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Tag: Other Paradigm

Letter From The Editor – Digital V. Analog

Digital V. Analog

Digital V. Analog

“It now appears that books in the form so beloved by Uncle Alex and me, hinged in unlocked boxes, packed with leaves speckled by ink, are obsolescent. My grandchildren are already doing much of their reading from words projected on the face of a video screen. Please, please, please wait just a minute.

At the time of their invention books were devices as crassly practical for storing or transmitting language, albeit fabricated from scarcely modified substances found in forest and field and animals as the latest Silicon Valley miracles. But by accident, not by cunning calculation, books, because of their weight and texture and because of their sweetly token resistance to manipulation, involve our hands and eyes and then our minds and souls in a spiritual adventure I would be very sorry for my grandchildren not to know about.”

– Kurt Vonnegut Jr., Timequake

Kurt Vonnegut Jr.’s Timequake is largely concerned with the loss of the imagination, the loss of story telling, the loss of free will. To back up a bit, before Guttenberg transformed handmade manuscripts with movable type, books were largely cared for by monks and not meant for common people. Information, as it remains today, was power. Teach a blacksmith to read, suddenly he doesn’t need the pope’s interpretation, he can think for himself. Enter Martin Luther and his 95 theses. This is revolution. Thus, out went blind Homer’s oral tradition and in came the written word. The Magna Carta, the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, the Emancipation Proclamation. These are all direct results of the written word becoming law. This major paradigm shift took millennia to transition. What once took centuries now takes nanoseconds, whatever those are. Now you can google The Odyssey (1,550,000 results) in 0.18 seconds. Today books are becoming commonplace, overlooked, cumbersome, even impractical in a world in which atom-sized microprocessors hold the entire Library of Congress in your telephone/computer/stereo/address book/movie theater, ad nauseum. How we are communicating is changing. Changing so quickly that before Kurt Vonnegut Jr. passed from the earth in April of 2007, he felt we were missing something, he felt it necessary to tell us to “Please, please, please wait just a minute.”

Digital and analog. Cause and effect. Origin and outcome. Inevitability and free will. Moirai and Erinyes. Look at the big picture and get a sense of the generic. Zoom in and focus on details. Go too far and the grain (pixels, what have you) blurs beyond recognition. Get too wide and we’re in danger of missing the nitty-gritty. There is a sense of contradiction inherent in any magazine these days. What once was set by hand is now placed by a cursor. What once was inked and pressed on wood and metal is now plated via pdf. The outcome is the same: the HESO you hold in your hands, which tells you via meticulously placed type, at the top of every page to check out http://hesomagazine.com.

I have a fat manilla envelope full of stationary from the many hotels, hostels and inns I’ve stayed in over the years. Envelopes and clean white leaves of paper pressed with letterhead, logos and contact information. Largely a collection of souvenirs to commemorate my various travels, as well as to confuse hell out of anyone I write a letter to from say, Barcelona using stationary from Jakarta, they have always represented potential to me. It’s come to the point that, besides packs of fresh boxer briefs and white Fruit of the Loom tank tops, this is one of the only things my mother can give me for Christmas which she knows will tickle me pink.

We don’t write anymore (except Stephen King), we post, we tweet, we update our status. Letters passe, email is the mode du jour. Greeting cards are getting scarce, e-cards are simply too easy. What happens when the newspapers go so bankrupt as to finally disappear? Will bloggers do their own research? Will we breathe easier with all the excess trees growing untouched throughout the world or will the Japanese buy them all up for disposable chopstick production?


Will we forget how to read and write? English (26 letters, 10 numerals and 8 or so punctuation marks) is relatively easy, but what about Gaelic and Welsh, Estonian and Finnish? Japanese people regularly confide that due to the exponential growth and use of mobile phones and computers, they are losing their ability to quickly and correctly write complicated characters. In the face of gradually becoming unable to fluently write an admittedly difficult system, those I’ve talked with seem largely apathetic. The term Shoganai (“Nothing can be done”) is often heard in this context. Despite all this, Asō Tarō’s- the current Japanese prime minister- recent (and largely blogged on) gaffes reading Japanese characters on his teleprompter during press conferences is at least indirectly responsible for a boom in sales of study guides.


