I summarised Alec Soth’s interview with Seesaw Magazine earlier this year in my Identity and Place module. My posting can be seen here. After re-reading the interview a few things are highlighted for me: ambiguity, poetics and hints of social documentary and the use of the Mississippi River as a metaphor for wandering. A page through video of Sleeping by the Mississippi can be seen here.
The mammoth natural and man-made structures combined with the smog polluted atmosphere of Nadav Kander’s Yangtze, The Long River series evokes the sense of the sublime in the viewer. “… The mathematical sublime (of expanse) is shown calmly and without drama, as if it speaks for itself. The dynamic sublime (of speed) is implied, as different timeframes are juxtaposed, and the ruination and active destruction of the old is glimpsed amid new concrete frames” (Stallabrass, 2015: 245). These are images of conflict – long habituated habits, e.g. people swimming or fishing in the river strike a resounding discordant note when the viewer becomes aware of the amount of pollution that is lurking below the surface of the water and hanging in the air. But this realisation slowly creeps up on one because the images have a soft, melancholy feel to them.
Just recently we had raging forest fires here in British Columbia and the smoke pall drifted down south all the way into the United States. According to the stats the pollution was twice as bad as that of Beijing. My image above also has a rather calm and melancholy feel to it.
Part 2 of this exercise is to watch a “road movie” and write a short review on it, focusing on how the road features within the film’s narrative.
The movie that I watched is “Wild Hogs”, starring Tim Allen, John Travolta, Martin Lawrence, William H. Macy and Ray Liotta, and with a cast like this, it is quite obvious that it is a comedy. Its a story about four middle aged men, all suffering from a mid-life crisis.
Doug (Tim Allen) is a dentist hasn’t had a holiday in twelve years. His son doesn’t think he is cool and prefers to hang out with his friend’s dad. Bobby (Martin Lawrence) is a wanna-be writer, taking a sabbatical from his real job (plumbing). His wife, daughters and mother have lost respect for him and is totally hen-pecked by his family. Dudley (William H. Macy) is the computer nerd who is desperately trying to find a girl friend. Most of his attempts at attracting the ladies backfire on him. Woody (John Travolta) is the man who on the face of it has it all – the big house, swanky car, wife who is a model, but has been declared bankrupt and his wife is in the process of divorcing him.
All four men are friends, own Harley Davidson motor bikes which they regularly ride together. They even have a name for their gang – Wild Hogs and proudly wear the badge on the back of their leather jackets. After having a few drinks at their local biker bar they decide to pluck up some courage and to go on a road trip across the States all the way to the West Coast and reclaim some of that lost youth or joie de vivre they used to have.
Their first disastrous night is spent talking about their dreams and aspirations and what has gone wrong in their lives (all except Woody). As the scenery changes from city to farm land, forests, canyons, waterfalls to desert, they get themselves into all sorts of scrapes and misadventures, which force them to work together and rely on each other to resolve the problems. After fleeing from the Del Fuego biker gang (leader – Ray Liotta) after the bar fire incident, they run out of petrol. There is a particularly iconic reference at this point in the movie. As the four bikers are pushing their bikes up hill, a vulture appears behind them and follows them, lurking very ominously. I immediately made the connection to Kevin Carter’s photograph Starving Child and Vulture.
The denouement to the narrative occurs in the little town of Madrid where the Wild Hogs get confront their “demons” in more ways than one. The town is celebrating a Chile Festival and each member of the gang finds himself outside his comfort zone. Dudley finds himself a girlfriend and falls in love (and eats a bowl of super-hot chile to impress the girl), Doug and Woody get tricked into doing some bull-slapping (don’t ask – watch the movie if you haven’t seen it already 🙂 ). Hen-pecked Bobby stands up to two of the Del Fuego gang members who were out scouting for the Wild Hogs and ridicules them. The whole situation explodes when the entire Del Fuego gang (all fifty of them) arrive looking to exact revenge on the Wild Hogs.
By this stage of their road trip the Wild Hogs have gained so much of their self-respect and confidence back that they take on the gang in a fight. The terrorized town, out of respect, rushes in to give their support.
In the midst of all this mayhem Doug’s wife and son together with Bobby’s wife show up. Doug’s son after hearing about the fight has much respect for his father and regards him as his hero. Bobby now has the courage to stand up to his wife and she too respects him for that.
The Wild Hogs continue their road trip all the way to California, reveling in their achievements – not just the physical achievement of riding across country, but in their own personal achievement of overcoming their shortcomings and obstacles and finding their identities once again.
The weather has been so terrible lately, that I almost despaired of being able to do this exercise. [Just to keep everything consecutive in my blog, I will be adjusting the date on this posting so that it appears before the part 2 of this exercise – even though the actual date of posting is 7 December, 2017]. Eventually I, just out of sheer frustration, decided to shoot my journey to work trying a Lee Friedlander technique. I noticed the view in the driver’s rear view mirror at times creates a rather interesting layer on the scene in the front, so decided to play around with some of those kinds of views. I wasn’t all that satisfied with the outcome as if I looked into the rear view mirror without the camera I had a clear view in the mirror, but as soon as I lifted the camera to my eye the perspective shifted somehow and I would get the outline of the driver’s window at the top of the mirror, which was quite infuriating. I tried this on two consecutive days and it was slightly better on the second day as I was sitting as stiff as a board and stretching as far as I could to get the perspective I needed. I also decided to try get a few images on the way home, aiming for the pools of light from the bus shelters and shops and colour on the roads. These images worked better for me.
Yesterday was the first day we had sun in a long time and as we were heading out I noticed that there was a heavy fog bank drifting in, so I made good use of that as well. The fog has an interesting effect on the light as I noticed as we were coming into the city. The sun was breaking through the fog in one section and setting the Trump Tower alight with a sliver of bright light up portion of the building. This light was then caused a reflection in the building opposite that had floor to ceiling glass windows. It was quite exciting to watch this movement of light as we came up the road.