Saturday, December 8, 2012

Looking For Their Stories

A leftover picture (above) from the last trip out to Point Reyes. As an image, it has attained an odd status in my eyes – because it keeps contriving to get itself spared while its better-crafted neighbors are getting deleted one by one as I winnow out the few of my own photos I will preserve from among the many that I won't. What virtues could it have, I started to wonder, strong enough to offset all the technical problems created by shooting straight into the light on a sudden impulse at the wrong settings? I think the answer is in the shadows. Each figure has its own attached shadow, heavily foreshortened. No one shadow overlaps or touches any other shadow. (a feature that perhaps reminds me – favorably – of the dark adhesive freestanding shadows typically clinging to figures in Francis Bacon paintings). The one from Point Reyes doesn't even really look like a photo, certainly not like a seascape. It looks more like a collage, a flat sheet with sharp-edged cut-outs pasted on.

The next pair have remained in similar limbo – grabbed in haste and never quite able to find a home for themselves, nor yet quite to qualify for the discard pile either. And the same question comes up again, what worth do they have? What are they good for? Maybe just to show a fairly recent moment when San Francisco autumn visibly shifted into San Francisco winter? Again I can't quite say for sure – except that some instinct leads me to protect them. At least for now.

While pondering these issues I came across an unfamiliar, non-iconic photo by Diane Arbus – not shot as fine art per se, but on commission for a magazine. It gives off the same lonely air of not fitting in with any of its peers or neighbors. Arbus wrote about this picture in a 1961 letter to Marvin Israel –

I found William Mack the sort of furry Rasputin who is courtly and tedious and sinister, remarkably like someone who will appear in the daily news newly dead . . . a retired German merchant seaman and moslem convert and that sort of union square etymologist who can derive any word from any other . . . He is given to saying things like that Moses wasn't a Jew and Shakespeare didn't write any plays which makes me quite tired to hear and I never know what to say in reply. But he is very splendid looking, like a seer who has forgotten his own secret or an anachronism who wishes it was obsolete. Proud, formidable and airless like an unprincipled martyr . . . the world is full of fictional characters looking for their stories.