Prideful 2024



I sit here listening to Marissa Anderson music, which is intimate Americana guitar music. It makes the world feel smaller. It’s Pride, and I see my friends posting their day in West Hollywood, and I see a lot of clone-looking crop-topped twunks all over my Instagram feed, and I miss out because I have to work today (at a church, which, from all accounts, is homophobic, but I spy plenty of queers in that choir), and I’m not sure West Hollywood is my scene. “What is your scene,” my brother asks me, and I sit and think and say, “well, I used to go to ambient concerts.” 

                  When I think of pride season, I reflect on the past couple years steeped in summer-heat pride parades. I had a prideful optimism to be part of “the community,” to consider “gay politics,” and I always love a paraded procession of flag-bearing homos. “Happy pride!” everyone says on the streets. And a year ago, I stood to watch drag queens perform Good Morning Baltimore on a daytime stage, while Andy (he dresses up as a mermaid. I’ve been on a couple dates with him. He’s in a merman Netflix documentary.) walked up to me. “Are you happy?” he asked. What a bold question to ask during pride. “I’m content,” I said. I enjoy my life. It’s relaxed. “That’s good,” he said, and walked away. I don’t think he thought I was happy. 



                  As I walked to my car, sunburned and tired, I met Luke. He dyed his hair neon blue. And he hooked up with me once a few years ago, before shooing me out of his house, because his Calvary Chapel Pastor Parents were coming home soon, and he lived with them. He called me after I left, asking me if I wanted to get Jamba Juice, while I sat at a coffee shop, so I said, “uhhh…not right now.” He asked if I was okay. “Yeah.” We lost touch, until at Pride, he said he sort-of remembered me, and told me that his parents kicked him out when he came out. Then his parents retreated to Texas. He asked for my number while he was high out of his mind, and I walked to my car, out of Orange County and its booming pride stages pulsing with friction and competing beats, to a little Long Beach tea shop.

                  A dark cozy shop with wooden walls and a desert garden patio sits on Fourth Street. Two communal tables, with some smaller straggling two-seat tables surround a stage, where Danny Paul Grody, a guitarist, will play later that evening. For now, a barista brings me a fruity chamomile tea. The sun sets on the desert patio, inviting a soft glow through the glazed windows into the store. I open a Frank O’Hara poetry book. He praises urbanity and chaos, against an idyllic experience of nature. I’m not convinced. By the time I close the book, music begins. 

                  The guitar is repetitive and hypnotic. It soothes. And I relax with the dim, red lights, thinking that this, too, is prideful (Danny Paul Grody is a gay man, with a husband and a child, posting images of the ocean and his family on Instagram). Happy pride. 

                  This year, I am too tired from working to drive up to West Hollywood. So I listen to Marissa Anderson’s (lesbian!) sparse guitar album. For now, a new little pride ritual, outside of the sunbaked heat of the afternoon, apart from the masses of people drinking together, without the club music throbbing overhead, with no bartenders running on a frantic vodka-soda autopilot. Just sweet little music as dusk takes over, falling into my body, belonging not (for now) to some gay clone culture, but, for a moment, to this small world, with the light softening immediately around me. Feeling happy.

Play and Photography

 

Browsing through the library a few months ago, I picked up a book that had been recommended to me: Taiyo Onorato & Nico Krebs’ The Great Unreal. According to one of my photo professors, “it’s an ‘All-American’ Road Trip,” and the artists agree: “We dealt with our own preconceptions of the American Road Trip.” The book contains a wonderful play of reality and fiction, which is to say, a play between images that seem “tampered” and ones that we might consider to be more “intact” (or a straight-forward representation of reality). But for Krebs and Onorato, the work is different. 
Onorato & Krebs, The Great Unreal. https://tonk.ch/the-great-unreal/


            Speaking of their following book, which uses the same road-trip method as The Great Unreal, Onorato & Krebs are clear: “there is no neutral image.” Their work is “not a documentary work,” but “pure invention. It’s a fabricated image. It is a reproduction of how we look, how we perceive, how we understand or misunderstand.” It is the nature of all images, according to them, to be fabricated. They elaborate that the medium’s natural fabrication might have to do with framing or cropping or retouching or choosing which moments to display, and I would add that how light passes through a lens onto a pretty-flat sensor that converts light to electronic signal might introduce another layer of “fabrication” to the mix. 

