Tag: color

Accuracy in Imperfection

Blurriness, grain, and double exposures used to be a no go in photo albums. Artist Maya Beano leverages them to reconstruct the hazy nature of memories.

What are you looking for when you’re taking a photo?
It’s all about capturing a feeling, a memory or a certain atmosphere, so it’s not necessarily about the reality in front of the lens. I actively create an atmosphere that I like – even if it’s not there.

Maya Beano is an film photographer based in the UK See more of her work on her website: www.mayabeano.com.

Maya Beano is an artist and photographer based in the UK. See more of her work on her website: www.mayabeano.com.

Many photographers consider themselves observers, but your approach seems to involve a lot more planning and construction…
I consider myself more of an artist than a photographer, and I do plan a lot of the pictures: A lot of the work involves double exposures, which tends to make things very dreamy – that’s the way people describe it.

“I shot this series in Northern Sweden, about 200km north of the Arctic Circle. My friends and I all enjoy snowy landscapes, and so we went out there with our cameras and our hiking gear. A lot of the pictures in this series were shot from an airplane, of sunrises and sunsets in January. It was just wonderful, I had never seen such intensely colored light in the sky. Their winter sunrises and sunsets lasted for hours.”

Why do you think that is?
If you think of the act of recalling a memory, the images I you have in my your head of the memory aren’t always very clear – at least in my case. It’s more of a mishmash of sights, feelings, sounds and smells. Things overlap quite a bit. That’s what I try to convey in my photos: I rely on long exposures, double exposures or color filters in front of the lens to change the mood.
You’re also deploying a lot of grain and fuzziness.
I don’t really store my film in the fridge like many people do, and it damages it. I reckon it’s cold enough in England to only damage it the right amount! Recently, I got my hand on a lot of expired film and those results are grainier than usual, which I quite like. As long as you can kind of tell what’s going on in the picture, it adds something. So I don’t consider what you’d call mistakes as real mistakes. I consider them a preference. I’m still in an experimental phase.
It’s a fascinating paradox to use something that many would consider broken or accidental to create art. Isn’t it weird that the fragile or damaged nature of film can lets you something that feels more real than reality?
That’s true: If I use a normal digital camera and shoot a very clear picture, it doesn’t give me the right feeling, or doesn’t recreate the atmosphere I want. The very clear images don’t resonate with me as much – whereas the hazy stuff does. It represents a more real image of what I see in my mind.
Has photography, through digitization, perhaps become too much about the ideal of a “perfectly clear” image?
Yes! I hear this both online and offline. Some say “Your images are so hazy, I can’t tell what’s going on.” Some of them just prefer the clearness of digital. That’s a side-effect of the trend to shoot a perfect picture of something, which is clear and bright, with perfect color reproduction. It doesn’t work for me, I find those pictures a little devoid of feeling. At the end of the day, it’s just a preference.
How do you create image series, if your memories are so muddled?
If I have a particularly powerful memory of something, or a strong emotional reaction to something, it will result in a series of photos. These are often inspired by personal experiences. I grew up in Jordan, in the Middle East, and every spring we would have these giant sandstorms that would fill the sky with these rosy clouds. A while ago, I went to Northern Ireland with my best friend and their sky, when the sun was setting, looked exactly like that. The result is the series “Rose Gold”.
You also took pictures in Iceland, which is a pretty surreal place as it is.
It was easier than usual to add a touch of surrealism to the photos I took in Iceland because the place is so surreal already. The problem was that it was so cold that I had to use warm pouches in my camera bags so that the cameras wouldn’t freeze and stop working. I had a similar experience in the north of Sweden last January.
Your pictures suggest that there’s another pane to reality that we may be missing. Are we looking at the world in a too factual way?
Sometimes, yes. I find people’s different perceptions of the world incredibly interesting. The simplest example: When I go on a trip and I talk about what I found most interesting, my account of it is usually very different from that of my friends, just as each one of theirs is different. Everyone has a very unique way of seeing the world and I am just trying to document my own personal journeys of the heart and the mind. It’s all a bit hazy in there.

"Psychedelics offer us life in high-definition"

Amanda Feilding is a leading advocate for the use of psychedelics to cure mental illnesses. She told us why LSD is not a party drug but should be taken while visiting the pyramids.

