Zooming In and Zooming Out

Modified_Photograph

Nerve impulses running down the spinal cord, triggering muscle cells – mitochondria pumping protons and electrons to provide the energy to move a muscle. The muscle contracts and the fingertip touches the release button, triggering a cascade of electronic signals, calculations, movements of electromechanical parts, chemical reactions inside a battery, a shutter opening, photons flashing inside and triggering chemical changes in the particles of the film. A myriad of smallest and shortest events and processes combine to produce that short “click” that indicates that a picture has been taken. The photographer looks away and her mind and eye turn on something else.

A short moment in her life. The moment she pressed the trigger of her camera. Clouds, trees or bushes, houses, the horizon, the sun. Motion blur. Lens Flair.

The photograph was shot while in motion, maybe from a train or a car. The hexagonal spots of lens flair are reflexes of the sun in the camera’s lenses, shaped by the partially closed aperture. There are smaller, more fuzzy hexagonal flare spots, maybe the result of droplets or dirt on the window or on the lens.

The hexagons, those artifacts of the aperture and of the optics of the lenses, have been colored in red and yellow during the photographs most recent stop. An artificial element has been added, but the paint has formed some random structures, visible through a magnifying glass, formed by surface tension and capillary action. Are these natural or artificial? The categories of natural and artificial are rather questionable, but these hexagons, maybe the most artificial part of the image, are showing clearly that the picture is not an objective image of the world out there but the result of a process – it is a trace of a moment, bringing together many factors, including the granularity of the film, the focus, the direction the camera was pointing, the moment it was triggered, the motion, the skill and experience of the photographer, as well as the quality of the camera’s optical system, based on the work of generations of photographers, workers, engineers, physicists and mathematicians.

But the moment that was captured in this picture has a history tracing back a far longer path in time. The sun, providing the light, coalesced out of a cloud of gas and dust billions of years ago, a cloud that originated in a supernova explosion of a previous star. The horizon is there because we are on the surface of a planet, the result of gravity acting on that primordial cloud. The clouds, the field, the tees, the houses, the street or railway, each of these are the products of a history containing plate tectonics, storms and sunshine, evolution of life, the history of humankind, technology. There is the biography of the photographer.

Transferred onto a black and white print from its original color slide, I hold the photograph in my hand now. It must have been bent somewhere on its trip, there is a slight bend just below the horizon. There are small specks of some dirt near the upper left corner of the white frame. First signs of aging, of being changed in history, a first little bit of a patina. It is not just an arbitrary copy of that original slide again, but it has started to acquire traces of its own history. Three of the hexagons have been painted. From a copy, produced in an electronic or photographic process of reproduction, it has been turned into an original.

There are probably fingerprints on the picture, invisible to the unaided eye. The paper has more properties than we know of, a microscope would reveal a tangle of fibers that once formed part of tree trunks in some forest. There might still be fragments of the DNA of those trees in it, of the DNA of some microbes or insects or that of a worker in the paper mill. There might be traces of the DNA of those who have been holding it. Maybe there are microscopic traces of dust and soot and cigarette smoke and soil and bacteria, from the streets of London or Vietnam or South Africa. But we are not going to slice it up and put it under a microscope. I am looking at it through an amplifying glass, I have scanned it and I can zoom in on screen, but as the accessible object I see, it exists on this human scale, a scale defined by our hands and eyes.

Between the scale of the very small and very short and the scale of the solar system that measures its age in terms of billions of years, there is this scale of the human being, reaching from the short moment of taking a single photograph to the biographies of several generations. So I am zooming in on that human scale now. The journey of the photograph is limited to this human world. It is traveling over the surface of earth, perhaps moving through a tunnel or several kilometers up in a plain, but limited to this thin sphere near earth’s surface. The time of the journey can be measured in days, weeks, months or years. It stays with me for a couple of weeks. In a few days or weeks, I am going to send it to somebody else.

The photograph has been put into an envelope, together with its fellow travelers added at several places. There are photographs and prints, small copies of maps, tickets for a ferry, a train, a museum, as well as some other objects. All of these have some meaning for the people who put them into this collection, or they document events that happened during the journey.

