Sunday, November 30, 2008

Rive droite

Frankly, I have no idea where the smart set lives in Turku.
And no intention of finding out.


Okay, those weeds arranged themselves without my help.



This one was taken from the top of the plaque commemorating the first daguerreotype of Turku, which was made on that spot on 3 November 1842. On that one, you could see more of the cathedral than just the steeple roof, of course.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Okay, I flipped

Turku market square, 8 pm.
I expect the Turku tourism board to start paying me for these any day now.

Through a bus window, vaguely

Gloomy abstract expressionism via camera just might be the next big thing. Just add enough theoretical gunk on top to sell it...

That's more like it

Replace snow with ice and slush to obtain typical coastal winter.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

I less, You more

I would like to inject some humour into this sombre blogification. I grew up with German comedians. They had a huge influence on me. Whenever I feel like laughing I only need to think back to this joke about the elephant that walked into a bar saying "<untranslatable word play>" to which the bartender replied with an untranslatable pun and then did something for which there is no word in English.
Isn't it wonderful how humour fosters international understanding?

And I'm sure all of my readers remember the dramatic shift in UNIX culture alluded to in the title...

The cold, dark womb of winter

My ancestors have lived in Finland or similar conditions for millennia, but still the traditional coping strategy with the long darkness of winter remains incessant grumbling. Marketing people are even trying to convince us that one cannot stay sane without a 3,000 lux lamp. Perhaps it is a matter of auto-suggestion. I feel enfolded, safe and cosy in the dark.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Something missing there

I am fighting the urge to replace that tower with the head of Godzilla...

Still life without woodpecker

I remember painting exactly one still life back when I was 16, having just read a biography of Cezanne. It was similarly cluttered. It had a flower pot, fruit and a roll of toilet paper...
Today is my 44th birthday. Maybe it's time to stop being a brat.

Monday, November 24, 2008

See what I have to deal with?

The whole place has turned into a sugar-coated Yuletide greeting card! As a dedicated curmudgeon I wish to make it known that I am posting this under protest!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Now, who ordered the shrubbery?


A view from the music library window

In the central foreground, there is still a light on at the Underground-Ullakko, the nicest record and underground comic shop in town.

Walk and learn

My mp3 player needed a refill again. So, the end of this year my walks will be accompanied by these lectures and audio books:
Animal behaviour by Prof. Gerald Schneider from MIT
The American Novel Since 1945 by Professor Amy Hungerford of Yale
I'm rather fond of modern American literature, Philip Roth, Don DeLillo, Pynchon and the lot.
Introduction to Political Philosophy with Professor Steven B. Smith
My last load already included his lectures from Plato to Macchiavelli, which are very good. He is a fine speaker and got me thinking about the various dimensions of politics...not that I'm going to mess up this blog with political discussions, since I get too strident and it is too painfully pointless to change the world one blog post at a time.
The Praise of Folly by Erasmus of Rotterdam (1466/69-1536)
Apparently, he took three years to get through birth, judging by those dates. I pity the mother.
Erec and Enide by Chretien de Troyes
Finally, a medieval romance to lighten things up.

It will never catch on

But it sure looks like real winter out there.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Turku Cathedral

Some Finnish cities pay bounties to private security firm employees for putting young men into hospital on suspicion of 'defacing' grey concrete walls in industrial areas. Meanwhile, some unelected official had license to decorate the 700 year old "mother church of the Lutheran Church of Finland, the country’s national shrine" with this elegant period piece of a litter bin. Thousands of tourists photograph it every year. Aesthetics is a matter of selective vision. We see what we want to see.
On the other hand, any attempt of adapting its looks to the church's 14th century exterior might actually hamper its invisibility. People would take pictures of it to share the joke with friends back home. The wrong joke, most likely. People in the 14th century recycled even horse droppings...

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The tricky part

The tricky bit about composition (both in pictures and music) is that if you follow all the rules to the letter, you will end up with excruciatingly boring results. Deviations, breakage, mistakes and other innovations are the true subject of art. The rest is just the stage setting.
No, really. If you see a rose bush full of perfect flowers and in their midst one deformed, discoloured bloom, what are you going to look at?