When talking about psychedelics, vivid colors immediately come to mind – is that the most intense sensation one gets from it?
Colors are certainly a very important part of the hallucinogenic experience, possibly the strongest sensation even.

Description. Photo by Robert Funke.

Amanda Fielding is the Founder and Director of the Beckley Foundation. Photo by Robert Funke.

How come?
Our research has shown that psychedelics – in particular LSD –  reduce the inhibiting properties of the default mode network. You can think of it like the ego: A network that senses impulses coming from the sensory system. Normally, instead of getting the pure sensation, you are getting a reduced version. But after taking psychedelics, what we have seen is that there’s a much greater flow of blood and connectivity between the visual center of the brain and other centers. That makes the visual experience much more informed by our personal memories, or images from the past and hence much more intensive.
Psychedelics are known for being another way of seeing the world, of creating a different reality…
That comes from removing the normal, day-to-day repression. Due to conditioning, we filter out most of what we could see. That filtering system – which happens through the default mode network – is reduced or even eliminated when we take psychedelics. Psychedelics offer us life in high-definition.
Following that logic, it would mean that the bright colors one sees when taking LSD are actually real, but we don’t perceive them in everyday life…
Exactly. We sensor them down to manageable components. Seeing a flower after taking psychedelics will make you see it breathing and living – it’s so beautiful you can hardly believe it. Whereas in daily life, you would just go “That’s a lovely rose and very pretty.” When the visual centers have unrestricted connectivity to other parts of the brain, the results are richer – both in memory and in emotion.
That reminds me of something Aldous Huxley once wrote: That chemical substances can make us see colors and beauty that – as he put it – transports us to our antipodes.
It’s a beauty felt with a kind of emotional context. And that is what is wonderful about psychedelics: They give fresh emotion to the experience of seeing, hearing, or thinking. It is fresher, brighter, and more filled with richness from memory and possibility. Ordinary life is just a reduced version of that.
Is that why they are so widely used for art?
Absolutely. To get the greatest enjoyment of beauty, say at a historical site in Egypt, or when admiring a beautiful monument, you should really expand your awareness to feel it in a deeper, more vibrant way. Psychedelics are wonderful enhancers of the normal senses, leading to much richer experiences. Watching the pyramids on LSD is not something you forget.
By now, when we see a certain pattern or painting that includes bright color combinations, we say “oh, this looks psychedelic”. It has already become a label for something that cannot be grasped within the normal ways we describe art.
Right, it seems to be more poignant. Some prehistoric cave art in France, which is 40.000 years old, has the same intensity of the line and energy in the depiction of animals that a drawing by Picasso has. The people drawing it were clearly intensely into it – and probably on a psychedelic substance when drawing.

“LSD opens up reality without censorship”

