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<nettime> American Adventure Theory!
Jordan Crandall on Mon, 29 Jun 1998 21:09:35 +0200 (MET DST)


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<nettime> American Adventure Theory!


BETWEEN PADDLE AND VIEWFINDER
Jordan Crandall



THE SUMMER OF 1998.  A strange restless time. Sitting in a conference
room in Central America with a sneaking suspicion that the old models,
like worn rafts, no longer work. Thinking of image theories, I find
myself hijacked by an image.  Kidnapped by something like a Pepsi
commercial.  Thrown into an adventure sport.  Dropped onto a large raft,
at the bank of a brutal white-water rapid, outfitted with paddle.  Yo!  

But wait:  What about image strategy?  No, no.  It is of no use in
rafting.  How do you learn to swim anyway -- by theorizing or by doing? 
If you must bring some baggage, you need a theory-in-activity, a kind of
"adventure theory."  A mobile theory, a theory-on-the move.

Fly!  I jump in.  But whoa!  I am not the only one with new needs for
old devices.  One of our potential raft occupants, a determined woman
from Indiana, stood beside the boat in a showdown with the host. The
issue was whether or not her CAMERA would accompany her on the journey. 
She was told repeatedly that she would spend most of the trip completely
soaked, and that the water would certainly ruin the device. But she
stood fast and firm.  She was not to be denied her right to bear
camera.  Tightly bound in a yellow lifejacket like a fresh roll of film,
camera held firmly in one hand and upturned paddle in the other, she
stood menacingly above the raft's occupants, mumbling in rapid-fire
staccato.  How thrilling was the possibility of riding next to someone
who stood so firmly and commandingly for the photographic impulse.  I
quickly offered a compromise -- much to the dismay of the other members
of the group, who clearly wanted no instrument-wielding fanatics aboard
and would have preferred to simply take the camera and jettison its
fleshy viewfindee.  

Perhaps, I suggested, the camera and the woman could accompany one
another, if the former remained lodged in the cooler in a baggie? 

The solution was acceptable. The boat took on the woman and the
instrument.

Rafting is not idle sport - it requires sustained, choreographed
paddling.  The rowing patterns of the paddler and those of the currents
must work with and against one another through the agency of oar and
arm, the forces synchronized or countered, in order to achieve a stable
position amidst the flows.  We received a quick training in this
procedure.  It became apparent however that the camera-woman - still
tightly-wound - was only capable of two motions:  on the one hand a
counterclockwise rotation of the arm, uniform like the turning wheel of
a gear; and on the other, a rapid thrusting motion downward, during
which the paddle shot violently upward out of the water and remained
suspended.  Eyeballing the offending paddle and its inefficient
activator, the raft occupants shuffled uneasily.  

Assuming our positions, oars poised, we were launched into the rapids. 
Paddling furiously, we rounded a corner and were presented with the most
spectacular view.  At this point, the photo-woman, liaison between
camera and scene, suddenly dropped her oar and lunged for the cooler. 
Wresting the camera from the baggie, she stood up in the whirling raft,
positioned the viewfinder in front of her eye, and was promptly knocked
into the water.

CAMERA OVERBOARD

Caught in divergent movement flows, the picture fell apart.  The image
moved, its parts de-synchronized.  A wedge was driven into the gears (a
reality-rift), sending the parts flying outward.  The photo-woman --
whole, intact -- was promptly retrieved from the water.  The camera, on
the other hand, had met its match:  it bobbed for a few moments and then
was sucked under by the powerful current -- the agent that ultimately
"took" the picture.  The woman -- clearly ending up on the wrong end of
the exchange -- was devastated.  Firmly installed back in her seat,
emulsion side up but only semi-coherent, she gazed longingly along the
surface of the water, looking for a floating glint of reflective metal,
hoping it would catch her eye.   

She dreamed of a quick replay -- a spool reeled back in the other
direction -- as camera, eye, body, and boat rose up to meet one another
in a single, shining instant.  Gloriously reunited, all the parts
snapped into place, all the elements synchronized. A complex of varying
motions suddenly bound together, aligned, coordinated, precariously held
into position by the very forces that subsequently pulled it apart.  A
shutter clicked, adjusted to a speed relative to light, distance, and
motion conditions (rapid, oar, world).  An arm swung into altitude and
locked into place; a viewfinder held an eye rapt. An image was exposed,
a moving picture was taken, a picture immobilized of motions.  A complex
of synchronizations, an alignment of varying motions and parts, produced
an image as a marker of time, place, and subjectivity.  But the time was
gone already, and the frame was empty.  ("I was T/HERE then," one wants
to say, pointing at a picture.  "It was ME.")