The world is still largely analog, that is to say related to nature. Digital as it may seem, there are still holes in the net. It is from this imperfection that life forms, that originality comes, that the divine breeds. In the world of electronics the “on” circuit is a closed loop. Turn on the light and the loop closes, flip the switch off to break the cycle. Closed is to running current as open is to stasis. From the looking glass we perceive a reverse image. From the negative a positive. From nothing something, from something nothing.

Without the analog we lose all context of who we are, where we came. We become emotionless numbers on a grid, switches for the puppet masters to flick on and off. Without perception of the surreal, reality becomes meaningless, empty 1s and 0s floating in a vacuum, bereft of true value.


Find a mythology relative to the times in which we live. If none exists relevant to your life, make one up. Don’t accept what the screen and its talking heads pour into your eyes.


I have long believed that humanity’s greatest quality is adaptability. And yet the changes in our current modus operandi are constant and quickening. How do we keep up with the Joneses and their cloneses? How do we properly perceive whatever it is that is going on around us? String theory? Through the many simulacra we invent to connect us, to keep us close? In one sense it’s a good thing: you need to know what’s happening in the derivatives market to understand what may happen to the price of rice in China. But do we really need 300 satellite channels of the same garbage – Now available in HD!- or realtime updates of what outfit such and such celebrity had on when they checked into rehab, again? Or do we, at a certain level, trust that paper and ink still have value, start writing letters again, sending poetry to faraway loves, pull out that yellow legal pad, ala Vonnegut, and finally write your novel the old fashioned way, illegibly?

In Timequake, the whole of humanity loses free will for 10 years, what Vonnegut Jr. terms the “rerun”. He goes on, “There was absolutely nothing you could say during the rerun if you hadn’t said it the first time.” The thought that still nags me to this day, more than 10 years after I first read the book, and two years since Mr. Vonnegut has passed into the ether, what I always wanted to ask him was, “Did they realize it while it was happening, or only after, or even at all?” Like most important things that happen in realtime, I don’t think they did.

I trust your responses to this missive will be written in Esperanto and sent via carrier pigeon.

Christiania: Interview with Charlotte Østervang

Christiania: Interview with Charlotte Østervang

Christiania: Interview with Charlotte Østervang

Christiana – Helga © Charlotte Østervang

Walking with Charlotte Østervang in Christiania is an experience in humility. She knows, and is known, by almost everybody. And she interacts with them with gracefulness and kindness. One can see she is loved there. One can also see she loves being there. Over a period of four years Charlotte conducted a project that concluded recently with the publication of a book and an exhibition in the heart of Copenhagen, Denmark. It will be quite difficult to explain the concept of the “hippie town” Christiania in a few words. This place, a gigantic art/hippie squat of village proportions, played an important role in the freedom of expression in Europe for the past thirty years or so. The history of Christiania is also seeped in illicit drugs. Marijuana and hashish are trafficked freely on one street, but urban legend holds that the area also became involved in hard drugs, possibly pushing this utopian experiment into a place of darkness. For various reasons the government has been eager to normalize the place, and from an objective standpoint, one could witness a steady decline of the original spirit in recent years.

Charlotte’s work, however, does not focus on politics. Her book contains ninety-five portraits of the people of Christiania, together with a short text telling their story. It is nearly impossible not to note the irony of having these pictures displayed in the centre of Copenhagen. Even after discussing it with her, I still think the exhibition is somehow weird. Maybe allowing the exhibition was a bold political and demagogic move from a part of the government, while at the same time another faction is really trying hard to get rid of the “free city.” Whatever the case, Charlotte’s amazing work got the coverage it surely deserves.

