Sunday, July 19

A Shadow of the Ancient Ways: Paris 6

Brisk winter afternoon.

It was 1887 when the French erected this huge relic from the edge of the iron age. Maybe that will save it in this moment of statue and history smashing? Cultural churning's sparked a fashion for ripping stuff down. History's got veins of bad... so it's the 2020 fashion to rubble-ize all of it. 

But the Eiffel's neither a triumphal arch, nor a tyrannical warrior on horseback. Maybe the mob'll pass it by? Uh, well not so fast. The 19th century wasn't France's best. And it was ending after the Germans had smashed their armies leaving them with gaunt borders and, until 1871, the Prussian occupation of Paris. They needed what some called a tiara-of-accomplishment as 1800s sand tumbled to its hourglass's bottom. 

So a scant decade later, Gustave Eiffel built his tower as a Freudian-wand to re-engorge French pride. Which makes it the greatest historic monument to nationalism. Gustave himself called his tower a "300 meter flagpole." Uh-oh, will that ignite internationalists'-history-looting blowtorches? After all, they've declared that nationalism is definitionally about racism. Especially in Europe where - unlike the Americas, Australia, and New Zealand -  national borders were set to exclude diversity. 

Mobs are usually lazy with short attention spans. It'll probably take more determination than they've got to pull this gigantic gadget down: unless their backers can implant a correct load of explosives under each of its footings. Hmmmm... Can you imagine shadowy rooms of black-clad,  Guy Fawkes mask-muffled plotters? 

I've worried before about the future of the future, especially since tens of thousands are toppling history's past

Friday, July 10

Is There A Future for the Past?

Is my Hagia Sophia picture-portfolio's value about to spike?  Dunno... Got a ton of haunting pix from inside the Hagia Sophia's de-plastered walls. The ancient Christian paintings are moving. However Koran's not supportive of images of most kinds within the walls of mosques. Sooooo.... 

Are we witnessing the collapse of the frame of a fragile world? As Hitler demonstrated, crisis presents opportunities, and I suspect there's a vacuum of consensus concerning historic preservation, certainly that seems to be the case here in the US. 

"Is there a future for the past?" Sorry I cannot recall who wrote that, it's just stuck in my mind, like one of those tunes that won't stop playing. Y'know? Istanbul's a nagging example of the adage that every great success is built upon unstable and painful rubble, huh?

Beneath every Rome lies a Carthage, Athens, and Dixie.

P.S. Just as it's piquing me to wonder if there is a future for the past? Um, whuddabout the vice versa? Hmmm... Or izzat the same thing? Or... I'm off to quietly have a head explosion. Aaargh!

Sunday, June 21

The Rooftops of Paris 5

About a block or so from the Bastille
Sort of across the street from the pictures in my last posting, I found this early morning shot. Gotta' admit that it's captivating. How the hell'd they pull this off. Those are 18th century buildings I think. Their lower floors are discreet as a nun's skirts. But up top?

Anyone able to translate this culturally, historically, and of course linguistically? Blow it up and look carefully at these tags. See the one on the upper left? That's a cartoon cop car - upside down - with "police" in English. There's a 1984 slashed vertically in the center and, well I give up. Gotta' admit this is totally fascinating art (I know Andreas, I'm eating some crow here).

The sunrise was just perfect, like a spotlight on stage. And the palette is eye popping. It's a shame the it was too early to pop into the Café on the first floor. I wonder if the decor is classic French? Look at all the chimneys. And were there... are there... elevators? If oui, then when did they get installed.

So much history piled up here. These are the architectural shots I totally love. The way that builders elbow their way into spaces so that each generation plops its cultural flag along a streetscape, but in the case, a generation got in there with paint!

And I wonder which generation? How old are these graffs? You think 60's? 80s? The fading suggests nothing newer than the 90s but Wudda-I-know? Is this political, or just fun? And at who's expense (see my last post)? Do they add to the somber inheritance of those buildings? Or subtract?

If someone cared, I expect they'd be gone. Yet, how'd they get up there, and how'd they get erased? And would erasing them be a Taliban sort of desecration.

Enquiring minds wanna know.

Saturday, June 20

Paris Chic 4

Model: Marti Armstrong

A grey, damp, chilly parisian winter morning. 