I reeled back even further -- back to the onset of the lunge for the
camera, when the camera-woman's eyes locked onto the cooler and the
drive was engaged.  In mid-air, as the camera-woman's body catapulted
itself across the moving raft, I remembered hearing a scream - the
brief, frightened shriek of a fellow raft member, who was alarmed at the
sudden cutting across of the frame by a flying body, a body out of
bounds, a body committing a violence on the scene.  A body slicing
across the registration, jamming the gears, shifting the center of
gravity, flying against the complex of forces that held the raft
temporarily stable.  An affront to the balances of boat, body, and image
amidst the illusory coordinations.

PRODUCT TO THE RESCUE

As if out of nowhere, another raft occupant gleefully whipped out a
Canon ES-6000 housed in a waterproof Amphibico(tm) casing.  Like a true
product spokesperson, called into action to fondle the item, push its
buttons, testify to its abilities.  He brandished the device gleefully,
snapping up the views, snapped up by the views.  The photo-woman,
enlivened by the sight and charged by the shutter movements, sprung into
action.  At each click, she squealed with pleasure.  Her eye narrowed in
close-range focus as she began directing him, in order that he get the
best shots possible.  There!  Take this one!  There!  That!  She pointed
wildly, flailing her arms about (thankfully, she had been stripped of
her oar, when it became apparent that she would do more harm than good
with it).  She gave hand and arm indications of orientation, position,
and direction like a traffic cop, in anticipation of the markers, the
outputs, gesturing frantically in order to communicate place, time, and
framing.  For clearly the body has some catching up to do to meet the
apparatuses' disjunctions. It often finds itself performing the most
unruly gestures, as if left to drown in the waters, desperately try to
stay afloat with the most archaic signals -- the raw, unoutfitted
flailings of the arms, the frantic kickings of the feet.  Through it
all, the machines remain stable.

The photo-woman became increasingly unspooled.  Because, of course,
sightlines never align for long; the temporalities spin out of sync. The
waterproof man, as it turns out, was simply not getting the right shots
- the shots that it is one's duty to capture.  The dude finally put the
camera aside in favor of first-hand experience as such.  Overcome with
the exhilarating activity of the rapids and the excited rush of spray
and spirit, he had no interest whatsoever now in taking pictures.  He
flung his arms wide, head thrown back, like Kate Winslet on the bow of
the Titanic.  The photo-woman was completely incapable of this kind of
direct interface.  She became red with anger, casting a possessing gaze
upon the camera that now lay immobile beside the man's feet.  Her look
was split between the actual views around her and the view of the
camera-conduit, though it became difficult to read her, since her
eye-movements were no longer accompanied by those of the body, which
seemed to have frozen up.  A strange discoordinated stillness overcame
her.

We rounded a corner and were afforded an astounding view.  The woman,
realizing with panic that the best view would now remain uncaptured and
therefore unrealized, was unable to contain herself any longer. 
Springing into action, she lunged across the raft like a football
player, snatched up the camera, and took the picture.

And yet another scream:  this one even shriller, as the violent act
recreated itself, intensifying, the stakes having been raised in the
capturing, the coordination of the elements.  The instance of this
scream was accompanied by an unconscious raising of the paddle, as if to
ward of the danger of an unbounded body propelling itself toward one's
own person, directly into the eye-frame.  After this virtual assault,
the camera-woman, having reached her capacity, lay spent upon the raft's
floor. The frightened raft companion slowly lowered her oar, and the
waterproof camera, detached from any operator, rolled back and forth on
the undulating soft rubber surface.   

A VISUAL SAVED

The photo-woman and the waterproof man exchanged a cursory goodbye.  No
arrangements were made for any future contact.  No matter that she
wouldn't have any of the pictures in her possession, or even see them at
all.  The picture "banks" the reproduction of the visual.  The important
thing was the picture be taken - that it is captured, produced, that it
*exists* somewhere, somehow.  Because otherwise, all is "lost":  all one
has is an image of a picture that could have been.
---
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