v3.1 / Ben Nixon’s Pareidolia

We are meaning makers. We can’t help it. It’s second nature. The Virgin Mary appears in our espresso foam, Edgar Allen Poe in the woodgrain, a butterfly in the inkblot. No matter how abstract the noise, music slips in. No matter how unintelligible the words, poetry abides.

i went to the store to buy some groceries.
i store to buy some groceries.
i were to buy any groceries.
horses are to buy any groceries.
horses are to buy any animal.
horses the favorite any animal.
horses the favorite favorite animal.
horses are my favorite animal.

This is Google’s AI. After scanning thousands of books, it sketched out this tipsy equestrian ode, like a distracted doodle on the back of a napkin. The movement from buying groceries to horses, apparently the AI’s favorite animal, is not its own movement, of course. It’s my movement—my own intelligence connecting things where no connections exist.

The word for this strange little tendency of ours is pareidolia, and it’s the magic that happens with Ben Nixon’s impressionistic series, “Oriental Seagull.” In every random splash or glint or crease, exotic menageries appear, or appear to appear. Every image begins with nature’s own eccentric intelligence and leaves us with her favorite animals.

For this feature, we paired Nixon’s extraordinary photograms with poems from the Poetry Generator, an algorithm that reportedly passed some aspects of the Turing Test. We’re not sure at all what will happen—which seems appropriate, given the unpredictability of these beautiful images.

Ben Nixon

Three Stars
Three Stars © Ben Nixon

Sometimes a piece of the electricity
conquers like a tryst in my shoulder
lighted and then showered in the night
Everything dilute with fluidic voices, the salt of the reflection
and piles of lovely bread in twilight
a curves and a brow
kissing the area!
the dry ness of the quilt, the power of the earth
This wounded bottle and swimming light abolishes me,
with it’s fresh doves like brain and leg!
And turqoise leaves like arm and rituals
of your ultraviolet tryst when you hold out your mouth,
went excited in prize
there are no felicities but rigid cycles of energy and sepia,
stalks of cattail of poetic dry iron.

Space Anatomy
Space Anatomy © Ben Nixon

This molested essence and pacifying eddy coagulates me
with it’s musical drops like finger and shoulder
and turqoise alcoves like toe and corals
the insatiable propellers that imbues in your hat,
inside the bitten springtime, many shifty traps!
You enrich headlong into a region to relax your business?
Everything melancholy with nocturnal voices, the salt of the soul.
And piles of velvety bread with morning
you see eyelids as loving as the fog.
To seek another land.

Remnants © Ben Nixon

Enjoy the many phosphorus attempts to perservere
that life in it’s paper-mache boxes is as endless as the silence
the nauesous ness of the ship, the power of the earth?
The order of the shades of silvery.

Homage to Wynn
Homage to Wynn © Ben Nixon

The sunset threads you in its mortal mud
A dashing mist of roots,
In your arm of anger the region of apples perform.

A Matter of Herbert
A Matter of Herbert © Ben Nixon

Be guided by the smooth cactus’s fountain
rustling from insatiable emerald
In your feet of sorrow
the heights of bird feathers tread.

I stayed enchanted and sepia
under the area
towards those green lakes of yours that wait for me.

Work from the Oriental Seagull series will be on show this January and February at the Southeast Center for Photography in Greenville, SC. For more news, check out bennixonphotography.com. And be sure to follow Ben Nixon on Instagram!

v2.9 / Searching for Ferdinand Valent

Who is Ferdinand Valent?

You might lift a few virtual stones to see what scurries out from hiding. You’ll find an image or two that way.

And okay, the index of Roosens’ and Salu’s multivolume bibliography of photography books will tell you that he appears in Slovak Foto, published 1980. ($77.69 on AbeBooks, if you’re interested.)

But don’t bother with Facebook. Abandon Instagram. Flee LinkedIn! None of them will mutter a word as to the whereabouts of our elusive Valent.

That’s pretty much where things stood for me after two of Valent’s extraordinary images tripped into my tumblr feed.

So I checked the library.

There I found one Ferdinand Valent, PhD Electrical Engineering, Slovakia. This Valent co-published an article titled “Basic Problems and Solution of the Encapsulation of a Low-Voltage Spark Gap with Arc Splitter Chamber” in the Journal of Electrical Engineering. 

Not the sort of thing you typically find on the art photographer’s CV.

What the hell, I thought, let’s give it a go:

Dear Dr. Valent,

Are you the photographer who made these extraordinary photographs?

My apologies if I have contacted the wrong person.

Collier Brown

One wisdom tooth removal and week of recovery later:

Dear Mr. Brown,

I have received your mail, the e-mail address you have is correct.
Yes, I can confirm my authorship of the photographs you have noticed.

I keep photographing the Slovak landscape for almost 50 years. My pictures have been published in several books and magazines. Currently, a monography collecting my most important photographs is in preparation and it is expected to be released at the end of November by the FOART Bratislava company.

Thank you for your interest.

Ferdinand Valent

Valent fans will please forgive my ignorance of work that must be well-known in Central Europe. But 50 years and no digital paper trail! Of course, exposure wasn’t exactly forthcoming, Valent told me, given East/West hostilities. And limelight isn’t exactly his thing.

I now hold Valent’s new retrospective in my hands. The title is CESTY DOMOV, which Google Translate tells me means ROADS HOME in Slovak. But I’m not sure I’m any closer to the real Valent than I was when I first encountered the images.

I’m okay with that. I have the photographs. We have the photographs.

In lieu of Valent’s words for this issue of Od Review, I’d like to share a couple free associations. Enjoy!

The Last Country
The Last Country © Ferdinand Valent

A simple dirt road. Surely, it leads home for someone. But the photograph has nothing further to say about the two trucks that must have hooked catawampus off course, their tracks scribbling away to some rosier nowhere.

The Solitude
The Solitude © Ferdinand Valent

Wer jetzt kein Haus hat, baut sich keines mehr.
Wer jetzt allein ist, wird es lange bleiben

He who has no house now will never build again.
He who’s now alone will stay alone a long time.

—from “Herbsttag” Rainer Maria Rilke

Chance Encounters 8
Chance Encounters 8 © Ferdinand Valent

Soft grays glance in every direction as if to escape, but in their efforts to survive, they meet only with monstrosities of darkness and light.


Fairy Tales for My Son 2
Fairy Tales for My Son 2 © Ferdinand Valent

“Just as the constant increase of entropy is the basic law of the universe, so it is the basic law of life to be ever more highly structured and to struggle against entropy.”—Václav Havel

Chance Encounters 1
Chance Encounters 1 © Ferdinand Valent

Craquelure: A Performance by the Oxford English Dictionary in Six Parts

1914   C. Bell Art 169   He will put up with a cunning concoction of dates and watermarks, cabalistic signatures, craquelure, patina, [etc.].
1934   Burlington Mag. Jan. 3/2   Certain areas of the picture..have been largely repainted; the craquelure ceasing abruptly.
1942   Antiquity 16 99   When the incrustation [on silver] is appreciably thick, there is considerable surface expansion and consequent craquelure.
1956   M. Swan Paradise Garden ii. 24   Marcus left the aesthetic aspect of a work of art unexpressed, but remembered sizes, colours, craquelures and iconography.
1963   P. H. Johnson Night & Silence ii. 6   A craquelure of rose upon his cheeks.
1969   Times Lit. Suppl. 6 Nov. 1272/3   The craquelure in the Westminster pictures goes through the signatures on both panels.

All photographs © Ferdinand Valent