The title of this entry is not really understandable unless you know the royal motto of the current Swedish king: För Sverige, i tiden — For Sweden, with the times.. (I am also working on a book titled “Ur Sverige, i tid”, which is another story.)
But let´s forget about Sweden and think about food. My close friends know that I have a somewhat peculiar relationship with it. Some people are almost religious about food, and most at least see it as one of life´s great enjoyments. (I have it from a trusted source.)
My personal thoughts about the subject is “What goes up, must come down” and “What goes in, must come out”. That´s an irreligious attitude.
But I really do enjoy food from time to time, at least a couple of times a year. Especially when there is a rich palette of taste involved. And when it moves in time.
Some food is very still, it just sits there on the plate, like a meditating monk. You take one or two bites and you know the whole story: how it starts, continues and ends. Easy: it ends just as it started, because there is no development and definitely no surprise involved.
It´s like entering a city and already having the entire map of it operated into your head on a microchip. Wherever you turn you meet the already known, the already expected. Just more of the same, nothing else.
Anyway, this is poached eggs à la Café Vian, one of the dishes that have found favor with me. At least on Sundays, which happens to be today.
I have eaten it on enough occasions for the surprise effect to wear off. But it still moves in time. And it almost talks to me:
“Don´t just sit there on your chair, you sluggard. Show some development, surprise us! Don´t let the end be like the beginning…”
My old question “What is a good photograph?” has been left behind, replaced with other questions. For example “How good is a photograph?”.
How does one measure the “goodness” of a photo? You tell me. Please tell me, if you know. My impression is that goodness, value and rating depend quite a lot on random and mysterious factors.
Some of these factors the photographer can control himherself. Within every artist (and in many people I wouldn´t call artists) there lives a salesman, small or huge, successful or incompetent. The Inner Salesman tries to get good ratings and many “likes” for the work of his Artist, thus raising hisher status.
But does higher status, more public exposure and more “likes” mean a better picture? In a very pragmatic way, yes. But it´s an awful thing to be that pragmatic. Then, yes, by all means eat shit, because millions of flies can´t be wrong.
If we want to go beyond populist pragmatism, where to turn? We can ask the experts, connoisseurs, professors, photographers, the knowledgeable folks. Maybe they can tell us which picture is okay, which merely good, and which extraordinary.
We can look in photo books, surely those who chose the pictures must know good from mediocre? We hope so.
But still there are many other factors to reckon with. Names count. (And of course we often don´t know how a Name became a Name.)
There is a story of an experienced writer commenting on the new novel of a young aspiring colleague. “Things this bad you can only write if you are already famous!” Which means that after you are established, a Name, you can do quite mediocre or even incompetent things; you will still get thousands of “likes” because the mere fact of you being a Name blinds at least the large audience to the values or non-values of your latest oeuvre. (Just check out the banalities that Paulo Coelho posts on Twitter.)
Age before beauty, name before intrinsic value.
Talking of intrinsic value, the book “The Drunkards walk” by Leonard Mlodinow must be mentioned. It is a fantastic, eye-opening and also hope-inspiring book. Read here what is says about “intrinsic quality” in music.
The book points out to what great role chance, Lady Fortune and randomness plays in making things or people “great”. This must surely also be relevant in photography.
Some expert or arbiter of taste once thought that a certain picture or photographer was great (maybe they were friends), and after that the picture or photographer has continued to be great. Nobody today honestly think that it or he is great, but tradition is often driven by momentum, and until some freethinker or iconoclast comes along, that greatness will stick.
I almost wrote stock, which was a lucky coincidence. Stock photography must be good in itself. It is anonymous, devoid of name, thus status., therefore it must stand on its own legs. Nobody accept a lousy stock photo (or clip-art), but with a famous name attached, or some learned comments from some professor or other cognoscenti, one can get away with almost anything.
This picture, for example, is supposedly “one of the greatest photographs of all time”.
I question that it would be that great without all the paraphernalia attached to it, the mental “crutches” that uphold it. (See the whole wordy Wikipedia article about the photo here.)
If this picture was new, shot by a total unknown, I doubt that many people would turn round to look at it, more than to say “it looks old”.
This, however, I find to be a memorable (if not fantastic) photo.
Also found when Googling for “the greatest photographs of all time”. I hope it is not arranged. If it is, perhaps the young communist was never shot but died of old age, in bed, perhaps with a lovely young woman beside him. But if so, does that take away from the photo an sich, the intrinsic value? That is another question. What I am sure of is that the question “Real or staged?” will keep our interest alive.
