Exit Through the Gift Shop

painted elephant
elephant art

Exit Through the Gift Shop starts off as a street art documentary from the eyes of Frenchman Thierry Guetta. As the film progresses the camera turns around as Guetta attempts to become a street artist himself. I want to urge everyone who has an interest in art culture to go check out this film. The trailer made Gift Shop look like a glorification of graphitti culture, or worst, just an organized series of skateboard-video-like montages. Fortunately, the actual film is an indictment of street artists’ desire for commericalization and for their works to be legitimized by the gallery and auction house crowds.

Right off the bat, the viewer is charmed by Guetta’s personality. He wears an inspired moustache and mutton chops combination. He is child like and his English is just broken enough to be funny. When he was a child Guetta was absent during the death of his mother. Since then, he records all the events of his life on video so that he’ll never miss an important moment again. When he discovered the street art scene, he became the perfect witness to performances that were never supposed to be captured.

In the second act of the film, Banksy tells Guetta to put down his camera and to go out and create his own art. He stopped obsessing about capturing other artists, and turned his focus to creating the short-lived works of art himself. Lacking artistic training and patience, he copied the mashed together the styles of previous pop and street artists and hired a bunch of craftmen to execute his ideas. He used his relationship with his friends Banksy and Shepard Fairey to drum up media attention for the massive show he hoped would be as successful as Banksy’s own Barely Legal exhibit (picture above by 14-2-1).

Despite Guetta’s incompetence, his show draws a huge crowd and becomes a major event in LA’s social scene. It is at this point that the movie really came together for me. Mr. Brainwash – the moniker Guetta adopted – ascends to greatness, mirroring street art’s own immature rise to mainstream acceptance. In their drive to be listed at Sotheby’s, artists risk jeopardizing the movement they helped created. Banksy and Fairey expresses regret for accidentally helping create Mr. Brainwash, despite having the best of intentions. In the same vein, the diluting of street art’s identity won’t be due to malice, but rather the innocent discovery of people like Guetta and his fans.

On a deeper level, Gift Shop was an allegory for getting lost by confusing what is ephemeral with what is permanent. Guetta used to be happy creating banal but genuine videos of life. Now he sells poor imitations to collectors who want an authentic facsimile of a fleeting moment on the street. The artists he encountered wanted the benefits of having their works recorded instead of just erased. Instead, their culture risks being as transient as their art, a rapid and brilliant effort that can be torn down just as quickly.

Don Valley Brick Works

brickworks wall
inside wall

A month ago I had the oportunity to go to the Don Valley Brick Works to spend a few hours taking photos with a good friend of mine. The Brick Works started making bricks for Toronto since all the back in the nineteenth century but now is unused and basically falling apart. It had all the grit and texture I loved, combined with a lurking feeling of creepy lonliness. Needless to say, my friend and I tried really hard to capture the emotions of the site and had a blast doing it. I brought almost all my gear with me but didn’t end up publishing any of the photos where I used external lighting. The condition of the buildings required some challenging tripod setups but rewarded the photographer with some beautiful naturally lit scenes. I got some really great shots, and even with stricter editing I was able to post a substantial set on Flickr. Unfortunately for urban photographers of derelict buildings, the site is undergoing renovation, so it might never be the same again.

lamp lies on the ground next to cement block
fallen lamp

This is the first time ever that I used Adobe Lightroom for my entire workflow. I wasn’t able to use the application before because it was such a resource hog. Lightroom is still not light weight by any means, but at least now I have a faster rig to run it on. The primary reason I made the switch was that I noticed most of my post-processing didn’t happen in Photoshop at all, it was all in Adobe Camera Raw! I am still learning the application but one thing I like is the array of flexible viewing styles (loupe, grid, lights dim, lights off, hide panels, full screen, etc.) all with easy to access keyboard shortcuts. Another thing that I like is the persistent film strip with filtering options, allowing me to quickly compare and navigate through my set. The only complaint I have is that the interface still feels a bit sluggish. Other then that, it has been a very competent tool, replacing my previous workflow of Picasa (or Bridge) then Camera Raw/Photoshop. Oh yeah, and unlike Photoshop, it keeps your EXIF data on export.

