The Blog of John Walford, British-born, but long resident in The United States. I am a retired art historian, an amateur photographer, and occasional writer, who writes here about art, photography, and the human condition--some of it attempted ekphratic poetry, responding to works of art. This is to be a site for words and images, interacting on one another, as vehicles of human expression.

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Friday, December 23, 2011

Advent - A Christmas Meditation


Advent comes around, predictably, each year,
Like sunrise, its certitude never, never fear!
In heralding Christmas, it brings children cheer,
For their parents, the elderly, memories dear.

But what is remembered, and why this year
As last year, year following year, why care?
For as long as remembered, will always be,
Advent, leading up to a Christmas tree.

For little ones, that tree, ‘tis all they see,
Twinkling lights, fond baubles, most of all,
Colored packages, all sizes and shapes,
Gathered around the Christmas tree drapes.

The sparkling spectacle, for parents a chore,
Made mostly for their little ones to adore.
Forget we one, unique, who came into the world,
Whose story, at Christmas does start to unfold?

Christmas, unchanging, will always return,
As long as human hearts for God do yearn.
Yet if we forget, the Great Adventure remains,
For God has his steady hands holding the reins.

As we prepare this Advent, ponder anew,
Who was this child, born to me, and to you?
Advent, its coming should give us all pause:
Where there’s an effect, there is always a cause.

--JW, a Christmas meditation, Dec. 23, 2011.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Flickr's unbearable lightness's photo of Rembrandt van Rijn: Aristotle with a Bust of Homer

This painting moves me profoundly, every time I see it. It conveys this sense of human beings finding their inspiration and "soul mates" across time and cultures - and perhaps even into eternity - as indeed I feel towards how I imagine Rembrandt, through his art, and thus much as he expresses Aristotle's sense of the profundity of Homer. "Soul mates" - the meeting of hearts and minds - the beauty of existence - the sense of continuity - all this, despite vast changes of cultural and temporal context.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Fickr's Jacob Schere's "18-5 Wallflower"

"The Dance of the Wall Plants"

Like in a children's puppet show,
They pop their heads up from behind,
And in their mirthful glee,
Bounce and dance above the screen.
This leaves us wondering,
If we stick our hands through
The long, narrow opening,
Can we touch them
On the other side?
--JW, for Jacob Schere, in continuing respect for your acute sense for seeing and framing a captivating image from our otherwise mundane world, Oct 21, 2011.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011


Homage to Steve Jobs, Oct 5, 2011

STEVE JOBS: Surely the most innovative, inspiring, and creative entrepreneur of his generation. His quest for perfection resulted in Apple Macintosh and other products that were and are a joy to handle, to use, and simply enjoy for their sheer aesthetic and functional excellence. With this simple image I both salute the passing of an inspiring individual, whose vision has enriched the lives of millions, and at the same time acknowledge the sad frailty of all of us mortals.

Respectfully, John Walford

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Flickr's namerif13's "Prayerful Contemplation: Jerusalem," 1980, uploaded to Flickr, Sept 2011.

"Tomorrow, in Jerusalem"

The journey has been long.
The road has been hard.
So much been left behind,
And yet, finally, he savors
One day, in Jerusalem,
With the sun on his back,
And The Western Wall,
Steadfast, before him.

--JW, for doug fireman/namerif13, Sept 29, 2011.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Flickr's Bart van Damme's "Rijnhaven Sunset," 2011

Rijnhaven Sunset, originally uploaded by Bart van Damme.

"Think Rotterdam in pictures - Think Bart van Damme"

For Rotterdam, in different lights,
For Rotterdam's various sights,
For Rotterdam, from various heights,
No better man, than Bart van Damme.

--JW, in appreciation for Bart's consistently beautiful architectural and other photographs, Sept 26, 2011.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Flickr's i_still_believe_in_u's "unpretty," of 2010

unpretty, originally uploaded by i_still_believe_in_u.

" The artful Dodger"

I look, I see, I look again;
I try to see what I am seeing.
Of seeing there is no end.
In short, I am engaged!
And that is enough! Enough?
Enough to say "it's artful!"
-- A salute for i_still_believe_in_u, JW, Sept 20, 2011.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Flickr's Esthersita 1's "A Pause of Thought," 2011.

A Pause of Thought., originally uploaded by Esthersita1.

A Pause of Thought.

