10 thoughts on “The Art of Re-Working Reality

  1. Oh, beautiful, Linda, as always! Someday I will finish Durrell’s quartet (only Justine so far & that so long ago that I will have to start over). “Process” is such a difficult thing to describe; I’m not qualified. But you have done it wonderfully. Once again, will be rereading & thinking & then perhaps have something to say. Otherwise, just thank you.

    ds ~

    From what I’ve read of your writing and what little I know of your tastes, I suspect once you begin another volume, you’ll be hooked. It really isn’t necessary to read Justine again before beginning, as much is recapitulated in each of the books. The same characters are there, only seen from differing perspectives.

    I was thinking last night I’m turning into a bit of a nag about the Quartet – or, more charitably, a literary version of Johnny Appleseed. If I could, I’d roam the world to the doorstep of each of my known readers and plant the volumes into your life! Of course, everything doesn’t appeal to everyone and the Quartet wouldn’t take root everywhere, but still…. It would be worth the effort!

    Whenever you find the time for it again, I’ll be glad to know what you think.


  2. I’m making a note to get ahold of The Alexandria Quartet, Linda. I wonder if it will bring me back to my travelling days of Egypt in 1980. Sometime in November of that year I stood on the very spot that cover photo was taken. Every stone up was taller than a refrigerator, but the view was worth it.


    I can only say that I’m carrying images of Alexandria and Egypt in my head that are specific and colorful because of Durrell, and if I could choose only one place more to travel to in life, it would be Alexandria.

    Of course today’s city would be utterly different than that described by Durrell. But, as a way of evoking a place already visited and known, I can’t think of anything better. I suspect you’re the sort who would have taken in much of what Durrell writes about, and would enjoy it tremendously.


  3. Very interesting points you raise. Seems to me all writing and photography is subjective – we only put out there what we want others to see.


    Exactly so. A tiny example – when you posted that series of photos of the little boats in the lagoon, they created a wonderful sense of a peaceful, isolated world subject only to the whims of nature. I suspect you could have posted other photos that might have communicated something entirely different – the encroachment of human influence, for example.

    That’s part of the fun of art ~ seeing something, wanting others to see it and then trying to make that happen. Quite a challenge, when you get down to it!


  4. Years ago, Linda, I used to write…poems, mostly. Not that I was good at it but there were actually times I’d reread a poem, years later, and say, “I wrote that??!!” It shocked me, like wondering what deep place it came from.

    Now I take photos, so your parallel strikes home. I’m not a purist, probably because I didn’t know how to “do” it when all we had was film. I didn’t understand cameras back then. I understand them now only to the same extent that I understood how to write poems back then…not very well. So I use the manipulation tools to my advantage, to bring my sense of soul to the form, creating what, yes, has become a new art form in this digital age. It’s like photography, similar to writing, now has it’s fields of specialization…or do we really have writing that we consider “purist?”

    You and Ruth are way ahead of me in such things. I just read and listen in awe. At least I do know how to appreciate good art…like yours!


    I understand the shock of reading something and wondering where it came from. It’s as magical as uploading photos I’ve taken and discovering something I didn’t see at the time – captured by the camera but missed by the photographer.

    And I understand just a bit of what you mean when you speak of bringing a sense of soul to a form. The photo of the palm tree above began life as a sunset snapshot from my balcony. It’s what I see sitting here at my desk, if I turn my head and look out the window. And yet the tree, the water, the sky – the physical realities – are not always the fullness of what I “see”. What I call my “messing about” with photos somehow helps me to bring the emotional tone of my experience to the image itself.

    As for “pure” writing…. I have known a couple of folks who were certain their writing was the essence of what good writing ought to be. Of course, they also felt as though their standards should be the measure of all things, so there you are ;-)

    I appreciate your comments so much. Most of the time, I’m feeling my way through unfamiliar territory when I write, and it’s nice to have folks around who have little maps in their pockets, or at least a willingness to travel along to see what’s around the bend!


  5. Sofa sogood, no-lockup-wise.

    I very much enjoyed your thoughts on photography. When I took photojournalism, I was fortunate to have a Life Magazine photographer for an instructor. We were not allowed to crop. Ever. We did all our own developing and printing (with b/w the real creativity is in the darkroom with dodging and burning, controlliing the light, during exposure}.

