Borges, at some point before going blind, wrote, “A man sets out to draw the world. As the years go by, he peoples a space with images of provinces, kingdoms, mountains, bays, ships, islands, fishes, rooms, instruments, stars, horses, and individuals. A short time before he dies, he discovers that the patient labyrinth of lines traces the lineaments of his own face.”
As I walk through the doors of the Terence Robert Gallery and set my eyes upon the photographs that make up the exhibition “In the Moment,” I know that any meaning which the photographs – frozen, infinite, and obsessed with both consumption and repetition – can hope to express can only be drawn from me. And, of course, other retinas and brains that encounter them here.
I sit on a padded bench in front of four massive prints. Two are of a dock painted sea-shell white and gray, protruding out and into an ominously calm sepia-tinged lake. I’m reminded of running to the marina in my atomic valley town at the end of middle school day. Another boy, two or three girls and I run there for weeks in May, when the bell has rung and the air is hot. We swim for an hour then stand in the water near the concrete all the while screaming our fallible identities into the air, impugning the false assumptions others might project, or want to project, on our flitting, glib expositions.
On one of the prints, the dock is met square-on, leading us onto it. It’s a viewpoint that pulls me to the Colombian coastal jungle near the Panama border. I stand on this dock, peering out at the ocean. Everything’s blue. My girlfriend’s hand is in mine and we’re waiting for a boat that signals the end of our trip – a return to a reality dripping with obligations. The feeling is somewhat unnerving and I’m not sure whether it’s the job that awaits me, the cool breeze in the air, which seems somehow intrusive to this environment, or the images of Cormac McCarthy’s naked Judge gleaming in both gold and blood, dancing his way through the recesses of my brain.
Behind me are prints of ostentatious neon signs hanging in front of theatres and restaurants. I’m in Canada’s Wonderland and I’m a young thirteen. There are flashing neon lights around me and I’ve won a massive stuffed lion, or bear, or tiger, which I give to a girl who will trap me in the seductive snare that is she.
On a small wall to the left is an overhead shot of a blue train passing by on track. The ground’s dusted with snow. I think of the trains in Beunos Aires, rattling over the tracks. Men in beige suits and maroon hats stand by the doors and check tickets. Men in business suits wait for the screech of the breaks before their stop with a smoke between their lips and a lighter in their hands. Girls’ legs pour like dark honey out of plaid skirts. In Canada we don’t have student uniforms. But the images quickly dissipate, when I look at the snow, for though it gets cold, there’s none there. I look at the tangle of electrical wires at the top of the picture and think of rhizomes.
On the ground floor to left, behind the desk, where the woman is working, are prints of Ottawa. These prints do nothing to dissuade one from the feeling that Ottawa is too still, too quiet, and too quaint – that the residents don’t have secrets that are burning inside of them.
Continuing to the right is a print of lower Manhattan. It’s still, the photo, and yet it’s vibrant like the concrete is bubbling. We’re in New York and staying at a hotel that my Dad had found. For two days we walked through the silent basement garage that was filled with covered cars. On our last day the covers had been removed and the cars now revealed themselves to be polished, black and immaculate. They exuded sentiments of power and fists, bill-folds and bullets. Swagger. Cracking grout in the walls of morality.
Straight ahead on the wall is the last and large photo: an empty dock and a sunset. Back on the Ottawa. We’ve brought a pile of clams up from the bottom and are smashing them open on the wood. Someone will probably cut their foot open. We’ll skip them off of the water even though they don’t skip well. The sun will go down soon, and so we’ll go home before we get cold.
“In the Moment” will feature at the Terence Robert Gallery (531 Sussex) until October 2nd.