Almost everyone in my offline life isn’t a photographer of people faces. So, they might take pictures of the scenery or the food they’re eating to show their friends and family where they are and what they’re eating, but they don’t have the tendency to take pictures of themselves or those around them.
But, that might soon change, at least for a short while. I am going to be in Seoul, South Korea, soon. And there, I foresee that I will be hanging around some people who take lots of pictures of people’s faces. If it were just me and the person who likes to take face photographs, I could tell them to stop taking pictures, because it’s my face. But if it’s me and a bunch of other people and the face photographer, it becomes impossible to do so. First of all, other people might enjoy being photographed. Second, it’s difficult for the photographer to avoid photographing me and only me. If I’m going to stand very far away from the group, I might as well not hang out with the group. At which point I gotta ask myself the question: do I want to visit a city that I haven’t visited for 4.5 years and avoid hanging out with my friends because I don’t want to be photographed? Or do I just accept that I have reached a point in my life at which not being photographed isn’t possible anymore?
I am leaning toward acceptance. It is gonna be impossible to not be photographed. The friend hangouts are only one aspect of the photography situation. For the friend hangouts, I guess I could cover up my face or put on some disguise, which would be counterproductive, because that’ll only draw more attention to me within a photograph.
But there are also situations that are more related to my calling. Just… the stuff I do. The stuff that I live and breathe. For example, Hyewon, who owns ORCABOOKS, which is the publisher where some of the books I participate in translating are published, mentioned press releases. Can you believe it? Oh my gods. I can’t believe it. Press releases! Like, actual articles. Online, likely, yes. But online is way more effective than offline in spreading the news. And that news is gonna contain, potentially, our faces. Oh my gods.
Also, potentially, we might be doing offline workshops. And then, you know, some people really like taking pictures. Many people like taking pictures of themselves and others. People might ask us to take pictures with them. It’s almost like a handshake, for some people. It’s the natural thing to do. So then, in such a situation, combined with all the other situations in which I am gonna stop neither the photography nor the publication of the photographs, isn’t it weird if I said no? I mean, I know I have the right to say no, but is it weird? It’s not like I’m a hyper-famous celebrity, so, in an odd way, it’s weirder for me to say no, while, at the same time, I have more of a right to say no.
At any rate, I was thinking about this whole face photography situation because of my impending trip to Seoul. The trip is going to last for several months, which is why I am thinking about this more than for my previous trips. The likelihood of being photographed is super high, not only by people I know, but people I don’t know. In most of the US, people drive instead of walking. It’s not likely you will be photographed by someone. But when you go to a city where everyone walks, and platforms like Youtube are huge, even when I was there 4.5 years ago, there were quite a few people walking around with a selfie-stick, recording themselves for Youtube. I foresee that now, 4.5 years later, there will be even more people walking around in the same fashion. And a significant number of such people do not blur out other people’s faces in video and photography.
So. Yeah. As I was thinking about all this, I figured I should watch something related to this topic, if I can find something suitable. And, lo and behold, something did present itself in front of me, which is a French documentary titled “Visages, Villages.” The English title is “Faces, Places.” And the documentary is directed by JR and Agnès Varda. Both also appear in the documentary.
The synopsis is as follows. Quote from MUBI, ”Director Agnès Varda forges an unexpected collaboration with photographer JR as they embark on a road trip like no other. They set out in JR’s photo booth truck, exploring the villages of rural France to take portraits of their residents, enlarged into gigantic murals.” End quote.
This documentary is adorable. As the synopsis says, Agnès and JR travel around in a photo booth truck, which is literally a van with a picture of a camera on the surface, and also, this is the place where actual prints are developed then and there. And once the print is developed, it’s a huge thing. These things are as wide as a person’s arm span. And the side of the van spits these out from its side. It’s quite marvelous.
Sometimes, Agnès and JR use these prints from the van to create their works, and sometimes, it seems that they get the prints from somewhere else. That origin of the various prints isn’t always clear. But what is clear is that they take all these prints and plaster huge wall surfaces with them. That is literally what they do. They take pictures of people, especially the faces of people, get giant prints of those pictures, and put them up on walls.
So, at first, as I was watching the documentary, I thought, “Okay… So what?” I mean, besides the superficial meaning of the face as an immediate representation of a person’s snapshot in life, what about it?
But as the documentary continued, I grew quite fond of their process. A not insignificant reason for this was the appearance of so many adorable animals. There are multiple cats, multiple goats, and one dog. Yes, I think there was only one dog in the documentary. But the dog was a very cute dog. Big dog, very cute. And the goats, so many goats. And cats—I know of no cat who isn’t cute, so.
