Senseless Verisimilitude


Harold Edgerton

I am a Harold Edgerton fan, as I am a fan of many deconstructions of common conceptions of time.  It amazes me how an arrangement of silver specks fixed in two dimensions as an image on a sheet of paper can so powerfully inform and misinform us about qualities of all four dimensions (the four we are aware of, at least).  
This Edgerton photograph of a bouncing steel ball is old and imperfect.  Technological advances have since added, exponentially, miraculous qualities of verisimilitude to photographic images.  Yet, as we evermore perfectly photograph reality, by its own rules we create evermore perfect illusions, evermore removed from reality.  
If you held this print in your hands—sensed the ‘ahah!’ dance of steel and time simultaneously measured and on the lam—you might face a new dimension as you turned the print on its edge.  Illusion, reality: where did they go?  What qualities does this object now have that it did not have a moment ago?

Gavin W Sisk
July 23, 2013


Jots and Motes


From last night’s little text messaging bout between my young daughter and myself:

Me encanta la pequeña rana en el oido.

You sing a little frog in my ear?

Sirenas cantar, pero no mientras Dios susurra.

And how would the sirens know
if God whispered,
aside from being alive?
The sea rolling on itself
every day, striking the rock’s face
and somewhere else drowning a good sun?
We doubt the words were spoken.
But where bees’ wings are pinned to the sky
we can see the words sewn into their hem.*

I have been one-upped by the best. Nice poem.

Being alive should be living.

Dolphins laugh and leap and love the
fate of lovers’ lives who slip the nets.

Love the end.

Yes, being alive should be living. Our birth
is gone forever. We can only guess about our
death. Life is all that’s left. Always here, it’s the
only thing we can touch. And we can’t touch the
lives of others if we can’t learn to touch our own.
I touched you at birth. I’ll love you forever.

Writing like this–extemporaneous, undirected–is to writers as Polaroid film used to be to photographers. I’ve spent thirty years carefully calculating shutter clicks and conforming shapes and tones to my mind’s eye. Sometimes, though, my mind seemed to have no eye. Paralysis by analysis, I call it. It describes a total lack of progress despite possession of knowledge, skills, tools, and resources for conquering the world. Sometimes when that happened, I’d grab my old Polaroid camera and head out the door, leaving all calculations and expectations behind.
I’m often struck by paralysis when I need to write. But instead of rummaging through my closet for the Polaroid, I pull my phone from my pocket and tap out a message to someone. No rules. No planning. No expectations. If I catch my daughter in a writing mood, I get back twice what I give.

May 24, 2013

* by Hana Kurahara Sisk


When a Picture is Worth a Different Thousand Words

by Gavin W Sisk

Gavin W Sisk

Doll 41


I started playing years ago with the purely human quality of anthropomorphization.  In particular, I’ve always been interested in inducing an anthropomorphic response in a viewer and then disrupting the response or having it fall away altogether.  If I do my job right (or am lucky), what remains for the viewer is the structure or mechanism of the effect.  This is the actual subject.
I get the ball rolling using posing and lighting techniques on subjects having built-in qualities I think I can control.  I exploit these subjects’ potential for looking alive, but then disturb that potential by exposing props and defects in the subject.  What I’m shooting for are certain qualities of confusion rather than a simple ‘gotcha’.  These confusions are springboards for our ability to add living qualities to inanimate objects and are foundational to human culture.  What’s difficult for me is bringing subjects to the edge of pain, happiness, ecstasy, even special qualities of human empty-headedness, without leaving the viewer with a sense that either the subject or themselves have been robbed of something or been unfairly treated.  The images should be mirrors of us.  I could use this human facility to make cheap shots, but I won’t.  This is a unique facility we humans should rejoice in owning.


March 24, 2013



Doll 43

by Gavin W Sisk

Gavin W Sisk

Doll 43

Hana has been putting up with my many trips to Goodwill to hunt for dolls to use for this project. She’s a little afraid I will somehow hurt the dolls. But they’re okay–so far.

March 23, 2013

My Rules

I’m an industrial photographer who sometimes accepts journalism asignments.
I was covering a townhall event some years ago and was trolling for a spot at the back of the auditorium for some long-shots of the Washington State govenor. I lucked into a sweet little pocket right behind the middle-last seats. As I set up my tripod a gravelly voice behind me growled, “Guy, my shot’s blocked!” I turned to see a cheap t-shirt not quite covering the hairy paunch of an unshaved camera operator from a local news crew. Other crews on my left and right had set up farther forward, but they all had dressed as if they had just left factory jobs to get to the event.  In my jacket and tie I stuck out–I didn’t meet code.
I’m a deferential kind of guy who avoids confrontation.  If one of the regular news photographers really needed to share my spot, and asked nicely, I’d have bent over backwards to make extra room. So I looked into the eyes of the hairy Buddha-belly guy behind me and replied, gently, “I guess you’re not in a good spot back there”.
I may not be a veteran photojournalist, but a fifty dollar tie has a few rights over a two dollar t-shirt.
Unlike the scruffy veterans, I was invited to meet and photograph the governor after the event.  They served me good scotch.

Oct. 31, 2012

Deviant Art

I sometimes wonder if creative thought isn’t just the anarchism of our synapses; and, by nurture or nature, works of art are the ad hoc quelling of neural insurrections. In that sense, art could be seen as the product of personal fascist juntas which we allow to beat  insurgent imaginations into the warp and weft of canvas, or regiment emotions into marks at risk of universal misunderstanding, or decode dissonance tight to a staff, or toss bodies gently in the wake of a whale’s dancing tail. They then leave us adrift: supine in a short, bright, cold silence, which we adore but know will kill us if we linger. Perhaps, to sleep, we shoot these little dictators, and raise new insurrections in our dreams.

Oct. 25, 2012

Parts is Parts

I do a lot of work as a bio-medical photographer, which is a sub-specialty of my general work as an industrial photographer for a large university and medical center. One of my duties is to photograph body parts (as well as body ‘wholes’).
Photographing a body part is easiest when the part is uncovered. This ensures the photographs will be useful to the doctor who ordered the photography. The more parts of a body there are to photograph, the more the body needs to be uncovered.
The most practical way to photograph many different body parts on one body (with live bodies, anyway) is to have the parts’ owner remove all of his or her clothing. So, imagine me standing in a locked exam room while holding a camera that’s wired to bright photographic strobe lights, and while wearing substantially more clothing than the only other person in the room. I see things.
Here are some interesting facts and observations relating to photographing naked people for medical purposes:

1. They don’t pay me well enough. I earn a hell of a lot more when photographing mannequins for Nordstrom.
2. Male patients do not at all like being photographed by a male photographer–which makes me wonder if homophobia is a hardwired gender instinct.
3. Female patients usually don’t care who photographs their parts–or which parts are photographed–as long as the work is done right. Female patients shake my hand and thank me; male patients retreat quickly to their dressing room.
4. All–ALL–distinguishing details of a patient’s body mysteriously disappear from my memory thirty seconds after I take their last photo. Really! I’ve run into female patients in the clinic lobby ten minutes after I’ve escorted them back to their dressing room, and I have not recognized them, even after they have said hello. (This does beg the question, why do they say hello to me in the clinic lobby?)
5. When I process and print the photos back at my office, I almost never recognize any of the patients.

Weird, huh? But when I compare notes with other male medical photographers and radiographers–even the good looking single males–they all report the same experiences. Nobody remembers anything.
So, there you go. Men really do have something on their minds besides sex. At least, some of the time they do.

July 7, 2012