The envelope has been handed over in a post office or dumped into a post box, it has been sorted from one mail bag into another, gone from hand to hand, from conveyor to hand and back into mail bags, it has been sorted by machine and by eye, it went through the hands of many people. It has been put into air freight containers or gone by ship. It has travelled by truck or by bike. Each person in the mail system only knows the next station; nobody knows how the whole system works, with all of its details. The envelope carries some traces of the history it has gone through. Most of the detail of this history, however, is already forgotten. The mail system does not record what is happening inside it. That information is lost, dispersed in some heat radiation racing away from us into outer space. The envelope was thrown behind the horizon of that system in Canada and emerged at my doorstep several days later.

*

I have put the photograph into a frame, behind glass. The small painting that normally resides in this frame had to make room for it for a couple of days. A small watercolor painting, painted in 1925 by my grandfather Rolf Keller, showing the village of Ebersdorf where his mother was living. He painted it in the expressionist style of the time.

Rolf_Keller_Ebersdorf

The expressionist style of the painting also does not provide an image of the painted object as it is, but a subjective view of it, as well as a view that has gone through the filters of a style that emerged out of the material and psychological destruction of World War I. The painting as well, is a trace of a moment in history.

The hook on the wall where the photograph is now hanging in my living room, as a guest in that frame, is normally occupied by a small triptych by Anita de Soto, painted on playing cards. I got it from her when she was visiting here from New Zealand some time ago. The back side reads “Hopeless cards. Made in Leipzig. Oil on paper 2010.” I know there are more of these. My sister has such a triptych as well. I don’t know if Anita turned a whole deck of cards into such paintings. They look like motion-blurred or stormy, very unlike the “clear” surrealist style of her large paintings.

Hopeless cards

So these are the paintings that now play host to the photograph on this stop, one providing a frame, the other one a hook on the wall.

*

The photograph is the record of a short moment in Emily’s life. Many of the contributions to this project, both on the blog and in the envelope, have some biographical aspect, providing a short view into the lives of the people taking part, providing insight into the projects they are working on, or glimpses of the lives of some other people, like that Nepalese boy with the paper plane, for example. Like individual fibers in a thread of wool, coming perhaps from different sheep but spun together into one yarn, fragments of different stories are combined here. The photograph acts as the condensation nucleus upon which these texts and photographs and paintings, these stories and thoughts, these interpretations and bits of imparted meaning, these snippets of different biographies, are accreting.

I am also going to add some snippets from a project I am currently working on, but I am neither a photographer nor a painter. I am currently working on a biographical project, transcribing letters written by my grandparents Grete and Rolf Keller. Below, I am giving some examples from those letters, translated into English below. This project is both part of my current studies of history and philosophy, as well as part of a larger project of biographical work within my family.

By a range of historical accidents, a lot of biographical material, like letters, diaries, photographs and documents, has been preserved in my family. My mother, initially assisted by my late father, has transcribed countless letters and other documents, starting with material going back several generations before her own, and she is still continuing this work.

The letters I am currently working on are still uncharted territory. Each letter of my grandparrents, each sketch or drawing, each painting my grandfather left only provides a short glimpse into his life. Taken together, an overall picture is beginning to emerge from these fragments. To what extent is this overall picture a representation of the reality that existed, the reality experience by my grandparents and the people around them back in the 1950s and 1960s? To what extend is it a construction, showing shapes that are actually artifacts, just like those lens flare hexagons are artifacts of the imaging process, not real objects out there at the time when that photograph was taken? Each letter transcribed provides new information. The image is revised and shifting, and on the other hand it is shining new light on details that had been obscure on first reading. The understanding deepens by going through this hermeneutic circle. Additional information, from external sources as well as from my mother’s memory, is adding further detail. It is like zooming in and zooming out.

One pervasive topic in the letter is mail. Parcels where sent both ways and their contents listed, letters and parcels where announced, their arrival confirmed. Photographs were also sent, as exemplified by the first citation below, and sometimes hand-drawn sketches.

Another Main topic is travel. The letters set in in 1956, when my father, accompanied by a friend of the family who had visited them, left Karl-Marx-Stadt (now again called Chemnitz) and went to Hamburg in the western part of Germany, crossing the border between east and west that was still open at the time. So the fact of separation into two different cities is what triggers the letters. The very first letter, from July 16th, 1956, picks the topic of travel out as its first main theme. In thinking about his son’s trip to the city of Hamburg, where Rolf Keller had been living before, his thoughts went back to the time when he himself arrived in that city, many years earlier, thus providing a little piece of biographical information that would have been lost otherwise. We read:

“…It has become rather quiet in our place, a condition we will have to get used to bit by bit. In bed, we were always looking at the clock: now they are in Leipzig – now in Bitterfeld. Mother could not sleep at all and played solitaire in the night. Quarter to nine, now they’ll be there shortly.

