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Iconic images without their subjects
January 4, 2012 5:46 PM   Subscribe

Iconic images without their subjects

Photos were modified by Pavel Maria Smejkal.

Original images:

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posted by no regrets, coyote (75 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
So, I'm an evil, evil person for doing his a few years ago, but... There's that site "totally looks like" where you have 2 people that look like each other.

One time while watching the "pokemon freakout" video (where the kid gets a Blastoise) the strange look on his face, one, not of joy, but of seeming agony triggered some strange buried memory of an image in my brain, but where, where... what did his look of agony remind me of.

I present to you kid in napalm photo totally looks like pokemon freakout kid. (the boy in the photo, not the famous girl (whose name is Phan Thi Kim Phuc)

If there is a hell, I guess this is the reason I'm going there.
posted by symbioid at 5:59 PM on January 4, 2012


I missed Iwo Jima and Kerch. Having now looked it up, I don't think I've ever noticed the actual Kerch photo before.
posted by Flunkie at 5:59 PM on January 4, 2012


I found those images powerful and disturbing.
posted by Trurl at 6:05 PM on January 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


Reminds me of Joel Sternfeld's On This Site
posted by bradbane at 6:06 PM on January 4, 2012


What the hell was the point of that?
posted by KokuRyu at 6:12 PM on January 4, 2012 [4 favorites]


So The New York Times is now cribbing ideas from Garfield Minus Garfield? What next? Awkward Reuters Photos? Shit My Copy Editor Says?
posted by ed at 6:14 PM on January 4, 2012 [5 favorites]


Actually the first thing these reminded me of was Garfield minus Garfield. Probably says more about me than anything else.
posted by 3FLryan at 6:14 PM on January 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


[ed - whoa]
posted by 3FLryan at 6:15 PM on January 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


I didn't recognize them all, but I did get about 3/4 of them. It was a strange experience because you look at it thinking "noooo, doesn't look familiar" and then a shock of recognition arrives as your mind supplies the missing images. Strange.
posted by Miko at 6:16 PM on January 4, 2012 [6 favorites]


Whenever I find an old photo booth - there are still a few around - I always put in a dollar for four pictures. But I don't get inside the photo booth. I have a collection of the back walls of different photo booths.

I like my collection. It's kind of minimalist.
posted by twoleftfeet at 6:16 PM on January 4, 2012 [20 favorites]


I recognised most of them, but really don't see the point. If there's a message here, I'm missing it.
posted by jontyjago at 6:18 PM on January 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


Got 'em all except for 5 and 11. Guess I've kept up with the news pretty well these past few decades.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:22 PM on January 4, 2012


If there's a message here, I'm missing it.

The human presence changes our reaction to the scene. Grandpa's old chair is just a thing, it has no intrinsic emotional value. Yet the many times you saw and spoke with Grandpa as he sat in that chair gives us a particular meaning to you, yet not to me.

Our time here is short, especially when viewed against the age of the universe. But still we leave impressions, if only in our own minds.

What is greater, the truth of the universe or the story we overlay (and recreate) on to that truth?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:24 PM on January 4, 2012 [21 favorites]


Brandon! Waxing poetic, philosophical, etc! Damn, man, I'm ready to make the pilgrimage to Georgia and sit at your feet!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:26 PM on January 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


The human presence changes our reaction to the scene. Grandpa's old chair is just a thing, it has no intrinsic emotional value. Yet the many times you saw and spoke with Grandpa as he sat in that chair gives us a particular meaning to you, yet not to me.

Our time here is short, especially when viewed against the age of the universe. But still we leave impressions, if only in our own minds.

What is greater, the truth of the universe or the story we overlay (and recreate) on to that truth?


Huh. I just wanted to see if there was anything under the tanks.
posted by 3FLryan at 6:26 PM on January 4, 2012


These are really well done, but... there seems to be a lot of reimagining going on these days... how about some good old-fashioned imagining?
posted by Crane Shot at 6:33 PM on January 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


The human presence changes our reaction to the scene.

