of Science Fiction

screen-shot-2016-10-31-at-4-29-13-pm

After watching La Jetée I was most struck by collapsed time.  Beginning with the images the protagonists sees when he is mentally transported to a future Paris, then zooming in on the grid of thousands of streets and the people of the future makes me think so much of how artists and writers use science fiction as a was to examine contemporary human anxieties. I am thinking particularly of Octavia E.Butler’s Parable series and Larry Niven’s A World Out of Time. Set in the future where government and country has all but collapsed, the Parables is a story about a young woman who has the genetic disability hyperempathy. She feels the pain (and sometimes pleasure) of others. How do humans survive in the destroyed future?  Hyperempathy  becomes almost like a transport, allowing the characters who have hyperempathy to exist in their body as well as others (those sometimes being captors). In La Jetée there is not only a loss of control over the body but one over memory as well. The mind is invaded and coopted to serve a larger purpose. Is this ultimately about a complete loss of control? The anxiety of rape?

FYI: Parable of the Sower has been adapted into a musical! It is being performed in Boston in March. I will be going!

screen-shot-2016-10-31-at-5-57-45-pm

 

https://artsemerson.org/online/default.asp?doWork::WScontent::loadArticle=Load&BOparam::WScontent::loadArticle::article_id=B435C06D-3F30-4C38-A393-2A15CFB97D40

What makes something believable?

As I watched La Jetée, it struck me how much I believed the film. Of course, Paris has not been blown up and World War III hasn’t happened, but there was something about it that made it different than normal fiction. After a lot of thought, I think I’ve found the connection. In my experience, I’ve been only exposed to this manner of story telling (black and white image after image with narration) within a documentary on historical events. Rather than exaggeration or superfluous fluff, the story was told like a series of memories.

Take this image for example. It brings to mind the question of “when you think of someone you love, what is it you think of?” Some people think of how the other person made them feel, others think about the small actions — like how they bite their bottom lip when thinking hard or how they move and dance when they think no one is looking. To me each picture is a snapshot meant to emphasize memory. The happier of times is far brighter and less contrasted, where the “present” is dark and shrouded in whispered mysteries.

During the death scene, the fast paced changing of images reminded me of how people perceive death. As you face it, your mind races, thinking of situation after situation. Then, as the man dies, everything is still and it is done. In some sense, this style allowed me to project my experience with memories and stories onto this story. Perhaps this relatability is what made it so believable.

What is an archive?

After Tuesday’s class, I’ve been stuck thinking about what exactly an archive is. Of course, as we discussed, it’s a way to have a collective memory across time. But what really gets me is the distinction between archives and collections.

The dictionary says an archive is, “a repository or collection especially of information.”

Thus, can we conclude all archives are collections? Perhaps. But, again, what makes a particular collection an archive? The idea of some sort of value or attention given to the collection was brought up in class. However, I believe a counter-examples could be a collection of stamps or baseball cards. These things certainly have value, sometimes thousands of dollars, but does that make it an archive?

I think the answer is no, and here’s why. Though a single person, or even a group of people, may place value in collectible items, society as a whole does not see a specific collection as historically significant. In an archive, there can perhaps be a collections of cards, but what that represents is the culture of collectibles, especially among young people. It defines a continued tradition that changes as time goes on.

Archivable items and photographs give us insight into the past. They paint a picture of life in the past as “we” choose to remember it. This “we” may be a select group of people, but each member studies society in an effort to best represent the common person in a region.

Watching Les Carabiniers

les20carabiniersLes Carabiniers (1963)

I had no preconceived notions for the early film by Jean Luc-Godard except that I had seen another film of his, “A Bout de Souffle” (1960). Before pressing play, Grisha said something like “this film relates to what it means to go out into the world and make pictures.” I was thinking it would be directly about photography like perhaps “the riflemen” was a metaphor for “shooting” photographs. While I suppose it could be translated this way, to me there was much else going on that stood in the way of fitting this metaphor. Things that came up for me while watching the film were:

