The Dream That Nobody Sees but You: an Appreciation For Million Dollar Baby

There’s an authenticity to how Eddie ”Scrap-Iron” Dupris (Morgan Freeman), the narrator of “Million Dollar Baby,” speaks about the sport of boxing, and the physical and emotional torment that comes with it. That’s because many of his words come straight from F.X. Toole, the author of the original short-story collection “Rope Burns,” on which this film was based. Having been a boxing trainer himself, he understood more than anyone the psychology of the fighter.

The unnaturalness of moving into a fight instead of turning away from it. The madness that’s necessary to willingly get inside the ring and receive a vicious beating and then do it all over again. There is nothing pretty about the sport and the consequences can be devastating, as one can see early on, just by looking at the sole milky eye of Scrap.
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Morgan Freeman as Scrap, the broken-down boxer. 

Boxers are a bunch of dreamers and most of them don’t get the glory they dream about. Some of them, like Scrap himself, must live with the permanent damage the sports has caused them – in the case of Scrap, it’s the loss of sight in one of his eyes. But there’s magic too, as Scrap states so beautifully: ”The magic of risking everything for a dream that nobody sees but you.”

Dupris is a broken down fighter and he speaks like one. He tells this story to the estranged daughter of his friend Frankie Dunn (Eastwood). Dunn sends a letter to his daughter every week, but she returns them every time. The film never clarifies why his daughter refuses to speak to him, but we know it must have been due to something terrible – and knowing Dunn’s profession, it probably had something to do with his fist. Dunn can be cocky, even cruel sometimes. But don’t be fooled by this – he cares about people even if he has trouble showing it.

It comes out the in the most peculiar of ways, such as how he keeps stopping his prize fighter, Willie (Mike Colton), from seizing the championship belt because he’s afraid that he’ll get hurt, despite the fact that Willie has been more than ready for some time now. He goes to Mass every week to make fun of the priest, but deep down inside, he wants forgiveness for something terrible. He’s a man of serious regret and who, by the end of the film, gives away his soul so to help the woman he loves.
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Clint Eastwood as Frankie Dunn, a man of serious regret. 

This woman is Maggie Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank), a poor, trailer-trash waitress who insists that Dunn be his trainer. Since Dunn hates the idea of training girls, he refuses this without question. But Scrap sees something in her, and with Scrap’s help, Dunn eventually takes her on. In time he begins to see that she’s a real fighter, and in spite of her age and upbringing, that boxing was something she was made to do. Together with Scrap, the threesome becomes a family, with Maggie becoming Dunn’s surrogate daughter.
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Hilary Swank as Maggie Fitzgerald, the woman who is willing to risk everything for a dream that nobody sees but her. 

The third act of the film is heartbreaking. You know something bad will happen, but when it does, it’s like getting hit by a prize fighter: you’re knocked down and it’s hard to get back up again, but you have to. But it will take time to pace your breath and get your act together. The wounds will hurt for a while but now you have to live with it.
This doesn’t mean the film is never fun; there’s great verbal and sometimes humorous dialog between the three perfectly cast leads. The subplot involving Scrap’s final fight as he’s defending a mentally slow boxer calling himself ‘Danger’ (Jay Baruchel) is especially crowd-pleasing.

Danger is the epitome of the hopeless dreamer. A fighter with nothing but heart, which, as Frank would say to Scrap, is a man ”waiting for a beating.”
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Jay Baruchel as Danger, a fighter with all heart. 

As Eastwood’s Charlie Parker biopic “Bird” is filled with dark scenes in smoky jazz clubs, so this film is mostly filmed in the dark training rooms or dressing rooms where the fighters prepare themselves for the arena. Eastwood enters this strange world, as he has done so with countless others in his previous films, seamlessly,  using great source material (perfectly adapted by Paul Haggis) to make this world so believable.

“Million Dollar Baby” is simply a perfect movie. While some might criticize the actions of Dunn as though Eastwood was making some sort of ethical statement regarding the value of paraplegics, it doesn’t take away the effectiveness of his drama.
The actions of Dunn’s character had nothing to do with making a political or ethical statement on the whole of this issue. These cases differ in their individual complexities and Eastwood was never interested in generalizing them in this film. Eastwood is not interesting in preaching to you, he’s interesting in telling a story. The story of Million Dollar Baby being the long and painful journey for the dream that nobody sees but you- the dream that might possibly never come to fruition- and the story of what people are willing to do for love.
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We must watch this in the context of Maggie and Dunn’s character instead of putting it in the context of our political bias. It’s hard for many people to distance Eastwood from his political statements, which is a shame because you would be missing out on some incredible works of art. Million Dollar Baby is one of his greatest films. It’s a film that will  stick with you like a deep internal wound, the kind we get from the greatest fights of our lives.
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Justice League: a Fascinating Study Piece of Corporate Desperation