Anyway. All these animals with their faces and all these people with all their faces, somehow, gradually, made me stop thinking about “So what?” Maybe the point is that there is no so what. Besides, the process of printing giant pictures and putting them up on walls is simple for external observers, but the effect on the people who were photographed seemed to be strong.
The scale of the portraits that Agnès and JR make is part of the reason their effect is strong for the people who are portrayed in the photographs. The portrait doesn’t stay on a tiny screen on the phone. It doesn’t stay life-sized either. Agnès and JR blow it up to the size of a building, so a person’s face might take up half the wall or the whole wall of a two, three story building.
Because this is the process in which Agnès and JR work, the whole documentary, has a sense of… hugeness. This is so, even though there are many cute animals and the French countryside and all that. There is the dichotomy between approachable everyday things and huge spectacles. There are huge farm vehicles with their tires as tall as a grown man. There are huge barns, huge hills, and huge fields. Also, there is a huge factory. And there, wow, the storage facilities there are humongous steel structures.
So, opposing things work together, which has been a frequent observation on Sponge in the past many months. The very coexistence of Agnès and JR in one frame conveys this simultaneous sense of togetherness and separateness. Agnès is an old lady and JR is a young man. When they climb up the stairs, he is fast and she is slow. They’re adorable, together.
And there is a light stagedness to the documentary. It’s clear that there was a script, but the script wasn’t created for the purpose of conveying something that wouldn’t have occurred spontaneously. For example, when the two of them are at the factory, the man who works there says that the region has a close historical relationship with cinema, because a lot of factory workers go to the cinema. Then, right after his sentence, Agnès says in a voice-over, “And now, we cinema people are at the factory.”
The whole documentary is filled with this play of voice-over versus dialogue within the footage, or voice-over cooperating with dialogue within the footage, and vice versa. voice-over like that, I am guessing that it was probably her spontaneous thoughts. But those thoughts weren’t recorded right then and there, as part of the footage. They were later added as part of a script. That doesn’t make the documentary any less spontaneous. It only conveys the sense of togetherness and separateness and togetherness and separateness, coexisting but not so much that they’re mushed together, in a better way.
The editing reflects this too. For example, at one point, Agnès and JR put a picture of a flounder on a water tower. That scene cuts to a living flounder in a fish market. Then, from the eye of a fish in the fish market, the documentary cuts to a human eye on the surgery table. So, sometimes these connections can get slightly disturbing, but I like this kind of disturbing, so it was all very pleasant. Thanks to these slightly disturbing connections, the documentary came alive. It wasn’t this… sleepy mellow French countryside trip thing. It was more than that, in that, I felt that Agnès and JR could’ve gone… very disturbing. They simply chose not to.
In the documentary, there is a person who agrees to be photographed and have her picture pasted on a wall. But later, in an interview, she says that she didn’t know the picture would be so huge. So, she felt a bit uncomfortable, even though the compliments were nice. You know, people were recognizing her from the picture and complimenting her.
She mentions how weird it is to have one’s own picture all over Instagram and the rest of the internet. And… yes, I totally get what she’s saying. Once it’s out there, it’s out there. Once a photo is taken, it’s out there. These days, there is no way of stopping the spread of a picture. And I don’t think this person was in any shape or form arrogant or being self-important when she was a bit concerned about that. I mean that… sometimes, when you don’t want to be photographed, some people react with “You think you’re that important?” Which is ridiculous. It’s that odd irony from earlier, that I mentioned. If I’m not a huge celebrity, do I have more or less of a right to say no to a photograph?
Well, in the case of the woman in this documentary, she agreed to have her photograph taken and put up on a wall. But even in that situation, she couldn’t foresee everything that was gonna happen. She didn’t know the photograph was gonna be so huge, she didn’t know that people were gonna take photos of that photo.
And… I think I mentioned this a long time ago: the idea of the power of knowing someone’s face and name. In this documentary, “Faces, Places,” everyone has a face and name. Even bells, as in, bells in a bell tower, have names and their faces. The documentary shows the “portraits,” so to speak, of these bells, one by one.
The horror version of “Faces, Places” would be “Death Note.” That’s the Japanese manga in which, a character has the power to kill anyone in any way he pleases, so long as he knows his target’s face and name. And, remember I mentioned earlier that in “Faces, Places,” slightly disturbing connections are made through the editing? So… Well, the documentary as a whole isn’t disturbing at all. But combining all these, I thought, “Yes, it could go the Death Note direction. Things could go that way, in that, once your face is out there, it’s out there.”
