Thursday, 27 February 2014

searching for beauty

as i was playing with my lens to have the frail dry leaves in focus, curiously glued unto the windowpane because of the extreme condensation in the room, i accidentally changed the depth of field and suddenly got an image of the outside world, where, rummaging through the garbage behind the block of flats, two homeless people were collecting plastic bottles, or so i imagined (they usually do this, taking them to plastic collection centers where they get paid a couple of cents for each bottle). the first, instinctive response was irritation: their ugly apparition had ruined the perfect composition for my image! then i stopped and pondered the entire situation: the sheer ridiculousness of my attempt at "capturing the beauty" of two deep red leaves against the frame of a winter window, when outside people were dying of hunger and cold that very minute. only by a generous twist of fate had i been allowed to be inside, to enjoy the warm room and all the other privileges going together with it, allowed the luxury of "searching for beauty"...

i remembered Sei Shonagon's dismay at the view of moonlight ruined by the shabbiness of poor people's huts (dwelling for a moment on the plausibility of my being her late 21st-century avatar):

Snow on the house of common people. This is especially regrettable when the moonlight shines down to it.

as Jeffrey Angles stresses in his comment of these lines, it is not only class-based elitism which motivates such a view, but her appreciation for the ability to produce poetry, art, out of this scene: "the beauty of moonlight on a snowy roof would be wasted on a poetically unskilled member of the lower classes". this moral naïveté is of course justified by the social conditions defining class and class behaviour at that time. but we still perceive poverty and suffering as "ugly", don't we? thus the mixed response to Salgado's photographs, Susan Sontag writes, which portray the lives of the powerless in images which are nevertheless compelling works of arts which seem "beautifully staged": "Transforming is what art does, but photography that bears witness to the calamitous and the reprehensible is much criticized if it seems "aesthetic"; that is, too much like art. The dual powers of photography—to generate documents and to create works of visual art—have produced some remarkable exaggerations about what photographers ought or ought not to do. Lately, the most common exaggeration is one that regards these powers as opposites. Photographs that depict suffering shouldn't be beautiful, as captions shouldn't moralize. In this view, a beautiful photograph drains attention from the sobering subject and turns it toward the medium itself, thereby compromising the picture's status as a document. The photograph gives mixed signals. Stop this, it urges. But it also exclaims, What a spectacle! ..."

(Regarding The Pain Of Others )

is it possible to accept the paradox of such an existence where contemplation of a red leaf and aesthetic pursuits go hand in hand with the awareness of the pain of others? mostly, we end up living by closing our eyes and turning our backs to this essential issue, otherwise living wouldn't be bearable at all. Brecht's lines sum this up, as actual now as they have been in 1938, as they have always been:

It is true: I still earn my keep
But believe me: that is only a coincidence. Nothing
Of what I do entitles me to eat my fill.
Only coincidentally am I spared. (If my luck fails, I am lost.)

People tell me: Eat and drink! Be happy that you have!
But how can I eat and drink, if
What I eat, I take from the hungry, and if
My glass of water deprives the thirsty?
And yet, eat and drink I do.

(To our posterity, trans. by Arden Rienas)

Levinas is quite radical on this: "There is something vicious and egoistical and cowardly in aesthetic pleasure. There are times when one should feel ashamed of it, as if one celebrated during the plague". 

and yet: what if such celebration were the only possible way of surviving, without - to put it simply - going mad?


  1. Mono no aware. You have approached this with your truth, and I bow to this creation, for where you have seen, I have failed.

    1. why do you say that, Peter? i see no way you have failed, on the contrary, your art is constantly true to itself, as you are to yourself.
      (thank you for saying that and for having supported me for so long, in whatever i do here)

  2. before all else i must say that this series is beautiful and important. it is so good (and sobering) to hear you speaking from your place in time and body, a new sense of body from you))) i allowed myself to experience the photographs before i read your text. and i am so happy that this happened. the isolated intoxicating skin of the flower and its veins, those corpuscular ridges which allow it life! and then the advancement of the tree from behind mirroring the veins on the outside of the petals. and then the people with their life sewn into them, but the reality of their sifting through the trash. it was such an experience to behold, rather like your experience might have been, except that i was beyond the complexity of guilt as i was not the one making the choices, the art; you were.

    just reading vilem flusser last night, he notes, "The task of photography criticism should therefore be to identify the way in which human beings are attempting to get a hold over the camera and, on the other hand, the way in which cameras aim to absorb the intentions of human beings within themselves." in this way you are not arguing what art is, truth or beauty, but who you are as an artist and as a human being.

    and i think i must say so that you know i agree, you are absolutely right in your statement that it is only by an accident that we are afforded the luxury of art while others suffer. always. always always. and the margin of error that keeps us beyond this suffering to keep the body alive by struggle for food or lodging is only as thin as the veins of the flower.

    i think of many things right now and i try to manage them. your post in its importance opens up such wide and varied conversations. but strongest are jack gilbert's words from his poem (which must be read in full!) A Brief For The Defense, "We must admit there will be music despite everything."

