If you’d been a regular IdiotPhotographer reader, or just happen to have stumbled on this post, we’re here to say: we’ve moved! You can find us at the Sublime League of the Holy Lens, where you can see our newest work. We’ve been to Canada, Detroit and the East Coast and have some damn fine (if I do say so myself) photography to show off. Click on the link below to see our new home:
Meanwhile, here’s a shoy from the recent trip to Detroit.
Once again, musical accompaniment may be found here.
Some bright morning when this life is over
I’ll fly away
To that home on Gods celestial shore
I’ll fly away
I’ll fly away, oh glory
I’ll fly away in the morning
When I die hallelujah by and by
I’ll fly away
As per custom, musical accompaniment can be found here.
It was you
breathless and tall
I could feel my eyes turning into dust
And two strangers turning into dust
Turning into dust.
I’m going to keep on this musical theme until I run out of songs to post.
The previous post got me thinking about the uniquely enjoyable challenge of pairing song lyrics with a particular image. Holly is a serious Springsteen fan and was, I’m sure, ecstatic about the prospect of throwing some of the Boss’s words into a post. The lyrics of my personal long-standing guilty pleasure, AC/DC, don’t lend themselves quite as easily to urbex pairing, consisting as they do primarily of grunted braggadocio and affirmations of sexual virility.
But, as a theme of our recent outing to a former military installation was phones, I went with Cake’s No Phone to go with an image of a derelict telephone switchboard. Feel free to enhance your viewing with the video here.
Waking me when I’m asleep
Never lets me go too deep
Summons me with just one beep
The price we pay is steep
I’ve been on fire
Yet I still stay frozen
So deep in the night
My smooth contemplations will always be broken
My deepest concerns will stay buried and unspoken
No, I don’t have any change but here’s a few subway tokens
No phone, no phone
I just wanna be alone today
No phone, no phone
No phone, no phone
I just wanna be alone today
No phone, no phone
A continuation of a brief series on phones from this decommissioned military facility.
Nota bene the orange sticker.
It would be nice, after as long winded post as the previous one, to get back to doing what people come here for: posting nice pictures. Of course, ‘nice’ is a subjective term, and many would disagree that there is anything ‘nice’ about a phone pulled out of the wall and left to moulder on the floor of a military installation, but we don’t worry about those people here at the Sublime League. For the rest of you, here’s a delightful picture of a phone. Phones were a major theme in the last place we visited, and this shot will surely not be the last on the subject.
There’s been a bit of collective hand-wringing recently over the legitimacy of photography as art. A recent article I read highlighted the ubiquity of the medium. In it, a recent award-winning photographer was accused of fraud. Someone had come forth with their own photograph, identical to the prize winner’s. As it turned out, she and her accuser took pictures of the same subject (a whale, or perhaps an iceberg? I forget) at the same time, from the same vantage point (a sightseeing cruise ship). Therefore, the author suggests that photography as a whole loses credibility because how can something so widespread and accessible be, in any way, personal and artistic? Most arguments in this camp follow along similar lines, questioning the merit of an art form that is accessible to anyone with a smartphone (to say nothing of the dreaded Instagram). The article also takes as a given that these two photographer on their Arctic (North Atlantic? Antarctic? Fuck, who’s got time for fact-checking? Suffice it to say it was some salty body of water) cruise had to take the same photograph. The conclusion is that modern photography is a homogeneous blur of oft-repeated Instagram filters.
The issue with this argument is that it equates a broadening and deepening of an art form’s reach in society with a degradation of the form’s best practitioners. An analogy can be drawn between photography and food culture: the average person in the U.S. in, say, 1965 had not tried Thai, Japanese, or Indian cuisines, nor was that person likely to know what to do with lemongrass, paprika, quinoa or half of the items found in an average Whole Foods. It is taken for granted that the same average person today has a much broader and richer palate. Noone argues that food culture sucks because every little town has some sort of pan-Asian restaurant (though some incarnations might be best avoided) or an attempt at a locovore/awareness-raising/cruelty-free restaurant. Good, varied, and better produced food is more common now, regardless of how many people choose to drink Coor’s Light as their preferred beer.
