Thursday, September 27, 2007


I've been writing and thinking (the two are almost invariably intertwined for me -- writing focuses my random thoughts) about photos.

One of my favorite writers, John Berger, has a book of poetry called "And our faces, my heart, brief as photos."

That's pretty much the crux of it for me. We're mortal. Our faces will disappear. And even, or especially the photos that might "capture" and preserve our faces are brief.

Take this photo of my son Tom playing at EZ's Woodshed in Harlem.

What does it mean?
What does it mean to me?
Those are two very different questions.

To me, to Tom's father, it means -- it's a means to see Tom, or at least a picture of Tom. It makes me wish I had been there to watch and hear him perform with his trio in front of the painting of John Coltrane. It brings back all sorts of memories and makes my mind race to the future when I'll fly to New York to hear and see Tom in early December. It means that Tom is working and can pay his rent. And so on.

But all of these meanings are mine. I'm the one reading the photo this way. Those meanings are exactly as brief as I am. They'll be here for a few more years if I'm lucky.

By itself, the photo is some kind of historical record and could be read in terms of the shirt Tom's wearing, the way he wears his hair. A reader of the photo might conclude things about the myth of Coltrane from the train that sweeps across his body in the painting.

But personally, the photo is as brief as our faces.

That's all the more apparent in another photo I've been thinking about. It was taken in 1966 or 1967 on a landing strip near Lake Powell.

If you found this photo and had absolutely no context outside what you see, you could figure out several things.

The red-rock desert landscape makes some sense; and with enough effort you might even pinpoint this as a place overlooking Lake Powell. The clothing and hair styles might indicate the 1960's, although this is an eclectic bunch. There's a lot of information to be read from the boy on the far left: a basketball player's legs and height and Converse shoes. His shirt says "Farmington Scorpions" -- this group is from Farmington, New Mexico. The kneeling man has boots and haircut that might indicate some sort of educated outdoor profession. There's an FFA cowboy in the middle of the front row. And so on.

The brief meaning I bring to the photo is more personal and much more extensive. The basketball player is named Willard Washburn. The cowboy is Delbert Slaugh. The kneeling man is a petroleum engineer. The man in the blue shirt standing in the center has a trading post on the Navajo reservation. The man to his left owns a car dealership and will become the mayor of Farmington.

I'm standing behind the boy in the red shirt, Larry Echohawk, who will become the first Native American attorney general of any state and will only narrowly be defeated in a bid to become governor of the State of Idaho.

There's lots more to be told; but important here is that most of the meaning to be read from a photo (there's no meaning inherent in the photo -- it's just a bunch chemicals adhering to a piece of paper) is tied to memory. And memory is as brief as we are.

Finally, John Berger brings this all back to the value of diverse or interdisciplinary approaches to meaning:

There is never a single approach to something remembered. The remembered is not like the terminous at the end of a line. Numerous approaches or stimuli converge upon it and lead to it. Words, comparisons, signs need to create a context for a printed photograph in a comparable way; that is to say, they must mark and leave open diverse approaches.


michael morrow said...

Well, I'm stepping out of the comfort zone--NOT--
This is my first sonnet, an assignment for my first ever creative writing class.
A sonnet is suppose to be 10 syllables on 10 lines. This is only the twentyth rough draft.
no soup yet!!!

The readings we are studying, the great presentation by three very important writers, our class, all factors stretching me.

Read-y At The Last-----Light Up The Past

Feel future’s undaunting past, Read at finish—Read-y to

see—Metaphor be Itself, Stumbling over broken straws-tired—

Hung to die—Crucifix Clothe’s filthy sweat—Read-white-habits

glaring, History puss—Blue Flesh scars—History, Time and Timing,

Old scales fall—cross baring weight—all gravitate, Heaven’s

address—other side of Hell—Perspire, Expire, Time and Timing—

Trump empire, Time and Timing, Days long stale stories pioneers live,

no metaphor—Time and Timing, no pretending. Life, Action,

Experience, Consequence, Funny-Ha-Ha—Funny peculiar, NO

kidding. Life Transpiration—Time and Timing. Existence fragment

of Grand Soliloquy, Observer’s Production, Ongoing Magik—

Looking back through lens—History afforded. In, Over, Through

accurate, valid—ever present, credible record. Audience

responsible, Authenticate Sublime Birth Presentation.

