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Critique Three: Memories

There are two types of mem­o­ries— the kind that you see with open eyes, and the kind you see with your eyes closed. The first kind appear as the “gold­en-brown” of the rocks, or the “can­dy-col­ored sky;” but the sec­ond kind is what you see from the vel­vet dark­ness behind your eye-lids, instant­ly appear­ing as ghosts of a real­i­ty that was once yours. Clos­ing my eyes today instant­ly takes me back to the the vio­let shad­ows of the bad­lands stretch­ing for miles and miles on end, clam­or­ing with bound­less beauty.

I miss being on the road with Mag­gie. There is some­thing so nat­ur­al about wan­der­ing the earth with the per­son you love…there is so much to see…you can go from being in the desert one moment to being sur­round­ed by lush green moun­tains the next…yet we spend our entire loves in a 6×6 cubi­cle as we speed to anoth­er, more eter­nal one.

So for today’s cri­tique, I want to share three of the pic­tures I shot dur­ing our trip west­wards. The first one is an image of the bad­lands, the sec­ond one shows the dev­il’s tow­er, while the third is an image of Lake Michi­gan from an ear­li­er trip. The pho­tographs from the bad­lands and Dev­il’s tow­er were shot on Fuji Velvia 5o, while the one from Lake Michi­gan was shot on Kodak Por­tra 160.

The Bad­lands are locat­ed in South Dako­ta. We stopped at a gas sta­tion just before the nation­al park because we weren’t sure when we will find gas again. I turned the car off, and filled up the tank. But when I tried to ignite the car back to life, it would­n’t start…the bat­tery appeared to have died. With char­ac­ter­is­tic naïveté, I asked Mag­gie to hand me the emer­gency bat­tery pack so I could try to jump the car. “No!” She exclaimed, in exas­per­at­ed tones, “Let’s get the car away from the tanks!” “how stu­pid,” I thought, “it’s not like the tanks are going to catch on fire!” But too tired to argue, I grum­bled and mum­bled, and pushed the car under the awning of the sta­tion store. Mag­gie hand­ed me the back­up bat­tery. I pow­ered it on. I looked down at the cop­per wires com­ing out of the car bat­tery. “This seems sim­ple enough.” I thought. “The red wire goes to the red ter­mi­nal and, and the black…the black one goes he…” sud­den­ly sparks were every­where! I had con­nect­ed the wires to the wrong ter­mi­nals. I looked and Mag­gie, and there she was…“told you so,” here smile seemed to be say­ing. I am so glad I lis­tened to her. I am quite stupid.

But grate­ful­ly alive, I suc­cess­ful­ly jumped the car. Soon, we con­tin­ued onwards to the Bad­lands Nation­al Park! The clos­er we got, the faster my heart paced. Before we knew it, there they were, lit­tle peaks that rose up from the earth like waves, as unchang­ing as time itself. The bad­lands were formed through two geo­log­i­cal processes—deposition and ero­sion. Ero­sion began in the Bad­lands about 500,000 years ago when the Cheyenne Riv­er cap­tured streams and rivers flow­ing from the Black Hills into the Bad­lands region. Accord­ing to the Nation­al Parks web­site:

A quick look at the Bad­lands will reveal that they were deposit­ed in lay­ers. The lay­ers are com­posed of tiny grains of sed­i­ments such as sand, silt, and clay that have been cement­ed togeth­er into sed­i­men­ta­ry rocks. The sed­i­men­ta­ry rock lay­ers of Bad­lands Nation­al Park were deposit­ed dur­ing the late Cre­ta­ceous Peri­od (67 to 75 mil­lion years ago) through­out the Late Eocene (34 to 37 mil­lion years ago) and Oligocene Epochs (26 to 34 mil­lion years ago). Dif­fer­ent environments—sea, trop­i­cal land, and open wood­land with mean­der­ing rivers—caused dif­fer­ent sed­i­ments to accu­mu­late here at dif­fer­ent times. The lay­ers sim­i­lar in char­ac­ter are grouped into units called for­ma­tions. The old­est for­ma­tions are at the bot­tom and the youngest are at the top, illus­trat­ing the prin­ci­ple of superposition.

