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An Artist’s Notebook of Sorts

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Weak XIX


7 May 2022

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No. 4,498 (cartoon)

You’re the smartest person in the room.

I must be in the wrong room.

Quoting Confucius isn’t smart; please stay.

8 May 2022

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Dangerous Lenses

My fabby new lens came with a health alert.

WARNING: This product may contain chemicals known to the State of California to cause cancer, birth defects, or other reproductive harm.

After reading the warning, I made a note to never use it as an intrauterine device—ouch!—or eat it lest some of the esoteric lubricants adversely affect me.

And anyway, when it comes to dangerous lenses, Leica outperforms again. I’m talking about the Leitz radioactive lenses from the fifties and sixties. They included thoriated glass elements, with the thorium decaying into radium. The better to see with, I suppose.

I’m so pleased with the results I’m seeing that I’m not going to worry about how safe my new optics are.

9 May 2022

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Manufacturing History

Today is when the Russians celebrate victory over Nazi Germany. Yevgeny Khaldei staged his iconic photograph of soldiers hoisting the Soviet flag above the Reichstag in 1945, just as Joe Rosenthal had a couple of months earlier on Iwo Jima. (Kids who don’t know their history think staged and manipulated photographs were invented after they were born, but that’s been standard practice since the creation of the medium.)

To make his photo more dramatic, Khaldei added smoke to the Berlin ruins—now get this!—without a computer. A soldier was wearing two watches, one of which was presumably looted, so Khaldei removed it to tidy up the manufactured historic record.

As Ethel Annakin said in 1915, “truth is the first casualty in war.” (The quote is rarely properly attributed to her. I suspect that’s because men generally prefer to quote other men; feh.) Russian soldiers are still fighting and pillaging in Europe, and photographers are still exaggerating or erasing the visual evidence; that’s tradition!

10 May 2022

Drug-fueled Nostalgia

Once upon a time fifty years ago, the Rolling Stones holed up in a Côte d’Azur villa for months while they recorded one of the ensemble’s best albums, Exile on Main Street. Depending on who you ask, it was the pinnacle of the group’s artistic achievement or the beginning of the decline into becoming the best Rolling Stone impersonators in the world. Perhaps both.

I read one glowing account about how the musicians, “partied with various celebrities, musicians, girlfriends, wives, kids, animals, drug dealers, and hangers-on for several hedonistic months” in the course making, “a drug-fueled masterpiece.” All the photos from the period show empty wine bottles everywhere (after all, the Côte d’Azur is in France, innit?) but no sign of all the heroin.

(Before I go on a little rant, I’m happy to acknowledge that I enjoy using drugs myself; I start each day with four or five hundred milligrams of caffeine in my coffee. But I never romanticize my addiction, and have never hinted let alone asserted that my drug use has anything to do with my alleged creative work.)

I know another generation of idiots is going to read about how some of the musicians on the album were so high on drugs that don’t remember recording anything; they’ll wonder what combination of drugs and alcohol will provide their own creative breakthroughs. Statistically speaking, it’s much more likely they’ll end up crumpled up dead on the floor after a fentanyl overdose like Prince Rogers Nelson than produce anything of merit.

I cited an example from fifty years ago, but I could have easily gone back to almost any period or place in recorded history to find artists glorifying intoxication. I’ll stay in the south of France for now and set the Wayback Machine for the late nineteenth century.

“... instead of eating enough and regularly I have been particularly sustaining myself with coffee and alcohol,” Vincent Van Gogh wrote. “I admit all that, but it will still be true that I had to key myself up a bit to reach the high yellow note I reached this summer.”

In practice, I suspect he was so drunk that it took him most of the season to find the tubes of yellow paint.

And with that, I’m done preachifyin’; it’s time to have another drink and get back to work ...

11 May 2022

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Very Large Tumbleweed (stationary)

“Tumbleweed” is a misnomer. I see them as recreational vegetation, not weeds. They move like the blazes—sometimes literally—in the strong desert winds, but even when one crosses the road when I’m cycling at forty kilometers an hour I don’t have to worry about a collision; sometimes I even aim for the runaway bushes to experience the exhilaration of the harmless impact.