Sometimes when our minds (or is it mouths?) relax, word order gets mixed up. Not a big problem, it can create funny situations.
The other day an acquaintance said to me: Jag hoppas du söker det du finner (I hope that you seek what you find). She caught herself and immediately corrected herself. We both laughed a bit and that was that.
Talk about unintentional Taoism.
I hope you find what you are seeking, the usual hackneyed phrase, presupposes that we seek something worth seeking, which is not necessarily the case. The thought contains both more wisdom and humour when turned on its head.
Philosophical minded folks (like me) often forget that Big is not better. The Big Questions can be anything but good, they are often pretentious and also impossible to answer (which is one reason for their perennial popularity; we will be able to argue about them for many more long winter evenings…).
I recently talked with the wife of a very good and important friend who passed away in cancer. How do you cope, I asked her.
Fine, she said, and then – Do you know the hardest bit, what I miss the most? Coming home and there is somebody who says: How are you? How has you day been? Tell me about it!
These are the small but oh so important questions. Forget the meaning of life and the universe. Forget Truth. All you want to do is to tell somebody you love that your day has been gray and monotonous. Or that you have been at the dentist and she carved around in your face for two hours, with no anaesthetic (your choice), and now your skull feels like a war zone.
What happened to breadth, versatility and universality?
There is nothing eyebrow-raising in the fact that Béla Bartók wrote ballets, dissonant string quartets and pretty piano pieces, that Beethoven wrote symphonies, piano sonatas and folk song arrangements, that Goethe wrote tragic plays, lyric poems plus a weighty Theory of Colours. Some classical composers admittedly specialized; Chopin composed almost only piano music, Wagner only overlong operas.
But generally it was very normal for artists not to work in a niche, a specialized market, but to do most everything. The fact that composers once upon a time were performing musicians (often virtuosos), teachers, conductors, music critics and even impresarios was nothing strange.
Esther Vilar has some harsh words to say about specializing and limiting yourself — especially if you are a man. In the name of recognizability, I suspect — photographers often do this same self-limiting act, i.e. taking images that are so alike in style that one immediately recognizes their originator.
Where did surprise, novelty and some healthy hide and seek go in all this niche-thinking?
I am sure some photographers do this for honest reasons; this is what they like or do, who they “are”. But I suspect many others bow to the god, I mean goddess, of Praise.
“Take a man like Samuel Beckett. For twenty years he has produced a series of Godot replicas – and surely not for pleasure. After all, he is an intelligent man. He avoids risk the way an alcoholic avoids a cure. Yet if only he could free himself from his conditioned behavior, he would probably do something quite different. Perhaps he might design planes – the reliable construction of his plays hints at a scientific talent – or grow rare plants. He might even, perhaps, just once, write a comedy. Surely so much success is bound to drive away the depths of despair. It might even turn out to he a success with the public. But no, the risk is too great for a carefully manipulated man. Better go on writing plays about the absurdity of the vital instinct – then, at least, he can be certain of praise.“
Ah, but we have so many fine words for this predictably conditioned behavior. We call it consistency, integrity, being firm and uncompromising. It may even bring us a Nobel Price.
Specialization and niche thinking got even worse with the Internet. Now we are told that if we want our website to be successful — and what is our success? The same as the success of a store-owner or a used car salesman: many visitors / clients /buyers — we must create a niche website. We must think narrow and narrow down our product to fit the imagined niche audience.
This is fine for certain purposes. My site Provsjungning.se is very niched, and straightforward; it addresses singers who want to do better auditions. The site is also trying to sell a book, so the visitor IS a potential buyer.
But my new site, the one you are reading right now, it not niche. I usually say it´s about philosophy, music and photography, but really it is about most anything. And philosophy, music and photography is already very much. This, according to current SEO (search engine optimization)-thinking, is a problem and a difficulty, since I am not targeting my niche audience.
But what if the SEO-thinking is the real problem? (I am not talking about business sites now, but private sites like this one.) What is SEO-thinking? What likes behind it, really? And how deep are we prepared to gaze into the well of our psyche when trying to answer those questions?