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I guess there’s certain innate naivety of mine when it comes to the art of cinema, there’s this idea that the people involved are always as passionate and committed to the art form as you are. But outside the realm of independent cinema, this kind of passion is a rare commodity and even if it does exist in the realm of big-budget franchises, it often gets destroyed by the tainted hand of a Hollywood executive. This does not mean that an artist should always roam free- as film is inherently a collaborative art, even with an auteur at the helm- but a little risk can create something magical. The films you remember were made with that essential component. The little risk involved made it memorable, a stand-out among all the rubbish. Perhaps it made you introspective, suddenly you reflect upon yourself, the evils and virtues of human nature; it made you laugh, all that darkness became hilarious and suddenly all that darkness can be overcome; it made you cry because it told you the truth; it made you leap in fright because there are monsters in this world and they are always hungry. If there is no risk and profitability is the sole prerogative of the finished product, then the pleasure will be fleeting, the story and its characters will fade from the mind.
There is the great conflict between the vision of an artist and his financiers. The clash between them is exposed for all of us, it doesn’t have to be a secret anymore. When we know hear that a director was fired for ‘creative differences’, we know enough. Disney has been wreaking havoc on this for quite a while now. Any dissent on the corporate vision of Disney and you’re out.
Generally Marvel films, which are owned by Disney, tread lightly on changing the formula, tweaking it every now and then to keep it a little fresh. At its heart there is nothing new to any of their films. They are well-made, relatively safe blockbusters. There is nothing wrong with that but over time, any excitement about any of these films have waned. They know what they are doing and they are doing it. You can’t fault them for making money. But there is something about the manner in which they control the industry, the safe nature about all their products. You know when you are watching a Marvel film, the latest Star Wars film or the latest generic Disney animation film, that a group of Hollywood executives have been carefully constructing a crowd-pleaser. There is something so vacuous about their efforts lately, I just can’t seem to care.
Compared to more risky ventures like Deadpool or Logan, Marvel films seem laughably forgettable. Some Marvel films like Guardians of the Galaxy 2 are great because they don’t really feel like Marvel films. It felt like a goofy, fun and engaging Science-fiction action film. It was fucking weird and that is what is fun. But I know what’s awaiting in the future: eventually these ragtag group will meet the Avengers. I wish it wasn’t part of the same world, it doesn’t need to be. It stands wonderfully on its own.
Right now, all the big studios want to come close to Disney”s success and so they venture into the Shared-Universe realm, sometimes with painful results. The painful first and final entry of Universal’s Dark Universe saga tells us what can go wrong when there financial profitability is the sole motivation of its existence. The arrogance involved in its promotion, with its planned sequels far ahead and the Dark Universe logo at the beginning, already made me loath the film for what stood for.
There is Sony Studios who pathetically tried to create a shared-universe films with the Ghostbusters and The Amazing Spider-man films. And there is Warner Brothers/DC. A series of films that is still going strong financially but has critically been bombing miserably (apart from Wonder Woman).
Moreover, it’s a series of films that have been artistically bankrupt and it seems to have a hit new low with Justice League….
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Zack Snyder giving Batman (Ben Affleck) and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) direction. 

A Desperate Studio…

Zack Snyder/Joss Whedon’s Justice League is so incredibly desperate that it verges on hilarity. Ever since the mixed reception of Man of Steel, Warner Brothers have been desperately (and ineptly) trying to alter it to critical and audience satisfaction, while at the same time aping the success formula of Disney/Marvel. The problem to begin with was Zack Snyder, who, despite whatever criticism you might have about his work, is an auteur with a specific vision that often times includes his stylistic actions sequences and his own brand of philosophical postulations. Sometimes there are some interesting ideas out there and I honestly do think Watchmen is underrated, as Snyder, despite it being filled with his obnoxious style, was a loyal and ambitious adaptation.
Telling you that his focus as a filmmaker doesn’t fit Superman seems superfluous. We know this already. But I would be lying to you if I wasn’t looking forward to it. It had what I consider one of the most beautiful edited trailers I have ever seen: The music still gives me goosebumps, the overture as Superman rises into the sky gave me that feeling of hope and awe, something the film should have been imbued with. Man of Steel is certainly an imperfect film, it’s incredibly uneven. There are exciting set-pieces, moving drama that is often put aside for senseless destruction. Not to mention that Henry Cavill does not have what it takes to be Superman. Christopher Reeve did. Reeve might have worn a Spandex suit and red boots but you believed him nonetheless. Cavill, has a bigger physique and wears a darker, less outlandish suit but you don’t feel the greatness of Superman. It’s just not there. It’s a presence for a special kind of actor.
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Henry Cavill as Superman from Man of Steel (2013)

The great scenes have to be mentioned: the intro in Krypton works, the Americana imagery concerning Superman works, the soulful music works. The scene in which Zod (Michael Shannon) pleads Superman to not destroy his ship because it will destroy any hope for a new Krypton, prompting Superman to hesitate for a moment, is wonderful and you just wish it would have been included in a more tonally coherent movie.
With all its imperfects, Man of Steel was at least a film with a personality, even if it was a missed opportunity. The sequel Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice had incredible ambition but it was severely compromised by the studio execs who desperately wanted to cash-in on the shared universe lore. I remember this strange detachment watching Batman wreak havoc, it was not the feeling one should have when watching Batman. The philosophical underpinnings Snyder wanted to associate Superman and Batman with is severelly flawed and not developed enough- I suggest watching if you are interested in this aspect, as this video fantastically deconstructs the objectivist undercurrent of the film. There is crammed in cameo’s from other Superheroes, not to mention Wonder Woman’s obligatory supporting role. A painfully miscast Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor, though admittedly it was the directing and writing of the character that was fucked to begin with- I don’t think I’ve ever cringed as much as I did during Eisenberg’s performance, only Justice League’s desperate ‘funny’ quips might have rivaled this. The forced emotional connection at the end was painful and if you can’t feel anything for the characters, you can’t really feel anything during the film’s ‘exciting’ action set-pieces.
You can feel that the studio still had faith in Snyder but some studio maintenance was in the background, as evident with the franchise pandering. When it comes to Justice League, any semblance of Snyder’s vision has been eradicated. Sure there are some flourishes of his style, remnants of his themes but the tone is completely different. Snyder left the film, which was nearly in its completion, due to a tragic suicide death of his daughter. The studio then hired Joss Whedon to reshoot scenes and basically used the opportunity to make a more studio-friendly film. I don’t mean to imply that the studio was vindictive by their actions, perhaps an arrangement was made with Snyder and the end-product might have been collegial compromise. But Whedon’s touch is all over this film, the cinematography is suddenly more colorful than the previous films- excluding Wonder Woman- and most importantly, the character of Superman is completely different.
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Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds) and Howard the Janitor (Anthony Wise).