             Which is a different layer of “fabrication” that Susan Sontag discusses. For her, photos document an event. And an event, which is a situation worth photographing, is determined by ideologies, so that photography reifies ideology. (Photography also, Sontag suggests by following Walter Benjamin, levels all values, which would undermine any particular ideology.) The camera is the tool that evidences “reality” (or a way of looking at reality): photos provide “pieces of information” that “certify experience.” Sontag uses travel photos as a prime example (in 1973, a relevant critique predating a social-media generation). A trip happened only if it was photographed. And photography, here, takes on the “documentary” role of some sort of tourist (or family-vacation) ideology (like the myth of the American Road Trip), promoting a pathos-like sentiment of nostalgia. 

            If there is a “natural” relationship between images and fabrication (following Onorato & Krebs), and, at the same time, images are treated as “evidence,” then, as both photographers and consumers of images, we’re perpetually fabricating evidences (wrapped into ideologies guiding our vision) of our own lives. And it is here that I wonder at this paradox: that images both construct and dissolve ideology. Our hands seem tied: just as there is “no neutral image,” there is no image that can escape this tension. Following Onorato & Krebs, the best we can do is play between the poles, between reality and fiction, and between ideology and reference to an experience unframed.

            

            I went to two photography exhibitions within the past couple months. The first postered the walls with too many low-resolution photos of Italy. The photographer liked Italy. So she used her photography grant money to go to Italy and take street photos. That was the whole idea. They were not very good. 

            The second exhibition displayed film photographs of Ireland. I told the people around me that the pictures reminded me of Instagram. They played on some Instagram tropes. Someone else told me that they did not understand the photos; that they all seemed random. The artist said that each photo “testifies beyond the surface of [her] experience,” directly “to the essence of [her] quest for the exploration of herself in the vast expanse landscapes within the context of the world around [her] during [her] travels.” (She also says that these photos speak to the “mundane moments that determine our existence,” and I think, “WHICH IS IT: the mundane surfaces that, by being mundane, suggest surface, or the photos (also purely surface) which (somehow, magically, because you want them to) are supposed to be deep?”). Travel photos, which were travel images of landscapes, somehow suggest self-exploration. I can think of no lazier link from photography to some individualistic, romantic, self-discovery ideology than to present random travel images and expect them to communicate that personal “essence.”

            I have a trip coming up. I plan to bring my camera. And even if I’ve given up on “certifying experience,” I wonder, beyond my intention, which experiences I’ll incidentally certify, or which reality (or unreality) I will, through a play of technology and reality, fabricate. Here are a few question I’m thinking of:

            What makes a travel photo a travel photo (could you take a picture of your hometown as if it were a travel photo?)
            Can there be in image, following Sontag, which is not nostalgic? 
            How do images expose or subvert myth? How do they uphold it?                    

Sweatpants



I drive, a few hours early for a political luncheon, to a nearby coffee shop. Up the road through blocks of white, square buildings, lined up next to and behind each other. I’m dehydrated and wearing sweatpants that look like slacks, while the road slopes up and a white Mercedes tailgates me. I hope for a view at the top. But instead, I pull into a large parking lot on the hill, bounded by more large, rectangular white buildings. No view. Only concrete. I stop my car, set a timer for when I need to leave, and then walk into the shop, light headed. 

I sat in a conversation yesterday with other photographers about AI. AI is thirsty, someone said. It chugs water. I thought of California’s water problem, and the “West” with the constant threat of Water Scarcity. And someone else said that it was impossible to differentiate AI from a regular person’s writing, at this point. In fact, what you’re reading right now could be totally artificial. Imagine a robot as a narrator. And I wonder if philosophers in hermeneutics or semiotics anticipated this sort of robot-as-narrator, with their early-day pre-internet words like Cybernet and Cyberspace, thinking about networks through a Chinese room, or Having No Mouth and Must Scream. 