Christiania: Interview with Charlotte Østervang

H42: Your work is part ethnography, part photography. What is your background?

CØ: In my younger days I tried many different things, but portraiture has always been where it ended up no matter what I did. I was educated in an art school in Prague but I wasn’t sure about how to develop my photography. Christiania made me the photographer I am because I was more interested in Christiania and its people than in photography per se. My dream had always been not to put myself inside a box but float inside photojournalism, portraiture, art…

H42: How did you learn the techniques of photography?

CØ: At school I learned large format camera, which I brought up here to do architecture photography. And I got caught up in that slow way of doing things. I fell in love with this therapeutic way of letting the images slowly develop on many levels. I also thought it was good for this project because Christiania is a slow place. Working this way, you meet people and get to know them. It wouldn’t have worked with big, new digital cameras. I think I really made the right choice, also because when setting up my equipment, people saw it as a kind of old fashioned theater.

I just biked around waiting to see a spot that I liked, a person whom I wanted to take a picture of, a story I wanted to tell... Click To Tweet

H42: You used a Polaroid back, right?

Christiana - Unoderne © Charlotte Østervang

Christiana - Unoderne © Charlotte Østervang

CØ: Yes, I chose that type of film (Polaroid Polapan; out of production) back in 2004 and fell in love with it. It’s not really easy to work with because you have to put the negative in water and all kinds of stuff like that. But you don’t have to go to the developer; you are independent in a way. And also I could give a Polaroid to the people, which really made it popular. I am happy to have used this slow film (25 iso): the person being photographed really had to concentrate on the shoot. The aperture was 8.0 and very often the shutter speed was 1/8th of a second. “Don’t even breathe” was what I told them. But it has such rich tones; it’s wonderful to work with.

H42: What is your failure to success ratio? How did you choose the final pictures?

CØ: There are ninety-five pictures in the book and I shot about three hundred. For example, the first three years I shot three pictures with each person. We never disagreed on the one that should be selected when I got back to them. It’s all about a little thing with the eye, or the way you stand. It’s really small things but it makes a huge difference in the end.

H42: Can you describe your workflow method?

CØ: I just biked around waiting to see a spot that I liked, a person whom I wanted to take a picture of, a story I wanted to tell… Then I’d ask if they wouldn’t mind standing for a portrait. I’d set the equipment and ask for ten minutes of their time. The talk actually developed from the picture. To write the stories, I’d find them again and go to their house, sit and talk while drinking coffee. I started taking pictures of the people that I knew and then slowly worked my way deeper into the community. And when you are in the street making that kind of theater, people get to know you. People talk, they know their neighbor had a picture, etc. I came back again one year later to get the permission/signature to put the pictures in the book and exhibition. And then I realized I needed more for the stories, because pictures are not enough for me. So I went back again to conduct interviews. I’d get home to write and go back the next day and we’d work on it together to finish it. And now I am back for the last time to give them the book! I’ve visited about five or six times…

H42: So one day you woke up and said, “Hey, I’m going to do that stuff in Christiania”?

CØ: Yes! [laughs] Actually it was a Saturday night. I remember biking around, asking permission to shoot and everybody was shrugging: “do whatever you want, anybody can take picture if they want to…” Outside of “Pusher Street” (the street where people deal hashish), people don’t care. Actually, they find it interesting. Because they are people who are proud of what they are, the life they have. I also met the cultural chairwoman and asked her feelings about it. I had been dreaming about this project for five years already–one of those projects you keep talking about and nothing happens. I also wanted to use it as an educational journey in photography, which is much more important to me than a school diploma. I started with an Avedon phase, as you see in the beginning of the book. Then I went to the USA. Unfortunately he had just died and I never got to meet him. Then I took a course at the International Center of Photography and I met Shelby Lee Adams. He mixes genres and his portraits are so rich with stories. I really admire his work. I also worked with Antonin Kratochvil from Czech Republic. I traveled in Eastern Kentucky with Adams and worked in New York City with Kratochvil. I learned a lot during this half year, mainly their approach and their way of thinking. So I went back to Christiania for three more months of shooting, knowing then that I should show their real background to tell the story. It made it much more complicated: now I had to know the people and their relation to the area. Before, when I was working with a white background, I was standing at the drugstore and just picked up people. The whole thing could have been done in three weeks. It also became more interesting with this opportunity to bike around and knock on those old wooden doors full of mysteries. Then I went back to America again, to see the same people and host an exhibition there. Then back to Denmark to shoot again…

