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By Pedro Meyer
As we welcome the year 2011, it seems we are almost in the world of tomorrow, and still so many things have a thread to how we have always been.
Of course we have the internet which wasn’t in our lives just a few years ago, and of course we have social networks that also were not present in our lives earlier, nothing to say of being able to speak long distance to all my friends across the globe almost for free.
However, ageing has not changed at all. Maybe these days we wither a bit later, but withering none-the-less is part of our existence. Be that with nature around us, or ourselves. Yes, plants seem to be moving along with climate changes into uncharted?territory, but they don’t last forever, just as they didn’t before.
It used to be that I kept all my correspondence in folders, that is, in the analog era, I am talking about. All the letters from friends and family have been kept neatly stacked, over the years.
I have to admit that the volume of correspondence increased exponentially in the digital era, but what I though at some point was a very simple solution, that of keeping the archives for later retrieval, just as I did with my analog era correspondence, has proven to be an exercise in wishful thinking.
My digital files of the late nineties, are just about lost. With word processors having been superseded with new generations and functionalities, the files became unreadable. I am sure that some high tech outfit could find a way to unlock that information, but at what cost?
Along the years as I changed and moved from one computer to another, what I thought was a simple solution, like moving furniture from one place to another, as when you need to change residence, this turned out to be a less than stellar performance. OK, I was able to move the desk, but alas, where did the drawers I had in the desk and their content land? they seem to have gone to another world.
These days, moving between computers, and between programs, and now between these and social networks, I can’t even recall if the message I sent was over FaceBook, email, gmail, ichat, or what have you. I don’t remember if I responded from my cell?phone, from my iPad, my lap top, or my desk top computer. It all seems to have gone into a world of dispersion. I do hope that information again, on a cloud, be that the message was originated on what ever machine I had at hand at any given moment. Control-F, might become handy at such a juncture once again.
In that sense, ageing is a good thing, in that any process needs to mature before it can reach a stage of becoming more efficient or practical. As Charles De Gaulle would write: ” Nothing lasts unless it is incessantly renewed”.
I strongly believe that ageing is precisely that, the need to renew everything. We tend to look upon ageing as this need to hold onto something, probably life. When in fact life, flourishes precisely when we don’t hold on to it, but renewed constantly.
Probably the contradiction comes from the fact that I might have to loose, for someone else to gain someplace, and we don’t look fondly on the idea of loosing. Since this is going to happen, regardless of my better opinion, I believe we might as well not waste precious moments, chasing after false hopes, that somehow will not materialize, but instead concentrate on the constructive nature of ageing as seen from a wider perspective than just the I, as an individual.
If I manage to view myself in the larger construct of the world at large, I might not even have the feeling of being subject to a losing proposition, but rather the opposite. My fare is tied to a universal nature, as the yogi said to the hot dog vendor: “Make me one with everything”.

Heresies: Between Truths and Fiction

The project Heresies is a retrospective of one of the most innovative artists of the world, comprising five decades of photographic work. The exhibition ?Heresies: a retrospective by Pedro Meyer? will open simultaneously in nearly 60 museums around the world in October, 2008, and it will be a major breakthrough in the way photographic work is exhibited.

Mexican photographer Pedro Meyer is recognized widely both for his provocative and powerful images and his pioneering work of in the digital imaging era. The photographs of Meyer consistently question the limits between truth, fiction and reality. With the advent of digital technologies at the early 90’s, Meyer evolved from a documentary photographer, who created what is known as “direct images”, to a digital documentary maker, who combines elements of different photographs to arrive to a higher or different truth. His famous statement that every photograph, either digitally manipulated or not, is both truth and fiction, has earned him being called a ?Heretic? in the orthodox world of documentary photography. Hence the origin of the title, ?Heresies: a retrospective by Pedro Meyer?. Amongst the personal contributions of Meyer to the development of digital photography we should underscore: the creation of the first CD-ROM that combined images with sound, the first digital printings in the world, in 1994; and more recently, the creation of the photographic forum, the most visited photography website -content-wise-in the Internet.