This someone else said that there’s no point in learning anything anymore, with the internet at your fingertips, and AI doing your thinking for you, and I asked her about Bloom’s Taxo—and then I stopped myself because I didn’t want to be a pretentious asshole—but there are different sorts of metrics for “critical thinking,” and all require a sort-of creative leap and some sort of specificity with a text or a situation or an idea. And it’s incredibly difficult for AI to be able to make these sorts of qualitative and creative comparisons (at least last I checked), or to be specific—telling you what a quote *means* and how we would understand that sort of meaning, or to even have a critical understanding of what makes up a text or a work (but, it’s also difficult and a bit scary for people to do this sort of work too…).

And while this someone else kept wondering what motivates people to learn (I thought of how important it was for me to understand and fight for queer perspectives on Christianity, and that unfolded into a more abstract curiosity that motivates me to learn), one person said that not many people have ever been motivated so much to learn at all, and now it’s just easier for people to pretend to be interesting, so, of course, I thought of a conversation from the other day…

I sat at my computer working, while my brother sat on his computer gaming, with his friends on voice chat. And I did not know the microphone was on, so I started venting to my brother about how I’ve become a bit more jaded about gay men, and how I used to hold this sort-of optimistic idealism for the “gay community” based on gay history and queer theory—that we could all reshape the community in ways that were “healthy” and positively kind to each other (let’s all read Mary Oliver and sing songs around a campfire), rather than reproducing structures of “gay trauma.” And I had to pee, right as my brother’s friend responded. “It’s like this theory I read,” he said, and began talking about queer and racial enclaves, like nations with only one race, and how this was a failure of pluralism, and that gays should do their best to integrate into society, and how it was “extreme” for people to want little enclaves of their own (I asked him what makes something “extreme” and he “well if you plot a bell curve and it’s at the ends of it,” and I said “but how do you get the bell curve?” and he said “you measure it,” and I asked “how?” and he said “that’s not important” and changed the subject, but not before suggesting that all minority opinions, in reference to a bell curve, were “extreme”). And so he hopped between topics (I asked: “don’t you think it’s a bit of a stretch to compare racial and sexual “enclaves”—especially when LGBTQ are often raised in straight households and have to migrate to an enclave, but in your situation, a racial enclave could be entirely self-sustaining and isolated?” and he replied “you have to be charitable, Blake,” and I thought, “That’s not how charity works,” and now, reflecting, I guess he’d be pretty charitable to a computer posturing for thought).

Last night, I video-chatted with my other brother. I told him that I asked the AI for a self-portrait, over text. He said he had asked the AI for a self-portrait the day before, and it gave him an image of a person looking at a mirror. For me, over text, the AI said that it was “in essence” “a network,” and I asked what materials constituted it, and it did not mention water. Our skin shines in our own self-portraits even if our lips are chapped; our language glistens in particular ways that generalized knowledge cannot contain. But the AI, perpetually scraping and perpetually thirsty, operates like a brute that never sweats. It speaks, ignoring its foundation.

Which is all to say that, as I am sitting in these concrete structures, about to shoot images (that medium most transparently constructed of surface) for a political entity that I probably don’t quite agree with, I wear sweatpants that look like slacks as a slight rebellion: as long as I don’t reach my arms too high up, and reveal the drawstring waistband, then these look as formal as it gets, but remain comfortable for me. 

Limit



    Instrumental music: all surface. A play of surface.
    Image: All surface. Give it metaphor; give it meaning; imagine its other. 
    Image the limit, image the surface. What else is there?

    Little concrete gestures, orienting towards things, towards ideas...

    If there is the limitless, I cannot figure it. 
    The universe, they say, expands at 160,000 miles per hour,
    (which is apparently just slightly faster than my internet speed!)
    and I have a hard time being convinced (I think it shows).
    
