Transit and Transformation

Barbie. Buddha. 1994

Barbie. Buddha. 1994
Platinum-palladium print from 11×14 inch negative

Reading Moby-Dick reminds me of another very important, transforming book: Bruce Chatwin’s ‘Songlines’. This piece, by Rory Stewart in the New York Review of Books, sums it up:

 “In Chatwin’s understanding of the Aboriginal myth of creation, the totem ancestors—the great kangaroo, or the dream-snake—first sung themselves into existence and then, as they began to walk across the landscape, sung every feature of the natural world into existence. Each time they sung a rock or a stream, it came into existence. The Aborigines who inherited and learned these creation songs, each specific to their totem, could navigate for hundreds of miles across featureless desert by singing the song in time with their steps, and they could recognize every real feature of the landscape as they sang it. For Chatwin, these song lines linked nomadism to the act of creation itself (both literal and artistic), and his interest in travel to ancient myths.”

We spoke in class today about becoming what you fear (page 565 of the Norton edition), and I imagined one step beyond: what is it like to fear that you may become what you fear. Which in turn reminded me of

Sebastian Junger’s and Tim Hetherington’s film about combat and transformation, “Restrepo

Photographs of condemned prisoners in Camp S-21, during the Khmer Rouge’s reign of terror in Cambodia under Pol Pot. This is a disturbing story and tragic imagery. It hurts. Many of the photographs were finally published in a book by Doug Niven and Christopher Riley, “who discovered the damaged collection of negatives at the site of S-21, which in recent years has become a museum dedicated to those who died in the purges. The two photographers dedicated themselves to cleaning the negatives and printing the haunting collection of photographs of long-dead Cambodians.” [quoted from the Digital Archive of Cambodian Holocaust Survivors web site.] This is one of my most precious books.