The View from Here, Part 1
“The View from Here” will be posted as a series.
Some artists explore the personal or casual photo as their theme. I 'll delve in too. It's not the intriguing, ironic, or visually fascinating picture that interests me, no. Only the picture whose purpose is to remind and re-awaken, inspires this series to follow.
Casual snapsots evoke beyond their appearance. Unbound by concerns of form and freed of current trend, our snapshot albums let us time travel, the veneer of style peels away with laughter at our confidence and comfort among the hilariously outdated, Even the little paper prints now are part of another time, but their casual nature isnt, the impulse is still the same, now as then, only updated via digital media. I like to feel them though. It's one of the pleasures of time travel in the shoebox, to flip through the stacks. As great art, they fail – all- but retain their unmistakable grip,weaving back and forth with our memories and charming us with the light of a vanished world.
Being nearly blind adds to my frustration deciphering the jigsaw puzzles. Yet it compeles me also,with its dark obstacles and barriers, to gain strength, to go back again and again to take inventory.To burn in what I can't take with me on this trip. Photography impresses me, it's arms are strong.
Let me paraphrase a quote from a woman who lived long ago. She was commenting at the time when photography was very new, and she'd never seen a photograph of another person. "I'd rather have this vauge, shadowy shape, than any detailed, colorful painted portrait, because its the actual, physical imprint, a truer record." Weighty words.
Yet familar people and remembered places can look
... just scant, vauge and haphazard years later. Its impressive how often these captures lack what is signifigant. There they are - but not entirely.
Video is better at the act of retaining a specific time -its context extends further, the sound-scapes re-awaken... barking dogs and sirens. But I know recording reality mucks around with the word "real". I've worked with half a dozen documentary filmmakers and enjoy the energy. Even documentery films owe plenty to the director, asking you to "Say that over again?" or "Walk back and do it again, but don't talk this time." What is real?
These casual snapshots are the opposite of my formal work as a visual artist, in painting anyway. Examining their meaning is like trying to see the back of my own head, they're so woven into my mind's fabric. "The View From Here" is an exploration of words. I won't need to mix color on a pallette. Or even post a picture to illustrate or decorate, its up to you to envision, like radio.
The availability of inexpensive cameras and better film in the mid twentieth century, left many Americans with plentiful, usually colorful, paper totems of memory never intended for any other purpose than the personal document.
Some old snapshots acquire an unforseen historical value, like the builiding in the background torn down decades ago. As data, snapshots can document social and physical realities. From those data troves, a costume designer seeking accuracy and detail, finds little to guess at seeing the unsuspecting subjects of the long forgotten photographer, whose re-worked clones are reproduced in high definition, Blu -ray brilliance on the wide screen. Film is a meager, but wildly accurate thing, forensic in its insistent truth.
Sometimes its fun to see the private world of unknowns. Bidding online for a stranger's home movies, or slides is evidence there's interest. Its curious, I'm not immune to this curiosity in the intimate memories and antique appearebnce of strangers, having bought a box of someone's vintage snapshots at a flea market years ago. I've always liked old photographs. I'd brought that batch beacuse the guy who was the subject mainly, was nice looking, really. It just seemed a shame for the vendor to throw it all in the trash.
My sister once told me with sadness, how she found photo ablums and phamplets on how to deal with cancer, discarded in a garbage can on McDougal Street years ago, I cringed at the grimness of, not only the end of some vibrant life, but also of the library of tenderness about to be forever lost, uncared for, unnoticed and decaying to dust under cycles of rain and heat in the landfill.
Some years back, my parents had a big cleaning out of their attic before moving. It was a good time then to organize the scattered boxes and albums up there, hunting these down using a flashlight, bumping my head on the rafters. My fingers found a few photos wedged between insulation and the floor beams. I groaned, but was glad to recover what I could.
I held certain thoughts about caring for these snapshots, that my Mom didn't share. She blithley stashed away some boxes stuffed with those rectangular Polaroids from the 70's downstairs, in the entrence hall to the small apartment my parents used to rent out. "Who would take them?" she asked, like she asked whenever she didn't lock the front door "Who's going to break in?" "Krikrac O'Day - how do I know who?" we'd laugh. I finally brought them all back to a more secure place.
I set out awhile ago to scan snapshots. If I had them, a negative was the preferred starting point. Those orange strips held surprises. Now and then I'd recover lost snapshots, never seen before, or forgotten prints long lost or thrown out.
I want to be surprised. The photo labs habit was not to print the small portion of the first frame, usually haphazardly clicked off when you loaded the film.The partial frame was scan-able though, and these took 0on an air of excitement, peeping into a time - tunnel, though it was just random greenery, a forgotten chair, or hilarious decor. Fragments delivered via technology.
Occasionally I'd find a lone strip of color negative, and before feeding it into the negative scanner, spent time peering hard at its abstract mysteries, probably no less visually confusing for those with good eyesight. What is this? The clues emerge. Green faces mask everyones identity, deep shadows are orange frost. And the frame is organized in the mind again, it might make sense or not, but the internal wheels spin, trying...like a hard rain can sound like applause by a shift in awareness.
You get used to seeing things a certain way, like slowly deteriorating and faded prints become expected and normal. I'd see the familiar image again, but fresh, saturated and uncreased, on my monitor's bright screen, closer just a little to the original moment. With digital enhancement, new areas and surroundings emerge from the gloom, places never seen before. The underexposed or overexposed blank, coaxed out. Brightning the room that I saw then as utter darkness, faces and shiny hair emerge, I stifle gasps, like a night vision scope via Photoshop.
A blind person asked me why I never got into music and my passion for imagery puzzled her. It would be logical, and vastly less difficult, but there it is, and I was never one for conforming to any popular, endorsed narrative. I love and thats it.
Chances are I will have lost the biological ability to see any imagerey soon. Close your eyes, and feel your memories embedded in paper, reduced to a thin volume cupped in the hand. It lacks ...well... everything that matters.
But I've found a lifeboat to hold onto – words. Too much description is tricky, its edges mired in fatal dunes, I know, but unclenching my fingers from description is impossible given the circumstances. The impact of whats to follow wont be from describing any interesting snapshots, it will come from the narrative, the story behind the picture. Its new for me.
I'm picking a handful of pictures out. Their shapes are just within the range of visibility. Immensly loved people's imprints iu film, will speak. My eyes struggle through a cavernous, gloomy miasma, peering beyond Retinitis Pigmentosa's never ending circular violet fireworks, shimmering eclipses and boiling grain - ironically, painfully, beautiful also, that hide, with awful success, the snapshot's story from underdstanding. As usual, I pry it all away, as best I can, and look, victorious and tired, with tenderness at these treasures. Time to set out a grid and excavate.