This brought the time of 1919 back to my mind, when I left on one Saturday to start my job with RAG at Rathausmarkt on Monday. In those days, I lived in Hamburg 24, Schröderstr. 24, with one Mrs. Kamnitzer. The street does not exist anymore, the number 24 has remained.

I am adding a few photographs which I am sure you would like to have. …”

That the street no longer exists is a reference World War II, when Hamburg, like many other cities, was heavily bombed. The number 24 refers to Rolf Keller’s logo, a stylized 24 that he designed when he started his own business in 1924. You can see it on the painting of Ebersdorf above. The remembered biography is a selected and reformed version of reality, and in that process, meaning can be added, as is exemplified with the number 24 here.

The content of most of the letters, however, refers to the time when they were written. The letters provide a view into life in the GDR in the 1950s and 1960s, from the unique point of view of a self-employed graphic artist. Let me give you one more example, describing my grandfather’s work at the Leipzig industrial fair of 1958, where he was preparing paintings of machines, to be used in leaflets or brochures. The letter, to his son, is dated March 10th, 1958 (“Lederbogen” was a publisher Rolf Keller was occasionally working for, Defa was a state-owned film producer, HO was a national retail chain):

“…I wanted to get brochures or technical literature for you in Leipzig, but due to lack of time, I could not get anything appropriate. Wanted to write to you from Leipzig, but! On Friday, Feb. 28th early morning I drove with the Lederbogen-people. On Friday, Saturday and early Sunday we designed the stand. On Monday [I went] to the technical fair where delivered some work to Sch. and he told me I should make suggestions for some watercolors. So from 9 in the morning to half past 5 in the evening I was sketching 8 machines, in the middle of the most active hustle and bustle of the fair. Often there was only one point of view for a machine or an assembly line and in the case of two machines, that point was in the middle of the stream of fairgoers who nearly without exceptions occluded the object of interest and opened up the view on what had to be drawn only for moments. Investing all my energy, at two o’clock I had sketched 5 machines, then hunger made itself felt. But the office where my briefcase was standing was locked because of a conference of the postal service. I had to go to an HO food booth to devour the national dish: bratwurst with bread roll. Then I was searching for a place to sit in order to rest for a quarter of an hour because the drawing within the crowd, the stupid comments when they were spotting the “painter”, the noise and the standing which I am not used to and being bumped into had made me tired. The only free arm chair I could find belonged to the institute for technology and as soon as I was stretching my tired bones in the chair, I was bombarded with new questions, technical ones this time, because sitting there with my white lab coat, people thought I was one of the specialist engineers where one could get technical information. So up again. I spotted the cinema and quickly entered. With empty gaze, I was watching a film about plastic materials. Unfortunately, the film about “buffing” was only been shown in the evening. I would have been interested in that one. With new energy I continued making sketches, so that in the evening I could present 8 sketches to Mr. Sch. of which 6 were approved to be implemented as watercolors. Then I painted on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday during the night. Interesting; photographers, pressmen, radio reporters, Defa and TV where at work. My work went on well so that Tuesday night from 5 PM to 6 AM I finished 3 watercolors. Wednesday I achieved only 2, and Thursday I was finished already half past 12 in the night with all 6. …”

*

So this is the kind of material among which the photograph is spending its time here, both as a material object ant as a mental object in my mind. Snipets of biography being added to this thread.

I will soon be packing the photograph back into the envelope. I am going to add a copy of a sketch from one of the letters, a sketch showing some tropical plants, a hobby of Rolf Keller and another topic showing up in the letters a lot. Maybe I am going to use a new, larger envelope and put the old one inside. The old envelope has gathered lots of inscriptions, stickers, adhesive tape, an object that has recorded some part of the trip of the photograph, providing traces of its own “biography”; but soon it will no longer be suited for the mail system. Like a molting caterpillar, the picture is getting out of its old skin and getting a new one, but it will take the old one along, an object that is becoming part of this slowly growing collective work, or rather project, of art, history, biography, philosophy or whatever it might be and become. What it will become, I don’t know. The past is known only in fragments and the future is open.