With these photos, there is no scene without a human presence.

A similarly profound "artistic" experiment would be to add napalmed children or Tienanmen tanks to an Ansel Adams landscape photograph.
posted by KokuRyu at 6:35 PM on January 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


Eerie the way the mind fills in the blanks.

As for what's more real or "truth"? The Universe has no relation to "truth." "Truth" or "falsity" can only be imposed by consciousness contingent on some other condition or variable.
posted by Skygazer at 6:37 PM on January 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


For me it restored the scenes' neutrality. They are just places - extremely mundane ones, for the most part. A multilane road. A curb. A motel.

The only thing that transformed them into "icons" were the acts of humans - mostly horrible acts of humans. Those acts are what caused those bland backgrounds to be burned into our memories. Without those acts, they're simply places, and rather uninteresting ones at that.

That's what it made me think about - how terrible incidents, once recorded and shared so widely, can guarantee that those spaces can never fully regain their neutrality except in the eyes of the unknowing.
posted by Miko at 6:40 PM on January 4, 2012 [15 favorites]


there seems to be a lot of reimagining going on these days...


Reimagine there's no heaven
It's easy if you retry...

posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:49 PM on January 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Miko: terrible incidents, once recorded and shared so widely, can guarantee that those spaces can never fully regain their neutrality except in the eyes of the unknowing.

Spaces can retain their visual neutrality. It's the specific photographic frame, and the time and space and light values that act as the background to that iconic image that can never regain their "neutrality."

History is another story though. I doubt it, places like Hiroshima or Normandy Beach or other places of extreme violence or death, can ever be thought of in a neutral way. Even the names are inseparable from their histories.

Which brings to mind: J.G. Ballard would have love those photos. He practically created that sense of unreality and hallowed ground charged with meaning, from the familiar and conventional/contemporary.
posted by Skygazer at 6:52 PM on January 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


Thanks Miko, I was trying to explain why I liked this project but couldn't find the words.

It kind of reminded me of this post from a while back where an artist superimposed pictures of WWII era Europe over pictures taken at the same place today.

The scientist in me likes the idea behind this project because to understand the signal, it's always important to carefully study the background. By subtracting out the signal of these images and reflecting on what's left over, maybe it helps us to understand why the pictures resonated so powerfully with people in the first place.
posted by no regrets, coyote at 6:54 PM on January 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


For me, it brings home how important the act of witnessing is, and how fleeting the moments that can change history actually are. If we wish to, it is so easy to block out all but the most sanitized news of the world, with atrocities that might be bothersome simply erased from view.

I worry about how hard it is for news organizations to fund foreign bureaus and photojournalists, and how little of that work makes it through to the average person anyway.
posted by argonauta at 6:55 PM on January 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


That's what it made me think about - how terrible incidents, once recorded and shared so widely, can guarantee that those spaces can never fully regain their neutrality except in the eyes of the unknowing.

For me, it was interesting to consider that things are part of my memory, even though I wasn't there and in most of didn't even exist. Yet that collective memory shaped me (as it did others) and turned those mundane and completely forgettable objects and places into something more. It's similar to art, where a bit of knowledge can change the person, but the object itself, that painting, this sculpture hasn't changed at all. Only our perception of it is different.

The question, to me, is does that matter and if so, how much? What's it worth? It feels like we're specialized ants, leaving psychometric trails on everything we touch and see.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:58 PM on January 4, 2012


I think I would have found the project more interesting (and more challenging) if every single photo wasn't of an iconic dead (or tortured) person or people.
posted by tzikeh at 7:11 PM on January 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


Brandon Blatcher: It feels like we're specialized ants, leaving psychometric trails on everything we touch and see.

