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Weltschmerz (from the German, meaning world-pain or world-weariness) is a term coined by the German author Jean Paul and denotes the kind of feeling experienced by someone who understands that physical reality can never satisfy the demands of the mind. This kind of pessimistic world view was widespread among several romantic authors such as Lord Byron, Giacomo Leopardi, François-René de Chateaubriand, Alfred de Musset, Nikolaus Lenau, Herman Hesse, and Heinrich Heine. It is also used to denote the feeling of sadness when thinking about the evils of the world—compare empathy, theodicy.
The modern meaning of Weltschmerz in the German language is the psychological pain caused by sadness that can occur when realizing that someone’s own weaknesses are caused by the inappropriateness and cruelty of the world and (physical and social) circumstances. Weltschmerz in this meaning can cause depression, resignation and escapism, and can become a mental problem (compare to Hikikomori). The modern meaning should also be compared with the concept of anomie, or a kind of alienation, that Émile Durkheim wrote about in his sociological treatise Suicide.
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An artist’s success could be as serendipitous as his creativity. For the Peruvian-American photographer, success has come as an unintended side effect of his sincere passion for photography. A Princeton Tiger in the Class of 2008, Jiménez Cahua was born in Peru and raised in New Jersey before moving to South Carolina. Just one year after graduation, Jiménez Cahua had his first solo photography show at a gallery in the Lower East side of Manhattan. His Lima exhibition, which includes 10 photos focusing on the development of young towns in Peru’s capital city, received approving nods from the art critics of The New Yorker, The Wall Street Journal, and Guernica – to list a few big names. Despite having had what he humbly calls a “moderate success” in the professional art world, the young artist still feels a strong connection to his alma mater and has agreed to show his work at the New Butler College’s art gallery in February, 2010. I recently invited Jiménez Cahua to a tour of the new gallery and interviewed this up-and-coming photographer at the stylish lounge area of New Butler. “No more waffle-ceilings,” Jiménez Cahua observed, but he loved it all the same.
H: The most expected but also most important: why photography? How did you start making photos?
C: I didn’t come into Princeton thinking I’d do photography, but I’d still call myself visually minded despite never before having made art. I appreciated art but I didn’t necessarily want to study it. In my sophomore year I signed up for a black and white photography class out of curiosity, and I was so taken by it that I ended up doing a color photography class after that and I applied for my Visual Arts Certificate. I made work, obtained a thesis-permission, and now I’m trying to do more.
H: Do you remember your first photograph?
C: I do. The first photograph I made – at least intending it as art – was in a park near South Carolina where I was from, sort of, and there was this very steep hill next to a road. At the edge of the hill, there is a tree and you can see its roots coming down to the ground, it was like an ant colony, a maze made of roots. Just imagine taking a tree underground and cutting it on the side. It was so interesting that I made an image of it. That was my first color photograph. My first black and white photograph was taken at a gas station, but I almost work exclusively in color now.
H: Why? Is there something lacking in black and white photos?
C: No, there is nothing lacking in black and white pictures – there are a lot of terribly beautiful black and white pictures out there and I definitely would not rule that out for the future.
H: How did you remember Peru as a child?
C: I don’t, zero recollection. I moved here when I was one or two years old but the reason I maintained the connection is that we go back almost every other year. My mom took my two siblings and me back to Peru for the first time in middle school. There I met my family and became close to them. That’s sort of how the country stayed close to my mind.
A girl from California emailed me a while ago about my work and she was saying how she herself was adopted from Peru and she lived in California with non-Peruvian parents. At one point, she went back to Peru to look for her biological family. The point I’m trying to make is, even though she grew up in an American family and did not remember Peru as a child, she still felt that urge to return to where she came from. With my older siblings, they remembered Peru a lot better than I did but they are not very connected to the place. Whereas I, the only one who doesn’t remember it, really wanted to go back.
H: Is this about retrieving a memory lost? How was it like growing up as a Peruvian-American?
C: Yes, I tried to retrieve that memory in some sense. It was not a certain thing that my family and I would come to the US. It was our plan, but it easily could have failed. It was pure chance that we settled here. From what my mom told me, it was a very arduous journey from Peru, a lot of planes and buses and trains, and she came with us three kids, and she had to carry me the whole time.
