A defense against anxiety

Today everything exists to end in a photograph.

Susan Sontag, On Photography

Frequently I tell myself at night that I will get out of the apartment early the next morning. I think I did it today:  I made it downtown by 10:15 a.m. to attend a – I’m not sure really what it was, but it was promoted as a “social” – at a gallery that features photographic prints. They offered free coffee and a chance to socialize with other photographers, but it seemed more like those free weekends you get to view condominiums or time-shares – but no one approached me. I suspect they will offer classes in photography as I think one of the people involved already takes small groups to Chiapas and Oaxaca for workshops. I was able to slip in, view the photos and other artwork, and slip out without having to introduce myself, surrender a cell phone number or email address. I wish them well but if they didn’t spend time with an easy mark like me they may end up struggling.

Sontag and the nature of photographs

M, who visited recently, is a member of a book club in the San Francisco Bay Area and the group recently read one of the books she suggested, Dreaming in French, which is about three young women (Angela Davis, Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy and Susan Sontag) and how Paris affected their lives.

Forty years ago Sontag’s collection of essays On Photography was published. I remember finding it impenetrable at that time. During the early ’70s I tried to earn a living as a freelance photographer, mostly in the realm of journalism. I still find the book difficult to read, but I also find pieces of brilliance in it (as in the title I’ve used for this post and in the quote above). It’s as if I can take in the individual frames of a movie but not the film as a whole. The gems are much as one finds a treasured photograph, whether at the time of creation or later, hidden in a stack of other recorded memories.

M is a very good photographer. She has an unpublished photo that she made of the streets of Paris during a snowstorm that is, in my opinion, one of the best photos of Paris.  She thinks and composes before she presses the shutter and she sees patterns and relationships between shapes and colors where others would not.  Her photos of San Miguel and Mexico City are exquisite.  While we were in Mexico City she commented on the many families and couples who were taking photos of one another using the great murals in Bellas Artes as backdrops or using the sculptures and fountains outdoors for the same purpose.  To many, the sculpture or the mural was unimportant:  it was the photograph of friend or lover or brother or mother that was important – made more interesting with different backgrounds.

Another friend, J, who lives in Massachusetts, once told me of her friend Cathy who had shown her a number of pictures Cathy had taken at a family gathering:  all the photos had been composed as if Cathy had amputated  various limbs from family members.  A photo of a foot on the grass was accompanied by a narrative such as “and I know you can’t see mom’s face in this one, but she was really happy.” A photo of her dad with an arm and hand surrounding his shoulders was described as “this was so cute. It was the first time my dad had seen Joey in five years. You should have seen Joey’s expression.” To Cathy, all that information not recorded on film was in those photographs, generously provided by her memories of taking the photos. J, a good photographer, couldn’t believe that Cathy was showing what to J were terrible photos.

Sontag shared the last decade of her life with one of the world’s best-known photographers, Annie Leibovitz.

El Mirador (The Viewpoint)

This overlook is on the Salida Real a Querétaro (the highway to Querétaro) somewhere between half-way and two-thirds of the way up the hill from El Centro. Local tour buses make a stop there and a number of vendors are available to take your money in exchange for you taking a souvenir from them. In the vertical image made with a telephoto (el mirador 03) you can see the pink house in which I currently live (on a hill opposite El Mirador) almost directly behind the most prominent dome.

Photograph (Starr/Harrison)

From the Concert for George. The song was originally released in 1973, the year of Sontag’s monograph.


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