exploding flowers, and a little boy that can lift a mountain. I'm not the sort of writer that does well limiting themselves to the confines of reality, mostly because I'm not a person that does well limiting themselves to the confines of reality. I think this is the sort of eccentricity that leads to the inception of house elves, sparkling vampires, stain sniffing dragons, and smoking caterpillars.

Cool. :D

P.S. Don't forget to spread the sink love! :P

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

My Broken Awkwardmeter

Having set up this blog and then deciding to actually make use of it in hopes of ending my sleepless nights and stifled angst (cuz everybody's got some), I didn't think twice about using it to host the assignments for my photography class. At least I didn't until I talked to one of my friends back out East. (P.S. She does know that I'm writing this about her so I'm not outing her to the internet without her consent :P)

My friend, being her usual inquisitive self, paused, and then said, "But won't it make you feel awkward to know that your prof and your classmates will be reading your posts?" It hadn't. It hadn't even occurred to me to feel awkward. Not until she said that I should be feeling awkward. Then I couldn't feel anything but, which of course is ridiculous. But aren't humans a whole lot of ridiculous?

I mean, nothing I write here isn't something that I wouldn't tell anyone that has access to this blog if they asked. I'm certainly not embarrassed about the fact that I have aspirations of becoming a writer. In fact, I know several others that want to write someday - and no, I'm not going to out you, even if pressed.

Myself, I also have aspirations of becoming a singer. When I have a crappy day, I use my old teddy bear as a pillow. I love Disney movies even though the educated part of my brain rails against all of the horrible ideas they promote like Stockholm Syndrome. I still have crayons and color in coloring books. I spent two and a half years of high school being called Legolas or being told I looked like Orlando Bloom (who by the way, I still have not fully forgiven - 57 times I was told this! lol) As one of my best friends says, I (inspired by her Harry Potter obsessed mind) have a saving people thing. I put everyone else's needs before my own and will deliberately take hits myself before I allow others to be hit. I still listen to N Sync when I have a crappy day and may or may not have two Hanson albums on my Ipod at the moment (which is more embarrassing than anything else I've said here so far :P). I've been stalked three times, including currently being cyberstalked, I've suffered from depression, helped raise two kids that weren't mine, and constantly feel that I am not good enough.

I could continue, but really, you didn't come here to read my deepest darkest secrets. My point is that I don't feel awkward - pretty much ever. I think it has to do with the fact that I really don't care what other people think. There are 9 people in this world that I care what they think. Their opinion can lift me up to the sky or grind me down so deeply into the dirt that I can't get up. Other than them, no offense to the rest of you, I honestly don't care and thus, I don't feel awkward. I'll tell you what I'm thinking, tell you about myself, and although sometimes in retrospect I realize it might not have been a great idea to say what I said, I know I can't change it. Why feel awkward? I'll just try to do better next time.

When I told my friend the reeling loop of angst our earlier conversation had put me through she laughed at me. She said, "Of course you don't feel awkward about it, your Awkwardmeter is broken." This of course prompted me to grump at her for having asked me whether I'd feel awkward in the first place. Apparently she gets her kicks trying - even after a decade - to find the one situation that will make me feel awkward. Right now she's betting on the moment I meet the guy I'm destined to marry. It's her theory that he'll be my kryptonite and make me feel awkward constantly.

I'm not sure whether I agree, or even how I feel about it, but I do know this. Having a broken Awkwardmeter can be pretty awesome. It allows you an inordinate amount of freedom to be exactly who you are and be that person openly. I'm not ashamed of who I am. I may not always like myself, but I'm confident enough in my own awesomeness to own the things that should make me awkward. If I don't, I'm letting people miss out on half of my awesomeness and that just isn't fair to anyone ;)

Besides, as busy as my profs and fellow classmates are, they're not going to have the time to read my mindless yammering. I really shouldn't be taking the time to write it, but hey, I had to do something on my supper break, didn't I?