    

    I was reading Jean-Luc Nancy, and telling my professor his attempt to critique the idea of myth, without creating a new mythology. She told me to “ground these ideas,” and I thought that that was the difficulty: to avoid this form of fiction, and to avoid some sort of “autofiguration” of “nature” or “humanity” or “myth itself,” or these stories that attempt to “inaugurate meaning.” How, really, can you critique our propensity for mythologies without creating, in some abstracted sense, a myth of our propensities? What a silly question. I told her I wanted to take pictures of asphalt. How’s that for grounding? 
     I thought of Annie Dillard’s use of the word “bathetic” when she visited “Jesus’ birthplace,” where Christianity might be inaugurated. The word means something like anticlimatic or disillusioning. And I think of claims of ideologies and mythologies and limitless worlds and these cheap-shot vocabularies attempting to rip our attention away ourselves, placing our own subjectivities in some larger drama of sin or samsara or divine orders or some cause for T-r-u-t-h. “Have you ever looked at your hand?!” Why not, instead, stare at the asphalt beneath our feet, at this world so boring and so removed from the drama of attention? Give me that drama-free religion of a world so apathetic to our gaze for the limitless. My eye stops on the ground, with no articulation of ideas; only a gesture removed from understanding.  

    (I’m getting back into it, ordering my stories from the past couple of months. Stay tuned.)

Mailing List


Comprehensive (a few years ago) in island hopping, I toured on the rippling surface above, they say, “folding and faulting geography,” across a coastal divide. It was a tour to arrive at the shore of each of California’s Channel Islands. Or all of the accessible ones. San Nicolas and San Clemente Islands mark an opposition, as active sites of the Navy’s Weapon’s Training, to the rest: Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, San Miguel, Anacapa, and Catalina Islands. The former two military islands raise difficulties of access (at least if you’re not in the Navy). And, finally, Santa Barbara Island is often closed for an 11-month-long Brown Pelican breeding season, and for those who rely on the Park Service Ferry, inaccessible. A storm nine years ago bashed its dock beyond repair, so that, during that one month of the year when Pelicans aren’t fucking and raising their children, you can sail your own boat and swim your way to its shores. And, that Navy-claimed San Clemente Island sometimes hosts fishing trips and, as long as the military is not actively shooting at you, allows you to step on shore. So, speaking of inaccessibility, only San Nicolas Island, with no National Park Service Ferry, nor public access, remains out of reach. 

The photographer Trevor Paglen agrees with this assessment. He’s a photographer who shoots telescopically, concerned with space out of reach. An astrophotography telescope, to image and explore distant regions of space, attaches to his camera. If he zoomed far enough he might hit the limit of our vision. How far can you see before objects begin to blur and break down? He agrees with this assessment when he zooms in at dusk to a brown-orange horizon blocked by a small dark mound. Three images, ambiguously out of focus, render a murky San Nicolas Island, like large accidental exposure. Its form is barely distinguished from the black ocean beneath its shores. The images are difficult to read, so Paglen comes in, at the end of his book, saying that he’s “interested in the limits of the visible world,” and relationships like imaging and knowing. Through his book depicting (or not) places we cannot get to, Palgen pokes at fuzziness and murky boundaries, using words like “epistemological,” “empiricism and imagination” to try to help us imagine our knowledge and unknowledge, and what we can and cannot know. Which is a lot for a photo to bear. 

Paglen’s series of images become abstractions, pointing, through their concrete names, to real-life-places as stand-ins for the unknown, and for what we might never know. (Would it be a surprise if I told you Paglen earned a degree in Religious Studies?) At least, “unknowing” might be how it seems to our coastline perception. A blurry photo becomes (paired with Paglen’s ponderings!) an approximation of a world just out of reach from where we stand on the sands of our mainland beaches. We could stand here mystified. 

And, inland, to the sands with no beaches, near the Mojave Desert’s Kelso Dunes, Andrew and I worked to take pictures and videos of volunteers. Neon vests dotted the shrubby landscape as members of the Wilderness Volunteers pulled up invasive mustard plants hiding in the wrong desert. I wandered around until one woman, bending down to tear up a bundle of the bad plant, paused, exclaiming a desire to swap her hat for one stitched with WV. She took it off, looked at it, and showed it to me. “Another great volunteer organization,” she said. The hat said “Channel Islands Restoration.” She took a look at my hat as I took her photo. “Oh! The Channel Islands! Have you gone recently?” I told her that I had gone to all the islands you could get to with the National Park Service Ferry a few years ago. She said she had worked with the Restoration and had gone to one of the islands. “Oh, Santa Cruz Island? I know they’re doing restoration work there.” No, she said. San Nicolas Island. Invited through a mailing list. “The Navy flew us out!” 