Before 500,000 years ago, streams and rivers car­ried sed­i­ments from the Black Hills build­ing the rock lay­ers we see today. Once the Black Hills streams and rivers were cap­tured, ero­sion dom­i­nat­ed over depo­si­tion. Mod­ern rivers cut down through the rock lay­ers, carv­ing fan­tas­tic shapes into what had once been a flat flood­plain. The Bad­lands erode at the rapid rate of about one inch per year.

Some things in nature inspire a great silence in the core of one’s spir­it; the bad­lands were one of them. It is esti­mat­ed that in 500 000 years, they will be com­plete­ly gone.



Now on to the cri­tique. Lets start with the pho­to titled “Bad­lands”

The Pho­to­graph was tak­en on a Fuji Velvia 50, then con­vert­ed into black and white and warmed up a lit­tle bit to give it a sepia tone. I cropped the image from 6×6 to 16×9, which I believe was a good deci­sion; it more accu­rate­ly rep­re­sents how the bad­lands run on for what seems like infin­i­ty. I also like how the dif­fer­ent peaks seem lay­ered, and the hori­zon is an almost straight line.

Although I wish I had bet­ter con­trol over the blur­ri­ness, I quite like the beau­ty that blur can bring. I recent­ly read in a Nation­al Geo­graph­ic arti­cle that Leonar­do Da Vin­ci thought that the we rarely see the world as sharp; so in his paint­ings he prac­ticed a tech­nique known as Sfu­ma­to, where he added blur to the edges of his sub­ject because he believed that more accu­rate­ly rep­re­sent­ed how human vision works. Per­haps he was onto something…perhaps film, with all its blur­ri­ness, real­ly is a more nat­ur­al medi­um than digital.

That said, it was real­ly hard to pho­to­graph the bad­lands in mid-after­noon. The bright sky and the harsh shad­ows made the dynam­ic range impos­si­ble to photograph—exposing for the sky dark­ened the bad­lands, and expos­ing for the bad­lands over­ex­posed the sky. Which is why I end­ed up con­vert­ing the image into black and white using pho­to­shop. I also think that the con­trast and jagged lines cut­ting into the shad­ows look bet­ter in black and white,. In future exper­i­ments, I want to try expo­sure brack­et­ing with film.


After the bad­lands, our next stop was the Dev­il’s tow­er. I  want­ed to see the lac­col­ith ever since I watched “close encoun­ters of the third kind.” I had thought that the moun­tain was part of a movie set, but ever since I learnt it was real, I was aching to see the site. And It’s quite a sight to behold. One is dri­ving on a hilly road sur­round­ed by iri­des­cent pas­tures and majes­tic long­horns, when sud­den­ly,  out of nowhere, you see this ancient rock for­ma­tion ris­ing towards the heav­ens. Iron gray, with a hint of green, it stands glo­ri­ous­ly against a steely blue sky…looking at the dev­ils tow­er makes one feel that one is look­ing at the birth of time, as if the core of the earth had shat­tered the crust, and spi­raled its heart towards the sky, set­ting in motion the  cre­ation of the world…One just stands there look­ing at the peak, drowned in a pro­found sense of silence. Like the bad­lands, there is some­thing eter­nal about it.

Accord­ing to the Native Amer­i­can tribes of the Kiowa and Lako­ta, a group of girls went out to play and were spot­ted by sev­er­al giant bears, who began to chase them. In an effort to escape the bears, the girls climbed atop a rock, fell to their knees, and prayed to the Great Spir­it to save them. Hear­ing their prayers, the Great Spir­it made the rock rise from the ground towards the heav­ens so that the bears could not reach the girls. The bears, in an effort to climb the rock, left deep claw marks in the sides, which had become too steep to climb. Those are the marks which appear today on the sides of Dev­ils Tow­er. When the girls reached the sky, they were turned into the stars of the Pleiades. There were hun­dreds of rocks scram­bled at the base of the moun­tain, giv­ing the impres­sion that the moun­tain is crum­bling, when in fact, it is still grow­ing! There was some­thing fun­ny about the tow­er. I felt like I could be friends with it.