Johann Sebastian Bach might serve both as the perfect antithesis to my claim and its corollary. Baroque music culminated in the spotless perfection of his works, which are indeed a marvel to behold. And still, they did not launch a tradition, they ended it. Composers veered off as far as possible. Therefore I claim: Art abhors perfection.


I can hear the jingles bellowing

Nearly the time when you can't go into shops without earplugs.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Mömö von Frankenstein

It's not out of focus! It's impressionistic!

Okay, yes, I have shaky hands these days and the dear old camera (Kodak DC290 from '99) is slow.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Theory and practice

Reading my ramblings here, I am struck by how far they fall short of what I aimed for. Obviously, reading up on a subject is not enough to gain full understanding of it. Until the knowledge has been exercised, it remains a passive mess of disjoint data points that merely clutter up your mind.
So that's what distinguishes degree holders from well read amateurs: all those papers they have written, which forced them to hone their learning into a sharp point to drive home their arguments.
Man, I wish I could concentrate on anything for long enough to develop an argument...

Saturday, November 15, 2008

There is no darkness

Given enough exposure time, anything can look bright. That sky looked black to my bare eyes, but give the camera 13 seconds to suck up photons and you'll see why astronomers hate cities.

No bicycles

Now you know two words of Finnish. This blog is finally repaying the time you have wasted on it! Unless you are a Finn yourself, of course.

Self portrait in library window

Yes, it's still raining in Turku.
No manipulation or double exposure needed. As you can see from the reflection, Turku's new main library has triple glazing in its huge windows. That does not change my opinion that its architect farts in the general direction of energy conservation. Huge, heat-leaking walls of glass are a bit silly in a country with an average annual temperature barely above freezing. They've been all the rage among the designers of pompous buildings in Finland lately. We are addicted to sunlight, you see.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Analysing film

Cinema could be called the queen of the arts - if it actually managed to excel at all those arts it unites: story telling, acting, painting/photography, music/sound collage. Since no single person can be good at all of those, it is usually a collective art form under the dictatorship of a director, producer, accountants or the marketing department - in spite of the grand opinion Gore Vidal held of the author's role in this enterprise. In Hollywood, writers have been a particularly downtrodden caste, subject to constant rewrites by script doctors, directors, producers and even the actors: "I can't talk like that!" But I digress. My whole life is a digression, come to think of it...
A truly good film needs to shine in several if not all of the aspects listed above, although there are cases in which everything else has been subjugated to just one. Tarkovski's Nostalghia looks like a succession of unspeakably beautiful paintings, often reminiscent of Giorgone and other Venetian masters, but it is still mainly an illustrated poem about exile.
A less successful, and thus more instructive example is Bell, Book and Candle from 1958, which deservedly won a single Oscar for art direction. Ostensibly a light-hearted comedy about a coven of witches in beatnik era New York, it fell under the spell of an obsessive, classically trained artist. Every single picture is painstakingly divided by golden cuts, the actors arranged into set pieces copied from old masters and colour coordinated within an inch of their lives. Every character has its assigned shadings and props. Even when two people converse in the same room, they are shown against different walls, James Stewart with his books and warm browns, his fiancée with her paintings in light, cool blues, Kim Novak gets her mystic artefacts and dark shadows etc. If you want a simple introduction into static picture composition, watch this one with your finger on the pause button. You can see most of the actors squirming in their assigned triangles, marking appropriate verticals and diagonals, yearning to do some acting in addition to moving their mouths.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Today's soundtrack

Riot in the Commons
is a chaotic mash-up of public domain recordings found on Played at random, five at a time, these create a constantly changing cloud of sounds from all over the world. Anything less just can't hold my fractured attention these days...
It is also a hint of all the horrible/wonderful things that would be possible in a culture without copyrights. I would like to have artists make a living with their work, but even today very few truly original artists can do that while ruthless opportunists and their lawyers/managers/distributors make millions. So what is the point?
Meanwhile copyrights prevent the kind of free discourse, the exchange of material that made classics like Homer's works immortal. Hundreds of singers made improvements to the Illiad before it was written down. That is how Jamaican dancehall works. A good riddim will receive dozens or hundreds of interpretations until the perfect version that cannot be topped crystallizes. Then everybody moves on. And the white man in Europe is left behind to tend the archives and make sense of this galloping history...


