31 July, 2020

Wherefore art thou, bilge pump salesman?

What is art?

Sometimes, that question leads you on a deeply philosophical journey about things like historical and contemporary context. There's often some commentary about producing work that appeals to the masses, versus doing art for its own sake, and allowing (or helping) the right audience to find it. You'll also typically find some hand-wringing about skill versus luck, and artistic intent versus pure chance.

To be clear, I've had those conversations. I've dived head-first into those philosophical journeys (sometimes even on this blog, like this or this or this). And the constant tensions between popularity and individuality, and between intent and chance, are tensions that I feel every single day.

But sometimes, you sit down, and are greeted by your presenter for the evening, Joshua J. Ladgrove. Sometimes the presenter gets things moving by squeezing some toothpaste onto a banana, eating that banana with the peel on, and then chugging some Listerine, and that's when you know you're in for a wild-ass ride.

Sometimes, you only recognize art in hindsight.

30 June, 2020

[Doc Diaries] The Truth and Beauty of Diversity

I mentioned last time that Singapore's "gleaming architecture, wondrous glass-covered skyscrapers, and spotless streets" felt as if they were devoid of humanity. When I got to downtown Melbourne, I again found myself surrounded by towers of metal and glass. But… this time it was different. This time, I could admire the dazzling architecture without feeling like I was losing my grip on reality. I could look up, but still feel my feet on the ground.

I'm still not entirely sure why, but I think it has a lot to do with space, and I think it has a lot to do with utility. Let me try to explain what I saw, and what I felt.

A bunch of the architecture in Singapore was exquisitely designed, but it felt so special as to seem otherworldly. Out-of-place. It felt like a mystical wonderland that you would visit, but that didn't seem to have as much connection with where and how people actually lived. You would look around, and you would see works of art that placed form before function, even though they did still function.

When I looked towards the sky in the Melbourne central business district (CBD; basically, "downtown"), the trappings of everyday life remained in view. And they fit into the place. The angles of the street lamp fixtures matched the angular design of the buildings. The towering heights of the skyscrapers were echoed in the way that the netting of a play area also reached towards the sky. It felt like design was… an everyday thing. Like the difference between a beautiful sculpture and a nicely sculpted fork. They might both be works of art, but you observe one from afar, and you use the other one every single day.

31 May, 2020

[Doc Diaries] Echoes in Subtext

Speech is power.

When I was writing my post about the gleaming architecture in Singapore, I felt something that I couldn't quite put into words. As I sit here writing this now, with the sound of police helicopters overhead, and amidst the turmoil resulting from a murder that didn't need to happen, I think I've found some of the words.

I am a documentary photographer. My calling is to witness and document people. And when I document objects, places, works of art, or whatever else, my goal is always to relate those things to the people. To see them, but also to see their inevitable, undeniable connections to humanity. It was written and has often been repeated that "Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all\ Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know" ("Ode on a Grecian Urn", John Keats).

I disagree. Or, at least, I think that is incomplete. That sense of incompleteness is what bothered me as I wrote about Singapore before, and it's what I finally realized as I start to write about Melbourne (and Footscray, a suburb) now.

30 April, 2020

[Doc Diaries] Ebb and Flow

Last time, I discussed the juxtaposition of places, textures, and other facets of the built infrastructure that I encountered in Singapore. But as my time in Singapore waned, and eventually gave way to a flight down to Melbourne, Australia, it was a different juxtaposition that caught my eye.

Somehow, water is both everywhere, and nowhere. For some reason, you can see through miles of visually clear yet water-laden atmosphere, to see the stark undulations and crisp form of a distant place where the water is… just… opaque? Why is the delineation between "cloud" and "blue sky" so clear and abrupt in one spot, but so hazy and mysterious right next door?