Rupert Sheldrake's Theory of Morphic Fields and Morphic Resonance (Wiki):

He proposes that there is a field within and around a morphic unit which organizes its characteristic structure and pattern of activity.[17] According to this concept, the morphic field underlies the formation and behaviour of holons and morphic units, and can be set up by the repetition of similar acts or thoughts. The hypothesis is that a particular form belonging to a certain group, which has already established its (collective) morphic field, will tune into that morphic field. The particular form will read the collective information through the process of morphic resonance, using it to guide its own development. This development of the particular form will then provide, again through morphic resonance, a feedback to the morphic field of that group, thus strengthening it with its own experience, resulting in new information being added (i.e. stored in the database). Sheldrake regards the morphic fields as a universal database for both organic (living) and abstract (mental) forms.
posted by Skygazer at 7:25 PM on January 4, 2012


I think I would have found the project more interesting (and more challenging) if every single photo wasn't of an iconic dead (or tortured) person or people.

Was the iconic standing-in-front-of-the-tank guy in China killed or tortured?
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:26 PM on January 4, 2012


You know, when I saw the Kent State one, I immediately thought of how one of the objects (a fence post) in the original was removed, back in the day, and how it's returned in Pavel Maria Smejkal's work. Now that the humans are gone, it's no longer a problem. Just kinda interesting, that.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:32 PM on January 4, 2012


My favorite one was where they took the Yellowcake Uranium out of Iraq.
posted by drjimmy11 at 8:13 PM on January 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


The one photograph that I did not immediately recognize from the weird Smejkal experiment was Kerch. And, after researching the Kerch photo a little more, I am convinced that this "thought experiment" is, in some ways, a rather thoughtless and somewhat callous desecration of the memory preserved in the original photographs. What is the point of removing the subjects from a photo like this (warning: the Kerch image is disturbing)?
posted by KokuRyu at 8:19 PM on January 4, 2012


Sorry

fuck you

In the project “Fatescapes,” the visual artist Pavel Maria Smejkal goes a step further and forces us to reconsider the veracity of historical images and the photographer’s role by digitally removing the people that made these images resonant.

What step further? A step further than the utter agony shown on the face of a little kid with napalm burns?

What flippant shit this is. I find it offensive.
posted by mattoxic at 8:43 PM on January 4, 2012


I always find it odd when people have a visceral negative reaction to art and decide that that means the work is "bad".
posted by no regrets, coyote at 8:49 PM on January 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


I always find it odd when people have a visceral negative reaction to art and decide that that means the work is "bad".


Well... yeah. A negative reaction will do that.
posted by mattoxic at 9:13 PM on January 4, 2012


So art is only worth doing if it makes you feel warm inside?
posted by no regrets, coyote at 9:16 PM on January 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Look, you're free to do whatever you want, but it doesn't mean that people are wrong if they don't like or agree with what you do.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:22 PM on January 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


I totally agree with you KokuRyu. I thought the images were powerful, but I was interested in your comments above about why they don't work for you. The reason art is interesting is because people interpret it differently.

That said, I don't know who mattoxic was saying "fuck you" to; me for posting this, the artist for creating it, or the universe for allowing it to exist. But declaring the images "flippant shit" when a lot of people had made thoughtful comments about them just struck me as weird. The value in provocative art like this is, at least to me, getting people to think about how it affects them. Declaring it offensive seems to miss the point.
posted by no regrets, coyote at 9:39 PM on January 4, 2012


Ah but what if missing the point IS the point?
posted by Potomac Avenue at 9:44 PM on January 4, 2012


See what I mean?
posted by Potomac Avenue at 9:44 PM on January 4, 2012


Look, if some person who is an "artist" can remove napalmed kids and corpses from images in the name of a thought experiment, then what the hell is wrong with mattoxic saying "fuck you"?

I don't get it. If nothing is sacred, then why are you questioning mattoxic's entirely legitimate response to this "art" project?
posted by KokuRyu at 9:48 PM on January 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


Art is sacred, so messing with it reveals interesting things. This is a conversation, so saying fuck you randomly is jarring and obscure. That is why those two completely unrelated activities are different.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 9:51 PM on January 4, 2012


Obviously it's fine not to like this and make arguments about why it might be flippant, but saying Fuck You to the artist seems just sort of ignorant. Sorry if that's actually the first line of your PHD thesis in art history, matttoxic, it's been a while since I've been in academia.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 9:53 PM on January 4, 2012


so saying fuck you randomly is jarring and obscure

Not as jarring and obscure as defacing these photographs for (what I can see) is no solid reason. The promotion of dialogue doesn't art make.