A Spark of Hope in The Beginning…

The opening of the film, in which a kid interviews Superman gives an interesting glimpse of what Snyder might have envisioned. Superman is interviewed in the beginning of what he finds most beautiful on earth, the screen cuts to black before he can answer. It’s left up to the audience what Superman’s answer would be, but more relevant is the viewer’s own answer. What is that one thing that always gives you light to the darkness of this world?
This opening is promising because it perfectly sets up the theme of ‘hope’ which should have been pervaded the film. The set-up of a world in misery after Superman’s death would have worked wonderfully if we really felt this misery- and not been relocated with dialog or the excruciating opening credits which has the worst Leonard Cohen’s cover of Everybody Knows I’ve ever heard- which is weird since Snyder has used original Cohen songs in Watchmen and why couldn’t he use it with this one?
It seems that Snyder wanted to emphasize the light instead of the darkness but it’s all hampered by Joss Whedon’s goofiness. The resurrection of Superman would given the film the religious subtext, as his return sparks hope in the hearts and minds of people. But it’s completely absent from the film. They dig up his body- and I’m not an expert on Kryptonian corpses, but this one looks remarkably good after being dead for some time- use some mumbo-jumbo science on him, he comes back alive, he gets angry for some reason and fights them. Lois comes around and they go to his old farm and then in the end, Superman wisecracks and kicks some ass. There’s no dialog about his feelings concerning the afterlife, the experience of being back among the live. There was a great oppertunity there to explore something interesting, to give emotional resonance to this character but it’s completely squandered. The weight of his return is completely wasted, it barely makes an impact, it’s seems only there so Batman can make some fun ‘quips.’ And when he makes a reference to his fondness for Truth and Justice, something completely undeserved, you just want to scream at the cinema.
There was also a reference to Superman becoming evil in a dream sequence Batman had in Batman v. Superman- which included a cameo by Flash trying to warn him of something. I guess that went nowhere huh?
The Death of Superman is a storyline that wasn’t ready yet to begin with. But the manner in which it is handled in Justice League is just insulting.
Also, watch his upper-lip, and then read about how during the reshoots, Cavill wasn’t allowed to shave his mustache. Once you see it, you can’t unsee it…
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Death of Superman (1992)

No Identity

Seeing Batman quip funny lines, something that was completely alien to him in Batman v. Superman, is hilarious, also because Affleck seems unusually uncomfortable at times in the film. There’s been constant back and forth about his possible exit to the franchise and during the promotion of Batman V. Superman, he did look depressed- which naturally also had something to do with his personal life. His relationship with Alfred (Jeremy Irons) worked in Batman V. Superman, but even this is undermined by Alfred’s cute insistence that ”he should be dating someone.” Something that worked under the penmanship of Christopher Nolan but it doesn’t feel nature here. Neither does the forced romantic tension between Wonder Woman- hate to say it but the two don’t have much chemistry- and certainly not with the cute back and forth between resurrected Superman.
Ezra Miller as Flash is the main comic relief of the film, but most of the laugh comes from the sheer desperation of the studio of constantly forcing ‘funny quips’ on him. There are some genuine laughs, mostly coming from Miller’s facial expression. But most of his quips just reek of desperation. If his character had only been a bit more subdued, it would have felt more natural and the comedy would have worked.
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Flash (Ezra Miller) as the forced comic relief of the film. 

There’s an emotional speech by Aquaman (Jason Momoa) that’s so incedibly artificial, which is capped off with such an embarassingly lame joke, that it almost becomes stunning in its shamelessness.  Examples such as these make it very clear that the studio desperately wanted to make a Marvel movie instead of making a film with its own sole identity.
Steppenwolf (wonderfully voiced by Ciarán Hinds) is reminiscent of the vacant Marvel villain. Even if Eisenberg’s Luthor had confusing motivations for his evil deeds, at least it was something different. There was something, despite the horrible execution, interesting about Luthor’s obsession. There is nothing interesting about Steppenwolf besides the Hinds’ wonderful voice. The problem is also the motion-capturing, as the CGI used to render his face gives him unusually little expression. His ultimate demise comes out of nowhere and you can’t seem to care about his evil plan. His evil scheme is eerily reminiscent to Infinity Stones plot from Marvel, but instead of Infinity Stones, Steppenwolf needs to obtain these ‘Mother Boxes’ so he can either destroy or create the world in his image, not sure which- it doesn’t really matter does it?
Ultimately the most entertaining aspect of the film is how shameless it is. It’s not the action sequences which is ultmately just a dizzying display of (sometimes subpar) CGI. It’s not the character interplay or the engaging story. It’s the fact that the DC universe films have reached such a new low that they become fascinating artifacts in the great filmmaking battle between artistry and studio mandates. If it has been a straight tonally similar sequel to Batman V. Superman, the film would have probably been as irredeemably flawed, but at the very least, it would have some semblance of an identity.
The fact that the film is also made with a whopping 300,000,000 dollar budget, only makes the end product ever so frustrating. As it stands now, Justice league is a soulless product of its time and a fascinating study piece of studio desperation.

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Aquaman (Jason Momoa) having a drink before venturing into the sea- Drinking is something I should have done before watching this movie. 

Voices 02-10-2017

You don’t register it at first, you think it’s somebody goofing around or part of the show…

It sounded like firecrackers…

Suddenly everybody was running…

I used to be agnostic but now I believe in God…

I don’t think he made it…

We need to use your truck, we need to get this man in the hospital…

Was this act of terrorism?

Did he get the weapons illegally?

How can we decide on the line between ideology and insanity?

It’s harder to pass security, so he does it outside of the venue.

