A Dull Brown, Phillip Ortiz
Coffee and Clocks, Sharon (Xian) Yang
The girl sits in a copper chair stained green from prolonged exposure to oxygen next to the window of the coffee shop, so close to the window in fact that there is a circle of fog by her left shoulder on the tinted glass from her breath. Her breath smelled of white chocolate caramel mocha with skim milk, no whipped cream; by cutting off the whipped cream and substituting 2% milk with skim milk, the girl is convinced that the calories from her drink totaled zero. The girl turns her head away from the window to face an owl-shaped clock hanging on the wall in front of her; the owl-shaped clock was two minutes and seven seconds behind, but no one's counting. Her eyes are fixated meticulously on the second hand of the clock as time, the third party observer with perfect, unbiased opinion, ticked away; three minutes and 32 seconds of time ticked away before the girl's rounded hazel eyes began to squint into their irritated shape. The girl decides that she will wait another one minute and 28 seconds for him because it's a universal rule that no girl should have to wait more than five minutes for a member of the opposite sex.
Ten minutes and 47 seconds pass, and the girl still sits in the same copper chair with the same expression on her face and the same circle of white chocolate caramel mocha scented fog on the window by her left shoulder. Her once immaculate tickle-me-pink manicure has chipped tips from consistently tapping on the dark, mahogany cherry wood coffee tables, and her kiss-me-berry lips are now pursed into a thin, stern line. The girl is slightly beyond annoyed but not quite angry just yet; she reaches into her jacket pocket and takes out her LG Dare touchscreen phone (she had wanted an iPhone and recalls specifically telling her parents that the iPhone was essential to her happiness and wellbeing since everyone had one except for her: of course everyone did not include the overwhelming majority of the population who did not own an iPhone) and texts him. The girl stares expectantly at her phone, waiting for the screen to light up again indicating that he had written a text back to her. The screen of her phone remains dark, thus the girl comes to the conclusion that his phone is either broken into pieces or lost and never to be found again. Continuing to stare at the phone, she sighs and decides that his phone better be broken into at least ten pieces and in flames.
The boy rushes through the crowd on the cement sidewalk across the street from the coffee shop; glancing down at his worn leather watch, he happily smiles thinking that he is going to be eight minutes early: this would be the first thing to go well for him this morning. He doesn't realize that his worn leather watch, that once belonged to his great-grandfather who had a knack for being late to everything, was two minutes and seven seconds behind. The boy crossed the street at the crosswalk, not taking any chances on jaywalking (today was one of those days that unfolded according to Murphy's Law), and as he approached the coffee shop, he was genuinely surprised to see the girl already seated inside with her hazel eyes slanted into their irritated shape. He walks into the coffee shop and immediately notices that the girl is wearing a push-up bra (her boobs didn't normally look this big).
The girl noticed the boy across the street and instantly takes off her warm, white jacket; she had been planning this outfit for weeks (low-cut shirt, her most flattering jeans that cost her a whole week's paycheck, stilettos that gave her feet blisters on top of the blisters that already exist from trying to wear the heels in, and a push-up bra)–the perfect breakup outfit. It was sexy enough to let him know that he was lucky and to remind him afterwards that he used to have a hot girlfriend, yet it was sophisticated enough to convey confidence and maturity instead of slut. The girl stares at the boy as he bursts through the doors to the coffee shop and notices that he had on two different pairs of shoes, stains on his shirt, and wrinkles down his khaki pants. The boy clearly had no clue how to dress, and a fashionable girl cannot be seen with an uncoordinated, messy boy.
The boy sits down across from the girl and proudly mentions that not only is he on time this morning, but he is actually eight minutes early; he didn't realize that the male sex should never mention time because they can only be wrong according to the female. Time, the third party observer with perfect, unbiased opinion, is not so unbiased as the owl-shaped clock matched the boy's worn leather watch, both two minutes and seven seconds behind, both blissfully ignorant of other clocks and watches with the so-called accurate time, and both consistent in reminding people that being on time is an impossibility that is overrated (the measurement of time is invented by humans, humans are flawed, therefore the measurement of time is flawed). The boy barely finishes his sentence before the girl reprimands him about his forgetfulness, his selfishness, his attire, his inability to respond to texts, his shoes, his posture, and as she continues the prolonged list of faults, the boy can't help but think about how the Colts lost to the Broncos the night before; props to Brandon Stokley.
The boy notices a silence, meaning that the girl had stopped castigating him; the girl notices that the boy was not paying any attention to what she had to say. The boy comes to the conclusion that this silence is his cue to tell the story of his horrendous morning; he can't decide whether he should lie, in which case she won't believe, or tell the truth, in which case she might not believe anyways. Lies are short and simple while the truth is long, complicated, and unbelievable. The girl cannot come up with enough reasons not to end the relationship and bites her kiss-me-berry lips as she formulates her breakup speech in her head. The perfect breakup speech consists of three parts–an apology, an explanation, and a goodbye. The girl had just barely perfected her explanation when she felt his hand cover hers. She begins to move her hand away, but the boy took her movement as an initiative to intertwine their fingers together. The girl thinks the boy is too dense to recognize that she wants to leave him; the boy doesn't want the girl to think he is too dense to recognize that she wants to leave him. The girl thinks that the boy takes her for granted; the boy thinks that the girl is beautiful. The boy grins (partly because he knows the girl has a weakness for his grins and partly because he simply enjoys her company despite her anger), and the girl's bottom lip starts to tremble.
The boy glances at the girl and catches sight of a sparkle, a pearl of tears pool at the corners of her lugubrious hazel eyes. The boy believes that tears are the secret weapon employed by the female sex when they want the males to feel useless and emasculate, but at the same time the boy believes that the male sex should do everything in their power to prevent the female from crying. He decides to tell her the long, complicated, and unbelievable truth (but as a firm believer that nothing should go to waste, he saves his fabricated story in his list of excuses for future use). The boy believes that the girl is worth the long, complicated, and unbelievable truth; he believes that she deserves his effort in telling the truth. The boy touches his fingers to her freckled cheek to catch the tear spilling out of her bright eyes (the boy gets bonus points for not commenting on the mascara stains) and begins to explain his forgetfulness, his selfishness, his attire, his inability to respond to texts, his shoes, his posture, and how seeing her was the best part of his day.
And that was enough. The girl, with her white chocolate caramel mocha breath, chipped tickle-me-pink nails, mascara stained cheeks, and faded kiss-me-berry lips, smiled (she'll tolerate him for a bit longer, or just until she gets a date with his best friend); the boy, with his worn leather watch, stained shirt, wrinkled khaki pants, and mismatched shoes, thanked god that he was able to pull this off (he still couldn't remember how he lost one of his shoes last night: that party was ridiculous).
The Last Door, Pearson Sharp
It was not long ago that I called my home Number 111 of E. Priory Street, Exeter, Massachusetts. It was a squalid little hole, yet my income bade me suffer the extremities of wintry cold and summer heat, and the peculiar folk who answered for my neighbours. I was a writer then, and I suppose I might fancy myself as such now, though my publishers give me dreadful accounts of what few books I have written. Nevertheless, my humble beginnings recommended me take residence in the cheerless quarters of that gothic bastion, its steeped windows gazing balefully out across the Ardolyn River.
My lodgings were quaint, rustic even, with remnants of Victorian furniture staunchly rooted to the antiquated oaken floors. My one suitcase was quickly emptied into the voluminous chest of drawers across from my four poster bed, and I occupied the remainder of the afternoon in quiet rumination as I explored the maze of dilapidated streets and alleyways which surrounded my new lodgings. Crumbling brick edifices and ancient stone archways lead to leaning black corridors which probably hadn’t seen the sun for generations. The buildings, long neglected of repairs or rudimentary structural care, leaned forlornly together at their tops, and brought to my mind the strong semblance of Shambles Street in my far away home of York.
I saw little of my neighbours that day, or on any of the following days. It was by its nature a reclusive community, shunning by some inveterate instinct the surreptitious eye of the civilised world. This suited my taste very well, for I was in no eager frame of mind to be thrust into a garrulous band of well-wishers when my heart still ached for the green fields of my home I had left far behind. Furthermore, I found that solitude encouraged many of my finer pieces of work, and the thoughtfulness it provoked was lost to the boisterous calamity of most outsiders.
One night, several weeks after I had moved in and as I was becoming familiar with my new quarters, a sound brought me from my reverie as I sat dozing before my large stone hearth. The November air seemed master over the poorly insulated building, and I found that a blazing fire was necessary at all times to maintain any sort of feeling in my toes. As I lay procrastinating one of my many unfinished works, I faintly discerned a rapping noise, as of someone knocking upon a door. It continued for perhaps half a minute, then fell silent. This struck me as odd, for during the entire length of my stay thus far I had heard no indication that I indeed shared habitation with anyone else at all. In fact, many of the residents—from what vague reconnaissance I could gather—enjoyed their solitude as much as I and visitors were an unwelcome intrusion. Nevertheless, it was not my business, and aside from the oddity of the event, I returned to my peaceful slumbering.
This was repeated some nights later, and again I was stirred to curiosity about the nature of this intruder. I am certain the other guests felt similarly, though like myself, none were so inclined to investigate and risk the possibility of detestable interaction with some foreigner.
My writing progressed by degrees—fuelled by my new surroundings and the outré atmosphere that abounded in this forgotten hospice. I produced short stories and novelettes for various newspapers and magazines, and though I made no fortune, my rent was secure and I never really wanted for a meal.
I remember that December was a particularly lonely month, and I saw few of the other residents. Creaking stairs and floorboards in the hallway during the dark hours of the night were the only indications that there was other life in this gothic sanctuary. One night, some days before the Yule fires and Christmas festivities, I lay in repose upon my bed, staring up at the mouldering curtains that festooned the four posters. The clock upon the mantle marked the hour as a quarter to midnight, and the candle by my dresser was beginning to gutter when the rapping noise down the hallway sounded loudly. It sent a shock through me, bracketing the previous silence with a harsh report. I sat up and moved to the edge of my bed, listening. The knocking continued, for many long moments before all grew quiet. I heard no door open, however, and no retreating footsteps down the narrow wooden stairwell.
I continued to listen intently, moving to my door to hear more acutely whatever might take place without my room. In a moment, the knocking was repeated, and with more fervour than before. I was started back from my listening post, and upon a sudden and bold instinct, quietly unbolted my door and peered into the gloom down the hallway in the direction of the intruder.
The hallway was perhaps thirty paces in length, with four rooms in total: two upon the wall, and one at either end, with the stairwell comprising the majority of the opposite wall. I was the second door from the room where I had heard the knocking, my room opening to the stairwell, and the corner room perpendicular to mine.
I stared intensely through the darkness towards the far end of the hall, though I could make nothing out. A slight crease of light poured out of my own doorway and made me uncomfortably aware of my conspicuousness in that utter blackness of the corridor. The knocking had stopped when I had opened my door, and so with a pounding heart I closed it once more, bolting it firmly. My mind was racing, and though I did not hear the knocking repeated that night, I must admit that I slept very little.
The morning greeted me with a glimmering light about my casement, the snow gathering in silent increments in the streets below and upon the frozen river beyond. Although my rations of food were dwindling and my weekly trip to the market overdue, I could not coerce myself into a venture through the piercing cold of that New England storm. I spent the day retiring by the fire, reading a few dusty volumes the previous occupant had carelessly left behind in an old bookshelf. The day passed pleasantly enough, and had nearly finished one book by the time the worn clock upon the mantle struck nine.