"I looked for that which is not, nor can be,
And hope deferred made my heart sick in truth:
But years must pass before a hope of youth
Is resigned utterly.

I watched and waited with a steadfast will:
And though the object seemed to flee away
That I so longed for, ever day by day
I watched and waited still..."

"A Pause Of Thought " by Christina

A Second Pause for Thought - A Response to Christina Rosetti"

Why should I look for that which cannot be?
Why hope deferred when now it strong can be?!
I glance upon lucid glass, and perfectly sculpted shells,
Star fish, bending dried grasses, translucent glass - what tells?
Shells tell tales of numbers spun on a spiraled golden mean,
Glass translucent, that through what is seen, we grasp the unseen,
Light, number, harmony of the spheres, wondrously wrought,
Through the impassable, yet passable, shines the light -
Light of the world, in darkness ne'er extinct, seen, yet unseen.

--JW, for Esthersita 1, in honor of your myriad, and exquisite still lives,
August 8, 2011.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Flickr's Algo's "100 year hand," of 2005

100 year hand, originally uploaded by algo.

I thought it would be interesting to juxtapose this photograph, by Flickr's Algo, and my reflection thereon, written in 2009, with what I wrote today, on seeing a reworking, in B&W, of one of his other "Hand" series:

"A Hand - A History"

It was so long ago, I do not recall,
And nor does she, long gone.
But this hand of mine once did grip
Its pink and pudgy flesh around
My Mamma's finger; and I looked
Up into her eyes, and wondered,
What will my Mamma feed me,
When bath me, when lay me
Down to rest, shake my rattle, sleep.

Mamma, now long gone, her eyes
But a feint memory, lined by age,
Her fingers, that touched so tenderly,
They let me go, and so did I grow.
Over so many years, so much I saw,
Before my hands lost their pulp.
Taught skin, gradually did sag,
Showing my bones more than I care,
Needs rest them now upon my purse.

Like the rings in the trunk of a tree,
These wrinkles of mine, they tell
A story, of fat years, and lean,
Laughter, joy, pain, and sorrow,
The motor car, a swirling satellite.
In war, famine, again war, and peace,
These hands have cut onions, sewed
Well-worn socks, turned the newspaper,
And opened my birthday cards,

One hundred times.
These hands of mine, that speak,
Algo saw, glowing in light,
And shared what few might see,
Hands, ripened by history.

--JW, for esteemed Algo, Nov 9, 2009.

Flickr's Algo's "hands," (B&W version), 2005/2011

hands B&W, originally uploaded by algo.


In well-nigh one hundred, well-lived years,
I've touched so many, varied, other things;
And as many others have touched me.
Gently, softly, fiercely, harshly, tugging,
Pushing, bending, reaching, scratching,
I have laid my fingers out for others, --
As well as for my own will and grasp.
And I keep on scratching, reaching, still.

These fingers of mine, once the marvel
Of my mom and dad. They counted them,
And touched them, one-by-one, softly
Separating each from its neighbor,
Each a wonder, formed in the womb,
By manufacture, which no man touched.
The wonder of ten little fingers, poked
Into every crevice, holding a 'sippy cup'.

They have held my bottle, put ten thousand
Treats into my mouth, held pencils, pens,
Pots and pans, and, yes, knitting needles.
They have reached out, caressed the boy
I first did love, reached out again, yet again.
They fended off unwanted advances,
Straightened the creases of a party dress,
And now they are entwined around each other.

What yet will they touch, what germ, unwittingly
Bring from another to the nose? - And so to the lungs.
And what then? Gradually, they may lose their grip
On this transient world, and grasp at eternity. There
They will find a pair of hands, unlike all others,
Reaching out, ready to receive, merciful, warm,
Full of charity, ready to raise up, warm, and comfort -
An eternal balm, for all the aches that withered them.

-- JW, July 17, 2011, in honor of the this extraordinary lady, well nigh 100 years old, and still carefully trimming her nails, and to Algo, whose B&W version pleases my eye for its rich shadows.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Andrew Herther (Picasia), Jedburgh Abbey, 2004

"Long After the Monks Departed"

Sorry sight, the monks long gone -
Driven out by lofty reformers,
Timbers perished, vaults collapsed,
Stained glass ground back to sand.

No more the sound of the pig's squeal,
Slaughtered to fatten greedy monks.
No more the sound of the bell tolling,
Its mournful peal heard for miles around.