Where a thinker like Paglen images a limit, a woman in the desert proclaims a different testimony. While Paglen’s images mystify what they claim not to capture, this woman proclaims no mystery: only a reference to a mailing list. A mailing list! Someone tell Trevor! And one day, unlike Trevor, I might actually do something about this silly little unknowing and fly, with people who pull up weeds for fun, to the island. Paglen might be good at aestheticizing mystery to the point of belief, but, this woman, unlike Paglen, needs no mystery. She has a hat to prove it. 


Easter 2024



            I do not want to think about Easter. I’m tired, drinking chamomile tea in a Turkish coffee shop. A woman with two grand-daughters walks through the door, festively. She dragged her teal-Easter-dressed and cat-eared grand-daughters through the coffee shop, each with a fuzzy Easter basket, proclaiming “Happy Easter!” to the people working on their laptops. One of the girls offered me a chocolate. I took it. “Thank you!”
              Today, at the church I work at, the sermon drew attention to the truncated ending of the Gospel of Mark (considered by scholars to be the earliest written gospel), where the witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection made no proclamation. They stood silently in fear, refusing to tell anyone. No proclamation according to Mark (who, by assigning proclamation of Jesus’ status as the Son of Man or Messiah to demons and Pilate, while Jesus constantly hushes his disciples about that title, seems to be averse to that identity for Jesus...). So I imagine how paradoxical it is that the event of Jesus’ resurrection transformed from a silent refusal into a proclaiming text. And then, I imagine (hypothetically, imperfect) Christianity, like Judaism, as a faith with no evangelism. No chocolates from no children.

Holy Saturday 2024



Darkness ended yesterday’s Good Friday service. The so-called “Christ Candle” extinguished for a moment, then relit, while projected screens (like subtitles to a liturgy) projected the word “remember.” Re-member, as Mark Doty points out, is a re-bodying. A day of the body, again. So, naturally, I went to Beyoncé night at the local gay club, to celebrate this inaugurated day of the body (initiated by the end of a body: in the church, a form of its absence). I invited a boy (Jonny) that I knew, in the spirit of Beyoncé’s new country album, had cowboy clothes. My straight friend showed up with his girlfriend in a gay club filled with boy-girl cowboy couples. And Richard, whom I describe as “closet energy” because of his evangelical megachurch attendance (but is maybe just “chaotic energy”), showed up in all black and no yeehaw garb. “First time here?” he asked, while I recalled going to his birthday party here last year. “No,” I said, “but I normally go to the Long Beach bars.” “They’re weird,” he said, ”I went once.” “They’re much more relaxed,” I said, “I like them. They’re chill.” And I walked away to watch screaming women take selfies with drag queens.
            Jonny showed up. He mostly speaks Spanish, and I speak a small amount of it, so we talked slowly, on the patio underneath an umbrella, in phrases and single words and micro-charades thrown back and forth. Has it been a couple months since I’ve seen him? No, he said, six months. Time passes quickly, I told him. 
            It began to rain, and my car, which is like a jeep, sat topless in the parking lot. We went into the club to warm up, and Jonny sat down with his redbull (he no longer drinks, nor smokes, so he took an edible before coming).  He noted that the music (Beyoncè) was not good club music (nor, according to anyone I asked, very good at all), so we retreated to a black booth in the dark part of the room, reminding me of the still-life backdrop that Mark Doty describes. Jonny sank into the booth, and then into his body, and then leaned into mine, and we lingered together while the night passed. More Spanish, testing out hypothetical imperfect tenses; more English trying to test out the complexities of alternate languages we could both barely articulate. So I poked his face, watching him relax and rest his eyes; I poked his mustache suggestively (one perennial thought: many men, including the gay men I talk to, have never had a mutually-mustached kiss! No sharing-of-caterpillars!). We grabbed hands and I pulled him close. He said, in Spanish, now he understands cats and dogs, especially when you poke their whiskers. And more, how they react when you pet them, how they relax completely into their bodies, giving up their little animal wills to their senses. He joked that he was like a cat, sarcastically, like an animal. I told him, sarcastically (but seriously), that we’re all animals anyway. Animals and bodies, as we spent the night figuring our desires through gaps in language, in the dark little booth.     
               Until the lights came on at 1:30 in the morning. The host announced closing time. We walked outside in the rain. We looked at my car, soaked with drizzled rain, laughing nervously in a silly panic. I sat on the wet driver’s seat, while he said “Oh my God,” standing next to the passenger seat with the door open. I pulled his arm in, and he sat all wet. We were freezing. “You’ll remember this night,” I said, as we drove through the rain, and he, laughing, recorded a little video of us for his friend, while we made our way through the empty, dark, and glistening streets, shivering. I drove towards his apartment from a vague memory six months ago. Then home, texting him goodnight until 3AM, which meant Holy Saturday (the daylight part of it) was a day of waking up too early. 
            Holy Satur-day-of-bailing-water-out-of-my-car-and-drying-off-the-seats. Grogginess hovered throughout the day, and I finished Doty’s still life book again. My mind slowed, tracing my body (the day that seems so human, so of-the-body through an image of its absence). Back to animal bodies, desiring together.