A slight wind had picked up, and its chorused voice sang mournfully about the battered stones pediments of the building. Knowing I would not leave that day, I had not bothered to change from my night clothes, wearing only a thick blanket on top of me as I reclined reading. I shivered from the draughts of chill air creeping from beneath the window sill, and scarce had I pulled the covers snugly about me when I was started by a tremendous noise. The knocking sounded louder than ever before, and made me uncomfortably aware of my neck hair standing on end.
I sat motionless for some time, listening to the rapping sound as it resounded through the hall and my room. I thought that surely someone must answer this rude summons, whether it be the desired tenant or a fellow occupant upon this floor whose ire was finally raised. Yet no response was made, and the knocking continued, growing ever fiercer until I was certain I could hear the cracking of the wood.
With a stoicism that I find difficult to account for at this distant time of recollection, I mustered courage from some terrible, unknown reserve and lifted my candle from its perch by my nightstand. With exceeding care, I undid the latch upon my door and stepped into the gloom. The knocking suddenly ceased, and shielding my eyes I held the candle forward, expecting to see some unseemly ruffian glaring back at me through the shadows. However, the hallway was vacant. There was no sound or sign of movement as I searched meekly through the stygian shadows that surrounded me. A hollow feeling of terror slowly rose within me as my confusion and uncertainty regained my conscience from their brief lapse into bravado.
I stood pondering in fear and vacillating between proceeding towards the door and retreating to the haven of my own room. Although I loathed the idea of returning cravenly to my room, I fairly jumped in fright as the knocking abruptly resumed from that last door in the hall! I stared in disbelief as a clear, distinct pounding emanated from the heavy, wooden frame; indeed, the door was visibly disturbed by minute degrees. My curiosity overcoming the dread I felt inside, I crept slowly forward, bending slightly as though prepared to spring away at the slightest sign of danger.
As I drew nearer, I understood suddenly why this phantom intruder had eluded my gaze: the knocking was coming from inside the room. This struck in me an equal sense of foreboding, for what ill cause should drive a man to beat upon his own door? I stood listening for a moment, and then called out, inquiring who was there.
At this the knocking ceased entirely, and a dread stillness enveloped the little hallway. My pulse thudded dully in my ears as I listened for some reply. A shrill gust of wind tore around the stairwell and slowly died. In those moments the darkness seemed to grow more intense, the iciness of winter numbing me as it ebbed from all its unseen fissures.
I was about to call again when of a sudden the knocking resumed, but with a violent, animal ferocity. It was as if whatever had been knocking had thrown itself against the door and was now clamouring with all its might at the oaken panels, and I turned and fled in terror back to my room, frantically fumbling with the latch and dropping the candle in the process.
I stumbled back across my room and fell into the far corner, managing somehow to grab a poker from the fireplace as I passed it. The knocking had stopped sometime during my panicked flight, and the only sound which remained was the warbling song of the wind. I listened long as its desultory notes slowly carried away the long hours of the night.
The morning held no solace for me, and despite the increasing scarcity of my food, I declined to leave my apartment to enter the hallway, such was the impression the previous night had made upon my psyche. I admit to being no stalwart champion of heroism; I was not tall, nor was I particularly strong of build. I was by no means a weak man, nor was I in most cases timid; but I placed far greater stock in my skills of philosophy than I did my prowess as a warrior. And so I let the day pass as quietly as I could manage, throwing nervous glances towards my bolted door at each sound that pierced the frigid silence of my room.
The evening shadows began to creep and crawl across the river towards the opposite bank. They climbed with sickly intent along the ancient facades of the steeped Georgian houses, and as I watched their lingering black fingers, a dread began to work its way insidiously into my heart. Each vagrant noise which chimed through the boreal air was as the icy claws of some savage creature upon my mind. I stoked the fire fervently in the hopes that its licking flames would drown any undue clamouring from out the hall.
And indeed, the evening was spent in a peaceful enough manner, the fire roaring voraciously at the sustenance I threw at it. In time I found myself lulled into a sort of languid slumber, starting at the snarling wind from time to time but never fully rising to consciousness. The night ebbed away in this fashion, and the following day I found I had courage enough to escape my confines and procure food from the local market; though, as I left my apartment, I dared not look down the gloomy hallway towards that last door.
Days and weeks passed without a recurrence of that awful night, and as we are occasioned to, I began to forget the specificities of my encounter at that demon threshold. My mind excused the event as an overzealous fear of the dark, of perhaps a disagreement between my supper and my stomach that night, and soon I had nearly forgotten the event; yet whenever I chanced to leave or return, I was still unaccountably unsettled by the door at the end of the hall.
It was mid February before I took any notice of the door again, and this time for different reasons entirely. My attention was drawn to it one evening as I was returning from a stroll by the river, and as I unlocked my door and removed my scarf, a faint smell drew my gaze down the hallway. It was quite mild, and smelled slightly of mildew. I thought little enough of it, and entered my room without much pause. Over the course of the next few days the smell grew markedly more distinct, amplifying in volumes what I had only faintly discerned before.
As a week went by, and then two, the smell became overpowering, funnelling down the stairwell so that I was greeted with it immediately upon my entrance to the building. It became pervasive, so that even in my room with a fire blazing, I was unable to escape that invidious odour.
A butcher had worked near my home in York, in the Shambles as it happened, and I recall the smell of reeking flesh clearly as I passed by his shop each day. The smell was indeed unavoidable, and my olfactory memory was awakened keenly by this invasive scent from behind that closed door at the end of the hall. I made a few trips to the landlord to obtain a resolution to this dilemma, but he was an old man, and seemed either not to hear my remonstrations, or more probably did not care.
As February became March and even March drew on with no supplication of my distress, the repulsive odour turned villainous—its necrophagous tendrils suggesting things my overwrought imagination was all too keen to indulge. The knocking had been terrifying, that was certain, but memory had whittled its edge to a stubble, and was nothing compared to this monstrosity. I could no longer think upon any other subject; to attempt to write was a hopeless affair, and sleeping became a laborious and nightmarish exercise.
As I lay turning and tossing one night in mid March, deprived as I was by what had now become weeks of restless hours and no sleep, I resolved myself to end this debacle. My limbs were imbued with that nervous energy that often precipitates unusual undertakings in the small hours of the night, such as mad writing or long, ambling walks in rapt concentration.
Lifting my candle from my nightstand as before, I noted the time of twelve thirty upon the antediluvian clock above the mantle. Stepping into the shadows of the hallway once more, I strode more confidently in the direction of the wretched door. However my firm pace was checked by incredible waves of an odour that can only be describe as otherworldly. I had reached the penultimate door to that foul chasm, and already felt as though further steps would plunge me into unconsciousness, such was the stench.
I stood drawing pained breaths through my nightshirt for some time, contemplating the soundness of my previous resolve. The oaken door was no more than ten feet in front of me, but each step increased exponentially the putrescent odour which poured fourth from that abominable vault. Phantasmagoric images whirled in my mind, encouraged by some lurid spectres that flitted about the corners of my tormented imagination—vile personifications of the acrid smell I now faced.
Almost without thought I stepped slowly forward, fumbling through the vacuous folds of charnel air before me. The chiaroscuro of candlelight and shadows played upon my mind, and blasphemous horrors drew their foetid fingers across my eyes. All prior intent of remedying this appalling situation had fled from me. I was now propelled by a pure sense of hideous curiosity, terrified and amazed at once by what might be responsible for this mephitic effluence.
Upon reaching the door I was nearly overcome; the stench was now a physical manifestation of evil, throwing itself impiously against my sanity. As I reached out to knock, a loathsomeness crept up my spine and through me and I nearly recoiled. Upon the knock of my frigid knuckles against that ancient wood, my mind reeled in a stupor of nausea and oppressive terror. In that knocking, so reminiscent of the despised knocking I had known months before, a wave of fear consumed my senses. All notion of rational thought or reality was banished in those moments that I stood stricken before that gaping black door.
As I stood paralysed before the door—the handle—the final gear in the lever between this world and the next, began slowly to turn! Rattling once as I had pounded upon the door, the handle thence began to draw downwards, its slow descent in those ghastly moments like the falling of a guillotine towards my naked neck. The putrid, abhorrent smell coalesced in my fraying mind with the terror of the stygian maw before me. The crevice in the frame widened, and I stared for a moment into a yawning gulf of darkness. My defences collapsed into ruin. Panicked beyond all reconciliation, I fled down the nighted stairwell and into the fathomless night, forsaking all of my possessions in my careless escape.
I spent the night in a public house under the sympathetic care of the landlord’s wife, who tended to me in my delirious fever. When I had regained my reason enough the next morning, I sent for my things to be delivered there, and upon the next steamer bound for England I booked passage. I have returned thence to my prior residence in York, near the lowly Shambles and humble alleyways of my youth.
To rebuke me for my absolute fright of that unwholesome evening is unfair, for the circumstances cannot possibly be understood by anyone who was not there. As a writer, I may command a power of words to place my readers under a certain awareness of events and places, but it is beyond my power by many leagues to aptly describe to anyone what transpired in that dark little hallway that night.
And indeed, I have no knowledge of what became of that wretched place. I knew none of my fellow tenants, nor even the landlord by any significant measure, and so its story has passed into the Grimoire decadence of my most grotesque remembrances, and I pray it shall stay there forever. Yet the effects of that night have never wholly subsided into memory. My friends know that any errand they have which passes by the butchers shops in the Shambles must be undertaken without my company. The rotting stench which pervades those tiny byways and shop windows is far too reminiscent of a place I have long tried to forget. And I perhaps need not mention that when acquaintances come to call, they have learned to ring the bell rather than knock.
Happy Easter, Neil Anthony Camera
"In the spirit of the holiday, would you care for a Cadbury egg?"
I look up from the novel in front of me, which I can't seem to read, to see a forty-something year-old bald man offering me a small, egg-shaped candy wrapped in foil.
"I certainly don't know you, and I don't believe that you know me," he says, "but I believe that over the course of this bus ride we could become well-enough acquainted through opening a steady stream of conversation, perhaps enough, even, to become friends."
I stare. I gawk. For several moments he doesn't reply. After a seemingly infinite awkward silence he nods towards the front of the bus and asks, "So where ya headed?"
"I'm on PCP," I reply. "Your face looks to be a bright, translucent shade of green to me." It's his turn to gawk. I offer him a sour-neon gummy worm from inside of the bag in my lap. In a rather unsurprising turn of events, he doesn't accept.
Bright neon lights flash incessantly through the windows as the bus slowly creeps towards some unknown destination. I lower my head and stare at my hands. They're hard and cold. I feel an uneasy sickness in my stomach.
My world is dark right now. Dark and quiet. It's easily been minutes since the seat in front of me melted into the checkered-panel floor below it, but it feels like it's been hours. It all happened when I let my guard down. I should have never taken my book out... all those tiny little ink scratches amount to zero when your mind is stained... First, they start twisting, contorting themselves into archaic, yet familiar symbols, and before you know it, you're lost, and your entire world has fallen out from under you, disappearing into a black, indescribably perilous void of unforgiving, pure shadow. I know where I am, what I've done, and what I intend to do. I'm riding the bus to 14th and Maple, so I can meet Vince, and I've taken roughly 600mg of straight-up, hard-hitting PCP to cover the stink of death I'm about to plunge myself into, which explains my distorted perception of time and space. Most importantly, though, is that I'm going to put two bullets in that sonnuva bitch the moment I catch sight of him. 'Fucker shorted me on last week's fix. He seems to have it in his head that he can fuck around with a guy who he's known his entire life, let alone a guy like me. To be clear, you don't fuck with guys like me. In all honesty, you shouldn't even come anywhere near guys like me. I make a living off of cleaning up other guys like me, so I'd say my opinion on the subject holds a certain degree of validity.