The bell called their sated bodies to prostrate
Themselves, thanking God for plentiful pork.
Fattened against the winter chill, warmed by
Deep red, raw and lusty drafts of wine.

Grass now grows where the canteen once was,
Fertile from many a spilled pot of goodness,
Idle hands fumbled from out their coarse robes,
Dropping goodness on the ground, in disregard.

And so it came to this. Proud abbey, so finely crafted,
In the best of local stone, glowing reddish-brown
In the soft evening light, grey in cold winter storms,
With little to block the cold, but ale and the fat of pork.

Here once chanted monks in deft unison, or sang
Their beloved Gregorian chants, echoed off the stone,
Vaults that sent plaintiff sound, destined for heaven,
Bouncing bank on the ears of those who chanted it.

Now but a lofty perch for occasional passing crows,
And, in winter, some resistance for the howling wind.
Its graveyards holding the secrets of bygone days,
Cottagers, before their eyes, sad memento mori.

-John Walford, for Andrew Herther, in thanks for stirring my heart, through his photography, with fond memories of Scotland and the Border Country,
July 13, 2011.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Flickr's Jacob Schere's "Six Points in the School Yard," 2011

"No Fresher Possible"

So lusiously, luminously fresh,
So well placed within the frame,
Such sensitive seeing - no less -
Ensures Jacob Schere his fame!

-- JW, June 26, 2011

Thursday, June 23, 2011

John Walford, "One Bare Bulb in the Darkness," 2011

Down, down, yet further down, alone I trod,
Deep down through the layers of history -
For this slippery path descended into the deep,
Illumined by two, twisting, threadbare wires,
Separated from each other by mouse-mauled,
Ancient casing, with every thirty feet or so,
An old, bare bulb, blinking in the crepuscule,
There - precariously - to light one's way.
Way to where? - A pre-Christian Mithraeum,
Layers below an Early Christian, Roman church.

The further down, the more dank, and damp,
Slithery, slimy walls to steady oneself, twisting,
Turning, this way and that, always deeper, darker.
Now, far down in this desolate pit of darkness,
The nearest light bulb failed, and there I was.
How far had I descended, how many times turned,
And how possibly to reconstruct my path of descent,
With nothing to guide my path but all-pervasive slime,
And the Devil's cunning laughter, echoing off the grime.
Just damp and darkness for cruel, mocking companions.

Had there been someone to shine a light in my face
What would they have seen in my eyes but terror!
Did my hair stand on end, and never descend?
Did my taste for adventure melt like butter in sun?
Did I yearn for the surface, for the busy Roman street?
Did I yearn for human warmth to touch my hand?
But there was no one there to witness my terror -
A terror untold 'till this day, quite another day,
Secure, or seemingly secure in my study, writing
My friend Bruce Herman. But could I so hope then?

The chilly darkness wrapped round me like a shroud,
Buried alive, while tottering on my feet, aimless -
For who can aim anywhere, when utter darkness clings
And we enveloped from every side, with no respite?
Feel, fumble, tumble, totter in the damp darkness,
Totter, tumble, fumble, find once more my feet.
But where to direct them, on what stone to step?
Darkness, I found, laughs coldly at those it entraps,
While panic's chill penetrates to the shaking spine.
Until one fresh spark, in one old bulb, offers release.

-- JW, for Bruce Herman, in friendship, June 23, 2011.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Flickr's evamaria2010"s "The house of a storyteller," 2011

The house of a storyteller, originally uploaded by evamaria2010.

"Our House of Dreams"

Everybody needs a house, a house built of dreams
Reality, the mundane, it just is not all that it seems.
Behind the desk, behind the face, behind the smile,
However all-together it may seem, way deep inside,
A person is more than their exterior, but dreams...
Everybody, everybody, needs a house of dreams.

Without such dreams, our house of dreams,
We shrivel up, we die inside. We die inside.
Waking in the morning, walking down the street,
What fills our searching minds, what drives our feet?
To work to eat and sleep, to sleep to work, to eat
Is not enough - we need our house of dreams.
--JW , for Eva, June 10, 2011.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

John Walford's Springtime Promise, 2011

Springtime Promise, 2011, originally uploaded by johnwalford.