35mm color transparencies | Digitally modified image.
The Strolling Saint. Place: Asunci?n Nochixtl?n, Oaxaca, Mexico. Original: 1991. Last version: 1993. Technique: 35mm color transparencies | Digitally modified image.
35mm b/w negative.
My Mother Would Have a Brain Hemorrage. Place: Mexico City, Mexico. Original: 1987. Technique: 35mm b/w negative.

Original digital file.
Rickshaw Art. Place: Dhaka, Bangladesh. Original: 2004. Technique: Original digital file.

35mm b/w negative.
The Raincoat. Place: Frontera, Tabasco, Mexico. Original: 1987. Technique: 35mm b/w negative.

35mm color transparencies | Digitally modified image.
The Temptation of the Angel. Place: Magdalena Jaltepec, Oaxaca, Mexico. Original: 1991. Last version: 1991. Technique: 35mm color transparencies | Digitally modified image.

Original digital file | Digitally modified image.
Emmanuel Lubezki. Place: Los Angeles, California, USA. Original: 2002. Last version: 2002. Technique: Original digital file | Digitally modified image.

Original scanned document.
Five Dollars with Che. Place: Los Angeles, California, USA. Original: 1999. Technique: Original scanned document.

6x6cm b/w negative & original digital file | Digitally modified image
The Meyers. Place: Mexico City, Mexico. Original: 1940. Last version: 2000. Technique: 6x6cm b/w negative & original digital file | Digitally modified image

Not only that, Pedro Meyer also has been leader, spokesman and chief organizer of the Latin American photographers as a group, thus putting Latin American photography in the world map of the Arts. In Heresies, Meyer applies his extraordinary and visionary capacity by redefining the very concept of photographic exhibition. It makes us question: What is a photographic exhibition nowadays? How will they be in the future?

In an era in which museums suffer from strong economic restrictions and their role as authoritative institutions in the world of the arts is being redefined, the new and heretical paradigm for the photographic exhibition that Meyer presents facilitates:

– The creative collaboration between curators and artists

– A world-wide network of 60 museums participating in the Heresies project

– An innovation in the way photographic research is done as well as the possibility for institutions to enrich their collections

– Stimulating educational programs that attract the attention of the iPod generation.


Opening Date: 8 October 2008, 5 pm
Exhibition Duration: 8- 20 October 2008 (3-8 pm every day)


All printed on: 310 gsm acid free cotton Hahnem?hle paper


The journey from Mexico to Bangladesh had not been kind to the print. It had been bent in places and was somewhat ragged at the edges. The strong red was a colour I’ve since learnt to associate with Mexico and the unusual palette was something I later learnt to link with digital prints of that time. The striking image of a fish being cooked was riveting enough to get me to immediately try and straighten the battered print, and get it framed. It was one of the few prints on my wall. But alongside the print was a letter from a man I knew and was fond of, but had never met, or spoken to. It was a hand written note that talked of his excitement at seeing the thermal print emerge from the printer. I could relate it to the same excitement that both he and I had felt when the blacks begin to appear in the developing tray in a darkroom. This was his first print on his new printer, and he had sent it all the way to Bangladesh.
Pedro Meyer was a giant in the photography scene. As we got to know each other from opposite ends of the globe, my curiosity grew. It was 1994. I had a show in the festival in Arles. Pedro was having a much bigger show of his digital prints on canvas. Rahnuma, Ma and I arrived at the gallery, where Pedro was showing his new CD ROM, ‘Truths & Fiction”. Assuming I was Hispanic, Pedro asked if I would like to see the Spanish version of the CD. I smiled and said, “I would love to see a Bangla version.” “Ah” he said. “I must introduce you to my Bangladeshi friend Shahidul Alam. He’s in town.” That was how we finally met. Recovering from his bear hug, once I’d revealed who I was, I settled down in a quiet room to watch “I photograph to remember.” It was one of the most moving storytelling I had ever seen. The fact that it was the first CD to use images and sound, was relevant. But it was the tender and poignant portrayal by a son of his parents’ final days that had moved me to tears. We stayed friends, and went through the gamut of communication. Snail mail, telex, fax, off-line email and Skype, discussing images, sharing stories, arguing finer points on digital technology.
Throughout his long career, this remarkable artist has combined his visual genius with unbridled wit, and a work rate that would tire photographers a fraction of his age. This latest exhibition, yet another global first, is evidence of that untiring drive to innovate. He is a heretic. He says NO. At every stage where you might feel comfortable, he forces you to rethink your firmest beliefs and question your perceptions of truth and fiction.
Shahidul Alam
29th September 2008

