Monday, November 29, 2010

Time, Webs, and Bifurcations

"...This web of time—the strands of which approach one another, bifurcate, intersect or ignore each other through the centuries—embraces every possibility. We do not exist in most of them. In some you exist and not I, while in others I do, and you do not, and yet in others both of us exist. In this one, in which chance has favored me, you have come to my gate. In another, you, crossing the garden, have found me dead. In yet another, I say these very same words but am in error, a phantom...Time is forever dividing itself toward innumerable futures..."

- Jorge Luis Borges (1899 - 1986)
Garden of Forking Paths,
Ficciones

Distinctions, Forms, and Science

“A universe comes into being when
a space is severed or taken apart…
by tracing the way we
[make such distinctions]
we begin to reconstruct …
the basic forms underlying linguistic,
mathematical, physical,
and biological science.”

G. Spencer Brown
Laws of Form (1979)

Sunday, November 21, 2010

On the Art and Craft of Restoration

Faithful followers of my humble blog have, over the years, read a number of entries that mention my dad in one way or another. My dad (Slava "Sam" Ilachinski) - who passed away in 2002, but is never far from my thoughts, and continues to inspire me - was a lifelong artist, and an art restorer by trade (doing it the "old fashioned" way, sans computers and algorithms ;-) I recall times when essentially pitch-black canvases entered my dad's studio and emerged - weeks, sometimes months, afterward - as though they were just created (which in many cases they nearly were, given how much paint my dad had to add by his own hand in order to "complete" missing fragments of the original). I saw firsthand many a seasoned professional artist's jaw drop after witnessing the product of my dad's amazing talent. While he labored in relative obscurity for much of his professional life (though NY galleries all knew of his work), my dad had an occasional opportunity to work on some well-known pieces. The most famous of these is Leutze's Washington Crossing the Delaware, which he worked on in the 70s.

It is therefore fitting, in a partly ironic and partly, poetically Uroborian sort of way, that I - certainly not an artist (in my dad's sense) - and he (certainly not a photographer, in my sense) - should meet again so many years after his death on the cusp of a discipline he so loved - restoration - and a digital photo technique I would likely never have taken the time to learn but am doing so now only because I wish to write a book on my dad's life and art!

My mom, who I am lucky enough to still have with me, is both a storehouse of rich memories and (her home is a) warehouse of old - and frequently badly dilapidated - family photos. While scanning this "warehouse" was easy, and "cleaning it up" was almost as simple (in truth, the process can be thought of as only a slightly more involved version of the more usual "touching up" of any print, analog or digital), when it came to serious retouching and full-blown restoration I was soon out of my league.

Two valuable resources I now keep on my PC's shelf are the second edition of Ctein's Digital Restoration from Start to Finish, and the third edition of Katrin Eismann's Adobe Photoshop Restoration & Retouching. Though they overlap in parts, each has its own focus, and both books offer a tremendous number of examples and practical advice on how to recover images. Ctein is a master printer and an exceptionally clear writer on technical matters (click here for his website, and links to his gallery and other works; he also frequently contributes to Mike Johnston's The Online Photographer blog). Eismann is an all-around Photoshop guru and has many other wonderful books to her credit. While I would not have been completely lost without these two fine guides, my task would certainly have been considerably more difficult and daunting.

The image reproduced at the top of this blog is a before and after comparison between an "as is" scan of an old print of my dad when he was 4 years old; in the picture, he is standing in front of his dad (a medical doctor). The original picture was taken in Taganrog, Russia in 1929, where my dad was born (Taganrog is also the birthplace of Anton Chekov). The "after" shot represents what I was able to pull out of it after about an hours' worth of restorative work. It is not perfect, and I'm sure my skills will improve in time, but I am very happy to have injected a bit of life into an old family photo from a bygone era. One down, and - oh, about a 100 or so ! - to go ;-) My resolution for the coming year is to complete the book on my dad's life and art that my mom and I have slowly been working on for the last few years.

Postscript #1: One of the great regrets of my life is not ever having trained my camera on my dad while he worked in his studio! I've rationalized away this grievous - and unforgivable! - omission on my part in countless ways over the years. I was too young; I was "afraid" of what he'd say if I asked; I was always "going" to do it, when I had a better camera; I was waiting for a chunk of time I could devote entirely to this series; ... none of it makes sense, of course, in hindsight, and the opportunity - opportunities! - are now lost in the mists of time. Oh, what I wouldn't now give to have a few precious moments with a camera in hand and my dad huddled over one of his canvases! This is also the reason why I so cherish the following "newly restored" image: it is the only photograph - taken ~1980 - I have of my dad working as an art restorer (with a bonus capture of my mom peering over the top left edge of the painting)!

Postscript #2: Some of my dad's abstract work from the last five years of his life can be sampled here. A catalog of the 35 works that are now the property of the Taganrog Museum (bequeathed by my dad, and lovingly delivered by my mom a few years ago) in Taganrog, Russia, can be seen here. One of my dad's regrets was never having revisited his boyhood city, which he left as a young boy. So it is fitting that, with my mom's help, a generous selection of his creative efforts has found its way back home! My dad's last work (that was still on his easel the day he went to the hospital for the last time, and is now hanging peacefully in my old bedroom in my mom's house on Long Island) is a simple, joyful celebration of color and motion. It perfectly reflects everything my dad's art was - is - about.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Atoms, Assemblies, and Fields

“Perhaps the most radical change that has occurred in the
history of theoretical thinking is the switch from the
atomistic conception of the world as an assembly of
circumscribed things to that of a world of
forces acting in the dimension of time.