The image that I would like to cri­tique is titled “Dev­il’s Tow­er.” It has to be one of my favorite pho­tos from the trip.  There is so much detail and tex­ture in the walls of the vol­cano.  You can see every par­al­lel crack, and almost sense it. I like the per­spec­tive as well; it makes me feel as if the moun­tain is just being intro­duced. The sym­met­ric com­po­si­tion works well with the fact that the moun­tain itself is not per­fect­ly sym­met­ric. I also like that the sky is not pure white, but a shade of very light gray. It makes the image look a lot calmer. Shoot­ing with a longer lens undoubt­ed­ly helped make this a bet­ter picture.

I don’t like the blur­ri­ness on the left side of the pho­to­graph.  It looks odd, espe­cial­ly com­pared to the sharp­ness of the tex­ture found else­where in the pho­to. I don’t know how this pic­ture turned out as sharp as it did.

While there is obvi­ous­ly noth­ing excep­tion­al about this pho­to­graph, I do like how it makes me feel. It accu­rate­ly depicts how I saw the moun­tain— quirky, tall, and time­less. It looms over you, but in a friend­ly way.


For the third pho­to, I would like to cri­tique the one I took at Lake Michigan:

I have nev­er seen a lake as bound­less as Lake Michi­gan. I am very dis­ap­point­ed that I could not cap­ture even a grain of its grace and beau­ty. The pic­ture, though made bet­ter through con­ver­sion into black in white, is poor­ly exposed and very unin­ter­est­ing. It is a gener­ic beach pho­to; hun­dreds of images like these have been vom­it­ed onto the world.

It says noth­ing new about the beach, nor does it reveal any­thing. I also hate the moire tak­ing place in the sky, and the sev­er­al stripe like lines lin­ing the pho­to ver­ti­cal­ly. It rips the pho­to apart.

Fur­ther­more, the grain is too intense. I have no idea what hap­pened here…I think this might have been one of my first scans…from before I learnt that the scan­ning soft­ware was adding grain to the pho­to on its own.

I don’t know how to feel about the tiny boat along the hori­zon. On the one hand, it is the only inter­est­ing thing in the pho­to, and on the oth­er, it quite dis­turbs the calm­ness. The pho­to­graph rep­re­sents my per­fect nightmare—complete lack of control.

What  I like about the pho­to is the tex­ture in the water, and per­haps the 16 from the film back­ing that acci­den­tal­ly got exposed on the right side of the pho­to­graph. It adds a an unusu­al, mys­te­ri­ous ele­ment to the pho­to, and I am glad to admit that it was a hap­py acci­dent. I also like the hor­i­zon­tal atti­tude of the pho­to. I shot this image from a 150mm lens, which was very good for flat­ten­ing any lens dis­tor­tion that could have happened.


I believe that land has mem­o­ry. Grow­ing up in a col­o­nized coun­try, long after the col­o­niz­ers had left, the cries of the crimes of the past can still be heard every­where in my coun­try, in a mil­lion sub­tle ways. In Ohio, the mem­o­ry of native Amer­i­cans seems to be erased. In my sev­en years there, I knew noth­ing about Native Amer­i­can culture.

But as one goes west, every rock is laden with the mem­o­ry of the con­tin­ued vio­lence against Native Amer­i­cans. The wounds seem to be a lot fresh­er, and the air a lot blood­i­er. Dri­ving through South Dako­ta was an incred­i­bly emo­tion­al peri­od for me. I have nev­er seen so much beau­ty and vio­lence live with­in the same space.