Photography’s explosion in popularity can be looked at similarly. People are taking more and better pictures than ever before. A digital camera, even an iPhone, makes photography essentially free after the initial purchase of the camera, and the technology in those devices are enabling even the biggest noobs to take a decent picture. The cookie cutter presets on Instagram may be a bit tedious, but they’ve gotten a broad segment of the public at least thinking about and appreciating basic image editing. And just because a lot of the images out there are selfies, blurry party pictures, and food shots on Brannan filter, doesn’t mean that there isn’t great photography out there as well.
But here we come to the thorny subject. Most photography isn’t art. Nor is it trying to be. It has a documentary, journalistic or social purpose, but usually little artistic value. This is confusing, because we mostly don’t write concertos about our food or tell of our exploits in the club through Kabuki acting. Any attempts at those things would be seen as an artistic venture, however daft. But unlike music or esoteric Japanese theater forms, photography is a tool as well as an art form, and it is misleading to confuse the two (sometimes overlapping) uses.
While photography isn’t always an art, it allows as much personal expression as any other medium when it is. A photographer faces many choices in settings and equipment before a shot is even taken, and a dazzling array opens up to her after. A single image can take on many different emotional hues depending on how it’s edited. And while it may happen that two capable photographers turn up near-identical versions of the same subject, as in the above case of our two whale (or iceberg?) loving sightseers, that should be seen as a dull coincidence rather than any sort of comment on photography. This medium, more than any other, is judged on the sum of an artist’s work. A single shot may be beautiful, but what is he after in all his photos? What themes come through after dozens or hundreds finished images? Anyone with a camera can luck into a fantastic shot in the right circumstances, but the artist will have many fine shots, all indelibly “his” in that they speak in his voice.
All of this is really tiresome, anyway, and much in the way of arguing about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. If art can bring joy to its creator it has achieved its highest aim, recognition by others being merely a pleasant, resonant afterglow. Philosophizing about the nature of art is fun, but it’s the making of it that matters. I guess that means it’s time to shut up and post a picture.
Had the Bauhaus put on puppet shows, they might have looked something like this.
Today, Moribund brought myself and the Idiot Photographer on an exploration of a decommissioned military base he visited a couple weeks ago. I think we’ll have fodder for a bristling handful of posts in the days and weeks to come, and tonight’s entry will serve as a general intro.
The main remaining structure is the academy, an uncannily deceptive building which frustrates attempts at mental mapping. It is essentially a series of jointed hallways with offices and classrooms nestled within. The shot below gives a good idea of what a lot of the campus looked like.
Sometimes we come across scenes which appear to be a clamorous fall taking place before our eyes, and yet are mute and still. The ice here only serves to heighten the sense that the entirety is merely frozen, and will crash when we leave the room.
From a former elementary school, Gary, Indiana.
I recall it was enough, in high school, to mention you were going to the “Southside” to cement your badass cred. It would suffice to say you had driven past a numbered street (most east-west streets south of Madison are numbered in Chicago, as opposed to their conventionally named counterparts on the north side) to get a wide-eyed stare of fear and respect. When I had gotten lost as a freshly-licensed sixteen year old and wound up in a fender bender on 111th street, my friends acted as if I had walked into Mordor and back out again.
When I began work at the company I’m still with, I wound up having to drive around the Southside as part of my job. As I got to see the vast swaths of industry, housing projects and rusting infrastructure, my interest in urban exploration was born. Not yet urbex, in the sense of exploring the abandoned, but just visiting the less traveled corners of the city. There was a fascination in coming across the loneliest intersection in Chicago, or a former Nike missile launch site. Early on, this particular vista made a big impression on me: the bend in the Calumet River around 130th and Cottage Grove, looping around a massive factory. I’ve never been able to get a shot which captures the impression this peninsula makes on a passing motorist. I think one would have to get closer, maybe shooting from a boat on the river. But here’s my last attempt from a recent visit, all gussied up in High Dynamic Range and melancholy colors. Perhaps you’ll give me points for style.
