Paraphrasing a pattern language, in photography

Some personal notes, with photography on the mind and while beginning a new reading of “A Pattern Language” , by Christopher Alexander (and others)… the opening introductions on “How to use this book” and  “The poetry of the Language” – got me to thinking more about photography and the language of image symbols in a typographical way – than the implications on built environment.

My assumption: I am considering a generally shared boundary of my own cultural circumstance, which is a boundary  not altogether unlike the boundary of the language of the written or spoke word (that I understand) and the meanings contained in that form of communication… or as in the case of this book, a pattern language of the built environment which the book describes and arranges in a specific order in typological terms… It must be a comparatively easy jump to make parallels in the world of symbols and the photographic image.  That is to say, (perhaps this is overly obvious to most) but somehow fresh to me, something of an “aha” moment … when thinking about the language of images and the power of symbols this: a clear typological understanding of symbols deeply effects the communicative  potential regarding photographs and their meaning…

The quote that follows is modified by strikeout and [brakets] with my own inserts that gets at the point:

Finally, a note of caution. This language, like English, can be a medium for prose, or a medium for poetry. The difference between prose and poetry is not that different languages are used, but that the same language is used differently. In an ordinary English sentence each word has one meaning, and the sentence too has one simple meaning. In a poem, the meaning is far more dense. Each word carries several meanings; and the sentence as a whole carries an enormous density of interlocking meanings which together illuminate the whole.

The same is true for pattern [photographic] languages. It is possible to make buildings [pictures] by stringing together patterns [symbols], in a rather loose way. A building [picture book] made like this, is an assembly of patterns [symbols].  It is not dense. It is not profound. But it is also possible to put patterns [symbols] together in such a way that many many patterns overlap in the same physical [picture book] space; the building [picture book] is very dense; it has many meanings captured in a small space; and through this density it becomes [potentially] profound. – “A Pattern Language” by Christopher Alexander – page xli.

That said, of course there are some individual photographs that are more dense than others – perhaps even able to stand on their own, but there are also some very sparse photographs that fall short independently, but when coupled together become very dense simply by proximity, either through a building up of consistency, or radical dislocation, or recontextualization. Something to think about in constructing a photo book for sure.

In the context of the book “A Pattern Language”, the idea is … “that people should design for themselves their own houses, streets and communities. This idea may be radical (it implies a radical transformation of the architectural profession) but it comes simply from the observation that most of the wonderful places of the world were not made by architects but by the people.”

So, in that sense, I wonder if there is also a parallel idea to be had in photography: implying a radical transformation of the photography profession, that it to could come simply from the observation (or collection of) the most wonderful photographs of the world not made necessarily exclusively by professional photographers, but by amateur people… who grasp intuitively the power of symbols.


Gerry Badger @ Blue Sky Gallery – Portland, OR

What I hope to be an interesting first person presentation, from the author of “the Pleasures of Good Photographs” (previous podcasts) a gallery talk about “Berlin” during Blue Sky’s Birthday Open House at 2:35 PM on Saturday, October 9, 2010.

But, be there early 1:35PM  to see / hear about Stella Johnson’s black-and-white series, “Al Sol,”

A lot to see and contemplate!

Proposal for Wall Drawing, Information Show, Sol LeWitt

Proposal for a wall drawing, information show by Sol LeWitt

“In conceptual art, the idea or concept is the most important aspect of the work. When an artist uses a conceptual form of art, it means that all planning and decisions are made beforehand. The execution is a perfunctory affair. The idea becomes the machine that makes the art.”  Sol Le Witt – via – Originally quoted from ” Paragraphs on Conceptual Art ” Sol Lewitt – Artforum (June, 1967).

The quote above sums up quite well, LeWitt’s notion of conceptual art. However,  I disagree that the execution is a perfunctory affair.  Given that the “work” is considered the “idea” and the piece of art merely the result is fine, but I believe that one has to “make” the idea into physical form in order to complete the process.  It is in the making that the physical world exerts it’s will and the work “becomes” independent of the mind.  It is transformed. And the “thing” made is the artifact, a record of the idea, in all it’s physical being – for as long as it may exist in a physical state.  Curiously, it seems that the object remains the thing of value around which one buys or sells or exchanges for something else of value.  Think of it this way: generally, one usually doesn’t purchase a sheet of musical notation, rather the consumer purchases the sound results of that notation… Even if you do purchase the notation – it is mostly likely so that you can (re)make the music yourself…

It seems that it is the form, a form which constitutes “physical being” which is shifting so rapidly  – sometimes only existing in a virtual presence.

a young artist in art school used to worship the paintings of cezanne. he looked and studied all the books he could find on cezanne and copied all of the reproductions of cezanne’s work he found in the books.  he visited a museum and for the first time saw a real cezanne painting. he hated it. it was nothing like the cezanne’s he had studied in the books. from that time on, he made all of this paintings the sizes of paintings reproduced in books and he painted them in black and white. he also printed captions and explanations on the paintings as in books. often he just used words. and one day he realized that very few people went to art galleries and museums but many people looked at books and magazines as he did and they got them through the mail as he did. moral: it’s difficult to put a painting in a mailbox.– the best way to do artjohn baldessari – via (courteous of the echoing chamber – tumblr)

Perhaps Baldessari had it right – it is something to think about…  I also think with time and saturation especially of the virtual experience online – there will be a demand and recognition to return to the physical object as the most rewarding experience….