Friday, 8 February 2013

Unexpected Discoveries

Those of you that have been following my little blog journey thus far may remember that a couple of weeks ago I promised to try and write you a sample from my latest writing flash. Sorry it's taken me so long. Grad school seems to be taking the fun out of life right now. Yet, still somehow I love it. Ah the therapy I should

However, since I've been ridiculously productive these last couple of days (largely due to my not sleeping) I decided to let myself take twenty minutes to type out the beginning of the scene that I flashed on. There's no telling whether it will end up being stitched together with other snippets, tossed in my recycling bin, or as the beginning of the smashing book series I'm going to write in all my spare time :P but here it is!

“You’ve had your share and everyone else’s tonight.  I’m not pouring you another drop!”

The quaver in Luci’s voice was all that betrayed the confidence of her stance, but she cursed herself for it.  Even drunk the man would see through her bravado and there was only so much protection that the rickety wooden bar top could provide.

Caris was a small town.  The men were simple folk.  They were the sons of farmers, hunters, and fishermen and their sons would be much the same.  They didn’t drink to get drunk.  They drank to gossip, although none of them would ever admit it.  The few times one of them did get drunk, he had friends enough to see him out without causing any trouble.  Travellers were few and unwelcome enough they didn’t linger, meaning Luci was safe behind the bar.  Until this one. 

The man came to town two and a half years ago.  No one was sure from where, but he’d taken up residence in an abandoned watchtower on the north side of town.  It hadn’t belonged to anyone and hadn’t been used for at least a hundred years, so no one had objected.  However, he wasn’t like the men of Caris.  He was stern and reclusive.  He appeared once a day here at Gareth’s tavern, sat on the same stool, and talked to no one until he deemed himself drunk enough to leave.  As far as anyone knew, he didn’t work, he had no trade, but he always had coin enough to pay his bills. 

The steel belted at his waist kept anyone from asking questions and Luci couldn’t keep her eyes from trailing down to his hip where it was fastened as he sat defiantly, showing no intention of leaving. 

“I said, leave,” Luci repeated, his silence swallowing her courage.  “You’ve had enough.”

Luci took his glass off the counter and a hand shot out from the depths of his cloak, latching onto her arm so viciously she dropped the glass.  Her heart thumped uncomfortably in her throat as the man looked up at her from under a long ebon fringe, his red-rimmed eyes accusing.

“I wasn’t finished with that,” he snarled. 

Luci tried to pull her arm free but his fingers dug into the tender flesh of her forearm until his nails pierced her skin.  She wanted desperately to look for help, but couldn’t look away from his eyes.  He was drunk and she knew it.  He knew it too.  But his eyes held a disturbing clarity as he continued to glare at her.

And there I shall leave you.

I can tell you that Rais gets kicked out of the bar, passes out drunk on the way home, and kidnapped by apparent thugs (who aren't so thugly lol). Any more than that I've yet to discover, which is really one of my favorite parts about being a writer. Often times writing a story is as much of a journey of unexpected discoveries as reading one. You never know what you'll find or who you'll meet, inside a writer's mind.

(See my clever play on the blog title there ;)

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Photog 1: The Gaze of the Dead

I've been taking a class called Photography and Public History. The class appeals to me both as a photographer and an academic, given the visual slant to my own work on advertising films. Our last class addressed the concept of gaze. It was something I had considered to some extent previously, but our readings for this week, as they always seem to do in this class, left everything I'd thought standing on its head or tied in knots. The most extensive discussion of gazes was in Catherine A. Lutz and Jane L. Collins "The Photograph as an Intersection of the Gazes" as part of their book Reading National Geographic.

Lutz and Collins contend that all photographs are about looking. In the case of the National Geographic photos that are their focus, they contend that "[t]he photograph and the non-western person share two fundamental attributes in the culturally tutored experience of most Americans; they are objects at which we look." However, the gaze is nothing so simple as that. There are a multitude of gazes: the photographer's gaze, the magazine's gaze, the magazine reader's gaze, the non-Western subject's gaze, a direct Western Gaze, the reflected gaze of the Other, and the gaze of the academic spectator to name only a few. Furthermore, each of these gazes intersects in a photograph.