I think I’ve been hit…

There are no negotiations, he just wanted to kill as many people as possible…

I don’t think I’m going to make it….

How many more people have to die before they get it…

Congress is not going to do a damn thing…

How dare they push their agenda in a time like this!

I love you.

What the fuck is happening to our country?

This was something he must have been planning for a long time…

He didn’t fit the traditional profile…

Our country will prevail. This country was build on the foundations of unity, we won’t let this man tear us apart…

This country will prevail. Our country was build on beautiful foundations, it will never back down. We will be united. We are strong together…

You see the fear of death in their eyes, there were people trampled to death…

We could never see him do a thing like this…

I’m not leaving you, I’m staying right here.

It’s the biggest mass-shooting of American history…

I wish I was the one who got him…

There will be more casualties…

You don’t think it will happen to you and then it does…

Though there was chaos, there was hope. Everybody was helping each other…

Sometimes these incidents bring the best out of the people. They don’t even realize they’re doing it, they just run and do it…

It sounded just like in Iraq….

He’s tired, we should bring him home after the song is over…
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The Picture That Changes Everything: the Pleasant Madness of Street-Photography part 7 (final)

7: All These Moments

Street-photography is as much about the things we don’t see as it is about the things we do see. The glimpse tells us just a little bit and most of us are satisfied by this. We like the mystery, we don’t need everything revealed. Perhaps this is why I love black-white pictures so much, it strips away the colors that would distract us, it gives it that dated feel. It shows us a different world even though it’s still the same one. Black-white images tells us we are dealing with something of an older time, something seemingly far away from us even if the picture was made yesterday. Black-white pictures are so crisp now, they used to be full of grain. The graininess is now considered stylish but back then it was the only quality available.
Now we can see everything so clearly and many don’t want this. They choose to make photography with traditional film, a Polaroid camera or alter their digital camera to reveal a little less. Sometimes we slow-down the shutter speed, we see time trying to keep up with the flash. It almost feels like we are messing with the foundations of time. We can alter the settings to reveal something the camera couldn’t: slow-down the shutter speed in the midst of heavy traffic at night, see it become a beautiful blur; use macro-setting to enlarge a object, the rust of an ax in an abandoned house; focus on a singular subject, blur the world around him.
The angles can mean everything to. A crooked angle might be better suited than a straight angle. Crop the picture so the focus goes on what can make the picture great. Sometimes a shoddy picture can give it more meaning than if it was perfectly set up. How do you want the subject to represented? A low angle can make him seem like an impressive man, a high-angle might make him seem like a small man. There’s the treasure of the accidental picture- a secret most street-photographers won’t tell you is that you don’t need to wait for that perfect moment, the best tactic might be to just go ape-shit on that shutter button, have fun with it, see the beauty all around you, enjoy the process.
There’s this meditation I practice about distancing myself to my thoughts, this guided voice tells me to imagine a mirror and as I look at myself, I should realize that my thoughts, no matter how important they seem, won’t alter physical reality. It won’t change me. These thoughts are just traffic in the mind. But all of us can’t but be captured by the flow of thoughts; from nostalgic musings, sudden regrets or the inability to live up to our dreams. As I’ve stated before in the previous chapters, we want to see a glimpse of their world, we want to wonder about their inner world but we must retain the mystery. It’s part archaeological, a glimmer to a world long gone. Even if the picture was made recently, the world changes faster than we think. How the streets looks today will look different a decade from now. It all goes so fast and if you don’t have a photographic memory, you won’t be able to picture how it was. Perhaps this isn’t such a tragedy yet sometimes, in my lonely hours, I find myself suddenly back in streets that are now so different, in buildings that are demolished or abandoned. It all goes so fucking fast. It’s as the great expired Replicant used to say; all these moments will be lost, like tears in rain.
There is no formula to capture these moments, if somebody tells you there are rules, tell them that they have no idea what photography is- I’m purely talking about the aesthetic matter, not the technical side of photography. There’s a science to photography but when it comes to the artist, the aesthetics belongs to him and if you can break the rules in a beautiful way, you’ve succeeded were most fail. Surely I’m not even close to such a level, but I do think it’s important to be a rebel. I remember when I was a part of a theater group, we had to be fairy-tale characters guiding kids in this theater building. I was cast as The Big Bad Wolf. I played him like a creepy child-catcher, I want to scare the shit out of these kids. Most of my fellow actors had props but I didn’t. I didn’t think I needed it. Some suggested to have fake Wolf-ears but it seemed excessive. I merely had the tuxedo, the long hairs covering my ears. One of the actors critiqued me for this. But when my scene came up I knocked it out of the park. Little Red-Riding hood was in the bathroom hiding from the Big Bad Wolf, the kids were there with their teachers, she was crying for help. I burst into the scene, banging my hand against the door. Even one of the teaches shrieked ”Jesus!” A few girls hid behind their teachers, the boys thought I was fucking cool. Later on, when the kids passed our troupe, they all pointed at me and yelled ”look it’s the Big Bad Wolf!” It proved I made an impact, it was probably, besides another theater show with the same troupe, the highlight of my small theater career. Now I’m not being presumptuous here, I certainly wasn’t the best actor- probably one of the poorest- but I did break a conventional rule of my troupe. You need to think outside the box, you need to break some rules to develop yourself as an artist. If you think you have to do it like this because your favorite artist did it, you’ll never become your own artist.
It’s experimentation, getting comfortable, fucking-up and being okay with it. Right now I’m making pictures by weird angles, surprising myself at times, getting annoyed at others. Eight out of ten times, my pictures during the month aren’t noteworthy but the two times make up for it. It takes years to be good or maybe less, I don’t know, just have fun with it. Care for the process and realize that if you truly loved it, you’ll keep onto it. You won’t give up the thing you love. There might be times, like I did, when you leave it for a while, pursue different interests- just like I did, I stopped taking pictures for two years. But if it’s real love you’ll come back to it. And if you feel bad about procrastination or not having done much in such a long time, notice this, accept it, venture into helpful thoughts (is it going to help you moping about this all day?) and move on.
And while you’re here, grab your camera and go out there. There’s so much out there and it’s all fading away. Even if you manage to capture nothing picturesque in your journey, it will train you for your next one. The next one show similar results but perhaps the one after that will be different. One day you will be better. And that moment, when you realize this, it might fade away too. You’ll doubt yourself again and you’ll quit for a long while. Then you’ll come back again and perhaps you’ll attain that self-confidence again.
These moments come and go, they fade away and never come back. Perhaps you can break the cycle but you’ll never to be aware of this. We can do so much if we are just aware of what’s really happening.
And now I must leave you, now it’s your turn to tell I’m wrong about everything. I wish you good luck on your journey. Remember: sometimes you think you are going one way, and then you find yourself in another. Have faith, be open, cherish the moment you’re here. It would be all taken away from us, but perhaps that one moment, the one that means everything, will stay somehow. A picture that never seizes to amaze us.

