Friday, July 27, 2007

Why I Take Photos

Why I Take Photos

When I see something that I feel like photographing, it is either because I just have a sense that it would make a good photograph, an aesthetic reaction to a scene, or I feel like I am seeing something significant and I wish to preserve and capture that aspect of reality. In both cases, what guides me is instinct, something nonverbal and nonintellectual.

Later, I can analyze the photos I shot and understand intellectually and verbally why I took those photos, both aesthetically and in terms of the meaning I was seeking to capture.

I picked out 3 photos from a roll I shot in July 2007 which I particularly liked. Here are my thoughts about them. [Click on the photos to enlarge them.]
One I call “The Mystique of Jewelry,” is a shot of a two-sided billboard wrapped around a building at the corner of Madison Avenue and 63rd St. in Manhattan. The billboard is cast in green and consists of giant headshots of women modeling jewelry. Both the scale and nature of the images are designed to make the women seem like Goddesses. On the same roll I have a shot of a billboard across the street with a giant expensive watch on it. Madison and Fifth Avenues are both awash with huge displays of luxury consumerism like this.


Advertising projects into our minds a Valhalla of Luxury and Leisure, an imaginary realm that it is intended we long for and aspire to enter, via purchasing and consumption. Even though it doesn’t really exist, this imaginary realm holds itself out to us as an attainable existence. Advertising sings its siren song to lure us onto the treadmill of working in order to be able to spend money. We validate ourselves as “successful” (as opposed to “failures”) by our status, which is determined by purchasing and displaying brands.

The process of personal status through brand identification has reached the point of near burlesque with people wearing t-shirts with “designer” and “prestige” brand names on them, and with ersatz status conferred by counterfeit “brand” name goods.

In the marketplace society, you are what you consume. You are validated by purchasing.

Yet almost everyone is left feeling inadequate, since the model of success that is presented, and the world of the “in” crowd, the hip, those at the center of excitement, is obviously a world of wealth. We are left like orphaned urchins with our noses pressed up against the glass of a toystore, longing for toys beyond our reach.

Of course, the rich are themselves caught in an endless quest for status, since there is always someone richer. Only one person is “richest,” at the very apex of the pinnacle of wealth.

How different from the values of the erstwhile Counterculture, which explicitly rejected materialism and commodity status symbols. The Establishment has successfully defeated the Counterculture, standing its values on its head. (Yet a surly rejection of Establishment values persists, in the form of the punk and other inchoate semi-rebellions. Not rap, however, which glorifies materialism.)

Much of the above remarks apply to “Trump Tower Gucci,” a shot of a gargantuan display that looms over Fifth Avenue at 56th St. We see a mass of young beautiful female bodies apparently lolling about, entangled with each other. The motif is Harem. One young man’s face is in a lower corner. The scene is drenched in a feeling of narcotized sensuality. Apparently buying a Gucci handbag will open the door to a realm of sensual delights, an indolent existence of pure pleasure detached from the world as we know it. Who are these people portrayed here? Do they have jobs? (I don’t mean the actual models, whose jobs are posing for photos like this.) How do they live? Where is this imaginary scene?
In our minds, is the answer. Or rather, it started in the minds of advertising manipulators, who then transmitted it into our minds.

“Big Model.”

This is a giant billboard on Fifth Avenue in the 50s of a young woman in a fur coat, her body splayed out for our delectation. I captured an ordinary woman walking by the billboard. This shows us the scale of the sign. It also implies the contrast between the mass of real women in the world, and the imaginary “beautiful” woman on a pedestal in our minds, an artifact of make-up, lighting, and assiduous image manipulation in Photoshop. (Not that the model isn’t young and reasonably attractive in the actual flesh, and “white” and blond, the cultural preference. Not that there isn’t room for the occasional exotic dark-skinned specimen with high cheekbones.) The subliminal message is that wearing the fur transfers sexual desirability to the wearer.
[Kindly note: these photos and essays are copyright-protected. Feel free to link to this site but kindly do not misappropriate my creative output.]

Monday, July 23, 2007

"Hitler was elected..." FALSE!!!

Heard that lying asshole Col. Lawrence Wilkerson again ( a rebroadcast) today on Democracy Now claiming that "Hitler was elected," the new excuse they use when they want to IGNORE elections that didn't come out the way they wanted. (In this case the Haitian elections won by Aristede. Wilkerson's boss Colin Powell personally arranged the spiriting away of Aristede into captivity in the Central African Republic, a French satrapy.) Wilkerson was Powell's right hand man when Powell served U.S. Imperialism as Secretary of State. (Powell devotes his life to such service. In Vietnam as an army officer he was one of the culprits in the coverup of the My Lai massacre, which was successful for a year. Later he was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Throughout his tawdry criminal career, he and the ruling establishment have used his skin to score points, both to "prove" that they're Equal Opportunity Imperialists, and to enlist nonwhite fools into their criminal enterprises.)

Hitler WAS NOT ELECTED. He was appointed Chanceller by President Hindenburg, a WWI field marshal and arch reactionary. Then the Nazis set the Reichstag (German legislative building) on fire and used it as an excuse to arrest and imprison all the Communist and Socialist legislators in concentration camps. With the resulting rump legislature under Nazi control, the parliament then voted to give Hitler dictatorial powers.
The Nazis never got more than about a third of the vote in any national election. In fact, in the last election before they seized power, their percentage of the vote fell.
These are basic historical facts. Any history of the Third Reich contains them. ( E.g. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, by Will. L. Shirer).

This Big Lie, that "Hitler was elected," seemed to have started a few years back with a Newsweek column by George Will making the false claim. Ever since, it periodically pops out of the mouths of rightists as justification for overturning elections the U.S. doesn't like. It needs to be refuted whenever it is asserted. Since it is never challenged or corrected, it is becoming "fact" by default even though it is totally false.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Why I Hate People Who Only Care About Money

Why I Hate People Who Only Care About Money

I was riding to work on my bike, listening to radio news. There was a business report (on “Marketplace” on NPR) about the sale of domain names. “checkcredit” (or maybe it was “creditcheck”) was sold for $2 million by someone with the prescience to register the domain name. Hedge funds are buying and selling domain names, the value of which are said to be rising faster than property.

I imagined someone suggesting that I think up domain names to register and sell. It’s probably late in that game. You’d have to sit around and give it a lot of thought. I don’t have the time for that. I have more important (to me) things to think about.

People who only care about making money of course spend ALL their time doing just that- thinking up ways to make money. If you want to devote your whole LIFE to making money, you can do it. There are “opportunities” for that, esp. in “The Land of Opportunity.”

Since money is power, and money brings greater freedom of action, and the possibility of enjoying life more (nice vacations, living in a nice house and environment, having nice possessions), those who have it have a material basis for lording it over others.

The kind of people who only care about money look down on people (like me) who care about other things. They consider themselves superior. Because to them life is a game, and making money is how they keep score. By reducing life to a game, they radically devalue it. The game ends when they die. They enjoy this superficial existence, the unreality of a game-universe.

I hate them for radically devaluing life itself, and for reducing existence from something awesome and profound to a shallow money-grubbing competition.

July 12, 2007