Prayer Flag, Bhaupara, Gujarat. India, November 30, 1995. Platinum-palladium print on 100% cellulose (Wyndstone vellum) from original 8×10 inch negative.
Vejiben Odedra, standing, Dhaupara, Gujerat, India, November 29, 1995.
Platinum-palladium print on 100% cellulose (Wyndstone vellum) from 8×10 original negative.
She was the matriarch of a small village. A fine, noble, kind person. My grandmother had very similar tattoos on her arms, and grew up just a few miles away from here. Stillness, of the kind I felt when photographing Vejiben, is what I crave to find when making and looking at platinum-palladium prints. And with that, one ends up looking for, and and trying to make prints that render the highest, resolution – in all senses of the word.
A couple of details:
Banyan Tree. Temple. Junagadh, Gujerat,India. 1995. Platinum-palladium print on (Wyndstone) vellum from 8×10 inch negative.
It is like seeing a ghost. Everything in this print is almost there, fully there and not at all what I remember. I remember setting up tripod and 8×10 camera, my driver preparing to halt all traffic on a busy street. Spectators, waiting for something to happen, but there was no loud announcement. Just another little person, disappearing for a moment under a big black cloth, reappearing, then palms being held up to stop all motion, then happy waves and dust floating through charcoal fire smoke. Photo taken, thank you very much.
Here, I see detail, the peculiar rendering of it when prints are made on the glass-smooth surface of cellulose vellum. Layer after layer, and not a paper fiber to be seen. Very strange. Scanning, as this print has been, does not help render sharpness. The scanner light passes through and bounces, more diffuse, straight back out onto the sensor. A strange, but still somehow truthful, mist comes back out me. The mist. I wrote about this print in very different ways some three years ago, and quoted William Blake.
‘I would no more question my eye than I would question a window concerning sight. I look through it, not with it.’ – William Blake (from Kathleen Raine’s excellent Golgonooza: City of Imagination – Last studies in William Blake)
Archway. City Gate. Junagadh, Gujerat, India. 1995. Scan from 8×10 negative.
In the previous post, I mentioned how reading John Berger brought me to reading Andrei Platonov’s ‘Dzahn’. I got to Berger’s profound ‘Afterword’ for the New York Review Books Classics edition via another Berger piece, Ten Dispatches about Endurance in Face of Walls from his book, Hold Everything Dear. (I have lost count of how many copies of this book I have bought and given away to friends and students.) Here’s a short excerpt:
“The poor are collectively unsuitable. They are not only the majority on the planet, they are everywhere and the smallest event speaks of them. This is why the essential activity of the rich today is the building of walls – walls of concrete, of electronic surveillance, of missile barrages, minefields, frontier controls, and opaque media screens….Platonov often used the term dushevny bednyak, which means literally ‘poor souls’. It referred to those from whom everything had been taken so that emptiness within them was immense and in that immensity only their soul was left – that’s to say their ability to feel and suffer. His stories do not add to the grief being lived, they save something.[my underscore] ‘Out of our ugliness will grow the world’s heart,’ he wrote in the early 1920’s…. Platonov understood living modern poverty more deeply than any other storyteller I have come across.”
That ‘something’ is what I referred to in earlier posts as the sublime, and the ‘belief’ gene. There are some parallels here also with zen practice.
Shastraling Talav, Patan, India, 1995.
platinum-palladium print from 8×10 inch negative
This photograph was made at an incredibly peaceful and rarely visited ancient monument, Shastraling Talav, in Northern India. A large earthwork and watertank, dating from around the 11th C, it is believed to have been the site for hundreds of shrines to Shiva. I envisioned these shrines arranged along the steps, fading off into the sunrise, and so rudely interrupted by the large, inexplicable, concrete platform in the foreground. Only the monkeys were there, gazing up into a dark forest.
I cannot imagine a more apt instance than this of the collision between the beautiful and the sublime. Here, I align certainty, religion and beauty. I think it is significant that if Blake had known of Shiva, or even Burke, they may well have thought his attributes of Destroyer and Transformer as being well matched with their considerations of the Sublime.
Banyan Tree. Temple. India. 1995
Platinum-palladium print on vellum from 8×10 inch negative
Thanks to frequent prods and nudges from my dear friend Chris Bucklow, I am thinking about the relevance of William Blake’s work on photography. This comes also from a synchronistic sequence of events. Last night, I heard an excellent talk by Sylvie Fortin about the globalization of art, and curatorial practice. She began her presentation with (my understanding of her talk:) the rise of criticism during the mid 1700’s, which, for me, not only defined the push-back a few decades later by William Blake, but also established the ‘logic’ for the quagmire of art practice that we now find ourselves in. Another nudge came from Robin Gillander’s reference to a piece by Paul Graham, entitled ‘Photography is Easy‘. And yet another from a letter by a dear penpal friend (yes, that still happens in this age of easy travel and Skype) that arrived yesterday:
Photography is difficult in its content, but not so in its craft; photography is difficult because its secret hides mainly in a reflection, in an emotional and intellectual response to the world, and much less in a talented labor and execution. – letter from Urs Bernhard
And the quote from my last post (from the book by Kathleen Raine which arrived as a precious gift from Chris Bucklow a few weeks ago):
‘I would no more question my eye than I would question a window concerning sight. I look through it, not with it.’ – William Blake (from Kathleen Raine’s excellent “Golgonooza: City of Imagination – Last studies in William Blake”
India, 1995. Platinum-palladium print from 8×10 negative
Prayer and Despair [view folio] : I have just updated a body of work done while traveling across Russia, Siberia, Honduras, India and Japan during 1995. A handful of images have yet to be added from Russia and Siberia. A short statement from that time, which was written towards the end of the year of traveling, reads:
India, November, 1995. It is midweek, and there are priests, pilgrims and worshippers milling around us. Religion does not abide by the seven day cycle here. My parents are unusually quiet as we stand amid the bustle, gazing out at a tiered stretch of river. Damodarkund. They explain that this is where the ashes of my ancestors have been released over the centuries, into the still waters, along with flowers, prayers, tears, memories. Like smoke. I feel a lightness, something lifting. This is where I came from, this is where I am going. My hand is in the water, a conduit and a key…
…Acceptance of anything can bring despair, and anything unbearable can inspire prayer. Kneeling down on the river bank, my hand in the clear water, I felt both.
All the images are platinum-palladium prints made from the original 8×10 negatives.