Picture belongs to Tom Plevnik,


The Picture That Changes Everything: the Pleasant Madness of Street-Photography part 6

6: The Interview

There’s still so much I need to learn, I’m still rather fresh in this field. Since I conducted a few political interviews, I thought it would be education for me to interview a few photographers. One of them was Slovenian street-photographer Tom Plevnik. I had been following him on WordPress and enjoyed his style of photography on his site. When I e-mailed him, he said he would love to do but there was one caveat: his English wasn’t so good.
So when I copied the contents of the e-mail interview through here, I had two choices: leave it like or correct his English? I’m not tell you which one I choose. You can probably guess for yourself. This is not to make fun of him since I have an extremely poor grasp of my own native language- which if you didn’t know was Dutch. English had always been my beloved language. I read in English, I talk mostly in English. The Dutch language always seemed so lame.
Most of the questions I asked pertain the surface level of photography. There are some personal ones and Tom has done his best to answer them. To tell you the truth he waited patiently for me to even send those questions. I wanted something from him and it took me more than a week before I finally send him the list of questions. There were some things going on in my life. Some good things -went on vacation with my girlfriend- some bad – the occasional bout of heightened emotional instability. My mind was all over the place. There are the obsessive-compulsive thoughts that manifests itself in a series of manic habits. It makes me scared of this world, it makes me scared of being alone, it makes me scared of myself. Sometimes it gets really bad, you have to give yourself a break and stop wanting things for a while. You can’t do it too long- you’re not allowed to get used to it- but you can’t push yourself so far that you’ll get some sort of mental breakdown. So I choose to relax for a while, have some cocktails with my woman, get a little drunk, have a few laughs, not giving a fuck about my personal ambitions.
Eventually I have to get back. I get a little anxious if I don’t write for too long. You have to get back on that horse. No fucking excuses. You have to do right on your words, so I finally send the list of questions to Tom. I already had lost on interviewee due to my procrastination- which would have been the content of the still unwritten third interview regarding the political situation in Turkey. If you really want something, you have to go for it. You can’t blame others for bailing out on you if you fail to deliver.
After the questions were asked, it was time to write this article. I interviewed the subject, Tom Plevnik, over a month ago. I I knew what I was supposed to do, but I kept stalling it. There was naturally no rush, there was no deadline besides my own. But I’ve learned that you can’t relax too much. Eventually you gotta get to work. But every time I tried, something was wrong. I could have easily half-assed it: write some intro, copy the interview and voila, there you go. But none of that felt write. I felt I needed to go to a more creative route. It needed to be about something more, something bigger, a greater challenge.
You can’t keep doing the same trick, eventually you gotta expand. You need to get out of your comfort zone. Sometimes one’s comfort zone can be far deadlier than all the monsters outside it. Perhaps this article portrays a maturity of writing- or progression- or perhaps it shows a lack of restraint. It certainly became more personal, closer to a stream-of-consciousness style -hough I honestly never finished any Kerouac book. I’m not saying he’s bad, he just seemed to ramble too much, which might sound like the pot calling the kettle black.
Picture belongs to Tom Plevnik,
This article has become more personal and less about Tom. It has become about what it means to be a street-photographer. This was not my original intent but on the other hand, you need to go where your creative spirit takes you. Sometimes it takes you to a completely new direction. And Tom has certainly, taught me things even in his short answers. It would have been easier to interview a more pretentious fop. He will ramble on, he will reveal himself. You have to a choice to dissect his bullshit or go along with his bullshit. To go along with the bullshit is easier. You’re not writing a biography for god’s sake. It’s only supposed to be interesting. Bullshit can be just as interesting as the truth- though rarely as disturbing.
And though I cannot state that I looked into his soul, our correspondence together with this interview proves that Tom isn’t a pretentious man at all. He’s a humble man, the best kind of artist. He just wants to do the ‘one thing’ he loves to do. It makes him feel good when he does it right. There is no illusion of grandeur, there is only the love of the craft.
On his website it says: One Picture Can Change Everything. The picture that changed everything was the one he made with his sister by the sea. I don’t know which picture was the one that changed everything for me. But I hope I can take on in the future, one which will change everything to the viewer who sees it. It will inspire the viewer, it will make him want to do more. He will change the world around him for the better, he will hang this photograph at his workplace.
There is the question of why we venture into the street and make pictures of strangers. I told you my reasons of why street-photography means so much to, now let Tom tell you his:

When did you first start taking an interest in Photography?

Photography has always been present in my life, I don’t know why. I got the first camera in elementary school and the camera was Meikai EL. I still have it somewhere. 

