Over the next few days, I’ll be sharing an assortment of #analogphotography from recent happenings and wanderings. This set’s from a staff retreat I was on earlier this month, my third time on this former military base.
I greatly enjoyed my pre-dawn and early morning walks and felt like I’d completed some kind of cycle by being here, having sat with hesitation at the threshold of belonging the last time I was in this place. I’ve walked across now. I’m there.
The last night of September. We went out for dinner to mark another turn of the wheel and followed the sounds of thump-thumping bass to this slice of elsewhere–my dad called it Bourj Hammoud; I thought it looked like how LA probably looks. I wouldn’t actually know. Yet!
“Oh, you can do it at a trot.
You can do it at a gallop.
You can do it real slow
so your heart won’t palpitate.
Just don’t be late.
Do the #Puyallup!”
“Place, home and roots are profoundly moral concepts in the humanist lexicon. By implication, mobility appears to involve a number of absences – the absence of commitment, attachment, and involvement – a lack of significance. The more widespread associations of mobility with deviance, shiftlessness and disrepute come to mind.” (TIM CRESSWELL)
Last time I was here, I stood at the beach and reflected on why it was strange to me to feel like I fit in with a particular group of people at a particular time and place. I used to console myself when that apparently natural quality seemed to elude me before by reaching for an arcane term from French sociology: “illusio,” or “the belief in the value of what is pursued in a specific field” and “a way of engaging with how meaning is created, maintained and transformed.” What if that just wasn’t in me, forever disillusioned?
But I’d been feeling that shift over the years I’d lived and worked in this country, and it felt strange and foreign; almost unwelcome.
I did not anticipate that the next time I’d be at this former military base, I’d be surprised with funfetti cake and a chorus of lovable weirdoes saluting me and singing the Star-Spangled Banner, half-jokingly, and in a couple of cases, with frightening eyes-rolled-back gusto.
Belonging is a strange beast and home is still a question mark. But right now, there’s also an exclamation point alongside.
“The concept of ‘roots’ connects types of people to particular places. The notion of identities rooted in the soil of home is profoundly metaphysical. In our incessant desire to divide the world into clearly bounded territorial units we produce a ‘sedentarist metaphysics.’ Fixed, bounded and rooted conceptions of culture and identity are linked to particular ways of thinking that are sedentary. These ways of thinking then reaffirm and enable the commonsense segmentation of the world into things like nations, states, counties and places. This process is so ingrained as to be invisible.” (TIM CRESSWELL)
Fort Worden was a coastal artillery fortification guarding against a most fearsome enemy: the British Navy on Vancouver Island. As funny as that sounds, together with Fort Flagler on Marrowstone and Fort Casey on Whidbey, this base was designed as a point on a “Triangle of Fire” that defended the homeland from marine invasion. But it never saw any action, and by World War I, much of its weaponry was shipped off to Europe or had already become obsolete. Now all that remains of that purpose are the cavernous concrete structures that once housed a wide array of “disappearing”, “barbette”, “balanced pillar”, and “pedestal” guns, as well as sixteen 12-inch mortars.
You might not know this, but Fort Worden was featured in the 2002 remake of The Ring, and in the spookiest part of the film, in fact: Samara’s accursed VHS tape. It’s the shot with the tree by the cliff—that shot was filmed here.
Assorted September scenes around Seattle on expired #kodakadvantix
This place also features a site-specific artwork called Memory’s Vault, made out of the same kind of cast concrete as much of what you find here. I don’t show it here—I think it’s more fun to come across it almost by accident, as I did. There’s an ancient otherworldliness to the site.
Memory’s Vault features two, large throne-like seats for contemplation. It also features several bronze plaques inscribed with poetry by Sam Hamill, the convener of “Poets against the War,” a Bush-era protest project. Here’s a piece from that anthology:
Like the topaz in the toad’s head
the comfort in the terrible histories
was up front, easy to find:
Once upon a time in a kingdom far away.
Even to the dreadful now of news
we listened comforted
by far timezones, languages we didn’t speak,
the wide, forgetful oceans.
Today, no comfort but the jewel courage.
The war is ours, now, here, it is our republic
facing its own betraying terror.
And how we tell the story is forever after.”