When I began wracking my brain for a photograph and a topic for my post, my mind kept coming back to the idea of the gaze. Perhaps I was influenced by having just read Lauren's post. Because my mind works in mysterious ways, I also couldn't shake the discussions we've had over the past months about the analogies of death tied to the camera. The photograph as a type of death, photographs of people before their deaths viewed afterward, the act of taking a photograph as an act of violence, Weegee's photographs of crimes and death; all of these ideas kept playing through my mind until I had a strange thought. Does death have a gaze?

I blame listening to Billie Holiday and Nina Simone while doing homework. Regardless, that thought is what what led me to a website called Without Santuary. It's named after a book of the same title and houses about 80 photographs and postcards of lynchings from the American south. Photographs like these.


As I've said, there are dozens of these photographs on this site as well as a flash slide with commentary that I'm considering analyzing for my final project. There are a number of different things that could be analyzed in these photos. The fact that they were made into post cards, the fact that the lynch mobs tend to either be looking at the camera or the victim, the fact that the viewer is typcially made a part of the mob by the photographer's gaze, and the fact that many of the photos, including the one above on the left, show signs of being staged. One could also examine the captions on the website or the text written on the post cards.

What struck me most though was the fact that in many of these photographs the victim is looking at the camera. In some instances it's clear that it was arranged, like this one.

Why are they looking at the camera? Why did people try to make them look at the camera?
In some cases the eyes of the victim are still open. They are for all intents and purposes, on the most basic of levels, looking at the camera. Yet, they are dead. Do they still have a gaze? And if so, is it the gaze of the person they were or is it the gaze of death/the dead?
If it is the gaze of the dead, what does that gaze say?

Monday, 28 January 2013

Stories: craft or flash?

If I could talk to other writers the question I would most want to ask is how their stories get written. Stories are often, I should think always, born long before they're written. It's the writing that takes the time. I've got a minimum of fifty outlines scattered across my ancient laptop. Some are merely a sentence, others a title. Some have a dialogue, others a summary. The problem is taking this mismatched information and turning it into something that could actually be called a story.

I'm certain, even without asking, that every writer has a process. Even more, I'm certain that every writer's process is different. Having spent six years of my life in academia I've heard a lot of different stories about how people write an essay. What I've learned is that whether you start with your primary sources, your conclusion, your historiography, there is a general format to be followed. Stories are much more open and I imagine the process for creating them is less restrictive as well (although I once heard of a grad student that had to sit on her bathroom floor in a feathered hat in order to write).

For me, stories are written two ways. First, sitting down and writing. Setting aside a specific portion of my day to write. Unfortunately, inspiration is not a prerequisite for these sessions. You can arrive at your computer with absolutely no idea what you're going to write. Those moments when the little curser is blinking on the blank document page, waiting for you to direct it are probably the bette noire of many an accomplished writer. The fact of the matter is, no matter how creative you might be, no matter how amazing your ideas, writing actually takes discipline. You need to be able to sit down for the hour that you've allowed yourself and create something, whether it's a character description, some back-story, or a few pages of dialogue. Maybe it's just nailing down the names for those mercenaries you've had trekking through a bog for the last seven weeks.

It's not particularly exhilarating, but when you come back to it the next day it's exciting to see what you've accomplished. Sometimes those hours of grinding out the necessary elements of storycraft can even gift you with your best chapters. Or shake loose an epiphany. Persistence is part of it and although less glamorous than wild inspiration that causes your fingers to fly over the keys for hours on end, this crafting of lore and legend is the staple of every writer. Or at least it's the staple of my writing.

Second and also indispensible are what I call flashes. For any of you out there that have watched NBC's Chuck, you'll already know what a flash is. Essentially, it's like your whole "everything" freezes for a few seconds while you're struck with a mind-blowing flash of knowledge. It's like watching a movie scene at warpspeed or downloading an insane amount of information, almost more than you can process.