Good Friday 2024



            At the end of yesterday’s Maundy Thursday service, I watched each person, one by one, under the bright cool lights hanging from the high ceilings, silently follow the pastor to exit the church. Up front, on the stage of the church, Kameron and another woman took the red and white cloths off of the table-altar. They replaced it with black fabric, like an empty still life. And it felt, with the entire church illuminated, like an announcement that the show was over. No more illusion, no more mystery of faith, no more narrative played out in life. The church, in spite of the stained glass windows, became an office-like building for everyday events. In preparation for Good Friday, belief failed (in dramatic terms), and the hope or risk of faith played out poorly. (Whenever a pastor says this, it never breaches the boundaries or discourse of that faith, but only finds a way to legitimate it). As a day on the Holy Calendar, Good Friday becomes a day for contingency--that this faith might not be.
            For many, the narrative or ritual (rite, following Talal Asad, as a text, or sort-of action for interpretation) of a belief system becomes challenged (in a constructive way) when it’s faced with the possibility of failure. That it’s better to mythologize, trading world below for world above, finding new theologies or rationalities, than to admit that the prophetic failed, or to abandon the faith. 
            I think Good Friday, if it’s good for anything, is for imagining a Christianity snuffed from the beginning. It’s for trying to take a walk outside of its discourse. It’s for imagining that the Roman government’s crucifixion of a popular leader was an everday, mundane event (as it was for so many others), normalized and unworthy of a text. And so, historically, the world turned differently. In the present, it’s for imagining what would happen if I grew up in a non-Christian home, with no pressure of sin nor guilt nor holiness nor speaking in tongues, nor a mom & her prayer group announcing my call to singleness, nor that I was better off alone. No arrogance masked by spirituality, no degradation of embodiment, no blindness to the world for the sake of the intangible. I’m reading the past from the present--how could I know how it would be? or that another religious movement might not engulf the history of our society? It’s easy to get caught up in the hypothetical. If Good Friday is good for anything, it is that this man’s death (which puts to death all of our hopes and faith and beliefs about what is and what should be) might, hopefully, be final. No more fanaticism, no more passion, no more possession, no more transcendence, no reconstruction of a belief system. Only the silent testimony of absence, of peace culled by violence. Only the vacant church’s house lights shining down on an empty table with black tablecloth.
            A blackness, or a “warm neutrality” in Mark Doty’s terms concerning still lives, that brings the foreground “to startling life.” For Christianity loses its subject to this neutrality. Again, for Doty, there is “no subject to locate meaning,” nor transcendence, nor a poetry of relation, nor any value by singularity or uniqueness; nothing to make of an event. No anxiety around the aporetic. Only a reduction, a gesture, to offer us...what? If the church transformed to the secular, if this religious show were over, it is only that we might leave the church’s doors, finally, to that which foregrounds this empty building and empty faith: “more world,” says Doty. More life.

Beach with Snooze


The other day (the day before my window got smashed and my laptop stolen at a funeral I was working!) I walked on the beach with Snooze. We walked on the rocks. I gave him my camera. He gave it back.

