Monday, May 24, 2010

Peak or Segue?

I would like to put my “asterisks” here. First off, I don't want to come across as sanctimonious or pious in any way. My goal, both in writing and photography, is balance; all “either/or” creates is conflict. Secondly, I don't know the answer to evolution/creation question, and I'm certain no one else does either. My best guess is that they simply are one in the same. I do think that life adapts to deal with changing situations and to meet new challenges, but don't think it's reasonable that life and everything leading up to it is just some colossal accident.

With my little disclaimer out of the way, I suppose it's odd that these photos could have any connection at all, much this connection. Taken months apart, with two different cameras, one the day before I started this blog, the other well before I had even considered one. Yet, as often happens when filing slides here they were. Snaps that didn't resonate the first time under the loupe suddenly begin to make sense when held up to a window.

Seeing a machine like this in motion is at first impressive. No doubt, it is the collective effort the designers and engineers who brought it into existence. It goes so far beyond that, being, as many products are, the culmination of a journey billions of years in the making. With tools like this, it's no surprise that we think of ourselves as the pinnacle of evolution.

Humans, as far as animals are concerned, are really nothing special when you think about it. We're not that fast or strong, our senses are mediocre at best, except possibly our eyesight (and as a man with 20/400 vision, I'm not all that impressed). We're not very adept at climbing, swimming, and much past being able to walk upright, don't have any major physical advantages. We're not small enough to hide in holes, or big enough to be intimidating. Obviously we needed to do something to get this far.

If I can't outrun it, then I'll have to outsmart became the key. The question is, will we eventually outsmart ourselves right out of existence?

Of course, it leads to the question about our own evolutionary state. Are we really anything special, or are we just passing through? There is a tinge of arrogance to the idea that we are the peak of anything. We sure like to think that we've got this civilization thing all figured long as you don't count the fact that we don't seem to be able to stop fighting for 10 seconds. Yes, it is our big brains that were able to concoct these amazing feats of engineering and technology, and we seem intent on using it to destroy ourselves.

For some time I've theorized that that in most cases, the advantage that we develop to avoid being voted off of the evolutionary island is what ultimately leads to a species undoing, and looking around, I don't think that we are the exception. We can look around and see genius taking all forms, and many of them are destructive. Here, we see a basic human activity, one that people who disagree on nearly every other aspect of what is considered healthy agree on, being replaced by a machine. Especially considering we live in a time where the state of our collective health is in such a rapid and dangerous decline, doesn't it seem odd that we would put the ingenuity we used to survive in the wild with animals that were far faster and stronger than we, into adding to our troubles? Some may think it's the nuclear bomb or the toxic gasses being pumped into the air that will bring our end. Though I suppose the question could be answered by something totally out of our control (c'mon asteroid), I look at things like this and see our evolutionary strength unraveling our species before our very advanced eyes.

It's easy to be an atheist when you don't think about where anything came from.

As mentioned, I don't know that evolution is even the case, though I'm pretty sure what people see as two separate things are really just two sides of the same coin. The idea of some power watching over us, pulling strings here and there isn't as out there as some would have us believe. I usually use my “coffee cup” analogy; a coffee cup didn't just happen to come together in it's current form. Someone conceived of it, designed it and eventually made it, right? Well, here I sit on this piece of rock, a perfect distance from a perfectly sized star, where we, life, have flourished in so many strange, colorful and wonderful ways. The parameters in which the diversity of life that has come and gone before us is so narrow; just a few feet this way or that way, and none of this would be. Is it really so far fetched to think that there is something or someone bigger at play here?

All things in balance I suppose. God, evolution and society each pull us in thousands of directions at once, and I wonder if, as these ingenious walking replacements whiz past my equally innovative (though admittedly dated) image capturing device, if the pulls of religion and science are here to balance us, or if they will ultimately pull us apart.

The man that knows something knows that he knows nothing at all. – Erykah Badu.

Sounds about right.

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Sunday, May 16, 2010

Twisted reflections

We see ourselves every day. At first intentionally as we decide how we should look for the rest of the world. Then, throughout the rest of the day, we come across ourselves in everything from store windows to rain puddles. Each time we see ourselves, it is distorted by color and shape, constantly being molded by the cause, elements and situations that make up the reflection in the first place.

However, even in the perfect mirror, is how we perceive what is on the other side of the glass ever accurate? Sure, there is a likeness of what we think we look like staring back at us, along with a reversed image of otherwise familiar surroundings. Most obviously, the memory of our appearance that we take away from our daily observation is backwards. The slight asymmetries that give us character are on the wrong side, viewed and remembered exactly opposite from what those around us see.

Yet there are more subtle versions of this distortion. Whatever the source, our minds are also filled with all of the notions about what we should be, what we are, how we are or are not living up to whatever standards we have accepted. Society places its standards on us about how we should look and act, so while the person on the other side of the glass starts out as an image of a real person, it is filtered by the programming our brains have received.

Taking a sculpture that is entirely coated in a reflective surface gives one a more intentional twist on the mirror images we think are so commonplace. Yet this simple view, with the severely limited angle of view the camera provides, in many ways preserves more of what we remember a place like this to be. Even though we can only view at one time about as much as the lens on this camera could capture on a frame, our brains stitch the scene together into a memory. Elements that are otherwise in opposite directions become a single, continuous thing. Being able to see in many different directions, notably the skyline bending opposite the sun setting into the water, it turns out what we think is a twisted reflection created by the brilliantly orchestrated surfaces is in many ways less of a lie than the flat glass we use to prepare ourselves to leave the house in the morning.

Even as I was taking this photo, I was trying to put my own programming filter onto the final result, positioning myself to look as if I was not at this location at all. Such an obvious lie, yet one we seem to be willing to tell our viewers, and perhaps on some level even believe.

Though seemingly just a simple abstraction of a sculpture captured on film, it does serve to open our minds to the misrepresentations of all reflections, and open us up to being more honest with ourselves. Sometimes it takes a bent reflection to straighten everything out.

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