Beautiful, Beautiful Machines
“…Nature photographs downright bore me for some reason or other. I think: ‘Oh, yes. Look at that sand dune. What of it?’”
I love to photograph machines, trucks, construction sites, glass, bricks, engines, skyscrapers, cement slabs, forklifts, bulldozers, factories.
Like the great feminist philosopher Camille Paglia, I love roads and concrete bridges. She wrote, “When I cross America's great bridges, I think: men have done this. Construction is a sublime male poetry.”
When I consider nature, I feel appropriate awesome wonder. I am moved by stars and water lilies. I weep during storms. When I stand by the ocean, I feel God’s grandeur deeply in my soul. I feel the veins of minerals in the earth, lapis and turquoise and silver. The mirror of a lake is a miracle. Lava and lilacs, hail and icicles. Feathers astound, as does the unexpected ululating elegance of the neck of the giraffe. I am curious about the planets, and standing in a room of dinosaur bones is always downright mythic.
Still, none of these holds my fancy for long. I scan the horizon of the sea for a ship and want to know her name, and the names of the men inside her.
Walking in the forest among unwinding fiddleheads and vines and all of their attendant fairies, my spine prickles when I see an empty can of Coca Cola, or the remains of a fire pit. I comb the beach for plastic trinkets washed up from someone else’s life in another land. These treasures are their own kind of archeology. My pulse quickens when I see the footsteps of man.
It’s fashionable for man to find man’s presence a disgrace, to snort with disgruntled indignation about man’s mark, to declare that our very presence has spoiled something pristine that is only pure without us.
This self-hatred is readily revealed in how we use words like synthetic, unnatural, man-made, artificial, and unnatural; these are all used to describe the mark of man. But man is natural, man is nature, man is part of nature, and anything man makes or does is therefore natural and part of nature. How can anything we’ve made be artificial? Such language is an effective psychological manipulation to undermine human creativity. Our problem is not just racism, sexism, and a long lineup of assorted hatreds of the “other.” It is this, too, this intrinsic loathing for our own existence. In the face of human accomplishments, we feel a strange kind of guilt when the only moral response is gratitude.
I don’t propose that humankind is perfect or that he does no wrong. On the contrary, I believe in sins, and our accountability for them. On the other hand, I don’t believe that natural is neutral, or share the Romantic painters’ adulation and delusion that she is innocent. Nature is not just pretty daisies and lazy meadows: it also open sores and parasites and festering diseases. It is the destructive power of fire, and the agony of childbirth inflicted on billions of innocents. It is the ruthlessness of rape in the animal kingdom, of tormenting one’s young and eating them for fun among chimpanzees.
There is a certain kind of carelessness to in the thoughtlessly flung empty can, and the can’s story contains factory tyranny and toil. But it also includes the macabre fairy tale of sugar, an epic evil harnessed by man but which is wholly natural. No, not just the story of slavery, but the sweet stuff itself. It’s a substance that has seduced the gullible and left festering, rotten holes where teeth used to be; it has poisoned untold pancreases, crippled us with cancer, and wreaked more havoc than all the fake pharma we’ve ever known.
But all the magic is here in this story of the tossed tin, too. How we took one of those veins from the soil, where it sat inert, we ground stones into pigment and made paint, and from that paint we have made a trillion paintings. We made tin and bronze, we melted metal, we polished emeralds and made heartbreakingly beautiful things.
Machines are magic. Photography is witchcraft. We have made languages, and when we started writing, we began to preserve the history of culture. We could record poetry and stories. We were Dante and Virgil and Job, Sharon Olds and Haruki Murakami.
We made music. On whatever we could find, and with manmade machines. With more machines, we also learned how to preserve it.
Most paintings and pictures of the industrial revolution and of machines are clouded with some kind of obligatory apology or condemnation of progress. My photography of buildings and oil pipes and steel structures and urban alleys seeks to show magnificence instead. The chugging trains and the whirring printing presses and the trucks hauling produce and raw materials are about being alive.
I see beauty in stacks and bricks and steam. Here is the story of our struggle to invent. Here is how we made the world smaller, and invented possibilities to know other people far away. I see grandeur in skyscrapers and cities. Here is the story of people, of communities striving to stretch the laws of physics to their limits, discover the boundaries of the outer edge of the imagination. From the wheel and turning sand to glass, to La Traviata. And consider how we take for granted the now ubiquitous mobile phone! If our ancestors dreamed we could whisper into a little black box and talk to strangers in the Congo or Buenos Aires, they would deem it sorcery.
It boggles my mind when we “research” astrology or crystal “power” or look for evidence that a “medium” calling out “I feel the initial J!” might actually be talking to the dead. We have magic so magic that by pressing a button, we can see cinema filled with the living voices of dead people. We can turn sand into instruments that let us communicate instantly with people five thousand miles away. We know the names and chemical makeup of thousands of stars, for real, not for some mumbo jumbo. Magic is not some vague vibe from swishing sage or obsidian about! We have long taken the compounds in plants for real medicine and real food, we have already mapped time with those rocks.
And oil, that apparent evil, black gold, as if energy is always some kind of personification of greed. Oil is a miracle- the ultimate in recycling. The discarded remains, the garbage dump, of beings gone before, turned into power that can fly us across the world into the arms of our lovers or new friends in a day. Refuse that can propel machines to take spices and pineapples north by morning.
When I see machines and cities and concrete, I survey man’s astonishing history of architecture and culture and art and transportation and evolution.
Oh, the machines! The spinning wheels! The greasy mechanical parts! The skyscrapers! The roaring engines! The mammoth steel bridges!
Ayn Rand said, “The machine, the frozen form of a living intelligence, is the power that expands the potential of your life by raising the productivity of your time.”
Machines have freed women from lye-raw hands and a lifetime of nothing but washing clothes, and machines have freed men from the fields, where they were mere beasts of burden, to be doctors and writers and chefs. Machines have made books available to everyone, not just to emperors.
Beautiful, beautiful machines.
When I wander in the glory of a starry night, I feel a profound sense of awesome wonder. I experience intense gratitude for the beauty of the natural world.
But it is the skyline of a city and the twinkling of its lights breaking through those stars that inspires me more.
Lorette C. Luzajic
"I have never felt salvation in nature. I love cities above all."
The Ekphrastic Review
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