Who Is John Galt?

A cryptic question leading to a very disappointing reveal in a frighteningly awful novel. John Galt is the supposed hero of Ayn Rand’s massive ode to capitalism and objectivism. I read this book in my 20s because I came across it in a book store, and based on the wonderful title and the back flap’s blurb about the premise, it sounded like a novel about a global depression sweeping across the world’s elite. It sounded interesting. Over one thousand pages later, I closed that book and vowed never to waste another minute on this crazy lady’s words and ideas. Besides all that, the book was badly written, and downright silly.

It was written by a woman yet is sexist in its depiction of women. It assesses the worth of a person solely on their careers, stature, and cash value. It leaves no room for emotion or randomness in its staunch philosophy of how to live a righteous and meaningful life. It was also one of the worst attempts at science fiction I have yet to witness, Plan 9 from Outer Space included.

So why create something from a source I have such contempt for? Well, there is that title, “Atlas Shrugged,” which is alluring on its own, free of the baggage of the awful novel itself. There is also an ironic lesson in the character of Galt himself - hardly a full-fledged character, more a construct or plot device who speaks like a vulcan from Star Trek - a lesson in the flawed premise itself. Imagine if the one-percenters, the CEOs and Politicians pull out of life and leave their posts, letting society crumble in their absence. They meant to prove their worth to the teeming, stupid masses, depicted as nothing more than greedy leeches in the book, by showing the world what happens when they stop the machine of the world - arrogantly assuming that the world is theirs to stop.

The truth is, civilizations rise and fall, kings come and go, and traditions fade. The great and powerful on their lofty perches and piles of money may run things to an extent, but the world will indeed go on without them, and will change again and again, adapting to the ebb and flow of modern civilization.

The “heroes” of this book think too highly of themselves and overestimate their worth. They derive their identities solely from their work, and oh, is their work and lives boring as hell, at least to me. Their emotions are as preposterous as the secret base of John Galt hidden in the Rockies, poorly written and clearly reflective of the author herself - who I can only imagine was a brutal piece of flint in life.

The point of this image is John Galt thinks he has hijacked the world and is protecting it. But the world is still there, below him, going on without him just the same. He is a deliberate enigma with a megalomaniacal ego, and no one can live up to that kind of build up and no one could ever be that important in the grand scheme of things. He seeks adoration, acknowledgement and any form of tribute worthy of a titan of industry. This image is not meant to give it to him, it is intended to show him as a flaccid, impotent and petulant child who thinks he owns the world.

Michael Bilotta
August 9, 2016

 

Nearly four years ago, I created an image I called “Peter’s Epilogue” which, at least to me, depicted a grown up Peter Pan looking at dozens of red balloons drifting up into the sky, and two stars shining amongst them. The two stars represented the concept of Neverland (“second star to the right, and straight on till morning.”) and the balloons were a symbol of youth being let go - time to grow up - a prominent theme in Barrie’s play. For a long time, I used that image as my logo - it was fairly iconic and simple, which a good logo should be - but like most things, it got old and eventually I retired it. It was the first time I used the model with back to camera - something I have come to enjoy a lot and use often, as it allows the viewer to put any person in the scene they choose, or themselves for that matter. It also allows us to see what the character is seeing, and for me, a broader canvas to add story elements to. 

I decided to revisit this image, “Peter’s Epilogue,” and instead of updating it, which I may do someday, I thought it was time for Wendy Darling to have her own sequel image. What happened to Wendy, who, after all, was the real protagonist of the story - a girl on the brink of adulthood, already a mother in spirit to her siblings, and the Lost Boys in Neverland, but not wanting to grow up and become her father, who had no patience or affection for storytelling. I did not know this, but Barrie did revisit the Wendy character in a short play in 1908 called “When Wendy Grew Up - an Afterthought.” Apparently she had a daughter and Peter visited her as well and Wendy allowed Peter to take her daughter to Neverland - trusting that she would make the same decisions Wendy had years earlier. 