Do you remember the first ‘good’ picture you ever made?

I think I made my first good photo with my sister on the sea, still in elementary school and on a black and white film. I think I still have this photo. 

Which photographers/artists inspired you the most?

For the first time I was first in Paris in 1998, I saw black and white photographs in a gallery. Later, I purchased the first book in an antique shop and found out that it was Henri Cartier-Bresson. Now I prefer Thomas Leuthard. A few years ago, I had the opportunity to take a photo with him in Ljubljana.

What is your famous picture from a famous photographer?

That is Robert Doisneau and his Le Baiser de l’Hôtel de Ville.

Do you have any photography books in your collection? If so, which one is your favorite?

I have many books. But surely my favorite is Henri Cartier-Bresson: The Man, The Image, and The World: A Retrospective, Peter Turnley: Parisians and of course Bystander: A History of Street Photography.

Since I struggle quite a lot with the technical aspects of photography, do you think it’s essential for a photographer to be good in the technical aspects of photography?- knowing the exact ISO, shutter-speed, aperture etc.

I don’t know to be honest. I just stick to the principles of focal length lens and speed of aperture. If the focal length of the lens is 85mm, the shutter speed should be at 1/80. If necessary I’ll adjust the ISO. 

How much time do you devote to your art every week approximately?

Because I’m not a professional photographer and I have a regular job, the photography is intended for weekends.

Do you believe in talent or hard work?

It’s hard to say, but it probably takes a lot of hard work.

You goddamn right… How long did it take for you to take yourself seriously as a photographer?

For the last two years, I have been more intensely involved with photography, and I have begun to call myself a ‘photographer.’

Are you sometimes insecure about your abilities?

Many times, ha ha ha ha ha…

Have there been moments in your life that has inspired your future photography?

There were many moments, one was the last weekend with photographer Natalia Wisniewska.

Is it hard to be an artist/photographer in your country?

Yeah, it’s very difficult. Though we do have many Slovenian photographers, such as Arne Hodalič, Manca Juvan, Matjaž Krivic, etc.

What is your favorite kind of photography- portrait, street, landscape etc.

I really enjoy in street photography. But lately, I like fashionable portrait photography.

Are there any dream projects of photography you hope to do one day but are now impossible?

If I could work in Paris as a photographer fashion photography.

Are you able to look at someone’s work, a photography, and see if they have what it takes?

I do not have official photographic education. I learned everything about photography from books. I do not know, I’m just a visual guy, I like the photo or I do not.

And finally; what kind of advice could you give to an aspiring photographer?
Be yourself, take a lot of photos and enjoy.

Which is basically all the advice one needs.

Picture belongs to Tom Plevnik,

The Picture That Changes Everything: the Pleasant Madness of Street-Photography part 5

