The revenge of Huitzilopochtli

I probably shouldn’t have spent the day editing a long-lost suite of photographs that I made in Mexico in 2005. I really need to attend to more urgent matters, but somehow just couldn’t get out of Mexico. The image here, which is only a “first draft” fragment, has little to do with the rest of my work from that place I visited for a couple of weeks seven years in the past, and revisited through the umbilical of a firewire cable today, but it might provide a hint to the direction I’ll next travel, as well as to the nature of the personal digital photographic archive and its evolving role in individual and collective memory. I made this “photograph” by compositing at least 20 separate smaller images, taken with a 5 megapixel ca.2003 point and shoot digital camera hand-held at night, using the old and notoriously bad infrared “night-shot” mode, and then further degraded the already questionable image quality by applying a “Sepia” filter in camera, before output to over-sharpened, noisy jpeg image files, which have been saved in digital form, and transferred over the past seven years to a series of computers, hard drives, and countries. When a lot of these low quality images are stitched together, one can enjoy a really large low quality image that looks a lot like a photograph on our dearly beloved and soon to be unobtainium, film, the impending demise of which all of us photographers of a certain age are in the process of mourning, even before the silvery corpse has breathed its last breath. In fact, the image in question is not at all a photograph in the way we reflexively understand the term. The perspective represented here is one that the lens did not see, but that the computer generated. The humans depicted in the image below were never at any one point of time physically present in the relationship depicted in the image. The shape and proportions of the cathedral have been altered by a computer algorithm and then further manipulated through a distortion filter and GUI interface that allowed me to reshape the geometry of the monument to suit a purpose that Hernando Cortez could have never visualized when he and Father Olmedo consecrated the place in the name of their own God in 1520. The final result conforms to neither the reality of that time and place as I experienced it, or any photographic record of it, or even the history that shaped its current physical appearance, but rather, is a result of the overlay of my distracted, fragmented experience of a place as interpreted by my use of a very specific technology, and then my reinterpretation of that scene many years later, shaped by any number of factors in my own experience today, and then transmitted to you, courtesy of a mad house of technological cards that we all pretty much take for granted. The cathedral that provided the physical index for the backlit lattice of phosphorescent pixels that you are now experiencing, is built on the foundations of the temple of Huitzilopochtli, the Aztec God of War, which it is said, was consecrated in 1487 with the blood of 80,000 men, sacrificed by cutting out their still beating hearts. It was built on top of loose fill on top of what was once a floating mat of vegetation over a lake, which sits perilously close to a tectonic fault line. That nearly 500 year old stone cathedral is not as solid or eternal as it looks. For now it still stands, but one day the forgotten Aztec War God may return to claim that contentious blood soaked piece of real estate. The Spaniards built the cathedral as a symbol of their victory over the Aztecs, and as a monument to their own religion and civilization. Now we are building our cathedrals in the digital clouds. The monuments to our civilization are as close to vaporware as one could imagine. It would take much less than the wrath of an angry war god to reduce our clever world of ones and zeroes to simply nought. Will our virtual world last as long as the ephemeral stone cathedrals of the conquistadors?

Posted by scoopneil

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