“Once a particular field of work has brought a man success and financial security, it is rare for him to test his abilities in another sphere, attempting to satisfy his curiosity. His supply of praise may be dangerously reduced. Like Miro with his dots-and-lines technique, Johann Strauss with his waltzes, and Tennessee Williams with his plays about psychotic women, he will stick firmly to his successful technique. The risk of attempting to be the measure of his own success is too great for him to take.”
(Both quotes from “The manipulated man”)
As a parenthesis, I´ve always wondered myself what would happen if somebody like Tom Waits woke up one morning and his voice was, lo and behold, pure and clear as a newly washed window? Would he sing Gounod´s Ave Maria, or drink a whiskey and have a smoke to get back into /out of form?
So — “success” seems to be not just a question of the number of visitors. Deep down it seems to be a question of acceptance and praise. And mainly from women, according to Vilar.
Ah, the things we do for love, the things we do for praise, we manipulated men!
Two things stand out from those Vilar quotes. First, if we go where our fancy leads us and not where we have found earlier success, our supply of praise may be dangerously reduced.
Secondly Vilar gives us, especially men, a desideratum to aim at: tobe the measure of our own success. I decide what my success is, not the “world”, not my friends, sweetheart or admirers. Not women.
Trying to understand the SEO-impulse in depth, we can turn to the old adage “cherchez la femme”. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) = Mommy Engine Optimization (MEO)?
A fitting soundtrack can be the symphonic sketch “La Mere”.
Postscript January 28.
I find it both funny and somehow comforting that after I posted a link to this text on Twitter, somebody added me to a list of “SEO-experts”. (I see myself more as a MEO-explorer.)
De har inget hyfs och inga manér. De kallas skådespelare men är en samling anarkister hela bunten. De tar plats på scenen, men redan det låter för fint. De tar inte plats, de tar över scenen, precis hur de vill. Ingen bryr sig om någon annan: man hoppar upp på scenen, slåss på scenen, knuffar ner från scenen, knuffas ner från scenen, allt med samma ohejdade impulsivitet.
Impulser är allt som finns. Hit, dit, ner, upp, men alltid bakom nyckelordet JAG. Jag vill, jag ska ha, jag tar, jag talar…
Alla menar att deras namn är “Jag”, vilket leder till förväxlingar. När det ropas i högtalaren “Kan Jag komma till scenen?” kommer hela kompaniet springande. Dvs om de inte redan VAR på scenen allihopa, fajtandes om vem som ska stå i strålkastarljuset, vem som ska ha mikrofonen.
De har förstås ingen regissör, även om de låtsas som om det har det. (Det vore inte anarki annars.)
Men det finns en regissör. Han är inte med kompaniet. Det är han som heter Jag på riktigt.
When making affirmations — “I am successful, energetic, wise and have lots of hair on my chest” — we are at the same time affirming something about ourselves. Namely that we are limited, tired, ignorant students of life with endless questions and much ignorance — but smoothly hairless as a baby´s butt.
In short, that we NEED affirmations.
These are not good affirmations.
The paradox of affirmations: If we WERE all the things that we say (over and over again) we ARE, we wouldn´t repeat those phrases. Catch 22?
How to get around this?
Perhaps by making nonverbal affirmations. Be your affirmation. Don´t say anything, don´t be mental, just imagine in a flesh and blood manner that you ARE the person you want to be.
Change costume. Give this person a name. If you deep down inside are convinced that you are Clark Kent, how then can you be Superman?
Maybe it´s not a question of trying to become a different, better being, but a case of a better being trying to get out from inside us, from our limiting beliefs.
The magnificent statue was perhaps lurking in the block of stone all along, hidden, silent, until a friendly sculptor released him from bondage…
Axel Ebbe was a friendly sculptor . Look at the figure in the upper right corner, this instant breaking free from his limitations. He doesn´t have to say “I am not a stone, I am not a stone”. He knows he isn´t.
There is something slightly vulgar in the hunt for a great picture. Probably many of us look down on paparazzi, but we ourselves might be just as much hunters, although of a more refined kind. Our prey is not celebrities but flowers, sunsets and interesting pigeons or crows (my own passion).
Also because of this I distrust intention as a prime factor in photography. You WANT something, and your are going to GO AFTER IT, and you won´t stop until have that picture NAILED. To much willfulness in this., too little cooperation and too much ego. Too little Lady Fate (Luck). Why not let the “motive” come to you, fall in your lap?
Of course I am guilty of this, too. My excuse it that some hunts are less aggressive and less bloody than others.
