Monday, August 31, 2009

Shadows passing by

Sometimes a photo can say more than books full of philosophical theories or a whole library of novels. It is true, philosophical books and literary works can tell a lot about the exact circumstances man or an individual person lives in and they can give extensive analyses. Besides that, they can describe or discuss details in a way photos cannot do. But isn’t it so that a photo can summarize a feeling, an idea in a way that words can never do? Take this photo here. Doesn’t it say a lot about the society we live in, in a way that anything written can never express? That in the end we are individuals while other human beings are passing by like shadows, maybe with the exception of a single person who is near to us? On the other hand, a photo, also this one, can lead to many interpretations and nobody knows which one is the right one.

Monday, August 24, 2009

The garden of Linnaeus

In a certain sense the world around us has an objective existence. I mean, the world as such is there and would exist as it is, even if we human beings would not be a part of it and would not exist at all. Plants and animals would live, procreate themselves and die as they do now without us being there. Animal species would come and go. Mountains would rise and disappear. Volcanoes would still throw ashes in the air. Rivers would fill the seas and the water would come back on the land as rain.
On the other hand, for us human beings the world around us cannot be objective in that sense. We cannot see the world as such but we must see what we see always as something special. We divide what we see in animals and things. Animals are birds, mammals, insects, reptiles, fishes. Mammals are dogs, cats, lions and elephants. And so on. That we classify the world around us is not only so for animals but for everything we see around us. It is true that sometimes our distinctions are vague, maybe confusing, and it also happens that later we find it better to change them. Then also our world changes. Sometimes a bit, sometimes a lot. Perhaps it was a small change that mammals appeared not to be fishes but mammals. A big change was that the earth appeared not to be the centre of the world but a planet that circles around the sun instead of the other way around. Because for us the world around us is never as such but always in a certain way, namely the way we have classified it, the world is subjective for us. And because it is we, human beings, who classify the world, the world is in this sense a man made construction.
One person who has much contributed to our world view and has made a construction of the living world is Carolus Linnaeus. It is also he who “moved” whales from the realm of fishes to the realm of mammals. After 250 years his classification is still in use, although it has been improved here and there. Especially Linnaeus’ classification of plants is well-known and if we talk about Linnaeus it is the first thing that comes into our thoughts. Is it not wonderful then to walk in the Linnéträdgården, the “Garden of Linnaeus” in Uppsala in Sweden, where he worked and studied plants, because it is a place where has been worked on the construction of our world?

Monday, August 17, 2009

Practical nonviolence

Nonviolence can be supported for many reasons. Some people mention religious reasons for it, other people support it on other spiritual grounds. Again other people have more down to earth arguments and see it as a mere ethical principle. I belong to this group. However, I think that for most people nonviolence has no relation with idealistic motives. They hate to hurt and being hurt, not to speak of killing. They hate the material destruction caused by violence. They see that violence breeds violence. And it happens also case that organisers of social movements who are basically prepared to use violence see that they can attract more supporters for their cause if they stay nonviolent. In other words, a nonviolent attitude can also be practical.The practical attitude to nonviolence is by far the one most found. Many people support (and will support) nonviolence for practical reasons only and not because they believe in the idea of nonviolence as such. People who support nonviolence on religious, spiritual or ethical grounds sometimes say: this is not real nonviolence. A nonviolent attitude must according to them be idealistic in some way. But is it really important why people are nonviolent? As for this, I am a realist: for me nonviolence is also nonviolence if it is not principled, as long you behave in this way.

Monday, August 10, 2009


“If an image is too beautiful to be true, they think that it is likely that it has been constructed” (Carel De Keyser, Belgian photographer).
Making photos is very popular today. With a digital camera it has become very simple to make them, to print them, to upload them to your computer and to change them. Everybody can “photoshop” a picture and many people do in order to make them better. Because photoshopping with a computer is a modern invention, many people think that an image that is beautiful today cannot be beautiful as such but that it has been made beautiful. A beautiful image has been constructed, they think, which has the connotation that because it has been constructed there is something wrong with it. It cannot be beautiful any longer.
What many people do not realize is that constructing photos has been done as long as photography exists. The difference with photoshopping is, however, that in the days that digital photography did not yet exist, changing and adapting photos was a complicated and often time consuming process that had to be done in a darkroom. It required much experience to do it that way that it couldn’t be seen that the photo had been changed. Often, nobody cared about changing photos, sometimes it lead to passionate discussions. Was the famous photo of Robert Cappa of a dying soldier in the Spanish Civil War a construction or was it real? And who doesn’t know the photo of Lenin making a speech with Trotsky on his side, where Trotsky has been removed in a later version? As for photoshopping, there is nothing new under the sun.
Even more, constructing pictures is of all ages. Some time ago I visited the Mauritshuis Art Museum in The Hague, which is well-known for its collection of Dutch Masters. There was an exposition of city views painted by Dutch Masters with an extensive explanation about each painting. And there they told how most paintings had been “photoshopped”, to use a modern word! The city views were not exactly real, but trees had been added or removed, buildings had been put on other places around a square, and many other “tricks” of that kind had been applied in order to make the painting looking better. But who cares? Isn’t it so that these paintings are judged because the way they have been painted and because of their artistic quality and not because they do not represent a real situation, even when they represent city views? And why should it be different for photos, “even” if they have been photoshopped?

And besides that, does it make the painting worthless that Rembrandt has photoshopped himself on the “Night Watch”?

Monday, August 03, 2009

On travelling (5)

Sometimes a holiday is full of experiences. You travel from one place to another, see a lot of monuments, museums and other interesting things and places, and actually when you are back home you need another holiday to come to rest. In other holidays nothing happens, by way of speaking. It is true, you are travelling around from hotel to hotel or from camping site to camping site, but in fact that is all you do. Or maybe it isn’t. You look around while moving in your car, you enjoy the landscapes and you see new geographical surroundings and you meet new people. Maybe there is a museum or a place of historical interest you visit here and there but on most days you do nothing else than moving around. There are no sites you have to visit. You visit the places you visit simply because they are there, and just that is what makes your travelling interesting. In other words, your travel is relaxed. And aren’t actually these travels your best travels?