Rescued from oblivion
“What we, or at any rate I, refer to confidently as memory – meaning a moment, a scene, a fact that has been subjected to a fixative and thereby rescued from oblivion – is really a form of storytelling that goes on continually in the mind and often changes with the telling. Too many conflicting emotional interests are involved for life ever to be wholly acceptable, and possibly it is the work of the storyteller to rearrange things so that they conform to this end. In any case, in talking about the past we lie with every breath we draw.”
That’s William Maxwell, from So Long, See You Tomorrow, a remembrance of things past on the Illinois prairie. There’s no denying the beauty of that writing, and it turns out there’s no denying the accuracy of it, either.
Over the years, I’ve had a number of friends who, after we’ve known each other for a while, have put it to me delicately that they don’t “understand” photography as an art form. Most of them actually looked at and enjoyed serious photographs, but they were hung up on the mechanical ease of the medium, particularly when it was viewed in a museum or gallery full of very difficult-to-make paintings and sculptures. One time, after walking around for a couple of hours when I was making some pictures, a guy who is close enough to not worry about offending me said, “You just take pictures of everything, and there’s bound to be something good.” I’m guessing that something similar has happened to almost anyone interested in photographing.
At first, I had a whole bunch of (slightly defensive) answers about the moment of exposure being just the beginning of a process – that one makes numerous important choices in developing film, work printing and editing, and final printing &etc. These are good answers.
But there are better answers, or I guess one better answer, and it has to do with what happens before, rather than after, the shutter is released or the print is fixed.
The Sharpest Stake
This movie “Only Lovers Left Alive” is pretty good, maybe even great. There’s certainly worse ways to spend a couple hours than gazing upon Orlando and Loki. But it’s sticking with me not because of its artistic merits, but because I might seriously consider taking the bargain of being “turned,” as the more conscientious vampires put it.
Probably for the past ten years or so, and certainly for the last four or five, I’ve been in a mild panic that I’m missing out on a lot of really good stuff. Of course these days FOMO is a widespread phenomenon, primarily because social media has made us keenly aware of when others are at better parties, or better restaurants, or better concerts. But my case is not like that, exactly; my anxiety is that I won’t have enough time to make it through all of Henry James’s novels.