There are many fine urbexers out there who take an active interest in documenting the places they visit, either to highlight an aspect of local history or to help preserve them. While I may be sometimes intrigued by that aspect of urbex, I make no bones that my primary interest in this genre of photography is primarily aesthetic. Sometimes only knowing little about the place you’re seeing heightens the mystery, perhaps makes the story a photo tells a bit more universal. I tend to take a “non-attachment” to the sites we shoot; I find it’s a bit dishonest to bemoan their further decay when that is the very process that allowed us to shoot the pictures we did.
That said, I can’t help be a bit saddened when a site I cut my teeth on gets very rapidly demolished. The Riverdale granary was a massive edifice of metal, rust, concrete and ivy. As of our last visit, only the slim north building still stands. Soon, it too will be gone. It should be remembered that impermanence makes all things possible.
On Pullman’s quad, across from the Florence Hotel, is this striking romanesque church, fittingly named for the color of its walls.
This former hotel was once the only place in town where alcohol was available, but only to its guests. Pullman’s employees, however, were barred from the hotel or its bar and restaurant. The industrialist did not believe his workers should drink. As noted in the previous post, George Pullman was a touch paternalistic.
As As I noted in my last post, I’ll be putting up a few shots from this enclave on Chicago’s Southside. The neighborhood started out as a company town for the famous Pullman Palace Car Company, a manufacturer of luxury rail cars. The company’s history is enmeshed with two currents of American history: civil rights, as well as the organized labor movement. In the case of the latter, the famous strike of 1894 was precipitated by an economic recession which cut deep into the company’s profits. The owner, George Pullman, responded by cutting wages of his employees, but not the rents in the company town in which they were required to live. His paternalism was such that it prompted one of his workers to famously quip, “We are born in a Pullman house. We are fed from a Pullman shop, taught in a Pullman school, catechized in the Pullman church and when we die we shall be buried in a Pullman cemetery and go to a Pullman hell.”
Though this area has changed much in the last century, it is still recognizable for its red brick rowhouses. Most of the original carriage works are gone, but a bit remains, including this former administration building, restored since an arson fire in the early 1990’s.
A couple weekends ago an urbex trip, having met with little success, morphed into a general city exploration. We would wind up in the neighborhood of Pullman on the South Side. A couple posts on this historic enclave will follow; we’ll start with a bit of art in the heart of this community.
Last two shots of LA, both taken from Griffith Observatory.
A few more shots from Los Angeles. First, a liquor store at Grand Central Market.
I would not have thought I’d see one of the coolest bookstores ever in Los Angeles. But The Last Bookstore downtown is just that. Besides having a great selection, they’ve taken to using old books as part of the decor, especially on the labyrinthine mezzanine level.
This plaza was to mark the center of Los Angeles at the time of its founding by the Spanish in the late eighteenth century.
I had heard that the Griffith Observatory, which sits on the same mountainside as the iconic Hollywood sign, is a great place to view the city, especially at sunset. Turns out, that is hardly a hipster secret; the serpentine road leading up the hill was jammed with parked cars, as the observatory’s small parking lot had long since filled up. The Griffith is a large facility, with many terraces overlooking the city, so that even with hundreds of people milling about, I could find a place to set up a tripod without much trouble.
On the whole, I will call this shoot a learning experience. There are a lot of factors involved in getting a good sunset shot, and I was trying to figure them out on the fly. After over an hour of shooting, I came away with precious little photographically that would stack up to the live experience. The pano-cropped shot below seems to be my best effort. It was taken probably 10-15 minutes after the sun had dipped below the horizon.
I’ve begun posting shots from my trip to LA, but I will back up a bit here. We took the Amtrak (that’s the passenger rail service here in the states, for those unfamiliar) out to the coast, a 48 hour trip from Chicago to Los Angeles’ Union Station. I took a few photos from the train, though I packed the wrong lens on my carry-on and was stuck with my wide angle the whole trip. Here’s what I managed to get.
A mountain in New Mexico