No balloons this time. She is no longer letting go of youth. She has already  - and now she is watching worlds drift by. Perhaps they are the worlds of possibilities, of lives she might have lived - perhaps they are the representations of choices she might have made. All seems well, all is calm, maybe she is a wife and mother now in a rural home, far from London, far from the loud, clanging cities teeming with people. Maybe she is content, and maybe she is a little bored of her insulated life. Maybe she is dreaming of another world, another place. Maybe the girl she was is still inside her, dreaming of far off adventures, dreaming of Neverland again. In the sky, there are those same two stars, but they are fainter now, distant, and seemingly unreachable. Wendy isn’t flying anymore, she is very much earthbound. Perhaps she never really could and it was all in her mind, along with the fantastic tales she once told her younger brothers. 

Maybe all we need is the ability to look up into the sky and see something in our imaginations, to still be able to see possibilities. In that respect, as a middle-aged man now, I can attest that I have never fully grown up, and there is still very much a boy inside me creating fantastical worlds. That is why I create what you see here, and why I intend to do so for as long as possible, as long as I see those stars in the sky leading back to Neverland. 

Michael Bilotta

June 8, 2016

Show someone a picture like the one above and ask them what they imagine the woman is doing, and some may say dancing, some may say she is a puppet, and some may say she is the victim of a brutal killing. Indeed, I do this sort of opinion polling every time I sit down to create an image, since I am not sure when shooting what exactly I am going for.

I do remember, on the day we shot this, that the model and I were improvising poses and I asked her to move like she was bent and broken, and like a marionette with a few broken strings. She gave me some great versions of that, and I was pretty sure I was going to do something with strings attached to her, something perhaps whimsical and lighter than usual.

I could not have been more wrong!

As I put her in a misty field of picked corn, snow on the ground, she sort of took a dark turn to that of a victim, and a victim of a brutal and elaborate killer. I resisted it as much as I could, creating this very dark image of a violent death, but no matter how I tried to skew it, all I saw in that field was a victim. There was no dancer, no puppet on a string. Needless to say, I committed to it and brought it to its conclusion - I do not fear the darker stuff, but it occurs to me that some will be put off by it. I understand that perfectly - not everyone wants to take a walk on the creepy side of the street. I don't live there either, whatever you might think, but I am drawn to it as a subject of study.

The Shadow archetype, the dark half, the Stranger...every horror film plays off our common fear of these aspects of the human psyche - they would not have the popularity they have if we did not relate to them on some primordial level. There is a fascination our culture has with the criminal mind, the serial killer, the psychotic and the insane. Often, the dark mind behind these killings thinks their actions noble - a transformation of the unclean or offensive to a state of cleanliness or purity. They are purging the world of the weak, embracing the hunter within lest they become the hunted.

And so we come upon our young woman here, apparently dead in a cold, miserable field, and she likely died a terrifying, painful death at the hands of a killer, who created a vision of a human scarecrow for reasons he may not even be aware of. He is creating his art, his very dark art, and he has no human empathy that gives him pause.

I often think of those left to mourn someone who died in a grisly fashion, how must the loss and sadness be intensified with the knowledge that the victim's final day or hours were filled with terror, pain and suffering. How does one find the light in life once darkness has engulfed them so completely? How can one love again when the human condition can produce actual monsters - predators stalking prey with motivations easily hidden by sheer population, indifference, distraction and denial?

For most of us, these dark images will be safely relegated to our fictions and entertainments, and perhaps we seek catharsis, those of us who indulge in exploring the sinister side of mankind. For me, this image was irresistible to create - it wanted to be the victim, and despite the grisly subject matter, I find a beauty in this image - not solely because I created it, but also in form, lines, and movement. I can see a lot of visual inspirations at work in my creation - everything from Giger's Aliens to the recently cancelled but stunning "Hannibal" television series. This may even turn into a series of images I will add to over time, the Art of Shadows, where we wrestle with the light, but darkness wins in the end.

Regarding the title, "The Field Where I Died," it is borrowed from an episode of "the X-Files" where a woman has memories of her death in a previous life.


Michael Bilotta

May 30, 2016

This blog is based on my image "The Day The World Went Away" (seen above)

“All those moments will be lost in time like…tears…in rain…” - (Roy Batty, from Blade Runner)

It seems some of us can wrap out minds around death, find a way to accept it and live with it, and perhaps some of this is due to religion or belief in the afterlife. Remove anything other than proof or fact though, and all evidence seems to point to the fact that we just…stop.

Nothing more, no continuation.