“Under Our Noses: Things Happened Upon”

When British boys, of my breed, post-war generation,
Sought consolation from city life and social turmoil,
We had the memory of British poets, like Wordsworth,
And British painters, like Gainsborough and Constable,
Teaching us from schooldays to seek the picturesque.

Behind them all was Claude, with a dash of Ruisdael,
Who provided a frame, and a ready-made template,
Through which to look out on the world. England’s
Landscape, indeed, had been bent into same shape
By its rich Earls, as laid down by Mr. Capability Brown.

Thus reshaped into views, over grass, lakes and trees,
Soon tour guides would lead to the most ‘picturesque.’
Thus from canvas to terrain, it soon looked the same,
And young bloods were schooled to set out on a quest,
To find the best of the best, the pure ‘picturesque.’

Now, when tourism followed, with train and motorcar,
Folks came form afar, to catch a glimpse with the rest.
Yet better, with film camera, then digital too, each one
Could take home their own landscape simulacrum,
A framed view on the wall, to wander through, ad infinitum.

Old habits die hard, ‘til age bruises the heart, bends the neck,
And lowered, aged eyes discover a wondrous world underfoot.
When young and fleet, we trampled over it, heedless and blind.
When slow, bent, and ripe, it now yields to us its own lyric rhyme,
And at last we learn, that there, under foot, is found the sublime!
-- JW, on unlearning the sublime, the beautiful, and the picturesque,
May 26th, 2011, for my brother-in-law, Colin McC, on his 73rd birthday.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Traces of Time IV, 2011

Traces of Time IV, 2011, originally uploaded by johnwalford.

"Remember, Remember, Remember the Day!"

Remember, remember, remember the day!
I well remember the way you looked at me.
A walk in the park, when you looked at me.
Such light in your eyes, it gave me such glee,
That your sweet heart looked at me that way.

My heart it did sing, I dreamed soon of a ring,
Your shining young eyes gave me hope that day.
One sideways glance, how much it can say,
Can I ever forget, what in my heart deep lay?
Your tender glance did make my heart sing.

Your tender glance did all your love betray.
Yet did you know, what your eyes said to me?
Were you then ready to give your self to me?
You leaned on my arm, given gladly to you,
We swayed together, we swore to be true.

We leaned on the bridge, gazed into the lake,
Watch ducks chasing ducks, hoping to mate.
You lit my ciggy, then threw lighter away.
I gave you Kit-Kat, then threw paper away.
Remember, remember, remember the day.

--JW, dedicated to a young, Hispanic couple,
I passed in the park one day, May 25th, 2011.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Flickr's Esthersita1's "Practical Magic," 2011.

Practical Magic., originally uploaded by Esthersita1.

"Light, glass, and lemons"

As clean, as pure,
As lovely as can be!
Speaks to me of calm,
Freshness, and serenity!
I will be still, I will await,
Cast eyes from vase to glass,
Absorb leaves and lemons
- both yellow and green -
And tranquility comes to pass,
From the beauty of things seen.
--JW, for Esthersita1, May 17, 2011.--JW, for Esthersita1, May 17, 2011.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

John Walford, Easter Sunday Meditation, 2011

This is the third visual, and written meditation that I have attempted for Good Friday, Easter Saturday, and now, Easter Sunday. You need to click on the image itself to see it and be able to read it. Thank you, if you give it your time and attention.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

For Artist Bruce Herman - Amidst Easter Week Travails and Hope, 2011

For Bruce Herman - Amidst Easter Week Travails and Hope, 2011

Beloved, bubbling Bruce
Walking with a wobbly cane
- for now.
Such a state, see I
Only through a glass
Dimly. For I know not
This cane-carrying Bruce,
But one with a mahlstick,
The better to lay with precision
That last fleck of light in an eye.

Yet I also know that our Master
Talks to Bruce in the shadows,
The better to see in the light.
That he, in turn, will show us
In those heavy shadows
The trace of a divine finger
Pressing through our flesh,
Like grapes in a wine-press,
That the elixir of life burst
Forth, for all who have thirst.

Be well, brother Bruce,
For you are well-loved,
By all of us,
As well as uniquely loved,
By Him who sustains.
--JW, April 20, 2011.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Flickr's Bart van Damme's "Neeltje Jans Delta Works"

Neeltje Jans Delta Works, originally uploaded by Bart van Damme.

