Friday, September 25

Once You've seen one elephant...

Queen Elizabeth Park, Uganda

I guess I'm not a wildlife photographer.

See this guy (or gal, I didn't really ask)? He was meandering toward our bus that idled on a road. Why does the elephant cross the road? He didn't seem interested in the question and I wondered if he get annoyed to have to walk around us. This was not a baby. He shoulders were maybe ten or more feet high. You ever seen one of these in the wild? It's different from a zoo. In this park we're in the locked box. Actually the park is a great big locked box. Most of the world knows the story of Cecil the Zimbabwean lion shot by a Minnesota dentist,right? That kill was legal since it happened just outside of a wild game park. Meaning that these animals can free-range as long as they stay behind the reservation's fences. And that differs from a zoo, how?

It's said that Dr. Teeth had ordered up an elephant for the next day, but the guides couldn't deliver. My guides said that animals who leave this park will get killed. Seems they annoy farmers who routinely poison them. In fact, farmers who live inside the park are killing lions and have killed off the hyenas for the same reason.

Uganda is in the equatorial heart of Africa where I imagined beasts like this roaming through dense jungles. Even though my business took us over a lot of the country, I never saw a jungle. And outside of the parks the animal life was about the same as here in Lancaster County. I guess I shouldn't be surprised. There ain't many buffalo, moose, or bear free-ranging around our farmland or cities. Can't recall the last time anyone got bit by a poisonous snake, or even by a cranky 'coon. People are kind of anti-social animals.

But anyway, now I have hundreds of pictures of big game - so, what do I do with them? I didn't need to fly for twenty hours to see pictures like this one. They're everywhere. So I've got an idle inventory in a world without a demand. Okay, so here's an elephant ambling toward a road.

Big Deal!                                


Cedric Canard said...

You pose an interesting… hmm… conundrum I guess. One I've been contemplating of late since I've stopped taking photographs. Unless I've got the gist of your post wrong.

I was born in Africa and spent my early years there. I still have memories of giraffes and zebras and even elephants as viewed from the back of our house (we lived near a reserve). I was too young to take photos of them but if I had, so what? Would I be looking at them now, reminiscing? I doubt it. Would the photographs invoke better, clearer memories? I doubt it.

It comes back to that old question: why do we make photos? Especially when we don't have to. In my case I'm more likely to be asking: why have I stopped making photos?

Sometimes I feel like I know the answers to these questions, I feel them on the tip of my tongue but then they just dissipate like fog in the morning sun. I can't tell whether I've lost the desire to take photos or lost track of the reason for taking photos.

Either way, it doesn't feel like it matters. As you say: Big deal!

Ted said...

This is a two part response... K?

Part 1:

Perhaps we both agree that.... There's too much art? I mean how much tangible AND virtual wall space is there anyway? For example... There seems to be nothing more ephemeral than a media essay. Zillions are published each week and many are reeeely interesting, some profound. And yet they've got the life span of a fruit fly. Okay, some pundits get theirs collected into a book... And that book has about a three month life. And yet, if it's art, well one expects an immortality. Anything less and, well it fails the art test. Let's restate the answer to the ancient question, "What's art?" Apparently it's anything people are willing to keep around and maybe stare at/listen to/read after some thousands of minutes. It's the length of the "eat-by" date that defines art until it goes stale.

Someone once wrote that if we didn't consume pornography, there'd be no need to have published more than one issue of Playboy! In fact we do consume, an consequently use-up beauty, and whatever else goes into the soup we call visual art. I don't think that photography's Shakespeare's been born... Take the cases of Caravaggio and say Edward Hopper. The first made his splash in the 16th century, the second artist in the 20th. People who define art seem to agree that these guys were both important artists and each is a magnet for auction bidders.

How long could you stand to have your home filled exclusively with either of their works? I'm thinking that for most of those who privately own those things, that tolerance for their artistry would end a few moments after their stuff fails to attract deep pockets to Christie's.
Cont. Next...

Ted said...

Part 2:

A few moments... Which brings me back the perishability of art. I am bored with pretty pictures. Oh, I look at them, momentarily think, "Wow!" then head on out for a double cheeseburger at McD's. Or in the case of the internet, click them away, rarely if ever to return. I'll take more away from those essays I mentioned earlier. Much arrt is as forgettable as one-night stand. Or one issue of Playboy.