Dan Ariely

Today I saw a TED video tweeted by the crew at ISO50. The presentation is Dan Ariely, a writer and professor at MIT. He started the talk by showing the common visual trick where two lines of the same length are shown, but the viewer is fooled into thinking that one line is longer due to way it was presented. Ariely goes on to suggest that if something we use so often like our eyes can be fooled so easily, then it’s not a stretch to think that we make a lot of cognitive mistakes in areas we have less experience in. The whole presentation is very interesting, delving into examples where people’s decision changed based on factors completely separate from the effects of the that choice. When my ears really perked up is when he gets into how people change their purchasing decision and the value they place on different options change based simply by changing the context by which those choices are presented. It is much easier to understand by watch the video.

I’m really interested in learning more about people’s internal value system, so I’ll definitely pick up Ariely’s book Predictably Irrational, where he talks about these subjects and the notion of behavioural economics.

R. C. Harris

Lake Ontario
Lake Ontario

Last Monday we went to the R. C. Harris Water Treatment Plant. It is located beside the eastern most stop of the Queen Street streetcar route. The plant itself is an imposing but beautiful building in an art deco style. In front, there is a large green lawn with path sneaking down to a tiny beach with a small pier facing Lake Ontario. The whole site is small but well maintained. It is also just a nice place to walk through on a sunny day, espcially since it is also connected to Balmy Beach.

R. C. Harris Facing Lake Ontario
R. C. Harris Facing Lake Ontario

It was a very bright day but I was able to take a couple of shots that I thought conveyed the mood of the place. This is the first time in awhile that I’ve used Adobe Bridge to manage my photos. The program used to be bloated and slow and prone to crashes. It is still not as fast in Picasa in generating thumbnails and high resolution renders, but it feels leaps ahead of its own self. One thing I didn’t like about Picasa was that it always boosted the exposure of underexposed shots. Shots that are underexposed on purpose cannot be previewed properly in Picasa before loading them into Photoshop. With Bridge, not only are previews shown as-shot, but it also remembers each photo’s Camera Raw settings. I wish it had an easier way to export lots of photos at once to jpegs though, since Adobe’s whole Photoshop batch process still feels to clumsy. A tip: turn on high quality previews in the advanced page of Bridge’s preferences. This allows high resolution previews to be much sharper. Before finding this setting, I always wondered why my shots looked so much sharper in Picasa.

Muskoka

We took a break up to Muskoka on Friday and Saturday. It ended up raining all day on Friday so we were stuck inside the resort but that turned out to be pretty nice. It was just serene, sitting on a soft chair by the fireplace, reading a book with the sound of rain in a backdrop of the foggy lake.

Grace looks out of the hotel window
Grace looks out of the hotel window

I was surpised how the lake view and the tall ceiling in our room seemed to help me loosen up and not feel cramped indoors. Away from the all-day traffic noise of Spadina, it was so relaxing that for a few hours my brain stopped craving for an internet connection. Furthermore the resort didn’t have many guests and it seemed like we had the whole place to ourselves. While I was editting these photos I wanted to bring out that feeling of peace and isolation, being in our own private little universe, buffered from the clutter and disarray of our lives back in Toronto.

Lake Muskoka
Lake Muskoka with a bit of fog

Microserfs

Today I finished reading Microserfs by Douglas Coupland. The book takes place in the early 90s and is written as a journal of the main character Dan. He starts out as a tester in Microsoft and then moves to Silicon Valley when his friend convinced Dan to join his startup.

Microserfs is filled with obvervations of big tech company culture, Silicon Valley culture, the coder-geek lifestyle, and the relationship between humans and computers. I’ve been interested in philosophy and this book touches on a lot of topics that I haven’t come across anywhere before. What is the higher goals of creating technology? Are machines an extention of human beings? Do we allow computers to embody our hopes and fears? Does creating technology make us more or less human?

In computer years, Microserfs was written ages ago (that’s what JPod is for, I suppose), so many of the obversation about computer culture are still relevent and still connected with me. At one point in the book, Dan pointed out that every programmer thinks they are better adjusted than other programmers. Coupland explores these layers of denial that can develop when your give dedicate your whole life to code. Microserfs is ultimately about how technology can change the way individuals understand themselves, interpret their place in the world, and connect with the people around them.