Wednesday, March 7, 2012

With Camera at Campus Lake

Natural Gnomes
The Realities of Lenses and Chips compared with being there
I hope this is different from my grandfather's attachment to a cliff-rock at Morro Bay in California, which he pointed out to me more times than I could count, because the resemblance to George Washington's profile not only was general but obviously meaningless (like most adolescents, I was highly intolerant of that).  Similarly, I hope it is not quite comparable with the gnarly roots that seemed to have an angry aspect, like that of Guardians and Monsters
At the southern extremity of the University Lakes is the small body labeled "Campus Lake" on the maps, the lake on one side of the road and on the south side the stock barns of the Agriculture Center.
You can see the place in the photos I took on Tuesday, March 6, nos 17-47 in Album March 2012, some with more elaborate identifications.  Some of the images, with no thought of art (and the sun was shining into the monitor reducing me to guesswork anyhow), are to help me to learn to recognize tree species by their bark and structure.  Seeing that about half the leaves seem to be five-pointed in one way or another, the solid, year-round character of a tree seems a better choice.  I think I ought to learn these just as I have done with the mints of coins and the centers, workshops, and artists of vase-painters: one does not learn by memorizing lists of traits, of rules of thumb, which will always betray you.  Other images just caught my eye.
At the City Park end of the University Lakes (a lovely and beloved WPA project, also across town at the State Capitol), nos. 1-16 in Album March 2012, I had noticed "knees" in one place, but on the campus,  a small, final lake allows studying the "knees" remaining from the native swamp much more closely than at the larger lakes.  When I first came down here and, as one drove past Lake Pontchartrain, I saw such things sticking up in the water alongside cypresses that looked practically dead (that was in what passes for Winter down here), I thought they resulted from the lumbermen's nearly eliminating the bald cypress; that is what textbooks had suggested to my mind.  I had to be corrected: these are the "knees" that the tree growing in water puts up to reproduce itself.  Unfriendly to canoes, but otherwise admirable.  So I decided to use the close access on campus, with a zoom lens, too, to see them better, especially when some seemed to be lopped and to show a cross section.  The ones in the image at the top of this essay do not reveal a section, but they have developed the illusion of character, as if they were a family of knees.  I didn't see that, however, as I got them centered and focused; only at home did the image seem gnome-like on the computer screen.
In fact, the CCD (the chip) and the lenses, or the zoom lenses,  often produce perfectly true images that have quite different effects from those of living eyes focusing on and following and mentally processing the same subjects and views.  And the living ocular and mental imaging is also perfectly true.  It is really even more interesting than the difference between thinking digitally with algorithms and thinking organically and complexly and perhaps distractedly (but nonetheless also perfectly truly)—and the organic logic machine has the additional task of taking care to understand the digital machine.
Is it foolish to find this interesting?
Rather differently, conditioned by teaching so many surveys of art history and art appreciation for over a half century, though the living scene did not remind me of any painted water, probably owing to the slight ruffling of the water which my eyes did not 'freeze', several of the water photos when they appeared on the screen made me think that if he had been confined to Louisiana (or probably a number of other places) Claude Monet could have worked with our water as well as he did with Giverny.  See especially no. 36 in Album March 2012 (and use the magnifier at the top to zoom it), not that Monet painted "knees" nor that we have waterlilies.

Do I dare to suggest that the camera got for me images better than I could see 'live' with my own unaided eyes?  Yet a great artist reinterprets sensuously, emotionally (as well as analytically), freely incorporating bits of memory, and that is exactly what the inert lens and the CCD cannot do for us.