Wind, Water, and Some Sand"

Zee-land, land-sea, push-pull, ebb-flow,
Under an ever-changing, restless sky,
Sand buffeted by wind and water,
Blowing, washing, sweeping all away.
Two people pass, and soon are gone.
Air, land and water, continue their dance,
Unheeding of this transient human presence,
Each force redrawing its boundary anew,
As for many long, millennia past,
And for whatever yet to come.
--JW, for Bart, April 5, 2011.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Flickr's Jacob Schere's "Standing Solo" - in Japan

Standing Solo, originally uploaded by jacob schere [ in prayer ].

"Fallen Leaves and a Solo Broom"

How time can change the way we see,
Familiar things from another year.
This lone broom, waiting to sweep
Some scattered leaves from yesteryear.

Ivy drooping over a green-stained wall,
The sloping road, and red-paved path,
Waiting in innocence for a passer-by,
To take the broom, and sweep the leaves.

Who could have known, July last year,
It might not be a gentle hand that seized
The broom - nor that the earth would shake,
The sea would roar, sweep all away - but fear.

-- A lament for all lost and suffering in Japan,
and a prayer that time would witness the country
return to the graceful beauty of the single broom.
--JW, March 26, 2011, and in admiration of
Jacob Schere's poetic vision of Japan.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Flickr's Martin Beek's "St Mary's Lane, Oxford"

St Mary's Lane, Oxford, originally uploaded by Martin Beek.

"Lewis's Lamppost"

What lends a street such allure?
A window here, there a door.
This recedes, and that projects,
An overhang in wood or stone.
The trace of time, stone reflects,
The stomp of boots, cobbles own
Resilient, softer now about the edge,
One lamp post, graceful, all demure.
Each day anew, the light a game
It plays, chasing shadow round again,
Tempting us out to broad street,
While lighting the path for our feet.

--JW, for Martin, on a Friday evening,
March 25, 2011.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Flickr's Renown Algo's "Cold enough for Frost," 2011

Cold enough for Frost, originally uploaded by algo.

"Waiting for the Frost"

Limp leaves, long left by Autumn chill
Knowing frost provides a further thrill.

-- JW, for Algo, Nature's best watchman,
March 9th 2011.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Chantez Matines, Le Jour Reneit (Sing Mornings, Day is Reborn), executed 1922, published 1948, Plate # 29, The Miserere Series, By Georges Rouault

Chantez Matines, Le Jour Reneit (Sing Mornings, Day is Reborn), executed 1922, published 1948
Plate # 29, The Miserere Series, By Georges Rouault,
(Aquatint, drypoint, and etching).

"Our Days Reborn"

Folds of terrain, turned back in on one another -
Desolate, barren, life and vegetation swept away;
Purged of human predation, people-less, pained
By the heavy groaning of wayward beings, those
Who struggled against their maker, loveless, lone.
Was it inner strife, recent war, or time most remote?

Sky too, wild and thunderous, savagely threatening
In its heavy, dark tones. What foreboding hovers there,
Ready to drench the earth with relentless downpour.
And yet, without rainbow, light and life is not erased.
The sun, months hidden, relenting, shows itself again,
And a dove, released from the ark, heads for land.

--EJW, for Roger and Sue Lundin, as we share such
light as we have been given, on the occasion of your
Rouault acquisition, March 5th, 2011.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Flickr's Millinerd's "Office Window"

Office Window, originally uploaded by millinerd.

"A Groundless Icon"

There is one ground that never shifts -
It's not the rock nor soil I stand on!
It's not the foundations of the house,
That my weary body sleeps in.

That one ground that never shifts,
As Greeks and Russians do aver -
The gilded ground of the sacred icon -
Of eternal verity assures unchangeable.

What dastardly heresy, what shame
Of shames! What untruth, betrayal,
To limn the Holy Mother, with her
Yet more Holy Son, on a sheet of glass.

Glass - transparent, veil-less veil,
Sullied by every transient shadow,
Corrupted by the passing world,
No ground for eternal verity.

Woe is me! I am undone!
The impassable passable
Is rendered into time,
Out of synch with eternity!

Great heresy! The shame of it!

-JW, lamentation for a sundered icon, 2/23/11.
The Greek blood in me shudders!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

John Walford - "Folly's Mirror -On Photographic Theory and Praxis," 2011

Folly's Mirror, 2011, originally uploaded by johnwalford.

