The last few days have been something of an information whirlwind. Tonight’s end was something of a respite, going to the PhotoAlliance session with photographer Alec Soth, whose quiet, vulnerable portraits are information-dense but still: quiet, to be absorbed at a human pace. I look forward to his next book, Niagra, on the subject of love at the Falls…
While a fan of Soth’s photos I was unaware of how he presents himself, having only seen John Perkinson’s portrait — I wasn’t expecting him to be nearly as cheerful, approachable, and self-deprecating in person as he actually is. And within that was still the thought process, the awareness of the he called “photography’s natural sort of melancholy … beauty fades, people die, and photography tries to hold on…which has a kind of sadness.”
Soth said his primary theory about photography is: that photography is essentially non-narrative, it fails at storytelling because unlike a novel, it lacks the inexorable “drive” of a novel, to proceed page upon page. There is no such engine in photography. What is the engine in photography, then? The reflection on the life experience of the photographer. As an illustration he chose the end of Robert Franks The Americans, Frank’s family asleep in the car, exhausted companions on Frank’s personal quest through America and along his own road of loneliness and longing.
(Soth later said that photographs suggest narrative — in this way they are more like short poems, a metaphor used by other photographers as well. Even me)
“Dream Big,” he wrote in my copy of Sleeping by the Mississippi.
My box of unprocessed 120 and 220 rolls is approaching capacity. I need to do some souping.
Prior to the Soth talk, a flood of computer information in the form of the San Francisco leg of the Autodesk 3DS Max “Get Real” tour over at the Metreon, promoting the new version 8, the works of lots of Max users (often going to the these events is worth it just to watch lots of great demo reels), and they started things off with a crowd shocker by announcing Autodesk’s acquisition of Alias. (And then, while we were munching on that information, piling-on the demos and features of the new Max. I missed a fair bit I think, as I was busily poking emails into my phone… but I was very happy to see how much asset-management has come to the fore in the current suite of Max improvements).
Prior to that, I’d stopped for a few minutes to buy some gifts, and wandered into a bookstore out of random curiosity… always looking for good art books. A photo of the Dalai Lama reminded me of a different book I’d heard of but not seen (in fact I wasn’t 100% sure it actually existed!), but whose title had entertained me: If the Buddha Dated. I didn’t find it, but a saleswoman helped me look, and while she was at it and after we shared a drink and chatted and I special-ordered the books and we talked for a while more about offshore-software-development security issues (she surprised me by being an expert security analyst and coder, besides volunteering at the bookstore), animation, the EFF, Violet Blue, spiritual quests, the alleged existence of a town called “Pleasanton,” and evil. I’m a little nervous about the evil part…
…anyway the chat did a tremendous amount to lighten my day, which was coming in from a blast of other comprehension-overwhelming web and work experiences, writing shaders, the Google Office announcement, shuffling family issues for Rosh Hashanah, and a big pile of amazing data and links on my del.icio.us and cross-references from my bloglines feeds. I’ve been developing some personal ideas about computation, experience, the embodiment of thought and mobility, concepts of the self and its relation to others (aka “communication”)…. and reading a lot of material that skirts around the edeges of my vision but nothing that addresses it squarely. I feel a manifesto on the subject — maybe a definition of the subject as I see it — coming up at some point in the near future.
As I was driving away toward the Metreon, it struck me that I’d had similar experiences multiple times in the past week or so — unexpected, personally-meaningful and connected conversations with attractive, smart, interesting women — in which I hadn’t thought even once to take pictures. What the hell is wrong with me? The possible ramifications on the topic of “Why I Make Pictures” flipflopped through my mind all through the hour-long drive back to the Silicon Valley.