Stealing is another photographer´s sin. We laugh when we hear about “primitive” people fearing that their soul will be stolen if they are photographed. How do we know it isn´t? Nowadays we have laws restricting the taking of street pictures, maybe the same idea of stealing is somehow involved.
I read the other day about the great Christer Strömholm (he took the picture of the not cute cat), how he established friendship with his models (not professional models, that is something else). It seems he got rid of the element of theft that way.
One of the best ways to avoid both hunt and theft is to take pictures of your beloved. You model is willing and looks on you, we hope, with love. However, these pictures will be too private for general viewing.
I don´t subscribe to a newspaper, still I get it most every morning. It is called The Daily Lie. Others call it by other names, fine.
Here is one of the articles:
“I see, that your website needs fresh & unique articles. I know it’s hard to write articles manually everyday, but there is solution for this.”
You can guess the rest of the article. It comes from the section Commentaries.
Here is another one, in Swedish, from the section Personals:
“Hur mar du? Jag ar valdigt glad for att skriva ett meddelande till dig! Och jag ska vara glad om du svarar mig. 🙂
Mitt namn ar Marina. Jag ar en stor oberoende kvinna. Jag ar 34 ar. Jag arbetar som forsakringsagent. Jag har aldrig varit gift. Jag skulle garna traffa dig. Jag har lange funnit din e-post pa dejtingsajt. Men hur lange har beslutat att skriva till dig. 🙂
Jag skulle vara glad att lasa ditt svar. Jag ser fram emot!”
Where do I unsubscribe? You say I can´t? That´s too bad, because I start to feel marinated, steeped in lies. My eyebrow no longer goes up when they arrive. It has tired… become listless…. I fear it will start to droop and fall down to my knees.
No, that was a lie, a big exaggeration. I am infected.
There is a very valuable, and somewhat rare, quality for humans navigating through life: the ability to tell the difference between friend and foe.
Some people say nice things to us, others sharp, critical things. That is not enough for making the distinction, far too much black and white.
There are people who wish us well and only want our best and then there are others who are envious, mean and actually want our worst. (And of course a big spectrum in between.)
BUT — the latter group quite often says nice things to us, while the former, far from always but sometimes (when they are what I would call real friends) can say very sharp and critical things. Which confuses things, a bit.
The real factor of distinction is whether the person wishes me well or not, not whether her words are sweet or pungent. Which is better, a sugary but forked tongue or plain critical speech?
Honest, well-meaning criticism from someone who wants our best is something rare in life, almost a luxury. It is so much easier to swallow criticism (what complications might not arise?) than to express it. Silence never hurt anybody, right? Maybe wrong.
By all means, defend yourself against enemies (if you have any), but don´t defend yourself against friends who give you difficult to swallow advice of the pungent kind.
They are perhaps your very best friends. Don´t confuse them with foes.
Alex Harvey might not be a well known name, but some of his songs are “hits”, a word that, when denoting something positive and not violent, could well be changed to “hugs”.
Especially the first song below is a soft, warm, sad “hug”. We all need one sometimes. (If you watch it on YouTube you can see the lyrics.)
Alex Harvey, especially on his two LPs “Alex Harvey” (1971) and “Souvenirs” (1973) is for me a slightly hairy chested soul, a voice that enters the room with dirty shoes but brings something pure. Not pure as in aseptic, streamlined or Photoshopped but as in pure tobacco, maybe pure malt whisky. And he doesn´t have to put “sensational” in front of his name.
Another favorite of mine is “Reuben James” (from the LP Souvenirs) sung by himself in his gruff voice.
Why do women waste the time of men? If I were Esther Vilar I might have many harsh words to say about this. But I am not Vilar, I just want to mention something that goes on all the time, and that steals our (mens´) time.
Suppose that I am courting a woman, or just showing her a general interest. “Would you like to drink a cup of herbal tea with me, visit a lecture or go to the cinema?”
She answers: “I don´t know, let me think about it.”
You feel generous so you say: “Sure, give it a think.”
Next time you meet the lady you ask her again, and she gives the same reply: “I haven´t really given it a thought, been very busy. Let me think about it.”
Sure, you say again, feeling somewhat less generous this time. But you are a gentleman after all, and you don´t want to put pressure on the weaker sex, right?
And we don´t have to talk about courting either. “Could I take some portraits of you, I need to practice on people?” the amateur photographer asks.
Same reply: “Let me think about it.”