Flash back to Mr. fucking Cadbury, who's jittering his fucking teeth off in the seat across from mine. Summoning his courage, he narrows his wrinkled eyes and asks me, "What's it like?"
"Imagine that Doctor from "The Marathon Man" taking a pair of pliers and yanking your teeth right out of your face, while some kid holds a fucking etch-a-sketch to your eyes and shakes the fucking thing until the magnetized little black specks in the screen begin to piece together, forming some ungodly image of mysterious wonder. Then image a bullet flying through the fucking center of the whole damn thing and ripping your face into two clean pieces. That's absolutely nothing what this is like. This... this is indescribable. You can take that Cadbury egg of yours and stick it in the most creative place you can imagine, because right now... I'm at a place miles from where I'd ever need one of those disgusting, cream-filled pieces of shit."
My stop's up. I stand up and walk to the front of the bus, flipping the bird to Mr. joyous, balding Cadbury shithead. The steps roll out into a blood-encrusted walkway, riddled with bones and specks of emaciated human flesh, or so my eyes lead me to believe. My cautious descent leaves me at the corner of 9th and Maple.
The word, "Fuck," emanates from my lips. No one replies. Nobody ever does.
Homemade, Carlie Holmboe
Last year I spent Fourth of July across the kitchen table from my mother counting the number of shots she could swallow before the sobbing began. My applause started around number ten, she laughed, and with an impish smile motioned for me to bring her the full bottle that was meant for the next morning. Who could blame her, we were having so much fun. So, I unscrewed the top and pretended to take a good long swig even grimacing with bliss. She hooted and clutched the bottle between freshly painted red, white, and blue fingernails drowning the miniature glass in front of her. We peeked through the curtains at fireworks that flashed somewhere in the distance. The whole time I was twisting the car keys deep inside my pocket.
It wasn’t too long before she began stripping confetti from her hair and gurgling some lines that she’d heard at the grocery store about the injustices of the United States government, and how she wished we hadn’t even celebrated this wicked holiday in the first place. I asked her what was so wicked about it, and offered her another drink. She took the glass of vodka from my hand and raised it above her head.
“I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free. And somethin somethin, somethin, gave that right to me,” she sang those words with such genuine tears brimming in her empty eyes. I elbowed her until she crumpled against the armrest, and then I flipped on the television.
This year things had to be different. My mom could count her own shots, and I would count mine. It was sixteen, by the way, last year. So around eight Joe pulled up in his shitty low rider pickup and motioned for me to join the mob of people in the bed who were twirling sparklers and sucking on cigarettes. I slammed the front door leaving Mom and her friend Kathy inside sloshing margaritas on the rug and rubbing their flabby tits against each other while dancing to Kenny Chesney.
I climbed in the back of the truck and placed a cigarette between my lips smiling at the way it felt. Out there in the sticky summer air I knew we were all feeling it. That need to test the limits of our nerve, to drive too fast, and lean sloppily over the edge and watch the white lines pass in front of our eyes. We thought that maybe we’d die tonight before even graduating from high school, or getting a real job, or getting married. Maybe we’d die while we were still alive, before it all became an act. And maybe that wouldn’t be so bad.
We were racing down the road toward that street that marked the city’s limit, and then turned into a dusty parking lot with an enormous sign claiming the best selection and lowest prices around. One by one we gulped what was left and crushed beer cans beneath our feet before hopping out of the truck. Joe, Benjamin, Jeff and I stood gazing at the rows and rows of bottle rockets, missiles, hand grenades and roman candles. We were limited only by the amount of dollars each of us counted over and over between our fingers. Our eyes always returning to the ever-tempting Johnny B Good Combo Finale, and then thumbing through the bills once again. Most of my dollars ended up going to the Pyro Pulverizer and a handful of parachutes. With a bed of explosives and a round of freshly cracked beers we were on the road again.
For half an hour we drove down every gravel road we could find cussing at the locked gates and private property signs, but letting the warm Coors Light fall into our empty stomachs.
The party that Joe ended up finding was really just a group of people we vaguely knew from school huddled around a trash barrel full of fire. No one questioned the function of the fire, it was close to ninety degrees outside. We just took our place in the circle and brought fresh cigarettes to our lips while peeking through the darkness at which faces were there, flashing behind the orange glow.
That’s when I noticed Caroline’s fragile features dancing behind the flame. Her tender neck and naked arms. She was laughing at something her friend had said, and motioning toward a raccoon peeping out of the trees to snatch an empty vodka bottle between its spongy black hands. Caroline pointed her cell phone in the direction of the animal and shrieked when Jeff launched a roman candle toward it. Her mouth was the kind that looked like it could only be good for one thing, and it wasn’t talking.
After downing a couple more beers Joe and I found an open area to set off our firecrackers. We began with the biggest and best ones we had, and then threw the rest in a pile and lit them all at once. The explosion wasn’t really all we expected it to be. Definitely not enough to satisfy that longing we’d all been looking to tame that night. It was gonna take something more.
Back at the fire there was now music blaring from the trunk of someone’s Civic. The girls were dancing helplessly, and letting their straps fall down over their shoulders. I watched closely as Caroline slithered around the barrel, eyes closed, pressing her palms against the sides of her neck. She traced the flesh between her small breasts and back up again. Somehow she knew I was watching her; she opened her eyes straight into mine and smiled, impishly. The body of a child, the eyes of a dying woman. As if we were all craving it, she slipped in close to one of the other girls who giggled and clutched Caroline’s waist to her own. They stumbled in and out of each other, laughing.
Voices began to fade, and I heard Joe asking something in the distance. I couldn’t take my eyes off Caroline and the way she stumbled back and forth in front of that fire. Gradually, I noticed the skin on her face begin to sag, and she just kept staring at me through those sickening eyes. It was repulsive, the way she moved. The way she brought that bottle to her cracking lips and let it drip down the sides of her mouth. Dark circles formed around her eyes and I could see the empty space behind them. Then, an oily tongue slipped from her mouth and swept over her cracking lips. She motioned with one scaly claw for me to follow her.
I winced as she took my hand inside hers and pulled me from the ground. She took me away from the fire and the music and past the open space where our pile of charred firecrackers lay. She took me too far from the laughter and cans of Coors light, and somewhere deep into the forest. I was afraid, I pulled and twisted and pleaded, but she would not let go. Those long bony claws were digging into my arms with a strength I had not expected.
We were in some calm place with trees on all sides, and she lay there in front of me mouthing words I could not hear, but I could smell the sour odor from her parched mouth and turned my head to avoid that awful gaze. She was laughing at me, I think, and mucus dripped from the tip of her sharp beak.
I sat there in that silent place. My hands digging, digging furiously in the moist red earth. My fingernails caked with mud. With mud, but it hadn’t rained all summer. And I blinked, and blinked again and saw that the ground was cherry red and so were my palms and my knees. I followed that scarlet stream. I followed it to a sugary mouth, still shiny with gloss. Such long, soft, pale hair now muddy red, and two green eyes stared straight into mine. From the side of that thin neck, from inside of it, a broken glass bottle. I could almost remember the sound it made: that bottle against the tree trunk. And the pressure it took to pierce through such sheer skin, the courage it took. And the other hand pressing deep into, deep into something. I could almost remember that. Now the hole was deep enough so I nudged that limp body into it and brushed leaves over the top, peeling them from my gluey fingertips and patching the spots where flesh still showed.
Past the trees and the open space I could see a tired fire peeking above the ledge of a barrel. There were cop cars with lights flashing, and other cars peeling out onto the main road. I saw Joe’s pickup truck filling with people, and thought about shouting for them to wait, but it seemed like a good night for a walk. I was picking at my fingernails and just walking across that open space. By the time I reached the barrel there was no one left. The fire had been doused, and a thousand shiny cans covered the ground. I walked past that place out onto the road and turned toward home. The streets were fairly empty, and once again I inhaled that sticky summer air. I felt that hollow place. It was plump, and quiet.
Arriving home the front door was wide open and Kathy was gone. There was a margarita glass broken on the front porch so I stopped to gather up the jagged pieces and throw them safely in the trashcan. Inside, I found my mother half-dressed, hooked over the kitchen table. Her cracked lips begged for water so I filled a glass and placed it inside her bony fingers. She took the other glass to her mouth and gulped, letting the liquid dribble down the corners of her mouth. I turned away.
“Dustin, honey, I’m so glad you’re home. I need you here. Don’t you know that?”
I kissed her goodnight, somehow leaving a mark of red on her cheek, and locked the front door.
Fact or Fiction? The Myth of Leonardo da Vinci, Megan Milan
And because of his many divine qualities, even though he accomplished more by words than by deeds, his name and fame will never be extinguished.
No one name has captivated historians as much as Leonardo da Vinci. Hearing his name brings to mind not only sketches, drawings, and paintings, but an idea of his character. I picture his long white beard, matched with his long grey hair, observing the patterns in a pool of water. But no one has ever shown me a picture of Leonardo, I have never seen an image of him aside from his own self portrait. So why is it that I can picture him so clearly in my mind’s eye? The reason for such a vivid idea of Leonardo shared throughout the world can be traced back to Leonardo’s own lifetime. Shortly after Leonardo’s death, Vasari had already completed Leonardo’s biography and Raphael used Leonardo as a model for Plato in his School of Athens. A few centuries later, Goethe uses Leonardo’s Last Supper to discuss the artist and his techniques. And today, there are a handful of scholars following in their footsteps. But despite the vast number of writings on the legendary Leonardo, we do not know the character, the personality, the man himself.
Because he was the first to write a biography of Leonardo, we can assume that Vasari would want to create an accurate portrait of the artist for all of history to rely. Vasari never met Leonardo in person yet he gathered a significant amount of information about the artist. After reading Vasari’s biography, we do not question the character of Leonardo, but we question the truth of Vasari’s words. It is easier to swallow the fact that Vasari could have been exaggerating Leonardo’s character rather than the possibility of Leonardo being less than the man we desire him to be. When imagining what Leonardo must have been, we want him to be the man Vasari describes- “a supernatural fusion in a single body lavishly supplied with such beauty, grace, and ability that wherever the individual turns, each of his actions is so divine that he leaves behind all other men.” Could the magnificent Leonardo be anything else? Of course. We must accept the possibility that Leonardo’s character had flaws. For instance, it is comedic that Leonardo often never finished what he started. We do not see these incomplete projects as failures. Instead, we forgive Leonardo for all he didn’t do.
Even if Vasari did write his biography close to the lifetime of Leonardo, is this a reliable source? Most of his information was spoken to him from those who loved Leonardo. I suppose we have relied on such sources to determine the lives of others throughout history; however, no history has been exaggerated so much as that of Leonardo. A few modern day scholars comment on Vasari’s text and suggest that much of the work has been “guessed, supposed, imagined, or made up about Leonardo.” Knowing the difference between what has been fabricated and what was actual is up to the informed reader to decide. Alternately, Kenneth Clark and Martin Kemp suggest that Leonardo’s reputation of beauty must be based on a living tradition. “He was beautiful, strong, graceful in all his actions, and so charming in conversation that he drew all men’s spirits to him: of this his later life gives full confirmation.” The tradition of celebrities having a reputation of grace and beauty is a long-standing one, and is not foreign in today’s society. Even in a world of mass communication and instant documentation, there are still assumptions that people like George Clooney and Catherine Zeta Jones are wonderfully gracious people. And in his day, Leonardo would have had a similar celebrity status.
