Saturday, August 27, 2016

Geoff Dyer's Irreverent Insights on Photography Astound

Susan Sontag opens her seminal essay with the Plato's Cave allegory, Dyer follows with an equivalent compelling literary metaphor referring to Borges' 'certain Chinese encyclopedia.'  It is the Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge, said to divide animals into "(a) those that belong to the Emperor, (b) embalmed ones, (c) those that are trained, (d) suckling pigs, (e) mermaids, (f) fabulous ones, (g) stray dogs, (h) those that are included in the present classification, (i) those that tremble as if they are mad, (j) innumerable ones, (k) those drawn with a very fine camelhair brush, (l) others, (m) those that have just broken a flower vase, (n) those that look like flies from a long way off."  Dyer is using Borges' fictional taxonomy as an eccentric template for organizing his book.  Dyer's approach is aleatory, released from the tyranny of chronology.  Dyer has written The Ongoing Moment as a single, 254-page chapter, as if to emphasize that the sense that all photographs are one; or at least linked in a huge electronic tapestry.

Ultimately the categories look like:

blindness (inc Arbus - Borges and Avedon - Borges)
Diane Arbus
photographing thought/fasion models
 photographs of photographers
suicide in people's faces
Weston / Charis
people's backs
airial views
empty beds
streets/desert roads
gas stations
barber shops
open doors

The question underlying The Ongoing Moment is "What can one do with the time facing a photograph, or facing anything else for that matter?" (Stephen Mitchelmore).  Dyer expresses the question writing about Alfred Stieglitz’s photograph of Fifth Avenue around 1901: “To think, there was a time, over a century ago, when this moment was now!”. He imagines the caped figure walking towards the camera looking back to see himself no longer there. But this is impossible: “it is his peculiar destiny … never to arrive at that backward looking vantage point, but to be rendered, momentarily and perpetually, as patient as the waiting horse and the buildings which are still there too.”

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