    Not cropping is called “shooting/printing full frame” and throughout my many years of landscape and nature photography on the side and in contests, I made sure they were printed to show they were full frame “cropped in the viewfinder”. It never failed to bring good stuff my way.

    I still crop in the viewfinder, always with landscape and nature shots and usually with my little food snaps. Old habits are hard to break!


    Ah, ha. I remember you using the terms dodging and burning when you were doing your own “messing about” with the police station photo. I’d never heard the terms, and now I realize they’re not from photoshop but from the darkroom. More importantly, I’ll bet that a commitment to shooting full frame necessarily means moving away from that automatic setting and the point-and-shoot mindset. Things I give no mind to – shutter speed, etc. – have to be more critical when what you see truly IS what you get.

    As with so much in life, photography can seem unbearably complicated to a novice. I have a little inspirational photo I keep tucked into a corner of my desk. It’s a terrible double exposure of a years-ago scene in a Los Angeles bowling alley – taken by Ansel Adams! Every time I look at it, I laugh, and regain my perspective.

    I’m so happy you enjoyed the post. I liked thinking about all this!


  6. I enjoy thinking about it also. Ansel Adams was amazing and a perfect example of the magic in the darkroom, although he invented an exposure system (for the film and the print) called the Zone System, which I’ve never fully understood. (I should also point out that even without the Zone System, he could have shot masterpieces with a Brownie. It’s not the equipment, it’s the person using it, as we say.)

    If you like his work and aren’t familiar with Galen Rowell, you might enjoy it:


    He and his wife died in a small-plane crash some years back. His work is as dramatic as Adams’s, sometimes moreso, but in color.

    You’re right about the fiddly bits in photography. I once heard the banjo described as an instrument that takes an hour to learn but a lifetime to master. I think photography fits that description too.


    Funny, about the banjo – and so true. It’s a bit true with varnishing, too. People always are asking me what brush is best for a pretty coat. I tell them, “One used with patience”.

    Your point about “it’s not the equipment – it’s the person” reminded me of a post called “Snapper’s Disappointment” that I re-read regularly. It’s well written, and you might enjoy it. You can find it here at Dissent Decree.

    And many thanks for the link to Galen Rowell. What limited lives we lead. I just did a quick image search and found myself thinking, “How could I not have known about this?!” What’s most amazing to me is how many other “worlds” there must be I have no sense of at all. Sometimes I think that’s why I love blogging and resist nudgings toward a novel or full-length book. With so much to discover and time growing short, I’m not certain I’d want to devote so many months or years to one project.

    Always love your comments!


  7. That is so true, Linda, what you say about blogging leading from one thing to another. It’s like a portal to endless alley ways, most of which you never even knew you wanted to enter.

    I love the banjo, ever since that famous scene in Deliverance, and someone sent me a link to Steve Martin (the actor) playing the banjo. He’s really brilliant – check out this link.


    And even more is at play here. It’s not just that I didn’t know I wanted to enter. I didn’t even know many of those alleyways existed! Some of them are dead ends, for sure, but others are linked like a labyrinth, and you could wander forever. It reminds me of the old saying ~ not all who wander are lost.

    The banjo’s one of “those” instruments, like a clarinet or violin. I hate listening to the eight year olds practice, but a 28 year old who’s done the practicing – sheer delight!


  8. This is deep water you’ve led us out to tread, Linda. But first of all let me just express a wow, you’ve got a room with a view, and what a view. Ok, now, back to the deep water of authenticity.

    Your post reminds me of the book A Million Little Pieces by James Frey. It was touted as a brilliant memoir of how the author recovered from drug addiction and a life of crime. But later upon investigation, many of the facts in the book were found out to be fabricated. He was called ‘The man who conned Oprah’, not to mention thousands of readers. There’s a fine line between a memoir and an autobiographical fiction. Your quote from Michael Smith presents a couple of crucial points, context and intent. The word ‘intent’ particularly stands out for me. In my mind, intent relates to integrity.

    But somehow, I feel there’s a vast difference between Frey’s action and touching up photography with some high tech skills. I understand some photo contests allow a certain degree of such manipulations in digital photography. But I’m not sure exactly what or how they arrive at the rules. Anyway, I admit I’m baffled by issues like these.