    However (and there is always a however) i hold equally in hand cesar vallejo's words which resonate and cause me to look downward. and then inward.

    Our Daily Bread by Cesar Vallejo
    Translated by James Wright

    for Alejandro Gamboa

    Breakfast is drunk down … Damp earth
    of the cemetery gives off the fragrance of the precious blood.
    City of winter … the mordant crusade
    of a cart that seems to pull behind it
    an emotion of fasting that cannot get free!

    I wish I could beat on all the doors,
    and ask for somebody; and then
    look at the poor, and, while they wept softly,
    give bits of fresh bread to them.
    And plunder the rich of their vineyards
    with those two blessed hands
    which blasted the nails with one blow of light,
    and flew away from the Cross!
    Eyelash of morning, you cannot lift yourselves!
    Give us our daily bread,
    Lord … !
    Every bone in me belongs to others;
    and maybe I robbed them.
    I came to take something for myself that maybe
    was meant for some other man;
    and I start thinking that, if I had not been born,
    another poor man could have drunk this coffee.
    I feel like a dirty thief … Where will I end?
    And in this frigid hour, when the earth
    has the odor of human dust and is so sad,
    I wish I could beat on all the doors
    and beg pardon from someone,
    and make bits of fresh bread for him
    here, in the oven of my heart … !


    1. erin, thank you so deeply for this comment, so rich and sending me into so many directions. i read the poems, with great attention, and i know, oh i know, from your blog, from knowing you through your blog, that you know this as well, and have experienced the same feelings, with more intensity than i am able of, i am sure of that...

      sometimes i doubt this, and i question such a belief (i think it is always good to question things), but right now i _need_ to believe that this is so:

      To hear the faint sound of oars in the silence as a rowboat
      comes slowly out and then goes back is truly worth
      all the years of sorrow that are to come.

      (i feel so grateful that you are here, truly, deeply)

  3. the color of these leaves are so important in these photos. It's so easy to get caught up in what we are doing to forget that there are others not far from us dealing with things ( hunger ,pain ,etc. )
    But you are so right, we want to focus on just those leaves but those are leaves are just a small part to something much greater!

    1. yes, i have some b&w versions too, but indeed the colour is very important here so i almost forgot the others :-)

      thank you!

  4. Astonishing. So much to say, yet I find no words. Thank you, then, beyond expression. (-:

    1. it is so hard to believe you don't find any words :-)

  5. Impresionantes fotografías, Roxana, tanto de tus ojos como de tu cámara y tu cabeza.
    El blog, (diria mi amigo Luthien) sigue resplandeciendo!!!
    Sos (realmente) muy, pero muy buena.
    De verdad...

    1. muchas gracias por tus visitas y apoyo, Wolfang!
      sonriente :-)

  6. This brought tears to my eyes.

  7. this post is profound and beautiful and I agree with Erin it says so much I could write pages on this but oh well I'll stick to the comment box.Yes I feel fortunate also that I am writing in a warm apartment when it is -38 outside and it is not as bad in my city there are homeless and it is sad but there are places where they can go for two free meals a one dies in the streets here. capitalism is corrupt.we are told that it is illegal to hand out money on the streets to beggars because it is said here donate to the charitable organizations to stop the begging in the street.when I have a few dollars I like to give it away in the streets.I always dream that if I ever came into a lot of money I would go out into the streets and give thousands of dollars to beggars instead of donating to a charitable organization- this way I could see the look in their eye beggar to beggar because I am a beggar of light.

    ++++when outside people were dying of hunger and cold only by a generous twist of fate had I been allowed to be inside to enjoy the warm room.. this is beautiful and it arrives at the heart of empathy, the heart of humanity.It couldnt be said in a better way.
    yes art seems to ignore suffering at times and glorifies it into a hollywood movie or an award winning photo.yes perhaps we are too overwhelmed by all the suffering so we must turn away I mean if you can't help you have to look away but then maybe art is our vehicle to feel a universal compassion to focus it like you would focus a few rays of sunlight through a magnifying glass to start a fire.yes like these red leaves I can seem in them suffering fallen humanity from the tree of life. just a few rays of light from the lens focused to start a fire of the spirit. thankyou.

    anyway my friend about the photography and the beautiful of suffering well it is true that there is a trade off here but I have thought about this before and my conclusion is so be it.photographers and journalists go off to every corner of the globe they suffer themselves they risk their lives and suffer great hardships so that we can see in our living rooms the injustice the destruction and victimization of lives and that is a first step to extending a universal helping hand.we are informed some people look away but some extend their helping hand.