I can punch you in the face and call it art, and it'll sure be shocking and generate a lot of discussion. But will it be art?
posted by jimmythefish at 9:55 PM on January 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


I don't get it; it's art because a self-identified artist created it, and therefore has more authority than the rest of us who merely inhabit the world, and attempt to preserve and understand the memories captured by the original images?

Sure, as an intellectual exercise, the experiment works as "art", but I'm not sure how accessible this art is, or if this art actually conforms to basic human values.

In short, this is art for the 1%.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:56 PM on January 4, 2012


I don't get it, do you or do you not get it?
posted by Potomac Avenue at 10:05 PM on January 4, 2012


This post would be better with just a blue background and no text.
posted by jimmythefish at 10:38 PM on January 4, 2012 [7 favorites]


I thought these were great. They are a best-but-impossible attempt at a counterbalance to their own gravity. It was really interesting to see what was behind the people. The curb at Kent State really got me. It's just a street curb. It could be anywhere, suggesting that these things could have happened anywhere. They could have, but they didn't. It makes that place a specific somewhere, indistinguishable from others like it except for it's history. In a way, it separates the idea of history from the idea of past, showing how they're related but not entirely dependent on each other.. Everything in those photographs is still true. So is the history, but it lives on elsewhere, in the minds of the people.

It was also really fascinating to see how my own mind filled in what was missing in the picture. I didn't know how indelible those images were until just the background scenery cued the rest for me. That's powerful.

"In short, this is art for the 1%."

The 1% of what?

Art doesn't have to be intellectual, or not-intellectual, or accessible or created by those societally authorized to do so. It doesn't have to conform to anything and it doesn't need to have universal appeal, or any appeal at all. And still, not everything is art. There is a paradox there and sometimes people play with that, indirectly or perhaps on the nose. Which is why I'm hoping you're taking the piss, one way or another.
posted by iamkimiam at 12:21 AM on January 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


Art is all over.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 12:33 AM on January 5, 2012


You are all over.
posted by iamkimiam at 12:45 AM on January 5, 2012


Roger.
posted by pracowity at 1:08 AM on January 5, 2012


I'm all over you.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 1:47 AM on January 5, 2012


You are all over.

If that's directed to me, though, that's not really true. I mostly just stay around Tokyo.

Art, on the other hand, really is all over.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 1:49 AM on January 5, 2012


Everything is art.
Nothing is art.
Something is art.
Discuss.
posted by Pendragon at 2:06 AM on January 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Which is why I'm hoping you're taking the piss, one way or another.

Yeah, the "1%" stuff is pretty trite and simplistic, so I'll give you that. I can understand the artistic intent of this exercise, but I'm left wondering which is more important: preserving the memory of atrocity, or participating in some sort of cerebral wankery. I would say the value of the original photographs themselves as historical documents far outweighs the point the artist is trying to make here for an audience of, let's face it, elites who tend to be attracted to this sort of play (off the top of my head, the only photo from the set that deserves this sort of gimmickry is the Iwo Jima one, as it was staged in the first place).

But like I said, you can do whatever you want and call it art if you like. But just because I don't like it, and voice my objections, doesn't make me stupid or wrong.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:38 AM on January 5, 2012


no regrets, coyote, I was not saying fuck you to fuck you.

To me, digitally removing the essence of these photographs in such a way to well neuter the intent, the pain, the work and effort from these images comes across as - well flippant and sort of - I don't know, easy and a bit obvious.