Another discussion of Leonardo takes place in the early 19th century from Goethe. Most notably, Goethe points out that Leonardo’s attention to proportion and perspective and “above all he had at heart, was the variety of the human countenance, in which not only the permanent the character of the mind, but also temporary emotion is presented to the eye.” This is one of the many reasons we love Leonardo, his use of visible emotion in all of his works. Each portrait is full of life, as Vasari puts it “Leonardo truly made his figures move and breathe.” Is this not what a creator, God if you will, has done for us? We are merely his figures, his sketches, that he has given the breath of life and the gift of movement. Leonardo has risen from role of the artist to a God-like role during the 15th century.
One of the aspects of Leonardo’s life that is not up for debate is the amount of time he put in to the study of art. No other artist of his time studied anatomy, perspective, optics, or hydraulics to the extent of Leonardo. He had long felt that the human body was a microcosm analogous to the macrocosm representing the Earth. Leonardo wrote, “We may say that the Earth has a vital force of growth, and that its flesh is the soil; its bones are the successive strata of the rocks which form the mountains; its cartilage is the porous rock, its brook the veins and of the waters. The lake of blood that lies around the heart is the ocean. Its breathing in the increase and decrease of the blood in the pulses, just as in the Earth it is the ebb and flow of the sea.” This in itself is magnificent, and is no doubt the reason for his success in representing the human figure accurately.
Though this is not the issue at hand, it is worth noting. Goethe’s description, though beautiful, was written nearly 300 years after Leonardo’s death. Certainly observations of the Last Supper, or other painting’s by any 15th century artist can be examined based on only visual interpretations. But assuming and contributing to the already larger than life reputation gets historians farther from the truth of the real Leonardo. Commenting on Goethe’s writings of Leonardo, Kemp suggests that Goethe does exhibit great insights, but they “transcend the unreliability of the parts.”
The historian who recognizes the disparity between the actual Leonardo and the fictional Leonardo is Martin Kemp, who writes “I think it is possible to formulate a general law to the effect that the extent to which a place cultivates the myth of someone associated with it is inverse proportion to its size and its other claims to fame. The law operates to some extent with Leonardo, but his myth is so big that he dominates even the grandest places.” It is safe to say that Leonardo dominates the artistic world. Any and all students come across Leonardo da Vinci in their studies, and in doing so they also come across his myth. The result is a culture knowing everything of the myth of Leonardo, and taking them at face value.
This is certainly the case with the popular Dan Brown series based on the bloodline of Jesus and Leonardo da Vinci. After reading his series, many readers assume that he is writing facts about Leonardo- not because it is likely, but because that is what is fun, amusing, and fascinating to believe. Essentially, Martin Kemp was correct when he said that, “We, like every other age, make the Leonardo we want.” Today, we want Leonardo to be a member of the society Dan Brown describes. We want Leonardo to be this mythical, secret man with infinite knowledge, just as we have been told to remember him.
A common misconception about Leonardo was that his mirror writing was a result of dyslexia, or a need to keep his notebooks a secret from the world. Why would he write in such a way that kept his discoveries secret if he was intending on one day publishing his writings? H. Anna Suh assures us that “It was simply his characteristically resourceful solution to the challenges faced by all left hand writers, who tended to smear ink with their hands as they move form left to right.” Similarly, some say that the Mona Lisa is actually a self portrait of Leonardo himself. Any educated art student knows the likelihood of seeing yourself in drawings or paintings you create. After all, each person sees their own reflection daily and therefore become familiar with the proportions, the lines, and the shapes of their own face over any other. For this reason it isn’t uncommon for an artist’s portraits to look like their own refection.
There is no doubt that Leonardo was born a genius, a hard working and inventive person. No man has walked the earth and made such a large impact in the artistic world as Leonardo, and for this he should not go unnoticed. I think it is unrealistic to assume that one day historians will be able to unearth an entire accurate history of Leonardo and his character. What historians can be responsible for is the separation of fact from fiction. Much of the common knowledge based on the idea of Leonardo is imagined. Big ideas about Leonardo are based on nothing but the previously exaggerated history of the artist. Though the larger population will probably remain ignorant on the truth of Leonardo and continue to investigate and entertain the myth of the Mona Lisa and countless other mysteries, historians are responsible for investigating the truth behind such exaggerations, and discovering Leonardo’s real code.
Bulent, A and K. Wamsley. Leonardo’s Universe. Natl Geographic Society, 44.
Bramly, Serge, Leonardo: The artist and the Man. translated by Sian Reynolds. London, New York: Penguin Books, 1994. 4.
Clark, Kenneth and Martin Kemp. Leonardo da Vinci: Revised Edition. London, 1988. 42.
Gage, John (edited and translated).“Observations on Leonardo da Vinci’s celebrated Picture of The Last Supper.” IN Goethe on Art. Berkeley-Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1980. 169.
Kemp, Martin. “Lisa’s Room, Leonardo’s Afterlife,” Leonardo. Oxford University Press. 2004.
Sue, Anna H., S. r. f., Leonardo's Notebooks. New York: Black Dog &Levnthal Publishers Inc., 2005.
Vasari, Giorgio. “The Life of Leonardo da Vinci: Florentine Painter and Sculptor.” The Lives of the Artists. Translated by Julia Conaway Bondanella and Peter Bondanella. Oxford University Press. 1998.
Mediations of Space: Phtography and the American West, Andrew Gansky
Henry Wessel, Jr., a twentieth-century American photographer, works primarily in the West, focusing upon locales in New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, and especially California. The early period of his work, from the late 1960s to the early ’70s, was collected on a series of road trips throughout the Southwest, not unlike tourist excursions. However, rather than add another image to the thousands already taken of famous landmarks and national parks, Wessel records the spaces in between, the vast expanses of Western deserts and unmarked suburbs former photographers largely ignored. Working within the context of the endlessly imaged West, Wessel’s formal conventions and choice of subject matter amount to a significant commentary upon what the West means to America in the latter half of the twentieth century, and his pictures enter into a broader conversation about American spaces and landscapes.
The cultural weight attributed to unique topographical features such as Yosemite National Park is due in no small part to the use of photography both by the government and by artists. Their images encourage interest in these areas, and simultaneously, the tourist infrastructure, heavily reliant in the West upon interstate freeways and automobiles, draws travelers from thousands of miles away to admire America’s natural beauty. The tourists who speed by on these roads are encouraged to partake of a fractured conception of the landscape that favors the scenic, the grand, the unique, and discourages interest in areas not easily accessible by car and the vast expanses the traveler can traverse at high speeds. When Wessel stops on the shoulder of an unmarked highway to capture an image of the landscape and how humans interact with it, he reveals some of the unconscious attitudes contemporary Americans hold toward the West. He also documents a cultural shift in the role of landscape photography from focusing upon Romantic aesthetic conventions and the wilderness to focusing upon the residues of human involvement, no longer the predicators of civilized progress, but the artifacts of a society that has settled the West with industry and obscured direct experience of the landscape behind a skein of media images and carefully directed tourist frameworks.
Wessel takes on the landscape of the American West with an eye prone to extract the ironies of human interactions with the environment. He does not aggrandize the striking beauty of so-called wilderness areas—the scope of his frame finds some middle ground between Ansel Adams’ panoramas of Yosemite and high-contrast close-ups of gnarled wood grain. Wessel’s photographs have a tendency to foreground the human-made set against vistas unlikely to be the subject matter of picture postcards. Consider his photograph Walapai, Arizona, 1971, of a squat sign reading “ICE” set in the middle of a rather barren and rocky field with only sparse outcrops of grass. The hills in the background appear lost and somewhat hazy, their featureless ridges as barren and uninviting as the foreground, ultimately serving as little more than a dark line to demarcate an equally gray and blank sky from the ground. With nothing else of particular interest for the eye to fix upon, the brighter white sign near dead center in the frame is the natural focal point of the image, inviting an array of interpretations. What is perhaps most striking about this particular image is that the sign has no apparent referent, failing to describe accurately either the landscape in which it stands or any reality of human existence in the deserts of the West. Lacking any actual ice, the sign instead seems to announce or underscore the total dearth of water in the frame, accentuating a barren reading of the landscape. At the same time, Wessel refuses to transform with his lens these unwelcoming environs into a celebration of the scale and grandeur of the West, reporting instead an essentially homogenous landscape significantly lacking any aspirations to the sublime. The setting of the photo is hardly National Park material: there are no snowcapped peaks, no impressive sheer rock faces, none of the extremes or showcases of natural awe apparent in Death Valley or Yellowstone, Yosemite or the Grand Canyon.
Wessel’s “Ice” most certainly does not fall into a tradition of the sublime or Romantic, nor does it depict a frontier experience of human interaction with the landscape (such as ranching, exploring, or mining), thus breaking at least in content with the major body of classic Western imagery. If the landscape is no longer for Wessel an object of sublime meditation, nor a frontier space inhabited by settlers and explorers, his images beg the question of how the mythology of the West has shifted during the twentieth century, and what role the West plays in contemporary American culture. It is interesting to note that “Ice” was taken when Wessel received a Guggenheim fellowship for a project entitled “The Photographic Documentation of the U.S. Highways and the Adjacent Landscape” (1971), which, as critic Sandra Phillips notes, is “by its title, a project about what can be seen from the driver’s seat of a passing car.” Wessel thereby mimics the tourist, instamatic camera in hand, who traverses the West by road and documents the journey in a series of snapshot images. Perhaps unlike many tourists, Wessel includes human markers, but not the humans who made them, instead allowing their artifacts to come to the foreground as evidence of the nature of human involvement. At the same time, Wessel’s constant lack of people contributes to a sense of abandonment, suggesting the West is a place of transience, more given to temporary travels than to permanent inhabitance.
Cultural theorist Alexander Wilson, writing on the topic of tourism in the American West, notes that “the car and the modern highway bring with them a different ordering of space…. Expressways, for example, are usually set off on a different grade from surrounding land, and access to them is strictly controlled,” and that “the car further divides the landscape, and our experience of it, into discrete zones. It promotes some landscapes and discourages others.” Wilson thereby implies that American highways enforce a kind of continuous transience. Once on the desert highway, many miles may pass before there is the option to exit the route or change direction. Acting as unidirectional channels, the highways draw travelers to defined locations, roadside signage often referring to the end destination, drawing attention ahead rather than to the landscape passing by the passenger window at blurry speeds.
Wilson goes on to conclude, “Nature tourism catalogued the natural world and created its own spaces out there among the trees, lakes and rocks. It sold us…natural space and experiences.” This is an interesting conceptualization of space for two reasons. First, it contends that in the twentieth century, the landscape becomes primarily a commodity, and second, Americans consume that commodity by virtue of cars and the interstate infrastructure. This implies that American interaction with landscapes is fundamentally mediated by the structures of the road and by the car itself, as well as the carefully guided and defined organization of the tourist experience. All of these factors prevent full immersion in natural spaces. The car instead scaffolds the landscape with windows in an opaque frame, presenting a necessarily limited view of the scene at hand, and roads, by their configuration, determine which aspects of landscapes drivers can even observe. Wilson speaks of the ways in which nature parkways “instruct drivers about how best to appreciate the scenery out the window” through “the design of their curves and rest areas.” The tourist framework thus fulfils the express purpose of teaching Americans how to consume the landscape of the nation.
The fact that the expressway is a product of industrial processes that often physically and strikingly alter the landscape is perhaps not immediately apparent in the road’s appearance as a determined, thin line traversing an expansive terrain it largely ignores. However, this seeming ignorance of nature suggests some of the effects of industrialization upon how humans conceive of natural spaces. Industrial processes impart the illusion of order and control, and fundamentally ignore topographical features by constructing very straight and level pathways that allow easy navigation. The rather entropic and unpredictable features of natural landscapes are thereby made invisible to the casual traveler. Furthermore, by introducing the automobile and roads into supposedly unaltered national parks, the industrial framework manages to circumscribe even the most rugged and severe topographies by distancing direct immersion. As the earthworks artist and theorist Robert Smithson concludes in “Frederick Law Olmsted and the Dialectical Landscape” (1973):
One need not improve Yosemite, all one needs is to provide access routes and accommodations. But this decreases the original definition of wilderness as a place that exists without human involvement. Today, Yosemite is more like an urbanized wilderness with its electrical outlets for campers, and its clothes lines hung between the pines. There is not much room for contemplation in solitude.
