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Friday, 6 June 2014

Self-Reflection (In Geronimo's Eye)


Geronimo -- detail showing photographer reflected in his eye.
Photo shows the famous Apache warrior Geronimo, photographed during the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1904. The close-up view of his left eye reveals a reflection of the photographer
. ["Reminds me of the old myth that was prevalent back in the old days, that you could somehow see the last thing a person saw reflected in their dead eyes." -- JW FHB]: photo by the Gerhard Sisters, St. Louis, Missouri, c. 1904 (Library of Congress)

The world is a looking-glass, and gives back to every man the reflection of his own face. Frown at it, and it in turn will look sourly upon you.

-- Thackeray, Vanity Fair


Portrait of Billie Holiday, Club Downbeat(?), New York, New York. Caption from Down Beat: [from article] The gal singers, Billie Holiday and Mildred Bailey, have been singing about a quarter of a mile from each other: Billie at the Club Downbeat on 52nd St. and Mildred at the Blue Angel on the East 50's [William P. Gottlieb's reflection seen in mirror]: photo by William P. Gottlieb, c. June 1946 (William P. Gottlieb Collection, Library of Congress)

Self (Holga wet plate). Wet plate glass negative in a Holga. Me, sleeping on the floor of the New England School of Photography. It was a long exposure. I took a nap: photo by Jim Rohan, 9 February 2014

Strange Land (Cambridge, Massachusetts): photo by Jim Rohan, 29 December 2010

Self-Reflection (seahorse, Monterey Bay Aquarium): photo by Pargon, 15 August 2009
File:Betta Fighting Reflection.JPG

Male Siamese Fighting Fish (Betta splendens) flaring at his own reflection in a mirror: photo by Malzees, 28 October 2007

Me, myself and Jesus: photo by frau kpunkt, 6 March 2013

Untitled (shopwindow, Stockholm): photo by Hans Söderström, 9 September 2013

Reflection and Projection (shopwindow, Stockholm). A huge camera was taking my picture as I walked by. I couldn't just take it, so I shot back: photo by Hans Söderström, 11 May 2011

Untitled (shopwindow, Stockholm): photo by Hans Söderström, 9 September 2013

self reflection: photo by Desideria, 6 August 2006

Looking-Glass Aberration. Bluhm Family Terrace, The Art Institute, Chicago: photo by Rana Pipiens, 28 April 2010
Our cameras record the world-out-there as clearly as possible. So we don't want dust or smudges on our lenses. Differently from Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, we prefer real turtles over the Mock-Turtle and real bread-and-butter or flies over the Bread-And-Butter-Fly... But we often forget that even clean and clear lenses can cause inherent distortions of what we think we see. Chromatic aberration is one of these, and you can see it in this photo: the horizontal, thinnish black lines or line segments are not 'out-there' but in the camera's 'brain', as it were. To make things even more a part of my mind-game, I shot this picture through the plate glass window of the Terzo Piano restaurant of The Art Institute at Chicago. (I wonder incidentally whether that name is a pun on Renzo Piano, the architect of this new wing...) Thus there are at least three all but invisible -- except for that Chromatic Aberration -- barriers to seeing this world as it 'really' is; and I haven't even mentioned the various computer screens and electronic waves and so on by which this picture is further transmitted (nor my eyeglasses).

The Bluhm Family Terrace and its bright surroundings are as real or unreal as the deconstructivism of Frank Owen Gehry's (1929-) Jay Pritzker open-air Music Pavilion (just to be seen in the lower right of the photo) or the Rising Architecture in the backdrop, or the Boeing Engine Installation.

The two engines were 'installed' here by the British artist Roger Hiorns (1975-). They were originally attached to a jet of the Strategic Air Command (USA), a Boeing EC135. These jets were part of the mission called Operation Looking Glass, put into place in 1961. It mirrors ground command in the sky, if after a cataclysmic event ground control were no longer able to function. Hiorns calls his installation "Untitled (Alliance)". To make things even more complicated, the artist has 'hidden' containers of medicine and drugs in these engines. What this all means is not very clear to me: I think I read words like 'trauma', 'depression', 'symbols', 'security', 'personal well-being', 'ties', 'alliances', 'freedom'. I suppose this all falls under 'deconstructivism'. I feel like Alice in Wonderland in a rather scary story; and it's uncanny and 'unreal' at the same time. But on a fine clear, crisp and blue-skied day like this it's exhilarating as well, even if my lenses suffer from chromatic aberration.

