Saturday, April 30, 2016

Skyward Bodies

Skies often fill our field of vision. By night, starlight punctuates the panorama. By day, clouds drift through a river channel of saturation and hue by minutes and hours, and then we imagine, over centuries.
To jump over centuries
In one step is impossible.
Jump too high or far,
You’ll be way too late.
Dejan Stojanović
People, poets, and philosophers have long imagined clouds traveling over the landscape, including the noted Sanskrit poet KālidāsaMeghadūta, Sanskrit for cloud messenger, is a lyrical poem written by Kālidāsa in 375 CE.

Kālidāsa's poem portrays demigod Yakṣha who has been condemned by his master for neglecting his duties and exiled from his home in the Himalaya mountains. Yaksha wishes to comfort his wife. He entreats a passing cloud to carry a message to her. Yakṣha describes the glorious sights that will be revealed to the cloud as it travels back to the Himalayas where his wife awaits his return. In this stanza, Yaksha recounts a mountain stream personified as a loving woman:
The neighboring mountain stream that gliding grants
A glimpse of charms in whirling eddies pursed,
While noisy swans accompany her dance
Like a tinkling zone, will slake thy loving thirst--
A woman always tells her love in gestures first.
For Ptolemy (AD 100 – c. 170), clouds and stars pass to and fro overhead much to his sensory delight.
I know that I am mortal by nature, and ephemeral; but when I trace at my pleasure the windings to and fro of the heavenly bodies I no longer touch the earth with my feet: I stand in the presence of Zeus himself and take my fill of ambrosia
Claudius Ptolemy


Saturday, April 23, 2016


Galileo's Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, published in 1632, compared the staunchly held Ptolemaic system with worldview changing Copernican theory.

Ptolemaic systemThe Universe orbits the Earth
Copernican systemThe Earth orbits the Sun

By 1633 Galileo's Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems had been put on the Index of Forbidden Books. Commissioned by Ferdinando II de' Medici, Galileo's book was banned because it was "vehemently suspect of heresy".

From the 21st century, this 17th century heresy is a mere historical footnote. Acceptance of the Copernican system marks a plot point in an evolving narrative forming a fundamental human-centric existential construct.
If you could see the earth illuminated when you were in a place as dark as night, it would look to you more splendid than the moon.
— Galileo Galilei

Earth viewed spacecraft circling the moon
source: NASA Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter

Human space travel has caused new figurative and literal perspectives of Earth.
It's tiny out there… it's inconsequential. It's ironic that we had come to study the Moon and it was really discovering the Earth.
William Anders, Apollo 8, When We Left Earth: The NASA Missions
One's worldview, the prevailing human-centric existential construct, is updated in fits and starts as we reconcile new information.


Saturday, April 16, 2016

Geoglyphs of the Mind

Mining mythologies is one means to unearth imagination.

Understanding human civilizations is enriched by analyzing and interpreting artifacts, yet aspects of the human narrative are best expressed by less literal communication channels like art, or poetry.

In the closing stanza of Forgotten Home, Dejan Stojanović writes:
There is another alphabet
Whispering from every leaf,
Singing from every river,
Shimmering from every sky.
Stojanović' reminds me there'll always be something overlooked or left unimagined.

Few phenomena excite the imagination like geoglyphs — large-scale, ancient or contemporary impressions made on the landscape by rearranging found materials. The Atacama Giant is one of many examples of ancient geoglyphs.

The Atacama Giant
by Emilio Erazo-Fisher

The Atacama Giant likely represents a deity created by Atacama Desert inhabitants. Some time from AD 1000 to 1400, people intentionally and methodically arranged desert materials in contrasting lines that, from a distance, formed the impression of an anthropomorphic figure.

One can only imagine what our desert forebears were thinking.
It's enough for me to be sure that you and I exist at this moment.
― Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez


Saturday, April 9, 2016

Replacing Indifference with Attention

In Gilead Marilynne Robinson writes, "This is an interesting planet. It deserves all the attention you can give it."

Slide frame
by Bob MacNeal
Photographers for 177 years, and painters for centuries, have been faced with deciding what to include and exclude in the boundaries of a frame.