    What a perfect literary example. I’d forgotten about Frey’s little escapade, although I followed it at the time. Fabricating details in a book purported to be truthful is much like Smith’s point about manipulating a setting. For a nature photographer to assemble pieces – rocks, leaves, bones – and then present the image as “real” is directly related to a writer choosing to present “facts” which aren’t at all as they seem.

    Many times I rework my own experience in order to write about its essence. In that case, the details – and their accurate reporting – aren’t important at all. On the other hand, if I were writing a journalistic piece, just “making it up as I go along” would be completely wrong. As you say, “intent” is critical. And, for a writer, memory is always selective, anyway. In “Sprinklers, Sparklers & Mayo”, I’m not reporting but building on childhood memories to recreate a feeling, an atmosphere. They’re quite different endeavors. Whether the mayo was on potato or macaroni salad doesn’t make a whit of difference.

    Thanks so much for the remind of Frey’s book – that’s why this needs to be a group effort!


  9. Well, this is another fabulous post and I’ll have to visit my buddy Mikey and weigh in over there, too. It’s one we’ve bashed about a bit in person, too.

    Interesting, though. As an editor (for print), I’m most cognizant of manipulating words for the greatest impact. (I just did in writing that sentence, too!) Is it too long, too fussy, too unclear, too abrupt. Is something brown or taupe or terracotta or beige or chocolate?

    I never thought about editing my photos as I shoot them, but I do. How many times do I take the same image, where a fraction of an inch difference defines whether one is better than the other. Sometimes I’m stuck cropping on the computer, but I crop a lot as I shoot.

    I’ve pondered this issue often and I think where I get hung up on manipulation isn’t so much when you are enhancing what is already there — sharpening, enhancing (but not changing) color, or cropping for impact. Where I do have issues with it are changing the story. I remember a photo of Prince William on his uncle’s wedding day being shown side by side with another picture. In the real photo, William’s head was down; in the “official” photo, William is smiling at the camera like his brother, dad and uncles. Of course I can see why they “liked” that version. But was it real? And when does it stop?

    I think that’s what worries me most — when does it stop?


    The issue of “changing the story” is critical – that’s what Arti was referring to, above. And it goes far beyond photographs or books. Those who attempt to “paint a picture” of anything – a health care system, a government takeover of a business or institution, a political decision to engage in this sort of behavior, or that – always are choosing details and making decisions about what to “crop out of the picture”. At least in the old days of film there was the cutting room floor, and when authors were writing their manuscripts, there were early drafts. Now, it can be terribly difficult to know what’s been excluded from the picture we’re given.

    I’ve heard everyone from Rush Limbaugh to Rachel Maddow and Barack Obama to Pat Robertson say precisely these words: “You have to look at the whole picture”. But across the political spectrum people with every sort of view have a sense editing crews are hard at work, trying to produce cheery snapshots of everything from the economy to governmental bureaucrats run amok. Increasingly, people seem to be asking your questions: is it real? And when does it stop?

    Great to see you, and thanks for the stimulating comments!


  10. Oh, isn’t that the truth! You’re absolutely right about the media and the point of view. And it’s one thing when you know what the point of view is and you expect it is edited. What is especially frightening are the cases where one really doesn’t know. What seems unbiased. Oh, yeah. You nailed it on that one.

    This week our station hosted an economic forum, asking leaders in our community what we can do to help the economic situation in our sad little state. One of the things that emerged was “tell positive stories.” And that’s good — there aren’t enough of them, at least not here. We DO need to hear more. But if you only tell the positive ones, well, that’s editing, too… Lots to mull on…


    Interesting to read this all in the new context of Walter Cronkite’s death. With so many “journalists” no more than cheerleaders for one point of view or another these days, it’s sobering to remember the days when journalistic integrity was actively sought. I laughed this morning, listening to an interview with Brian Williams on MSNBC. I can’t quote exactly, but he mentioned the fact that people these days get up and turn on the station they already know to reflect their beliefs.

    When I was growing up, listening to the news was taken seriously – you sat down to watch and listen, rather than letting it play like journalistic muzak in the background. In school journalism classes, we were urged to do our level best to present the facts of a story accurately, and to present both (or all) sides of the story. Naive as we all were, we believed that telling “the” story beat telling “bad stories” or “good stories” hands-down.
    Whether we ever can come to a second naivete is an open question.

    At least Mr. Cronkite’s death may be the occasion for some of that mulling, precisely when it’s needed.


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