These forces are bound to organize themselves in fields,
interacting, grouping, connecting, fusing, and separating.”

Rudolf Arnheim
Art Theorist / Perceptual Psychologist (1904 - 2007)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Description, Explanation, Representation

“Explanation must always grow out of description,
but the description from which it grows will always
necessarily contain arbitrary characteristics.

All description, explanation, or representation is
necessarily in some sense a mapping of derivatives from the
phenomena to be described onto some surface or
matrix or system of coordinates.

Every receiving matrix, even a
language or tautological network of propositions,
will have its formal characteristic which will in
principle be distortive of the phenomena to be mapped onto it.”

Gregory Bateson
Anthropologist / Systems Theorist (1904-1980)

Monday, November 15, 2010

Path, Fate, Life

“Every path but your own is the path of fate.
Keep on your own track, then.”

Henry Thoureau
Author/Transcendentalist (1817–1862)


“What each must seek in his life
never was on land or sea.

It is something out of his own
unique potentiality for experience,
something that never has been and
never could have been experienced by anyone else.”

Joseph Campbell
Author/Mythologist (1904–1987)

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Words, Signs, Stories

"The universe is made of stories,
not atoms."

Muriel Rukeyser
Poet (1913 - 1980)

"Every phenomenon of nature was a word;
the sign, symbol and pledge of a new, mysterious,
inexpressible but all the more intimate union,
participation and community of divine energies and ideas."

Johann G. Hamann
Philosopher (1730 - 1788 )

Sunday, November 07, 2010

One Shoot Sunday: An Interview

I was invited recently by Chris Galford (a manager with the online publication One Stop Poetry) to participate in an "email interview." Our exchange (along with a sampling of my images) was published earlier this morning. While I was honored to be asked to participate - the website has archived an impressively varied selection of interviews with talented photographers that one can spend hours perusing and being inspired by! - I was truly humbled by the wealth of creativity that my humble little "Homage to Friedrich" image (reproduced here) spawned from readers of the interview!

Since the focus of the One Stop Poetry site is to foster a dialog between visual and verbal artforms, the interview concluded with a challenge to readers: namely, to write a poem that is inspired by the accompanying image (called the "Skies of Skye," that appears in my Scotland portfolio).

I was deeply moved by both the number - and sheer beauty - of responses to the challenge! My favorites (though, in truth, I must really list them all, as they are all exceptional!)- and in no particular order - are poems by Pete Marshall, Gigi Ann, Claudia, Louise Gallagher, Adam Dustus, Glynn Young, Tammy, Maureen, Melissa Campbell, Ruth, Ranee Dillon, Hedgewitch, Libithina, and the ones on the Reflections of..., She's Writing, and Another Man's Dream blogs. I'd like to thank everyone for taking the time to read my interview, and even more so for the time and effort they put in to posting such wonderful works of poetic art on their own sites.

Kudos to all!

Postscript #1: I have written of this "poetry challenge" image before on my blog (see here). The image was taken near Teangue, Skye, on the next to last day of our trip to Scotland in 2009 (before we headed off to Edinburgh to catch our flight back to the states). The sun was setting, but we had a bit of time for some last minute exploration. I was busy taking close-up shots of rocks and water, with my back toward the water where my wife was standing (I was in my usual crouched position, glaring starry-eyed at the compositional marvels on the exposed beach, and - also, as usual ;-) - "oblivious" to what I was really searching for ;-) I finally stood up to give my knees a rest, and while stretching my back swung around to look for my wife. What I saw I was magic and thus not something that can easily be translated either into words or images, but I did manage to catch a fleeting glimpse of the ineffable with my camera. What it recorded is reproduced in the photograph above, and is among my top three favorite images from our entire trip.

Postscript #2: While on the subject of interviews, here is a link to an interview I did with Brooks Jensen (editor, Lenswork magazine) for my Micro Worlds portfolio that Lenswork published in issue #76 (May-June, 2008). The mp3 version runs ~40 min, but (unfortunately) is not free; cost is 99 cents (proceeds go entirely to Lenswork).

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Networks, Processes, and Self-Creation

Autopoiesis = Self-Creation
(from Greek auto = “self” and poiesis = “creation)

"… a network of mutually interacting processes that
continuously both create, and sustain, components that
regenerate the network of processes that produce them.

There is a constant and intimate contact among the
things that coexist and coevolve in the universe,
a sharing of bonds and messages that
makes reality into a stupendous
network of interaction and communication.”

Ervin Laszlo
Philosopher / Systems Theorist (1932 - )

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Spirit, Awareness, Self

“To the vast majority of people
a photograph is an
image of something within
their direct experience:
a more-or-less factual reality.

It is difficult for them
to realize that the
photograph can be the source
of experience, as well as the
reflection of spiritual awareness
of the world and of self.”

Ansel Adams
Photographer (1902 - 1984)

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Distinctions, Boundaries, Existence

“Amongst all the changing phenomena the
essence of nature is invariable.

The World as human distinctions
(God, The Soul, The Spirit, Life, ...) = 0.

Science and art have no
boundaries because what
is comprehended infinitely
is innumerable and
infinity and innumerability
are equal to nothing ...

... There is no existence either
within or outside me;
nothing can change anything,
since nothing exists that could
change itself or be changed.”

Kazimir Malevich
Artist (1878 - 1935)