The Color of Shadows, the Weight of Breath, the Sound of Dust

The lover’s desire to possess is a desire to stop time and the limitations on where one can go and what can be known, and the collection and the photograph serve this desire.  But such lovers ended up owning wallpaper, or not even wallpaper but the vision of it, which they bequeath us in a cool and exquisite art.  Or after photography becomes accessible to amateurs, they end up owning innumerable envelopes of snapshots. (Solnit, 1998, p. 116)

I own so many envelopes of snapshots and ephemera collected and catalogued into an arcane and unknowable system, ordered and reordered, and out-of-ordered, and contained within envelopes of varied provenance: developed photo envelopes, wage packet envelopes, birthday and Christmas card envelopes, and those belonging to other random correspondence (mostly sans original content).

My father was a hoarder, and after disposing of all his hoardings after his death I can only conclude that some of this hoarding was an attempt to try to prevent time itself from passing, by stopping its processes of entropy and erasure with box after box of slides, of dusty collections, of account ledgers. (Solnit, 1998, p. 117)

I didn’t dispose of the hoardings, not really.  I meant to, I was given so much to sort through, but how can one decide which of someone else’s collection are the gems and which are the flotsam and jetsam? How could I, in all conscience, frustrate someone else’s attempts to halt time (or to slow it, perhaps) it seems cruel to trick even a ghost.  Besides, it’s true that it is all treasure and none of it is.  They are all relics, but sometimes they are at once so ordinary and so esoteric that it is entirely too confusing.

In the earlier years of photography, the medium was often imagined as supernatural; it was still as resonant of the alchemist and the magician as the scientist. It may have been that the ability to freeze and re-present moments which had hitherto been absolutely and utterly lost seemed so supernatural that it did in fact alter the fabric of time and reality itself. (Solnit, 1998, p. 122)

All photography reflects something that is past, a moment that has inextricably slipped away… yet somehow it is possible to look at a photograph and be pulled into the present, or into a parallel universe of complete timelessness that is somehow happening concurrently in multiple time periods like a thin rope cast across the years that you can yank the other end of. This is the covenant we make with ghosts.

Perhaps the logic is that the ability to capture a moment is intrinsically magical, and that if camera and film can capture the evanescence of the gleam of an eye or the beauty of a blossom, why shouldn’t it be able to capture the things we see out of the corner of our eye or the things which are altogether too quick or subtle for our eyes, the things we dream and suspect? (Solnit, 1998, p. 122)

Sometimes a collection you don’t really understand can give you the pieces to a mysterious puzzle for which you create your own picture, a strange and surreal image that is nothing like the original, but at the same time is exactly what it was always meant to be.

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