Neighbor Dave alerted me to the presence of a very large tumbleweed that was firmly wedged in some vegetation down the road. I grabbed my camera and tripod and went to investigate. Sure enough, there it was, Very Large Tumbleweed (stationary). All I had to do was push the button; my clever camera and the beguiling plant did the rest.

I went back the next morning to photograph it under a grey sky but the “firmly wedged” tumbleweed had rambled on, which, after all, is in its prickly genes.

12 May 2022

Bomb Squad T-shirt

Many of my friends’ homes are figuratively—and in at least one case, literally—filled to the rafters with crap they’ll never ever touch again unless it’s to move it from one place to another. I’ve been living out of an airline carry-on pack for years, and have learned to get along fine without things I might want someday. (“Someday,” like “mañana,” never arrives.)

Spending time in a New York airport this morning reminds me of the one thing I wish I had that didn’t buy when I could have: a t-shirt, of all things.

Toward the end of the last millennium, the San Francisco police had a gift shop(!) hidden at the end of a dark hallway in the labyrinth of tunnels under the international terminal. The cop-blue shirt had the logo of the San Francisco Bomb Squad on the front, with “If you see me running you’d better catch up!” emblazoned across the back.

I’m shy around strangers, and wish I was wearing that shirt this morning; I’m sure it would be a great conversation starter. Sadly, I couldn’t find a single reference to it anywhere on the Internet.

I could use this single aberration to justify spending six and a half thousand dollars on an eight-hundred-millimeter lens that just might come in handy someday, but that’s even too stupid for me to consider.

As for the Bomb Squad shirt, I’m doing just fine without it since none of my t-shirts are anywhere near falling apart. A few have more than several holes, but that’s well within my tolerance range.

13 May 2022

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One Of The Sharpest Images You’ve Ever Seen

Have a good gander at the photo of what appears to be a blurry jack o’lantern. This image is actually one of the sharpest images you’ve ever seen.

I’m sure the grammar police would fry me if they read the previous paragraph, since I wrote the first sentence and Katherine Bouman from the California Institute of Technology dictated the second one. I suppose it is very confusing, isn’t it?

To make things even more bewildering, I’m talking about Sagittarius A*. As for the asterisk, don’t look for a footnote; there isn’t one. And Sagittarius A* isn’t what a priggish copy editor would substitute for Sagittarius Asshole, either. (My myriad typos are testimony to the fact that I have no editor, alas.)

Sagittarius A* is the full and complete name of the Milky Way’s black hole. I have no idea why the black hole is orange, and I’ll have to trust Bouman’s claim, “It looks blurry on the screen because we only are seeing a few pixels.” The original file is some three and a half petabytes; that’s over twenty-two million times as much data as in the little image published here.

And there you have it: a black hole that’s orange and one of the blurriest photos you’ve ever seen that’s actually one of the sharpest images you’ve ever seen. That’s what I call scientific progress!

14 May 2022

In the Beginning

Sarah is having a crisis of faith and asked the wrong person for advice: me!

I explained that I can’t believe any of the top-tier gods ever asked a human to take dictation. Would an all-powerful deity rely on some schmuck pressing cuneiform characters into wet clay to take notes on the universe’s operating system before going silent for millennia? And not give an update after thousands of years on when we’re supposed to love our enemies and when we should smite the dirty buggers? And what kind of supreme being doesn’t even have an Internet site?

My problems with the sloppy documentation begin at the very beginning; that’s obviously a good place to begin.

I have no problem with the almighty ordering, “Let there be light.” After all, it’s important to have a well-lit workspace when you’re starting any big project. I’m fine with the way things were going until the fourth day, when s/he finally gets around to creating the sun, moon, stars, and the other heavenly bodies.

Let’s stop right there: then where did all the light come from in the beginning? After all, this was long before Abraham begat Benjamin Franklin begat electricity.

This just in: God told me to stop talking bollocks; gotta go ...

Coming next weak: more of the same.


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©2022 David Glenn Rinehart

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