Advertisements

From Banff National Park, Canada

I first learned of the Journey of a Photograph project from my dear friend the artist, Summer Lee. I knew little of the project, only that it was a photograph traveling around the world to various artists who would then use the photo to inspire their own work in some way. I didn’t read the blog or other’s interpretations or actions with the photograph prior to receiving the package. Which also means I didn’t read Emily’s first post with the image showing the photograph itself. On some level this was intentional, a method to respond first to the materiality of the photo rather than the aura created by its journey. I was intrigued by Emily’s concept and its potential because of the physicality of the project; I would receive something in the mail that many other people have touched, lived with, or altered in their own specific environment and I would then become part of that story.

The package arrives to me amidst my own nomadic two years. I left a job in Montreal in December 2013 and have been traveling to various artist residency programs since that time. The photograph arrived in Massachusetts for the holidays to commence the brief overlap of our journeys. My idea was for the photo to accompany me to my next artist residency located in Banff, Alberta where I would then respond with my own contribution. The day came when the packaged photo and I took a plane together from Boston via Minneapolis, finally landing in Calgary. We had an easy flight and after a night at the airport hotel, took off on a bus to the Banff National Park, home to the artist residency program. On my second day at The Banff Centre, I opened the package and posted the contents to my studio wall. I had only expected one photo, but enclosed were ferry tickets, museum passes, maps, words, and other photos. I was reluctant to reference the blog so early in the process, but how was I to decipher which photograph was “the” photograph?

The contents of the package and the photo itself all hang above my studio desk where I have now been for nearly two weeks. My window overlooks snowy mountains, treetops, and the majestic castle-like structure alone on the a mountain known as the Banff Springs Hotel. After a few days of contemplating these artifacts and potential five photos that could be “the” photo, I began reading the blog. I became enthralled with the lives of the people who previously were in possession of the photo and the life of the photo itself. I wondered about Laura and her health, I thought about Summer at the moment when the photo entered her life knowing how much has changed since then. I considered Emily’s interlude reunion with the photograph one year ago. I also wonder about the photo itself. Does it ever, like I do, get a little tired of always being on an adventure? Does it long for a singular space to rest, knowing full well that its destiny is to travel?

When I first held the photograph (yes, “the” intended photograph), I was reminded of the Marfa Lights. A phenomenon in Western Texas where sphere-shaped lights colored red, orange, yellow, and white hover and dart on the horizon line of the desert sky. The lights are thought to be either paranormal activity or reflections from a distant highway. Having viewed them first hand while spending one summer in Marfa, I can’t be sure what they are. But I like the mystery and the colors superimposed over the landscape and the continued curiosity they bring. As I look at the photograph and read about its travels, I note that many people are careful with the object itself. Yes, of course, on some level there is a responsibility to not be the person who ruins the photo or the journey. But in thinking about collaborative art, I am surprised no one has yet to intervene on the actual photograph. Many have scanned the image and then altered it or used its likeness in other mediums. But what about the materiality? I feel the inclination to respond to the object, on the object. To alter it in some way, a way that could risk everything. An intervention adding to the layers of meaning directly to the immediacy of the photo. After two years of traveling, would the photograph like a new hairstyle? (even just a trim?) Transformation can be devastating, but it can also make way for a rebirth.

I have decided to intervene on the photograph. But I will not show the image here. It will be a mystery for the next recipient of the package. So even if they are devoted to the blog and know the image by heart, it will not be what they are expecting.

As I send the photo on its way, I am including a small orange flag. The flag references my last project in which I spent six months living and developing an educational project on Fogo Island in Newfoundland, Canada. In short, not too long ago, flags were placed atop houses that were to be relocated or “launched” to another community. The flag indicated to neighbors that help was needed to get the house on its way, so community members would arrived at the sight of the flag and depending on the structure, the house would travel to its new home either by land, sea, or ice. So I add the little orange flag as a small prayer…let helpful neighbors get you to your next home little photo!

Thank you Emily for allowing me to join this journey and take a moment within my practice to consider mystery, transformation, and the power of one photo to creatively influence people around the world.