Evolution/Maturity, shadow Time/Timing relationship. Pure

language unspoken—Independent Time and Timing—

Education = Experience = Individual Contribution = Existence—

Timing Time

michael morrow said...

I had an experience with time last night different from ever before. I was productive through the weekend. I worked consistent, and slept sufficient. I awoke coupl'a times having turned in around midnight. The first time I woke was about 1230. When I learned I had been asleep for only 30 minutes not only was I surprised, I was elated and equally well rested. The feelings of relaxation and satisfaction were felt again when I awoke about 315. Nothing earth shattering, just feelings of comfort at the thought time was my friend. I was happy I had been very productive and I could continue to sleep or get up, whatever. Somehow I felt to reach out to time with appreciation. I had and continue to perceive that time is an important balancing element in the timing equation. Time is not to be manipulated by me, nor is time to manipulate me or my life. Time is an element on my personal periodic chart and exists for the purpose of giving me perspective and balance as a mark on life's photo.
I love Scott's post and recognition of impressions made on our very sensitive personal psychic photographic material. We have literal chemical reactions as we mingle and inter-mingle with other people, places and things. Some impressions are more intense than others. Time and timing play vital roles in moment-to-moment responses. The impressions left by loved ones is a great example of the intense level of sensitivity existing within ourselves that goes on to affect subsequent experiences and the impressions we then leave on the photo paper of others. Time and timing are critical factors relegating, generating and determining these impressions.
I think the impressions we make on one another are relative to everything else in our lives and nothing short of Crowley's take on magik. On page 194 he states, "Indeed, there seems to be no undue presumption in urging that no science possesses equal possibilities of deep and important knowledge;*" He's speaking about magik. He continues, "that no art offers such opportunities to the ambition of the Soul to express its Truth, in Ecstasy, through Beauty; and that no sport rivals its fascinations of danger and delight, so excites, exercises, and tests its devotees to the uttermost, or so rewards them by well-being, pride, and the passionate pleasures of personal triumph." PHEW!! The footnote says this about these words, "Magik is less liable to lead to error than any other science, because its terms are interchangeable, by definition, so that it is based on relativity from the start. We run no risk of asserting absolute propositions." Relationships are one of the most educational, difficult, and meaningfully magikal elemental factors within life. Photos of our life's impressions are captured on various kinds of sensitive photographic paper. Magik it is!! Walter Benjamin then says this in our reading for today about the magik of life, "All purposeful manifestations of life, including their very purposiveness, in the final analysis have their end not in life, but in the expressions of its nature, in the representations of its significance" (72). Moment by moment, asleep, awake, or otherwise, we are making impressions and receiving impressions. We, us humans, are very sensitive photographic material, giving and receiving constantely.
I have poem soup to share with you. Here's my sonnet assignment:

Light Lasts

Future’s Undaunting Circular Past Everywhere,Metaphor Itself—Light Bounce Reflect lite,
Read-y To Feel. Broke Rays Live Linear edge, Feed a’gaina’gaina’gain—Crucifix
Flesh bleed—deep filthy sweat into Crucible,Read/whited-habits glare, Herstory puss—
Blue Flesh marks duration—Timing lights Time—Old scales droop—body bares weight, moderate
Negative Capability, Heaven’s Address—Other Hell—trump empire, Perspire, Expire,
Bare ruined chorus, where late sweet birds sang Days’ long cry, knight’s pale metaphor—know
Action Experience Consequence,
Live Leave’s Transpiration—Light Time a’ Timing

Thanks, Scott, for providing this foum............