Dividing the experience of national park landscapes into digestible chunks, the tourist experience manages to mitigate sensations of wonder or terror by implanting ordered, urban features within the wilderness.
In “Travel Films and the American West” (2006), film historian Jennifer Peterson describes how travel films of the early twentieth century serve to further contain wilderness landscapes:
In displaying preserved pockets of land such as Yosemite, Yellowstone National Park, or the Taos Pueblo, travelogues worked to create a hermetically sealed series of landscapes frozen in time, rather like a collection of snow domes. Yet by filling these ‘primitive’ views with the mediating figure of the tourist, the films also…modernized and domesticated those wild landscapes.
Her suggestion that these films further mediate the interaction between human and landscape by introducing the figure of the tourist at play raises a vital point regarding visual media’s operation; namely, the ability to prepare the individual for an experience by allowing an undefined human presence to stand in her or his place. By visually acclimating a person to the human presence within the experience of wilderness space, and specifically by showing that human presence engaging in idle or playful recreation, the filmic images to which Peterson refers manage to undermine Romantic aspirations to the sublime. In other words, the experience of the wilderness, which should ideally transcend corporeal human existence by sheer scope and solitary immersion, loses its capacity to threaten or shock.
Smithson details this shift away from the sublime by describing how parks create a dialectic conversation between humans and landscapes, creating the picturesque. More concerned with constructed parks, such as New York City’s Central Park, he states:
The picturesque, far from being an inner movement of the mind, is based on real land; it precedes the mind in its material external existence. We cannot take a one-sided view of the landscape within this dialectic. A park can no longer be seen as ‘a thing-in-itself,’ but rather as a process of ongoing relationships existing in a physical region—the park becomes a ‘thing-for-us.’ As a result, we are not hurled into the spiritualism of Thoreauian transcendentalism, or its present day offspring of ‘modernist formalism’ rooted in Kant, Hegel, and Fichte.
In his formulation of the picturesque, Smithson relates how human transformations of landscapes are in turn subject to further transformation by natural processes. In this sense, the mitigation of the wilderness experience by the presence of the tourist is not so clear-cut as to completely occlude natural space. Rather, the tourist enters the park to gain an experience impossible within a strictly urban setting, but at the same time, tourists cannot ignore their own presence within the park because of their reflection in constructed features. The tourist experience itself alters nature, but even though former conceptions of the sublime are thus transformed, the park still constructs an experiential conversation between human-altered and wilderness landscapes, often by juxtaposing the two. Simultaneously, Smithson denies complete separation between human and natural processes, instead arguing that parks allow for the natural and industrial to bleed from their narrow definitions. Thus, the physical processes of nature enter the city, and urban processes enter the wilderness, all the while affecting how humans think of both urban and natural landscapes. While Wilson argues that human-constructed frameworks cause tourists to consume natural landscapes the same as any other product, Smithson suggests that commodification is not such a total process. Peterson, taking a sort of middle ground, argues that the “ultimate quest” of tourism “is still magnificent scenery,” but representations of the activity “are equally invested in representing the process of getting to that scenery—the railroads, cars, horse paths, and walking trails the traveler must use to reach the scenery—and the experience of viewing the scenery once one has reached it.” She complicates Smithson’s conception of the dialectic between human and nature by introducing pointed images of the human figure within the natural landscape. Thus, not only do tourists contend with the experience of a natural or human space, but also the visual mediation of that space, and representations of how humans should behave in specific landscapes. With the advent of the portable camera, individual travelers can create numerous images and mediations of space even as they experience it. This creates a set of circumstances that alters the very nature of experience.
When Peterson states, “the true national playground constructed by…films would seem to be not the space of the western landscape but the space of cinema itself,” she establishes a parallel between the role of camera mediations of space and Wilson’s didactic and fragmentary definition of the tourist experience. Thus, photography or film has the capacity to become an experience all its own, independent of the actual spaces it represents. Photography, in its most basic form, fundamentally orders space and reality by the mere virtue of framing and recording a discrete segment of the landscape. But this is only an extremely basic technical outline of the photographic process. On one hand, tourist photography might serve to arrest the fleeting impressions the tourist can gather of the landscape as she or he covers vast highway distances, movement more important to the tourist experience than lingering pauses. On the other, it is important to consider a broader scope of photographic history in the West, and the range of uses it has found in various hands. Because of the realistic appearance of a photographic image, and its ability to seize an instant out of time, a number of photographers and theorists have argued for the inherently truthful nature of photography. An exploration of this contention has particular bearing upon the American West, itself a heavily mythologized region, in addition to being continuously photographed. It is especially interesting to consider that photography actually helped create much of the visual mythology of the West in the late 1800s and early twentieth century, but nonetheless, the relationship between photography’s mechanical recording apparatus and its ability to represent reality truthfully remains somewhat contentious.
Critics and artists most commonly develop the thesis that photography depicts reality with accuracy by contrasting it to painting. Art historian Babara Novak expounds heavily upon this theme in “Landscape Permuted: From Painting to Photography” (1975). She contends that photography “injected” landscape painting “with a fresh quota of reality,” and likewise claims that “direct photographs of Yellowstone…expose…an affectation of manner we would prefer not to find” in the work of notable nineteenth-century painter Thomas Moran, just as other photographers “expose the coloristic and painterly stylizations of [Albert] Bierstadt at Yosemite.” Photography acts, according to Novak, primarily as evidence that reveals the truth behind the limitations of human perception. Additionally, since “we would prefer not” to see the veil of artistic license overlain on landscapes, in Novak’s formulation, art should primarily attempt to pursue truth, and cut through erroneous interpretations to reality itself.
Another variation on this theme comes in “The Kiss of Enterprise” (1991), by art historian Nancy Anderson. She similarly criticizes nineteenth century landscape painting of the American West for its “constructed artifice…that offered assurance that the West could endure as both iconic symbol and economic resource.” In other words, landscape painting existed primarily to create and sustain an image of a harmonious balance between human industry and the beauty of the natural landscape. Anderson also hones in on Thomas Moran, who, instead of depicting the human settlements and industrial development of his scenes, “focused almost exclusively on the sublimity of the landscape, editing out nearly every reference to change instigated by man.” Both art historians concern themselves with misrepresentations particularly of the West, focusing specifically upon painting’s role in eliding the massive environmental damage actually caused by the industrial development of the region.
However, Novak does speak of the incorporation of human industry into painting during the latter 1800s in Nature and Culture (1980). She notes the contradictory nature of artists such as Thomas Cole, whose artwork implicitly asks at what point “the arc from virgin wilderness through the pastoral ideal to the industrial landscape swerve[s] from constructive accord with God’s will to human destructiveness toward nature,” and yet at the same time also utilizes the “cut stump” as the inception of a “new iconology of progress and destruction.” Novak’s analysis of the infiltration of the industrial into previously pristine landscapes suggests the early tension between national economic progress and the ideologies that elevated America’s Western wilderness to the height of religious myth. The painters oscillate between depicting undeveloped nature as necessarily doomed to disappear in the name of progress and lamenting the industrial destruction of the natural landscape. This reveals a lack of consensus both upon what constitutes a symbiotic human relationship with the environment and how Americans might be religiously or ideologically bound to the landscape. On the one hand, the patrons of progress contend that nature is a thing to be improved at the hands of man, while others yearn for silence and preservation. Yet Novak insists that the painters more concerned with untouched nature were “ignored in favor of the more active ‘public’ paintings of the Hudson River men, [in] which…. the noise of civilization could also enter, and the sound of the axe followed.” Therefore, in the course of American landscape painting in the 1800s, the landscape as a spiritual resource struggles against conceptions of the landscape as material commodity. Novak’s wording suggests that the commodified landscape may have received more attention, and to a certain extent superseded the pure or virgin wilderness, yet at the same time, even those painters who trumpeted the arrival of the civilizing forces of humankind did not completely abandon earlier romantic conventions. Such a paradox persists in the West, a region still valued for its undeveloped national parks as well as for its industrial resources.
The shift in landscape painting to images acceptant of human activity coincided both with the settlement of the West and the rise of photography, a medium which, by the nature of its recording apparatus, often necessarily included evidence of human activity. Photography might thereby take some credit for forcing painters to represent the industrialization of the landscape. Even so, the human alterations these paintings incorporate are not unambiguously construed as positive or negative. The more salient cultural currents of the nineteenth century might interpret such alterations, both in photography and in painting, as positive evidence of civilized progress, at the same time lamenting the destruction inherent in industry. Anderson’s concession that photography could be equally manipulated in the hands of explorers and developers undermines photography’s aspirations to representations of an objective truth.
François Brunet, in an analysis of nineteenth century landscape photography in the West, “‘With the Compliments of F.V. Hayden, Geologist of the United States’: Photographic Policies of American Exploration” (2007), delves into the nature of photographic truth in the West by discussing the underlying goals of early survey photographers in the region. He argues that one of the most important factors driving the subject matter and style of these photographers was the fact that their employers, the explorers traversing the region following the Civil War, wanted to use the photographs to win appropriations and government appointments. Brunet claims that in the process, these “‘survey photographers’…created the classic face of the ‘wonders of the West’ and did the same for the West’s first inhabitants, whom they turned into visual myths.” In Brunet’s mind, then, photography in the West from its very inception was not a medium of the truth, but a transformative process that took the raw material of the landscape, and through the fact of recording and distributing its image, created a mythological visual space more concerned with swaying public opinion than depicting the realities of the region. Brunet also discusses how stereoscopes first spread images of Yosemite Valley to the east coast and to Europe, and how other photographers popularized Mesa Verde and Yellowstone, contributing to their establishment as national parks. It is important to note the extent to which these famous landscapes were initially mediated by photographic representation, the vast majority of Americans interacting with them first as photographic images, not through direct immersion. The West as a region was thus perfectly suited to becoming a landscape inflected in the public mind by visual conventions, explored by Americans just as photography became portable, and settled by hopeful immigrants just as the nation struggled to come to terms with the massive disjunctures in ideology caused by the Civil War. Therefore, the West became a social commodity that allowed “the entire nation” to travel “West in fact or in thought to carve out its dream of a bright and prosperous future. This dream of the West served as an outlet for the nation’s rifts and fractures.” Photography’s role in establishing this dream should not be underestimated. Indeed, without the advent of the massive body of images produced directly following the Civil War, tales of the West’s transcendent natural beauty would have seemed much less credulous. But the visual images circulated created the mass perception that the West was a land of immense spaces and immense opportunities.
