what remains – 水井街 Shuijing Jie, Chengdu
In a 2009 photo, a shopkeeper in the 水井坊 Shuijingfang area of Chengdu closes her eyes, maybe remembering other times. The shop, along with about 90% of the ancient neighborhood, is now gone.
Old tree, 水井坊 Shuijingfang area, Chengdu
“Life isn’t some vertical or horizontal line. You have your own interior world, and it’s not neat. Therefore the importance and the beauty of music, sound, noise. When you go outside and you’re hearing…hundreds of different sounds…all of these things are potentially beautiful.”
Patti Smith, in A Dream of Life
It’s been while since I posted anything. It isn’t just being busy – I am, with my schedule so spread-out that I have classes six days a week – but I’ve felt that I had nothing to say. Other people seem to have quite a lot to say; I’ve spent some time reading a few excellent teaching blogs, and some well-written and perceptive film blogs.
The past couple of weeks have produced some indelible images. First, there was the horrifying footage of the tsunami that devastated Japan’s coastal areas and swept away entire communities. The online videos of buildings, cars, and people’s lives being carried away by surging waters left me dumbstruck. Then, there were the continuing images of damaged nuclear power plants, unleashing a manmade, not natural, devastation upon the world.
I was tremendously encouraged by the images of the pro-worker uprising in Madison, Wisconsin, USA. Increasingly marginalized by totalitarian corporate rulers, people are finally responding with a mass, democratic movement. In spite of our government’s double-speak of “spreading democracy” via warfare and state-sponsored terror, the people taking to the streets are showing what democracy is really about.
In a quieter, more contemplative vein, I’ve watched several films lately that have stayed with me as a series of mental images.
Patti Smith – A Dream of Life 
Patti Smith – A Dream of Life is a 2008 documentary, a collaborative effort by Smith and director Steven Sebring that was supposedly 12 years in the making. There are a lot of moving images – grainy shots from moving trains, views through car windows – as well as the thoughts of a truly remarkable and very intelligent artist. I’d seen the film before, but watched it again a couple of nights ago on a whim. The above image of signposts made me think of signals, progress, turning points in my life. In terms of language, signposting means giving verbal and physical cues to help your audience follow your train of thought, and to point to where you’re going next. Sometimes we want to see signals, but they’re simply not there. Maybe that’s why I look at so many movies: to see something of myself reflected in them, to give my interior life some shape or recognizable form.
Jean-Luc Godard, Film socialisme 
Jean-Luc Godard’s Film socialisme  is a confounding film, filled with exquisite images, symbolism, and (to me) mixed messages. The image that stays with me is an exquisitely-framed shot of a reporter standing against a textured, sky-blue wall, the constantly-rotating shadow of a windmill animating the scene and creating a kind of dark aura around her. It’s an amazing sequence.
Other films that made an impression on me were Des hommes et des dieux [Of Gods and Men, 2010] directed by Xavier Beauvois, and Mike Leigh’s Another Year . One last very Zen-like sentiment occurs in the Patti Smith documentary where she visits the grave of Beat poet Gregory Corso in Rome. Tapping into the “river of existence” or cyclic imagery that occurs often in Buddhism, Corso’s epitaph for himself reads
It flows thru
the death of me
like a river
Patti Smith – A Dream of Life 
“8-6-1-3-13-11;” like numbered pieces of a puzzle, these weathered boards were used to close off the entrance to a storefront after hours. I’m re-publishing some of my older photos to pay tribute to the now-vanished Shuijingfang neighborhood of Chengdu. I’ll try to make it back there soon for some post-mortem photos of the rubble.