the book of shadows
shadow of woman. puff sleeves. little children. wrestle. black horse. a coyote. four chickens. sheep. milk the cow. showing her heels. golf swing – one two. cousins. cat – one two. me myself. gene. boxers. fur trim. shadow wearing feather hat. highways. pathways. the mirror. see.
I was looking through the bargain shelves at my local bookstore. I saw a strange book bound in blue velvet. It was couple dollars. It was worth a look, I thought, and I sat there and read the cover. ‘The Book of Shadows’. Okay.
There were no words to be seen while I slowly turned each page. The photographs seduced me into long gazes, but didn’t offer answers to all my questions.
It actually took me a while to understand why the book had that title. Each photographed memory in the collection has the shadow of the photographer in the image. It hurt my pride that I didn’t put two and two together immediately, but it showed me how quickly people forget about the man or woman behind the lens.
Jeffrey Fraenkal is very aware that the photographer is almost always a dismissed notion and quickly forgotten. He is a collector, and has his own gallery (Fraenkal Gallery) in San Francisco. He was the editor of this blue velvet book. A very strange, marvellous, eye-opening book comprised of photographs from America’s history.
When the first Brownie was introduced in 1900, photography burst into a phenomenon that spread across the country(/world). For one us dollar, you could be the owner of a cardboard box camera that took two and one quarter pictures on 117 roll film. Anybody now could afford to have their picture taken, and afford to take pictures of cats and golf swings too.
No need to have special instruction to take pictures, or have a darkroom either. A simple mechanical piece was the only thing to it, and you mailed in your camera back when you shot the whole roll (receiving prints soon after in exchange). Through the leap in technology, we have memories of a time our great grandparents lived in.
A painter who’s subject is a black horse could not possibly paint a shadow of his own body without the intention of doing so. When someone gazes through the camera lens – beholding the objects in front – they tend to see what they want to see. It’s our brains; they’re smart filtering machines. A camera has no brain. It’s just a dumb box that records what is really there. That’s how a shadow of the photographer, or the shadow of the tripod leg, is overlooked at times. It’s a strange phenomenon, and only with this tool, the camera, could the presence of the image-maker be such an accident.
What a thought to collect these ‘mistakes’, as opposed to collection photographs with certain subject matter (like women in heels, babies in carriages or landscapes). It forced me to think about the woman with the feather hat and puffed sleeves whose shadow draws across the lawn in that photograph. Who was she? How old was she? The mother, sister, or daughter? Or the girlfriend who wasn’t supposed to be there?
The images don’t answer my questions.
“By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.” Photographs last longer than memories, and they last longer than our bodies, we know this to be true. So we take lots of photographs. But all of our memories – the negatives and prints – when we’re gone, what will they mean to generations after us? Anything?
I keep wondering about these things – I wonder why we take pictures, and why we feel the need to remember everything. Why is humankind obsessed with history? I know I want to remember everything, but I don’t know my reason for it. I love history, but I don’t know why. I wish I could go back in time, and be that shadow. Find my answers.
Dear Cousin: - This is a picture of all us College girls. How do you like our looks? Say George I shall have to give you a scolding if you don’t send me one of your pictures. D.S.T.