Monday, October 26, 2009

huhs, hmms, and ahs : three very short stories

Let me forewarn you that these one-photo stories probably won't make any sense. Worse still, once I explain, you may wonder why I bothered posting them. But I'll get to that, I promise.

story 1.

Discarded organizer outside the headquarters of "Le Monde" newspaper

story 2.

Pockmarked sidewalk

story 3.
By a stairwell outside the Kenna exhibit

I tell my students that I like writing assignments more than memorization-based exams (names, dates, that kind of stuff), because I can still remember essays I wrote in 7th grade, but I forgot my chronology of all the rulers of France a week after the final exam. Who am I kidding? I forgot some of it during the final exam.

There's something about the act of writing that makes the story stick with you. But maybe that's not the case with you. Maybe you're a numbers and dates kind of person. A former part-time secretary in my department could recite birthdays, phone numbers, or any other number with meaning attached to it with zero effort. Having just figured out that I'm a year younger than I thought I was (and I had the midlife crisis all planned out!), I can't even wrap my mind around that kind of numbers memory.

My memory likes images. I remember my first meeting with the museum director who wanted to discuss the possibility of an exhibit about my research. He was surprised at how quickly I converted written thoughts into visual form. What he didn't realize was that I saw all of my ideas as images before I wrote them. Converting the images in my mind into words on a page was the hard part.

The three image "stories" above were all taken within the last few days. The first two are from a walk I took today in an area with streets named after photographers like Atget and Brassaï. The third image was in the library where I researched most of my dissertation, and therefore the easiest to spin into a story with deeper meaning, which would be dishonest. Here is the extent of each story:

1. I noticed the organizers outside the newspaper building and thought that I could use them back at home, but didn't feel like carrying them around. Then I noticed the labels indicating they were sorting things by region (Brittany, Corsica, etc.) which made me think about the decline of the newspaper industry and the fact that regional reporting is one of the first things to go.

2. I noticed the little craters in the sidewalk created by pits or nuts from the tree above. Could a falling nut create that kind of damage? Maybe if the sidewalk had been resurfaced and was still drying or maybe if that is a patch of tar that melted during a heat wave. But why resurface a sidewalk only to let it a tree launch a full scale attack? Hmm.

3. The Kenna exhibit was just so beautiful, so moving, that I had to take a photo immediately outside just for the sake of release—by impulse, like applause at the end of a play.

Not compelling stories? Don't say I didn't warn you. The idea I want to put out there is this: a photo can be the story of how you think. It may not have the wide appeal of something pretty, but it might be a way for you to capture your thought process. I am imagining how a book of these moments, not the famous Oprah "aha!" moments, but more like the "huh"moments that capture the natural flow of your mind. This is what Rousseau was after when he walked around collecting plants during the last years of his life. He wasn't trying to make any great botanical discoveries. He was gathering his own thoughts.

It's not about gathering events or photos of loved ones. It's not about great philosophical reflection. It's just about the flow of thoughts and feelings we usually never document.


michelle said...

I love this post. Love the photos, love the stories, love the last sentence especially.