Attention is the beginning of devotion —Mary Oliver
Photography found me as I looked through a window in a rundown Soviet-era hotel called The Rossiya. I was 16 years old and I was in Russia for my dad’s third marriage. The view itself was nondescript, so bland that I can’t picture it clearly now — I just remember blues and greys and a feeling of coldness. Perhaps I could see the scrubby trees and low bushes of the courtyard or one of the metal fire escapes nestled in the inner corners of the hulking square building that was once the largest hotel in the world. I remember this moment, not for the masterclass in oppressive architecture, but because I watched this view crystallise out of a fog of steel, lichen and rough sea. This was first time I looked out of a window through another window, a window that went on to shape my life — the viewfinder of a camera.
The camera belonged to my friend, the son of my father’s best man, and we were killing time in the hallway, waiting for his dad to collect us and take out to explore Moscow. If his dad hadn’t been a little late getting ready or my friend hadn’t decided to let me play with his camera, it’s funny to think how the compass of my life might have been magnetised to a different north.
In the moment, the idea that I could use this camera to record memories, or to act as passport to access novel experiences didn’t occur to me. Instead, I was grabbed by this little window’s ability to transform my visual perception. To watch the world evolve out of a field of colour and soft-edged forms was a pleasure, sure; but to see the black edges of the viewfinder swallow the chaos and scale of the world and leave a slice of reality was magic. I have a similar experience when I look through a window — the frame defines the view and reduces its complexity, and the glass and the distance flatten the depth. This constriction reduces distractions and frees me to observe more closely. The camera is a powerful tool for seeing because it untethers the window from the building and allows you to carry it with you.
Gary Winogrand said “I photograph to see what the world looks like photographed”, but my motivation to photograph starts one step further back in the process. I photograph to see what the world looks like when looked at. The print or the sequence of images is the final product, but it is the act of taking photographs, of paying attention, that I’m in love with. To photograph is to become aware of light, depth and relationships, to enclose reality in your frame, then to excise the exact fraction of a second required. Of course, doing this successfully is impossible; but when you strive towards this ideal you increase your sensitivity to the visual world and the present moment. This is a gift that continually rewards and challenges — I use it to connect to my experience, to other people, and to the world.
Later, I would no longer be content just to look at the world through a lens, as I was in that corridor; instead I trip the shutter to make real the distance between intention and creation. But when I look through the viewfinder, I still feel my eyes sharpen and the world resolve with a clarity unseen without a window frame.
To pay attention is to live, and to live is to pay attention; and, bear in mind most of all, that your spiritual nature is but a higher faculty of seeing and listening — a finer, nobler way of paying attention. Thus must you learn to live in the fullest sense. —Louis Sullivan
This bittersweet and beautiful thread by Lea Elm of artworks that look out of windows was the inspiration for this week’s newsletter. Some lovely images — the Sudek, Holsøe and Leiter are my favs.
Matt Eich — Contemporary photography at the intersection of documentary and art practice. An unsettling and often surreal portrait of an unseen United States. If you like his images check out this interview with Matt on Perfect Bound. He talks about classifying his work, the broken editorial model, centering his practice around photobooks, and using his wife’s student loan money to produce his first limited-edition book
Cameron Keith / @ckeithphoto — Americana done right — Eggleston meets David Lynch in a painting by Hopper
The Emancipation Procrastination by Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah
Jazz trumpet, hip hop beats, electronica and afrobeat rhythms come together to create an album beyond categorisation
Ancient Plastix by Ancient Plastix
Warm, fuzzy and pulsating — float in a robot womb
The Sebastian Reynolds Podcast (YouTube only) — my podcast debut with my friend Seb. He’s a musician, producer and long time meditator, and we talked about creating meaning, identity formation vs ego dissolution, live vs recorded arts, free will and more. One for lovers of the weirder aspects of existence.
Seb just released his latest EP Nihilism is Pointless. Check it out if you love sparse ambient music that is by turns intense and intimate.
Newsletters by Robin Rendle.
This is a must read. The essay examines how writing on the internet has evolved and is a rallying cry for the indieweb. It features a unique scroll-snap design, that pairs snippets of text with wood and metal engravings from Old Book Illustrations in homage to the rhythm created by the interplay between words and images that you see in comics. The design doesn’t play nicely with Chrome, but is great in Safari/Firefox or on tablets/phones. Robin wrote an interesting ‘making of’ post too.
Think Like Reality by Eliezer Yudkowsky
Reality has been around since long before you showed up. Don’t go calling it nasty names like “bizarre” or “incredible”. The universe was propagating complex amplitudes through configuration space for ten billion years before life ever emerged on Earth. Quantum physics is not “weird”. You are weird. You have the absolutely bizarre idea that reality ought to consist of little billiard balls bopping around, when in fact reality is a perfectly normal cloud of complex amplitude in configuration space. This is your problem, not reality’s, and you are the one who needs to change.
Crony Beliefs A heavy but rewarding essay about the difference between the beliefs that we value for accuracy versus those that we hold for status or belonging; and the perils of confusing the two.
I, for one, typically explain my own misbeliefs (as well as those I see in others) as rationality errors, breakdowns of the meritocracy. But what I’m arguing here is that most of these misbeliefs are features, not bugs. What looks like a market failure is actually crony capitalism. What looks like irrationality is actually streamlined epistemic corruption. In fact, I’ll go further. I contend that social incentives are the root of all our biggest thinking errors.
How am I complicit in creating the conditions that I say I don’t want?