When A Pixel Paints A Thousand Words

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When A Pixel Paints A Thousand WordsI remember my fascination with Charles Babbage's machine, and my inward fear when first given the chance to use a computer. Logging in to the VAX was a great thrill, but that was the day of punch cards, and writing programs for everything. Learning was a slow process. A young kid told me of a program he had written. It was a simple program in basic that merely printed on the screen "This is my first program," but I was impressed. Boolean numbers were the next marvel. Soon I was changing things, making things happen. I worked with computer models. Intermediate structures of molecules I was synthesising in a chemical laboratory. A Tektronix monitor allowed me to see the shapes of the nucleotide rings that I worked with. I stretched bonds, distorted angles, looked for conformations of low and high stress. Almost listening to my molecules scream as I bent them into painful configurations. Watching them relax as I discovered the lowest energy states.
The printout churned out numbers, hundreds of them. These were what I needed for my quantification. Figures that I could translate into bond energies for transition states, numbers my examiners would understand. What fascinated me was that by changing numbers I could look at my molecules differently. I would change the window size, the azimuth angles, rotate them, look at them from above and below. I was like a little child with a giant model hovering above me that I could twist and turn at the press of a button. The computer and I had made friends.
I remember the excitement my father had when I bought my first computer. He had been a scientist all his life, but had to adopt an administrative role to achieve much of what he had done. He was an artisan who had wanted to work with his hands and his mind and sad that much of modern technology was passing him by. He was like a child in front of the machine. We watched together in amazement as the printer rattled out text noisily. I remember coaxing my partner Rahnuma into trying out the computer. She was convinced "the computer would bite." I remember sharing her deep sorrow when all her work got accidentally deleted. I remember the joy of adventure as the technician searched the disc for disjointed bits of information, trying to make a patchwork file out of her lost data. I remember feeling sad when my first motherboard died.
I got my video digitiser as compensation from someone who had lost one of my books. My friends and I couldn't get it to work, but the thought of animated images being created and manipulated in the computer and then transferred to video, got our imagination soaring. The next major event was my friend buying a hand held scanner. Soon I had bought one, and the next few weeks were merrily spent dithering, sharpening, solarising. I tried, without too much success, repeating some of the things I had done in the darkroom. My excitement had been blunted. Though there was the joy in discovery, I was expecting too much. The first darkroom I had worked in was cold, Spartan, and very large. I remember dancing in the room when the first black and white print emerged. I still feel that tingling joy when the first shadow details begin to emerge on the wet paper glistening in the red muted safelight. The computer image forms section by section, each bit complete and unchanging as the whole forms. I miss seeing it happen, breathing on the developer, rubbing furiously to darken a hot spot, willing the print on when the blacks aren't rich enough. Perhaps there is something about that slow process of making masks, the uncertainty of the outcome, the sheer joy of seeing a full range of shimmering tones that will never be replaced. But curiously, with so many tools at ones disposal on the desktop, it is as if my imagination and not my tools which is the limiting factor.
When I teach about colour, I tell people to close their eyes and think of a colour they have never seen. Neither I nor they have ever succeeded. We are so limited by our experiences. I believe that is what we should try and overcome. All these tools are darkroom based. Things people have done mechanically in some form or other.
What I would like to do is to be able to visualise what I have never experienced. Not some darkroom trick made easy, not yet another combination from a million and a half palettes. I would like to see the world as I might after I was dead. Or perhaps through the eyes of a giant caterpillar, with its UV vision and its huge towering compound eyes. I would like to see as a lover sees through joyous and tear streamed filters.
Digitising things is in a way like breaking things that we know and perceive — elephants, numbers, colours, sounds, loved ones — into elemental particles that are within the group identical, sexless, classes, and nondescript, surviving almost as conceptual entities. Our universe defined as electrons, mesons, pions. These characterless wave particles, by virtue of their collective structure, make up blades of grass, Einstein's and Mohammed's, shafts of lightning, our thought processes. In digitising words, numbers, graphic, sounds, colours, we convert all these objects of our perception to strings of 0s and 1s. The ultimate deconstruction. A scream, an iridescent hue, an irrational number, all translate to 0s and 1s.