5: The Kind of Suffering We Are Interested In

The subject isn’t always human, it could be another animal. If you’re aware of my work, you probably noticed that I use the word ‘human animal’ a lot- a term I borrowed from philosopher John Gray actually. It’s important in my mind to not single out humans being different than animals. It would be hubris, it would be wrong. We are animals too, just because we can create or enjoy art doesn’t make us any less of animal than a pig. But the worst hubris of all is the idea that we are ‘better’ than other animals. Sure it would be reasonable to fight our survival rather than a different animal species, but it still wouldn’t give us any more of a right. This idea of rights, like religion or government, are all man-made. They are not universal truths, they are our truths. We need these truths to make us nicer animals- though more often than not, we use these truths to justify heinous acts. We don’t apply them to other species. We’ve trained our children to dilute our conscience for other animals. They are stupid, we are smart, therefore we deserve more. It’s a lie and a dangerous one to boot. Being more evolved doesn’t make us better, it just makes us more powerful.
So the subject of street-photography could be another species of animal as well: the eager dog on leash who went he notices that people are looking at him endearingly, nearly jumps free from his leash just so can receive some heavy petting; a cat lurking the crevices for a little snack, perhaps to give it as a present to her provider; a couple of pigeons hurling downwards with incredible speed when they notice that some guy is throwing a piece of bread away; a rat carrying a pizza down the subway. Their world is not as complicated as ours, though it’s perhaps more perilous. There’s no human drama, just the search for the next meal so they can survive another day. We were much the same in the past. But we evolved, we lost hair, we grew smarter, we were blinded by the fire. We made up a God that told us he created the world just for us. We created empires on our manipulation of the environment through the burning of fossil fuels and the subjugation of animals for livestock. These things were important to us, even if it involved great evil. We’ve destroyed an ecosystem or two. We’ve watched the occasional spill, a spill that became a natural consequence, we cleaned up the goo from animals we’ve always considered too cute too harm. We’ve made excuses to invade countries so we can conquer their oil refineries. All the animals we subjugated for livestock, the mass-genocide we were fine with so long as their bodies are used for fast-food. All the land we needed so that we can slaughter these beautiful creatures. It’s all part of it. So many died so that we can continue pretending this world belongs to us. It became so bad, we are now actually influencing the climate, created manic weather patterns and the prospect of doom for many who live nearby the sea.
The end belongs to us. We won’t be there for a new beginning. Perhaps we will leave enough behind so that other lifeforms will wonder about our existence.
But now, most of us are comfortable. We suffer in various ways, as our lives today conflict with our genetic code of yesterday. Our savage ancestors never needed to invent existentialism to give meaning to their existence or see a therapist about their marital problems. Simple put: we ponder too much shit. Suddenly our existence is supposed to have a great meaning. Suddenly this short time on earth isn’t enough, we demand eternity for something we call our ‘souls’. And we can have this eternity if we just follow several rules- naturally these rules vary across the religions. Even so, most of us don’t need to kill for food, being an accessory to the fact as we shop in grocery stores, is the closest most of us will get. Most of us don’t need to fear predators, perhaps there’s the spiritual kind, the drug-peddlers, the nefarious gurus, the money-suckers, but most of them don’t have claws scratch open your belly nor the jaw filled with sharp teeth that can bite open your neck. While there are enough photographers fascinated by wildlife, who do amazing work as they hide in the bushes, waiting for the predator to pounce on her prey, us street-photographers are far more interested in the quiet suffering of the human animal. On the other hand, the image of a lone dog scrounging for leftovers in an impoverished city might be the most heartbreaking of all. But that’s because of the dog’s innocence, not because we can really connect with this animal. We can connect to a dog through mutual respect or reciprocal love, but not because we can fully understand how it is being a dog. We only know how to be human. It’s not the same connection we have to our fellow humans who are dealing with their complicated humanity. The instinct that has been tarnished the consciousness and expressed itself through the conscious.
There is debate among whether or not the hunters in their prime, lived superior lives than ours. The farmers that came after certainly weren’t happier but it did start the process for our continuing survival. Even if we want to, even if it would be better for us, we can never become this primitive. It’s too late now. We have to be the modern human with all the pain that it entails.
One could state that those who don’t live in affluent countries, live in their own urban jungle. These animals don’t snarl like the animals of your lush jungle, but they do curse and point guns at each other. There the occasional bout of violent machismo, the male that needs to prove that he’s the ALFA and therefore deserves the better woman. Bruce Gilden has made wonderful pictures of these Yakuza gangsters, men who collect their money with stoic expressions. There is no time for mercy, they will hurt you if you don’t pay up. The Alfa-males has organized themselves, they honor their ALFA, the ALFA is protected by lesser ALFA’s. If a lesser ALFA screws up, he might have to chop of a digit. There are rules in their streets but as history has proven, these rules are easily broken. There’s always an asshole among them that inspires others to be even greater assholes. The savagery of the jungle pales in comparison to the savagery of the human animal.
So you make pictures of the youth, the ones who if they don’t receive intervention, they will become just as savage as their fathers. They hang out in abandoned buildings, they play games with each other, they beat down scaredy-cats. The streets are full of them, you can spot them in the way they walk. Some of them are wannabee’s naturally, but some have prospects for greater and more nefarious futures. I don’t often make pictures of them because I don’t want to get in a fight with them. I prefer to make pictures of scaredy-cats like me. People who are trying to make sense of their lives. You see them trapped in their thoughts, they often forget that more often than not: their thoughts are not them, it’s just events in the mind, filled with clutter they should ignore. They confuse it with the murmurs of the soul. But they don’t have a soul, nobody has but we are accustomed to belief and feel that we do. Even if we don’t believe it, we do act like we have one. We cultivate this made-up soul, probably for the better. The things that don’t exist can be imperative for our existence.
The stories we capture in our flash, no matter how poignant they seem, are often imagined. They are part of the illusion or ourselves or based on a shattered dream. They are real because we live them- we are who we pretend to be, so be careful who we pretend to be- but we should have been taught to dilute the ego and seek clarity, make ourselves nothing instead of everything. Instead we have filled our children with this notion that we have all this identity. We didn’t tell them how fragile this mind and its feelings are. We didn’t tell them how easy it is to get lost in the streets. We didn’t tell them that nobody has an answer, and that it’s hard to find your way back if you stray long enough.
Even this philosophical diatribe might be an illusion. There might be several or just one answer to everything. We can’t deny physical reality but the reality in our minds, the fantasy-lands inside us, are hard to ignore. These memetic forces has made us more powerful, has given the greatest chances of survival. Yet even in the most affluent cities we can spot them, we can see it if we look close enough, the people trapped in fantasy-land. The fantasy-land which is empowered by the constant adds and bright lights and their Facebook feeds. There might be freedom for this suffering, but this suffering is what keeps the economy booming.
But through all this suffering, the right photograph can give it meaning. The suffering of others can move us, make us feel less alone. The whole point of art is make our suffering meaningful. The difference with street-photography is that we never ask for permission. So people get angry, they ask you to delete it. The trouble is, if we asked them, we wouldn’t be able to capture the truth. We have to be bold, we have to be rude. We suffer as well, we just want a glimpse of your suffering so we can feel better about yourself. Somehow, perhaps there is no great reason, we must express ourselves through the lens of this camera.
Bruce Gilden often makes pictures of these street creatures, you will have intimate close-ups of junkies with no teeth or old men with shrunken faces, a life that has given them some form of facial deformity. They accuse Bruce of making fun of them, but it’s not like that at all. He finds them as beautiful, if not more than all the models on these adds. And I have to agree with him- models are just too fucking boring.
And we apologize for your suffering, but we’re just trying to make it beautiful. It would be a shame to waste all that suffering.

Picture belongs to Tom Plevnik,

The Picture That Changes Everything: the Pleasant Madness of Street-Photography part 4