Even with “make an un-straight line” and the notion that “objects are perishable and ideas need not be” – I wonder why it is that as objects become scarce they tend to increase in value….

A goal: 20 interesting things to say…

“yeah, our days are numbered…after a while it begins to sound like background noise. I don’t have 20 interesting things to say a day, and I don’t believe many people do…”  (1) Kathleen Parker  (response to the question of the frequency and quality of “new media” (blogs)).

I absolutely agree that most people don’t have 20 interesting things to say  in a day – let alone a month even – for some, even a lifetime.

A lesson to be learned about the quality of writing on a blog – each piece treated as if one is writing an essay.

Over time, people will begin to learn how to discern the good from the bad  (anyone can blog afterall) and not just the popular. What the “old media”  (i.e. the published analogue media)  took care of for readers was a certain kind of filter and editing process. Readership knew this and perhaps this lead to a degree of complacency to accept what we see online. This is something we will have to re-educate ourselves to overcome.

Frequency of “bits” , while it may supply the needs of the attention deficit disordered reader , should not become the method by which one gains readership attention…  if one does achieve readership due to frequency – be wary.

I want depth – not frequency…

(1) 2010 Pulitzer prise récipient Kathleen Parker (traditional media / “old fashion conservative columnist” ) on the question of the transformation taking place in journalism and the “new media landscape”…and getting “attention”  (or otherwise known as an audience) .    Interview on NPR (Scott Simon)

Small reminder…

“But beauty disappears everyday, and often goes unappreciated. ” – source

Interesting to read an offering of multiple opinions – in this case three artists commenting on Vik Muniz.
Art Vent by Carol Diehl

“The purpose of…”

Shed with blue dotted lines, Penland, North Carolina - June 1975 by John Pfahl

Shed with blue lines… by John Pfahl – series from Altered Landscapes

“There’s a great quote by Rauschenberg, who said: “If you’re in front of a good work of art, and you don’t change your mind about something, you’re a fool.” And so it’s similar, that if art just underscores that which we already know, then it’s not doing anything for you. It should present something new, some new frontiers for you, or open up some new ideas of thought, even if it’s a dumb reaction and you say, “I could have done that.” Just acknowledging the fact that you didn’t do it shows, at least, that you’re open to that kind of thinking.”

John Baldesari:National City – interview conducted by Hugh Davies and Andra Hales, Nov. 14, 1995 –

I often question if my “art” antennae is tuned in enough to receive a signal.  It’s frustrating when I find myself trying to convince myself that “this or that” must be something worth looking at, or alternatively, something worth trying to make – as if there might be a “standard” for appreciation… or the ability to decipher a “communique” in art.  This is especially apparent to me when I don’t appreciate a “sanctioned” work – what does that mean – am I really a fool?

The book, John Baldesari:National City is a good example – having looked it over, I appreciate the conceptual works – a challenge to conventions – the effort of the artist to convey a kind of information about how one might encounter art, judge it by conventions and “get something” from it. But after that, I’m done with it. National City seems to be too laborious and focused on “getting it” – after which I don’t think it’s something I’d want to or need to come back to. In short,  it doesn’t seem to stick with me. So I ask myself what’s missing?

I think I’m realizing this partly in contrast to looking at the recently discovered (for me anyway) work by John Pfahl – specifically in his series of Altered landscapes.  I think I appreciate this sort of work by Pfahl more because it evokes a mystery that I can’t quite understand. The best ones embrace an odd characteristic of photographs that transform spatial conditions which look very different “in real life” onto flat planes  which is interesting to me – that is part of the mystery for me. This coupled with the obvious added touch onto (or into?) the photograph seems just the right thing to do…

Where you allow your attention to go…

This seems relevant and worthy of my time – from an article titled In defense of distraction, by Sam Anderson in NYT Mag – quote attributed to Merlin Mann….. Seems perhaps related to this blog post which in turn refers to a post by Meg Pickard on a little fun nugget describing the “irrelevance hump” on a perhaps not so fictitious(?) graph suggesting a trending analysis of topics of interest on twitter – hunch worthy or not – is totally up to you…. the quote below I think is insightful…. consider this in your work / life ….

– “Where you allow your attention to go ultimately says more about you as a human being than anything that you put in your mission statement,” he continues. “It’s an indisputable receipt for your existence. And if you allow that to be squandered by other people who are as bored as you are, it’s gonna say a lot about who you are as a person.” – source