“On Photographic Theory and Praxis”

To think, to act, or not to act, that is the question!
Whether it is better to enjoy the scintillating fruits
Of unarticulated talent, or to dissect with academic
Jargon the nature of photography? Unkind fate -
To let me agonize so, when others just do it...
To theorize, or to act, that is the question,
Or to act on theory, or to theorize about action,
Or, in deliberating, to remain paralyzed, able neither
To think or to act? Woe is me, I am undone!
To be a photographer or a theorist, or theoretically
A naïve photographer? Or a thinking photographer?
Woe is me, I am entirely undone! Yes! It is no snap.

Yin-Yang; Yang-Yin; Perhaps I think best by doing!

-- John Walford, February 6, 2011, with thanks to Elias and Grace Cannell, for drawing these thoughts out of me, in raising with me the question.

Excerpts from a dialog on Facebook about theory and praxis in photography:

Eli Cannell
Do photographs re-present objects or merely record them? I'm confused!

E. John Walford
ALL human-made images say something ABOUT reality, they for sure do not "record" objects, except when used in strictly scientific conditions. But also, in re-presenting people or objects, they say something ABOUT how the maker perceives them - it is not objective - well, maybe the prison mug shot comes close to that - falling closer to the scientific mode of recording a likeness. But just look at that wonderful photograph of your stunning wife, face lined by the fur rim of her coat hood, gazing at the viewer, (recently gazing at us all from her Facebook page) and tell me its just about re-presenting an "object!" - or indeed a "person" - which I believe said Grace to be!

Eli Cannell
( [The following] aren't my thought necessarily, just my understanding and rewording of Dominic McIver Lopes in "Philosophy of film and motion pictures: an anthology").
The more I learn about the theory behind photography (as I study "media" for my major), the more I realize my wife "gets things" naturally without the aid of an expert's verbalization. I, on the other hand, seem to make connections 6 months or more later than she does. :)

Celluloid film (and digital photography) are the product of a mechanical causal process. In other words, the photograph is a conduit for the "content" (the real-life object), whereas the content of a painting is the medium (the how) and the subject (the what). Of course there are style issues within the control of the artist (such as focal length, framing and the exact moment a photo is taken: all things that de-contextualizes the object photographed and give it meaning outside of the original context), but a photograph is essentially a different medium than a painting (or any other art form that is not a literal translation of reality, for that matter). For the painter, "everything" in the painting is a representation of "how the maker perceives" those things. A photograph is a "record" of reality from a different perspective (not a fictional perspective?). Further more, a painting does not "entail that the object exists," (it could be merely fictional) whereas a photograph does suggest that the object is real.

I was reading in a book today that made me reconsider everything I thought about photography. The idea was about "photographic transparency". Here's a quote defining it:

" To say that photographs are transparent is to say that we see through them. A person seeing a photograph of a lily, literally sees a lily. She does not see a lily face-to-face, for there is no lily in front of her; nor is the photograph a lily - it is an image of a lily. Rather, her seeing a lily through a photograph of a lily is like her seeing a lily in a mirror, through binoculars, or on a closed-circuit television system. As in all these cases, seeing a lily through a photograph is indirect seeing in the sense that the lily is seen by seeing the image; even so, indirect seeing is seeing."

When we see a photograph, we are literally seeing the object the photograph is of, not just the photograph.

Your suggesting that the controlled elements that differentiate one photographer's photo from another photo of an object (focal length, framing, grainyness, etc) are what make the photograph subjective, even though the object is technically and necessarily objectively real in the photograph?

E. John Walford
I appreciate what is articulated above, and yet neither theorist fully gets to the complexity of a photographic image.

1) It is true that a photograph is different from a painting, in that all elements of a painting are consciously, and manually constructed by the painter -and therefore make visible what is in the painter's mind's eye. By contrast, it is true that there must be an object of some sort and light as well, before a photograph can start to be made.

2) Yet, I think it is a fallacy, or at least misleading, to say that photographs are transparent. In one sense, on the most fundamental and simplistic level, this may seem to be the case, which is why the idea once arose that "the photograph cannot lie, and therefore can be used as evidence in a court of law."

3) However, that implies the most direct and non-manipulated use of photography, as in say a police mug shot, in other words, when the camera is used as a scientific instrument, to record visible data.

