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Werner Herzog’s “Lo and Behold” (and the Mud Guy)

22 Aug

Werner Herzog may well be our greatest living filmmaker, with a body of work spanning decades and as diverse as Aguirre, the Wrath of God (a film about a crazed conquistador), and his current documentary, Lo and Behold, an often disturbing exploration of the Internet.

As the film begins, we learn that the letters L and O were the first two characters ever transmitted between two networked computers (the sender was attempting to log in), whereupon the recipient machine crashed.  In those early times, the entire community of internet users could be (and was) listed in a single directory.  From such humble beginnings came the networked world we know and love (and hate) today.

Herzog’s film is wide ranging, exploring such topics as networked driverless cars that learn from the mistakes of their peers, the potential for total internet disruption by solar flares, a family cruelly traumatized by internet trolls, young people addicted to internet games, the problems stemming from an inability to track individuals on the internet, the problems posed by too much internet trackability, and internet communications on Mars (Herzog expresses an interest in going even if it means remaining there.) We especially liked Herzog’s interview with Kevin Mitnick, a famous hacker who paid dearly for his hacking with a prison term.

Over the years, Herzog has pretty much figured out that people find his Teutonic eccentricities a mite zany and he now seems to go out of his way to include Herzogian touches in his films.  For example, “The Cave of Forgotten Dreams” ends with a bewildering epilogue about albino crocodiles living near the cave in water flushed from a nearby nuclear reactor.  While Herzog does not go that extreme in Lo and Behold, his voice over declares the corridors of a university building ‘repulsive’ and he throws in a bit about Buddhist monks tweeting on iPhones in a future Chicago where the populace has apparently emigrated to Mars.  It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but we like it ‘cause it gives a chance to nudge our partner as if to say “Oh, that Werner.  What a zany guy!”

Eccentricities aside, “Lo and Behold” gives the viewer a lot to think about and it’s well worth your time.  The one thing we found odd about the documentary is that Herzog manages to explore the topic of the Internet and its implications without ever mentioning two Internet mainstays: pornography and cat pictures.

Lo_and_Behold

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Our eldest daughter is a photographer  who often creates assemblages from disparate photographic elements. She recently asked us to be the subject of one of her photo shoots.  We don’t like to be photographed (it steals the soul), so we didn’t take to the idea until she told us that we were to be covered in mud.  Being caked with mud would provide a certain anonymity. Too, there was something Werner Herzogian (see above) about being covered in mud that appealed to us.  We agreed to  be photographed.

On a weekend, we conducted the shoot.  Clad in shorts and our own hirsute epidermis, she and her sister used sponge brushes to apply the mud. After about 10 minutes of application, she pronounced the result satisfactory.  We assumed that we’d then shoot among some trees, but she posed us in front of the white garage door.  We’d be electronically separated from the background in the final assemblage.

As we awaited her instructions, we decided that channeling our inner Incredible Hulk would be just the thing.  We began to psyche ourselves up, putting what we fervently hoped was a Hulk-like grimace on our face.  With the camera in position, our daughter gave us an instruction that was breathtaking in its simplicity. “Dad, I want you to look at the tail light on that car”, she said, indicating her sister’s vehicle about 10 feet away. That was all we needed. We forgot all about the Incredible Hulk, and abandoned the idea about psyching ourselves up. The world now consisted of that tail light, and if we were supposed to look at it, then by gum, we were going to look the hell out of it. As the shutter clicked, she provided a few more instructions, but stressed that we should continue looking at the tail light.

At length the session was over and our daughter had the images she wanted.  She explained that the mud guy was to take up only a section of the final piece. We went inside to wash off the mud, reflecting on how powerful a simple instruction to a non-actor can be. It occurred to us that when directing people (especially space cadets like us),  a simple instruction often suffices.

We caught a glimpse of the mud guy in the bathroom mirror. Some of the mud had dried, while some of it was still wet.  The two-toned effect was awesome. We thought about reporting for work the next day still caked in the mud.  Since that was impractical, we washed it off.

Photography and Alchemy

26 Oct

Photography has gone digital. Many photographs we like were taken with digital cameras. Still, we miss photographs made using film. Those days aren’t completely gone, but since every cell phone now has a built-in camera, there’s no question that digital is where it’s at.

alchemy

It was alchemical …

We’re not Luddites – there’s a lot to like about digital photography. However, we remember taking a photography class before digital cameras.
developing tank and reels

tank and reels

Fumbling in total darkness, spooling the undeveloped negative onto the reel, and at last placing the reel into the light-proof metal tank seemed ritualistic to us. We felt like members of a secret cabal of image makers. Then came the the pouring-in and pouring-out of the developer, stop bath, and fixer. After rinsing the negatives and letting them dry, we at last had something to print.

Then the process would begin anew, only this time we had the luxury of a dim red light that wouldn’t fog the photo paper. After placing the negative in the enlarger, making the exposure onto the photo paper, and repeating the developer-stop bath-fixer-rinse cycle, we at last had an image. This seemed nothing short of alchemy to us.

Enlarger

Enlarger

“Oh, come on now,” you might say. “You’re romanticizing something that took a blasted long time and used a lot of water. Those chemicals were nasty – acetic acid, ammonium thiosulfate, and Gawd knows what else going down the drain. Nostalgic over this? We’re better off without it.”

To which we reply “You’re probably right. The immediacy of digital photography in the age of the Internet allows us to receive images from developing stories around the world, stories we simply would not have heard about years ago.”

That’s all true. It’s silly for us to think that photography was akin to alchemy. Except, that’s how we remember it …