And those people in the photo? They're a group of journalists, I think, recording and talking and creating 'lenses' through which to understand... What they're saying I know not... Meanwhile, I think I'll stick with St Augustine's "uti et frui".-- R.P.

In another moment Alice was through the glass, and had jumped lightly down into the Looking-glass room...

-- Lewis Carroll: Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There (1871)

Boeing EC-135. From 3 February 1961 to 24 July 1990 one of these aircraft was airborne flying the Looking Glass operation to monitor Soviet missile activity. Twenty four hours a day. Every day. For 29 years: photo by Chris, 14 June 2011

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A U.S. Navy Boeing E-6A Mercury aircraft, painted anti-flash white, in flight, as part of the US military TACAMO (Take Charge and Move Out) system of survivable communications links designed to be used in nuclear war to maintain communications between the decision makers (the National Command Authority) and the triad of strategic nuclear weapon delivery.  Its primary mission is to receive, verify and retransmit Emergency Action Messages (EAMs) to US strategic forces. It does this by maintaining the ability to communicate on virtually every radio frequency band from very low frequency (VLF) up through super high frequency (SHF) using a variety of modulations, encryptions and networks. This airborne communications capability largely replaced the land based extremely low frequency (ELF) broadcast sites that became vulnerable to nuclear strike: photo by US Navy, n.d., from Naval History and Heritage Command; image by alexandru.rosu, 17 April 2010

Bluhm Family Terrace, The Art Institute, Chicago: photo by Jim Watkins, 8 May 2010


tpw said...

Dear Tom: I look at (and read) your blog, and so often I think: all of life is but a dream. What we see, how we experience time, what we feel. The whole thing.

TC said...

If I had once been a great warrior, I'm not sure I'd like to be looking at the Gerhard Sisters for the rest of eternity. But then I've never seen the Gerhard Sisters.

Oh well. David of Be the BQE has helped me to understand that writers who live in glass boxes (or free recycled fish tanks) ought to go easy on the Windex.

Theodor Adorno: Behind the Mirror

TC said...

Hey Terry, thanks for breaking the sea ice -- it's hard to hear the cutters from way down here on the sea floor.

Totally agree that the minute it all ever begins to seem to add up to something, we can know for sure that we're dreaming.

All of it, everything, unreal, so little left to attribute tangible reality to -- just you, me, myself and Jesus.

TC said...

(And of course, David -- is David in here? -- and Teddy, the perpetual chimerical presence in the glass box. And Geronimo. And Billie. William P. Gottlieb. The Gerhard Sisters. A Siamese Fighting Fish, so long as it's in restraints. And maybe a seahorse, OK. But uh-oh, suddenly it's starting to feel a bit crowded in here... good thing nobody's watching!)

Lord Charlie said...

Billie never looked better -- or happier -- than in this great photograph.

TC said...

Thanks, David. William P. Gottlieb was the great photographer of the great age of Jazz in the city. His pictures made Down Beat THE ongoing visual showcase of that scene. He was trusted, and had entry, as can be seen in the relaxed and happy attitude of BH in that shot.

William P. Gottlieb: Rainy Night on 52nd Street

Wooden Boy said...

Mirrors are traps for the most part (Thackery catches this) but Billie Holliday photo uses the reflection to give us a bit of distance to honour her happiness.

TC said...

Dunno about mirrors. Before losing the power of locomotion, my final expeditions into the land of the way people live now (to paraphrase Trollope's great title) often seemed to be journeys into the land of the living dead. Every person under a certain age seemed to be staring fixedly, as if under hypnosis, into handheld devices of some kind. (One was once accustomed to seeing women glance into their compact mirrors in much the same way, but never for more than that brief moment of rearrangement or approval or disapproval, or whatever it was.) Occasionally these contemporary inward gazers of whom I speak would seem to be snapping pictures of themselves, but the pictures were probably just the baggage. The trip through the plastic and wire looking-glass appeared to be the "point", that securing entry into the interior journey, shutting out rather than opening up any sort of living (non-electronic) world. Hello, Dear Monad Moi, are you having a nice day?