4) Most photography - even documentary photography - is something subtler -because the photographer uses his or her knowledge of the camera and the medium to convey an impression of something the way they have seen it and want it to be seen by others. It is impossible to underestimate the amount of selection that goes on in the mind and actions of a good photographer to make something turn out the way they want it to be seen. In that process, transparency is erased, even if its semblance remains, which is one reason why photographs can be so compelling, and have such a strong sense of immediacy.

5) Of course Photoshop and digital manipulation extends #4 yet further, bringing the finished product into a realm closer to a painting. I strive, thus, in my own practice to see how far I can push the medium to make thought, and the realm of the invisible, visible.

E. John Walford
I guess where I was leading to in points 1-5 above, is the remarkable fact that even though photographers use a mechanical device, the trademark stamp of an intelligent, thoughtful user's vision is so pronounced that, even among the thousands of photographs from my contacts that I have by now seen on Flickr, I can now pick out--often even in the thumbnail of "your contacts recent uploads"--the distinct characteristics of any given photographer's work.

Thus, even without reading the up-loader's name, I SEE from the type of image, quality of color and light, composition, and subject, etc, etc, EVEN in the thumbnail, I can often recognize it as the work of X, Y, Z, because it has a certain "flavor" to it that I have come to associate with their work.

This does not work for run-of-the-mill work, nor family snapshots, but for that more carefully and thoughtfully made, or snapped on the basis of long, and now intuitive experience.

It is on the basis of this experience, that I hold the conviction that photography can be just as personal a form of expression as painting or drawing, and that the greater the individual is a master of the medium, the more effectively he or she can use it to embody NOT a transparent mediation of the object out there, in front of the camera, but a particular person's discrete mode of perception, sensibilities, likes and dislikes, sense for color, tone and texture, and much, much more.

I hope that helps feed your thought processes. But note: This is theory forged from the long experience of viewing, and does not come from books, nor authorities.

From a Facebook exchange between Elias Cannell and John Walford, Feb 5, 2011.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

What Said Diderot of Ruins

What Said Diderot of Ruins?

Ackteon, in modern dress, living in France,
Liked to quote Diderot, the old Encyclopedist,
Writing of ruins: "The ideas ruins evoke in me
Are grand. Everything comes to nothing,
Everything perishes, everything passes,
Only the world remains, only time endures.
How old is this world! I walk between two eternities.”
So said the French sage! And so it is, and yet...

Diderot, an enlightened man, also keen of eye,
His friends called him Denis, to me lush words
He wrote of Boucher and Chardin. None better!
But Diderot did measure knowledge with a compass
Merely crafted by the human mind - thus flawed!
Should he think "only the world remains," his bones,
In for a shock they are! For with time, enduring yes,
This world, and his old bones made new will be!

--JW, in response to Ackteon, quoting Diderot, Feb 4, 2011,
as well as the post immediately below.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Flick'r Ackteon's Eastlake's "Lord Byron's Dream"

Lord Byron, originally uploaded by Ackteon.

"Poet's dream painted"

Ponder deeply Eastlake's dream of Byron's dream,
Imagined lying among the ruins of a wondrous past,
Sweeter in its ruin, since built with the toil of slaves.
The past, invading dreams, to torment and provoke
In waking minds the doubt as to truth, foreboding, or
Whatever stirs our restless, yet sleeping souls?

-JW, for Ackteon, the scout of beauty's trace, Feb. 3, 2011.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

When Less Costs More: Buying a Piece of History, 2011

Kasimir Malevich, Painterly Realism of a Football Player: Color Masses in the 4th Dimension, 1915, acquired by The Art Institute, Chicago, 2011.

When a Malevich came on the auction block,
Someone paid out, in dollars, sixty million.
Then another, from the same batch, was sold
To Chicago’s Art Institute, for undisclosed sum.

What a catch, what a prize, in one hundred years,
Nay!, In one hundred and thirty-two years, rarely
A piece so significant- for this be one of the rarest
And most storied of Russian Suprematist paintings.

Now what is that, you say! A supreme Russian painting,
Or a Suprematist painting from Russia? Why the big deal?
It’s clear: The Institute lacked a Russian avant-garde work.
What a coup, to fill, in the collection, such a glaring gap!

