Not Just Any

Family photograph at the holidays, maybe 1984.
Family photograph at the holidays, maybe 1984.

Overnight, planted digitally from the Pacific northwest by my aunt, not just any photo but this one, my dad’s family at Sheboygan, Wisc., holiday, my grandfather, Arvin, notably a WWII veteran, front-right, my parents to the right, brother just behind me, genuine smiles in a moment I can’t quite remember until I see this, but where is memory, anyway?, because then it is there in front of you, kermit frog-eyeing a collapsed cookie monster, an early 1980s Jim Henson haircut, almost but not quite matching shirts, and especially my great-grandmother, Meta, her hand at my back bringing me closer. #relations

Now: Visual Rhetorics

The visual rhetorics course I’m teaching this semester is by now well enough plotted to pass along a link, finally. I haven’t taught the class before, which only means that its materials this time are spun provisionally from many influences–an independent study and qualifying exam at SU, Michael Salvo’s syllabus, Dànielle DeVoss’s syllabus, and good conversations with CGB just after the new year. Its large arc follows from photography to document design to infographics and data visualization. I remain cautiously optimistic that these three sub-arcs will fit together okay within the fourteen meetings we have. No surprise, but I’m supplementing heavily with PDFs and assigning as required texts only Barthes’ Camera Lucida, Handa’s edited collection, and Cairo’s The Functional Art. One project involves writing (and designing) Ch. 10 for the Cairo book–a “missing” chapter focused on visual rhetoric. There’s an ignite presentation set up to articulate in short-form one’s emerging visual-rhetorical priorities and interests in relation to one of the people interviewed at the end of The Functional Art. And then there is a loose-fitting, build-your-own-collection portfolio whose creation and assembly is spread as evenly as possible throughout.

I’m still trying to figure out the role of in-class workshop blocks devoted to self-paced attempts with Photoshop and Illustrator. And I can’t quite decide how formally and explicitly to dwell on technical matters and rationale related to different image file types. Against these uncertainties (or yet-unmade decisions), I count as one advantage that I have had all but three of the fourteen students in class before, and it’s a terrific bunch who will assert their preferences whenever I’m slow to decide.


Before touring the old Santa Ana Pueblo a week ago on Thursday morning, again and again
we were reminded that no photography was allowed. Also, no sketches, no
recording of sounds. The rationale for this goes directly to simulacrum
and the sacred: the ground itself and all activities upon it remain contained,
singular, rare. When reproduction and representation are banned, the site does
not suffer from diffusion but instead remains intact. On the tour to
the Zia Pueblo a few years ago, there was
a similar admonition. There, a
sign was posted in front of the church. Something like, "Any recording or
reproduction at this site is punishable by a fine of $3,500."

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Analogon and Scope

After I just happened to be looking back on a few
notes I
plunked down this time last September, I caught wind of
Daily Kos’ entry
predicting Bush’s impending outrage over wide-angle lenses (via).
The set of images is compelling for its amplification of invented moments–the
pose, the emptied site, the performance of sorrow (not that I mean to question
anyone’s convictions, only to point out that the staged scene interpenetrates
the actors, perhaps even mocks them in their vacant, stolid surroundings).

Photos and Locative Tagging

launched a new geotagging
this week (via).
It’s tied in with Yahoo’s mapping API; via Flickr, you can assign locative data
to your photos simply by drag-and-drop methods. The Flickr blog
an impressive surge in the geotagging of photographs with some 1.2 million
geotagged in the first 24 hours after the feature’s rollout.

Granted, if a
photo already had geotags assigned, the new system automatically recognized
them, so a fair portion of the 1.2 million were probably auto-assigned rather
than initiated by Flickr users.

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I picked up this shot of a Chicago-area Target store on Tuesday (via


The initial write-up suggested that the big-box rooftop is advertising to the
satellites orbiting on high, but the subsequent note acknowledges that the
retail site is on O’Hare’s well-traveled landing (or take-off) path.
Whether it’s aimed at folks in the window seats of airplanes or other sorts of
eyes in the sky, the notion of discount retailers and other square-footage
gluttons decorating their roofs for over-passers is something out of the
(unless you count crop circles and Midwestern farmers cutting the hay-formations
to root for the local team). You’ll find a deeper collection of from-above shots
at Google Sightseeing.