H42: You also mentioned you actually lived in Christiania?

Christiania - Shack - © Arnaud de Grave

Christiania - Shack - © Arnaud de Grave

CØ: Yes, I borrowed a house for the second and third shooting season. I later sold my apartment, bought a caravan and placed it next to Christiania. I was spending a lot of money to educate myself and do this project; my financial situation was a complete disaster. I could earn freedom by selling my apartment and starting all over again. It was fantastic to move to Christiania because that was when things really started to happen. I was scared though, about what the Christianites would think about me trying to work my way into Christiania with a caravan. When I placed the caravan at the edge of Christiania, they started coming out of the woods, asking if I wanted some help, to come to their house for heating. Then I continued living there, to follow all the meetings and the politics. It was both great and awful. I lived there during their worst year because of this enormous external pressure they experienced from the government. It has been awful to see such hatred when you come down to the political scene. It struck me hard but it was also good for me to see another side of it.

H42: How come you finished it up with this exhibition in central Copenhagen? From an external point of view it looks like a political statement from the commune. It looks demagogic to me…

CØ: Everybody can apply for the square, so anybody can put on a photographic exhibition there. But it is kind of funny, and I like the teasing in it, because the administration that is affecting Christiania is actually just around the corner. The people working to remove Christiania walk everyday in front of the exhibition, and I invite them into the caravan for coffee everyday when I see them. Since 2002, the government and police have been working very hard to tackle the hashish problem, but in a very narrow minded way that fails to involve Christiana residents and take their interests into account. They have done a lot to create bad headlines and negative stories in newspapers, and now Danish people don’t have the same tolerance and interest in the place.

H42: I particularly like the fact that this political situation doesn’t show in your work…

CØ: Yes, that makes me proud. It is an exhibition for everybody, showing the people’s face of Christiania. But my motivation was not only artistic, because the reports have been very manipulating. The government made and showed fancy development plans for Christiania, as if they were trying to look at the situation carefully. But they didn’t. So my work is some sort of silent provocation, a silent riot act.

H42: Finally, what has been your greatest reward?

CØ: When going back to Christiania with books, like I did before, not phoning, just going there, the reaction of the people showed me my project was a gift to Christiania. Even the toughest guys took the book to their heart and said they were going to give it to their family. So the biggest achievement is the acceptance and respect I got from the people I photographed. The second biggest is the exhibition location and the fact that I put the caravan there. No newspaper wrote about the book, and I get my reviews from the street, as nobody knows I am the photographer. Also the reaction of the people displayed there is fantastic. They often come and stand looking at themselves. It is very touching. They listen to what people say about them and sometimes say: “Hey, it’s me.” They end up being photographed again next to their picture. It really gives the exhibition a depth I was not thinking about.

H42: It wouldn’t happen in a gallery!

CØ: Exactly, it starts in the morning with the office people and goes to the school kids and housewives. Then come the tourists and some drunk people. I get a huge variety of people. It is going to be difficult to go into a real gallery again!