I mean fuck, the juxtaposition of horror - then empty street - horror - them empty street - to me it's a bit juvenile.
posted by the noob at 4:02 AM on January 5, 2012


oh yeah - noob is mattoxic posing as my partner. She will get a surprise tomorrow.
posted by the noob at 4:05 AM on January 5, 2012


To me, digitally removing the essence of these photographs in such a way to well neuter the intent, the pain, the work and effort from these images comes across as - well flippant and sort of -

The essence of these photos is manufactured by humanity. Hell, it's just a street or curb, why should it be defined by a few seconds or minutes of human cruelty?


I don't know, easy and a bit obvious.

What other instances are there of doing this? I'm not attempting to be snarky, but your dismissive comment makes sound as though work like this is everywhere and if so, I'm curious to see it.

posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:46 AM on January 5, 2012


The New York Times has been publishing stories with the point taken out of them for some years. It was about time they moved on to pictures.

/snark
posted by MuffinMan at 5:02 AM on January 5, 2012


The thing this experiment most reminded me of was a news item (I believe it was posted on Metafilter, but I am unable to find it here or on the internet) in which police had done much the same thing with child porn images they had confiscated. They had been unable to find the source of the images, so they digitally removed the subject of the photos, and posted the results to see if the public could help in identification of the location (motel, home, etc.).

Those images were among the creepiest things I've ever seen online.
posted by deadcowdan at 5:53 AM on January 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


That's what it made me think about - how terrible incidents, once recorded and shared so widely, can guarantee that those spaces can never fully regain their neutrality except in the eyes of the unknowing.

There are a couple of houses near my own. Both are nondescript, 3-4 bedroom mid-70s style homes, entirely unremarkable to the eye.

In one, a father of six hanged himself after learning he had lost all of the family's money.

In the other, a mentally ill mother killed her daughter with a shotgun before committing suicide in the home's garage.

I used to wonder why people move from areas where they've lived for a long time... I now understand that for many, the burden of place memory becomes too great; every single piece of the landscape becomes emotionally charged if you live long enough. Then it becomes a relief, I'm sure, to look at the world with unknowing eyes again.
posted by kinnakeet at 6:23 AM on January 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


In every spot you've occupied in your life, things both terrible and good happened in them in the past and will happen in the future.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:28 AM on January 5, 2012


Spaces can retain their visual neutrality. It's the specific photographic frame, and the time and space and light values that act as the background to that iconic image that can never regain their "neutrality."

I see that somewhat for something like these photos with their specific croppings multiply replicated across the years. And yet I don't believe that spaces retain their neutrality if the viewer knows what happened. The very existence of historic sites and memorials like that at the Lorraine Motel is evidence that once a place has been transformed in public memory by a significant event, it can't return to neutrality for those who know or or can remember the event.

It's indeed related to what kinnakeet says - place becomes a vessel for memory, personal or public. And I know even when I visit my own hometown, I may not be looking at sites of atrocities, but it's not really "the corner of Brown and South" for me so much as the corner where so-and-so got beat up that time, or the house where that boy lived, or that weird old lady, or the place I got in the fight with my best friend, etc. Places are in some sense totally neutral when there are no thinking presences inhabiting them, but once you add humanity, they become mapped in countless ways.

cerebral wankery

That's one way to think about raising questions about cruelty, place, meaning, and memory, but it's not a useful way of looking at art or any kind of content in general. You're essentially saying ithat thinking is not worthwhile to think and it's silly to do anything to provoke thought. That's an idea I just reject outright.
posted by Miko at 6:35 AM on January 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


Fascinating stuff. My first reaction was to be deeply offended at the idea of erasing these people, but then found the empty power of the Abu Graib and MLK balcony scenes obvious and compelling.

the only photo from the set that deserves this sort of gimmickry is the Iwo Jima one, as it was staged in the first place

Actually, there's strong evidence that Robert Capa's "Falling Soldier" was faked - Capa's story about the photo was pretty malleable, but at the very least, it now seems clear it wasn't taken where and when he said it was taken.
posted by mediareport at 6:38 AM on January 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeesh, write much? That should have read "saying that thinking is not worthwhile"
posted by Miko at 6:54 AM on January 5, 2012


. . . I'm left wondering which is more important: preserving the memory of atrocity, or participating in some sort of cerebral wankery.

