“The technology and conventions of photography have given a particular look to each generation’s images, while history, fashion, and food have left their impressions on each body, so that nearly everyone in a given era has a kind of kinship to each other they don’t to other generations….
“Before the 1960s, light and air themselves seem to have had an almost undersea depth and luminosity, in which skin glowed opalescently and everything seemed to have a faint aura slaughtered by the newer black-and-white films made with less silver in the emulsion. I think most Americans who didn’t live through it think the Depression took place in a world of rough-hewn but secretly seductive black-and-white surfaces, as though texture itself could be a wealth to counter all that poverty. And the early part of the last century, when light was harsh and came from high above, was full of hollow-socketed stern faces above bodybelying clothes….
“There are fossils of seashells high in the Himalayas; what was and what is are different things.”
There was a high majestic fooling Day before yesterday in the yellow corn.
And day after tomorrow in the yellow corn There will be high majestic fooling.
The ears ripen in late summer And come on with a conquering laughter, Come on with a high and conquering laughter….
Some of the ears are bursting. A white juice works inside. Cornsilk creeps in the end and dangles in the wind. Always — I never knew it any other way — The wind and the corn talk things over together. And the rain and the corn and the sun and the corn Talk things over together.
Over the road is the farmhouse. The siding is white and a green blind is slung loose. It will not be fixed till the corn is husked. The farmer and his wife talk things over together.
This is the third of five posts where I’ve taken this summer’s daylily, lily, and amaryllis photographs, and recreated them on black backgrounds. This post features a second batch of lilies.
“Photography is, first of all, a way of seeing. It is not seeing itself.
“It is the ineluctably ‘modern’ way of seeing….
“This way of seeing, which now has a long history, shapes what we look for and are used to noticing in photographs.
“The modern way of seeing is to see in fragments. It is felt that reality is essentially unlimited, and knowledge is open-ended. It follows that all boundaries, all unifying ideas have to be misleading, demagogic; at best, provisional; almost always, in the long run, untrue. To see reality in the light of certain unifying ideas has the undeniable advantage of giving shape and form to our experience. But it also — so the modern way of seeing instructs us — denies the infinite variety and complexity of the real. Thereby it represses our energy, indeed our right, to remake what we wish to remake — our society, our selves. What is liberating, we are told, is to notice more and more.
“In a modern society, images made by cameras are the principal access to realities of which we have no direct experience. And we are expected to receive and to register an unlimited number of images of what we don’t directly experience. The camera defines for us what we allow to be ‘real’ — and it continually pushes forward the boundary of the real….”
Many an afternoon Of the summer day Dreaming here I lay; And I know how soon, Idly at its hour, First the deep bell hums From the minster tower, And then evening comes, Creeping up the glade, With her lengthening shade, And the tardy boon Of her brightening moon.
This is the second of five posts where I’ve taken this summer’s daylily, lily, and amaryllis photographs, and recreated them on black backgrounds. This post features lilies, and the first post (of daylilies) is Daylilies, Lilies, and Amaryllis on Black (1 of 5).
One of my favorites is the fifth photo of the unopened flowers, where you see a single bud with a tiny vine twisted around its stem and growing toward the upper right corner of the photo. I wrote about that vine before — see Vines on Black / Vines in Films — where I described it as a creeper variation that quite successfully wraps itself around any other plant it encounters and shoots toward the sun, while rapidly invading the space it starts growing in. This was the first time I’d encountered it at Oakland Cemetery’s gardens, where I caught it in the act of “attacking” one of the lilies. With the photo converted to one with a black background, the presence of the tiny vine exerts additional prominence, whereas it might have gone largely unnoticed in the original photo.
While On Photography is Sontag’s well-known book on photography and images, she takes up the subjects in most of her other nonfiction books and essays as well — one of the few writers I’ve read who embeds cultural analysis of images in writing on so many other subjects. Throughout her writing she attempts to address — often leaving us with more questions than answers — how images alter our understanding of reality, across the realms of documentary photography, art, and media information. She also regards images as always-manipulated — even those from the earliest history of photography — because at minimum they represent the photographer’s subject choice of what will be seen versus what will remain unseen; and, for documentary-style photography, she examines how the interpreted meaning of a photograph may change based on the words used to describe it. After reading this section of At the Same Time, I couldn’t help but wonder what she might think of our emerging AI capabilities, where images can be generated from text and have no necessary correspondence to any existing reality.
One of these days, I’d like to take on Benjamin Moser’s Sontag biography — Sontag: Her Life and Work — though I’ll admit that its 800-page length is a little intimidating. Still, I’d like to better understand how photography came to be such a gripping subject that she addressed it so often in her non-fiction writing, which I imagine the book will explain. I did recently learn that the biography is being adapted into a film, so maybe I’ll wait for the movie…. 🙂
“For the authors of the Middle Ages, the color white had three referents: snow, milk, and lily….
“The lily is the white flower par excellence, the one opposed to or associated with the rose, the archetypal red flower, even though roses and lilies of different colors exist in nature. It was already the case in Roman antiquity that these two flowers dominated over all others….
“Among the ancients, admiration for the lily dates back very far. In various forms — true flower, simple floret, stylized plant motif — it can be seen represented on Mesopotamian cylinder seals, Egyptian bas-reliefs, Mycenaean pottery, Gallic coins, and Eastern fabrics. Not only does it play a decorative role, but it also often adds a strong symbolic dimension….
“Sometimes it is a matter of a nurturing fertility figure, sometimes a sign of purity or virginity, sometimes an attribute of power and sovereignty. These three symbolic meanings seem to merge in the medieval lily, simultaneously fertile, virginal, and sovereign.”
“The rose, though a queen, is a friendly queen; but about her rival, the lily, there is always an atmosphere of isolation. Lilies do not reign like the roses, they live apart. There is some indefinable enchantment which puts the whole lily tribe in an altitude so far above other flowers that they are more than regal. How conscious one was in childhood of this strange sweet aloofness of the lilies….
”The rose sleeps in her beauty, but the lily seems unaware of her own exceeding loveliness.”