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”


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Was it God I saw talking to his women,
holding a jug of wine?

I am reading Genesis, chapter five,
where Enoch walked and he was not,
for he was taken.

In this fever of Hong Kong
there are no hermits in caves,
no saints on mountain tops.

It is not easy to see with this fever,
and I am numb to my face,
all thumbs in my eyes.

Is it possible to believe
a beard and a light bulb?

Fingers on my throat,
I try not to dance in my sandals
to the hymn.

I am no mime artist.

I am not a Roman centurion.

I am no Caesar,
though I try not to add salt
to the wound.

I am waiting for a voice
to rip me open to the sky.

I am reading Genesis, chapter five,
where Enoch walked and he was not,
for he was taken.

Poem and photograph previously featured in Friends Newsletter. Hong Kong: Friends of the Art Museum, CUHK. Jan 2013 Issue.


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There is power in granite
of your choice,
earth-deposits of a history of money.

So today you are digging
out of the pavement a strength
you already possess,
a faith in stone.

I wonder what would happen
if you find a fish gasping in the dust,
or if a hundred-year-old turtle crawls out
to proclaim the good news.

I am waiting for a minotaur
to emerge to start a fresh flood.

We imagine ourselves to be trees
in the thick sulphur of this city
where no one needs to speak.

Maybe you’re waiting to tell a story
of an underground government
of broken bodies.

Who are our leaders,
that they would stay quiet?

These are eruptions
too deep in the ground,
metaphors of stone,
groundwork of hands.

Poem and photograph previously published in Friends Newsletter. Hong Kong: Friends of the Art Museum, CUHK. Jan 2013 Issue.