Anderson formulates this phenomenon when she describes how a nineteenth century photograph of a painter sketching a landscape “documents the first step in the process whereby the raw material, the western landscape, was transformed into both a work of art that conveyed cultural messages and a commodity exchanged in a commercial market.” This casting of sight as consumption sees its outgrowth in Alexander Wilson’s articulation of American tourism, in which roads and cars encourage the visual consumption of certain landscapes, and the absolute ignorance of others. However, it is important to discuss the extent to which the tourist mentality as described by Wilson permeates interactions with the Western landscape. Certainly, the traveler on vacation or simply trying to get from one place to another has little interest in the flat plains, steppe, and deserts that dominate much of the terrain, concerned instead with the ultimate destination. However, people also inhabit these regions, as Wessel’s lens attests to in some of his images, such as his photograph New Mexico, 1969, of a home set in the midst of a vast white plain, or Nevada, 1975, of the vista between two houses in the desert and a man dressed as a modern day cowboy. When Wessel stops at the side of the highway whose structure guides him on to the next scenic overlook, and records instead what the infrastructure omits, he makes an overt statement about that infrastructure and its conceptual frameworks. His images begin to explore a tension in the West between transience and settlement, the pull of the road and a search for home in the region. The material reality of the landscape often contradicts the popular dreams of its economic opportunities and the scope of its size. Wessel’s photographs speak to how these imposed conceptual frameworks stand between the viewer and the landscape, exposing disjunctures between the mythology of the region and the facts of human existence in the West.
A contemporary of Wessel’s, the photographer Robert Adams, writes in 1994 extensively on the subject of the transformation of Western space and photographic representations thereof in his essay “In the Nineteenth-century West.” Adams takes a significantly pessimistic view of human interaction with the West and laments its deterioration in the latter part of the twentieth century. Speaking of photographs that recall the Western landscape before its transformation by the engines of industry and commerce, he states, “We try hard not to be sentimental, not to feel more emotion for a subject than it deserves…. If the open America we loved is gone, then its recollection and the grief that it inspires may be useless.” According to Adams, the photographs of the latter 1800s captured an entirely different conception of the space of the Western American landscape than that which dominates our culture today. He likewise contends that the landscapes of those early images have disappeared, both in concept and in fact. Adams significantly does not criticize the conventions of the survey photographers, but instead lauds their ability to depict the depth and openness of Western spaces and what he perceives as pre-industrial silence. However, Peterson notes how photographic depictions of space become problematic when trying to establish the truth of a region: “Armed with documentary authenticity, travel films are marketed as actuality, and national myth becomes naturalized as truth.” The photographs Adams refers to were likewise marketed to an American public in order to encourage them to come west and settle, or to a government audience in hopes of receiving monetary rewards. They were not captured with naïve innocence or purely documentary aims. Even the openness or emptiness Adams identifies tacitly suggests the absence of a Native American presence. Adams appears to want a West completely absent of human activity, better explored by virtue of a few photographers, and experienced by picturesque images rather than direct immersion.
A quote with particular implications for the work of Wessel comes in Adams’ contrast between a photographer of the nineteenth century and the photographer of today:
[I]f we consider the difference between William Henry Jackson packing in his cameras by mule, and the person stepping for a moment from his car to take a picture with an Instamatic, it becomes clear how some of our space has vanished; if the time it takes to cross space is a way by which we define it, then to arrive at a view of space ‘in no time’ is to have denied its reality (there are in fact few good snapshots of space).
This observation is an indictment of sorts of the highway tourist who speeds through the West on the way to some more scenic destination, and ignores the vast majority of the landscape as an essentially blank non-space that he or she must cross as quickly as possible. This contributes to a conceptual shrinking of the space of the West, most of it relegated to that which is passed through rather than that which is inhabited. Adams is thereby caught between wanting the photographer to inhabit space, but desiring that the West itself remain uninhabited, and thereby unaltered. He implicitly, if unintentionally, suggests that a person staring at a photograph taken in the 1800s will have a more thorough and accurate understanding of the West than a tourist who drives through the region. What seems more accurate is that the open West is indeed gone, and in fact, never truly existed, having been populated by humans long before European settlers armed with cameras appeared to capture the region within the photographic frame. To ignore human artifacts and alterations is just as limited a perspective as the inattentive tourist who is entirely unable to contemplate how human and industrial processes affect both the landscape itself and the way she or he thinks about it.
Looking again at “Ice” with this in mind, a certain amount of Robert Adams’ definition of the snapshot aesthetic shows through in Wessel’s treatment of the landscape as an essentially blank slate against which to pose the human words on the sign. The sign thus expresses most readily a desire to alter or revise the landscape, and the aesthetic of the photograph comments upon the sign’s ironic textual positioning against the landscape. This is not to say Wessel passes an explicit judgment on either the sign or the landscape at hand. As Sandra S. Phillips writes regarding Wessel’s photographic philosophy in “The Work of Henry Wessel,” “Wessel understood that the challenge in photography was in seeing and choosing, in pointing, or pointing out, not imposing his personality or an imposed style upon a subject, not in illustrating a subject or idea.” Taking this claim as a groundwork for interpretation, Wessel’s intent in this image appears ambiguous. Although the sign sits in the foreground and forms the central focus, it is quite small within the frame, dwarfed by the sheer flatness of the plain. At the same time there is no necessary interest on Wessel’s part in painting human endeavors in the West as hubristic or fallible. However, Phillips’ reading of Wessel’s work misses the more subtle shadings of his art. Although his style does not provide easy or overt interpretations, his photographs comment upon the nature of human interactions with landscapes. He points out that Americans have indeed changed Western landscapes, and in so altering the circumstances of interaction have transformed the ways we can conceptualize nature or the wilderness. The major issues Wessel forces his viewers to contend with are the physical effects of the interstate upon the landscape, the ways Americans inhabit the spaces of the West both as tourists and as settlers, and less explicitly, but no less importantly, the impact of the portable camera on popular impressions of the American landscape.
In 1974, Wessel provided a series of images for an issue of Aperture devoted to the snapshot. Writers and contributors to the journal struggle with the fact that any person with a camera can make a picture, thereby calling into question what exactly makes photography an art, and if a distinction can be made between a snapshot and an art photograph. The snapshot certainly produces a new wrinkle in the history of photography, and some writers see it as the savior of photographic truth. The photographer Tod Papageorge, by contrast, claims that snapshots are a demeaned art form when compared to professional photography, and as a folk-art phenomenon have had little influence on the work of professional photographers. Another photographer, Paul Strand, meanwhile busies himself with a technical definition of the snapshot as a photograph that seizes an instant out of time. However, the mere fact that Wessel contributes some of his professional work to the issue, without commentary or titles, forces us to question what exactly a snapshot is, and its ideological or conceptual components. That is, how exactly does a snapshot relate to the aims of a professional photograph, and what is the impact of vernacular photography upon major practitioners of the medium? And most significant for this analysis, how does the popular American practice of snapshot photography and the attendant creation of personal imagery of landscapes reinforce and/or transform the cultural role of the West and its various spaces?
Writing for the same issue of Aperture in 1974, photography historian John Kouwenhoven provides the clearest discussion of the rise and influence of snapshots, and also alludes to his belief in the truthful nature of the medium in the hands of an amateur. He describes a snapshot as a picture “taken quickly with a minimum of deliberate posing…and with a minimum of deliberate selectivity on the part of the photographer.” This statement aligns the snapshot with the provenance of vernacular photography, images taken by non-professionals of whatever strikes them as worth recording. Professional photography, by contrast, such as that undertaken by the survey photographers of the American West, was heavily inflected by the personal and political goals of the explorers leading the expeditions, and the photographs they circulated on the east coast and in the halls of Congress were largely propagandistic tools used to win appropriations and appointments. Therefore, explorers encouraged their contracted photographers to make images predominantly focused upon topography and geology of scientific and economic interest, or archeological sites of historical and cultural importance. Conversely, in the hands of an amateur, the camera can be pointed at anything, as the goal is neither to win fame or fortune, but merely to capture the world the as photographer sees it. Kouwenhoven additionally contends, “the camera lens is, after all, indiscriminate,” linking the untrained eye of the amateur to the mechanical eye of the camera itself. Because the photographer cannot control the reality of a photographed scene, only the frame around it, snapshot images contain “things not even their makers had noticed or been interested in.” As snapshots are made with less forethought than professional photography, they are more likely to include the random information and detritus of a scene than a professional photograph. If uninflected by convention or commercial interest, the amateur thereby appears to give new credence to the argument that photography is an inherently truthful medium.
Photography historian and curator John Szarkowski presents perhaps the pithiest statement on the matter of photographic truth in The Photographer’s Eye (1966) when he elucidates, “Paintings were made—constructed from a storehouse of traditional schemes and skills and attitudes—but photographs, as the man on the street put it, were taken.” The photograph thus apprehends reality, just as it is happening, seizing an instant of truth from the stream of time. It therefore seems obvious that a quick snapshot must portray the world with greater accuracy than a studied and laborious painting, and as a medium is well suited to interrogate human perception. Yet Szarkowski also points out, “The photographer edits the meanings and patterns of the world through an imaginary frame.” The fraught relationship between the indiscriminant lens and the manipulations of the photographer strikes at the core difference between the snapshooter and the professional. If the snapshooter does not adhere to an ideology or convention, the snapshots produced might seem inherently closer to an idea of an objective reality in which objects exist independent of subjective human action. Whereas a professional photographer may be heavily influenced by formal pictorial conventions, and thus arrange objects within the viewfinder of the lens to reflect accepted compositions, the amateur unaware of such conventions simply takes a picture of what exists in space. This is a somewhat problematic formulation however, when considering the cultural role of popular snapshot photography in America.
Kouwenhoven avoids expressing sentiments about the truthful nature of cameras and snapshots with Szarkowski’s vehemence, and focuses instead upon how exactly photographs influence human perception, especially in a popular context. He puts forth:
By simply isolating a group of forms and textures within the arbitrary rectangular frame provided by the edges of its glass plate or film, a snapshot forces us to see, and thereby teaches us to see, differently than we could have seen through our own unaided eyes, and also differently than people had been taught to see by pre-photographic pictorial conventions.
Kouwenhoven’s statement does not claim, as Szarkowski implies, that photographs reveal the truth. Rather, he argues that photographs, and snapshots in particular, show aspects of the world that paintings largely missed or ignored. However, while photography may not apprehend the truth, it begins to explore the nature of perception by forming a visual contrast with painting and the human eye. Kouwenhoven positions both painting and photography as spatial frameworks that present reality in a manner that the naked human eye cannot apprehend. The snapshot is more influential in this regard, Kouwenhoven argues, because artistic training and conventions affect amateur photographers less. At the same time, he proposes, “We tend to see only what the pictorial conventions of our time are calculated to show us. From them we learn what is worth looking for and looking at.” Yet the amateur snapshooters Kouwenhoven credits with bringing about a massive revolution in seeing must have been influenced by the pictorial conventions of their time, and the photograph itself is surely the greatest shaper of pictorial conventions because of its easy reproduction and dissemination. At the same time, an important facet of amateur snapshot photography that Kouwenhoven never fully develops is the fact that these pictures are taken without any explicit intention to publish or disseminate them. They are rather personal mementoes, compiled and collected in private albums. This makes it somewhat more difficult to establish the overall impact of snapshot photography, as only a fraction of the images is available to the critical eye.
