and if once again i were to begin my dance of contention?

i begin with an assertion:  history manifests itself as a dialectic of appearances.  i retort:  on the contrary, history manifests as a dialectic of disappearances.  i continue:  the present is the accumulation of the past pressing itself forward into our own experience.  i counter:  the present is a name for the deep experience of emptiness, of the past retreating and having retreated from our own experience mercilessly and without apology.  i'm asking myself:  if i were to begin this inner dialogue once again, at what point would the problem of images enter?  at what point would i hand over the discussion to a wordless dialectic of pictures? 
as usual, it happened through my acting on my curiosities, though i wish i could say it was merely that.  the truth is that i came to jarosław in far southeastern poland and could not find a way to make pictures innocent of myself, i.e. as a way of simply being present where i find myself.  as usual, it was a need to photograph as against something that got me started, a need i still don't understand to work from an oppositional beginning.  it's still my problem that photographing is as much a way of being-out-of-place as being in place.
a day after arriving in jarosł‚aw, i wrote this to myself:  "it's true that my problem is the standard logic that a photograph owes itself in a primary sense to the actual, that it is a fossil of the here-and-now, a relic, a vault or a holding tank or a cryogenic vestige for the actual as against time and change.  (it must be one of the deep ironies of the cult of visual fact that is photography that it's impossible not to resort to metaphor when accounting for it.)  and still i'm asking:  in what does subversion of conventional thinking about photography consist?  simply to point out what seems obvious enough?  is it enough to say €“that what is commonly meant by photography is a form of magical thinking particular to the age of science, that the belief in a transposition of appearances to fact by way of image-technology is a normalized form of what would otherwise be called the occult, and that photography is in this sense probably the most ubiquitous and acute occultist practice in the world.  pointing out these things isn't enough." 

it's an old story with me that being iconoclastic of mind and heart doesn't lead to a rejection of images, rather the opposite.  being an iconophilic iconoclast is one of the contradictions i can't undo.  so i make sequences of pictures as a way of breaking the chains of pictures.  or maybe i should resort again to the search for guiding language as the way through the impasse about photography?  i should say:  if the standard logic obtains, it contains within itself its own undoing.  the photograph-as-trace is in fact a confession of a photography as a practice not of capture but of displacements from capture.  by the standard logic, a photograph is a casting as from something else, or a casting-off, insufficient to itself, and of uncertain status.  to say about a photograph that it's a name for here-and-now clenched into fixed relations is necessarily to say that it is also, measure by measure, then-and-there loosened into unfixed relations.

but my question, recurring:  and if a photograph is indeed at once a fact of time set adrift in time, and an anchor for time through which time passes, what kind of thinking can a photograph be made to inaugurate?  and should it be made to do so in the first place?  does it somehow inaugurate better when not intended or directed as such?

i took these questions out with me in jarosł‚aw, over several days of being there.  jarosł‚aw:  a small town today in far southeastern poland, previously in the center of the historic province of galicia, founded in 1031 and from the fourteenth century to the eighteenth century an important commercial center on the north-south trade routes from the middle east to northern europe.  like so many other mercantile centers, it formed a confluence of peoples, and by the turn of the nineteenth century had settled into three major groups:  polish roman catholics, about half the population, ukrainian-speaking greek orthodox catholics, about a quarter of the population, and jews, about a quarter.  in this population distribution it resembled much of the region, and remained this way until the second world war.  for catholics and jews alike, the town had special importance.  from 1574 it contained a large jesuit college and was a center of catholic learning for a wide region, and from 1574 it became one of two meeting places of the jewish council of the four lands, a semi-autonomous governmental body for jews across the polish-lithuanian commonwealth.  the town fell to the austrians with the paritions of poland, where it settled into a provincial center, something like the form in which it exists today.  during the second world war, the nazis murdered virtually all of the town's 5000 jews, plus 5000 jews from surrounding smaller towns, and in 1945 the communist government in poland expelled about 10,000 ukrainians to soviet ukraine, leaving an ethnically monocultural town that does not reflect its history.

i spent five days in jarosław, with a small group of poles and international visitors observing international holocaust remembrance day, this year marking the sixty-ninth anniversary of the liberation of auschwitz in january 1944.  through the course of many events in the town's one renovated synagogue––€“now an art school––€“and at the local college, and in tours of the town's architectural and cultural patrimony, as well as long solitary walks, i photographed what i can only call the citizens of this jarosław.
after i made the picture above, the woman turning the corner came up to me, and with a quizzical look on her face, asked me in german, "excuse me, but are you jewish?"

i told her i was. 

she paused, and looked into my eyes for a long moment, and told me in a combination of broken german and polish and a little english that she remembered when there were jews in jarosław, and that she had many jewish friends as a schoolgirl.  then she told me that her mother had saved a jewish family when the germans came, hiding them in the walls of her house.  i couldn't quite catch all the details, but what details i missed in language i retrieved from her body language, and the way she looked at me with a combination of sincerity and gentleness and deliberateness.  i asked her if i could make her portrait.
"i'm glad to see you here," she said in parting.  "i miss you."
jarosław, poland 
january 2014
Back to Top