Peru is technically a relatively poor third world country, and I suppose that was something that intrigued me in a way. Growing up as a Peruvian was regular, but one thing interesting about New Jersey is that the state has around 15% Latino population. All my friends were at least ethnic minorities, if not mostly Latino. They are all Colombians, Peruvians, Indians, or African. I didn’t have a lot of Caucasian friends, but all that changed radically when my mom put me in a Catholic school in a different part of the town in my 4th grade. That was my first experience with something that was not diverse. That’s probably one of the most admirable things about Elizabeth, New Jersey – its diversity. Of course, at the time when I was in the minority community I did not think to myself “Oh my god! This is so diverse!” But it was quite surprising to me that when I went to South Carolina, I was probably the only Hispanic in my class.
H: Did you have a hard time reconciling your Peruvian and American identities when you made that transition from a community in which you looked like the people around you to one where your appearance immediately makes you foreign?
C: It is something I never thought about until I went to South Carolina. Growing up, I was surrounded by kids whose parents are all from somewhere else, so to me that wasn’t unusual, ‘foreignness’ was regular to me; a regular kid was someone who grew up in Guatemala or Colombia. But once I was in South Carolina, all of a sudden I wasn’t Peruvian, I wasn’t ‘regular’, a lot of people actually considered me Mexican, which I obviously am not. I guess it’s because the only experience they had either themselves or with pop culture was mostly Mexican, though as a kid I already knew that there are Mexicans, Peruvians and Colombians. There is quite a diversity within these ethnic and linguistic categories you know. Take an America kid who has moved to Indonesia, where everyone starts calling him British – he would be like “What are you talking about? I am American. Just because we speak the same language doesn’t mean we are the same.” Similarly, Peruvian and Mexicans are different, and I didn’t invent or imagine these differences – it is just wrong to assume that we are one and the same.
H: How is it like being an artist in New York?
C: [laughs] It’s not what you think. It’s been a while since I made the Lima pictures, and that was in 2007. Since then I haven’t continued that work. I still make images every now and then. It was quite liberating to do the work in Peru during summer when I had nothing else to do, which was truly a luxury for someone at the age of 20. Now, I have to work to support myself. I can’t live off my parents or the school. I would love nothing more than to be the stereotypical New York artist who makes art everyday and does nothing else. I do very much call myself an artist, I have made art, I make art and I plan to make art in the future, but as far as being an artist in the city does – I don’t necessarily hang out with other artists, I don’t have a studio space even though I have my works in a gallery but even that is pretty disjointed. So despite having had a moderate success in the art world, I feel like I am sort of at the outside of it. Moreover, with the ‘success’ that I have, I would almost call it ‘undeserved’. It is quite jarring really. When I made the work, I didn’t intend to show it in a gallery in Manhattan. I just wanted to make those works and did not expect people to come viewing them in this designated art space. It is still surprising to me that my show was pretty well received.
I am not necessarily part of the art world, or at least the one according to popular imagination. There is certainly the high-end photography art circle in New York, with famous collectors and established, high class, top notch galleries and all that, and parallel to that is a group of new artists who are postgraduates of Bachelor or Master of Fine Arts, and to some extent I do feel more connected to the latter circle. Even within myself, I have this stereotypical idea of an artist in New York. Probably someone who gets up at noon, paints for 3 hours, and gets drunk with friends at a bar. That would be amazing. I wish I could live like that, but I don’t.
H: I understand that you studied both Chemistry and Visual Arts at Princeton. Was it difficult to pursue two different areas of interest at the same time? How did you manage it?
C: I don’t think it was terribly difficult. Every Princeton student is busy all the time, possibly doing work that’s more difficult than mine. When I did my studies, I didn’t feel that much different from other students. I didn’t do much else besides those two, I took other classes like linguistics and moral philosophy, and I wish I had more time to do other things but I guess that’s just what happens when you have to juggle with requirements in two departments. I actually think it was quite nice though, giving myself a simultaneous left-brain and right-brain exercise. I did theses for both. I would spend 4 or 5 hours in a chemistry lab, and then say to myself, “I’m tired of this, I am going to relax by doing some work in the photo-lab,” then maybe the next day I would do chemistry for change and so on. It was nice to entertain both.
With the science, it was quite rigorous with a lot of established theories and rules. There’s certainly a lot of elegance and beauty in its logic but very little creativity unless you are already a graduate student or a professor. I am not saying that is a bad thing; you do need to know all the basics before you get creative. But with Photography, it was more liberating because with the solitary work I could control the pace and direction of my project, whereas for Chemistry, my advisor paced my research schedule.
H: In retrospect, what did Princeton mean to you? Are there things you didn’t do but wish you had done?