Curation occurs peering into a viewfinder frame, or when applying pigment to a canvas.
Anything can be separated, can be made discontinuous, from anything else: all that is necessary is to frame the subject differently.
  ―  Susan Sontag, On Photography
Barthes observed that initially photographers made photographs of notable things. An early photographer was not unlike an entomologist pinning a rare butterfly into a frame. But soon a reversal:
In an initial period, Photography, in order to surprise, photographs the notable; but soon, by a familiar reversal, it decrees notable whatever it photographs. 
Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography
The mundane becomes notable, perhaps glorified, simply by our devoting our attention to it.

One of the earliest art expeditions devoted to our desire to pay attention to the mundane and the notable occurred in the arctic during the summer of 1869:
American painter William Bradford, alongside photographers John L. Dunmore and George Critcherson, embarked on the first expedition to the Arctic devoted principally to art. In the course of the perilous journey aboard a 325-ton steamship called The Panther (previously used for seal-hunting), Bradford made hundreds of pencil drawings and over 70 oil sketches of the frozen North in preparation for the larger paintings he would complete upon his return. 
Zaria Forman on William Bradford

Icebergs in the Arctic, Oil on canvas, 1882
by William Bradford

On Bradford's painting Icebergs in the Arctic, artist Zaria Forman writes:
... he captures how uniquely dark Arctic waters can be. To me, many of his Arctic paintings seem to embody a sense of sadness and solemnity, as if somehow, even amidst the expansionist optimism of his age, he sensed the Arctic’s fate, as time marches inexorably forward, threatening not only the beauty but also the very existence of the ancient landscape and its inhabitants.
Forman sailed up the northwest coast of Greenland in the summer of 2012 to retrace Bradford's 1869 voyage.

Greenland No. 63, Pastel on paper, 2013
by Zaria Forman

Comparing images from her journey to photographs taken during Bradford's, Forman observed the changes in the coastal landscape. Forman has documented the rapidly changing arctic landscape in stunning pastels of icebergs.
Art is always the replacement of indifference by attention.
Guy Davenport


Saturday, April 2, 2016

Qualities of Sunlight

Chromaticities of black-body light
of various temperatures
source: User:PAR
The hue of Sunlight changes according to its angle relative to terrestrial observers.

The blue hour, the golden hour, alpenglow and the belt of venus are subjective phrases we use to describe our sensory experiences of the color of Sunlight.

Color temperature is an objective reading of the hue of a light source in units of Kelvin (K).

Warmer colors, yellowish white through red, or about 2,700 to 3,000 K are seen shortly after Sunrise or shortly before Sunset.

Sunset at Newport Beach
by Bert Kaufmann

A rising or setting Sun produces light described by photographers as the golden hour. Daylight is softer and much warmer during the golden hour than during the middle of the day when the Sun is higher in the sky. The softer quality of light during the golden hour is because highlights are muted and shadows are less dark.
Keep your face to the sun and you will never see the shadows.
― Helen Keller
During twilight, shortly after the Sun has set or shortly before the Sun has risen, indirect Sunlight produces cooler colors over 5,000 K (Kelvin).

View south from the observation deck on Rockefeller Center
by Daniel Schwen

The cooler bluish quality of light is called the blue hour.

Unlike the golden hour or the blue hour, alpenglow is caused by a projection of backscattered Sunlight onto topographic features like mountains.

Alpenglow projected on Mount Everest
source: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

Alpenglow occurs when a topographic high like Mount Everest, positioned opposite the Sun, receives a band of light that has reflected off airborne moisture particles in the lower atmosphere causing a reddish glow.

An atmospheric phenomena observed long after a Sunset or long before a Sunrise is called the belt of venus.

Pinkish glow called the belt of venus
source: ESO

The belt of venus is a glowing pinkish arch visible 10°-20° above the horizon. Like alpenglow, the belt of venus is due to backscattered Sunlight. The belt of venus is caused by the refraction of light through dust particles high in the atmosphere.
She turned to the sunlight
And shook her yellow head,
And whispered to her neighbor:
"Winter is dead."

A.A. Milne, When We Were Very Young