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.

Continue reading “Anecdote of the Jar”

Why Street Photography?

Why street photography?

1. Because it is always work in progress.

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2. Because we’re all looking for something.

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3. Because we’re waiting.

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4. Because it deals with the mundane, and reality can be mundane.

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5. Because it’s another way of looking at ourselves.

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6. Because it is artful waiting.

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7. Because we’re born to say “Let there be art”.

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8. Because it’s a way, like any other.

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The Work of Street Photography

I am reading Shop Class as Soul Craft by Matthew B. Crawford.

It’s a meditation on the value of manual work. I’m on page 79 at this point and it’s one of those books I’d like to read slowly, because there are so many wonderful insights that are conveyed in a very accessible manner which encourage me to stop and just think.

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Take this sentence for example:

If different human types are attracted to different kinds of work, the converse is also true: the work a man does forms him.

I am a literature geek, pure and simple. That says a lot about who I am already. Neat, simple and a bit obsessive.

So I have chosen the kind of work that suits my temperament.

The work then further deepens my temperament.

I am sure many of us could say the same thing.

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But I’m at a point where something else has come into play – my interest in street photography using quality compact film cameras.

Street photography relies on serendipity. It celebrates ordinary, everyday life, and it’s something to think about as to keep myself from going insane during banal moments (such as when I am at the back of a really long queue at a crowded supermarket checkout.)

And it introduces a kind of variety into my work I suppose. (The Chinese characters at this shop entrance means “anarchy”.)

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I was standing outside the shop composing with my Contax TVS and a passerby saw what I was doing.

“All these crazy shops,” he muttered to me, and walked on. It looks like a Japanese ramen place as far as I could figure.

So, yes, I suppose it’s a little bit different from my day job. Here, I’m standing at the entrance, aiming my camera, waiting deliberately for the right moment.

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What am I doing, and what am I looking for as a street photographer? I admit I live within myself too much.

Maybe part of the work of street photography has to do with getting away from myself.

Sometimes, it’s good not to be myself.

I look into the backs of trucks.

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I look at other people at work.

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I look at stuff.

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I am intrigued by the strangeness of other people.

I imagine myself wearing their clothes. Then, I imagine myself wearing their skin.

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And I look some more, and am sometimes not quite used to what I see.

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Contax TVS

In a previous post on the snapshot aesthetic, I mentioned zone focusing with Olympus XA2 and auto-focusing with Minolta AF-C.

And now, ladies and gentlemen, behold my Contax TVS. It has an aperture priority mode and a program mode. There’s auto-focus (which you could override with a dial).

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This allows me to be more stealthy, and the motorized whirring is not too loud.

I consider the Contax TVS series to be the baby brother of the Contax T1/2/3 series of which T2 is much celebrated, or the Contax G series of cameras.

It has the Vario Sonnar lens which allows for zooming, for days when I’m too lazy to zoom with my feet.

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This lady popped out and I responded quickly enough…

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“Oops, what’s this?” I thought as I was looking at the negative.

The panoramic mode was activated without me knowing.

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Oh oh …

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The panoramic mode is basically a cropping of the frame by the camera, and the panels were unhinged.

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I felt there was an intuitive bond between me and the Contax TVS… was I imagining things?

It’s built like a tank, and I could take myself seriously when I’m holding it… I was so looking forward to serious days…

After a moment of reflection and in that rare moment of sanity, I returned the camera to the store.

There were 2 Nikon 35Ti‘s beckoning, and a Fuji “sardine can” Tiara as well.

It was then that I had a Prufrockian moment:

Do I dare disturb the universe?

In a minute there is time

For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.

I waved goodbye (in my mind only) to those cameras.

The person at the store kept my number, noted my mournful expression, and 3 days later, I was told there’s another Contax TVS in the store, this one with the original strap, manual (in Japanese), case and lens cap.

I took it out for a spin.

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The panoramic mode here was fully intended. This was the only panoramic shot I took. I don’t expect to use it much. It’s a bit tacky I think…

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Happy happy joy joy.

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All is fine – I tilted the camera and shook it this way and that to see if the panoramic mode would kick in.

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I zoomed in and out and it’s fine.

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Zooming in … and it’s still ok.

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Yup, we have a winner here.

The Force is strong with this one…

O happy day!