In “From Infinity to Zero,” Geoffrey Batchen differs from Kouwenhoven’s formulation of the completely untrained amateur. He instead suggests that these photographers are “coached by Kodak advertisements” and a social “network of expectations and obligations” to “mimic a set of gestures and poses thought proper for such pictures.” If we accept Batchen’s suggestion that photographs are not merely a visual tradition, but also constrained by social structures, their cultural role becomes much more complex. Batchen’s formulation that “snapshots show the struggles of particular individuals to conform to the social expectations, and visual tropes, of their sex and class…. snapshots are odes to conformist individualism” has a peculiar analogue in the context of the West. Considering Robert Adams suggestion that many post-Civil War settlers of the West interpreted the space as the opportunity to enjoy “freedom from responsibility…. leaving people, whatever their needs, behind,” and that Americans are “everlastingly after a new start out in the open, by ourselves,” it is possible to see the West as a region in which American individuals all pursue the same kinds of freedoms, but in self-imposed isolation. This kind of freedom translates into carving out a personal space in which to enact a personal destiny, but simultaneously accepting a social rootlessness that will allow for endless reinventions. The paradoxical relationship between wanting to forge a home, a place to control, and the ability to deny lasting connections with home and other people might translate into the respective mentalities of the settler and the transient. The settler aspires to the seeming permanence and stability of the landscape, whereas the transient is ready to pull up stakes at any given moment to pursue the next dream of wealth and freedom. These are not explicitly defined or mutually exclusive mentalities, but the tension between yearning for home and desiring freedom from social responsibilities is a particularly Western state of being. The paradox is somewhat mitigated by tourism, which implies a home from which to travel and absorb the experiences of free movement throughout the landscape. Similarly to how Batchen frames the middle class photographer trying to establish an individual identity while conforming to the visual and social conventions of mass society, so the individualist transient endlessly pursues the social expectations the settler seems to embody in the West. The constant struggle between the individual who wants to strike out alone and the same individual’s abiding desire for home is certainly a popular photographic topic.
Some of Wessel’s pictures of American highways most clearly express the tension between home and transience in the twentieth-century West. Wessel takes few photographs where the road actually extends to the horizon, orienting his lens instead to the detritus and artifacts just off the shoulder, each small subject drawing the eye from the highway’s inexorable progress. Another interesting image of Wessel’s is compositionally something of a visual analogue to “Ice.” The photograph, Untitled, 1968, depicts a lone telephone pole planted in a scrubby landscape. A small skiff of cloud hovers above the post, the flat plain behind resolves into low, darker hills, and at the horizon, triangular mountain peaks. Like “Ice,” the human-made artifact occupies the center of the frame and appears small against the backdrop of the overall landscape, but the image reveals a greater amount of detail in the natural features. Trees stand out in the distance, the scrub brush makes a fine stippling over the rolling hills, and the hazy mountain slopes give a sense of great distance. The photograph captures the gradation of the sky, bright white at the horizon and darker at the apex. The landscape itself seems more interesting and worthy of consideration, but Wessel’s composition divides the ground in half with a striking diagonal line, the road sweeping from the bottom right of the frame and drawing the eye to the left where stands another telephone pole, almost omitted by the edge of the picture. The framing suggests the continuation of the phone poles down the lane, past this landscape the artist has briefly stopped to consider, implying the persistent pull of the road. The image has a fleeting quality, accentuated by the small, windswept cloud poised for a perfect instant above the post, in transit like the artist to another destination. The trailing tail of the cloud suggests that it is blowing in the opposite direction to the line of the road; the two travelers, the cloud and the photographer, are apprehended in the frame to regard each other on their separate journeys.
Wessel’s photography, particularly of roadside scenery, does not fall unambiguously into either the category of a tourist’s amazed gaze or a settler’s yearning for home, but both ideas exist in his work. He is at once a distanced observer of these cultural phenomena, and yet he operates within the mythology of the American West. His photographs document the failures and ambiguities of the region in addition to the undeniable pull the landscape exerts upon the traveler. Wessel’s own words give an insight into his personal conceptions of the West, and specifically, California. He describes a kind of flight from the East that mirrors the urges of much earlier settlers and immigrants searching for new frontiers:
In 1969, to escape a gray upstate New York winter, I flew to Los Angeles. I walked out of the airport into one of those clear sharp-edged January days. The light has such a physical presence; it looked as though you could lean against it. The long shadows of axial sunlight were fracturing the landscape, lighting faces like an on-camera flash, every surface detailed and separate. As I stood there, I wanted to photograph everything in front of me.
For Wessel, the Eldorado quality of California comes not through mineral wealth or the freedom of unclaimed space, but from the light’s transformative capacity, a golden light that lets the photographer see the world with incredible freshness and excitement. At the same time, Wessel’s words betray an undeniable photographic bias. The California light is not merely beautiful of its own right, but actually resembles a photographic process. Wessel insinuates that the landscape is naturally photogenic, or already exists in photographic form. Thus, the photographer simply has to capture the photographic material rather than compose an image from scratch. Wessel’s description of California suggests the degree to which the landscape is already mediated, both by previous photographic images and the expectations a traveler brings to bear upon the scenery of the region. Perhaps Phillips allows Wessel’s statement to influence her reading of his work too literally when she claims that Wessel’s photographs express the “physical, plastic materiality” of “California light...a light that transforms everything, that made even—perhaps especially—the most banal of subjects wonders to be marveled at.” Her conception of wonderment in Wessel’s imagery provides only a limited reading that aligns him more explicitly with a touristic perspective. She privileges the documentary technique in his images, noting that “the character of...materials is lovingly catalogued,” and that “there is no forlornness, no empathy, only amazement.” Yet these comments ignore the fact that Wessel himself is a transplant to the West, and amazement is inseparable from yearning in many of his images. For Wessel, the Western light and landscape offer an escape from the less poetic East, and he keenly records a similar urge expressed within the artifacts of previous settlers. Consider again “Ice,” and the desire that the landscape become a welcoming home despite the harshness of the setting. The desire to escape the shortcomings of a former life transforms the settler’s gaze into an almost blind longing for a brighter future. The sign is detached from the landscape in that it does not provide an accurate representation of its surroundings, yet it is expressive of a deep desire to make the scene into a place to call home.
With the closure of the frontier at the end of the 19th century, the material value of the landscape experiences a transformation. Dreams of mineral wealth lose their value to the average American as gold rushes dry up and the land becomes more fenced and more owned. The value of the West becomes more esoteric, and reasons for relocating permanently to the region conflate with tourism’s visual consumption. What Robert Adams identifies as photography’s representation of the space as limitless creates the assumption that the actual openness of the landscape of the West is synonymous with personal freedom. Wessel’s focus upon the surface ephemera of human interactions with landscapes is emblematic of a twentieth-century cultural shift that sees Americans become less concerned with temporal presence (as related to geologic time and spirituality in nature) than the image of things, and sight, rather than immersion, as the most important aspect of human experience.
Henry Wessel, Jr., Walapai, Arizona, 1971, in Henry Wessel, ed. Thomas Zander (Göttingen, Germany: Steidl, 2007), 4. (Because Wessel’s titles include only the place and date of the photograph and often repeat, I will refer to this image as “Ice”)
Sandra S. Phillips, “The Work of Henry Wessel,” in Henry Wessel, ed. Thomas Zander (Göttingen, Germany: Steidl, 2007), 11.
Alexander Wilson, “Introduction: The View from the Road,” in Discovered Country: Tourism and the American West,” ed. Scott Norris (Albuquerque, New Mexico: Stone Ladder Press, 1994), 8-9.
Robert Smithson. “Frederick Law Olmsted and the Dialectical Landscape,” in Robert Smithson: The Collected Writings, ed. Jack Flam (Berkeley and Los Angeles, California: University of California Press, 1996), 165-166.
Jennifer Lynn Peterson, “The Nation’s First Playground: Travel Films and the American West, 1895-1920,” in Virtual Voyages: Cinema and Travel, ed. Jeffrey Ruoff, (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2006), 80.
Smithson, “Frederick Law Olmsted and the Dialectical Landscape,” 160.
Peterson, “Travel Films and the American West,” 87.
Barbara Novak. ““Landscape Permuted: From Painting to Photography,” in Photography in Print, ed. Vicki Goldberg (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1981), 171.
Nancy K. Anderson, “The Kiss of Enterprise,” in The West as America, Reinterpreting Images of the Frontier, 1820-1920, ed. William H. Truettner (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1991), 281.
Barbara Novak, Nature and Culture: American Landscape and Painting 1825-1875 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1980), 159.
Anderson, “The Kiss of Enterprise,” 256.
François Brunet, “‘With the Compliments of F.V. Hayden, Geologist of the United States’: Photographic Policies of American Exploration,” in Images of the West, ed. François Brunet and Bronwyn Griffith, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007), 15, 23.
Brunet, “Photographic Policies of American Exploration,” 15, 20.
Anderson, “The Kiss of Enterprise,” 238-239.
Henry Wessel, Jr., New Mexico, 1969, in Henry Wessel, ed. Thomas Zander (Göttingen, Germany: Steidl, 2007), 22.
Henry Wessel, Jr., Nevada, 1975, in Henry Wessel, ed. Thomas Zander (Göttingen, Germany: Steidl, 2007), 116.
Robert Adams, “In the Nineteenth-century West,” in Why People Photograph (New York: Aperture Foundation, 1994), 133.
Peterson, “Travel Films and the American West,” 86.
Adams, “In the Nineteenth-century West,” 136.
Phillips, “The Work of Henry Wessel,” 9-10.
Tod Papageorge, no title, Aperture 19.1: (1974): 24-27.
Paul Strand, no title, Aperture 19.1 (1974): 49.
John A. Kouwenhoven, No Title, Aperture 19.1 (1974): 106.
Anderson, “The Kiss of Enterprise,” 256.
John A. Kouwenhoven, no title, Aperture 19.1 (1974): 107.
John Szarkowski. The Photographer’s Eye (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1966), 6.
Kouwenhoven, no title, 107.
Geoffrey Batchen, “From Infinity to Zero,” in Now is Then: Snapshots from the Maresca Collection, ed. Marvin Heiferman (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2008), 126.
Adams, “In the Nineteenth-century West,” 142.
Henry Wessel, Jr., Untitled, 1968, in Henry Wessel, ed. Thomas Zander (Göttingen, Germany: Steidl, 2007), 5.
Phillips, “The Work of Henry Wessel,” 10 (qtd from California and the West).
The Art of Persian Classical Music, Chante Karimkhani
The history of the culturally rich, diverse, and fascinating Persian Empire provides a glimpse of mystical beauty that has been sadly lost in the modern world. From the beginning of the Achaemenid Empire in the sixth century B.C. to present day Iran under the strict rule of Shiite Islamic clerics, this beautiful and ancient culture has experienced periods of intense wealth and great loss. Despite the many invasions of Greek, Turk, Mongol, and Arabic leaders, the Persian people were able to retain their rich cultural heritage. Unavoidably, lasting impressions from these invading countries have left their mark in Persian society. The modern Persian language is itself a product of the Islamic Arabic conquest of Persia in the seventh century. It has adopted many Arabic alphabetical letters, words and names. At its greatest pinnacle in the Sassanian empire (third to seventh centuries B.C.), Persia extended from Egypt eastward to the Indus River in present-day Pakistan and from Syria into Central Asia, surrounded by the Romans to the west, the Huns in the northeast, and violent tribes in the north. What remains of the mighty Persian Empire can be found only in the present-day country of Iran. The classical music of the Persian culture reflects the deep sadness of brutal invasions, the complex beauty of nature, and fusion with a higher power of existence. Persian classical music has evolved as a fluid expression of the social and cultural values proudly embodied by the Persian people, as demonstrated by the musical theory system, the role of music in Persian culture, and the creation process of musical performance.
The history of Persian classical music is believed to date back to the very beginnings of the Persian Empire in sixth century B.C.; however, very little documentation of this early art is available. Since Persian classical music is improvised and traditionally learned by ear or rote, there was no need for musical notation. Music was essentially passed down over centuries through the relationship between student and ‘master’ or teacher. The first evidence of Persian music can be found in the writings of ancient Greek historians which provide evidence for the musical interchange between Greek and Persian music during the Graeco-Persian wars. From the following Sassanian period (226-642 AD), the first evidence of musicians, musical activities, and instrumental descriptions are available. At this time, Persian music and musicians such as the famous and virtuosic Barbod enjoyed an exalted status in the majestic court palaces. Music at this time was mostly reserved for royalty and was primarily performed as an accompaniment to Persian poetry.