Nicole Lattuca

 

IMG_0121 IMG_0170 IMG_0173

Lines

My small contribution to Journey of a Photograph is now off to its next recipient.

travel-on

It’s taken me a while to be ready to make something for this project, in part because of all the travel and work that came between the parcel’s arrival and my own ability to stop and think about what I could add … what would be a suitable and (hopefully) interesting addition to the diversity I found sandwiched in the envelope.

parcel-open

I wanted to bring something about motion and space and connection to bear here. The Photograph and its travelling companions have been all over the planet, and in the last few months, I have been across the country, twice. The time and kilometres spent at 35000 feet or more could be a divisive thing – a separation from what keeps me going. It can be seen that way, certainly. Being ‘away’ is like that: the removal from home and all that entails, separation from family and friends and familiar things that ground and keep us whole. But the going to provided their own sense of home and community; these just-past travels brought me to new friends, allowed me to re-connect to others I know already, provided the opportunity to go to places I hold dear in my heart and see family that I miss deeply too.

skynsea

Like the pull of the tide, this motion has seemed inevitable, and essential.

 

Lines.

posttide5long3459WEB

 

On a map. Highways, dirt side roads, borders, boundaries. Railways. Ways of getting to. And from. And away.

Cook map_3

On my hands and around my eyes, the parts of me most evident and face-first in the making, and moving from one place to another. Squinting into the sun. Looking at the horizon.

 

At what comes next.

wave

On a shore, marking time and tide and the space between one land and another. Divisions metaphorical too – not to be crossed.

fromthebeach

I made a photocollage to send on: using the original Photograph as the base layer, adding another image I found in the package, and then finally some image stills for a video I shot in the UK last year.

journeyofa-photographSL-01WEB

But, in the end, this seemed inadequate to the task at hand: attempting to capture space and time and motion and the movement of one small package that – in traversing the globe – has connected, and will continue to connect – so many people.

So. In the end, my final offering is this:

 

… travel on … and enjoy the journey, and the stillness within it.

Designated

jop final version for the time being

 

I followed this photograph’s journey for a while. I lost the track of it round about after summermlee posted the work that he, and other collaborators, made based on this photograph. Recently Emily Hughes posted a request for another address for a memory to be made. She felt it wasn’t time for its journey to end. Bravely, I put myself forward as a possible next participant. I don’t like journeys to end merely because there’s nowhere else to go.

In reading others’ entries I was struck by how people must’ve changed within themselves within this year (this month is a year since the journey started) it took for this photograph to travel this world.

Within myself, a year ago, I was too shy, had too little self confidence. I’ve since taken part in other collaborations which gave me the faith (thanks summermlee) in my work to forward my address so the next memory could be made based on this photograph.

One is on a journey whether one stays put or not. I’ve had times when a walk to the kitchen from my bedroom was epic. I traversed some of the mountain (a real one) on which I stay in the meantime. Work processes, spiritual growth, reaching for maturity of mind, health, finding peace, (at some cost); all are, were, will be journeys.

The image is ephemeral, transient, non-specific, unfixed in any given time or space. This journey of this photograph can be traced and is being accumulated into one specific place. One can’t help but wonder what Emily’s motive is for facilitating this? Searching to See, probably.

This may sound strange, even fickle, but ideas are a dime a dozen sometimes. I had, in fact, set aside some prints, images scanned in, photos of my own, photos of the parcel and its contents, other ephemera, to use. Which I then didn’t use. A spontaneous reaction to a post by Nannus on Asifoscope found me flying into the studio, the place that other people would call a lounge, and I started the work with whatever I could lay my hands on. So the process the artwork went through, became the journey. I recorded various stages of the work process and posted this on my site. It seems collaborating in, discussing, blogging about art is good for me at present.

Rudolf Arnheim, in Art and Visual Perception: A Psychology of the Creative Eye, said: Every memory has an address. I have the book next to me as I write. Couldn’t find the entry in order to give a chapter and page number. It may very well fall under the chapter called Light. Something cryptic, as is the photograph: this is ironic. With respect to the past.

journeyings-10 emily hughes collaboration

‘night train to sapa ’

IMG_5786IMG_5719

IMG_5776IMG_5537

IMG_5777

IMG_5479

IMG_5781

Good morning!