In Wyoming, I was sur­prised to learn that even Abra­ham Lin­coln (who was respon­si­ble for abol­ish­ing slav­ery) ordered the largest mass exe­cu­tion in U.S. His­to­ry, hang­ing Dako­ta men after they choose to fight back when the gov­ern­ment stole more of their land. Mass exe­cu­tion apart, in her book, “Treaties Made, Treaties Bro­ken,” Helen Oliff writes that the “The U.S. fed­er­al gov­ern­ment entered into more than 500 treaties with Indi­an nations from 1778 to 1871; every one of them was “bro­ken, changed or nul­li­fied when it served the gov­ern­men­t’s inter­ests.”  In 1868, for exam­ple, the U.S. gov­ern­ment signed the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868, estab­lish­ing the Great Sioux Reser­va­tion west of the Mis­souri Riv­er, and exempt­ing the Black Hills from all white set­tle­ment for­ev­er. How­ev­er, when gold was dis­cov­ered in the hills in 1874 as a result of gen­er­al Custer’s black hill expe­di­tion, min­ers flicked to the region in a gold rush. The gov­ern­ment seized the land from the Lako­ta yet again, and against their wish­es, moved them to five small­er reser­va­tions in west­ern South Dako­ta, sell­ing off 9 mil­lion acres of their for­mer land.

In Sioux cul­ture, the black hills are con­sid­ered to be “the heart of every­thing that is.” Today that heart is bla­tant­ly being bled dry by min­ing cor­po­ra­tions, and the faces of four Amer­i­can pres­i­dents is shame­less­ly, brazen­ly, plas­tered across the dark hills.

It as if the colo­nial Amer­i­cans are not only dis­re­spect­ing the Native Amer­i­cans, but also nature. The rela­tion­ship of Native Amer­i­cans to the Amer­i­can soil was very dif­fer­ent to that of colo­nial Euro­peans. When the Native Amer­i­cans first migrat­ed to Amer­i­ca, they tru­ly dis­cov­ered the land and devel­oped a rela­tion­ship with the ecol­o­gy and the sur­round­ings. They had knowl­edge of how things works. When the set­tlers came, they weren’t inter­est­ed in devel­op­ing a rela­tion­ship with land as much as they were in recre­at­ing the ones they left behind. And so there was New Eng­land and New York and New Hamp­shire, and the killing of buf­faloes so vital to the ecol­o­gy of the land.

With the geno­cide of the Native Amer­i­cans, so much his­to­ry and wis­dom about the land has been lost. And it shows in the count­less Min­ing mills excret­ing dark smoke from the breath­tak­ing hills in Montana.

The tragedy of all of this is that the gov­ern­ment still hasn’t learnt its les­son. It would have been dif­fer­ent if the U.S. gov­ern­ment grew a con­science and start­ed respect­ing Indi­an rights for a change.  But as recent­ly as 2017, the gov­ern­ment gave the com­pa­ny, Tran­sCana­da, the rights to con­tin­ue build­ing a pipeline (key­stone pipeline project), through native land, despite protests from thou­sands of peo­ple, both native and non-native Amer­i­cans alike. The Indi­ans feared that the oil would leak under­ground and have direct neg­a­tive effects on the water and ecol­o­gy of their land. The cor­po­ra­tion insist­ed that oil leaks would not hap­pen. The U.S. pres­i­dent trump approved the con­struc­tion of the pipeline, despite protests of Hun­dreds and thou­sands of peo­ple, native and Cau­casian alike. The pipe recent­ly leaked 210 000 gal­lons of oil in South Dakota.

Mov­ing through the Unit­ed States, I have tru­ly fall­en in love with the coun­try because of its bound­less beau­ty. Know­ing the his­to­ry makes me look at the Amer­i­can flag in an entire­ly new way. It makes me ques­tion my own legit­i­ma­cy as an immigrant—should I real­ly be here, on land ruth­less­ly seized from the natives?

I don’t know. When I close my eyes, all I can see are the majes­tic bad­lands, stretch­ing on for miles on end, slow­ly erod­ing away.

دم مست قلندردم مست قلندردم مست قلندردم مست قلندردم مست قلندردم مست قلندردم مست قلندردم مست قلندردم مست قلندردم مست قلندر

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