Monday, June 09, 2008
The Unusual and the Exemplary
Today begins my first full day at Ox-Bow, I thought I would connect with the outside world via my blog so you can see what I am up to. Feel free to leave comments at the end that would be much appreciated.
Ox-Bow Day One: Thinking Cloudy, Weather Cloudy.
The Unusual and Exemplary:
In the introduction to the Center for Land Use Interpretation's Scenic Overlook, Matt Coolidge describes their two fold process for selecting sites to be included in their database: sites must be either unusual, such as the nation's only Y-shaped bridge, or the site must exemplify a certain type of land use, such as the Mount Rumpke "megafill" which is the largest landfill in the country. The "exemplary structures" must approach the ideal version of this type of site in order to be considered "exemplary", even if it is a toxic waste storage facility. Implicit in the Center's categorization of "exemplary structures" is the idea that we do have a shared understanding of what an ideal nuclear waste dump looks like, in the Platonic sense. A Platonic form of an abandoned weapons test-site. Implicit in the Center's categorization of "unusual structures" is the idea that there is a deviation from "normal structures" that produces a unique type of site.
While this approach may be effective in categorizing built structures, how could these same categories be applied to natural spaces? To start with a practical application of these ideas: when photographing the woods around Ox-Bow here today, I found my images could be divided into two categories: "unusual natural objects" such as an orange mushroom popping through an otherwise drab patch of dried leaves, or "idealized" images of the woods in which the trees, lush and green appear evenly spaced as the requisite amount of light filters through the leaves. How can you take a picture of a natural space that does not fall into one of these two categories? Is it possible not to find something unique in a photograph of nature? Is it possible for us to imagine a woods more Ideal, more perfect than the one before us?
My approach to documenting the natural world consistently falls into either of these two categories. The woods can be understood in terms of either infinitely small, endlessly fragmented unique parts, or a limitless, vast uniform whole. The small and fragmented parts of the woods collect on my windowsill--little souvenirs of morning walks that fit in my pocket. I feel especially close to these fragments. The limitless Ideal of the woods lives somewhere in my mind, a great distance from my hands, only the lens of the camera begins to bring this Ideal into view, or to at least provide a glimmer of its totality. Is there another way to understand "the woods," a third way? Barthes talks about the "third meaning" of a photograph its punctum, this kind of ecstatic feeling/knowledge that arises from something uncanny? Can this "punctum" ever be present in photographing the natural world? What there is ever out of place, incomplete, jarring, causing the subject to be turned inside out? In an effort to resolve these questions, I am attaching some of the images I took this morning that suggest these two categories of "unusual" and "exemplary" as well as another image that seems not to fit as easily into these categories.
Posted by RGolden at 5:20 PM