What is it with women, why is their cerebral tempo so damned slow?
The answer is, very probably, that it isn´t. They just — for some reason — avoid the straightforward “no”. They don´t want to answer in the negative.
I don´t know, probably it has to do with many factors. Upbringing, mothers´ advice, maybe the word “no” sounds too harsh (I feel myself that there is something very negative about it).
And maybe, heaven forbid, they like to control men, keep them on tenterhooks. I guess it feels good to receive sustained male attention without having to give anything back, more than “”I don´t know, let me think about it…”
Actually the lady is not slow at all; in very many cases she knows the answer right away, the very second the question is put to her. No, she is not going to drink herbal tea with us, go to a lecture with us or be photographed by us.
But by not saying so she wastes our time, and also gets some kind of feminine power out of the situation.
— It is not always thus. Some years ago when I was arranging a lot of musical salons I asked Lina, a very charming and slightly “trulsig” school girl, if she wanted to come and listen to my concert.
No, she said, without blinking, but also without frowning or grimacing. It was a totally honest, simple answer. She wasn´t coming to my salon and that was that. “Straight tubes” as they say in Sweden.
Of course I regretted this and even felt a bit hurt. But mainly I was charmed by her girlish honesty; the answer was “no” and she wasn´t going to waste my time by asking for extra time to think it over.
Why I am retelling this? Because it is so unusual, so against the grain!
Maybe, possibly, she will grow up to be a woman who wastes the time of men, but hopefully not. Of course a cynic might say that she probably has a diagnosis.
Well, what a charming one in that case!
The answer “I don´t know, let me think about it” is given to a whole spectrum of questions, from “Would you like a chewing gum?” to “Do you love me?”.
And many of us men haven´t figured out that that answer really means “No, but I like your attention, so just keep it coming”. We are rigorously told that a “no” means no, but are kept in the dark about “maybe” also meaning no. (I guess we should feel lucky that sometime, somewhere there is a “yes”.)
And to answer nothing — neither yes or no –to the second question (Do you love me?) has about the same meaning: “I don´t think so, probably not… But don´t give up, keep hoping!”
As I said, Esther Vilar doubtless has a much harsher analysis. I dare not think about it. Being somewhat of a troubadour I want to retain a bit of my innocent, foolish, courtly attitude vis a vis women, at least a little longer.
[A historical document from Early IT-age, circa A.D. 2000. Note: This it not satire.]
Year 2000: In this era of “immaterial values” I have eavesdropped on the seductive, inverted siren song that, instead of luring sailors down into the depths, rather throws them up on terra firma, where they happily “surf” on dry land.
I have transcribed the song that is hummed in secret. You cannot accuse the IT (information theology) folks for speaking a ruthlessly honest language, and you don´t need a particularly sharp ear to discern the new Credo: A Mighty Cabel Is Our God.
Listen to the Hymn (from my CD "Life´s a Beach and then you swim")
(All you need is Bredband MP3 510kB, LO-FI)
Join in and sing along!
(Melody: John Brown’s body)
Refräng: Bredband, bredband Halleluja
Bredband, bredband Halleluja
Bredband, bredband Halleluja
Bredband, BREDBAND, B R E D BA N D!
Vers 1: Surfa, surfa, surfa, surfa
Surfa, surfa, surfa, surfa
Surfa, surfa, surfa, surfa
Det är det som är livets mening och mål
(English translation, if needed: Broadband, broadband Halleluja, etc. etc.
Surfing, surfing, surfing, surfing Surfing, surfing, surfing, surfing, etc. etc. Is the Goal and Meaning of Life.)
Vers 2: Innehållet det kan kvitta
Innehållet det kan kvitta
Porr och chat, Quake och Tetris
“Klicka här för en bild på vår hund”
VI KRÄVER 2 MEGABIT PER SEKUND! [Ja, det var faktiskt det man krävde på den tiden.]
talkör: Det ska gå fort att surfa
Annars får de kvetta
(Who gives a damn about content? Porno, chat, Quake, Tetris Click HERE for a picture of our doggy. We DEMAND 2 Mb per Second!) [2MB, those were the days!]
Bredband, bredband Halleluja
Bredband, bredband Halleluja
Bredband, bredband Halleluja
Bredband gör oss till ledande IT-land
[ultima volta:] Bredband gör oss till världens bästa IT-land
(Broadband makes Sweden the No. 1 IT-country in the world. AMEN!)