Joe, in the newsroom, glanced at the picture, thought Hum!
Turned to the title for enlightenment, but found none.
What to make of the Painterly Realism of a Football Player,
When all he saw was one green circle, and seven other shapes.

Glancing back at the subtitle, searching for a lead, he finds
“Color Masses in the 4th Dimension,” and a date, 1915.
Looks again, seems but two dimensions, flat, colored shapes
Laid over a neutral whitish-gray field, and starts to do the math.

Hypothesize some sixty-million dollars – perhaps even more!
Imagine what that looks like, laid out in glimmering gold bars!
Imagine what that purchases, besides a flashy fleet of fine cars!
Then he looks back at the canvas, as if back in the artist’s studio.

Kasimir Malevich must have been one heck of a man! – Surely bold.
By 1912, he already had a name, painting cubo-futuristic works,
Inspired by the famed bohemians of the Paris art world. Ah Paris!
And then there was the Dutch Mondrian, heading the same way.

While Mondrian, in nineteen-twelve, still let in the hint of a tree,
A Russian could become a Suprematist, and why not me?
So Kasimir prepped his canvas, a mere 70 x 44 centimeters,
A monotone ground, all off-white-gray! – Then almost done!

Two black rectangles, and one more off-black and skewed;
Four wedges of primaries, red, blue and yellow, all floating
Above the off-white-gray ground, seemingly sprung from
One small neat circle, colored a monochrome green!

That should do it, muses Malevich, less would end as
White-on-White – yes, why not, but just not yet, because
What then comes next? Could he have dreamed, some day,
Some other would value his day’s work at some sixty million!?

Did I say, sixty million? Sixty million dollars – no less?

Now, how many people, worked how many days,
For how many years, over how many lifetimes –
To put aside sufficient surplus to pay for that?
A 70 x 44 cm canvas, with but eight daubs of color?

-- JW, January 30th, 2011.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Flickr's Donvucl's "a small amount of clarity"

a small amount of clarity, originally uploaded by donvucl.

"The Tower on the Hill"

I was born in this tower
Set high on a hill.
My mother a prisoner
Of a vulnerable king.

We spent our lives in
This little stone tower,
Isolated and cold,
And, for hope, she
Held me up to the window.

See there meadows!
See there trees!
One day my son,
You will run, and be free.

Now, at fourteen, I stand
There alone. My mother,
She died. The window,
Grew dirtier. As for me...

I gaze through that clearer
Part of the glass, recalling
My mother's words, and I wonder:
Can I live with that small amount of clarity?
--JW, for donvucl, who cleared for me,
some of the dirt off the pane, Jan.29, 2011.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Flickr's Manuel Orero's "Everlasting" 2011

"Three Old Guys"

Fifty years ago, they first walked this way,
Fifty years later, they ask: What did you say?
Wind, wafting through the canopy of trees,
Whispers,"What others miss, Manuel Orero sees."

--JW, for Manuel Orero, 1/13/11.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

My own "Shaft of Light on Christmas 2010 Table Decorations," Jan 2011

"One Sunbeam Sufficient"

A year can be filled with dark shadow, and deep fear.
Look back and see, shafts of light, they always were there.
Look forward to a new year, whatever befalls,
Light breaking into darkness, each Christmas recalls.

--JW, for all who struggle with unemployment, loss,
loneliness, uncertainty, doubt, and even death,
January 2nd, 2011, hopefully not one day too late for some.

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John Walford

John Walford
Not All That Meets The Eye

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I am a British-born, retired art historian, who taught in the USA; I studied law, in England,1964-68; worked part-time in the art world, 1968-69; then studied art history at the Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam, 1969-76; completed my Ph.D. diss. at the University of Cambridge, 1981; moved to the States in 1981, and have since written, or co-authored, other books. My wife, Maria, was born in Milan, Italy, where she worked as an interpreter, in business; she spent seven years in Switzerland, at the University of Lausanne, 1963-70. She came to Amsterdam in 1971, and we soon married. She is a wife, mother, literary critic, of Italian (and French) literature, and completed her Ph. D. diss. in 2002, at the University of Chicago, on Cesare Pavese and His Critics. We have three married children, and twelve grandchildren, all of whom we excessively adore! I welcome dialog about art, photography, human behavior, beliefs, and motivation from all comers, regardless of race, color, gender, orientation, values, or beliefs. This is to be a site for words and images, as vehicles of human expression, around topics of mutual interest.

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