(Ursula K. Le Guin)
This last round at the photo developers was my first time going through what may be a film photography rite of passage: the blank roll. One of the rolls I shot turned out to be a dud, or maybe I’d messed it up somehow, idk, but the photo shop hilariously sent me an empty dropbox folder with my non-scans and the words “blank roll” to make it official.
I wasn’t too surprised; it was expired filmstock off the internet and came with a disclaimer insisting that “there are many factors that may create unsatisfactory results.” It was also a crapshoot with a notoriously difficult type of color slide film that I could have just botched on my end; at this stage of my enthusiastic use, I don’t quite have the know-how to know what or why.
And that’s ultimately part of the fun of doing analog in a digital age; the organicism of film and the unpredictability of expired stock pronounces the “nonhuman agency” of #photography in ways that re-enchant us in what feels like a hyper-parametricized world. Of course, nonhuman agency is always there and is perhaps even more ubiquitous in the digital age, but the cultural scripts around film embrace it; that’s the whole point of #lomography.
It’s also why we would never tolerate things “not coming out” when using our phones or DSLRs. That would be off script.
As Joanna Zylinska puts it: “Even the supposed human-centric decisions with regard to what to photograph and how to do it are often reactions to events quickly unfolding in front of the photographer’s eyes, or responses to pre-established visual categories: landscape, portraiture, play, war.”
“The execution of human agency in photographic practice, be it professional or amateur, ostensibly manifests itself in decisions about the subject matter (the ‘what’) and about ways of capturing this subject matter with a digital or analogue apparatus (the ‘how’). Yet in amateur, snapshot-type photography these supposed human-centric decisions are often affective reactions to events quickly unfolding in front of the photographer’s eyes. Such reactions happen too quickly, or we could even say automatically, for any conscious processes of decision-making to be involved – bar that original decision to actually have, bring and use a camera, rather than not. This automatism in photography also manifests itself in the fact that these kinds of ‘snap’ reactions are usually rechanneled through a whole database of standardised, pre-programmed, pre-existing image-frames, whose significance we are already familiar with and which we are trying to recreate in a unique way, under the umbrella of so-called individual experience: ‘toddler running towards mother’; ‘girl blowing a candle on a birthday cake’; ‘couple posing in front of the Taj Mahal’. It is in this sense that, as Flusser has it, ‘weddings conform to a photographic program’.” (JOANNA ZYLINSKY)
Analog media, and especially #deadmedia, also help to defamiliarize (“make strange,” остранение) our ubiquitous ways of seeing. Awkward aspect ratios that refuse to fit into digital standards unveil the agency behind those standards: the crop is a choice just like the character limit or the recommendation algorithm, etc. These choices are mostly invisible until they clash with our own.
One of my most favorite and well-circulated quotes over the past decade is from Wim Wenders: “The most political decision you make is where you direct people’s eyes. In other words, what you show people, day in and day out, is political.”
I’ve used this quote in many PowerPoint presentations to make an argument for everything from grassroots mapping to the politics of memory. Today, I’m recalling it again with less emphasis on the “what” and more emphasis on the “how.”
How you show people is also political, a politics that more often than not works to exclude our personal agency.
“The image and the market are intrinsically linked. It’s not random that the history of consumer culture and the democratisation of #photography coincide. Historically, photography supported capitalism’s development.” (Audrey Hoareau)
“Social media depends on recognition – more specifically, on acts of recognition. The thing itself is less interesting than the fact that we know someone involved, and if it is interesting or important, we can claim some tenuous connection to it. We enact the maxim of the great street photographer Garry Winogrand: “I photograph to find out what something will look like photographed.” We document and share to find out how it feels to do it, and because we can’t resist the urge. Otherwise, the experience, the pithy quote, the beautiful sunset, the overheard conversation, the stray insight, is lost or seems somehow less substantial.” (Jacob Silverman)
“The posed and ‘silly’ photographs were shared in the moment with a select group of close friends via Snapchat. They were about being entertaining as a means of demonstrating friendship, but also communicating to their friends that they were having fun without them. They implicitly said “We’re not boring stay-at-home types. We’re dynamic and spontaneous people who know how to have a good time; worthy of your friendship but also hungry for your envy.” The other photographs were for a more public audience. They were to be edited post-visit in Instagram and shared there and on Facebook. These photographs were about communicating a certain lifestyle to acquaintances, the … “we’re cultural connoisseurs” messages deeply embedded in the more serious tone of the images they were capturing.” (Nina Belk)