This morning I went to my local university to find out what would be required to upgrade from my three-year BA in English to an Honours BA in Studio Art. Lately I’ve been feeling like there’s a whole wide world that I’m missing, a sort of lineage and vocabulary that I’ve learned enough to know of its existence, but not enough to know it. You might think that vocabulary doesn’t matter, especially in a visual medium, but I’ve always found that words influence our experience and perception. Sometimes you don’t feel something until you have a word for it. Or you can feel it, but you can’t distinguish it precisely. Or something. Naming is power.
I remember one time last summer at the drop-in, it was hot, and I felt like I was moving through molasses. Everyone else seemed to be moving slowly too. “I’m so lethargic,” I complained. And the other volunteer asked me what that word meant. I said it meant tired, even though I knew it wasn’t really doing the word justice. But I felt so awkward, like my language kept me an outsider. And it kind of does. I still think of that little encounter, mostly with guilty feelings for not letting him in on the nuance of lethargy.
Anyways, I want to learn more about the history of photography and critical ways of talking about it. Especially since I’m thinking about a project on suburbia, I figure it might be a good thing for me to know what work has come before me on the subject. So that is why I found myself at the university.
This need for knowledge also had me looking for ways to get books from the university library, and I discovered that alumni can get a free alumni card and borrow up to 20 books for two weeks at a time. So I got my card today and visited the library and even though it’s been almost a decade, I remembered exactly where the photography section was. It was kind of surreal walking among the stacks after so long. And like many places I return to have a long absence, it has its own smell, which although I didn’t notice it before today, I know hasn’t changed. I used to write poems when I was younger, and lately I’ve been feeling like that was good training for photography. Both art forms require you to really see. Anyways, walking through the library I remembered a poem I wrote that was actually published, a poem called “The Library” that when I read it last summer I decided was nonsense because I couldn’t make sense of it, but today, it made sense. So many rows upon rows of books, they really muffle the sound.
Anyways, the photography section is delightful. Barely a Digital Photography for Dummies or Catalogue of Dogs to be seen. I picked up Robert Adams’s Beauty in Photography, and devoured it this afternoon. Incidentally, one of the first essays talked about the importance of freshness in art and the resulting necessity of knowing who’s come before to create that freshness.
After dinner tonight, I devoured Charles Traub’s In the Still Life while my son dug nearby in the sand. I both loved and hated that he didn’t display captions with each image. It made me look longer and harder at each one though, and that’s always a good thing.
I also got Why People Photograph, also by Robert Adams, which I’ll take to the cottage next week. (Mind you, it’s a two-bedroom cottage that will be housing 8 adults and 6 kids, so it’s possible I may not be able to read it.) And finally, I’m excited to have discovered Thomas Daniel, with the catalogue to his exhibition Into My Eyes. I haven’t read it yet, but glancing through it at the library I was really taken with his portraits, and the obvious respect he has for the people he photographs.
All in all, it was a good day. And now it’s time for So You Think You Can Dance. Perfect.