Charlotte’s website: Oestervang.dk

Christiana website: Christiania.org

Book Information:

FRISTADEN Christiania 2004-2008
Photography and text by Charlotte Østervang
Bastard Books
(dist. & sales: Verve Books)
ISBN 978-87-92359-13-1

The Second Coming of Shôjo

The Second Coming of Shôjo

The Shojo - Yoshiya Who is the shôjo? There are two separate answers to that question, depending on your perspective, inside or outside shôjo culture. Although shôjo is usually translated into English as “girl” it is much more specific than that. The idea of the shôjo begins with Japan’s modern period, when for the first time there was a gap, a waiting period between childhood and adulthood (for the upper classes at least) and girls were sent off to school for a few years before marriage. The Meiji schoolgirl in the 1880s and 1890s became a symbol of everything that was changing in Japanese society. The Meiji schoolgirl, with her high pompadour, flying ribbons, and hakama, was both alluring and frightening to the men who observed and wrote about her, such as Tayama Katai. Around 1910 he wrote several novels about respectable men disgracing themselves by chasing after schoolgirls, in the grips of an obsession he called shôjobyô: girl sickness.

These early shôjo became the driving source behind many of the trends we now associate with modern culture, including the development of modern women’s language, according to linguist Inoue Miyako. The Meiji schoolgirl was the flower of bourgeois girlhood brought out in public for the first time, but with her Westernized, politicized education she posed a real threat to male control of public and private life. It’s hardly surprising then that descriptions of girl students in Meiji literature is full of this double vision: she’s sexy but dangerous, not only to the man who falls for her, but to the Japanese nation as a whole. This way of viewing girls has persisted from the “modern girl” of the 1920s up through the impossibly busty sweethearts of moe-obsessed otaku. While the tendency to draw big eyes may have come from shôjo manga, this is still an outsider’s view of the girl. Like a porn star or a whore, she is both idolized and degraded. Japan is still suffering from shôjobyô.

The Second Coming of Shôjo

But girls don’t see themselves this way, and never have. There is a wholly separate image of the shôjo that arose in the 1920s in all-girls schools, which were a temporary haven from the pressure of an arranged marriage that awaited girls after graduation. The two main forms of expression of shôjo culture were the all-girl Takarazuka Revue, and girls’ literary magazines, such as Shôjo No Tomo (The Girl’s Friend). The stories in these magazines were never about dating boys; instead, the focus was always on friendship between girls. Both in the magazines and in real life, girls formed passionate (and perhaps occasionally sexual) relationships with other girls, called S kankei. In the pages of girls’ magazines, novelist Yoshiya Nobuko (who maintained an S kankei relationship throughout her adult life) and illustrators such as Takabatake Kashô and Nakahara Jun’ichi created the look and feel of the ideal shôjo: upper class and cultured, pure and innocent, meaning she had no experience with boys. Times have changed, of course–now many Japanese, particularly older people, will say, with a disapproving glare at those vulgar kogals, that there are no more shôjo today. On the other hand, young women who refuse to marry and have children, or even those who do but who want to remain part of this innocent and idealized world, will refer to themselves as eien no shôjo, forever shôjo.

While S kankei have become less common in postwar Japan where co-ed schooling is the norm and dating is no longer forbidden, girls’ preference for homogender romance remains. Those prewar magazines were gradually replaced postwar by shôjo manga, but instead of girl-girl stories, we now have bishônen, shônen-ai, and yaoi, all stories of love between beautiful, feminine-looking boys. Even stories of S kankei are making a comeback, with manga such as Maria-sama ga mite iru, and in Takemoto Novala’s efforts to bring Yoshiya Nobuko to a new generation of girls. The prewar shôjo, with her chaste, refined ways, may seem quaintly old-fashioned now, and far removed from the hard-core porn of yaoi, but it seems many girls still find refuge in a homogender world when heterosexual relationships prove frustrating.

The Yayoi Museum (to whom we are thankful for use of these images) houses an impressive collection of art and resources related to magazine culture and the shôjo. No English support is available, but don’t let this deter you from visiting. It is visually stunning!

113-0032 Tokyo, Bunkyo-ku, Yayoi 2-4-3
tel 03(3812)0012 fax 03(3812)0699
e-mail [email protected]

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