As my friend Andreas Manessinger knows I'm uncomfortable with graffiti. Bur a visit to Pompeii's softened my resistance since that ancient town's walls are covered in the stuff. My disapproval's leaning against an acient... maybe even primal... instinct for humans to scrawl, paint, scratch their presence onto history. How much do graffs differ from the plaques under statues, the etchings onto stone monuments, or for that matter, the carvings dug into tombstones? Is it fine for a minor politician to have his/her name chiseled onto to stone, like the guy who wrote that he made the Partheon left this huge inscription across the top of the portico:"M*AGRIPPA *L* F* COSTERTIVM*FECIT".  Which in English sort of means, "M. AGRIPPA L.F. COSTRTIUM*MADE IT"!

And that differs from tags, how? When it's kid that tags a wall, that's conceit but when old Agrippa does it... 

Okay, there's a place for autographs - but the front of my city home isn't one of them. The "graffiti artist is stealing some of my property value. Theft's theft, huh?Should it necessitate major repair it's Grand Theft.  In the U.S. most municipalities have some sort of laws allowing the protection of personal property from thieves which can trigger (yeah, pun intended) an owner who is legally armed. Now it probably should not come to that especially since a spray can ain't a weapon equivalent to Dirty Harry's Magnum revolver. Still, I'd be cautious about spitting paint onto most private homes today. 

My first trip to Europe decades ago was a major shock... so much graffiti. Rome is a stinking dirty mess of the stuff. So too Holland, Spain, and most recently France. While both Austria and Germany sported less of the stuff, it was still a pox. I guess to avoid the possibility of retaliation, most U.S. graffiti seems to get painted upon public buildings and surfaces.An exception seems to be RR cars that scoated heavily. 

L.A., Baltimore, DC and NYC seem to have the least self respect among American cities I've visited recently. Philly's got bad neighborhoods along with the largest Jersey cities. Generally speaking the smaller the American town, the less scribbling's on walls. Maybe because the taggers are less likely to be anonymous? Amsterdam was the first place that I visited where street markets sold kits filled with small spray cans in color coordinated six and ten packs. These came with shoulder straps so the 'artist' could both access them easily, and run quickly. 

Which brings me back to Paris - which is almost as dingy as Rome. The romance of its reputation eludes me. Why, even as they remodel buildings, they sell facades which cover the remodelers for giant billboards to sell products! Block long and stories high boards  that are a form of graffiti themselves. The crumbling street in the scene above is a major boulevard just off of the Bastille. It is as if Parisians have lost a sense of dignity. 

Much of the city is not merely tacky but lurches toward the vulgar. Odd, since I'd never have equated Parisian tastes with vulgarity. In the sense of style, Parisians have convinced us that they're the gold standard. I'd expected high tailored men, and haute ladies. Nope... that kind of fashion walked the streets of Rome, Vienna, NYC, and Valencia. 

But... But... look how the street rubble works in those portraits of Marty up above. I love the contrast. Hmmmm... 

Parisian blocks have most in common with the ruins of Pompeii. Who'd have thought?

Thursday, June 11

Paris 3

Exercise 3: (Color Management, HDR, Composition)

Bike messenger stops for Parisian winter lunch

Street photography's a hunting experience. You look for game, shoot it, then lug home the trophy to mount. As I wrote in the last post, I'm studying Photoshop. In this exercise I worked on three dimensions of an image:

(1) See the cyan shift in this image. I stole the color map from the art of a movie poster, then worked it into the final image to reinforce winter mood in contrasty morning light.
(2) To peer into shadows and hi lights while giving objects a 3D feeling I employed Photomatix to dig into both shadows and highlights and,
(3) Worked subliminal cubist lighting onto the image. Blow it up and squint to see how both shadows and lights sweep from all directions such that there is no spot which lacks a pathway or line directing eyes toward the messenger's face.

Visual tyranny :-)

Oddly, artists as a group are among the most hostile toward tyranny. Good for them. But yet, they are also control freaks within their scores, frames, plots, and edits. Art is about communication... It's expression reduced to essence. Reduced? How about - compacted?

Artists share thoughts and feelings wrapped in ambiguity. Strip away the ambiguity and they become illustrators. Which isn't so much a title but an insult to many. So art critics and experts make livings by stripping off those outer layers, explaining to the rest of us what great artists mean to say. How they came to say it. And how all of that should influence those who visit the art that the learned analysts are unravelling.

