Vikshepa Blog

Mental Distractions

08 Aug 2022

Diary

Sleepless Hunters

For several months, at all times of the day and night, there have been sounds of distant shots being fired. Seems to be hunters - probably of quail. On my walks, I've never seen or met a hunter, which leads me to imagine that these are deeply personal men, hiding somewhere in the undergrowth, unseen, vigilant, harboring a passion for killing things that keeps them up even through the summer night.

Gaza campaign

On our morning walk, distant sirens heralded a flurry of nearer-sounding bangs and booms, as the Iron Dome system intercepted incoming rockets. Another dumb and useless round in the violence has reached a tense ceasefire. More than 40 Palestinians have been killed, helping an Israeli leader's election run. War is a triumph of a certain kind of imagination over the common sense peace that sane people desire. Peace does not require imagination. The opposite is true. Peace is boringly simple; it means that my life and your life are worth as much, that we are all ordinary people struggling to make a living, raise our children, live our lives. Imagination comes along to encourage us to make sacrifices and agree to a reduction in the quality of life on behalf of patriotism and national identity. Domestic and external threats are conjured up in order to cow us into obedience. Violent solutions are invented for issues that can only be solved by peaceful means.

tit for tat

Nations are parasitical entities that live off the backs of their citizens, finding uses for their tax money that no normal person would wish to support if they had time to think about it. We are encouraged not to think - as if spending the money that I have entrusted to the government, in the form of taxes, for the benefit of my fellow citizens, is beyond my concern. It can be used to build palaces, make bombs, bankroll oppression, surveil me, or whatever other schemes that politicians and bureaucrats can dream up.

Tags: diary
06 Aug 2022

Various approaches to photography

Photography influences our propensity to experience reality visually. Professional photographers are more likely to identify subjects of interest because they are actively looking for them. Lately I have been pondering this in the context of awareness and consciousness. The cultivation of seeing can help us change the way that we view reality. But the heightened awareness can also be inimical to our mental state or spiritual purposes. For example, an instagrammer who loves to publish viral photos will always be on the look out for them. The eye and center of consciousness shifts in accordance with one's intention. If I have a prior conception of the unity of all beings, I might look for expressions of that; if I have an ideology of compassion, I will be seeking a compassionate vision. In every case, this is about finding ways to support established opinions or conditioning: My prior opinion determines the way I see reality. I look at and photograph the world from a certain viewpoint.

famous-men.jpg

A slightly different result emerges from observing reality, deciding what is essential to it, and then finding a way to express this understanding in a photograph. In Let us Now Praise Famous Men, the photography deliberately shows the humanity and stature of people who the world thought of as being simply poor and downtrodden. If the vision comes from a genuine perception, rather than simply illustrating an earlier held belief, then the photography becomes an authentic record. Or does it?

A person who inhabits a post-industrial society has an everyday experience of a plain, utilitarian and modern urban space. When such a person visits places that are quite different, such as small European towns that have scarcely changed since the Middle Ages, what is remarkable to him are the ways that this reality differs from what he's used to. He is likely to look for charming ways that express the otherness of this reality. The result is a clichéd superabundance of images of stone arches, cobbled streets, colourful window boxes, etc. It becomes almost obligatory to take a certain kind of picture; one resembling the paintings and postcards sold in the tourists' shops. But such photography reflects a selective vision that does not necessarily express the reality lived by the local inhabitants.

I wonder how many times I have tried in my travel photos to exclude cars and other modern elements because they look incongrous in the reality I would like to capture. This reminds me of the famous Starbucks coffee cup that was spotted in a Game of Thrones episode.

Then there are photographic attempts to juxtapose the ancient with the modern, such as photos from India of robed monks speaking on cell phones. These are contrived with a certain purpose in mind.

It is a truism of the modern world and of the ubiquity of cameras that our desire to record, post and share what we see frequently interferes with our ability to truly be present in our experiences.

kochi-2020-02-19_183.jpg
Figure 2: Young photographers in Kochi, Kerala

When I first embarked on a trip outside of the European and North American reality I was used to, I decided not to take pictures at all. At the time I was thinking that photos are only poor shadows of the reality experienced, and one should rely upon memory instead. To photograph reality is to change it; there's the quantum mechanics law, according to which it is impossible to observe reality without interfering in it. Lao Tzu, my inspiration of the time, had said, “one who excels in traveling leaves no wheel tracks”.

But maybe another approach is deliberately to make photography a participatory experience and, rather than attempt to capture reality or a version of it, to make images that are themselves objects of creation. Instead of taking a photo of a street, one may take a certain detail and then enhance it or superimpose it upon another image. This may be done to reflect an inspiration felt at the time, with no attempt to stay close to the perceived reality. This kind of photography well expresses the knowledge that every attempt to capture reality is doomed from the beginning; that viewing is always interpretation. As one could expect, there are many cringe-worthy web sites devoted to the subject of art photography.

artist-statement.jpg
Figure 3: From https://www.photographytalk.com/fine-art-photography

It is almost inevitable that whatever we do has been done previously and probably better. This is, after all, an era in which several hundred people climb Everest every year, millions of people descend upon the world's cultural capitals and every aspect of human endeavour becomes hackeneyed and trivialized.

In the end, I find that, social media and messaging services not withstanding, I take or make pictures mainly for myself: either as an aide-mémoire, or because in some other way it pleases me. Nobody - not even family members - is interested to scroll through a whole album of travel photos. Maybe our grown children will look back occasionally on the photos taken of them when they were young.

