Empire of Illusion

  By John Veldhoen

* A note to you, dear reader, I wrote the following over the day on January 30th, 2018:

“I have been walking all day. I started out with a mere idea, to see what I could see. It began without structure, and as I progressed, it gathered some. Along the way today I ran into a street photographer that I admire named Alvin. His working methodology is most closely akin to Garry Winogrand. He photographs with film, with a Leica, a prime lens with a small aperture, looking quickly at the edge of the frame. I love his pictures more than Winogrand’s because Alvin’s pictures are more compassionate to me, with mixtures of the intimacy that Winogrand seemed so tragically to avoid, and the irony of the street. I stand with him as he works on a corner that he normally shoots, in awe of his tenacious path to the ten thousand hour requirement to earn the title of mastery. I skinned my knee badly after a fall last week, and I am happy today that it is warmer, and I can stretch it. Walking, taking occasional pictures, I run into old friends, clients, book-collectors, and other photographers. I stop at the library and get Dianne Bos’ book “The Sleeping Green”, a document of the trauma traces in fields near Passchendaele, and Iain Sinclair’s “Kodak Mantra Diaries”, a document of Allen Ginsberg’s visit to something called the “Congress on the Dialectics for the Demystification of Violence”. I am only halfway through my day, my daylong walking (preoccupied all day by William Notman’s photograph of Calgary that I saw for the first time in a monograph yesterday). I have more appointments later, but right now my intent is reviewing Terry Munro’s “Empire of Illusion”.

The Camera Store is virtually the only place you can get this book from Black Dog Publishing, not to mention get a signed copy. I have high regard for the press, and I am so happy for Terry. I am familiar with him personally, and have fond affection for his work. Bill Jeffries has written a smart takedown of the ostensible subject, Las Vegas, which is sans “viva” in Terry’s mind’s eye. I asked Terry about LV, he said he hoped he would never have to return, shocked by the total oblivion of the place. Jeffries writes that “reality is a word with many meanings”, which is only true with respect to the word itself. Jean Baudrillard inaugurated the concept of hyperreality that Jeffries, in a stroke of genius, calls “bad math” (quoting Penn and Teller). In my last article I mentioned the elevator words that ascend to the seat of reality as such, which is a transcendental identity. I read an article about string theory last week that suggested skepticism regarding how string theory works correlates inversely to the ability to calculate. This is similar to other formulations where reality is similarly stable as a concept, but depends on a different form of calculation.

Even a low form such as photography depends on a concept of the real (or the construction of the hyperreal) existing outside the camera. In photography, a question can be asked linking ethics to the aesthetic, and this is where Munro’s artistic intuition shines: Why would anyone build anything as awful as Las Vegas? Munro walks the Western interstices like anyone who walks with a camera, capturing the sublime. Munro goes panning for the deadpan. He goes prospecting and finds neon signs in the boneyard, and expertly prints selenium preserved visions of not-quite eternity: the La Concha Motel, and the other St. Mark’s Square. I love this book for the idealism (and intuition) of people who make pictures this way: Pictures made with a mechanical camera, film, one prime lens, describing reality such as it is.”

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In addition to being on our sales team, John curates The Camera Store's book selection and is a contributing author of our blog. He likes to think about photography, talk about photography, and sometimes write about photography.