Why do artists become so engaged when taking these substances?
First of all, there’s added intensity, which makes the art more exciting and also, there’s a tendency towards synesthesia. Another finding in our research is that the different networks in the brain are normally very integrated within themselves. They don’t communicate much with one another. Whereas LSD leads to much more communication between different networks, even between some that don’t normally communicate with one another. Lines of communication get opened up, and it makes the whole brain much more of a unit.
In the perception of many people, the things you see under the influence of drugs – especially psychedelics – aren’t real. They are hallucinations. Whereas you say that what we see is an augmented reality…
…a richer reality! One without the censorship. You can think of hallucination as seeing with eyes closed. And we have also done the research on that: We compared the experience of people with their eyes closed on LSD with those of others on placebo. The impression in the visual center of the people on LSD is as strong as those of a person seeing something with their eyes open. They are seeing with eyes closed. So hallucination stems from the memory or emotion, and the imprint is as strong as other peoples’ reality. I am sure we will discover a lot more in this field, when we further explore the breakdown of the Default Mode Network that I have mentioned, which causes the normal censorship.
We know all these art pieces that have been created under the influence of certain substances. And I feel that society very much cherishes not just those works but the overall hippie era. Yet using these drugs is still widely frowned upon.
Absolutely. The use of psychedelics became taboo in the late 1960s. But I think the taboo is slowly lifting; with the realization of how incredibly valuable these substances can be in a therapeutic context. They can be a treatment for many intractable modern illnesses – like in depression, anxiety, or addiction. Or, indeed, against chronic headaches. Society has trouble with a whole lot of illnesses: 20% of people suffering from depression never start treatment. In studies of our synthesized therapy, the success rate of treating people suffering from depression has been very high, much higher than normal treatment – a success rate of 67 per cent in the pilot study.
Does this work because you give the patient access to insights or memories they didn’t previously have? A clinically depressed person struggles to get that access in therapy, since there is a kind of blockage. Psychedelics may be able to lift that – but isn’t there a danger of them opening a gate to something harmful?
With our depression study, we have taken the greatest care: People have been carefully screened before doing the research, to determine that they are suitable. And then there are two psychiatrists present. The person is looked after with great care, and under those circumstances, the danger is minimal. People can have a bit of a panic attack, but that is much more dangerous if they take psychedelics in uncontrolled, unsuitable circumstances. Which is not what we’re abdicating at all.
Isn´t it hard to precisely dosage LSD? How do you know how much to give to someone?
Absolutely. That’s the problem of the criminalization of a legal market. Ideally, people should be able to access psychedelics in therapy with trained therapists, and we should’t really be depriving patients of these forms of treatment if the research is showing a high rate of success. But we’re obviously in the early days of it, and although we’re heading into the right direction, we have to move forward with great care. The LSD study is testing safety of different dosages. It can teach us an awful lot about how the substance can be used to treat different disorders. Our studies suggest that it can efficiently reduce the function of the Default Mode Network…
…The intra-networks of different brain regions
In depression, the default mode network is hyperactive, and people feel like they are stuck in a circuit. Psychedelics break that network so that a new kind of setting, which can shake the chronically negative thought pattern and make a more positive one replace it. It seems as though these substances aid healing by getting to a deeper access of the personality. Normally, trauma and unhappiness are protected by repressive networks, by the Default Mode Network – which is another way of saying ego. But with psychedelics, the censorship breaks down. You get full access to your inner self.

“LSD is not a party drug”

So far, we have only talked about psychedelics as a therapeutic drug – you are certainly pioneers in that field. But to most people around the globe, they are still a recreational drug.
I’m afraid that has come from 40 years of inaccurate press coverage and misuse. LSD is not a party drug.  Historically, these substances have always been used as part of a religious, spiritual healing ceremony. With rather tight control and the support of the group – which seemed like a very sensible way of taking them.
Such as Ayahuasca?
Exactly, the famous brew from the Amazon. There, they have a way of taking it that makes the people feel like they are in a protective environment. Where they can open up to their inner travels, which can help people overcome trauma. And we saw the same with our study on depression. People who had been depressed for 18 years or more suddenly felt that they were, for the first time, able to enjoy themselves.
But were there lasting effects? In depression, the use of therapeutic methods might just be a short-term fix…
Remarkably, from our research, after a week it was rated as a 76% rate of overcoming depression. And after three months, the rate was 42%. Which is a lot more than ordinary forms of treatment. Not only is the effect felt immediately, it also leaves an afterglow of changed perception.
How many sessions do your patients have?
In this little part of the research, there were two sessions, first with a small dose, the second one with a medium dose. And people who have a deep experience of ego loss and spiritual awakening are very often the people who have optimized the benefits of overcoming depression or addiction, or whatever they were trying to cure.
Would you say that since your research center focusses exclusively on psychedelics, that other drugs, such as MDMA, have the same potential?
We actually also do research with MDMA and cannabis. And I would say they all have the same potential, but in a different way. MDMA has a special kind of flooding the brain with empathy, because it stimulates oxytocin. The effect is akin to what a mother experiences when she has a child, or when you are in love. So it makes the person love themselves – and the therapist, and everyone else.
…which aids therapy.
It makes it easier to face a terrible memory within themselves. That’s very good for post-traumatic stress disorder. But it doesn’t include the psychedelic experience of overcoming of the ego that I just mentioned. They have slightly different qualities, but can all be beneficial. Researching these and other substances, which we have only become able to recently, is opening up entirely new avenues of treatment – and can be very healing for society. We can treat illness, expand awareness depth of hearing and vision, and further understanding.
You have personally experimented with trepanation, where a hole is drilled into the skull to expand the consciousness. You have said that this was an experience even more intense, the next step from using psychedelic.
I didn’t really say it was the next step, but as far as I know – and we haven’t done enough research – it gives back to the brain the full experience of the heartbeat by removing a piece of bone. The heartbeat can express itself fully within the brain. It improves the circulation of cerebral spinal fluids, which wash out the toxins that can build up and produce the plaque underlying Alzheimers. But the experience is much less intense than taking LSD for example. Just like psychedelics, trepanation is an old healing technique.
So it is about returning to a prior knowledge that our society has forgotten, or criminalized?
Even breathing can get people very high. Meditation can have the same effect as a psychedelic. There are different ways of manipulating the brain in order to attain a less rigid state in our daily consciousness. And it can be healthy for the individual to experience these different states. There are serious conditions that need all the help they can get. Sadly, the altering of consciousness has a bad name – but is a part of the human experience and something we should learn more about.
More on Amanda’s work at: http://beckleyfoundation.org/