C: First of all, I think college in general is an immeasurably weird place, especially at Princeton. We’re all here to develop our minds, supposedly, to learn the ‘great knowledge’ of the world, and for a lot of people, that’s the primary goal. But I also felt like a lot of kids just didn’t really care about that. They are here only to get drunk or to play football or do lacrosse or theatre. To me, it is peculiar that people would take so much time doing that at the expense of missing significant and possibly life-changing opportunities to learn from world-renowned professors perspectives on Shakespeare, Quantum Physics, or Philosophy. With kids who managed to do both, I was terribly impressed by how devoted they were to simultaneously perform better at their sports and developing their minds. But then again there are kids who just don’t care about why they were in Princeton in the first place. These are the kids who would end up wasting four years of their lives and hoping to land a job after graduation with family connections. Certainly that’s just a minority of the students here but what they do is the loudest.
I had a friend in high school who was immensely talented and didn’t get into Princeton. She could be here doing much more compelling work than someone who takes everything for granted. Walking around now it feels the same as when I visited Princeton for the first time. I spent a lot of time here but it went like a flash. It goes very fast. I speak to people who are older than me and they say the older you get the faster the years go. But at the same time its good to be busy doing fulfilling work and be oblivious to time, learning from all these brilliant people who are beside you and above you. It took me a while to realize that college is about learning. I wish I had taken more interesting classes, and engaged with more great minds.
H: Have you considered other career paths?
C: Absolutely. Up until very close to my graduation, I applied to graduate school and I was going to be a chemist. I was pretty resolute about it, too. My teacher in Photography said I was crazy, and I must go into visual arts but I shrugged it off and said, well, I like Chemistry. But afterwards I asked myself repeatedly: do I really like chemistry? Ultimately the answer was no. I don’t hate it but it is not something I want to do with my life. I had other ideas, like being one of these hot shot young brokers at Goldman Sachs. Well, who knows, I might do that at some point, but right now I just want to make art.
Actually another great thing about Princeton is that we don’t have professional majors like Accounting or Nursing. Unless you plan to go into academia, what you study in Princeton doesn’t necessarily fully prepare you for a job. This is not a vocational college, and that could be a good or bad thing about Princeton. But maybe you are not supposed to think about these things. When you mind is most supple you should learn as much as you can that doesn’t pertain to a specific vocational skill set. That’s our luxury. There are a lot of kids around the world who are already working multiple jobs at the age of 20, trying to support their families and make a living, whereas we could be here and take the time to nurture our minds, to me that is an immense blessing.
H: You went back to Peru for your thesis project, and brought back very arresting and original images of the urban sprawl in Lima. Man Ray said, “An original is a creation motivated by desire.” What desire brought you back to Lima? What prompted your project?
C: There are multiple reasons for lima and my perspective. I went there in the summer after sophomore year with my family. When I was there, I was amazed by how desaturated Lima was. I didn’t choose to capture the city specifically on overcast days – it was like that for the 3 months that I was there. I saw the sun about two or three times, but otherwise it looked hazy all the time. The place is literally a desert. It gets half an inch of rainfall a year and you have this white blanket of haze covering the pale, brown earth, then on it there is a huge sprawling city. It’s unbelievable to me that this existed. The atmosphere of Lima is what attracted me there – the white sky, the bare, brown and barren earth, and also the people who are making their homes on the hillside.
So why outside the city centre, at least as most tourists would define it? If you Google-Image Lima, there does exist this colonial city complete with balconies and boulevards, but that was boring to me; that might as well have been Paris, Buenos Aires or any other European or western-influenced city. I have no interest in making images of a city centre like that. If I were in Brussels, I probably wouldn’t make images there because it is something that we have all seen.
Although Lima is a city, you step on dirt all the time, even when you are at home. This would not be possible in New York City, a metropolitan so developed that it is impossible to see nature, whereas people in Lima literally live on top of the earth. That might sound like a weird thing, but when you think about it, what’s really weird is living in a condo in Brooklyn on the top floor, where you feel like you live in the sky. But in Lima even when you are indoors, you still live on the earth. Whether the people there recognize it or not, they have a close connection to the earth itself because that is what they see whenever they look downwards.
My previous project was a series of photographs about construction sites. I’m interested in how men develop things, and that’s the most apparent theme in these photos. The place photographed was merely a desert 5 or 10 years ago, but now it’s a pueblo (a young town) and a compelling place to be. In there I saw the captivating images.
H: In your statement for the Lima series, you mentioned that people of Lima do not dominate their land or shape its identity. Does the land, then, shape the identity of the people? Have your memories of the land helped shape your own identity?