I don’t know how very famous people do it. I don’t know how they are okay with being known to that degree, or rather, being thought to be known. People don’t know the very famous person, and yet, they think they know the very famous person because they know the face and name.
But then, I know folks who think the same way about their voice or writing. They cannot imagine recording their voice and doing a podcast for everyone to access. They cannot imagine writing something for anyone to access. So, maybe some people are more okay with whichever part is publicized of them, while others are less okay.
Also, maybe the okayness has to do with mass. I mean that, maybe, in an ironic way, having one picture of you, or one podcast episode of you, or one blog post of you, is more of a burden than having a massive amount of pictures, podcast episodes, and blog posts of you. Same with visual artwork, books, movies, anything. Maybe, having one of anything out there is more of a burden than having a massive amount of anything out there, because, if there is only one of something out there, that thing becomes way too… it appears as if you are giving the world tacit permission to interpret that one thing as the correct representation you.
I mean, imagine if there’d only ever been one photograph of Taylor Swift, and that is the one image of her that is circulated. That’s… that would be kinda disturbing. So, maybe, if you’re as famous as her, it’s less of a burden to have millions and millions of your picture circulating in the world. Because, that way, no one who looks at any single picture will be fool enough to think that that particular picture is the Taylor Swift. Same with her songs. If she had only one song, then that’s a lot of burden for the song and herself. But she has many songs. I Googled “how many songs does Taylor Swift have,” and it showed me an article from Rolling Stone, titled, “All 243 of Taylor Swift’s Songs, Ranked.” 243 songs. So, no one who listens to one particular song of Taylor Swift could possibly be fool enough to think that that one song is the Taylor Swift. Taylor Swift is all of the songs combined and more.
The act of photographing has become mundane. I mean that, there is photography as art, but photographing isn’t artistic automatically. It’s like how writing is now mostly mundane. A lot of people know how to write. Writing in and of itself isn’t special. And the same applies to photography.
Many many people have cameras that come attached to their smartphones by default. But what Agnès and JR are doing in the documentary reminded me of a Youtube video from a Korean architect, Yoo Hyunjoon. I’ll link to the video in the show notes. It has English subtitles.
In the video, he talks about the Las Vegas Sphere and the Cirque du Soleil shows. He wonders if, everything in between those two extremes is becoming everyday. For example, no matter how high-resolution a movie is, most people will watch it on Netflix or a similar platform, on their phone or their tablets. The biggest anything gets, most of the time, these days, is a TV at home. To motivate people to go to a theater, the movie has to be so visually spectacular that it’s worth the visit.
And the Sphere is something like that, he is saying. These LED screens inside and out might be in and of themselves mundane. LED screens aren’t new technology. But you blow up the size in such a huge way, then the effect can be overwhelming and spectacular, enough to motivate people to visit the Sphere from all over the world.
Meanwhile, Cirque du Soleil represents the other extreme, in that, this is less about technology, more about the human body—what the human body is capable of. No matter what new technology is developed—even when robots become so similar to humans or even when the majority of humans replace every single body part with mechanical parts, I have no doubt that there will be something about the organicness of the original human body that will appeal to humans. It’s just… I think that’s the nature of being. I’m not talking about naturalness. I’m not saying that somehow, being organic means it’s more natural. Rather, I’m saying, the nature of being is that different experiences multiply and expand all the time. If technologies emerge that enable humans to replace body parts in a mechanical way, then that will be there, and also at the same time, humans with organic parts will be there. These aren’t mutually exclusive. It’s the opposite. Before the possibility of mechanical replacement parts, we didn’t even think of ourselves as organic. There is nothing inorganic to compare ourselves to. Whereas, when we have the option to replace ourselves with mechanical parts, then we fully say, I am organic. If we’re organic. I myself, I don’t know how long I will stay purely organic. I mean, a lot of people have some sort of mechanical thing within their body, these days, so… I don’t know. Give me two, three more decades, and possibly, I will have one or the other joint or blood vessel or whatever replaced with something inorganic.
So, yeah. There is the Sphere and there is Cirque du Soleil and many things in between. The many things in-between tend to be so in-between in that they have become everyday. So it is with photographs. So many people have cameras in their pockets, as part of their smartphones.
But when Agnès and JR take someone’s picture, make it huge in size, put it up on the wall, and other people start taking pictures of that—then that is something that not everyone can do or will do.
Also, while the act of photographing itself has become mundane, through that mundaneness, it makes other mundane things cease to be mundane. People take pictures of everything: their breakfast, their cat, their backyard, whatever. These are mundane things. But when you start taking pictures of them and even better, if you start putting them together, in a collection, so that the individual parts might be mundane but as a whole, there is mass, then suddenly the mundane things stop being mundane anymore.