    1. thank you so much for sharing your thoughts on this with us here, Madeleine. i think that you gave a wonderful definition of art: maybe art is our vehicle to feel a universal compassion - indeed, the more i think about it, the more i believe there must be a connection of this kind...
      it is very difficult to come to a conclusion about this journalism photography, i agree as well. that is why i thought it important to mention it here.

      i am sending you early spring hugs and warm thoughts...
      bises :-)

  8. vai,este printre postarile cele mai ...cele mai; am citit lung, cum ai tine in papile gustul unui ceai la care ai visat si gandit mult,si atatea lucruri as avea sa spun despre asta-si la aceasta fotografie, prima,pentru ca doar pe ea o stiam, m-am gandit aseara,inainte sa adorm (stii pentru ce-si ma intrebam daca ar iesi rosul frumos si acolo,cum este aici). nu stiu cum va suna,insa aceasta este una dintre temele de reflectie cele mai vechi pe care le am, mereu ma gandesc la asta-si cred ca,cumva, eu sunt la granita aceea dintre fereastra si afara:)am fost in situatii care seamana cu acestea-e adevarat ca niciodata,pana acum,nu am mers pana la limitele ei,insa e in mine un frig care ma cuprinde in mijlocul celui mai somptuos pardis si parasesc, pentru o clipa macar, pentru o iluzie macar, orice asezamant; in acelasi timp,stiu ca ,daca as ramane in frig, nu ar mai fi suportabil,cum spui tu,insa cert este ca niciodata nu m-am putut regasi definitiv in vreo ipostaza. par sa ma fi indepartat de subiect,si totusi,il discut intins la maxim. este vorba despre ei,dar ce nu ne place la ei,ce ne ingrozeste,de fapt? nu stiu daca neaparat teama ca am putea fi in locul lor, ci ca am fi putut fi ca ei, lipsa de rafinament,nu, de idei sau imaginatie,nu stiu exact. si nici asta-ci,mai degraba,poate,faptul ca,in alta configuratie,la fel cum spui tu,si noi am fi devenit la fel de abrutizati, si nu am mai fi cautat frumusetea. m-am simtit si vinovata-stiu ca, in alt desen, nu as mai fi avut vremea de a stiliza impresii sei-shonagon-ice,cum fac pe balcon; dar m-am simtit, ca si tine,atat de aproape de ei,iar tu ai facut acest gest care i-a pus pe ei in drepturile lor regale,cum le avem toti, de a fi la fel de frumosi precum aceste caderi bordeaux in eter-de asta insetez eu dupa lumea"enumeratiilor",cum imi place sa ii spun,dupa papadia care este langa,daca ai avut sansa sa ai putin timp sa te gandesti la ea.
    absolut fantastic,si iti multumesc pentru toti,pentru tot,draga mea ( si lui li i-a placut, el si colectia lui de perdanti:) ).

    1. draga, sigur că m-am gândit şi la tine când am postat, ştiam că vei rezona, toate discuţiile noastre despre asta, şi ştiu că am vorbit chiar despre acest fragment din japoneza cea mătăsoasă. mă gândeam să extind puţin ce e aici şi să scriu în Ramuri despre asta, ce zici? :-) nu ştiu dacă este potrivit, cred că nu prea, iarăşi, dar mă preocupă chestia asta şi mă gândesc că dacă aşa simt, de ce nu?

  9. hi again my beautiful friend.I was just reading about this the other day -that a news photo of the daily mail was accused of "artistic
    rendering".a photo of the residents of Syria's besieged Yarmuch Palestinian refugee camp It is during a food distribution led by the UN-The United Nations Relief Works Agency UNRWA the photo is about a sea of starving faces extending as far as the eye can see amidst street rubble.How can we even begin to feel the suffering of all these people.the image has become iconic-it is something for us to cling to in a sea of suffering it becomes their collective cry for help again it is like a ray of light caught and focused from a collective bleeding sun and the photographer was questionned about photoshop and he stated that he didn't use photoshop that UNRWA is a humanitarian organization that remains just seems almost ludicrous to question...

    1. i hadn't known this photo and the doubts about it, thank you for pointing that out to me!

  10. in your words and photographs your soul speaks, dear Roxana. and this is what beauty is all about, i think.
    thank you for this sensible blog entry.

    1. thank you for saying that, Tanja. it is true about you as well.
      i smile, thinking of your gypsy horse encounter :-)

  11. Challenging, provoking thought, reflection... There is so much best not thought about for too long, should we wish to retain our sanity... Greetings Roxana...