Photography is not just about the product; it can also be an exercise in seeing. Engaging in it gets us in the habit of opening our eyes and trains our visual acuity. There is no guarantee that what we capture digitally will express anything of value, but it is certain that if our eyes are half shut, we are less aware and less alive to our surroundings.

Tags: photography
05 Aug 2022

New walk planned, film

It took several hours today to decide on a flight to Porto, in Portugal, in order to walk again on the Camino trail. Perhaps we will make it to Santiago on this one. Flights are expensive in this season - and increasingly immoral. But the only way to reach the European continent from this country is to fly, so it's either that or stay at home. At least when we reach our destination, our manner of vacation will be environmentally friendly. The trip is planned for September.

crimes-of-the-future.jpg

There was one film at the Jerusalem film festival that would not have been D or YS's cup of tea, but which I found interesting, so I saw it now: "Crimes of the Future", by David Cronenberg. The genre is somewhere between science fiction, horror and fantasy. Elegant and well acted, it is set in a future when the human body is adapting to the environmental crisis by gaining the ability to make evolutionary changes to itself. There is a political movement aiming to speed this process, while police and bureaucrats fear that humanity will mutate into a new species. At the intersection are two performance artists. One of these is growing in his scarred and mutilated belly new organs of unknown function. The couple exploit this capacity in performances of on-stage surgery where the organs are removed, while a wowed audience snaps away and films them. It's a fascinating and visually impressive movie, though sometimes difficult to watch.

Tags: film, diary
04 Aug 2022

Blog and photos back where they were

I spent the last few days messing with servers on Kamatera's VPS hosting. After abandoning the attempt to set up an Epicyon fediverse instance, I tried to re-utilize the same server for the blog and photo galleries. I'd chosen a NGINX based server, and somehow I couldn't succeed with it, so eventually I gave up.

Next, I tried a Caddy server image offered by Kamatera. I didn't manage with that one either; though Caddy is supposed to be really easy, I couldn't get through the set-up. It might have been easier simply to take a plain server and to install Caddy myself.

Eventually, I chose a server image based on Ubuntu with Apache and PHP pre-installed - a configuration that I understand best. But, as I was quickly to discover, these server-related components weren't fully present on Kamatera's image. At least, they weren't working. First I found that A2ensite wasn't there, then that PHP wasn't functioning, so basically I needed to install or reinstall all of the server bits.

After a few hours, I got it all set up again, including the emacs org-mode based blog and galleries. Now, as before, publishing a blog post only requires me to compose it, press Alt-X and type "pub": that rsyncs everything including the posts and any media I've placed in the local directories to the website. That's about as easy and painless as you can get - and it automatically provides me with a full local backup. The only actual disadvantage is not being able to publish something directly from a phone. It's no doubt possible, with an ssh app and a bit of configuration, to publish photos over Android to the server, but not blog posts, due to the dependence on emacs. What I can do, is draft posts on my phone, using Orgzly, and then transfer them to my computer.

I think I'll leave it basically at that, rather than risk being over-ambitious and spoiling my configuration again. There's only so many times that one can go through the process of reinstalling a server and setting everything up without being driven to a place of "what's the point?"

For social media crossposting, I'll depend on Disroot's Pleroma server and Twitter. But for that to be significant I would have to build up a follower base again, and I lack the energy and self-confidence needed for that.

jerusalem

From my photo blog, the view from YS's apartment in Jerusalem.

Tags: blogging
03 Aug 2022

The film festival

YS invited us this year to see films with her at the Jerusalem film festival. The festival takes place every year in July, and, for many years we have been going to see four or five films. Choosing them has always been difficult, but this year we let YS choose them for us. It was actually at the film festival, one year, that we renewed our connection with her.

So, over the course of a few days, we saw 6 films:

holy spider

All of the films were international, and of the kind that one would see only at a film festival. YS isn't into Israeli films, which is fine with me. But, except for "Incredible but True" - a light comedy - most of them were hard-going. "Holy Spider" was the most rivetting, because it works as a thriller. Some of the scenes were quite brutal; not bloody - a series of women are slowly strangled to death. Not easy to look at, and, as they say, not something that you can easily "unwatch". The action takes place in the holy city of Mashad. A night overlook of the city, shown near the beginning, makes the city itself look like an enormous spider. On my two short visits back in the 1970s, I did find the place a bit discomfitting, as I believe any non-Muslim would.

Eami is 90 minutes of pure poetry, about a genocide of a native people in Paraguay. But it is narrated in a long monologue, in a sleep-inducing voice, unfortunately.

robe of gems

Fighting sleep was a major problem for me during the festival. "Robe of Gems" was almost incomprehensible. Not only to me. D was thinking that it took place somewhere in Argentina (it is set on the Mexican - US border). YS and other people in the audience had difficulty understanding the plot too, and the relation between the characters.

robe of gems

"Decision to leave" was a bit easier to follow, but very long (2 hours 18 minutes). It's well made, but didn't draw me in. Now, less than a week afterwards, the memory of the film is already fading.

pacification

My favourite among these films was "Pacifiction", though it was the longest of all of them, at 2 hours and 45 minutes. Certainly it could have been shorter, and the director was playing with our attention, but there was something about its slow pace that suited its story-line and tropical location. Boredom is part of my experience also in South Asia, but isn't something I grudge. The characterization is interesting, with many enigmatic personas, including that of the French high commissioner at the center of the film. Peter Bradshaw, who also loved the film has done justice to it in his review. I didn't think about its similarity to the work of David Lynch.

Tags: film
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