IS IT AN AIRPLANE FIGHT; acrylic on canvas
Creative nonfiction has long relied on fiction in order to define itself. It emulates fiction’s forms of truth-seeking, artfully burying its skeleton of facts beneath a rich layer of novelistic mulch, which sprouts bright scenes and florid characters.
Its mandate is “show, don’t tell”; the “telling” — those rare moments when we are reminded of the writer’s presence and agency — should be brief and potent. This relationship presupposes the significance of stories: stories as sense-making; stories as the complicated, full-bodied fleshing out of facts; stories as a natural revelator which needs only a smidgen of the writers’ overt consciousness to frame and ground it. Stories, in other words, are our salvation from randomness.
My husband is a photojournalist. He is paid to witness. With light, exposure, angle, he will craft a story from setting and scene. But his job is being rendered obsolete, bled of its significance and absorbed into the constantly roiling sea of random imagery. Cheap and widely available digital cameras have made us all witnesses. They have made witnessing the premier act of our times, more than living, more than thinking. Narratives are shaped by random acts of witnessing, by inadvertent patterns: the man in the white hat and the man in the black hat at the Boston Marathon, captured by this iPhone, captured by that cell phone, ten to twenty minutes before the bomb went off. The chaotic randomness of the bomb countered by the random witnessing, which led to capture, sense, story, the waving of the American flag in triumph. A constant and perpetual surveillance of our own lives, in which we willingly participate. The act of witnessing as triumph, giving us a sense of our own importance, our lives as worthy of perpetual observation: here is what I had for dinner.
The lyric essay is all-telling, all the time. A snippet of image here, a stray bit of dialog there, nested in the telling: the logic of the traditional story reversed. It purposefully avoids a steady progression towards meaning, a predictable arc of exposition, climax, revelation, and denouement, preferring instead allusive, anecdotal, and abstract swipes at an opaque theme. In their introduction to the Fall 1997 issue of The Seneca Review, Deborah Tall and John D’Agata christened and defined the lyric essay. It “forsake[s] narrative line, discursive logic, and the art of persuasion in favor of idiosyncratic meditation…It might move by association, leaping from one path of thought to another by way of imagery or connotation, advancing by juxtaposition or sidewinding poetic logic. Generally it is short, concise and punchy like a prose poem. But it may meander, making use of other genres when they serve its purpose: recombinant, it samples the techniques of fiction, drama, journalism, song, and film.” It is, in other words, a mash-up: borrowing from all, beholden to none. It likes to betray the genres from which it borrows, making wily little jabs at their most dearly held conventions. It mocks creative nonfiction in its manipulation of facts: sometimes reinventing them for the sake of “art,” sometimes subverting their claim to objective truth by repeating or removing them from context. It mocks fiction in using these untruths, these distorted or altered facts, not as story but as dry, lyrically stylized information .
Reasons I don’t take photos on vacation
I’m living inside the moment / not taking pictures to save it
- Drake, “The Resistance”
Imagine yourself reaching for your camera-phone as the sun sets beneath billowing clouds, a smear of pale pink on the horizon. You take a picture. And then another. And then another.
We all want to capture the moment. We desire to preserve it forever, salvaging the beauty of everything we see. So we grab our cellphones, our iPads, our digital cameras, and SNAP! we take a few photos to safeguard our memories.
Sounds harmless, right? I mean, look around, everyone’s doing it. You can’t go to a monument or a concert or even a sunset without scads of pedestrians fiddling with their electronics, trying to save and share the experience.
There seems to be two problems with this incessant picture-taking behavior, and I myself have been an accomplice to said problem for way too long.
First, by fumbling around with my device, looking for the best angle and filter, snapping the picture, viewing the picture, and then often retaking the shot in an effort to get the “right” photo, I’m missing the actual moment. My desire to capture the moment actually ruins the moment. It makes it less beautiful, less real, and in many ways less photo-worthy.
Second, the “result” is artificial. Time doesn’t happen in this kind of take-and-retake way. We don’t get to re-do the experiences of our lives. And yet we take our pictures as if we can “get it just right.” It gives us a false sense of security, a sense that we can not only change the moment, but somehow save only its best parts. The fact of the matter is that the best parts exist because of the worst parts, not despite them. We cannot enjoy life’s mountains without its valleys.
Didn’t have a camera by my side this time
Hoping I would see the world through both my eyes
Today I finally overcame trying to fit the world inside a picture frame
Maybe you should have seen that sunrise with your own eyes
It brought me back to life
- John Mayer, “3×5″
Thus, during the last leg of our meetup tour, I avoided reaching for my phone to take pictures. And even though I was conscious about this choice, I slipped up a few times. Every beautiful sunset, every Wyoming sky, every rushing Montana river, brought with it The Twitch, an urge to reach for my camera-phone and seize the picturesque setting. But I resisted, and after an instant of hesitation, I was able to enjoy each event for all its worth, not attempting to put a piece of it in my pocket to save for later. I took it all in, right then, right there, enjoying the experience for what it was: a perfect moment.
Don’t get me wrong; I think photography is a beautiful art form. And when they’re done well, photos are breathtaking. Furthermore, we’re a visual culture, and so pictures play a large role in the way we communicate. I’m not going to stop taking photos altogether, but I am going to remain more cognizant of my surroundings. I’m going to enjoy the experience first and embrace the impermanence of the moment. And if an unobtrusive opportunity arises to snap a single photo, then I will. Maybe. Or maybe not. It’s okay to be on the mountain—to be meditative—without proving to everyone else you were there to see it.
From The Minimalists
Actually started doing this years ago, when I lost thousands of dollars of photography equipment along with all my used film rolls taken on holiday on a flight abroad. Didn’t want to feel that attachment, anymore. And besides, whatever I see on holiday, would be shot a million times over anyway. And much better photos than I could probably take. Postcards, I guess, that’s one reason they exist.
In fact, I don’t take many photos much anymore. Haven’t had a photo taken of myself taken since Christmas last year. And it feels okay. Well, it feels more than fine.
wildsidefashion said: i love your blog!!!
Thank you for the kind words!
Cy Twombly at home in Rome, by Horst P.Horst for Vogue (1966)
V12 Laraki (2013)
A replica of the Mercedes-Benz V12 engine used by Abdeslam Laraki in the ‘Laraki Fulgara’, Morocco’s first ever high-performance, luxury sports car. Laraki had hoped to manufacture the car entirely in Morocco, but was forced to import its engine from Germany. ‘V12 Laraki’ brings the dream of an entirely Moroccan-made engine full circle. Each of its 465 components were handcrafted in 53 traditional materials, including ceramic, bone, tin, goatskin, and terracotta, by fifty-seven Moroccan artisans. Both the V12 Mercedes-Benz and the V12 Laraki are equal if nontransferable products of human excellence—the former of a hundred years of Western engineering, the latter of a thousand years of Moroccan heritage. Now housed in the collection of the Hood Museum, the complete engine is overwhelming in its complexity.
Anonymous said: you don't post fits anymore. what are you wearing? what's your favorite pieces?
True. Triathlon training takes a lot out of me and very often I’ll find myself lazily reaching for my Attachment jeans and a Uniqlo tee. I do love my CDGH+ shimmer jacket though it’s a bit too warm to be wearing that now. My Helmut Lang bomber in tissue silk is probably my favorite piece though.