Friday, 1 November 2013

Excerpts from Brassai's Preface to Camera in Paris

"It is legitimate for a man who has given the best part of his life to an occupation of absorbing interest, to seek to justify his activity and to relate it to some broader aspect of life, either in the present or in the past.

But the difficulty is to find a name for what he considers his vocation. For though many names describe it, none exactly fits. Seen with a camera in his hand, he is called a photographer. Yet he possesses no studio, nor does he deal with portraits, publicity, sport or fashion. He does not indulge in documentary or scientific photography. Nothing would horrify him more than to be taken for a professional photographer - a specialist. Does that mean that he's an amateur? No, for he execrates the dilettantism which, for lack of technical skill, is incapable of expressing ideas, of communicating them with form and authority. A reporter, then? Does he rush off to the scene of an accident or a crime? Is he always on the look-out for unusual, spicy details? Does he follow the travel of statesmen or the campaigns of generals? Does he go exploring or visit strange lands beyond the sea? Is he really anxious to witness and record the stupendous, the extraordinary? Why, no.

He has the utmost distaste for `news' and avoids it when possible. He dislikes travel and loathes sensationalism from the depths of his soul. The most thrilling event for him is daily life. But that is not to describe him as an illustrator, although his pictures do appear in albums and illustrated papers. But what do they illustrate? They do not at any event serve to adorn, explain or comment upon a text. They have captions, usually as clumsy as they are superfluous. It is rather a case of the text, reduced to its simplest expression, illustrating the photographs.

This man is sometimes said to hunt for pictures. But he hunts nothing at all. He is the quarry, rather, hunted by his pictures. Sometimes, flatteringly, they call him a poet. Then he gets frightened. Has he taken the wrong turning, he wonders? He has never looked at anything with an ulterior, poetic motive, and has always instinctively avoided what is known as poetry. Well, then, he must be an artist. An artist? He hates the very sound of the word when applied to photography. `Artistic photographer'! Horrible! He is man to shut himself up in an ivory tower to play with puzzle-pictures, or to chase after 'against-the-light effects, luminous haloes or stream-lined nudes. Nor is he interested in view-points from awkward angles, dizzy bird's-eye views, or the world seen through the eye of a microscope. He has always shown a sovereign disdain for `artistic' effect, for the `pretty' or the `picturesque'. He has never wasted his time with such childish amusements as super-impression, solarizations and other tricks, which though legitimate from the technical point of view, are condemned utterly and absolutely by the rules of photographic art. He has never felt the itch to overstep the bounds, to ape the latest fads in painting, in order to prove that he, too, can invent, that he, too, has an imagination, and that photography, too, is Art (with a capital `A').

Now this man, who yearned in vain for a name, a name that should correspond to his aim and his function discovered to his great surprise a portrait of himself which was so faithful that he had no difficulty in recognizing himself in it. Strangely enough, it is a portrait of Constantin Guys, a draughtsman-chronicler of the Second Empire and the great Victorian era, and it was drawn by that great enemy of photography, Charles Baudelaire. This nameless man, then, attentively studied the features of this portrait which explained himself to himself.

`I saw', says Baudelaire, `that I was dealing not so much with an artist as with a man of the world. A man of the world is one who understands the world and its mysterious springs of action. An artist is a specialist, chained to his palette like a serf to the soil. This connoisseur of life, this collector of impressions, dislikes being called an artist. Is he not right to do so? His interest is the world at large; he wants to know, to understand, to appreciate everything that happens on the surface of our planet. The artist knows little or nothing of life; the man of the world is in spirit a citizen of the universe.’

But that is not all. Our friend was amazed by the delicate perception of the poet who saw in his universal curiosity the fons et origo of his calling.

`He will dash through a crowd of people to track down an unknown face, a glimpse of which has caught his imagination. For him curiosity has become an all-absorbing, irresistible passion.’ He recognizes himself again in the convalescent `who revels like a child in his ability to be intensely interested in things, even the most trivial in appearance'. `The child', he says, `sees everything as something new. He is always intoxicated. This deep and joyful curiosity explains the child's fixed gaze of animal ecstasy in the presence of something new, whatever its nature.’ Baudelaire goes on to speak of the 'man-child' who, at every moment, has the genius of childhood, that is a genius `for which no aspect of life has become stale'.

And how could he remain unmoved by these lines, in which the poet situates him in his real element, namely, the crowd?