Flashes are amazing and frustrating at the same time. They're amazing because, well, who says no to inspiration? They're frustrating because the images, the voices, the faces, the scene, the dialogue are so clear in my mind that it's almost impossible for words to recreate them to my satisfaction. They also tend to be fairly random and disjointed so I really have no idea where they fit in the marvelous labyrinth of all of my crafted work. The worst part is, sometimes they don'

Having met only a few writers who will admit to being writers (we tend to be a skittish breed), I find it hard to gauge whether my process is normal or if I'm an aberration. Given my oddities in other areas, being an aberration wouldn’t surprise me, but maybe I’m making things harder on myself than need be. Although, having written a 25 chapter novella (that is God awful and you are never seeing! Curses to teenage angst :P) by the time I was seventeen, maybe my aberrations are working for me. Either way, it’s the only process I know and although flash hangovers are a bitch and my mind is often a muddle of disjointed scenes, plots, and melodies – I wouldn’t trade it for any other.

Btw – this little drabble was inspired by a flash earlier today while I should have been paying attention to a TA lecture. Perhaps I’ll attempt to get the rough draft of the first little bit down for you and post it sometime this week. For once it was actually an entire scene/chapter rather than just part of one, but I’ll do my best to give you a piece! Cheers~

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Photog. Susan Sontag Quote

First, let's be clear. The following quote is not from Susan Sontag. It is one of several quotes that Susan Sontag included at the back of her book On Photography. I still find it intriguing that she formatted things the way she did. I've seen authors include quotes, sometimes as many as a dozen, at the beginning of a chapter. I've never seen in author include a section at the end of their book that's just quotes. No explanation. No introduction. Being a quote fiend I can see the appeal. I love including quotes in everything I do. But to give no reason for including a quote leaves it entirely up to the reader to interpret the quote - not necessarily a bad thing. Unfortunately, it also leaves this reader wondering why in heaven's name she stuck them there!

Regardless, as directed, I have selected one of the quotes from her collection.

"I photograph what I do not wish to paint and I paint what I cannot photograph." Man Ray

I know a little bit about Ray. He was an American born at the end of the 19th century and became a part of the Dada and surrealist movements. As luck would have it, I had to read a couple of the Dada manifestos for one of my seminars this week. Dadism as an art movement was in a sense anti-art and was a rebellion against bourgeois art with its pleasing aesthetic and imperial interests, which many of the Dadaists blamed for WWI. Dada pieces were often jumbled, messy, and not aesthetically pleasing. Dadaists suggested that things like war weren't orderly and beautiful, why should the art that depicted them be? They didn't always try to create a literal represenation of the world, but the world as it was seen, felt, and experienced. A world that direct representations couldn't fully express.

These are the thoughts that were on my mind as I read Ray's quote. The second part, in light of what I know of Ray and his artistic leanings, seems to fit well within the Dada mindset. "I paint what I cannot photograph," the things that photographs can't fully capture or express. I would be interested to know the date for the quote. The first part of the quote, understood within the same context, is less clear.

"I photograph what I do not wish to paint." If I read the second part of the quote assuming that he paints the things that photographs can't fully express, the first part of the sentence would seem to suggest that he paints the things that are simple, plain, and easily understood. I'm not quite satisfied with that interpretation, but it's the only understanding of it I can manage at this point.

On a personal level this quote appealed to me for a differenct reason. If I were to write the sentence about myself I would say that "I photograph what I do not wish to write and I write what I cannot photograph." To me, photography is for the things I can see, touch, and experience, even if a photograph can't full encapsulate what I feel about it or its subject. Writing is for the things I imagine, dream, and create. Intially, I wondered if Ray might have been approaching things the same way, that he painted the things he imagined and used photographs for the things he experienced. However, remembering where Ray fits in history, I'm more inclinced to think his statement has to do with his involvement in Dadaism and surrealism.