The Facts Behind The Photograph (s)Monday, August 23, 2010
Saturday night I read my Sunday New York Times in bed. It is one of my weekend pleasures. The heavy package comes crashing to my door sometime around 8pm. There was something (there always is) that made me think and I read it again. It was an article in the entertainment section and it was called It’s Actual Life. No, It’s Drama. No, It’s Both. It was written by one Dennis Lim. It was about the fine line (if there is even one) between documentary films and fictional/drama films. This was the paragraph that made me sit up:
In a very literal sense, all films have documentary aspects: once the camera is turned on, whatever is captured, no matter how staged, contains a trace of reality, an element of chance. The inverse is true as well: no documentary, whatever its claims to objective reportage, is ever devoid of manipulation, since a controlling hand is evident in even the most routine matters of camera placement and shot selection.
It made me think of the picture that I took of Rebecca that graced yesterday’s blog. Here you see a variant. In all I took two pictures with film and my Mamiya and one with my iPhone.
The spot I chose for the picture is across the road from Michael East’s Santa Fe Ranch house in South Texas. The land (called Texas brush) is absolutely flat but where I took the picture there is an ever so slight elevation and it was here that Michael East (and perhaps his mother, too) chose to bury his father Tom East when he died December 8, 1984. The grave has a little promontory nearby with potted plants and trees were planted for shade. The plot, with the one grave is surrounded by a fence with a gate. The gate leads to a pasture and another gate which opens to the road and the ranch house. From the ranch house front door you can see the group of trees (a mott) and the fence. To me, and I never knew the elder East, it is a magical place.
When I told Rebecca I wanted to show her the little cemetery and take her picture she immediately objected. It was close to noon and it was around 40 degrees. She was wearing flip flops, shorts and insisted in putting on a blue floppy hat (my wife’s) that is not half as nice as the straw one (also my wife’s) that I forced Rebecca to wear after an altercation. Michael East told us to be careful in the cemetery, “Watch out for rattlesnakes.” I knew that the path leading to the plot was free of vegetation and that once I was within the plot I would stomp on the ground and make enough noise that any snakes would vamoose pronto. Still Rebecca was reluctant, moody, angry and hating to put on the hat.
Once we were there she told me to hurry as she thought she was being bitten by chiggers. I was barely able to take my three pictures when she simply left in a huff.
I think all three photographs are extremely beautiful and they capture the beauty and peace of the place. Rebecca looks sad and sensitive and lovely. But the facts as I explained them above tell a different story. This is why that paragraph that I read in the Sunday New York Times on Saturday night made me sit up.
In order to scan the second b+w version of the photograph I forced dried it with a hair dryer in my basement darkroom. Perhaps I had the dryer too close to the photograph. The circuit breaker went. When I set it back nothing happened until I did it a few more times. To my horror I found out that a circuit in the kitchen (the fridge, the stove, the microwave and other outlets) plus my darkroom, was inoperative. No amount of setting it changed anything. I connected the fridge to the dining room with a long extension cord and I now wait for Monday morning to call an electrician. Depression had already set in when I went to the basement to check on the circuit breaker and I ran into a big rat. At this point no drugs (not that I ever take any) could relieve my melancholy. It is amazing how important a functioning stove can be to one’s life and happiness!
But as I look at the picture I remember the idea that the moment you set a camera on a tripod in a pristine wilderness, it is wilderness no more. The camera and its owner intrude on the situation. As I look at the picture I am well aware that the cemetery plot is not a wild place in the least. But somehow our intrusion on the quiet place was counteracted by my memory (I have read about Tom East) of the man who was buried there. I had explained to Rebecca his significance in South Texas ranch history. Whatever it was, both of us, in spite of fear of rattlesnakes, in spite of the insects and the heat, shared a moment we will not forget, particuarly since we have three photographs as proof.