Brain burning with color

Ukrainian painter Kazimir Malevich considered the art of painting shackled by natural forms and colors. In 1918, he wrote down why it needed to be set free – a manifest equally fascinating and crazy.

Kazimir Malevich was born in Ukraine in 1878. He is credited as the founder of the Suprematism, an avant-garde art movement that developed out of futurism. Malevich shocked the art world with his paintings, which often featured little more than simple geometric forms, taken to the extreme in an iconic painting called “Black Square”, which showed (you guessed it) just a simple black square on a white background. It is often referred to as the “zero point of painting”, the pinnacle of abstraction, even though Malevich would later paint a white square onto a white canvas. He was a man on a mission.
Such avant-gardistic art has a tendency to seem over the top, but remember that Malevich’s work is a product of its time, of an age when modern art and abstract painting just emerged. The painter didn’t just start painting rectangles but arrived there through further and further reduction. An earlier piece of his was called “Painterly Realism of a Peasant Woman in Two Dimensions” and it showed just simple red parallelogram. It’s safe to assume that the peasant woman was wearing red. Red_Square._Visual_Realism_of_a_Peasant_Woman_in_Two_Dimensions
Malevich would soon entirely depart from reality, and his later works no longer represented anything. Art historian John Milner once wrote that in Malevich’s paintings, “proportion and perspective were manipulated apparently without reference to imagery”. Malevich wanted nothing to do with our assumptions.
We know this not because Malevich took abstraction to such heights, but because he wrote about it. At the 10th State Exhibition in 1919, a joint event of Russian avant-garde artists, Malevich sold a small brochure that spelled out his philosophy. Back then, the “Petrograd Bulletin” mentioned it in its review of the fair, nonchalantly describing its scope: “On sale at the exhibition is a small brochure by K. Malevich – “From Cubism to Suprematism” – intelligently written, in which the author sets out to shed light on the essence of futurist theories and desires. While he writes on the destruction of all that exists, he remains logical in his own way and comprehensible.”
But Malevich’s writing, quoted below, is itself avant-gardistic: a text that starts out sensibly but slowly veers off into the abstract, the emotional. Just like he does in his paintings, the artist doesn’t communicate on a factual, but increasingly on an emotional pane, making his point with feverish urgency, and turning his pamphlet into a rallying cry to leave behind colors and forms, and to start anew.
What they mean with “the destruction of all that exists” you ask? Well, Malevich had nothing but scorn for the art of yore:

And however many moonlit landscapes the artist paints, however many grazing cows and pretty sunsets, they will remain the same dear little cows and sunsets. Only in a much worse form. And in fact, whether an artist is a genius or not is determined by the number of cows he paints.
The artist can be a creator only when the forms in his picture have nothing in common with nature.

Just as we fret over smartphones and VR today, wondering what they do to our appreciation of the reality around us, Malevich saw planes, trains, and automobiles blurring our ability to see. Art, he argued, had to keep pace. And painters had to stop it with the nudes already:

(…) your lack of understanding is quite natural. Can a man who always goes about in a cabriolet really understand the experiences and impressions of one who travels in an express or flies through the air? The academy is a moldy vault in which art is being flagellated. Gigantic wars, great inventions, conquest of the air, speed of travel, telephones, telegraphs, dreadnoughts are the realm of selectivity. But our young artists paint Neros and half-naked Roman warriors.