  • How he uses form to inform content. He creates order in highly composed and visually balanced shots while also creating chaos by transitioning with sporadic jump-cuts that travel across time and space and associate subjects and story. The “order and method” of the military, with a “pragmatic” agenda can not be separated from the human experience of violence. The audience is not spared either but sensationally annihilated with aggressive gun sounds and the violating desires of the peasants turned soldier.
  • How he connects images and sounds. Especially through inter-titles that resemble writing on a chalkboard. The film instructs as it entertains, instructing through “entertainment.” Godard imagined thoroughly the extent of debauchery and places it in the framework of war.
  • The real vs. the referent image. How do we experience reality vs. images of these realities? How do we interact and experience images especially when physical objects like the postcards, or the screen onto which the film was projected?
  • Benjamin’s argument of “the longing of the masses to bring objects closer.” The effect of media to inform, and to bring experiences, information closer while still keeping experience far. An expectation that can drive dissatisfaction.
  • The sensationalism of modernity. The film as an allegory for the constant sensational trauma of what was then relatively new modern life. I actually cried at the part where they flung the industrial notecards all around without looking at them. The only notecards they didn’t even glance at. It was to me either mourning or straight-up apathy for the way that industry (including the manufacturing of weapons) permanently changed the landscape of the world and humankind’s experience of the world.
  • The victorious blonde female soldier in disguise. After the barrage of images of objectified women, the contrast of her presence hits powerfully. She seems a symbolic figure reference besides that of representing the International Proletariat.
  • When this woman says “I represent the International Proletariat” and proceeds not to die after being shot many times. This made a literal, straightforward statement to me. The proletariat will have to be shot and pushed down many, many, many times before they will die, a message to the elite ruling class.
  • The role of seduction, and flirting with the audience–about to reveal, about to reveal but never delivering. The medium has a unique power to play with our expectations and gaze especially in terms of objectifying the female body (The Male Gaze). 
  • It seems there is deep and complex meaning in this film. Some of which I feel I missed because of lack of information. References to current events, cultural experiences, and even to other films.
  • The interplay of boredom and overwhelm. I found myself entertained and kept watching because of the sights that disturbed/excited but also was made bored by the monotony of the violence.

Overall Les Carabiniers is a powerful and memorable film thinking about the function of media—movies, photography, and advertising—in the human experience.

How photography changed time?

muybridge

Edweard Muybridge is known for the innovations he did on photography while studying motion in humans and other animals. The gif above shows his first and most famous work. It was commissioned by Leland Stanford “in the hope that they would solve a debate about wether a trotting horse ever has all four feet off the ground at a time,” as Rebecca Solnit wrote in River of Shadows, a biography of Muybridge.

The English photographer not only solved the debate (frame 2 and 3), but opened a new way of understanding reality through photography:

“He had captured aspects of motion whose speed had made them as invisible as the moons of Jupiter before the telescope, and he had found a way to set them back in motion. It was as though he had grasped time itself, made it stand still, and then made it run again, over and over,” wrote Solnit.

That quote made me think about the description of magicians, those who move fast and skillfully to fool the perception of the viewers and create an illusion in front of them. The inventions of Muybridge were like a reverse magic: he helped the naked eye to notice time at a new scale and speed.

The new possibilities brought new questions. What is not being showed in a motion picture? What happens between frames? Did the horse really exist during those fractions of second when it was not photographed? What’s the maximum number of frames per second you can use to register movement?

Let’s imagine a camera that can capture images using a shutter speed of c and an ISO of infinite. Let’s suppose that we get an image using it: It’s the fastest image you can get and we will call it “the absolute still.” Now, would you be able to create a motion picture using absolute stills and reducing to zero the time between frames? Theoretically no because there’s no way to take two consecutive photos from the same place or, in other words, it’s physically impossible to be on the same exact spot on two different moments. If there’s a change in time (a new frame), there’s necessarily a change in space. To recreate movement–even in the fastest cameras–you need those moments of darkness or absence of image between frames.

The logical consequences of that argument help to understand the magic of Muybridge’s work: Every frame in a motion picture creates its own and unique spectator, and the greatest illusion of cinema is to make us believe that the spectator is the same during each one of them.

After Muybridge the old metaphor of time as a continuous and unstoppable river was scientifically challenged: In order to mechanically reproduce movement –change– you need an imperceptible but permanent fight between light and darkness. As George Méliès or Segundo de Chomón taught us early in 20th century, you need to show and you need to hide, to show and to hide, show and hide…

To caption or not to caption?