Is that the goal of technology? The search for the ultimate truth? The oneness we so long to find? Is that what our genes perpetuate — 0's and 1's? What a let down for our romantic dreams. What a wonderful discovery. What staggering simplicity. Just two building blocks, a zero and a one.
Sitting at my terminal I feel the cool breeze of the monsoon afternoon, heavy with the sweet scent of ripe mangoes. A crow calls from the coconut tree, the call fighting for recognition amidst the ever rising clamour of the construction workers building yet another sky scraper. The soft cold light from the textureless grey sky bounces gently from the green leaves. The keyboard makes a quiet clatter as my cursor moves across the screen. WYSIWYG. Is this reality? Or has David Hume's immateriality found a new meaning. There is no you or I, or the universe or God, just 0s and 1s.
I print my pictures full frame. In a way exercising a certain discipline upon myself to be rigorous about what I include, and exclude. In a way to accept the accidents that take place, the elbow in the corner, the dismembered torso, the blur of a passing stranger, the obstruction of a carelessly outstretched limb, the bit we didn't really want to show. The certain grace of serendipity that is difficult to replicate. I shoot on roll film, and therefore do not have the preconceived notions of zones, that my fine art colleagues espouse, I do not give N- 1 development and N+ 2 exposure, unless it is for the whole shebang.
I am easily seduced by the dark rich tones of a juicy print. I like my catch lights clean and sparkling highlights with a hint of texture. I like subtle detail in my shadows. I try to capture what is and create what isn't. In no way do I attempt to simulate "what there was." The myth of objective perception never moved me.
My print is at least as much a product of my values, my desires, my moods, my ability , as it is of the physical entity that gave rise to it, and I have never been ashamed of it.
So what is this representation of reality, this myth that a photograph never lies? A photograph is a tool like any other, used in whatever way its user intends, to achieve whatever end by whatever means. The faded portrait in a dying soldier's wallet is part of the reality created by him and him and us who have sent him to war. So what if the person no longer loves him, so what if he is scorned for what he does? That reality gives him courage, strength, endurance. Helps him kill others with equally faded photographs.
Wide angle b/w shots, grainy, high contrast, huge billboards with a dying malnourished child in a corner with outstretched arms. A clear message in polished bold font in the top left corner cleverly left blank. The message reads "We shall always be there." A reality constructed for and by those who want us to forget the implications. That " you shall always be there". In that role, a passive existence necessary to maintain, to nurture, the act of giving, forever and ever. A reality perpetuated and propagated, till it becomes history. Till it becomes truth. Amen.
What of the other reality? The one about how she became the way she is? The one about the outstretched arm that takes back much more than it gives? It is a reality denied.
Advertising campaigns and fund raising events forget to tell you that when you sponsor a child, you largely sponsor the players in one of the best run businesses, one called development.
Perhaps the child wasn't sad enough. The tear large enough, the halo on the giver bright enough. We now have the power. They were almost catching you with the old technology. Even though we designed things that had to be used and stored in cool dry conditions. Even though cameras cost the same as a hundred bags of rice, they were catching up. They were making statements, asking questions, interfering with reality. They will need a million bags of rice for CD ROMS and high end scanners. Our new reality is safe.
Perhaps it is all for the better. In time we will accept that pictures are the product of those who produce them and do tell lies, as do people generally. Perhaps in a more mature world wars will not be won or lost, by the media. Perhaps we will be perceptive enough not to be led into a war that has always been present. Perhaps like Jonathan Livingston Seagull, we will really learn to fly. Like Maxwell's Demon we will tame the pixels and teach them to dance.
But for any of this to happen, this digital revolution must reach out to those who have always been denied. We must dance in unison.
