Time Itself

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During the Nasrid Dynasty, the emirs of Granada had the material and intellectual resources to turn the castle of the Alhambra into a palace without equal.

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Subsequent vandalism, ignorance, and neglect have destroyed much of it, but what remains makes me wonder about what kind of people lived there.

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The wall decorations do not tell stories of battles and victories. The lines of the abstract designs appear to repeat themselves forever in infinite variations.

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This makes me wonder whether the artists had the flow of time itself in mind rather than particular events.

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They must have likened their buildings to the plants in the gardens of the Generalife, organically growing and transforming.

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Postscriptum

I need to apologize. The blog post from this morning was not meant as a commentary on the church shooting in Charleston. Nothing in this blog is intended as a commentary on daily events. In fact, most posts, including today’s, were written weeks or months ago.

I still should have reviewed what was scheduled for today. It is inappropriate because the title and some of its content suggest intended connections. Connections there are, but they were not intended.

This being said, the recent violent tensions between Black and White have been on my mind quite a bit for the past months, and I do not want to deny that I meant to say more than make a general statement about black and white photography.

However, I am not going to rephrase my words, or add to them. The main purpose of this blog is the construction of time, both past and future, and I will not alter the past deliberately. Interpret as you like, but please take connections between blog time and real time as what they are: random incidents.

Peace.

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Black and White?

Once in a while, as a photographer, you come across a view and know that this will be the shot of the day.
This is very satisfying. Even better and much rarer is it when you come across a location that feels like stepping out of reality into a scene where almost every view is powerful.

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In the 90s, I spent a lot of time biking in the Siebengebirge, a usually rather scenic hilly region southeast of Bonn. Seeking exercise and one or two good views, I once stumbled across a gypsum mine, still active, but in a pretty desolate shape.

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It felt like out of the sudden, color had been removed. It is one thing when you take black and white images, or when reality suddenly becomes black and white. Motives that will stay with you for decades emerge out of the dust.

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The tension, however, is not between the remaining black and white. It is rather the almost existentialistic fight against decay, be it by machine, be it by nature.

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The novel Woman in the Dunes by Kobo Abe, turned into a devastating film by Hiroshi Teshigahara, captures all this much better.

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Paris at Night

Paris has many things to offer, and not few of them are best savored at night. One popular option is to take the RER to La Défense, and take a look at La Grande Arche.

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This monumental building was designed by Johann Otto von Spreckelsen and Erik Reitzel, and is one of several Grands Projets by France’s former president François Mitterrand.

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Its shape is inspired by a common projection of the hypercube into Euclidean space.

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Like every good piece of art, it is worth looking at from different angles.

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I took these pictures in the summer of 1991, just before a backpacking trip to the French Alps.

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The platform under the Grande Arche is typically so bright and the area behind so dark that
the casual visitor will not notice what the long time exposure reveals.

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À la recherche du temps perdu

The summer and fall 1992 I spent my free time reading Marcel Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu. That winter, I took the photos from this page, and revisiting them now is just one of several connections to Proust’s recherche.

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Of course these were shot with film, and in black and white, appropriate for season and theme. The location is the Sieg valley near Bonn in Germany, where I happened to come across a temporarily abandoned construction site.

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The time was literally frozen. Everything had been more or less orderly put ready to use.

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This was a curious sight. Unless our daily business is construction, we usually do not see these things, because they are buried or covered up, in the hope that they will function even in hiding.

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Not esthetics, but pure purpose is the reason for these designs. And because I did and do not know the actual purpose of them, they became for me the abstraction, the idea of purpose itself.

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This tilting away from reality towards abstraction has always fascinated me, already (at least) 23 years ago.

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The Mill

Every culture seems to have their own metaphorical approach to the mill.

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I grew up in Germany. My early childhood was infused with fairy tails featuring increasingly spooky millers,
and of course with Wilhem Busch’s famous Max and Moritz, where the two brothers, after plenty of enjoyable mischief, end up ⎯ no, I won’t tell.

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One of my favorite childhood books is Ottfried Preußler’s Krabat (translated as The Satanic Mill), that tells the story of a young boy becoming the apprentice of a miller, who, incidentally, also teaches sorcery. For a price. Check also out Karel Zeman’s animated movie with the same title.

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And of course there is Schubert’s some cycle Die schöne Müllerin.

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Other cultures have a very different take on mills, like the Spanish with Don Quixote by Cervantes.

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Seeing a truly impressive historic water mill (from 1817) in Spring Mills State Park made me feel quite at home.
It is still in use and produces cornmeal.

Pappus Chains (Spheres VI)

Given two circles that touch at a point, fill the gap with a chain of touching circles. This is called a Pappus chain. In the image below, I show only two semicircles, and begin the Pappus chain with a circle touching the common diameter.

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Now take a circle with center at the point where the two given circles touch, and perpendicular to one of the circles of the Pappus chain we pick out. The inversion at this new circle takes the two given circles to two vertical lines, and the Pappus chain to a chain of circles between these two lines. The picked circle remains fixed. Below the selected circle from the Pappus chain there are precisely as many circles as to the right of the selected circle in the Pappus chain (four in the figure). Thus the height of the selected circle is determined by its diameter and its position in the Pappus chain. That, of course, will only excite the mathematician.

The same construction works in three dimensions. Take an arrangement of spheres between two vertical half planes, and invert them at a half sphere as shown.

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The result is an arrangement of spheres between two hemispheres that touch at a point (where the spheres get really small).

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I thought this might be an interesting way to fill a dome. Standing in front of the entrance, with reflective spheres and reflective floor, might look like this:

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