Sunday, March 9, 2014

Anything you can grasp is not it

Photo of Thomas Merton by Ralph Eugene Meatyard
"Gene Meatyard's photographs, with their use of chance, motion, and multiple exposures, mirror the ever-changing ephemeral nature of the Self, which we normally fool ourselves into imagining as fixed and stable. When we open a book of photographic portraits, we are used to looking for how the photographer has captured the essence of his subject in a given image. 
These pictures don't do that. 
Rather than gratify what Merton called "the hunger of having a clear satisfying idea of who and what he is and where he stands," they subvert the whole notion of Essence, or of a Self to be captured. While some of the photographs tantalize us by catching Merton in what we imagine to be an especially revealing or even "spiritual" moment, others offer a blur, an awkward or even apparently unexpressive scene. Taken together, they present the lesson that Merton, like all of us, like any moment, cannot be grasped or fixed by an image, whether photographic or mental. 
Anything you can grasp is not it. 
Go after the Essence and you'll just come up with another moment's mask. (Ask Lucybell Crater.)"

- Barry Magid, from the Preface to "Father Louie, Photographs of Thomas Merton by Ralph Eugene Meatyard. 1991 Timken Publishers

1 comment:

  1. I think Magid is correct, that Meatyard wasn't attempting to make photos for the essence. It seems Meatyard plays, and so does Merton, in making the photos, and friendliness, the connection between subject and photographer is there, too. I particularly like the image of Merton playing the bongos, p. 101, because of Merton's blissful expression and the formal qualities of the photo.
    Another thought, about time: dissatisfaction and time seem linked. Satisfied, time seems without significance; when I'm dissatisfied, and that leads to the grasping (which can be within moments of satisfaction), all sorts of time related issues come up, e.g. I've wasted time, there isn't enough time to get where I think I should be, I've missed so much, I'm too old, etc. I'd like to believe that when I'm working creatively on something, the work develops not out of dissatisfaction but toward refining the love that happens when work is important to me (this notion comes from listening to Emmet Gowin's talk about his photography on the Aperture site).

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