Monday, October 1, 2007

More thoughts on photos and meaning

Over the weekend I've been thinking more about photos, those historical/artistic records we figure will outlast us but that, in the most important sense, are as brief as our faces (John Berger).

The examples I gave of knowledge I had of the people in the 1966 photo of young men and airplanes at Lake Powell, knowledge that supposedly would disappear when I do, weren't as good as they might have been. I listed names and professions and what became of some of us after the photo was taken.

Better examples might have been taken from the thinking I've been doing while trying to read the photo for some writing I'm doing.

I was in Boise, for instance, following traces left by my brother John before he died of AIDS in 1992, when I stepped right into Larry Echohawk's campaign for Governor. The contrast between his extremely public and successful life and John's death in a cheap apartment across the street from the State Capitol was painful. Those thoughts and memories create an aura (see Walter Benjamin) that no one besides me can experience.

The future Mayor of Farmington is interesting to me because of his role in the 1974 demonstrations by Navajos in Farmington after three Navajo men were tortured and killed by Farmington High School students. The Mayor, a kind and gentle and generous man, excoriated the Federal Civil Rights Commission's "Farmington Report" as the product of a socialist government and claimed there was no racism to speak of in our red-neck, oil-boom town.

I look into the faces of the five generous men who have brought us here in their airplanes, I look at our faces, and I try to trace present and future beliefs and affiliations. I scan the photo most intensely for explanations of the racism that raises its ugly head at the most awkward times in my own psyche indelibly formed by this and other events tied to my home town.

"And our faces, my heart, brief as photos."

1 comment:

michael morrow said...

I'm one of those idiots that loves to shoot from the hip. Education didnt begin again, until this very moment. Feels like most o' you guys are mountains better read than me, clearer in thinking, and able to articulate intellectual distillations with alacrity, precise verbiage, and willingness to reach into bags historical. I have read a small bit of Confucius, I find Lao Tsu very interesting, and enjoy James, Emerson, Wordsworth, Blake, and others; probley just about enough to make me very dangerous.

I think we work too hard to survey and second guess what people (especially fellow males) deemed sage-like, think about. I, too, like what I continue to learn about and from people, topics, ideas, philosophies, and "important" personal observations of people long gone. But I think we should think more simply when considering what the lives of others, especially people from long ago, left for us.

People from every layer of historical civilization have many things in common that, when considered carefully, reveal and clarify the fog inherent when looking backwards into the past. All humans have certain basic needs to be met before any sort of intellectual, emotional, or spiritual appetite is to be fed. Having said that, it becomes obvious that whatever tools or traditions are found or evolves and however individuals or groups use whatever survival tools, techniques, and ideas they find practical, is what matters. The assumptions and observations present day people make can only be laced and influenced by the survival techniques, tools, and ideas inherited from the past. The way in which humans find their food, shelter, romance, and practical contribution to basic survival play huge into what and how individuals discover, create, and express about their surroundings, environment, and inner life/experience.

Scott provided an example of what I'm talking about in his last Goalie's Anxiety post. He pointed out the fluctuating, indefinite nature of photographs. I loved the ideas presented but I thought it was a little short-sighted. Scott pointed out that photographs, by nature, are very impermanent, indefinite, and at some very real point, only relative to those people, places, and things found captured on the paper. Outside observers not in the photo are required to "take the word of" those whose image is actually on the paper. The photographic opportunity's actual occurrence is very much like all other occurrences in life. I think that we are all required to "take the word of" other people about every experience and observation that happens, especially the experiences of others. The photo example provided by Scott was from an earlier time in his life. He told of the people, experiences, and location of the shot. I am willing to believe Scott told me the truth about the photographic occasion depicted on the paper. But in all actuality, the experience itself can never be anything more than fiction to me. As time goes by, portions of the experience may even become little more than fiction to those in the photo. Some participants will even remember specific situations one way, while other people will remember the same particulars very diffenently.
The point is that anything Confucius or any other individual tells me, at best, will never be anything more than fiction. That includes any Confucian names, ideas, observations, or philosophies,etc. Fortunately, I am more than willing to take the word of people I deem creditable and trustworthy. But, when the proverbial rubber meets the road I am responsible to decide for myself what is real, what names apply to what object or happening. Yes, I definitely find Confucius, and many others, trustworthy and creditable. I am more than willing to give the ideas of many important thinkers my undivided attention. But I find it incumbent upon me to sift, carefully consider, and assimilate the information that works for me and my place in life.
So it is with names. Confucius, and all other people, name what they find in their space based on their level of personal comfort, inner satisfaction, and exterior surroundings. I find it interesting that Scott's photo posting focused on the impermanence of photographic images. I choose to focus on the permanent images left in my mind and in the minds of others. I even feel that once the image is captured, it remains fixed on cosmic photo-sensitive material, even an ethereal level of consciousness.
I am reminded of the three blind men using their hands to name and describe an elephant to one another. Confucius, me, you and all others, are doing our best to name our life's elephant, ideally with intentions to be honest, creative, and accurate.