Let’s talk about distinctions. Black and white. Good and evil. X and y. Binaries. Dichotomies.
Humans love distinctions. That’s why this picture (Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, summer 2009) is so awesome. Humans like to see things as either one thing or the other—in this photo, either the stark black form of bodies and trees or the light sunset gradient that highlights it all.
That’s why humans make things like racism, which want to ignore the complexity of the world in order to fashion hard and fast distinctions between different kinds of people. The difference between racism and this photograph is that in the photograph, hard and fast distinctions actually allow you to see things more clearly. See how fine are the needles on the tree. See the strands of hair coming from under the standing figure’s hat. By metaphorically black-and-white perception, we actually recognize more the complexity of the image’s objects. By sacrificing the complexities of their color, we gain an understanding of their outlines.
Is there a corresponding benefit to racism? No. Because objects in this photograph are in fact distinct from their background. “Races” are not in fact distinct from one another. But obliquely, we reject Foucault: there is a subject. Heavy sunset sunlight highlights him. Eyes testify.
And then there are some things—very few, but some—that make absolutely no utilitarian or moral even logical sense, but that seem to have been placed somewhere for one of those reasons and to have become objects that one can conceptualize only—only only only, to the real exclusion of all but—aesthetically.
A rusted grate with a motor and a fan in a baking pan. Mold, plants growing in the pan. This haphazard installation’s aesthetic use has long outlasted its original purpose. One of the many things that makes one want to believe in god.
Sort of. I believe that’s a statue of a large Jesus embracing a petite Mary holding a smaller and younger Jesus. And I believe my co-blogger and I found it just sitting, one day, on that small street just south of the Loop. And I believe it makes a shadow of a giant-foreheaded, toothy monster.
It’s as if it were planned by some Christian-hating jesting internet-ite. “Ha ha! The statue will make a shadow of a monster!” But no. I just photographed the thing and its shadow, suddenly, was like that. Such weird serendipity—finding things you didn’t know you were looking for, and weren’t—makes you believe there is a god.
That is the aesthetic. Beauty is in the things that don’t mean to be beautiful but could never be anything but: the natural world’s distinctions; the broken rusted machine with the grate with the mold in the pan; the accidentally ironic and thereby profoundly affecting kitsch Jesus.
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