Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Mojo

I am always curious about the things that make people angry, especially unexpectedly angry.  This is partly the result of being a bit of a contrarian who has learned, out of self-preservation, to anticipate the wrath of strangers.  But it is also because I find those sudden surges of anger are often a very authentic impulse, rising from a deeper source than the superficial personalities and opinions we have constructed for ourselves.


Indeed, what one might think of as the Construction Wars -- revolving around the once-revolutionary, but now routine academic claim that most human activity is social activity, and therefore "constructed" rather than authentic or "essential" -- were themselves the cause of not a few angry exchanges that occasionally turned ugly.  The idea that the authenticity of your tribe or traditions might be a "construct" is still, to many, fighting talk.

A parallel flashpoint, I have observed, is the ongoing skirmish between enchantment and, for want of a better word, positivism.  There is a large constituency of people who wish for the world to be a more magical place, one where things like faith-healing, thought-transference, spoon-bending and all manner of para-phenomena are not just conjuring tricks, but real, unexplored human potentialities.  Richard Dawkins, with his unrelenting logic, makes these folk very angry indeed.  As they do him.*  He is perceived by them as a reductive disenchanter of the world; they are perceived by him as benighted peddlers of childish wish-fulfilment.  Let's party like it's 1789!

I imagine you, like me, sit somewhere between those two extremes, depending on the time of day and the weather. Getting head and heart into alignment is a task which is never simple, and also never finished, I find.

Enchanted fish tank

Photography, too, has its camps and divisions -- any one of which can make someone angry -- including its own enchanters and positivists.  For example, there are the pin-hole and toy-camera enthusiasts, who take in the world and re-express it in blurs, hints and suggestions.  These are often the same people who are in love with "authentic" (i.e. difficult, obsolete, and toxic) processes like platinum printing from self-prepared wet-collodion plates; they want the reality of emotions, a gallery show, and a book-contract from Nazraeli.

At the other end of the spectrum are the Pin Sharp crew, with their view-cameras, tilts and shifts, densitometers, spectrometers, ICC profiles, and other aids to sterility perfection. The pin-sharp reality is not so much felt as measured in lines-per-millimetre, though every blurred blade of grass is felt as a humiliating failure.  Naturally, their preferred subject-matter is stuff that doesn't move, like rocks.  I'm never quite sure what these people do with their work, other than tell other photographers how they did it.

But, to return to enchantment and its opposite: when it comes to art and photography, I always find myself drawn towards the misty end of the spectrum.  I have always liked the work of Keith Carter, for example, the king of artful blur and meaningful incongruity.  There is something energising about the concept of "mojo", native to the southern USA and something that underlies all his work, not just his book of that name.  When the mojo is working, you walk taller, feel more connected and influential, luckier, more attractive.  When it's not, you don't feel those things.


In most cultures, people have developed ways of persuading the mojo to flow their way.  To a rational mind, these methods are nothing more than idle superstition.  My head sympathises, but my heart knows that I have yet to find a rational way of feeling more attractive.

In the end, Keith Carter's mojo is just that kind of feeling, the culmination of many moments of being in a representative instant, but an instant charged with the inexplicable animating energy of the particular.  The poet Lorca tried to define his concept of duende -- the feeling that for him separated ordinary speech or stolid verse from serious poetry -- by quoting Goethe.  "A mysterious power," he called it, "that all may feel and no philosophy can explain."
Rosellen Brown, foreword to Mojo

Does that kind of talk make you angry, or make you feel like getting out there and conjuring up the mojo with your camera?


Mojo mice


*  I remember reading his "Gerin Oil" essay in Prospect in 2005 and thinking, this man is as deranged as the objects of his scorn.  If you don't know it, it's here.  In case you don't get it, "gerin oil" is an anagram of "religion".


8 comments:

Martyn Cornell said...

'Mojo' is the Japanese for 'sock'.

Mike C. said...

Martyn,

Is it now? What a curious piece of knowledge to have to hand. You must have been waiting years to find a use for it!

But see how it all fits! The mysterious force is clearly fuelled by absorbing socks worldwide, causing the otherwise inexplicable "missing sock" phenomenon. I must let the people at CERN LHC know.

Today being God Particle Day, any idea what "boson" means in Japanese?

Mike

Martyn Cornell said...

I was told the meaning of "mojo" by a Japanese gentleman sitting next to me on a Tube train while I was reading the eponymous magazine: he was amused that I appeared to be reading something called, in his language, "Sock".

Socks vanish into holes in the space-time continuum and reappear as navel lint: a neat theory that covers two otherwise inexplicable phenomena.

Mike C. said...

Martyn,

Excellent, I like any theory that ties two curious phenomena together.

Do you have anything to offer that explains why tins of tomatoes, uniquely among canned goods, are almost always dented?

Mike

Bronislaus Janulis / Framewright said...

Mike, Dented cans are so blind people, who are notoriously adverse to tinned tomatoes, can tell them apart from the Pinto beans. I heard it on the interwebs.

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Bron

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Mike C. said...

Bron,

Makes sense. Are they always dented in the USA, too?

Mike

Bronislaus Janulis / Framewright said...

Well, I'll have to get my "mojo" working, and check out the tinned tomatos, whilst keeping a surrepttious eye out for any potted tomatoes wandering by.

Mike, good posts of late. I read, but am often away from my desk of late, and iphone wonderful gadget , but not great writing machine.

Mike C. said...

Bron,

Thanks -- I recently bought a used (and scratched, hence low price!) iPad, and have been amazed by its usefulness as a device for consumption, but its utter uselessness as a device for production. Even using a specialised "writing" app it's hopeless -- how can anyone devise an interface that does not allow precise positioning of the cursor within text??

Mike