The new life of iron and the machine, the roar of motorcars, the brilliance of electric lights, the growling of propellers, have awakened the soul, which was suffocating in the catacombs of old reason and has emerged at the intersection of the paths of heaven and earth.

Color, he thinks, has been enslaved by common sense:

Malevich, looking pretty content – even though you have terrible taste.

Malevich, looking pretty content – even though you have terrible taste.

Being a painter, I ought to say why people’s faces are painted green and red in pictures. Painting is paint and color; it lies within our organism. Its outbursts and great and demanding.
My devours system is colored by them.
My brain burns with their color.
But color was oppressed by common sense, it was enslaved by it. And the spirit of color weakened and died out.
But when it conquered common sense, then its colors flowed onto the repellent form of real things.

And the use of color starts being an almost political struggle rather than just an artistic expression:

In achieving this new beauty, or simply energy, we have freed ourselves from the impression of the object’s wholeness. The millstone around the neck of painting is beginning to crack.

Unfortunately, people hadn’t yet learned to appreciate this vision. In Malevich’s eyes, they were stuck hopelessly in the past. And, dear, did he hate them:

This is why it is strange to look at a red or black painted surface. This is why people snigger and spit at the exhibitions of new trends.
Art and its new aim have always been a spittoon. But cats get used to one place, and it is difficult to house-train them to a new one. For such people, art is quite unnecessary, as long as their grandmothers and favorite little nooks of lilac groves are painted.

Let’s remember, for a second, that his contemporaries thought Malevich “logical in his own way”. With this manifesto, he took the sledgehammer to their taste, stood on the rubble with a pumping fist and yelled. This man was angry. And he poured all his anger into his art, his words, and his own sense of grandiosity.

You all wish to see pieces of living nature on the hooks of your walls. Just as Nero admired the torn bodies of people and animals from the zoological garden.
I say to all: Abandon love, abandon aestheticism, abandon the baggage of wisdom, for in the new culture, your wisdom is ridiculous and insignificant.
I have untied the knots of wisdom and liberated the consciousness of color!
Hurry up and shed the hardened skin of centuries, so that you can catch up with us more easily.
I have overcome the impossible and made gulfs with my breath. You are caught in the nets of the horizon, like fish!
We, suprematists, throw open the way to you.
For tomorrow you will not recognize us.

Landscape, in C sharp minor

This is how you turn music into color.

“Model required.” Casting call.
In they come, one by one, heels clicking thunder on the gallery’s hardwood floors. The oak is centuries too old for this. The eleven o’clock sun rains in through the glass panes, flooding the space with light, making love midway to the Beethoven streaming through the speakers in the corner. What color is a sonata anyway?
An empty frame, in silver and gold, waits obediently against the white wall.
The first model climbs in, a well behaved hue of blue. She disrobes timidly, looks down. A study in neoclassicism; line over color, a sublimation of the form. The model as an ideal; an aria in monochrome.
I pull out my brush.
“Is yellow warm or cold?”
The model does not talk back. She does not look up. I ask again anyway, and dip the brush in paint. Under my strokes, her pliant fingers, elbows, bare shoulders comply. She evaporates before my eyes, in a muted green haze. I paint a “Still life in aqua.”
But it is not a sonata, so I help her out of the frame. Wafts of green trail behind her as the heels click apologetically out of the room.
The second model hurricanes in, a red so concrete it turns the air opaque. Her angular heels poke holes in the canvas as she climbs into the frame. A study in abstraction; the model as a structure. Order and discipline, uncorrupted design, to which my paintbrush wrecks havoc. A revolution in the frame.
“Is yellow warm or cold?”
The model does not, cannot hear me. The warring colors are so loud, even Beethoven is muted. With shards of neon orange, my brush stokes the flames. I paint a “Portraiture of fragments.”
Still, not a sonata, so I shake my head. She marches out, defiant. The air behind her clears. I hear the floorboards creak again.
What color is a sonata? Is yellow warm or cold?
The third model walks in, and suddenly, the music explodes.
She is the three primaries. The blonde, brunette, and the redhead. The red, yellow, and blue. The model as a possibility, the multiplicity of the self. Vulnerable and provocative, sensuous and naïve. She climbs into the frame, and stares. At me.
I burst into pigments like ripe summer fruit; infinite colors and notes spill out. Soaking the canvas, overflowing the frame, dripping onto the parched oak. Staining the walls, the music, the light. The whole gallery becomes a self-portrait.
There are buckets of paint everywhere, on every surface, in every shade, and I use them all. The sonata is every color I want it to be. Warm and cold and vibrant and bright, it rolls off my tongue, my lips, my chin like syrupy elderflower.
The music rises frantically to a final trill. I paint a “Landscape, in C sharp minor.”