Through their own filters of course.

Wednesday, June 10

Paris 2: Églese Saint-Séverin

Yes - this image is over processed. And your point is? Heh heh...

Églese Saint-Séverin, Paris - Circa. 11th Century

Over the last five weeks I've returned to class. I'm taking 3-4 hour daily on-line Photoshop classes. The application's so immense and while I'd first entered it about 20 years or so ago, my study lacked the discipline necessary to explore huge modules particularly involving color management, frequency separation, actions, channels, Etc.. There are a range of tools, particularly brushes, gradients, and exotic layer management. Yeah, I've read dozens of books, articles, and even specific tutorials. But in each case, I used those texts to overcome  specific problems rather than mastering the nature of how things fit together dynamically.

The creators of PS are stunningly bright. The depth and breadth of their imagination is stupefying. In one sense, I'm learning to accomplishing things I can already do, but in minutes rather than hours. But in another sense I'm discovering pathways for my imagination to explore. 

This isn't easy. There's so much to remember, and memory's not easily mastered anymore. But application's the best way to master anything. Right now the new tools are determining what I'm doing... Soon, I expect, I'll set them to do what I determine. It's the ancient horse/rider thing you see in this and the last post. The beast is galloping now and I'm holding on. By summer's end, the reins will be totally in my hands... 

Um, hope so.

But right now, every project is a chance to experiment. And yeah... Guess that means BIG PROCESSING, huh? I'm like a kid splashing about in the first pool of summer.

Tuesday, June 9


When a feeling speaks for itself, best not to interrupt?

Tuesday, May 12

West-World's Top Dozen - 2020

Source for this ranking? Forbes Magazine and Others

Images expand when clicked upon. OK?

Sequestered at home by fiat, the mind wanders/wonders... "It's artists' jobs to ask questions. Answers though are above their pay grades."

I'm just sayin':

"Did my heart not listen, or was it my head?"

12 Makes Ambani $59.7 Billion

"Life's heirlooms are tiny as a heartbreak."

11 Larry Page $61.1 Billion

"If your heart is in your dreams, no request is too extreme."

10 Carlos Slim Helu (and family) $63.5 Billion
"If you're looking for sympathy, you'll find it between shit and syphilis in the dictionary."

09 Amancio Ortega Gaona $65 Billion
"The death tax is a victory of political romanticism over economic reality."

08 Larry Ellison $66.4 Billion 
"The limits of my language are the limits of my mind. All I know is what I have words for." - Ludwig Wittgenstein.

07 Vladimir Putin $70 Billion
"How thick is the line between social and economic justice?"

06 Mark Zuckerberg 76.34 Billion
"In depicting subjects by their parts, people can be reduced to their dignity." - Paul Strand

05 Amancio Ortega $77.1 Billion
"Everything is the way it is because it got that way.

04 Warren Buffett $$88.8 Billion
"The unreality of reality."

03 Bill Gates $108,2 Billion
"A proposition has two parts. You must state a thesis. And you must prove it."

02 Bernard Arnault (and family) $109.2 Billion
"Yes, but what of the forces of brightness?"

01 Jeff Bezos $111.5 Billion

"What didn't happen is a hole in history."

* Wish I could recall the sources of each of these quotes, only three are mine. 

Saturday, April 25


Go on, explain this. It's a fact I snapped.
A room with all of its furnishings. 
All of them.
"There was nothing else? No bed, chair, sofa, sink, window... Nothing?"

"Nope, just this."

"Where'd you find it?"

"Don't recall."

"What's its story?

"That's the point. This is its story. All the words in its sentence."

"So? What's it mean?"

"There's everything in that frame.... Every clue."

"Look, I need more. What's this about?"

"Imagine a fluffy white cloud in a blue sky. Then imagine it seems like something."

"Um... alright."

"Now, take away blue. Take away white. Take away fluffy. Take away sky."

"Well,  OK... and?"

"There's no '...and'. Nothing more: Just imagine."

"But... imagine what?"

"We're hard-wired to sense patterns... Meaning. We order order to appear."

"Yeah? So whudda-hell's that room's gotta do with clouds?"

""Ahah! My point! Exactly my point! Very good. Thanks."

