He Will Arrive, Because He Said So (Wenckheim VI)

What could possibly go wrong? Baron Wenckheim has returned, and his main desire is to meet the love of his youth, who is eagerly expecting him.

In Photography, we typically expect what’s important to be in focus.

Krasznahorkai’s prose, however, has a shallow depth of field, and often the blurry part is where we should look.

Right at his arrival at the train station, Baron Wenckheim walks right beside her, himself a victim of this looking elsewhere: … he just went beside her like a sleepwalker,…

When Wenckheim finally meets Marika (or Marietta, as he remembers her name), the misfocus becomes extreme: He doesn’t grasp that she has aged, too, and takes her for her mother or aunt: …yes, he thought there is a resemblance there, he wouldn’t say that Marietta had completely inherited the traits of this lady, still, though, there were in her face and in her bearing a few minor characteristics that connected them,

Dialogue between the two becomes impossible, but Wenckheim’s more and more devastating monologue is not without effect: …and she wasn’t trembling, although she knew that soon she would be, but for the time being she was still in that state in which a person simultaneously grasps and refutes what has just happened,…

In photography, the object in front of the lens can be so much out of focus that it becomes part of the optical system through which everything else is perceived. Focus becomes secondary.

Upset about Marika’s absence, Wenckheim talks to her about his deep love to her, and she listens with growing desperation. — he saw no other way than to speak to her, in the most sincere way possible, of his most sacred feelings;… 

… and he reached into the inner pocket of his jacket and pulled out the photograph from an envelope, he handed it to her saying, please have a look, Madame, and see how beautiful she is, and Marika bowed her head and she looked at the photograph, she looked and she looked, then she couldn’t bear to look anymore, …

The New Petzval Lens

Let me introduce you to one of my Christmas presents:

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This is a remake of a lens design from 1840 by Joseph Petzval, then one of the leading physicists working in optics. For its time, this lens was very fast and very sharp at the center. Today, we have faster glass, and good lenses maintain sharpness across the entire frame, so why would one bother? One reason is that the progressive vignetting that occurs towards the boundary of the frame creates a radial blur unlike anything else.

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This effect can be controlled by choosing appropriately sized aperture blades. Yes, this lens is so not automatic that you have to manually insert blades with aperture holes. You see them in the top picture scattered around near the lens. The lens comes with a set that have circular holes as one would expect, but nothing prevents you (or me) to use plates with holes in different shapes.

The effect is simple: A small point-like object (like a light source) that is out of focus is usually rendered as a slightly blurred small disk. This is what makes up the bokeh of the lens, and it is one of the most important characteristics of fast lenses (where you will have a lot of the frame out of focus, usually). If the hole in the aperture blade is not a disk but (say) a square, then the small dot that is out of focus will become a small square. Likewise, you can have star shaped blurs or even multiple blurs if the aperture plates has several holes.

Aperture Plates

Above is my first set of self-designed blades for the Petzval lens. I created this by first scanning in the actual plates for size and shape, vectorizing them in Adobe Illustrator, adding my own design, exporting them as an AutoCAD DXF file, and importing them into the software that drives my Cameo Silhouette die cutter. The result are little pieces of card stock paper.

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Here, for instance, is a neocubistic sculpture (from the Sculpture Trails Outdoor Museum near Solsberry, like all portraits in this post), using an aperture plate with several square shaped holes. Below is an image using a plate with a fractal cross.

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This opens up many possibilities. One can design aperture plates to complement the motive by enhancing the background, or one can distort an otherwise distractive background beyond recognition.

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Imagine a technology where a modern lens contains instead of regular aperture blades an electronically controlled screen that, somewhat like liquid ink, can be used to create aperture holes of any shape. In a film camera this would make it possible to continuously modify the out of focus area. Alfred Hitchcock would have used this to make the famous tower scene in Vertigo even more vertiginous.

Creation in a Nutshell

The Sculpture Trails Outdoor Museum near Solesbury displays a large collection of iron sculptures in an unsuspecting, hilly, southern Indiana landscape.

I will post pictures from the trails at a later point. Today I would like to talk about an annual event that takes place there.

Each July, artists from all over the worlds gather to a month long event at SculptureTrails to work on iron casts. Over several weeks they produce moulds for their sculptures which are then subjected to a ritual that lasts several hours: The iron pour. And indeed a ritual it is. It begins with the firing of the furnace.

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All participants wear protective gear and perform their tasks with a concentration, discipline and respect that reminds me of ancienct religious ceremonies. A look at the molten iron alone is awe inspiring.

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The actual pouring takes place in several rounds, depending on the number of moulds.

Visitors have the opportunity to scratch sandstone molds for a nominal fee.

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More often than not, the sparks fly high, and let the human beings involved disappear.

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When the liquid iron is poured, the flames and sparks take on fantastical shapes that are, one might believe, the ghosts or souls of the sculptures to be created.

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It is hard to say what makes this whole process so fascinating. Is it the ability to handle molten iron? The solemnity of the ritual? The spectacle of the flames?

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Maybe it is the deep satisfaction to see something truly transformed.

In Andrei Tarkowski’s film Andrei Rublev, the last chapter shows the casting of a bell (two bells, if you wish). There and here, the spiritual dimension of a purely physical phenomenon is astounding.