Have never been much enamored of mirror staring, myself -- and latterly, for good reason.

TC said...

And, Ta-Da! By popular acclaim, here they are, fresh from Geronimo's eyeball:

The Gerhard Sisters

Those redoubtable photographic pioneers the St. Louis Gerhard sisters (Emme and Mayme) were of course not the only entrepreneurial white-eyes shutterbugs Geronimo stood still for, over the years. As an "iconic" figure, he was always going to be vulnerable to "appropriation". All those crafty white-eyes businesses.

There were once said to be two ways to identify an "Indian".

1) If you want to take his picture, it'll cost you a dollar.

2) If his car breaks down, he will simply walk away from it, and not look back.

One has to assume the Sisters got their money's worth.

And that Geronimo was a non-driver.

He has of course continued to have his royalty-free cultural uses over the years. His name has indeed become a brand, in more than one sense of the term.

Geronimo: Code Name for Target of Choice

TC said...

And as the Sisters have achieved feminist heroine status, a bit of bio may be in order.

Their parents were German immigrants, the father a butcher.

They studied photography in St. Louis under Fitz Guerin, a well-known portraitist and photographer of staged scenes.

When Guerin retired in January 1903, the Gerhards took over his studio and negatives. Their timing was perfect. For five years St Louis had mounted a civic renovation campaign in anticipation of The World's Fair of 1904. The Sisters became players in an upward-trending "new St. Louis".

They were great self-promoters (they claimed to be the city's first female photographers, a bit of a fib), showed themselves shrewd at business and had quickly built quite a successful photography outfit for themselves.

They took maximum advantage of the World's Fair in gaining access to "indigenous" subjects. In this they were not alone.

"Anthropologists at Chicago's Field Museum recognized the Fair as an opportunity to gain valuable ethnographic photographs without expensive expeditions to the several countries represented. Charles Carpenter, the Museum's staff photographer, oversaw a team of photographers -- Frances Benjamin Johnston and the Gerhard Sisters -- whose work was of professional quality and who used large-format view cameras. Jessie Tarbox Beals also photographed at the Fair but she was not part of the Carpenter team.

"The Gerhards photographed Iggorot and Moro people from the Philippines and Negritos from Oceania, as well as Eskimo, Chinese, and Japanese people. Some of the photographs portray people sympathetically but others capitalize on features considered to be inferior, particularly the ones titled "Missing Link" -1 and -2 that emphasize the simian appearance of one man. In that era of eugenics studies, a newspaper used this photograph to head an article titled 'Which is Man, Which is Monkey.'

"Some of the Gerhard's images from the Exposition seem to have been made in their studio, away from the 'controlled chaos' of the outdoor displays on the Fair's Midway. One of those is a portrait of Geronimo that contains an accidental 'portrait' of the photographer at work. It is reflected in Geronimo's eye and was discovered in 2009 when the Library's photo conservator realized someone was looking back at her as she worked. The 'portrait' shows a woman wearing a white shirtwaist blouse with a dark skirt, the uniform of 'the New Woman' of the 1890s and early 1900s. The phrase New Woman referred to feminists.

"The Gerhards photographed people of the Cheyenne, Osage, and Pueblo and Moki tribes. Some of their images, such as the portrait of Wolf Robe and Navajo Family, appear empathetic. Others of their photographs, such as the one labeled 'Navajo Buck and Squaw' reflect prevailing stereotypes.

"The Gerhards also photographed activities on the fairgrounds. An Arapaho group appears outside a structure made of branches at the Fair. Other scenes show interiors of Cheyenne houses, and action scenes of the Hopi Snake and Eagle dancers. The Gerhards' photographs provide rare ethnographic documentation as some of the dance scenes were soon restricted from photographers.

"Eskimos had been popular at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair and also appeared in St. Louis. The Gerhard photos taken in St. Louis include one of Nancy Columbia, who was born at the Chicago Fair, and 'Ester,' who is wearing a photographic broach showing Nancy Columbia."

-- LOC

The Sisters' shots of "indigenes" have achieved considerable circulation.

These days one sees less of this strain in their oeuvre:

Missing Link 1