“When I make a photograph I want it to be an altogether new object, complete and self-contained, whose basic condition is order.” - Aaron Siskind
At 60 miles an hour, unidentifiable objects whiz by regularly. At first I thought they were white bricks and then I thought perhaps those French blow-up sponges that you see advertised on late night television.
The South Autopista from Havana to Trinidad provided many sights that caught my eye from cane cutters (macheteros) lunching in the shade of their truck, to inspirational billboards of Ché and José Martí, but the mystery cubes had me stumped. We passed farmer after farmer gesturing towards the car with a wooden plank topped with these unrecognizable squares. Finally, we could stand the suspense no longer and slowed our micro-compact rental to ask, “Qué es?” The answer: cheese - soft white blocks of queso sold roadside in the midday sun.
Not surprising, because containers in Cuba are few and far between. They do not wrap, wrap, and double wrap as we do in the homeland of the safety lid and the zip-lock baggie. We passed a man in Trinidad selling cake under a bridge. I gave him a peso coin and he deposited a large slice, dripping with green icing, directly to the palm of my hand. (We later noticed the cake tasted faintly of bacon, a fact we chose to block out rather than investigate.) Our Havana hostess, Vidillia, the stoic and loony matriarch of Lorne’s Cuban family would always remind us to save everything; water bottles, film canisters, empty hand cream jars... everything would be re-used. Bottles and jars reappeared in the kitchen a day or two after their kidnap, filled with a variety of mystery sauces. With disbelief we were told that the local hospital used the film canisters for urine specimens. I am home two weeks now and still find my hand reflexively pausing above the trash when I am about to throw away anything closeable.
The spirit of the Cuban people also has very few containers. Quite normal, we found, to walk by a home emanating music and the aroma of rum and be warmly welcomed in for drinks and dance lessons. Socializing sloshes out front doors and open windows with a muddy line between private and public space. At 3:05, joyous, unbridled children, stripped of indoor techno options, flood the streets and parks. They have no reason to miss a moment of the sun. Lorne and I soon developed a radar for “niños and niñas” alerting each other to the faces we found particularly wonderful.
Neither did we find much of a container for the Cuban skill for living in the moment. Whether it was a walk along the seaside wall named the Malecón, or an impromptu salsa session in the middle of a public square, Cuban joi-de-vivre has a tendency to overflow, burst the dam and sweep you away as you try to stand idly by.
“You cannot depend on your eyes if your imagination is out of focus.” - Mark Twain
The Depictive Level: focus (part IV of IV)
The Depictive Level Photography is inherently an analytic discipline. Where a painter starts with a blank canvas and builds a picture, a photographer starts with the messiness of the world and selects a picture. A photographer standing before houses and streets and people and trees and artifacts of a culture imposes an order on the scene - simplifies the jumble by giving it structure. He or she imposes this order by choosing a vantage point, choosing a frame, choosing a moment of exposure, and by selecting a plane of focus. The photographic image depicts, within certain formal constraints, an aspect of the world. The formal character of the image is a result of a range of physical and optical factors. These are the factors that define the physical level of the photograph. But on the depictive level there are four central ways in which the world in front of the camera is transformed into the photograph: flatness, frame, time, and focus.
Focus is the fourth major transformation of the world into a photograph. Not only does a camera see monocularly from a definite vantage point; it also creates a hierarchy in the depictive space by defining a single plane of focus. This plane, which is usually parallel with the picture plane, gives emphasis to part of the picture and helps to distill a photograph's subject from its content. There is a gravitation of attention to the plane of focus. Attention to focus concentrates our attention.
In the Mental Level, you see a mental image - a mental construction - when you read this page, or look at a photograph, or see anything else in the world. Light reflecting off a page is focused by the lenses in your eyes on to your retinas. They send electrical impulses along the optic nerves to your cerebral cortex. There your brain interprets these impulses and constructs a mental image.
Pictures exist on a mental level that may be coincident with the depictive level - what the picture is showing - but, does not mirror it. The mental level elaborates, refines, and embellishes our perceptions of the depictive level. The mental level of a photograph provides a framework for the mental image we construct of (and for) the picture. While the mental level is separate from the depictive level, it is honed by formal decisions on that level: choice of vantage point (where exactly to take the picture from), frame (what exactly to include), time (when exactly to release the shutter), and focus (what exactly to emphasize with the plane of focus). What a photographer pays attention to governs these decisions (be they conscious, intuitive, or automatic). These decisions resonate with the clarity of the photographer's attention. They conform to the photographer's mental organization - the visual gestalt - of the picture.
When photographers take pictures, they hold mental models in their minds; models that are the result of the proddings of insight, conditioning, and comprehension of the world. For most photographers, the model operates unconsciously. But, by making the model conscious, the photographer brings it and the mental level of the photograph under his or her control.
The mental level provides counterpoint to the depictive theme. The photographic image turns a piece of paper into a seductive illusion or a moment of truth and beauty. Mental models adjust to accommodate perceptions (leading one to change photographic decisions). This modeling adjustment alters, in turn, one's perceptions. And so on. It is a dynamic, self-modifying process. It is what an engineer would call a feedback loop. It is a complex, ongoing, spontaneous interaction of observation, understanding, imagination, and intention.
The Nature of Photographs
“My friend has a baby. I'm recording all the noises he makes so later I can ask him what he meant.” - Stephen Wright
Sparks of creativity often flow from new knowledge. Frequently it's information about things that are completely new to you. Sometimes, it's new facts about familiar things. And sometimes it's information about things that you didn't know you didn't know. This last category, usually filled with items that are silly and fanciful, can provide a platform for your imagination to jump from. So here I present the: "Things you didn't know you didn't know" section (or the alternately titled: "Trivia to win bar bets" section).
How Can Babies Withstand Higher Body Temperatures Than Their Supposedly Hardier Parents?
When adults spring a high fever, they are likely to be very sick. But babies often spike to high temperatures without serious repercussions. Babies' temperatures respond more quickly, more easily, and with much greater swings than adults'. Why? Our body has a thermostat, located in the hypothalamus of the brain. When we are infected by bacteria or toxins interfere with the workings of the thermostat, fooling it into thinking that 103 degrees Fahrenheit, not 98.6 degrees, is “normal."
With a baby, a 103-degree fever doesn't necessarily mean a more severe illness than a 101-degree fever. Babies simply do not possess the well-developed hypothalamus that adults do. Temperature stability and regulation, like
other developmental faculties, steadily increase as the baby ages. Fever is a symptom, not the cause of sickness. In fact, fever is both a bodily defense against infection and a reliable alarm. The first reaction of most parents to their babies' fever is to bundle them up like Eskimos, especially when taking them outside. Mother and father don't always know best. Fever isn’t really the enemy and shouldn't be treated as such. The body is trying to fight infection by raising the temperature. Swaddling the baby actually interferes with the heat loss that will eventually ease the fever.
The Answers to Civilization’s Most Perplexing Questions
By David Feldman