    1. hi Owen, good to see you here, i hope your facebook-adventure is doing well :-)

  12. i thought - before reading - these petals look like open wounds, veins exposed, blood being lost. then i read, and it felt right that these two wounds connected you with the two people - the petals made you see the people where otherwise the quick look out the window, not through the camera, would have glanced over their pain, too used to such sights to See. in search of beauty you found truth, and then you helped us find it, too. i hear an 'and/with' here, not an 'either/or'.

    i agree, beauty is the privilege of the warm and fed, except maybe for those few, beautiful, possessed ones who'd truly starve without it. for the rest of us mortals, beauty, poems, music, art, they feed our souls, keep them open so we can see and carry the pain and maybe decide to do something about it. sometimes we lose the sight, and then someone like you comes along and helps us see again.

    1. This is one of the most perceptive and well-expressed comments this reader has ever seen on the Bridge. Just for the record. Laurels. (-:

    2. ah dear Manu, how this bridge has missed you - and needs your precious insight... i can only say that your words have almost managed to reconcile me with this question, not in the sense of solving it, i think it is impossible to solve, but to accept this torturing paradox, in the light of: "keep them open so we can see and carry the pain".
      citeam zilele astea din Geo Bogza, stii poezia asta?

      cât de bine se potriveşte cu ce am scris aici, aş fi vrut să o descopăr înainte de postare, dar oricum nu am găsit o traducere a ei...

      te îmbrăţişez cu atâta dor

    3. Atat de fierbinte si necontrolat e valul dragostei de oameni
      Care imi ineaca uneori, in cele mai banale imprejurari,
      Inima vesnic nepotolita si flamanda.
      Palid sedeam in coltul meu, cuprins de o singura, mistuitoare dorinta,
      Ca, desfacandu-mi arterele, sangele sa mi se prefaca in vin.

      El a vrut sa poata sa exprime valul in poezie, tu ridici aparatul foto, eu... nu stiu. Maybe it's not just one thing. At the moment, valul imi aduce tacere/liniste si lacrimi. Pentru ca, asa cum zici, nu exista o solutie, nu e felul de intrebare care duce la solutie, mai curand Rilke's kind of question. Sau Levertov's holding the questions of others, which your post seems to have done. And how lovely is that.

      Si tot Levertov:

      Of Being

      I know this happiness
      is provisional:

      the looming presences—
      great suffering, great fear—

      withdraw only
      into peripheral vision:

      but ineluctable this shimmering
      of wind in the blue leaves:

      this flood of stillness
      widening the lake of sky:

      this need to dance,
      this need to kneel:

      this mystery:

    4. p.s. vin mai des acum - primavara ma impunge sa ies, sa ies, sa ies. resistance is futile :). o primavara interna, precizez, deoarece afara totul e alb dupa o noua furtuna de zapada... e frumos, though.

  13. Wow. How often I have thought along these lines. How fine it is that you articulate and post these memorable images with such sensitive ideas. I greatly admire (putting it lightly) photographers who put themselves in horrible circumstances, their lives in danger, to bring important images to the forefront. They truly do work that changes hearts and minds, and often public policy, for the betterment of humanity. I say it often because it's true – this world breaks my heart...

    1. thank you Stickup, i know you can relate to this very well. i am so glad this post has touched so many people, this means a lot to me, to know that there are a couple of friends over there in wide world with whom such thoughts and feelings can be shared, with such empathy.

  14. The range of the human condition encompasses squalor and, at the other end of the spectrum, appreciation of art. But you can no more deracinate art from man than you can attempt to alleviate his suffering. Man’s need for self-expression is as great as his need of food and shelter, but only when the latter are sated. There is somewhere and somehow an equipoise, but there is also an inviolable order to things.

    Dearest, your humanity is so ebullient that you are compelled to articulate this dilemma. For myself, I gaze at the ocean, and the low, ruddy sun casts a strangely lucent quality to the surface, which now looks to me like the cinnabar velvet of a casino table, and i wait, with bated breath, for the dice to fall.

    1. it is so difficult to find that "equipoise", as you put it... sometimes it all feels like a burden, especially that "inviolable order to things"... but sometimes i also feel that such a gaze at the ocean, as you describe it, such moment of grace, is worth everything...

  15. "Without ethical consciousness, a painter is only a decorator." Robert Motherwell

    1. there are however brilliant artists and writers whose ethical consciousness leaves to be desired, or? we've had this discussion a few times, i think :-)

  16. J'adore, si délicat.
    Merci pour ton petit mot sur TmlG. J'ai malheureusement appuyé sur le mauvais bouton en voulant publier ton commentaire et celui-ci a été effacé. Avec toutes mes excuses.

  17. vreau sa scrii in Ramuri despre Asta! intr-un loc frumos, bordo facut, in care aceste frunze sa fie regate de aur ars:)

    da, trebuie, astept deja:)

  18. Unanswerable questions - but for me, without the occasional contemplation of a red leaf life would be unbearable indeed ...