I take photos to make images. I make images as therapy. Another me might get the same solace from making lanyards from plastic strips. BUT if I can study an image, and feel some wonder - which is a mixture of craft with imagination - then there will be a takeaway that rivals those essays. I don't accidentally write, "Art without wonder is merely craft." Or that "the difference between an artist and a craftsman is that the craftsman shows us what is."

Your work is usually art in both the wonder and the time sense. You have the ability to grab my imagination and plop me onto a story arc. To that degree I selfishly don't want you to stop making images. If I compare your... Flat Lining to this elephant image... Mine is largely craft. Very competent craft mind you, but the wonder/craft ratio is tediously low. Your work is distinctly conceptual and routinely so, giving it a useful "use-by" horizon, and consequently the ability to remain ART before getting used up.

I still have a need for my therapy sessions, so I'll continue to crank out usually pretty images, but I hope to continue to be challenged by work like yours beyond your immediate .... Big-Deal-burnout. Are you a Caravaggio or Hopper? To the degree that their reputations are scored by Christie's... Nope. To the degree that it's scored by wonder... Yep. And you'll keep that ship in the air just as long as you continue to post Fast, Frequent and Fresh wonder reinforced by itch-scratching essays... that combines conceptual wonder with intriguing essays. Sure it's all perishable, but I'm continually informed and matured by throw-away essays, and by art with a massive wonder/craft ratio.

Cedric Canard said...

Ted, as always you give me much food for thought. I can't vouch for the coherence of the words that follow for the topics you raise are far from clear in my own head.

Is there too much art? No more today then there was last century and the century before that or as far back as you want to go back in the history of modern man (unless you're talking accumulative numbers but as far as I am concerned only contemporary art should be considered). What is different today is accessibility. We have access to all of it and we're overwhelmed. We are becoming desenthatised to it. So much so that we can no longer discern the subtle tweaks on our emotions and feelings that a piece of art can have on us. I would suggest that art isn't a thing, it's more of a language, a language more complex than any other with a thousand way of saying love or hate or beauty or ugliness or whatever comes to mind. Each artwork is merely one of those words or maybe a sentence or a story and is as ethereal as any utterance. Art doesn't seek to be eternal, it doesn't ask to be forever. Art doesn't care if it has the life-span of a fruit fly. It is people that seek to preserve it. Why? I'm not sure. Perhaps simply to create an illusion of immortality. Perhaps simply to be remembered. Perhaps simply to convince themselves that yesterday, and the day before that, and the day before that and so on, really did happen, that they didn't just dream it. But art doesn't care about all that anymore than these words I type here care about their existence.

Having said that, art is important but too many people (and I include myself in that group) over-complicate it. To seek out art and its meaning everywhere one looks is much like the seeker looking for enlightenment – the very act of seeking takes him further away from the goal.

You call me an artist and you credit me with an ability to grab your imagination. I thank you but I would suggest that you are mistaken. On both counts. I'm no artist but this is merely one opinion versus another. A silliness at best, tom-ah-to, tom-ai-to. As for my alleged ability to influence your imagination; I will accept that as a compliment also but is it the artwork or the creator of the artwork that influences the viewer?

Whatever we look at – be it an artwork, a photo, a tree, the sky, the stars, a loved one – we feel, we imagine, we relate. I would say that those things are our own doing, those things come from a combination of life experiences and sense of self. Whatever powers of persuasion exist, they exist within ourselves. The object we view is the trigger perhaps but where it takes us, well, that's up to each of us. Our relationship to the artist/craftsman of the object in question is best defined by our gratitude for the artist/craftsman.

This photographic hiatus of mine, if that is all it is, has had me contemplating all kinds of things. Things I hold as beliefs or opinions, things best defined as biases and prejudices, things that form my reality… and all of those things now seem more like vapours, distortions. Does art need to be separated from craft? Or craft be seen as lesser than art? Does it matter? I don't know. What makes one artist more important than another, or even more important than a craftsman? Some well educated curator? Some influential know-it-all? Some committee? The 1%?

I'm babbling, I'm sorry. What is weird, and you probably don't want to hear this, is that when I entertain the thought that I might not pick up a camera again, I feel perfectly at ease about it, totally unfazed. In fact the word that comes to mind is uncluttered. I find that very odd.