And while Snooze performed his water ritual (enacted on each visit to any body of water), I looked around. I have thousands of photographs of this beach. So I looked to the ground and saw a piece of a lobster shell among the plastic bottles and assorted garbage marking the high-tide line. The lobster shell caught the golden light. And I did not take a picture, because it looked like trash. So I walked toward the water, where Snooze performed his ritual, and thought of the scene that I’d photographed thousands of times. The ocean scene was photogenic, and I referenced a Caspar David Friedrich scene to compare it to. Yet, the shell held its own sense of displacement, its own sort-of place and uniqueness on the beach, but, as an object that does not look like a “scene,” or does not draw attention to itself against the scale of the ocean, it looks like trash (Mary Douglas: trash is “matter out of place”). So, like a mundane shred of ocean debris, its ordinariness is not really photogenic (without strange and kitschy techniques to make it into an icon, imaging it backlit with bokeh or those techniques that make anything pretty). An object not worth a photo. And I think, as I approach Snooze who is backdropped with an expansive horizon and warm light, that it is these everyday, barely-noticed things that are worth photographing the most. Those objects escaping image-based representation, not by their awe or their ineffability. Objects escaping representation by being so boring or familiar. Objects escaping attention, really. One of my professors talks about photography as a medium that makes the ordinary extraordinary, and I wonder what it means to keep the ordinary ordinary.

It is here that I think of one of my classmate’s photography projects of grafitti. He took nine images, all grafitti, seven railroad tracks, two gates, and positioned them so that Kathy, my classmate, said that it was stupid and bad. My professor said that if the project was about grafitti (because all the photos contained grafitti), that the shadows in the work “obliterated” the project as a whole. Kathy interrupted, saying that the shadows overshadow the work. And I thought of how literal it was that a project displaying grafitti was only about grafitti. It seemed to be a half-baked project, to me. 

This is the difficulty with the shell: that if I went back and took a picture of the shell, then it would be a photo about what it displays. It would be a boring photo about a commonplace shell; and any attempts, by using photography’s tricks of light and representation, to make the photo of a boring object less boring would speak to photography’s weird ability to transform an object, speaking to the ‘semantics’ of the medium rather than its ability, beyond its techniques, to create meaning. How, without a sort of contextualization that reduces the singularity of that shell, that risks raising it beyond the ordinary (already: my thinking transforms this object into something else), would you make an image of an anti-image, calling attention to the way a medium shapes our attention? I do not know, except by making one giant image of a shell (raising it again to this extraordinary status). I guess it’s a problem of our attention towards the “photogenic” that no photo itself can really address. 

Expression




Today, I see a hawk drag a dead pigeon across the ground. Ravens sit above, watching down. I think of my demon dreams fifteen days ago, waking up in darkness to the sound of static. And I think of the amount of ambulances I’ve seen, and police chases, almost every day this past month. My mind sank into a fog, and today, finally, some clarity.

            I laid in bed last night, relaxed. I laid in bed last night, thinking of expression. Expression as not some sort of calculated articulation, but an ambiguous gesture. This fuzzy word! I think in brushstrokes and streaks—expression an indifference, passionately, to its own intelligibility. Expression a faith in the strength of communication without refinement. 

            I woke up to stare at the clouds today. For the first time in a month, I saw the clouds as clouds. I could write about them, for the first time in a month, thinking their slow ease across the sky, and their inevitable dissolution. The light, playing across the sky, a blue-gray texture, molded. Brightness breaking through. 

            Today it is supposed to rain. On and off. I wanted to see how far I could drive, to sit and write in the rain, but instead, I stayed close to home, so I could reach out to the ones I know, and so I could go to the museum. I want to see things expressed.

            Yesterday, walking into Barnes and Noble to see if they had the book The Sluts, I passed by the stairs where, a few months ago, a woman collapsed. The movie theater workers propped her pale body up on the concrete wall, while ambulances came and roped off the area. Barnes and Noble had The Sluts, and I flipped through it, thinking of a goodreads review of Horse Crazy: “it is like every other gay or non-gay novel in which an older guy chases after the skirts of some pretty young thing who ends up being a femme or homme fatale, a moral black hole.” I put the book down and walked away. No more words, until today.