Off and on

Wax off.

Wax on.

We have the technology...

Monday, November 10, 2008

A rainy bus stop with glass walls

I will always associate JCDecaux with the arrival of bus stop shelters that do not give shelter from wind nor rain, which may be fine in Paris, but not in windy Finnish coastal cities. Many a freezing moment has been spent waiting for a bus and yearning for the previous, municipally provided shelters.
Still, they are great for photography. Here's a picture with three layers: The rain drops, the grass, the trees and the bus stop are in front of the camera. The ABC sign and the cars are reflected by one glass wall and the mall front by two, as you can tell by the direction of the text.

Here's the same with less zoom and longer exposure time for clarification.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Turku by night

Here, the composition is divided by vertical lines, the main one being the tree at the classical golden cut point, giving it some balance (golden cut = the shorter length has the same proportion to the longer one as the longer one has to the whole), but the dip in the street and the upper part of the tree makes it list a bit to the right: The picture is threatening to spill out of the right edge.

With all the lines pointing to centre left, this picture has the form of an explosion. As the details stop before the right edge, the vertical lines of the building and poles counteract that movement to give the white building a floating quality. The rectangular stairwell rising from the platform towards the left edge sits like a crooked tooth in the composition, as none of its lines conform to the rest of the picture - except that it is echoed in the rooftop in the centre of the picture. I think this just prevents the picture from being boringly predictable. It is the main character and the rest is its stage setting.

This one is bisected at the golden cut into dark and lighted halves, with both of them bleeding into each other in triangles. Not exactly stable and the hospital on the right looks insubstantial - especially since I neglected to rotate it into the vertical, so the whole picture lists and wafts drunkenly. Ah, but the colours! That contrast of green below and orange above and glaring white and deep black. It's insane.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Learning to see

Learning to see, to understand and appreciate what one sees, is a lifelong process. It is comparable with learning to enjoy good food - but when it comes to visual pleasures, most people are still at the "sugar is sweet, so sugar is best" stage of development. They fumble for criteria with which to judge a picture and invariably end up with those of the Victorian era:
"That must must have taken lots of skill to make. I can't see a single brush stroke!"
Modern painters are very disappointing in that, since many of them leave brush strokes everywhere: The first thing they learn at art school is that smooth gradations require merely a good brush and lots of patience - or a camera. It is the equivalent of teaching oneself to write in a perfect printer's font to hide all signs of personality in one's handwriting. Um, why become an artist if you want to keep your personality hidden? Try bookkeeping. Just saying the magic words "I am an accountant" will make people stop prying instantly. (My sympathies to all poor souls trapped in the actuarial trade. I'm sure that making a stable income that is five times higher than the average, haphazard earnings of an artist feels like just compensation for the fact that we get all the best girls. And I don't know why this doesn't work for female artists. Men are idiots, sorry.)

Aspects that make a good picture:

Rhythm, balance, flow of lines, colour harmony, liveliness, unity, personality, thought provoking...

Begin by drawing an imaginary line through the centre of the picture. Then look for all parts of similar colour on each side and see how they balance. Mind, even a tiny dot of yellow on the left can weigh up to a sea of it on the right - if it is well placed. You will hear a lot of that sort of thing. If judging a picture was easy, we would have children do it. They have not learned to lie to themselves yet.

Um, you know, there are books on this subject. Go read a few.

First morning frost

Okay, autumn is done and I'm bored with this series, so it ends here. Something else tomorrow.

Saturday, November 1, 2008