This is a false opposition. Since the original photos were not harmed and still exist (perpetually even, due to their iconic status), then the manipulated images do not pose a threat to the preservation of the 'memory of atrocity'.

I think it's fine to hate the result, and to even be offended by it, but I get tired of this type of dichotomy that is always presented as a critique of any art that remixes or re imagines other artifacts.
posted by Think_Long at 7:23 AM on January 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


I wasn't in that Saigon street where Eddie Adams caught that summary execution. All I've ever experienced of it was his photograph. For me, the image was not a representation of the event, it WAS the event. Same with all these, which I recognized immediately, except for the Stalingrad image. So I felt relief looking at these photos, as if I were somehow now in a world where those terrible things hadn't happened. The agony of the Memphis motel was wrapped up not just in the figures of the fallen King and those coming to his aid, but the railings, the parking lot, the camera's angle, the light... Take away the figures and the rest of it is cleansed, and you can believe for a second that the tragedy never happened.

Except...except the Stalingrad image held the same power for me, even though I saw the doctored image before I saw the original. So it's not necessarily an effect of memory, but maybe one of the contrast between unspeakable horror and the banality of peacefulness and solitude? Either way, I found the exhibit compelling. If you didn't, that's fine too.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 7:33 AM on January 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Places we've lived in are different thing from infamous places we know of through the news or history books or religious texts or whatever, and different as well, from the framed visual spaces in photographs or even paintings and illustrations, and they all can have their very own feeling tones (what I think of them as). I think the weight they take on in our minds or the importance the have can be specifically nuanced.

In terms of places we've lived, it's funny how regardless of the fact we can remember good and bad things about them from specific locations like the corner of Brown and South, where so and so got beat up, a lot of that is out own emotional projection.

There are days I feel good, that sad places in my neighborhood don't phase me so much. Then there are bad days I'm depressed and anxious that all I want to do is escape my neighborhood, perhaps, forever if I can....because the weight of things feels claustrophobic and smothering and too heavy.
posted by Skygazer at 8:30 AM on January 5, 2012


out our own emotional projection.
posted by Skygazer at 8:33 AM on January 5, 2012


Maybe it's because my work is in historic sites and place-based insitutions, but I don't see that much difference in emotional weight. Because images are of real places, they help create the same personal reaction/emotional weight that direct memories do. Perhaps it's similar to me knowing that my dad proposed to my mom at this Liberty Bell replica sculpture in my hometown's town park. I wasn't there, but the significance was handed to me. Sort of similarly, the well from which fugitive slaves drank inside a safe house has significance and emotional weight. I wasn't there at the time but I can stand at the wellside and feel some of that weight, because the significance was preserved by documents and now by the people who maintain that historic site.

One of the coolest things to me about traveling is the process of visiting famous or infamous spaces, of which I've already formed an emotional impression and have a mental image, and finding more dimensions in the space's real presence to add to my mental image and make my emotional impression weightier.

So I don't see photograph vs. real space as different, just two ends of a continuum of direct experience. Our knowledge about a place, though, impacts the emotional resonance of that place whether we know it only through image or through text or a spoken memory handed down, or through our own experience.
posted by Miko at 8:46 AM on January 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


One of the coolest things to me about traveling is the process of visiting famous or infamous spaces, of which I've already formed an emotional impression and have a mental image, and finding more dimensions in the space's real presence to add to my mental image and make my emotional impression weightier.

