Asemic Writing

After @accidentalmystery posted this 19th century blotter page, I googled asemic writing. Turns out, it’s a form of illegible, wordless writing and better yet, there’s a whole art form based around it.

Influenced by cave paintings, doodles and children’s drawings, the meaning of asemic writing is deliberately left open so viewers can interpret it in their own way. It’s primal and works on an unconscious level, blurring the boundaries between writing and art.

Quattro Stagioni: Autunno 1993-5 by Cy Twombly 1928-2011
Quattro Stagioni: Autunno 1993-5 © Cy Twombly
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Asemic Photograph © Rosalia Touchon

Asemic writing has its roots in the earliest forms of written communication and strangely, is thought to stem from the work of two drunk Chinese Tang Dynasty calligraphers: “Crazy” Zhang Xu and Huai “Drunk” Su. Legend has it that whenever Zhang Xu was inebriated, he would use his hair as a brush to perform his art, and upon his waking up, he would be amazed by the quality of those works but failed to produce them again in his sober state.

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One of Huai Su’s surviving works
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An example of Zhang Xu’s calligraphy

In the late 1800s, Japanese Zen calligraphers built on from Zhang Xu and Huai Su’s work, founding Hitsuzendō or The Way of the Zen Brush.

In Hitsuzendō, the whole body is used to push a large brush and ink, usually on newspaper roll. Often practised standing, the process results in expressive, spiritual works that aim to focus the mind.

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Jiun Sonja (1718-1804), Nantendo (1839-1925) and Kasumi Bunsho (1905-1998)

More recently, poets, writers and artists have experimented with wordless mark-making to explore abstraction and express their ideas.

Man Ray’s poem, Paris, Mai 1924 consists of different sized black dashes, Henri Michaux‘s compulsive, calligraphic drawings expressed his “interior gestures” and Cy Twombly‘s paintings often incorporated frenetic scribbles and scrawls.

This is just the tip of the iceberg; it’s a fascinating subject. Go take a look at Tim Gaze’s magazine to see the breadth and scope of asemic art worldwide.

Crappy Cameras

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“The single most important component of a camera is the twelve inches behind it.”

– Ansel Adams

When asked what camera he used, Walker Evans tapped his temple with his index finger and said, “It’s not the camera, it’s…”  Evans knew photographers make photos, not cameras. No camera can make up for creativity, patience and skill.

Dash Snow shot Polaroids because he wanted the resulting images to seem cheap and disposable. Chase Jarvis published an entire book of photos snapped on his iPhone, fittingly titled, The Best Camera is the One That’s With You.

It doesn’t matter much to me if a photograph is low resolution or out of focus. Crappy cameras inspire me because of their limitations. I prefer when things are left open to chance.

I think photographer, Oscar Fernando Gómez Rodríguez has it right: “Don’t worry about technique or what camera to buy,” he says. “Feel what you feel and translate it to the image.”

Ruth McMillan

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© Ruth McMillan

I’ve been following Ruth McMillan‘s work for years, after seeing her raw, gritty photographs on Tumblr. Whether documenting her travels or capturing intimate moments spent with her muse, Sandra, her pictures are always interesting. We recently chatted about her work and inspiration.

Hi Ruth, please tell me a little about yourself. 

Hiii, I’m Ruth, I live in Glasgow but I’m originally from Northern Ireland. I’m currently
working on self publishing a poetry/prose book and also a photography book.

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© Ruth McMillan

How did you develop an interest in photography?

My Nana helped me to buy a digital Nikon camera because I wanted to photograph sunsets. I had that for a couple years until a few friends started using film cameras, so I bought a Holga and fell for the magic of film. Shortly after that, I met Sandra and she became my muse, and I bought a Kodak point and shoot camera on eBay which helped me develop my aesthetic further.

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© Ruth McMillan
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© Ruth McMillan

What cameras do you prefer to use?

I’ve been using the same 3 cameras now for a couple years, before that I experimented with many until I found my favourite. I use a Pentax slr, Mju and a Kodak point and shoot.

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© Ruth McMillan

Do you have a favourite photographer or artist whose work you admire?

I have many, some of them are… Justin Apperley, Perpetual Kitten, Joe Nigel Coleman, Isa Gelb and Alessandro Ruggieri. You can find these guys on Instagram.

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© Ruth McMillan

Thanks Ruth!

If you’re interested in seeing more of Ruth’s work, go check out her website or find her on Instagram.