I used to write long captions for my photos. It could take me hours to decide a title or a story that could make the image more compelling on social media. Even if the street-scene or the gestures of the portrait spoke for themselves I always felt the need to say something. I don’t know if it was an habit I learned from journalism –always give context, they say– but I felt that a photo without words was like an abandoned creature. This is an example:

Two young women approached Dimitri on Coney Island’s beach. –Are you a man or a woman?,– asked one of them. -I’m a man,– he replied gently. –But you look like a woman. Do you have a dick down there?,– asked the second one pointing to Dimitri’s red thong. –Yes, I do,– said Dimitri with a smile, enjoying their confusion. –But when you have sexual intercourse, do you do it with men or with women?,– asked the first one. –With women, I love women, I do not take men. But I like to look like this,– answered Dimitri with his deep voice and strong Russian accent. –I’ve heard about it,– said the first woman– it’s called the ‘middle sex’ isn’t it? –Not precisely. But you could call it third sex: Not man, not woman. Postmodernism declared that genders are equal, there’s no distinction… –I see– interrupted the second woman, not interested in having philosophical discussions on a beautiful sunny day–: You’re “in between.” –Categories like “men and women,” “black and white,” are ways that those in power use to distract and divide people. That’s why traditionally men get together with men, women with women, blacks with blacks, and they’re easier to control. I don’t believe in those categories. I challenge them… The young women were not there to understand, and they left after taking photos of Dimitri with their phones. Had they asked a couple questions more and maybe he would have told them that he’s “more than forty years old”; that he’s a blogger and activist; that he’s a convinced socialist who came to New York one decade ago to experience and understand capitalism; that he loves a Russian popular tale about a prince who makes miracles and is admired and loved by its people even though he’s androgynous… He told me his stories with Coney Island’s iconic wonder wheel on the background. I love the symbolism of the wheel: Everything revolves around the same point, all that goes up comes down, time is circular, life is a permanent transformation. It was an appropriate place to portray Dimitri.

A photo posted by Jorge Caraballo Cordovez (@caraballocordovez) on May 21, 2016 at 9:10am PDT

 

I recently stopped doing that. Now I use very short and explicit captions like “Couple in The Bronx,””Sunset in Queens,” or “Q Line.” The main reason is time: It was taking me a whole night to post a single image on Instagram. The other reason is that I believe that the visual language should be independent from the verbal one, and I don’t want to condition the perception of the viewers. I found support on this blog post of the street photographer Eric Kim, who says that:

By telling too much information of a photograph, you close off the image. You don’t leave it up to interpretation. It becomes less interesting or puzzling to the viewer.

However, now I’m not so sure about avoiding well elaborated captions. The reason of my doubts is the essay of Walter Benjamin that we recently read in class. In A short history of photography, Benjamin gave a significant importance to the caption as an element that prevents photos to be a simple play of associations. In a world where photos are reproduced en masse with commercial intentions, photography as an art should become a construction of meaning. And there’s where the caption comes in. To him, the caption can become “the most important part of the shot” because it offers the reading of the photographer and it’s a way of naming what he/she wants to express. In a context flooded by images, the photographer must know how to verbally articulate why yours is meaningful. 

What do you think about that? He wrote the essay in the 1930s. Do you think that his idea is still valid in our context? Honestly, I don’t know. What I know is that I’m exploring again with captions that are not too long, but that try to point what I think is the most interesting aspect of the photo.

Casual encounters with red | Encuentros casuales con el rojo

A photo posted by Jorge Caraballo Cordovez (@caraballocordovez) on Sep 21, 2016 at 4:18am PDT

 

The question is open. I will be posting examples of photographers who use captions in the way that Benjamin suggested.

Something to do while visiting NYC…

I’m really sad I won’t be able to join everyone in nyc 😥  My dad and grandfather are going to be in town that weekend…

(If y’all are interested) you should check out swing dancing! It started in Harlem back in the 20’s and is still a popular form of dancing today. Check out more history here.

It’s super fun and easy to learn. Also, the movements could be interesting to photograph. A list of swing events per week in nyc is here (this should be updated as we get closer to the 29th).