Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

Sep 12 2010

Future Classics

About a week ago, I was invited to give a talk at a symposium on the theme of “Future Classics” by an local arts group. I thought about the subject a bit and came up with a Powerpoint presentation, which I presented at the symposium this morning at the Huashan Arts Village, along with three other participants. The seats were full and I was a little nervous, a situation that wasn’t helped by the fact that I had to keep turning back and forth between the audience and the big projected screen to try and stay on track. I’m afraid I repeated myself a bit too often as I stuttered and mumbled my way through the thing, but hopefully I got at least some of my observations across. After the presentations audience members asked some questions. Someone asked me what subjects are best in black and white and which are suitable for color. I answered that it’s not the subjects that are black and white or color, it’s your mood and thoughts that dictate such things.There were some people from Treasure Hill there, and it was interesting to hear their views on the whole thing, especially as it’s going to open once again to the public on October 2. After the event was over, some of us, including Andrew, with whom I played on stage at Hohaiyan a few years ago, and the organizers and other artists in several field went to Alleycats for pizza and caprese. It was good to meet so many people involved in the arts scene here; it feels more vibrant than before, more inclusive, but that could just be the pizza talking. After lunch I walked around the various design showcases, some of which were quite ingenious, and noted all of the vintage camera/character hat combos that my friend Persimmonous likes to point out. Micro 4/3 and NEX cameras were out in force as well.

What Taipei do you see? What city will we remember? What will we regret losing? What is worth preserving, and how should this be done? We cannot dictate such things; we can only do what we think is worth preserving; the actual preservation will be up to subsequent generations. People have to want it; the government lacks the capacity to decide, it only has the authority to enforce the people’s decisions.

The city is huge and dense in scale and the number of connections flashing through the infinite mix of ingredients. The subtleties were hard to capture with the big, expensive, slow cameras of the past, but today there is no such excuse. Why is it that people who live here are so blind to the world around them that, even though they have a marvelous camera with them 24 hours a day, they cannot find a single interesting thing to photograph? I can’t speak for them, only myself; I preserve small things that are large in my thoughts. Small, solid things that have large abstract significance. Taipei is a dense, complicated maze where personal lives spill out from private spaces through the “veranda culture” and onto the streets for all to ignore. But it’s still there for those who choose to look. Photography isn’t just what you see, it’s how you see. In a way, it’s you.

So why are cameras so popular these days? Not just because they allow the sharing of visions, the creation of multiple, exponential versions of our world to explore; they also allow us to see the world through the eyes of others. You can’t see everything, but you can see a lot of things, more than you ever would have before, no matter how encompassing your vision may be. No matter how empathic you may be, you cannot see everything the way someone else does.

Do you only notice buildings when they are being torn down, or only after they’re gone? We have evolved to notice new things, different things, to give them a level of appreciation we do not give things with which we are familiar. The familiar is the safe, things that have proven themselves not dangerous through the fact of not having been dangerous in the past. The new and the shiny get the attention of our animal brains in order to assess whether they are a threat and what changes their appearance may have in store for us and our lives. Even the old, when resurfacing from forgetfulness, becomes new and interesting again.

And yet some old things persist in grabbing our attention each time we see them, often more and more as the years go by. Perhaps we see them with the same comfortable feeling the familiar caves of our ancestors imparted. But it is also possible that these things, these “classics” arouse inside of us some feeling of a higher purpose, reflecting the way we see ourselves. They flatter us into thinking we are more than we seem, in the way that they resist time and forgetfulness, as we ourselves aspire to do.

So what about a particular photograph calls to us through the years? It may just be a simple vanished scene, or it may also be the capture of a vanished moment or emotion from another world, something small and meaningful then, but exponentially more so now. How it will fare the test of time is difficult to judge. But one thing photography tells is how others see the world. People see different things. Some people see the future, some the past. Some see emotions, some see patterns. Only through photography can we obtain a view deeper than our own, perhaps realizing not only what we are missing, but what we have missed in the past, and what we will miss in the future. Photography encompasses all of these, and lets us see beyond the superficial, to see what we truly value, to see ourselves not only as we are, but as we aspire to be.

These things aren’t created by photography; it does show us, however, that they exist. Much of photography is about drawing attention to things that are ordinarily invisible, moments that go unnoticed, details that escape us. Photography, one of the few time machines available to us, is also a useful tool in allowing us to gauge the changing context of such things, fixing moments in time that call attention to massive changes, be they in architecture or social trends or just the way people deal with each other, that escaped our notice because they happened too gradually. Larger trends, the big picture, so to speak, appears through the details. The city itself becomes knowable, even familiar, in the space of a moment in a small corner.

All of this requires a lens through which to see. And in seeing this, you not only see the city, you see its value, or at least the photographer’s evaluation of its value, in the context he or she provides. In that way, you also see the photographer.

posted by Poagao at 10:39 pm  

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