Saturday, April 11

Outrospection: The Street King

King Mohammed VI, Rabat. Morocco

“We cannot expect the camera to suck in, with light and shadows, the photographer’s emotions.” - John Updike

“Information is a porridge of opinion, theory, and truth heated by feelings.” - Ted Byrne 

•••• •••• ••••

Familiarity grinds down dimensions all around us so that we don’t notice the normal. Our brains are lazy pieces of meat which exert energy only upon the unusual; person, event, thing, or idea. The rest, the usual, is veiled leaving us heedless to the infrastructure of life.

Travel cracks the shell of expectations. It forces us to notice, not so much the habitual of others, but why our expectations are un-synched with theirs. To the degree that what we expect to surround us… doesn’t… our brain goes, "Yo!"

“Look,” it murmurs, “that trash bin up above's got a huge picture of their king! Why, we’d never do that.” And then… and get ready because here’s the epiphany… then the brain wonders, “Why wouldn’t we proudly paste a colossal image of someone we revere onto a big, dirty, dented, every-day, metal garbage can?” 

There's a word, "introspection". Why is there no word, "outrospection"?

I don't travel to understand others. Comparison seeds curiosity!

Once upon a time, the grammar of photography was limited to nouns. It described in images of fact. Over the past century we’ve learned to use modifiers and with powerful digital tools we can release adjectives and adverbs. 

Photographic travel art turns ordinary into information: so we can judge… in both directions. 

Oh, BTW... One great thing about being King, no one ever asked, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" 

Although an entire country quietly wondered about his answer to that question. 

PS: King Muhammad VI has been controversial, so it is possible that the statement up there in the image might not be one of patriotic support. But given the laws re. critiquing the Monarch... Well, maybe this is the subtlest way to do that? Regardless, it's an image that prods at outrospective questions... :-)

Morocco VIII: What's A Ksar and Why?

February 13, 2020
As always, click upon any image to enlarge it

Plate 64

The highway toward Marakesh from Ouarzazate winds through craggy southern slopes of the  High Atlas mountains cut deeply by the Ounila river.

Plate 65

A half hour into that Valley the town of Ben Haddous sits across the river from ruins of the Ksar Ait Ben Haddous. Every North African town has a mud and straw kasbah. This one, nestled against the mountain slopes, is among the most impressive. 

Plate 66


Built around one of the steeply abrupt rocky hills that dot these vallies, Ben-Haddous's surrounded by an array of farms, mountains, and rivers. It’s believed that the town, as opposed to the Ksar, was established in 757 and that its founder, Ben-Haddous, still lies buried in his tomb behind this  decaying walled city. The site was also one of the many trading posts on the commercial route linking ancient Sudan to Marrakesh by the Dra Valley and the Tizi-n'Telouet Pass.


Plate 67


The Ksar of Ait-Ben-Haddous is an ighrem (fortified village) along the former caravan route between the Sahara and Marrakech. The word ‘Ksar’ refers to a large group of close-together kasbas (homes) and barns behind defensive city walls which are reinforced by corner angle towers and pierced by two baffle gates.


Plate 68


Unlike the town, but like Ouarzazate’s seraglio (See Morocco VI), the oldest ksar constructions do not appear to be earlier than the 17th century. However their structure and technique were propagated from a very early period in the valleys of southern Morocco. The site was also one of the many trading posts on the commercial route linking ancient Sudan to Marrakesh by the Dra Valley and the Tizi-n'Telouet 

Plate 69

Ksar Ait Ben Haddous is around 1,300 square meters. Made of red clay bricks, it has many long and narrow alleys tangling up in a unique geometric shape. Some structures are modest, others resemble small urban castles with their high angle towers and upper sections decorated with motifs in clay brick - but there are also community areas which include a mosque, a public square, grain threshing areas outside the ramparts, a fortification and a loft at the top of the village, a caravanserai, two cemeteries (Muslim and Jewish) and the Sanctuary of the Saint Sidi Ali.

Plate 70


Plate 71

The earthen buildings are very vulnerable due to lack of maintenance and regular repair resulting from the abandonment of the ksar by its inhabitants.


Plate 72


Plate 73

About 98 families lived in the Ksar until the 1940s. Nowadays, only five still live. there, most moved to modern structures in the bustling town across the river. The large houses in the lower part of the ksar however, with well conserved decorative motifs, are regularly maintained. Workers return daily however to shops that serve the entire area’s lively-hood: tourism and the movie makers from Oouarzazate.