This. You don't have to be a murder tourist to pass through or by any number of infamous spaces--I went to the Biograph Theater because it was the host of the long-running Rocky Horror Picture Show run in Chicago; the site of the St. Valentine's Day Massacre is now a nursing home parking lot; the Lorraine Motel is only a few blocks from downtown Memphis and Beale Street; etc.--and the accessibility of these locations supplements the essential mundanity of the locations themselves, which in turn makes it seem so much more awe-inspiring that earth-shaking events usually happen, not against a backdrop of monumental architecture or magnificent landscapes, but in places that look like your hometown or any random vacant lot.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:35 AM on January 5, 2012 [2 favorites]



Many people speak of being moved by the final scene of Blackadder Goes Forth. Mixed with the horror and sadness, is a feeling that 'this, too, shall pass.' Perhaps there's an element of that here.

= = =

In the Ricky Tik club scene of Blow Up, Jeff Beck's guitar becomes, in sequence: an instrument of artistic expression; a target of technological frustration; a participant in a bit of spontaneous performance art, a spectacle; a valuable relic of witness to said spectacle; a pile of worthless junk.

Here, instead, we have the context without the subject. What does it mean that we 'compete' to recognize the greatest number of these image without the subject? What does it mean that we can?

= = =

Several years ago I visited New Zealand and among other things hiked the Tongariro Crossing. THEN: My nephew was unimpressed by photos of me posing before Mount Ngauruhoe. NOW: the young Lord of the Rings fan proudly brandishes actual photos of his uncle CLIMBING MOUNT DOOOOOOOM!

= = =

Were I your editor, I would have advised you to entitle your post, "Iconic images without their Icons".
 
posted by Herodios at 10:20 AM on January 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


KokuRyu: But just because I don't like it, and voice my objections, doesn't make me stupid or wrong.

Indeed. I do, however, have a pretty negative reaction to your negative reaction. Let me try to explain why.

It seems like you're offended by (what you take to be) the artist's lack of reverence toward the original photos and the events they document.

(I've formed this impression from your references to sacredness — desecration, If nothing is sacred (and maybe conforms to basic human values) — and from your suppositions about the attitudes needed to produce or appreciate this work — this sort of play, cerebral wankery (and maybe rather thoughtless and somewhat callous).)

Filing something important under "sacred" and insisting on a reverential attitude excludes the vast range of responses that people actually find useful in dealing with emotionally charged subjects — a range which certainly includes detached and intellectual attitudes, and yes, even playful ones. It demands a pious awe, to the exclusion of rich, authentic, human response. That's not okay.

Filing important things under "sacred" also declares them off-limits to study and questioning (as by art, for example). But these are fundamental human activities at all scales, and they're the best way I know of to improve our ideas, beliefs, societies, and lives. You doubt that this art "conforms to basic human values", but study is a basic human value, and dismissing that value as "wankery" is not okay either.
posted by stebulus at 10:43 AM on January 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


Once again, my definition is satisfied here on Metafilter:

Great art provokes deep emotion or thoughtfulness from the audience.

Frankly, if it instilled a more universal acceptance, or rejection, I'd personally judge it less important. Something important is being done by the artist, or it wouldn't evoke such visceral dismay from so many. It's just a bunch of landscapes, after all.
posted by IAmBroom at 11:02 AM on January 5, 2012


It seems like you're offended by (what you take to be) the artist's lack of reverence toward the original photos and the events they document.

You're right, and as someone pointed out upthread, the original photos have not been destroyed. I suppose my reaction is shaped somewhat by my recent discovery of the Kerch photo (I hadn't seen it before this thread). Given the context of the Holocaust, and the massive numbers of civilians slaughtered on the Eastern Front, there's something chilling about the act of erasing such events.

But the Kerch photo will live on. This thought experiment will not.
posted by KokuRyu at 3:10 PM on January 5, 2012


Something important is being done by the artist, or it wouldn't evoke such visceral dismay from so many.

Art is not the only way to elicit disgust.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 4:26 PM on January 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


Art is not the only way to elicit disgust.

No, crime and war can do that too. That's part of the point, especially when there is some imagery, particularly of crime and war, that we've become inured to through seeing it so many times. If we think about it again in a new way because of the art, that art has done something to restore our sensibilities toward the event that may have diminished through abundant replication.
posted by Miko at 6:34 PM on January 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


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