Ever since my days as an insurance claims adjuster, I’ve had a slight
fascination with roofs, their ubiquity, their vital importance for the whatnots
protected by them. Okay, so "slight fascination" is an overstatement.
My first claim ever, however, as an apprentice adjuster ten years ago, involved
a tornado-lifted rolled rubber rooftop at a sugar warehouse in Bay City, Mich (rel.
to the Frankenmuth tornados in June of ’96). The disaster had sort of
created my job. In effect, the wind lifted the sealed roof, allowing the
shallow pool of water accumulated on the top-side of the rubber to drizzle into
the roof structure where it seeped along the steel beams and trickled steadily
over the entire warehouse contents. More than a million bucks worth of
rain afflicted sugar. It seems like there should be a point to this.
Maybe it’s that with logo-top roofs showing off to flight passengers and
satellite mapping services, the underconsidered roof structures become even more
complex. And so a claim for damages to the rooftop–beyond water seeping
onto pallets of sugar–would now include a loss of advertising claim. Or

Also, it brings me all the way around to a few of the sites we looked at in
GEO781 yesterday. I was especially impressed with the discussion of Dinkum
Sands, Alaska, a seasonal speck of gravel-ice. Is it land sufficient for
establishing coastal boundaries? I won’t go too far with this because it’s
part of the professor’s forthcoming book on coastal boundaries. But we
looked at the charts of the area from the 1960s (right?), using the
NOAA Historic
(search the charts for examples). We also looked at the
Memory archive at the Library of Congress
(choose maps;
MrSID viewing is enhanced with the
downloadable viewer) and the US radar loops
. For next week:
ABAG on seismic
and USGS GeoNames.

A This-side of Language

On trauma and image from RB, "The Photographic Message":

These few remarks sketch a kind of differential table of photographic
connotations, showing, if nothing else, that connotation extends a long way. 
Is this to say that a pure denotation, a this-side of language, is
impossible? If such a denotation exists, it is perhaps not at the level of
what ordinary language calls the insignificant, the neutral, the objective,
but, on the contrary, at the level of absolutely traumatic images.  The
trauma can be seized in a process of photographic signification but then
precisely they are indicated via a rhetorical code which distances, sublimates
and pacifies them.  Truly traumatic photographs are rare, for in
photography the trauma is wholly dependent on the certainty that the scene
‘really’ happened: the photographer had to be there (the mythical
definition of denotation).  Assuming this (which, in fact, is already a
connotation), the traumatic photograph (fires, shipwrecks, catastrophes,
violent deaths, all captured ‘from life as lived’) is the photograph about
which there is nothing to say; the shock-photo is by structure insignificant:
no value, no knowledge, at the limit no verbal categorization can have a hold
on the process instituting the signification.  One could imagine a kind
of law: the more direct the trauma, the more difficult its connotation; or
again, the ‘mythological’ effect of a photograph is inversely proportional to
its traumatic effect. (30)

"The more difficult its connotation…," close to what Jeff posted
Monday at
this Public Address on

spectacle, disaster and "signature images."

Barthes – The Photographic Message (1961)

Press photographs.  Barthes refers to several such photographs in this
essay from 1961.  He was concerned with contending orders of connoted
and denoted meanings operable in the reading of photographs. The
"photographic paradox," as he puts it, involves the double structure of
contending linguistic orders (connotative, denotative) and the photograph as
, "a message without code" (17).  Paradoxically, the press
photograph bears a "continuous message" sustained in the two significant
structures (of which "only one is linguistic"…either accompanying text or
description). Barthes calls the relationship between the image and the text
"contiguous" rather than "homogenous" (16). And so the photograph must be read
with some awareness of these variations, which lead to variations in meaning.
Barthes: "What can at least be done now is to forecast the main planes of
analysis of photographic connotation" (20).

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