Wednesday, 26 June 2019

David T. Hanson: Waste Land

In 1980 more than 400,000 toxic waste sites overspread the United States, I learn from this book. Moreover: “The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) declared 400 of these highly hazardous and in need of immediate attention. In just a few years, the numbers of these ‘Superfund’ sites more than tripled.” Not many have seen them and most are unaware of them. Needless to say, it shouldn’t be like that. And so photographer David T. Hanson did what a photographer is able to do in order to put things right – make these sites seen.
Over the course of a year, beginning in 1985, he traveled to 45 states on a Guggenheim Fellowship to make aerial photographs of 67 such sites. The photographs of these dangerously polluted places can be seen in this tome, each juxtaposed with a modified topographic map and the EPA’s own description of the site’s history and Hazards.
I particularly warmed to the (very brief and very angry) foreword by Wendell Berry that starts like this: “It is unfortunately supposable that some people will account for these photographic images as ‘abstract art,’ or will see them as ‘beautiful shapes.’ But anybody who troubles to identify in these pictures the things that are readily identifiable (trees, buildings, roads, vehicles, etc.) will see that nothing in them is abstract and that their common subject is a monstrous ugliness.” In other words: Don’t be swayed by your first impulse, think, reflect, have a closer look, ask questions such as ‘what do my eyes show me?’, ‘what does the photographer want me to focus on, and to think about?
To confront reality is something human beings generally shy away from, and especially when this reality is unpleasent, ugly and man-made. Yet we need to look at it. And we need to ask questions, hard questions. Is this really how we want to treat the environment on which our survival depends? 
For the full review, see here

Wednesday, 19 June 2019

"My"Japan (3)

Taken with my mobile phone, a Samsung Galaxy A6, in April 2019.

Wednesday, 12 June 2019

"My"Japan (2)

Taken with my mobile phone, a Samsung Galaxy A6, in April 2019.

Wednesday, 5 June 2019

Revisiting Magliaso


45 years ago, I studied together with a classmate, whose parents owned a house in Magliaso, for the Matura, the Swiss university entrance exam. Since then, I had seen this small town only from the passing train – I remember a dusty road and a lonely restaurant near the station. It is a picture that I cannot (and do not want to) get out of my head. When revisiting Magliaso a few days ago, it dawned on me that it must have been a while since I had passed by for there was no dusty road and no lonely restaurant to be seen only the usual modern suburban housing.

What else do I remember from 45 years ago? Well, that I filled quite some exercise books with summaries of history and other school subjects. And, that my favourite song at that time was Peter Hammill's Wilhelmina

Strolling along the lakeshore felt pleasant and as unreal and normal as other revisits to places of my youth – to me, looking back does not seem to be a good idea. I do find the passing of time depressing. And, looking forward doesn't seem to be an alternative either for at my age, as  Schopenhauer once penned, it means approaching the guillotine (I prefer his sober realism to hope and illusions). So what is there to do? To again and again remind myself of Dainin Katagiri's helpful insight: If you really want to please yourself, forget your longing and attend to your daily life.

When the old train (how I love old trains!  and especially the old Russian one going from Riga centre to Jurmala Beach) from Magliaso to Lugano passed Molinazzo, a place where a friend once lived with his then young family – all of a sudden lots of pictures from my Ticino-time (around twenty years ago) crossed my mind. The apartments in Bellinzona, the first at Via Fleming, the second near the station, shopping in Ponte Tresa, visits to Chiasso, the Cappella di Santa Maria degli Angeli by Mario Botta on the Monte Tamaro ...

Out of nowhere or so it seemed, my mind wandered (I was rather innocently looking out the train window where a grey sky was to be seen hovering above green pastures and occasional repair shops) to a book by an addiction counsellor who confessed that he was thoroughly angry at virtually everything (especially the fact that he was born and so had to die some day) and that it was a relief to acknowledge this deep-seated anger and to not rationalise it away.

I can easily relate to his anger and so, needless to say, I wondered why this thought came up on my way back from Magliaso. Was I angry that I had found a place that in no way resembled the pictures in my head? Probably. On the other hand, however, it seemed more likely that I was angry with myself for still looking for meaning in life  despite the fact that I had just self-published a book (Harrys Welt oder Die Sehnsucht nach Sinnthat deplored this longing for meaning or, differently put, argued for living like I know I should (and imagine I want to).