I received Emily’s photograph September 28nd 2013. Having followed her blog, from the beginning, I had often thought what would I do if I were asked to put together a piece for this collaboration.

night train 2

Emily invited me to participate and I was sent the photograph to interpret from my point of view. My first thought was, I’m looking at a full moon at night viewed from a moving train. The image reminded me of an overnight trip on a local train from Hanoi to Sapa in Northern Vietnam. I lay on a steel plank on the bottom bunk. I shared the compartment with five other people.  It was dark. Flashes of light came in through the window. Metal against metal screeched. Strange smells, sights and sounds of humans asleep came at me for what turned out to be a long nightmarish night. I kept my mind occupied by writing a poem in my head. When I returned home, I made ‘night train to sapa town’ first into a poem and then into an Artists’ Book printed on handmade paper. The poem became the basis for this project.

I started my project with a series of charcoal sketches of the night sky, which were drawn in the middle of the night.

Thinking of the train ride and Emily’s image, it’s shapes and connotations, I took some photographs.  ‘Full Moon Over the City’ and ‘Steel and Wood’ built towards my final painting,  Three paintings later, I was satisfied with ‘Good morning. Would you like a cup of tea?’ (acrylic on canvas measuring 32” x  32”) click on image to enlarge

Personal connections are happening here. Participating artists are commenting on each other’s work. One artist included a photograph; another artist added a leaf with a message written on it.  Added to this collection, was a tiny four-leaf clover from an artist in Belgium. Now, I am adding my admission ticket to Ho Chi Minh Museum in Hanoi. I carefully put back, into the original envelope, the photograph and it’s companion pieces. The photograph is ready to continue it’s journey.

If you would like to participate in the journey of this photograph take a look here.

To find out more about how this project started visit Emily’s blog.
To visit my blog go to http://carlasaunders.com/

Thank you, Emily. Your project took me to a new place in my art.  I really enjoyed the ride.

 

Be faithful Go

The Photograph greeted me as a neatly packaged risk.

Unlike the poets and artists of different times and geographies whose work could bring about imprisonment or worse, my work takes very little risk. And yet art reminds me relentlessly that faith is rudiment to creation, even at the level of imaginary stakes, the mostly self-imposed type. What is at stake?

The Photograph’s owner has released this fragile art piece into several unknown hands. One of the writers who held it before me is someone I have not met in person, but whose writings I have read for over a year now, who faithfully reads my writings and offers me resonant references to literature and theory. We have a textual connection in virtual space, but the shared physicality of the Photograph closes our geographical impossibility into a more intimate interstice. As such, the more hands the Photograph passes through, the more beauty, the more meaning it seems to accumulate. An intermediary to creation and inspiration, the Photograph is becoming ever more sanctified. Far from Walter Benjamin’s mechanical reproduction whereby a photograph loses its aura, this Photograph is gathering preciousness.

The more precious it feels in my hands, the more devastating it is to imagine its loss or destruction. And still, the more artists and writers like me who create from it, the more it is open to chance, to misfortune, and easily could slip away.

I know artists must gamble on welcome, as George Steiner says. Yes, those who arrive at the boardinghouse of life may bring loss or death — “but without a gamble on welcome, no door can be opened when freedom knocks.”

These words grow truer as I move into my middle years. I have come to know deeply the amazing array of possibility spanning all colorful forms of tragedy and fortune. At the same time, life seems to have fastened to itself more attachments (my family and friends, my nest, my belongings which need more belongings) so as to stir up an existential quandary for even the most mundane of choices. What happens to my body/career/relationships if I have another child? What if a stroke of orange ruins that entire painting? What if my idea turns out wrong, if nobody understands it? The door is getting heavier, and I find myself turning into that old, lonesome woman who cracks it open just enough to turn away the unknown.

Photography I, by Summer Lee and Karen and Adam Hathaway

Tonight in my studio in San Francisco, my collaborators, Karen and Adam Hathaway and I used the Photograph to question with a hopeful openness, to ask what-if’s along an artistic exploration: What if we do this with the Photograph? What if we do that? The more possibilities we supported each other in trying, the more we stood guard over each other’s freedom.

Here are a few of our images, and a few I made myself — all taken before I send the Photograph into the next unknown pair of hands. And from there, who knows.

Journey Photograph by Summer Lee, Karen and Adam Hathaway, 2013

journey of a photograph 2D

(The Photograph projected into the fog over the Pacific Ocean.)

