….I just don’t feel it.

I am currently completely and utterly bereft of ideas. I’m experiencing the flipside of creative inspiration. I literally have nothing to say. I’m assuming it’s something that every creative person experiences – creative stagnation. I’ve currently got it bad. So, what more appropriate thing to do than write about it.

I’ve been sitting on the following thought for some time now, having had written it out and, like how I usually write, expected the rest to then write itself:

“The mind loves the unknown. It loves images whose meaning is unknown, since the meaning of the mind itself is unknown.” Rene Magritte

19th Century French Poet Stéphane Mallarmé (aka Étienne Mallarmé), said there were two kinds of languages: parol brute, which named things, and parole essentielle, which was language in the abstract, language that distanced us from things. Brute language aided in representing things; essential language created the fictive, self-referential realities of consciousness. For Mallarmé, parole essentielle was the language of all Art, for all Art was ultimately self-recognition, self-recovery, self-remembering, processes which were as mysterious as Being itself. It’s a distinction we as photographers intuitively understand, the distinction in photography between reportage and Art.

Unfortunately, I can’t think of anything to add to flesh out what I consider to be an essential point about creativity made by Mallarmé. Ironically, maybe the fact that I have nothing to say proves his point – creativity is ultimately self-referential i.e. it’s about what’s going on in your consciousness, not what’s going on around you. Thus, I agree with the poet Charles Simic: when the world or the people in it make no sense, the best you can do is keep quiet and listen to the silence of the night. Or, as Paul Ricoeur said, “Something must be for something to be said.”

But Art is also about experiences language can’t get at. Martin Heidegger would say that the truth of Being cannot be uttered – language can only hint at it. Writing is, at best, a rough translation of the wordless truth into words. Can visual representations like photography better get at the essential nature of things? Heidegger would say no, visual art can’t translate Being either, but it can get us closer than the written or spoken word. The gap between Seeing and Being is less than that of Saying and Being. In this, Heidegger is a Wittgensteinian….to a point. The labor of the visual artist – you, the photographer – is to point to what can’t be put into words. Notice, however, the act of pointing isn’t the truth itself.

With that in mind, below (and the one above) are a few photos I took while out on a bike ride the other day. They are images made during a fleeting moment when something I saw sparked a self-recognition, a self-remembering. Articulating it further wouldn’t be of much use even if I could, which I can’t without sliding into untruth. Truth matters. That’s the cool thing about photography: you get to point to truths you can’t put into words. But, as Mallarmé understands, there’s the truth with eyes open and then there’s the truth with eyes closed, and they’re often two distinct things.


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12 thoughts on “Sometimes….

  1. Rob Campbell

    On the contrary, I think you really do feel it: depression.

    I think it’s to be seen in the photographs themselves: dead animal; last stand of Dixie; stars and stripes hanging forlorn in an empty shop window… oh yeah, you do feel it.

    It’s about your new national identity: it doesn’t sit well with the former pride in self-identity that being American must, through non-American eyes at least, have once meant.

    Frankly, I think your country and mine are both on some kind of accelerating drift into chaos, yours with the current loss of face brought about by the new administration, and the British one by Brexit and all the hidden, jingoistic crap that it has brought up to the surface.

    In both countries politics has been brought into a disrepute I have not seen before; as government action represents national stance (whether ot not that is truly the case) to people abroad, we both suffer the consequences if we find ourselves outwith our homelands.

    Not to be depressed by all of this can only be the comfort of the idiot.

    1. StephenJ

      Yes Rob you are right, but it might be too late, even for Trump and Farage to put right. Globalism might have gone too far.

      I reckon that depression is part of the ageing process, as natural as wrinkles and white hair.

  2. Lee Rust

    I’m with Rob on this one. We are in decline. The American flag is now so often experienced as either an empty marketing device or as a neglected remnant. However, notice the reflection of the flag across the street from the shop window. Old Glory is still flying in the open air, but now the Stars and Bars are re-emerging as an alternate symbol. There will be a continuing struggle to determine which flag most closely represents the authentic nature of the United States.

  3. Keith Laban

    Most will point a camera at something pretty and be satisfied. A few will point a camera at something to express and enhance their understanding of the world. The latter isn’t particularly easy.

  4. Rob Campbell

    I’m not sure how shooting a picture of something does anything towards enhancing one’s understanding of the world.

    The understanding may happen for viewers not previously exposed to a particular subject, if their interpretation of the image is remotely accurate, but as for the photographer, isn’t it his curiosity or existing understanding that prompts the shot in the first place?

    Consider your Indian experiences: how were your thoughts altered after the first visit; did later trips find you still fresh to the impact, or were you already acclimatised and just taking it from there, with a more free state of mind regarding the people you photographed? As you know, I lived there for seven or eight years, and here in Mallorca for almost forty: I am not sure I’d have anything new to say about either place, today. With one difference: when I lived in India I was a kid with no camera. But even so, I really do not think it would have made any difference: it was my concept of normal, nothing remarkable.

    A similar phenomenon happened professionally: on some gigs, I would go on a recce trip first, and though Ann and I enjoyed them, the reality turned out to be that the serious trip, the one with the models, no longer owned the excitement and freshness of the recce. So yeah, it saved time looking for good locations, but at the cost of freshness.

    I believe the difficult part of photography, writing, or any expressive art is inherent in the mind of the person attempting the job. You can be exposed to amazing opportunities, but if the juice isn’t coursing through your veins, it’s all in vain (no pun etc.).

    For the very best of informative, mind-opening experiences I think one has to cross over to documentaries on tv. The Beeb’s Channel 4, for example, does wonders.

    I just watched, over the past two Fridays, their piece on Yacht Rock. I’d never even heard of the term before, and there you are, an entire category that had gone unnoticed by me! Yeah, some of the music was familiar, but not as in that genre. It introduced me to an entirely new way of hearing the material and drawing sme sort of broad category to encompass it. I accept that you have an issue with the concept of genre, and broadly, you may well be on the side of the angels, but I find “boxes” very convenient. They don’t devalue anything – for me, at least – but aid in forming a quick reference system.


  5. Rob Campbell

    Oh I can understand what you are saying perfectly well; trouble is, I think you have it backwards: I believe understanding is the trigger that makes you take the shot, not the payoff.

  6. John Wilson

    I think you need to go get fun camera like X1, let u borrow one of mine if you want, or Ricoh GR and get out your surroundings go someplace new, people places you don’t know and just shoot the hell out of a digital, less expensive than film, and don’t watch tv or listen radio or read online news for 2 weeks. Just enjoy and explore new place you pick.

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