C: I think only a person who lived there all his life could answer that question fully. When people see my images they are surprised like, “Oh my god, people actually live there!” But if people in Lima see you living in a 30th floor condo they would probably say, “Wow you live in the sky!” One is not anymore good than the other, people just don’t really have a choice, they have to be here or there. Lima is a very popular city. A lot of people live there to have jobs. They don’t complain much about the hazy weather in the city but the people do prefer good weather. We once drove outside Lima and went to this place where the sun appeared above us and my companions were very happy. I know they would like to live in a place where they could see more sun. If you go to Google-Earth, you would see Lima as a white area because it’s only cloudy there. The Andes Mountains create a barrier for the clouds so I think that’s why the clouds just stop over Lima most of the time. If you travel a hundred miles south of the city it would get tropical all of a sudden. Even within Lima there are microclimates. This has something to do with the topography of the place.
H: Were there any significant encounters with other images while you were there?
C: I did. In Lima, I made some images with my personal digital camera instead of my usual 4 x 5 camera. I was on a hill looking around for images near some huts when I saw a guy chiseling into a rock. They were dumping a pile of stones together to make a reinforcing wall that would hopefully prevent erosion of their homes when nightly rainstorms sweep down the hill. Except the man leading the construction, all the other builders were housewives whose husbands were working somewhere else. It is a very poor neighborhood, and the women were doing most of the work. To me this was very compelling because their efforts have nothing to do with aesthetics or salary. Instead, they were doing it simply to preserve their homes. Many people in the US are obsessed with interior decorations and the so-called ‘styles’ of living. But decorations to those housewives are meaningless. To them, work is not about decorating lives but ensuring that tomorrows would exist, that tomorrow would be better. I didn’t make images of them for art, but it certainly made me reflect on my own mindset and made me think more about expanding the scope of my work. I would like to experiment with portraitures, too.
H: How did studying photography with Emmet Gowin influence your work?
C: I took Emmet’s class in the fall of my junior year and a lot of my classmates said it was Emmet who first taught them how to use their camera. But Emmet wasn’t my first teacher. I already started studying photography in the fall of my sophomore year so the influence he had on me was probably less than others. But I still feel influences from him. Something that still probably affects my work or my thinking of making work implicitly was a statement by Sally Mann, who is a famous photographer and a close friend of Emmet’s. She did a series of work on her children. I remember her saying that she wasn’t particularly interested in children as a subject but these were her children. They have a deep connection, and that’s why she made the images, and that is why her images are so compelling. The same thing could be said about Emmet. He has hundreds of images and many yrs of work photographing his wife. This says something. When people think about photography, they think National Geographic, they think mavericks, they think of photographers going to the Sahara or Costa Rica, taking pictures of strange people and strange lands. But people don’t have to necessarily do that. You don’t have to travel that far. It is good to take pictures of what is up close and make a subject of your work something that has a link to you personally. That part of Emmet’s teaching really crystallized for me, so I knew I should go to Lima because it feels so close to me.
H: Is there a story with Emmet Gowin that you can share?
C: It’s a very different experience having a class or a critique with Emmet. He is not just about photography. He once played us a tape of someone reading a short story, which had nothing to do with anything or if it meant anything, it was confusing and didn’t make sense. But that’s why he played it for us. Maybe the greater lesson that he was teaching us was that art isn’t an interest in and of itself. Maybe we should do a lot of studying outside of photography. It wouldn’t necessarily make you a better artist technically but it’ll make you look at art in a different way. That is something that I have certainly taken from Emmet – looking for influences not just outside photography but also outside of art. In the end, photography is so much more than just aperture and gears.
H: Digital camera makes taking pictures so easy. Can everyone be a photographer?
C: If you call yourself an artist, what you make is art, regardless of what it is. It’s in the intentionality of the photographer. The image doesn’t necessarily have to be good but if you call it art, then that’s what it is.
H: It is hard to believe in our dreams sometimes, especially when people don’t deem our dreams as worthy or even possible. How did you convince yourself and others that you would make it someday?
C: I convinced myself with the work I had made. I tried many different things like most kids do. I had a poetry phase and I had a chess phase, but those were things that just came and went. With photography, too, I thought of it as another phase but my interest in it just never stopped. Up to this point, I got most compliments on the works I did in photography. I am a much better photographer than chemist. It’s what I’ve done best at so far. If I die today, people won’t remember my poems or my chemistry papers, but my photographs, and that’s enough to convince me that it is something that will stay an important part of my life.
H: What advices would you have for the aspiring artists in Princeton?
C: I want that advice myself! [laughs] I think it’s premature for me to answer that question, because even I myself still feel unsure. But I always come back to think, I love photography, and I’ll do more interesting and satisfying things with it. Again, its immature for me to give this piece of advice, but if there’s a little inkling in you that tells you to try something then go ahead and try it. If you can’t do it then at least you know, and you won’t have regrets later in your life.
