Friday, February 12, 2016

Taking Sensual Pleasures to a Higher Level

The other day, I sat out on the porch of the "Chatterbox" cafe. It was noon on an unseasonably warm day. Already I felt a mild dread about warm weather returning, and on top of that, I was drinking hot coffee.  But the porch was shaded. The gentle breeze felt so cool and reassuring.

Wasn't it just a few weeks ago that I would pop my insulated bib overalls on and lie out on the 'patio' (ramp) of my cargo trailer, with it facing the still-valid Arizona sun. Then, I was asking relief from the wintry air. 

These two experiences were as pleasant as they could be. They were mirror images of each other. Today's pleasure was even more piquant because of the contrast with the oh-so-recent mirror image.

But the pleasure didn't stop there. Recently I posted about the visual metaphor from "The Creature from the Black Lagoon," with the ugly male Creature swimming upside down while stalking the beautiful girl swimming on top of the water, with the sunlight rippling the surface. [*] (The camera was underneath the water, looking upwards.)

With this visual image in mind, the experience was transported to a higher level -- from the purely sensual to the aesthetic realm. This made a noticeable difference. I'm glad that I've finally come to appreciate, and actively shop for, visual metaphors from the movies. It is possible to find examples from the world of cartoons or even sculpture.

What a shame that visual metaphors are so hard to find in the world of (still) photography! It may be possible that many photographers don't even know that they are supposed to aspire to visual representations of ideas or fundamental components of the human condition. 

[*] As usual, lots of good movie trivia is available at

Sunday, February 7, 2016

The Other World Under the Glistening Winter Desert

Just about everybody has had a powerful, subjective experience -- say, an automobile accident or illness -- and then been crushed by the indifference of their listeners. Usually the listener starts squirming away in just a few seconds, even if they know you quite well.

And yet I persist in using odd, and rather subjective, experiences as the starting points of personal essays. It still seems like a good idea, as long as I move briskly away from the anecdote to seek out the more General.

The oddest such experience of recent days was getting a glimpse into the world underneath a Quartzsite RV dump. The winter sun is low in the desert. It almost glistens off the desert pavement. The air is chilly. The desert seems so clean: no bugs or creepie-crawlies. Perhaps that is what made the experience memorable: first, surprise; and thirdly, the contrast with the world above ground. And 'secondly'? Ahh yes...

It took several seconds for my eyes to adjust to the darkness. You think you see something, but you aren't sure. During that time, the Imagination runs riot. This is the origin of a human's appreciation of so many things: religion, poetry, metaphysics, hope during revolutions, fears about the future consequences of important decisions we are making at the time.

Recall your Burke, A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful: 

"In reality a great clearness helps but little towards affecting the passions, as it is in some sort an enemy to all enthusiasms whatsoever." 

"A clear idea is therefore another name for a little idea."

“Whatever is fitted to excite the ideas of pain and danger, whatever is terrible, is a source of the sublime; that is, it produces the strongest emotion that the mind is capable of feeling."
The idea of a shadowy netherworld is quite universal. It manifests itself in so many ways:

1. Children playing, and sometimes doing nasty little things because they 'fly under the radar screen' of the adult world.

2. The great appeal of gangster movies, gunslinger cowboys, or pirates.

3. The shadowy truth that lurks under the trivial chirpiness of normal, socially acceptable conversation. Important things lie hidden, like the proverbial iceberg.

4. 'The rest of the story' about that used car, after listening to the 'positive thinking' of the salesman.

5. The rest of the story about so many things. The politician yammers endlessly, but what is the real angle? What are they really trying to pull off? Who is pulling the strings behind the scenes?

6. You've just had a great piece of luck, or a great success. What ironic disaster is setting up in the background...right then... to nail you a year later?

I've gradually learned to appreciate classic visual representations of ideas. Creating these opportunities is what a real photographer should do. I got a chance to enjoy a classic image of the Underworld for the first time: the famous scene from the "Creature from the Black Lagoon." The camera was under the water, looking up at a beautiful girl swimming. The commentary track mentioned that the girl was a body double (stand-in) for Julie Adams.

Julie Adams, from
Why they would need a body-double or an anything-double for Julie Adams, I cannot fathom. Perhaps she wasn't a good swimmer.

The camera showed the Creature swimming up to the girl on top, while imitating her swimming stroke, and getting closer...and closer. Remember that they were wearing three-dimensional glasses in the movie theaters at that time.

The last classic image of the Underworld, I can not show you, and wouldn't even if I could. Much of the action of Carol Reed's "The Third Man", a film noir classic, takes place chasing through the underground sewers of Vienna. At the end of the movie, one of the characters is shot in those sewers just before he could escape. His fingers reach up through the sewer grate, wiggling, weakening, like dying worms.