Children often collect crystals, bones, stamps, birds’ nests and bubble gum cards. Are they attempting to emulate the random display of the bowerbird, or are they drawn to these singular objects because they have lives of their own because they offer new realms to the limited horizon of a young person? My feathers, bones, minerals, old books and more became personal artifacts, the sundry ephemera that expanded my world. As a child, I did not intellectualize upon my collecting. Even now it is not systematic; it is intuitive, a part of me.
I am interested in the way people think about the unknown. For most of human history, people have looked to the spirit world to explain what was going on. Animals floated in the night sky, and each object had its own "Anima Motrix", its’ own moving spirit. By the seventeenth century, clockwork explanations begin to invade the spirit world, opening doors to modern physics. New ideas form, the old are shattered, and sometimes old ideas pop up again among the new like graffiti on a wall. All is uncertainty and change, but optimists and bingo players are on the lookout for moments of perfect knowledge and perfect cards.
After many years of photographing books, I have decided to explore in depth three possibilities: a few Ethiopian Bibles (to be accurate, books of psalms), a sixteenth-century medical book by Ambrose Pare and an obscure Japanese manuscript. Although I know what the text in the Bibles is, these Bibles with their palimpsests of leather, wood, paint, threads, and gazelle skin pages make me want to explore them visually. I can read the English and some of the French edition of Pare, but Pare’s thinking is from another time, the edge of the enlightenment. The only thing familiar about the Japanese manuscript is its basic form as a book. The images you see here are the beginning of an ongoing project.
In these images of books, I am exploring the relationship between visual and verbal thinking. 'What does this picture mean?' is a question I am asked over and over. Trying to explain what a picture means is much harder than paraphrasing a poem and both endeavors usually yield only clumsy bits of information.
Words and pictures gain authority as soon as they enter books, tablets, and pages. We live in a culture of words. If I am waiting in an unfamiliar room, my eyes dart around for something to read. If there's a cereal box on the table I start reading.
A photograph captures a moment but it does not necessarily render that moment as our eye sees it. A normal lens with a tiny aperture will usually render with overall sharpness. As the lens opens the plane of sharpness narrows until all but a narrow slice of image parallel to the lens is sharp, the rest dissolved in colored light. A macro lens renders greatly magnified subjects with only a thin slice of sharpness. As I look into the camera’s viewfinder I travel through each tiny subject.
For thirty-five years I have made pictures that come out of the still life genre: the comfort of the table with food or a vase of flowers and the despair of the vanitas and memento mori with their reminders that life and death are inseparable. The images retain the formal shell of the expected but have elements of the unexpected.
My husband John died of Alzheimer's on December 8, 2016. When he left home three years ago I began to find the little piles of notes he left behind. They were supposed to remind him of everything from the names of friends to the places we went on our honeymoon. As I photographed the stacks and individual notes, I began to imagine how things might have changed in his mind as he lost the ability to read and comprehend what the notes were to him. As his Alzheimer's progressed I began to imagine what his mind saw in many situations. . .
Every year in my backyard, messages are written in the darkest ink. In late October and early November white spires push through the earth, grass, and leaves. As the mushrooms open and lift their caps, black spores shower out and soon the ink follows, sinking back into the earth. Wrenched from their habitat and placed on paper, these mushrooms still perform, sending out black powder and then a copious amount of black ink that looks blue if it reflects the sky. These are messages left just before winter...