`The Crowd is his element, as is air for the bird and water for the fish. His desire and his profession is to identify himself with the crowd. For the complete gaper, the hardened observer, it is a thing of sheer delight to take up his residence among the multitude, the swaying, moving, fugitive, infinite multitude. To be out, and yet to feel everywhere at home; to see the world, to be in the centre of the world - these are some of the lesser joys of those independent, passionate, objective spirits which language is too clumsy to define. The looker-on is a prince, who, wherever he is, keeps his incognito. `Thus this lover of life in the round plunges into the crowd as into the immense reservoir of electricity. We might compare him also to a mirror, as vast as the crowd itself, or to a conscious kaleidoscope which, at every movement, reflects all the multiple facets and the ever-changing beauty of every element of life.'

Wednesday, 4 September 2013


"Literature," Susan Sontag once said," is writing one wishes to reread."

'Works of art [and to a greater extend personal photographs], one might extend, are images or objects or performances one wishes to re-view.'

-David Campany, Redux: Rediscovered Books & Writings [Victor Burgin's Between, 1986]
         Aperture 210, p 17. 

Friday, 30 August 2013

Brassai: creator of images

"Just as a poet reclaims overused words, the creator of images also challenges everything that has become too familiar. He wants to restore the power of ordinary, disregarded things, to surprise us with what we are tired of seeing every day, or which through habit we no longer even notice; for me, this is the role of a 'creator of images'." Brassai 'No Ordinary Eyes" pp151-152.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

The attraction of Instagram

"What matters now is Instagram. It’s intoxicating. I’ve recently become hooked. It’s nectar for visual people, like having a poem in your pocket. Just the act of looking for Instagrammable pictures has opened my eyes more widely. I see all kinds of things I didn’t see before: from the big landscape to the tiny, intimate moment, it encourages a closer engagement with the world - tiny visual meditations throughout the day. It’s the perfect medium for ridiculously busy people who feel the urge to create and communicate, but need to do it on the run. For visualists, it is also the perfect way to check in on friends and keep up on them - no need to write the umpteenth email of the day!

It also raises the bar on what makes a good photograph, because there are so many good photographs on Instagram. It’s a reminder that photography is a weirdly democratic medium and that a photographer has to be incredibly disciplined about his craft. On the flipside, Instagram is so friendly and forgiving that anyone can post images without having to worry about whether they are great. This kind of loosening of restraints is surely good for the creative process, as can be seen in all those good Instagram photographs."

—Kathy Ryan, director of photography at the New York Times Magazine. Ryan is also editor of The New York Times Magazine Photographs [Aperture, 2011] [As quoted from Aperture 210, Spring 2013, p15].

@kathyryan1 on Instagram.

Thursday, 28 March 2013

#Ironworks, tatts and getting old...

On the way from work this week; as I was standing & reading my copy of mX, I was asked by a woman if I wanted to sit. Being a bit of a 'macho' and not wanting to take her seat [as I noticed that she was sound asleep on most part of the way...]. I was tempted to ask her whether  I look old or feeble to warrant such kindness; but obviously I didn't to avoid embarrasment - mostly on my part, I don't think I want to know the answer. I think, as a middle-age person that I look fit than most since I walk a lot taking photos [as an excuse]. From time to time, I take public transport - one, to avoid the traffic jams;  two, to people watch & take more photos - mostly for Instagram and three, to avoid contributing to the pollution & at the same time save a bit of money by commuting.

Today, one of the students saw me on my computer browsing my Tumblr #ironworks. There were a couple of tattoos on the hashtag & the student commented whether I was looking for a design & update my tatts. he proudly showed me his tatts & his recent addition - his family crest. I said I was too old for tatts of any kind but he, being a young 'tattooed person' - meaning open & more accepting of quirky stuff, said that no one is too old to have one or two. Nowadays, tattoos are no longer the domain of artsy people nor of criminal & gang members... 'alternative' lifestylists & real artists [including hipsters!] sadly lamented the fact.

It's funny how we perceive ourselves; our looks, how we aged or how we project ourselves in public as well as in various social media. Also our pre-occupation in being young, looking younger, acting younger. The problem with being young is the absence of experience & important life experience! As george Bernard Shaw said that 'Youth is wasted on the young'. Now I finally fully understood what he meant!

As I just heard on the radio this morning from one listener who is celebrating her birthday today: 'Today will be the youngest I will ever be in my whole life!' Carpe Diem I say! Maybe one of these days I will get a tattoo when I am good and ready... talking about that second mid life crisis! Just waiting & needing that excuse!

By the way my Tumblr link just in case you are not on Instagram!