I mentioned a while ago that an old friend had contacted me across forty years; he said he was dying, I didn't know what to do but I decided to enter a correspondence with him. He's still here, by the way, after relatively novel cancer treatment, seems, in fact, remarkably more healthy than your correspondent, who doesn't have a terminal illness, at least not yet, although we shall all have one, sooner or later.
The correspondence, anyway, in its second email, contained a photograph of he and his wife with an indication - I've shown you mine, now you show me yours - that I reciprocate. Pigs might fucking fly.
I explained to him that I shared the distrust of photographic image portraits evinced by the Native Americans, the idea that somehow the photograph stole the soul, that in a split-second it sought to capture the uncapturable - and corrupt it. There wouldn't be any 'photos of his old pal, parseccing their way, formless, through cyberspace, reincorporating themselves on his laptop. Certainly not. There would be no Oh, Ishmael hasn’t aged at all/very well; there would be nothing to be erroneously interpreted from a fragment, a stolen moment; he’d just have to fucking well read, like the rest of us do.
Doesn’t seem to have deterred him and he often acknowledges “some good words, there, Ishmael,” and maybe, at the nearly-last moment, I may upset, just a little, the conventional applecart which seems to have been his life, maybe that is the point of the correspondence, a rattling of the chains; life in the old dog, yet; many’s a good tune played on an old fiddle.
How should I know; people write to me and I write back as cordially and wholesomely as I may.
Coincidentally, though, I was looking in my Lapham’s Quarterly earlier on and found, side-by-side, two other expressions of my own cautionary note on the value of the image; one is from before-before, one from the present and I thought, on reading them, that a lamentation, a regret, a warning are as likely to be framed as elegantly and as lovingly as anything else, be it high-falutin’ poetry or two-and-a-half minute, Rockabilly love song. Here they are then, Words of Love.
Susan Sontag, On Photography, 1977
When we are nostalgic, we take pictures. It is a nostalgic time right now and photographs actively promote nostalgia. Photography is an elegiac art, a twilight art. Most subjects being photographed are, just by virtue of being photographed, touched with pathos. An ugly or grotesque subject may be moving because it has been dignified by the attention of the photographer. A beautiful subject can be the object of rueful feeling because it has aged or decayed or no longer exists. All photographs are memento mori. To take a photograph is to participate in another person’s or thing’s mortality, vulnerability, mutability. Precisely by slicing out this moment and freezing it, all photographs testify to time’s relentless melt.
Juana Ines De La Cruz, 1690
“She attempts to minimise the praise occasioned by a portrait of herself, inscribed by Truth which she calls Ardor.”
This that you gaze on, colourful deceit, that so immodestly displays Art’s favors, with its fallacious arguments of colours is to the senses cunning counterfeit,
this on which kindness practised to delete from cruel years accumulated horrors, constraining time to mitigate its rigours and thus oblivion and age defeat,
is but an artefact, a sop to vanity, is but a flower by the breezes blowed, is but a ploy to counter destiny,
is but a foolish labour, ill-employed, is but a fancy, and, as all may see, is but cadaver, ashes, shadow, void.