That is what this documentary does. All these separate people are living everyday lives. Of course they live everyday lives, because lives continue every day and… unless lives are everyday to some extent, we would die of excitement. Even the most exciting life, when it’s exciting as a whole, has an everydayness. Excitement becomes everyday and therefore, it becomes unexciting. It can be exciting and unexciting at the same time. That’s what I mean by everyday and mundane.
So, all these separate people in the documentary live everyday mundane lives like you, me, everybody else. Then Agnès and JR come around and start taking their pictures, putting them up on huge walls, and letting others photograph those photographs. Not only that, they put together this documentary, so now, into perpetuity, unless databases all die at once and there are no backups anywhere whatsoever—these everyday mundane lives will go on existing forever.
The marvelous thing about this kind of technology is that… we in the year 2024 are so used to living in the here and now that isn’t in our immediate physical here and now. We live in an era in which it is easier than ever before to understand that there is nothing but here and now. It doesn’t matter that the documentary is from the year 2017. I watched it in late 2023. And you’re listening to this episode in 2024 or later. Does it matter to you that I watched it in 2023? It certainly didn’t matter to me that the movie was made in 2017. I did not know that this movie existed until I was watching it in 2023. 2017 was happening for me in 2023. And the French countryside was happening for me in my little room.
The more I do any kind of inner work, the more optimistic I become about technology. If one doesn’t want to use technology, don’t. But it’s there to use. And it’s such an obvious way to show that the here and now is in the here and now. Imagine how difficult it must’ve been to convey this idea to a farmer from the Middle Ages. They have no smartphones. They cannot read. Unless something happens to them in the physical here and now, they cannot experience anything. Meanwhile, we’re here in the year 2024, or later, if you’re from the future, and we can bring so much of elsewheres and elsewhens to the here and now, and all those seeming elsewheres and elsewhens that aren’t our immediate physical here and now are in our here and now. I don’t know how I would explain to a farmer from the Middle Ages that the mind is the only true reality. But to people in 2024 or later? This. It’s this. When we’re watching a movie from 2017 in the year 2023, 2017 is now. When we’re watching a movie about the French countryside in a little room, the French countryside is here. Similarly, when we close our eyes and sit down and be the things inside us that exist nowhere and nowhen, that is what is.
Before wrapping up this episode, a quick mention of an interesting person from the documentary:
There is a man named Pony. It’s spelled P-o-n-y but it’s French, so it sounds like they pronounce it Pony, with the accent on the second syllable. Pony is a man who has never worked in his life, and is receiving a minimum pension from the government. The thing is, he has this abode of his. It’s not a house, exactly. It’s in the open air. It looks like an enchanted secret garden in the woods. He built it. He built the thing himself. He got the stuff that make up the place. He put the place together.
He says, he picked up things others threw away. As he shows the filmmakers one of his works, he says, quote, “People threw out these caps. I picked ‘em up and made stuff with ‘em. You can make stuff with anything. All it takes is an idea.” End quote.
He also says, quote, “I was born in the shadow of a star. My mother, the moon, gave me her coolness. My father, the sun, gave me his warmth and the universe to live in. Imagine that. I have so much in this life.” End quote. I wondered if it’s a quote from an existing poem. According to Google, that doesn’t seem to be the case. These are Pony’s words. All I could find was this poem mentioned in conjunction with the documentary “Faces, Places,” and nothing else.
In some other place, if he wanted to, he could call himself an artist. He just doesn’t want to. Doesn’t bother with it.
So, I don’t understand what it means to never have worked. Pony worked, the way I see it. I don’t think he takes offense that others say he didn’t work. But I take offense. It’s offensive to say that Pony hasn’t worked. We call artwork art plus work. It’s work.
When has work become this thing that is something for the bureaucrats to approve of? Just because someone didn’t work in the way the bureaucrats are able to capture in the form of statical numbers, such as hours worked and wages earned, that someone hasn’t worked? Or just because someone isn’t suffering, massively, that someone hasn’t created work?
Related to this: what does the phrase “gainfully employed” mean anyway? I looked up “gainfully” and Google says, “in a way that serves to increase wealth or resources.”
I say, Pony increased wealth or resources, because he created abundance. Meanwhile, some so-called gainfully employed individuals do the opposite of increasing wealth or resources. It is astounding to me that what they do is considered gainful employment. Who gained what? Someone who glorifies suffering got more suffering and someone got to get tax money from that?
