Anecdote of the Jar

I’m not sure if this is considered street photography, but I suppose so, if street photography is about scenes that are found rather than staged, about scenes that say something about the interactions between human beings and their environment.

For those interested in film photography: all photographs are taken with Contax TVS, loaded with Superia Venus 800. That’s the gear I carry these days. This post is inspired by Wallace Stevens’ poem, “Anecdote of the Jar”:

I placed a jar in Tennessee,

And round it was, upon a hill.

It made the slovenly wilderness

Surround that hill.


The wilderness rose up to it,

And sprawled around, no longer wild.

The jar was round upon the ground

And tall and of a port in air.


It took dominion everywhere.

The jar was gray and bare.

It did not give of bird or bush,

Like nothing else in Tennessee.


A quick Google search will reveal various possible readings to the poem, so I’ll suppress my inner poetry geek as much as I can.


I’ll simply say that at the minimum, the poem is about the relationship between human artifacts and nature.


The take-away philosophical point is that a man-made object placed/installed in nature changes nature.

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Is nature a rubbish dump, a depository of things no longer useful?


The joker in me tells me it’s a supermarket shopping cart that has lost its way.

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Nature is nature.


A journey into what nature is is man-made.

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Is nature a resource we exploit?


I am reminded of the following lines from Heidegger’s essay “The Question Concerning Technology’ , about how our instrumentalist attitude to nature (and everything else) reduces everything into a “standing-reserve”, as means for other ends:


Everywhere everything is ordered to stand by, to be immediately at hand, indeed to stand there just so that it may be on call for a further ordering. (Heidegger “Question Concerning Technology”)

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We’ve learnt to frame nature.

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And in our arrogance, we forget it is nature that frames us.

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Perhaps we’re the ones putting obstacles between ourselves and nature, between ourselves and ourselves.

4 thoughts on “Anecdote of the Jar

  1. I loved reading this and looking at your images. It certainly does stir my brain to think about how we interpose ourselves upon nature, and how we divide ourselves from it. The divisions are illusory, just as the objective perspective–in science, art, or society–is a construct. Though it may be perceived as a necessity within the laboratory, when we carry it out into the world with us, it is an obstruction to understanding.
    When we divide ourselves from an experience, we sacrifice something vital. In the name of that Western plate-glass distance, we divorce ourselves from the rich textures of meaning that are to be found everywhere. I have a number of photographer friends, though I have no such skills myself, and they constantly tell me that when framing an image, one of their tools is to be mindful not to remove themselves from the context. The stories told by their work depend upon their ability to render the sensory impressions of that work, not tell the story of how they use their cameras to distance themselves from life.
    I look forward to reading much more from you in the very near future.

    1. Thank you for this. This is insightful indeed! I often feel I’m mucking around, learning to use street photography as a tool for thinking.

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