4: The Glimpse

There’s the world surrounding the subject, there’s the energy of the streets. It’s part of a story we will never fully know. The Street-photographers tries to capture this part of the story inside the flash of his camera. It doesn’t always work, the focus might be wrong. The eye must receive the necessary information in less than a second. The eye must feel compelled to take a closer look. If this happens, the photograph is good. It should capture the viewer immediately. There is just something, even if its a photograph of something mundane, that captures their attention. If this does not happen, if the viewer loses interests within seconds, the photographer has failed the story.
Imagine a movie, a dramatic scene of dialog between two spouses who are on the verge of getting a divorce. The actor must the emote the tragedy of the screen, the connection is becoming lost between these two people. The chemistry must be there, but if you take a still picture of that scene, the body language must confirm the content of this scene. Image them looking away or looking down, or looking at each other with wanting and desperate eyes. If the still is at the wrong moment, this information might be lost. Timing is everything.
One must remember though that there is always something interesting going on, even in the mundane moments. It’s just that not every moment is as picturesque. A war-torn country has a lot of energy, I’m not saying that everyone can make beautiful photographs there, but you are bound to make some interesting ones. There’s a greater victory in capturing normalcy, making it look beautiful. You wouldn’t notice the old man reading the newspaper, but the Street-photographer saw something and now this old man is something special. Now you begin to wonder about the old man’s story.
Often times The Street-photographer never really knows if the picture will work. Sometimes they are so sure that they have something special but when they look back, it’s not there anymore. The angle was wrong, the ISO was too high, the shutter-speed is off or they simply missed it. They were simply too slow. They missed that one precious second that would have made all the difference. Other times The Street-photographer manages to make a picture that at first, didn’t seem that noteworthy but when they look through the collection of the day, they realized that they have something much more than they had initially thought. The caught the energy, the subjects come alive. They have more of a story than they had initially presumed. We often don’t know we have a story until we actually look at the photograph.
They forget that the shutter catches more than you think. There’s the story of graffiti in the subway and as the Street-photographer pushes the shutter button, a lone human lighting a cigarette is getting captured inside the flash as well. Both the graffiti and the human become one subject, one whole story or two sides of the story; the history of the graffiti- the city perhaps- and the history of the lone man. It doesn’t matter how shitty the graffiti art is or how seemingly unassuming the lone man looks, if you capture it right, you catch part of an interesting story. There’s a wonderful book of Polaroid pictures, Colors, The Polaroids by Dennis Hopper, which, as the title suggests was made while he was scouting for locations for his gang-land drama Colors. Looking at the vast kinds of graffiti in L.A., he understood there were stories behind these paint sprays, it enamored him, he needed to make pictures of this- besides being an masterful actor and director, he was an equal master photographer. He understood there were stories there, they deserved to be seen. He captured not just the atmosphere of the streets but the mindset of the youth and artists who left these messages on these walls.
The first time I really began to get serious street-photography, I started with makings numerous pictures of trash such cans of energy drinks or cigarette butts, whatever you could think of that would be lying on the street, and many, perhaps rightfully so, laughed at me, ”why is that guy making a picture of that can of coke?” one pedestrian said to her partner as they passed me. Irregardless, I felt there was something there, though at first I couldn’t explain exactly why. I guess it could be subconscious, you more you let yourself be free with your art, the more you reveal of yourself. Often times I’m writing and suddenly veered into a subject that was dear to me, even though I wasn’t planning on it. It’s about the imagination then, if you make the art vague enough, the viewer/reader might interpret it in their own way- perhaps the pictures of trash by Mr. van Dijk represents the our carelessness of the environment! Art needs to be personal, not just to the artist but to the one that enjoys it. Even if it isn’t personal to the viewer/reader, he will make it personal. An artist often times doesn’t know why he’s drawn to one direction. He just feels there’s something there and so he needs to go there- same as how this article went.
It’s the little things, if you can capture the little things, the bigger things come easier. A shattered beer-bottle might have been used during a fight, perhaps if you look close enough, you would see some smears of blood. This was a battle between two brothers, the story of Cain and Abel resurrected in the twenty-first century. All these examples are props for the seemingly mundane yet complex stories. Just like artifacts of an ancient past, we wonder about what we are seeing, we research and we can only image about its users. These props were used while these subjects were contemplating great things. A little moment might evoke a greater truth. A simple moment captured between two lovers on the streets can be considered everything, making a picture of them sharing a piece of pie might be even better than seeing them kiss on the streets. The kissing might evoke youth, the beginning sparks of a promising romantic relationship while the sharing of the pie, might evoke comfortability with each other, a deeper intimacy between the two- if you made a picture of them together in a private hotel room, you would see one of them laugh as they smell the fart of their significant other. If you made a picture of the plate where the pie was eaten, with the fork laying on it, some crumbs still left, you would catch part of a story. The story might be more clear if the couple were in the picture, but the glimpse of their story is there. Remember: it’s always about the glimpse, the street-photographer will never get the full story, the writer may but never the street-photographer. We can only catch a glimpse, the glimpse is all that matters. Our job is to catch that glimpse and make it look good so that the viewer of the photograph, can wonder about what was behind that glimpse.
The details are everything, you want to be like Sherlock Holmes and catch all the details so you can uncover the mystery but you never will. The random person on the street, seemingly on a great mission, we can only wonder what this mission was. The rambling drifter, we can only imagine where his madness came from. The worried middle-aged woman, what was she worried about? The pubescent with green hair and dirty clothing, is this a sign of rebellion and individualism or this a sign of neglectful parenting? Tourists, people on a break from the jobs they hate. People on meditation retreats, closing their eyes, feeling the moment. There’s so much to tell, you wish you could freeze time just so you could make pictures all day. If there was an eternity, I would spend a hundred years just making pictures.
In the end, we are storytellers, even if we catch only part of the story. Sometimes that little seemingly insignificant part is just as poignant as the whole story. Photography can teach us, in a sort of Buddhist manner, to look at life differently. Unlike a movie or literature where often enough life is perceived as ‘the whole story, where every part is intrinsic to this one character, his tragedies and ultimately his death. It’s not always like that and perhaps it’s not even a proper way to perceive our existence. It’s one way to look at it but not the definitive way. We shouldn’t perceive life as so simplistically cinematic. Life is a series of fleeting moments, it all goes away too quickly. To my mind, in this fleeting moment of consciousness this wisdom comes to mind: the only way we can keep these moments safe from our fleeting memories, even if the complete experience is forever gone, is by taking a picture.

Picture belongs to Tom Plevnik,