It’s like that caretaker situation all over again. I think I mentioned this before, on Sponge. When you work as a caretaker for a stranger, you can put your job title on your tax documents and you can call yourself a caretaker. That’s all great. But when you do full-time caretaking for your family or friend, and you don’t get paid any money, to the government and the worshippers of bureaucracy, you have never worked. Everything you did for the person you’re taking care of, means nothing. Your work doesn’t exist. You are not a worker. You don’t work.
It’s ridiculous. It’s about time that at least some people in this world redefine what work means. Working for someone else isn’t the only form of work. Also, working for money isn’t the only form of work. I love money, but damn it, money doesn’t want to be abused as the criteria for work either. I’m pretty sure. Money is beautiful and surely it doesn’t want to prevent people from calling their work “work” just because money happens to be absent from the chain of events in some situations.
Getting rid of the notion that work relies on outside approval of any kind, such as bureaucratic labeling or the presence of money, will create more actual useful work. Potentially, less of the world will be employed, but more of it will be gainful, in that wealth or resources will increase. Who can watch “Faces, Places,” look at what Pony has, and say that he doesn’t have wealth and resources? And through his simple having, he increased wealth and resources. I mean, I wouldn’t want to live the way he lives, because I love modern plumbing. I seriously love modern plumbing, I love clean, beautiful bathrooms, in general, I like baths, bathtubs, saunas, eh… I like bubbles, I like hot water, all that. So I couldn’t live the way he lives and wouldn’t want to, but darn, he is an artist and a worker. What he has is art and work.
And probably, what you have is art and work too. Whatever you do. It doesn’t matter what labels various external parties try to attach. So long as you have that abundance, and thereby, through your simple having it, you increase abundance for the whole world, your life is art and whatever you’re doing is work. Work doesn’t need to be about suffering. Work is sacred. Call it a calling if you want to. I sometimes call my work “calling,” because the word “work” has been so abused, especially in the English-speaking world, it seems. It has come to mean something narrower than what it is. But we here don’t have to use it that way. Increase abundance by simply having it. That is our here and now, and it does not matter what other theres and thens say, because… they aren’t here and now.
Anyway, it is likely that I will create a personal Instagram account. I have some shared Instagram accounts for my music newsletter and translation-related things. And actually, based on the experience from those shared accounts, it’s been a breeze using Instagram, since it added the option to only see the posts from those you follow. What you can do is, open the Instagram app, click on the word “Instagram” in the top left corner, and click “Following.” That’ll show you only the posts from those you follow. So there is… no spam. At all.
These days, actually, Youtube is spammier than Instagram. I tried paying for Youtube Premium but gave up when they ignored my “Do not recommend channel” commands. Youtube has the option to press that button that says “Do not recommend channel,” but for some channels, even after 30 to 50 times of pressing that button, it will keep showing the channel. And, I will not pay for a tool that does that.
Yeah. Youtube’s creators are great, but I don’t know what Youtube is doing. If it didn’t pretend that it was gonna listen, then I would like it better.
Anyway. Instagram. There is actually… I haven’t experienced ad spam on Instagram for… months. I don’t know when they added the “Following-only” feature, so I can only look at the posts from the accounts I follow. But that feature works. It actually works. So, that’s one of the reasons I’m not vehemently appalled by the idea of having a private… personal Instagram account. It’s a breeze. The only spam on Instagram I received, on my shared accounts, was from real humans. And that… That isn’t on Instagram.
And in May 2023, I took a trip to Seattle and Portland for about ten days. That was when I had lots of pictures. Hundreds. And I wondered if I was gonna blog about them while I was taking the trip, but that was… such a hassle. So, for months thereafter, I was uploading pictures from that trip to my blog. Ten days turned into months of on-and-off picture blogging. It got really over the top. I mean, I want to show the pictures to others and keep them organized for myself, because, the most mundane thing for one person is the weirdest most fascinating thing for another. But blogging pictures during or after a trip is so… Koreans say, this is a situation where the navel is larger than the belly. That’s how ridiculous it is.
So. Yeah. 2024. Personal Instagram account. Maybe. Easier picture taking. Easier uploading. Real-time, mostly. No navel-larger-than-belly situation for months thereafter. If I make an Instagram account, then, for most pictures, it’s gonna be right then and there, in my then-now and there-here. And, elsewhere elsewhen, others can look at the pictures in their own nows and heres.
- “Visages, Villages” (Faces, Places)
- “Death Note”
- “All 243 of Taylor Swift’s Songs, Ranked.”
- Architect Yoo Hyunjoon’s thoughts about the Las Vegas Sphere(“라스베가스에 만들어진 3조원 공연장 ‘스피어’, 건축가의 생각은?”)(This Youtube video has English subtitles)
- Alex MakeMusic – Only One
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