I think if we are truly being honest with ourselves, we can admit that death is terrifying, and nature’s instinct for survival only supports this imperative to live.

Did you ever wonder, “what will be the last thing I see?” “What sort of day will it be?” “Will I see it coming, or will I be blindsided?”

I almost think a slow fade into senility or dementia would make this inevitable epilogue easier to take, were you are effectively erased from your self awareness little by little, until the erosion is complete and your through line of life experiences is all but gone.

That, to me, is the hardest part to accept: that all these experiences, all these stored and captured moments, will be lost, and then really, whatever was the point of it all in the first place?

Roy Batty in the film “Blade Runner,” perfectly captured the essence of a human terrified of his own mortality - and ironically, he was a replicant in the film, not a human. He wanted to know when he would die, he wanted to know if there was a way to extend his life, he mourned the loss of his life experiences and likened them to “tears in rain.” Towards the end of the film he could feel death coming for him, and he did all he could to keep going a little longer, including self-inflicted pain, screaming, and talking, seemingly keeping his mind intact by force of will against an unstoppable opponent.

I remember my paternal Grandfather in his last few months of his life, appeared to be deeply fearful of his own demise, there was no acceptance, no peace of mind in evidence. He was sick and he knew it.

In my image, we see what appears to be a man sitting on a beach, calmly, as his face is blown away by something unseen. He is holding on until the end, he is keeping his eyes open, holding onto imagery, his senses, his memories and his mind as long as possible, in the face of his own demise. He will not close his eyes and herald darkness willingly  - this is his world, the only life he knows, and he wants all he can from it.

I both hope and fear that I will be like him when my time comes.

Michael Bilotta
June 4, 2016

 

 

This image started with a vague idea in place, and a desire to make a triptych. When it was shot, I knew the sisters three would be seated in a row and interacting somehow, but I wasn't sure of the particulars, I wasn't sure what the conversation was, or what precisely I was going to convey. Mind you, I prefer all that - it keeps possibilities flowing, and doesn't lock you into a predetermined image. 

Something about siblings, or in a broader sense, a social pecking order dynamic. I lit the shot with the intention of the middle sister's head being a brilliant light source, so that concept, referencing Magritte's "Pleasure Principle" image was in mind from the start. It was shot with the middle sister being ignored or overlooked - the idea of the quiet one or the overlooked one being the most brilliant, the most illuminated. 

In the month and a half it took to finish this one, it went through a lot of iterations, and when the candles and lanterns were added, something started to click. In addition to the original vague concept, the dynamic of the two side sisters hoarding light sources became more meaningful, and I had another layer of meaning as a result: the theft of ideas, the borrowing from a source. 

It is something I've written about before and will again, this plagiarism euphemistically called "inspiration." I see it all the time in the strange circles of conceptual art/photography. One person does something, and suddenly there are three other images looking exactly like it, with almost no change to the original's composition. I could name names, but I won't. So, my sisters are artist wannabes, stealing bits of light for their "art" from a singular and powerful source  - siphoning it in an attempt to match the light they desire to emulate, but producing a duller, feeble light despite their efforts. The center sister, I call her "Stella," has real animals near her, drawn to her, and the blue sisters have artificial constructs. They have matched her dress, matched her chair, but still they do not shine as brightly. 

This was the idea in place for most of the last month, and then, last week, I found another layer to add to the allegory of the piece - one that mimicked the art thievery perfectly on a massive, macrocosmic scale: vampire stars. 

There are stars in the galaxy called "Blue Stragglers" that appear young, too young for their locations in the universe, and they appear that way because they are sucking the energy from a larger more powerful star they have attached to, until that star is drained of all its plasma and reduces to a white dwarf. Quite the symmetry there, yes? The connection was too perfect, so I added a light matter stream from Stella's head (Stella comes from the word "stellar" or "star" of course) that the sisters are using their wands to absorb. I changed the glow of the wands to blue for my "blue straggler" reference to connect. The animals chosen for the blue sisters, a goat and a horse, are references to constellations - one in the northern hemisphere and one in the south - just to reinforce the metaphor further. 

So ends my first triptych - certainly a new challenge for me, and ultimately a rewarding one. Better to be a Stella than a Blue Straggler, a thief who creates nothing original, and borrows the ideas of others.

Michael Bilotta

May 18, 2016

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