Plate 74


Plate 76


The architectural style has adapted to the climatic conditions all in harmony with natural and social environment configurations.  The inclination during restoration to introduce cement has so far been unsuccessful. Only a few lintels and reinforced concrete have escaped vigilance, but they have been hidden by earthen rendering.

Plate 77
Note the graffiti on the front of this shop. This was a set for the movie Gladiato


Plate 78

Scholars conclude that Ksar of Ait-Ben-Haddous represents the Berber culture of southern Morocco, which itself has become vulnerable as a result of irreversible socio-economic and cultural changes.

Plate 79


Plate 80
Up next - Morocco IX: Marakesh 

Saturday, April 4

Morocco VII: Seraglio of Ouarzazate

February 13, 2020
As always: click upon any image to expand it.

We bussed south from Erfoud out of the High Atlas Mountains through hairpin, windy passages toward The Door of the Dessert, the city of Ouarzazate.

Plate 54

Mid and Southwest along the spine of Morocco it’s sandy. Ouarzazate is nestled at the crossroads of the subsistence Draa, Dades and Ziz valleys. . 

Plate 55
The small Ouarzazate city’s bordered by tangerine dunes to its west and south. Caravans knew the town as either the gateway to the desert or it’s end. It was where traders debarked or finished their 52 day Timbuktu trek. 

Which made its 18th century Berber rulers important and rich.

With the great desert defining its southern border, the scenery’s nourished Africa’s two greatest movie studios where films like, Lawrence of Arabia (1962), The Man Who Would Be King (1975), The Living Daylights (1987), The Last Temptation of Christ (1988), The Mummy (1999), Gladiator (2000), Kingdom of Heaven (2005), Kundun (1997), Legionnaire (1998), Hanna (2011), The Hills Have Eyes (2006), and Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (2011) were shot, along with part of the TV series Game of Thrones.

Plate 56
Perhaps imaginary art professor Zdan Tabaamrant might lecture profoundly over the depth
of this expensive Byrne image of the legendary Kasbah of Taourirt. Or then again, maybe not.
It’s also home of the massive Kasbah of Taourirt built by the Berber Sultan Glaoui in the late 1700s at the height of the caravan trade. Now its ruins are under UNESCO supervised restoration and we toured its seraglio: the sequestered living quarters of the Sultan’s wives, concubines, and some of their youngest children. Those harems lived in seraglios guarded by Janissaries and giant eunuchs who paced its bleak halls. 

Plate 57

Bleak? Imagine 30 or so women, many just girls, living entire lives among mysterious stairwells and strangely shaped rooms lit by low windows: desert hot in summer and then winter chilled. 

Plate 58
For entertainment they peered down  through filigreed bars upon bustling courtyards of people they’d never know. Here they slept: thin rugs on cement floors. 
Plate 59
Lives lived within garnet, azur, and white walls sometimes decorated with meticulously painted strips at their tops just below finely worked cedar ceilings. These women were designed, decorated, and restrained by barred windows and the Sultan’s cravings. 

As unnamed poets wrote,

In a harem
all women’s hearts
by lust and slavery
are torn apart

…and they,
put on,
took off, 
pants, briefs 
and veils,
as ‘wants man’…
Plate 60
What were their secrets? Their hopes? Dreams? Seraglio was where women lived like pigeons. Most arrived as children themselves, frequently pre-teens, into a scented purgatory: to choose between satisfying Sultan, torture, or death.

Plate 61
Okay, monochrome bleaches away life’s romantic overlay distilling feelings down to the dismal. In fact, our guide pointed out the lavish ceilings and exquisite details along the walls’ upper edgings. 

Plate 62
So here’re a couple of Technicolor cells. Take their palettes back now and imagine them spilled upon the earlier sad images up above. Imagine golden and bejeweled furnishings upholstered in silken fabrics. Imagine musicians, food-mounded plates and indulging servants. Conjure everything except liberty to take a walk, meet kin, read, write, speak your mind but only to be, “as wants man”.  
Plate 63

BTW, the last word above is not men, but ‘man’. 

Coming quite soon… Morocco VIII: Ruins of the Ksar of Ait Ben-Haddous