Whose hours measured? Mothers, daughters, kitchen increments; baking, what nourishes not bodies but souls; lost now, toppled, nameless, a score of thanksgivings in ruin. Fractured clocks and bare larders; the dials where she turned up the flames, (pillaged by scavengers for pennies) bent over igniting her cigarette, squinting she holds back her hair, against the smoke, against the prospect of burning; she taps on the rims with a spoon and the shack fills with the sweet smell of onions and decay.
Why does a photograph affect me so? What is it that touches me, physically, spiritually? How can an image, a mere reflection of a reflection, capture and hold the attention of a living human being, beyond mere memory, curiosity?
You can go through a thousand photographs and find only one has it – a startling, riveting quality that often belies content. Roland Barthes talks about a concept he calls punctum, a personal connection he shares with a photograph, an element of the image which pierces, him, the subjective watcher. But is there a more universal element of these ‘special’ photographs, the ones that move our spirits, that somehow attracts us as humans; as animals?
Is there some component of content or lighting or composition that works at a subconscious level, causing us to pause, to look closer? Maybe it’s a combination of all three. But some photos have something that others do not and that something can be random. It seems that it cannot be planned. There is something beyond the technical that makes it emotional. Beautiful lighting does not guarantee such a connection. A fascinating subject does not. Composition alone is not the answer. So there is something beneath technique, beyond the photographer herself, though maybe, sometimes, channeled through her.
What about this broken stove-clock toppled over in the kitchen of an abandoned shack? The wires ripped out, the clock face cracked, the empty cupboards, the debris on the floor. It tells a story that we can understand. Of course the clock is the focal point of the image, though there’s a lot more going on around it. Clocks, though, demand our attention. They’re godlike in how we structure our lives around them. It’s almost a reflex to look at a circle ringed with numbers. So we look here and what we see disturbs us on some level because we don’t see what we expect. The correct time cannot be found here. Time, here, no longer functions. It’s stopped. And everything that might orient us to the world is distorted.
We see this world, this photograph, from a child’s-eye-view and all the interfaces between these objects, the parts designed for touch, for interaction, are missing. The knobs and dials, the cabinet doors. The numbers are on their backs and the oven’s tipped on its side. And then there’s the geometry. Sixteen circles, twelve rectangles, eight triangles and the pools of light that create those sublime shadows. If this image is a dream, it’s a nightmare. It’s working on so many levels of symbolic meaning and physical depth it’s staggering. There are three distinct areas of space, and each of those areas possesses elements which further divide them into thirds. If you look closely there’s a lot going on here.
We measure binary periods of darkness and light. We break them down into hours and give the hours numbers, and to the spaces between the hours we give more numbers, and so on. There used to be mechanical hands that spun slowly around the faces of clocks, whose movements we would use to chart time’s progression. Circles on top of circles. Just as the sun travels its circular path, and the moon and the earth theirs. Circles within circles. Clock hands used to continuously pass over numbers. Time could be fixed, conceptually, by assigning to it a sequence of numbers. If you could read the numbers, you could fix yourself in time. You could say, ‘I was here at that time, I will be there at that time and I am here at this time.’ I was, I will, I am. That’s power. That’s the illusion of power. But here, in this photograph, there is no more time. Here, it’s7:30 forever.
We anchor ourselves to numbers. We anchor ourselves to space. We orient our bodies and our minds to right angles and straight lines and perfect circles. Such geometry occurs nowhere in nature. It is wholly an invention of the mind in its attempt to create order, structure and as a bulwark against death. It is a mind-generated construct to affirm the body, and the notion of separateness.
But none of this occurred to me when I pulled my car over to the side of the road to investigate this abandoned shack. Nor did I think about the photograph itself. I don’t know why I got down on my knees. I don’t know why I was drawn to the stove. I gave no thought whatsoever to the taking of the photograph. I was, in that moment, on subconscious autopilot, guided by something beyond myself. And of the two dozen shutter openings I triggered that afternoon, this was the one that struck, the one that yielded in a photograph that elusive it. Through this one window, this unique portal, I have seen all of man’s folly, all of his arrogance, his hubris and, possibly, his doom. One photo.
A thousand words is cheap. This photo, to me, is worth every word ever written.
o O o