Brassaï Graffiti

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Child Snatching the Moment © Brassaï

“Graffiti belongs to everyone and no one.”

– Picasso

French-Hungarian photographer, Brassaï moved to Paris in 1924. At first, he worked as a journalist, taking photographs to supplement his income. Often joining his friend, Andre Kertesz when he went out with his camera, it didn’t take long for Brassaï to find himself inspired. Photography enabled him to express his love of the city: “to capture the beauty of streets and gardens in the rain and fog, and to capture Paris by night.

In 1933, Brassaï began documenting the graffiti he found in the working class districts of Paris. Wandering the city, he’d make notes and sketches, noting down the location so that he could return to take photographs in better light. Resembling cave drawings, the marks were at odds with their modern surroundings and, over time, he noticed the graffiti would change; etched faces morphed and mutated, growing old as they weathered, exposed to the elements.

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Wall Propositions © Brassaï
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The Hanged Man © Brassaï

For local children in the fourteenth and fifteenth arrondissement, two death’s-heads held special significance. Dubbed “The Frog” and “The Giraffe”, they were treated as mysterious portents, and remained untouched, for a long time. Brassaï drew many comparisons between art, childhood and magic. He said, “everything is magic for a child. For children, the visible world is simply a screen placed in front of the visible world.

Like children’s drawings, graffiti for Brassaï, was pure and raw. It fascinated him and he wanted to explore the impulses that led people to make it. He believed, “in drawing a line or figure, a child has a feeling of power and dominion similar to that of a magician. Only through art can he force the world to obey his will.

Graffiti c. 1950s by Brassai 1899-1984
Death © Brassaï
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Tapestries © Brassaï

The urge to leave our mark is strong and walls everywhere bear witness to this compulsion. From the cave paintings of Altamira in Northern Spain, the lava-preserved etchings in Pompeii and modern street art, our primal gestures can express a range of human feeling and emotion.

Drawing or carving our name, a sign or symbol into a fixed surfaces, leaves a mark, and this impression can endure. Birth, love or death, it’s all there, distilled on the wall.

 

The Challenge of True Solitude

I am fascinated by people who live very solitary lives. Recently, I enjoyed Winter’s Watch, a short documentary about Alexandra de Steiguer, the caretaker for the Oceanic Hotel on Star Island, 10 miles off the coast of New England.

“You have to be at peace with the fact that something might happen, and you might not make it through,” says Alexandra de Steiguer, the caretaker for the Oceanic Hotel, in Brian Bolster’s short documentary, Winter’s Watch. De Steiguer has spent the past 19 winters tending to the 43-acre grounds of the hotel, on Star Island, which sits 10 miles off the coast of New England. In the long, wintry off-season, she is the island’s sole inhabitant.” (via YouTube)

Thanks to CJ Chilvers‘ and his newsletter for the heads up. Subscribe to it here.

Ben Roberts

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© Ben Roberts

Ben Roberts always seems to be creating new work. Every time I look at his Flickr, there is something new to see. His photographs are beautiful and atmospheric, with many of them being shot at night. We recently spoke about his work and inspiration.

Hi Ben, please tell me a little about yourself. 

I am a 38 year old American living in Japan. I live in the nature heavy area of Nagano. I live with my standard poodle. I actually grew up here in Japan, (my parents were Christian missionaries), but I didn’t attend the public schools. I am not a professional photographer, I just love photography.

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© Ben Roberts
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© Ben Roberts

How did you develop an interest in photography?

I always enjoyed the idea of photography as a medium for capturing memories. I shot instant cameras for fun while I was at college in America. When I got my first digital camera and started to take photos of things around me, I figured I would get more serious and bought a DSLR. Film photos were always more beautiful to me, and when I inherited a film camera, there was no turning back.

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© Ben Roberts

What cameras do you prefer to use?

I have used and owned a lot of different cameras. The film camera I first inherited was a Minolta CLE – a really nice rangefinder that is pretty much a Leica. I still use that camera. I also bought a Pentax LX which is great for the type of photography I shoot. I also love my Mamiya 7.  I have found I love the look of reversal film.

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© Ben Roberts

Do you have a favourite photographer or artist whose work you admire?

I spent tons of time on Flickr, so was inspired by many photographers on there, like Patrick Joust, for example.  I also like movie directors like David Lynch because I find their images inspiring.

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© Ben Roberts

Thanks Ben!

If you’re interested in seeing more of Ben’s work, go check out his website or follow him on Flickr and Instagram.