H: Tell us more about your forthcoming exhibitions.
C: I have a current show at Princeton as part of Emmet Gowin’s photography exhibition. The show is a very well put-together and it features works of 20 of his student at Princeton.
Other than that, I’m also participating in a group show at Greenpoint Brooklyn that is curated by an artist who brought the works of some ‘essentialist’ artists into the show and it will be up through November. After that, since I used to be a Butlerite, I will have a show at the New Butler Art Gallery, tentatively scheduled in February of next year.
[For Princeton Prism Magazine, Fall 2009 issue]
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标签：Gallery, Manhattan, Peru, Photography
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is a very, very slow film. It’s one of those movies that would enrich your understanding of a novel but without the novel as a basis you could be completely thrown off by it. 5 minutes of a musician with painted black teeth and powdered face (complete with rouge on the lips no less) laughing maniacally and sinisterly while teasing his aristocratic and reserved patrons at The Grand Hotel des Bain is no joke. In fact, 5 minutes spent on a single scene in the same setting with the same characters is something that’s rather extravagant by nowadays’ Blockbuster standards. As we follow Gustav von Aschenbach faithfully through the filthy back alleys of Lido, we are also chasing after Tadzio, and wondering why this is hide-and-seek game so drawn-out. As we sit with Gustav on his beach chair, we patiently watch how the aristocratic bunch – who can’t seem to get out of their extravagant costumes even on the beach – interact with strawberry vendors. Yet another 5 minutes (when I say 5 minutes I don’t mean I counted how long those scenes lasted, it’s a metaphorical expression, you know, like who cares, the scene drags on long enough). So what’s the point really, are the scenes extraneous? As far as the narrative goes, the film could probably tell the same story in 60 minutes, or a lot less. Someone in the audience yawned, stretched, shifted positions. We wanted things to move faster. We all waited the something romantic to happen. A conversation perhaps. A quick pick-up. An awkward confrontation. Something. But nothing did in the end except Gustav’s own death. He never talked to Tadzio, never touched him. He merely followed him, and the image of him. O what an image. I have seen screen captures of this film before but the power of Tadzio’s classical beauty could only be conveyed in full when it’s animated. His slow and graceful movements, the radiance of his face (literally – thanks to the photography), and I will stop before I start using words like ‘supple’ and ‘luscious’. His beauty is suffocating, and fatal, but perhaps in a good way. Gustav was entranced by the beauty. Yes Tadzio is 15 and Gustav is a middle-aged professor and this is pedophilic but that is precisely the point – Tadzio is Gustav’s vision of the platonic ideal. The revelation of this ideal beauty spells death, or rebirth for Gustav’s creativity and aesthetic purity.
It is no coincidence that Gustav von Aschenbach and Gustav Mahler share the same first name. The director Visconti interpreted Thomas Mann’s novel that way – that it is really about Mahler’s struggle with his fickle Muse. In the summer of 1911, Thomas Mann travelled to Venice with his wife Katia. In the Grand Hotel des Bains, he glanced upon what he considered to be the most inspiring form of beauty – Wladyslaw Moes in his luminous sailor suit, hence the conception of ‘Tadzio’ in the novel. Around the same time the great composer Mahler died. That’s how Mahler’s 5th symphony found its way into Mann’s novel, and subsequently became the theme of Visconti’s movie. Aschenbach’s wanderings, sufferings, his attempt to reconcile morality with intense passion, and that constant pausing and hesitating before he reaches out to Tadzio – these are all encapsulated in Mahler’s Adagietto. The drawn-out scenes are visual transpositions of the Adagietto, so we don’t only hear the music, but see the music, and that space in which passion culminates, resonates, and fades.
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标签：Death in Venice, film, Gustav Aschenbach, Tadzio, Thomas Mann, venice
…when you have spent an hour preparing and rehearsing a perfect self-introduction that’s not too humble, not too self-appreciative, you know, just the right portions of sincerity and confidence, sprinkled with casual mentions of a few remarkable achievements and testimonials here and there. Then you render your pitch-perfect speech on phone to someone, careful to pause every now and then so you don’t sound too rehearsed, then after your wonderful two minutes of self-amazement the person on the other end says, “Sorry, I think you got the wrong number, you sound wonderful though. Try calling again?”
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to reconnect with the virtual world and that precious space of freethinking.
More from Elizabeth Gilbert – walk into Barnes and Nobles, look for a New York Times Bestseller (one among the uncountable others) called ‘Eat Pray and Love’ – it’s a pleasant read, or so Oprah says.
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