While we unleash this flood of energy, this joy of numbers that can let our imagination wantonly soar, it must not be inaccessible to those whose reality we have always suppressed. Our gigabits and superchips must not widen the chasm that a monopolised technology already maintains. But if this was to be the way in which a little child in a village school was only a modem away. An affordable modem, like chalk and slate (still unaffordable to many). If we could paint together in a universal bulletin board. If the digital chorus included the boatman's song. If the dance of pixels syncopated with distant drumbeats. Then, surely, in a world where numbers obeyed no borders and vision was the only barrier to creativity. The new reality world belongs not only to the owners of silicon valley but to the child on the billboard.
I choose my format, use my favourite film, decide carefully on the texture of paper, without once realising that my "freedom" has always been defined by the multinationals who treat me as yet another number. Maybe I am not included in their numbers game. They publish literature that goes from 18° C to 24° C. My room temperature never goes down to 26°, but I am a buyer, and therefore I belong.
Today there is a new found freedom. I can create my own film, use Kodachrome or Fuji chrome, or the now extinct GAF 500, even my own customised brand, with a colour bias peculiar to my own taste. By changing the dot size, I simulate large format or 110 (I am already having troubled thinking outside the known formats).
Fancy software can change my perspective or magnification at will. I have Nikon's latest super lens in my armoury and even ones they haven't made.
From anamorphic lenses to ones with controlled barrel distortion, everything is in my reach. I can make pictures fuzzy, sharpen fuzzy ones. Mama take my microchip away.
It is no longer difficult to make intense highlights coexist with subtle shadow detail with ever expanding grey scales. But wasn't it the lack of grey that made Newman's portrait of Stravinsky, or Brassai's "Big Albert's Gang?" Photography's inability to retain an extreme range of tones used majestically to carve out sculptures of light in space. Surely this new technology will not tame a Newman or a Brassai. It will create new ones. The new magi, who will probe and tease, taking it to new visual heights, will ride the mighty pixel. Jerry Ullsmann's hypnotic seamless images will no longer need a master craftsman, just an Ullsmann's vision. What a test of visual puberty!
No longer will I hide my hand. My style, my approach, my visual signature will be for me to create, unfettered by manufacturers whims or market decree. What about the fight we had almost won? The one about ownership of negatives, of editorial control. Perhaps it is time to shun the obvious, the mad rush for greater circulation, the megabucks. Perhaps it is time for photographers to be their own editors.
With desktop publishing and laser printers, or even downloading page made material to high street up-market scanners, to obtain total editorial control.
A co-operative that could work as it had originally been intended, where photographs were made collectively. As for accuracy, it was always a misnomer, one's observation is always culture and context sensitive, and the photographer is no exception.
What of the photograph made out of nothing? What about painting with light? Is it photography? Surely if we can paint with light we can paint with dreams, create the morning mist or the afternoon glow. Is it a fake? Hardly. Whatever else may be false in this tenuous existence of ours, imagination is not. All that we value, that we strive to uphold, all that gives us strength, has been made of dreams, and we must dream on. If pixels be the vehicle that realises our dreams, be it so.
Perhaps the digital image will democratise photography. So many bytes per pound of flesh. Perhaps there will come a time when CD ROM costs a dollar a piece, and palm tops have gigabits of RAM. Perhaps with e-mail and electronic bulletin boards, points of view that could never before be heard will whisper in many ears, ever louder. Maybe, on the other hand, the digital revolution will create rifts within the third world itself, and limited access to an exclusive technology will widen gaps within poorer countries.
Perhaps wealth will have a greater bearing on a photographer's output than ever before.
It will no longer be the best camera and the fastest lens, but the biggest RAM and the finest peripherals which will decide. The poor will get poorer.

Perhaps that is the end result of democracy, an equality of opportunity that creates the opportunity of greater rifts. Will that rift in art, despite the natural processes of osmosis, lead to greater imbalance in society at large? Art does not have a conscience. Achievement is an end in itself that pushes it to ever extending limits. But this heightened sense of power, this endless opportunity, will need to grow a separate consciousness that will question the validity of our actions. And there is no going back. Like those Brazilian kids on the speeding trains, we must just hang on the roof, dodging the wires as best as we can, hurtling ever forward till the train stops, and just hope we are in the right station.