How an ancient council turned lines into borders.

Art is like a border of flowers along the course of civilization.
-Lincoln Steffens

In the beginning, there was a dot. The dot went for a walk, and formed a line. The line evolved, multiplied, diversified. Soon the earth was covered with all types of lines.
Not long after, there came man. Man went for a walk, and formed another man. They too evolved, multiplied, diversified, and soon the earth was filled with all types of men.
Now somewhere along one of these walks, man and line met. This was disconcerting to man, as he had never seen a line. Unsure of what to do with it, or even what it was, he captured and pocketed it, and summoned all the other men of the earth to a grand meeting. Between them all, he hoped, they would define this strange phenomenon and lay the issue to rest.
The historian was the oldest amongst the men, so naturally he went first. He called the line a time line, and tossed it like a fishing net across the others’ memories. He recorded names, ordered events, set precedents, drew parallels. He tied the line into a loop, so it would repeat itself, and tainted it in different shades from different angles and sides.
The merchant glimpsed an opportunity, so he went next. He called the line a trade line, and promptly stretched it over land and sea. He then set off along it, transporting silk and spices, gold and silver, ivory and salt. He carried chessboards in one direction, religious texts the other. Apples West, chocolates East. Exchanged knowledge for sugar, wine for rice, art for oil and coal.
The scientists were less hasty. They needed structure; a definition based on data, methodology. The mathematician placed the line on a graph, a plane, a chart. He then presented it to the others, who recorded precisely what they saw. The astronomer observed a spectral line. The geologist, a fault line. The chemist, a bond line. The physicist, a field line. None could prove the others false; they would need more experiments, more tests, more time.
The artists were experimental too, but of a more spontaneous kind. They got creative with the line, to everyone’s delight. They made it thick, they made it thin. Long, short, straight, and curved. The Romantic’s line was delicate and fine. The Realist’s, accurate and neat. The Impressionist blurred it in a colorful haze, from which the Cubist made it reappear in a jagged, frenzied daze.
The writer unfolded a story line, to the tune of the pianist’s melody line. The comedian delivered a punch line, which the athletes then took for a finish line. Some ran, some swam across it. Jumped over, crawled under it. Swung high above the ground from it, walked deft and precariously along it.
This meeting had turned into great, loud, fun. All the men were clapping and cheering. All the men but one.
The politician awoke grumpy from his nap and frowned as he looked around. The meeting had clearly gotten out of hand. It was time to take it into his own.
He cleared his throat and silence fell as he took the floor. He looked down at the offending line that had cost him his sleep, then around to address his fellow men.
“This line is a dividing one that has spurred enough controversy and debate. As guarantor of mankind’s safety, and to preserve the peace, I hereby declare it a border line and banish it to the edge of the map.”
His advisors nodded in approval. The council agreed. And man immediately set to work, enforcing the party line. The cartographers drew, the engineers designed, the workers built. The following morning, when man awoke, the headlines read:

Dividing Line Now Border Line.

No one really knows just how the devolution of mankind began, but it happened somewhere, sometime along those lines. Man’s own strategy turned on him; falsely accused and put to wrong use, all the lines united and became border lines. Those within them feared those without them, and suddenly everyone was obsessed with crossing them.
Once demarcation turned to separation, nothing, it seemed, could stop the lines gone rogue. History could recall no precedent. Trade could find no route. Science ran out of experiments, and art ran dry. For once, even the politician could find nothing to say. The border lines had turned to enemy lines, front lines, dead lines.
Then something remarkable happened. It took the whole world by surprise. One sunny day, one little child and his brand new box of crayons happened to pass a border line. He stopped to examine it, looked around cheekily, pulled all his crayons out of the box… and colored all over it.