The Photograph has stood guard over me and my freedom to creatively fumble or fly. It echoes the same sentiment found in Zbigniew Herbert’s poetry, a man who knew great loss was sometimes the price of great work, that one must strive for justice and beauty even when the sacred collapses. They both utter:

Be faithful Go.

Journey Photograph, by Summer Lee 2013.

(Photograph projected over a Willa Cather quotation from a page torn out of a book on happiness.)

Zbiegniew Herbert’s full poem is here:

The Envoy of Mr. Cogito
BY ZBIGNIEW HERBERT
TRANSLATED BY BOGDANA CARPENTER AND JOHN CARPENTER

Go where those others went to the dark boundary
for the golden fleece of nothingness your last prize

go upright among those who are on their knees
among those with their backs turned and those toppled in the dust

you were saved not in order to live
you have little time you must give testimony

be courageous when the mind deceives you be courageous
in the final account only this is important

and let your helpless Anger be like the sea
whenever you hear the voice of the insulted and beaten

let your sister Scorn not leave you
for the informers executioners cowards—they will win
they will go to your funeral and with relief will throw a lump of earth
the woodborer will write your smoothed-over biography

and do not forgive truly it is not in your power
to forgive in the name of those betrayed at dawn

beware however of unnecessary pride
keep looking at your clown’s face in the mirror
repeat: I was called—weren’t there better ones than I

beware of dryness of heart love the morning spring
the bird with an unknown name the winter oak

light on a wall the splendour of the sky
they don’t need your warm breath
they are there to say: no one will console you

be vigilant—when the light on the mountains gives the sign—arise and go
as long as blood turns in the breast your dark star

repeat old incantations of humanity fables and legends
because this is how you will attain the good you will not attain
repeat great words repeat them stubbornly
like those crossing the desert who perished in the sand

and they will reward you with what they have at hand
with the whip of laughter with murder on a garbage heap

go because only in this way will you be admitted to the company of cold skulls
to the company of your ancestors: Gilgamesh Hector Roland
the defenders of the kingdom without limit and the city of ashes

Be faithful Go

Missing

Emily’s photograph arrived while I was away. I was on a road trip with my wife and son down to San Diego and back. We’d spent the better part of two weeks covering the West Coast, and the date stamped on the notice from the post office tells me her picture arrived while I was somewhere in the Sacramento Valley. As the mail carrier knocked on my door, I was likely speeding through sere grasslands toward the foothills, where our little hatchback would grumble as the elevation gained and the big rigs hauling fruit and spools of cable toward the border would groan even louder.

Or maybe we hadn’t made it that far yet. The miles, as they multiplied, also subdivided, erased in the haze of the wide, torrid valleys. For all our speed we were moving slowly, and all our distance had taken us, it seemed, nowhere. And this is just what we had needed after a few hard years, to unravel in this slowness and be washed by the land rushing past. To not be, as on a plane, exempt from the unprivileged points between beginnings and ends. Yet not entirely subject to the frictions of distance either.

The interstate we travelled for miles and days through California and Oregon passes near where we live, where Emily’s photograph has arrived on this stop of its journey. Under the overpass where the interstate crosses the ship canal there is a small homeless camp, one of countless camps under bridges and unclaimed spaces inside and around the city. Regularly, tents appear in that dark trapezoid like mushrooms that some invisible hand later culls so that one day, I see on a walk to the park with my son, they are gone—at least until they spring up again.

Missing (I)

A guy once told me on a city bus, when the buses were still free downtown, that he and his wife, who was napping beside him, wouldn’t go to the shelters anymore. He said it was better to camp out, even during the rain, and bet the police that would eventually come and kick them out would do so without hauling them to jail. “The shelters aren’t safe,” he said, “too many things happen there. And we can cook outside. We just went to the camping store and got a bunch of propane. Anything you bring to the shelter just gets taken by somebody. Outside, we at least can take our chances.”

Missing (II)

A wall can be a barrier and a shelter. I realize more and more the ways we can connect and go missing. This photograph found me, away, almost as easily as it might have found someone down the street in the building with my street number’s middle digits reversed—3621 instead of 3261, the error of a mail carrier daydreaming. But it was a hot summer’s day, we would have said, and his thoughts were climbing over a wall, taking their chances. Maybe they were and maybe we would have, having seen them before ourselves, inching upward, into the foothills of their own belief.

Missing (III)