Fayum – Rachel in Venice

Fayum – Rachel in Venice

Rachel and Kiran, Dawn. Venice, April 2010
from 8×10 negative

From Euphrosyne Doxiadis’ ‘introduction’ in The Mysterious Fayum Portraits, Thames and Hudson, 2000:

“The viewer becomes involved in direct communion with the person portrayed, who is as if in limbo, in a twilight zone between life and death. Looking at the most beautifully painted among the Fayum portraits is a unique and enriching experience…An experience I had in Berlin convinced me of the power inherent in the best of the Fayum faces: I was left in a storage room with about twenty portraits, and when the door closed behind me I felt a very strange sensation— that I was not alone.”

Perhaps that is it: we are not alone, we are not alone, we are not alone. Yet with each utterance, with each brush of this kind of sensation, we sense the aching singularity of each moment, each one of us, each loneliness.

Thirstily reading the current issue of Orion, it made me happy to see the work of two friends Masao Yamamoto and Kathleen Jamie, appear in the magazine. Kathleen’s poem, Roses, struck me with particular force. The last verse reads:

I haggle for my little
portion of happiness,

says each flower, equal, in the scented mass.

PS: This issue of Orion also has an excellent piece by David Sobel about the pitfalls of the environmental and place-based education bandwagon, and a touching, powerful short piece by Julia Alvarez (who recently  published ‘A Wedding in Haiti’). Again, I find another resonance, along with my work in Haiti, with the Fayum and a particular kind of photographic portraiture. From her short article:

“The ancient Mayans recognized a … truth in the phrase en lak ech, which means “you are the other me.” it’s a way of thinking about ourselves as interconnected. We cannot exist in any meaningful way without each other.

As we look to the future, we need to look back to places like Haiti to learn how to use our resources wisely.”

Well put, and I wholeheartedly agree, as detailed in another section of my web site. And this quote also articulates why I consider my seemingly very personal portraits as being on the same trajectory as my work in Haiti.