With the foundational establishment of Islam as the national religion of Persia in the seventh century, a significant fusion of Arabic and Persian music took place, including instruments, musical terminology, and theoretical principles. As opposed to the previous national religion of Zoroastrianism, Islam regarded the arts and most music in particular as sins. Music lost its social approval and became an illegal public act except in the cases of weddings and private gatherings. This sudden change in the outlook of the musical arts caused drastic changes in the development of Persian classical music. The musical scene was forced to go underground in seclusion. Although the social status of musicians decreased, musicians were still employed by wealthy, upper-class families to perform music in the secrecy of their homes for private gatherings or parties. By reducing the public practice of music, Islam transformed Persian music into a metaphysical and mystical art that raised it to the highest spiritual level. During the ensuing cruel Turk-Mongol conquest (13th to 15th centuries), the great amount of murder and destruction committed against the Persian people provided the motivation for the great Sufi and Dervish mystic orders which viewed music as the most direct path to truth. The beautiful poetic verses written by famous Sufi poets such as Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi embody the serious and intricate emotional character of the Persian people. From the beginning of the Persian Empire, Persian classical music and Persian poetry formed an organic relationship with one another, providing supporting and purposeful expression to the complex topics of loss, beauty, nature, and love.
Persian classical music is organized into twelve tonal systems called dastgah, meaning organizational system in Persian. In the past, the dastgah concept has been compared to the Western mode and each dastgah has been characterized with a specific scale; however, the musical concept in Persian classical music is much more complex than a seven-note scale with specific intervals between adjacent tones. Each dastgah embodies its own special repertory of melodies called gusheh-ha (singular gusheh) which are all typically modally independent from one another. In order to tie the various gusheh-ha of a dastgah together, the forud is used. The forud is a melodic cadence that concludes each gusheh and unifies the dastgah as a whole. There is also almost always an introductory section of a dastgah, in addition to the gusheh-ha, called the daramad which “characterizes the dastgah to the listener and musician, contains one principal motif that occurs frequently in performance and at various times at the endings of other gushes, and emphasizes the tonal environment of the tonic.” In essence, the daramad is the most representative portion of a dastgah. The forud concluding each gusheh of a dastgah shows the overall “dependence on the original mode introduced in the daramad section of the dastgah.” The daramad and the gusheh-ha of a particular dastgah collectively form the backbone of that dastgah tonal system. The radif of Persian music is essentially Persian music in its entirety: the pieces that compose the repertoire of Persian classical music.
During the twentieth century, numerous theories have been proposed concerning the division of Persian intervals, specifically on the classification of the famous middle-eastern microtone. The sudden appeal for this explanation in the twentieth century came as a result of Westernization and the spread of European music around the world, including in Iran. After being exposed to Western classical music, many Persian musicians felt a need for mathematical classification of the microtone in order to ‘raise the credibility’ of Persian classical music. The significant debate over Persian intervals and a Persian scale demonstrates the social values of the Persian people. During the 20th century, when a great deal of westernization and modernization took place in Iran, there was an apparent social and cultural affinity to make traditional Persian life synchronized with the exciting developments of the Western countries. One of the theories on Persian intervals, proposed by Ali Naqi Vaziri, makes use of measured quarter tones in defining a 24-quarter tone scale which is essentially a further division of the western equidistant chromatic 12-note scale. Another theory, proposed by Mehdi Barkesli, attempts to give a highly scientific explanation of the Persian scale using mathematical measurements of Pythagorean intervals. Although neither of these theories accurately describes the Persian musical tradition, the impact of Western concepts on the classification of Persian music is apparent. A third major, more recent, and more accurate theory has been developed by Hormoz Farhat. Mr. Farhat’s theory, titled “the theory of flexible intervals,” rests on the belief that any notion of scale or specific interval measurement is completely irrelevant to Persian classical music. Mr. Farhat only goes as far as defining 5 types of intervals found in Persian classical music: the semi-tone or minor 2nd, the small and large neutral tones (intervals larger than semi-tone but smaller than whole-tone), the whole-tone or major 2nd, and the plus-tone (larger than whole-tone but smaller than augmented-tone). Beyond these classifications, this theory respects the uniqueness of each interval according to each performer and performance. Of all three theories presented, the theory of flexible intervals best captures the core intention of Persian classical music: allowing the innate creation process of the musician to encourage the inspiration of every individual performance.
True Persian classical music is not the melody collection of the dastgah tonal systems. The individual gusheh-ha and characteristic melodic pieces that are learned by all students of Persian music are never literally performed. Instead, they serve as a basic framework for the true creation process of the musician: improvisation. Although the improvisatory technique rests on the spontaneous expression of a skilled musician, there are specific decisions and guidelines that a musician must choose before a performance. The first decision is deciding which dastgah to play from. The radif of Persian music is set to verses of poetry written by poets such as Rumi, Sa’adi, and Hafez. In fact, it is the meter of the poetry that gives rhythmic shape to most unmeasured Persian musical works. Therefore, poetic significance plays a crucial role in determining which dastgah to perform. The musician then must decide how many gusheh-ha of the chosen dastgah to perform and in what order they will be organized. Again, poetry may play an important role in this decision. Typically, the order of the gusheh-ha is based upon a curve shape in range, beginning with the daramad in the lowest part of the dastgah’s range, gradually rising to a high point, and then falling back down in range toward the forud ending of the piece. In addition to these preliminary decisions, the musician must also predetermine methods for the expansion and embellishment of the gusheh/dastgah backbone. The fine degree of intricate embellishment and ornamentation in Persian classical music is a characteristic found in all Persian arts including architecture, metal work, rug-making, and calligraphy.
Differing greatly from the Western classical music tradition, the Persian classical musician is simultaneously composer, performer, and creator. The fixed elements of a gusheh that are present in all performances of a specific gusheh include “the location and configuration of the tetrachord, the melodic function of each scale degree, the melodic shape, and characteristic cadence formulae.” The elements of a gusheh that vary according to time and musician consist of “elaborations and extensions on the basic melodic framework of the gusheh…repetition and varied repetition, ornamentation, and centonization, or the joining together of familiar motives to produce longer melodies.”
As recently as the late twentieth century, selection of a dastgah and even specific gusheh-ha for performance were based upon the time and hour of the day. This practice was highly tied to religious beliefs and Persian cultural values of peaceful coexistence with the natural world. However, in recent years, the musician has been free to choose any desired dastgah for performance, usually targeted for a specific radio or television audience. Once these choices have been made ahead of time, the actual performance and ultimate creation of the music takes place. The most powerful and desired aspect of performance is when a musician is able to attain a state of hal, the “intense state of the soul…the interior fire which must animate the artist…the creativity gushes forth…the very essence of the music manifests itself.” In the typical ensemble of Persian classical music consisting of an instrumentalist, a vocalist, and possibly a drummer, the singer is the designated leader of the ensemble and the instrumentalists surrender some of their musical freedom to the singer.
As stated earlier, westernization has had a tremendous impact on Iranian society, Iranian people, and ancient cultural values. The result of musical westernization in Iran is best seen in the capital city of Tehran, the cultural center of the country. The Tehran Symphony’s full concert season of Western classical music, a classical ballet company, and Western opera performances are several examples of this drastic societal change. The establishment of Western musical conservatories directed by French musical directors in the 20th century expanded the knowledge of Persian musicians in Western music theory, practice, and performance. Although music conservatories in Iran teach both Persian and Western classical music, Persian classical music has become a minority in the cultural scene. After being exposed to the harmonic organization, rhythmic control, and precise modal classifications within Western music, Persian musicians in the beginning of the 20th century began to desire the westernization of musical thought. A sudden preoccupation with the musical theory of Persian classical music caused the widespread use of Western notation in traditional Persian music. In order to accomplish notation of the microtone, the accidentals koron, signifying the flattening of a pitch by a microtone, and sori, signifying the raising of a pitch by a microtone, were devised by the first Persian to seek a musical education in Europe, Ali Naqi Vaziri. Mr. Vaziri was also one of the first musicians to notate Persian musical pieces by applying Western harmonization to the Persian radif.
The impact of notation on Persian classical music is best demonstrated in teaching. The modern method of learning a musical art is based upon the relationship between student and a master teacher. The student of Persian music studies to master his teacher’s radif until they are able to improvise by interpreting its melodic sequences. In ancient times however, each Persian musician developed their own version of the radif. Notation makes fast learning of the radif possible. Many musicians from the ancient mystic orders in Persia believed that the mastering of the radif should take years and that skill perfection for the highest level interpretation of the radif should be an ongoing experience throughout the person’s lifetime.
Performance of Persian classical music has also been greatly affected by westernization and modernization. Before the 20th century, Persian classical music was rarely performed for public entertainment due to Islamic disapprobation. Relaxed social conditions, increasing state support for the arts, and westernization in the 20th century have manifested in a growth of all musical activities in Iran. Persian classical music is now performed by both traditional instruments and western instruments such as the violin and the piano. The use of these Western instruments has caused changes in musical style and instrumental tuning, while placing increasing value on virtuosity of the performer. Western performance aspects, such as the printing of concert programs and standardization of a 90-minute time length for a concert have become widely used in the performance of Persian classical music. Technology has allowed Persian classical music to reach a more widespread audience; however, it has also created new performance traditions and permanent changes in musical program structure. Radio has had the effects of shortening performances, imposing a certain degree of standardization on Persian classical music performances, and creating a ‘star system’ which enables certain performers to attain widespread popularity over other performers not heard on the radio.
Persian identity is deeply embedded in the ancient tradition of Persian classical music. As Persian cultural values and beliefs have evolved over time, Persian classical music has synonymously been transformed. Often associated with the deep, complex, and profound poetry of the great Persian poets, Persian music embodies the penultimate expression of the human soul. Due to the Islamic condemnation of music and arts in Iran, Persian classical music was raised to a mystical art, highly prized for its unification with a superior power of existence. The modernization and westernization of Iran have not only changed the structural components of Persian music in many ways, but have also exposed the art to the world. There is currently more Western interest in Persian classical music than ever before. Perhaps as people listen to this mysteriously beautiful Persian art, they attain some type of hal state where the “world becomes transfigured, unveiling its marvelous images, and across an ineffable transparency…offers itself to the direct comprehension of every being capable of sensing.”
Hormoz Farhat, The Dastgāh Concept in Persian Music (Cambridge, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1990),
Ella Zonis, Classical Persian Music (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1973), 21.
Loyd Clifton Miller, Music and Song in Persia: The Art of Āvāz (Salt Lake City, UT: The University of Utah
Press, 1999), 6.
Farhat, op. cit., 19.
Bruno Nettl, Radif of Persian Music (Champaign, IL: Elephant & Cat, 1992), 19.
Farhat, op. cit., 25.
Bruno Nettl, “Persian Classical Music in Tehran: The Processes of Change,” in Eight Urban Musical Cultures
(Chicago, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1978), 157–164.
Farhat, op. cit., 7–15.
Ella Zonis, Classical Persian Music, 127–129.
Ibid, pp. 110–113.
Ibid, p. 104.
Ibid, p. 105.
Ibid, p. 99.
Miller, Music and Song in Persia: The Art of Āvāz, 22.
Zonis, Classical Persian Music, 2–3.
Nettl, “Persian Classical Music in Tehran: The Processes of Change,” in Eight Urban Musical Cultures, 157–
Farhat, op. cit., 8–10.
Nettl, “Persian Classical Music in Tehran: The Processes of Change,” in Eight Urban Musical Cultures,
Miller, Music and Song in Persia: The Art of Āvāz, 21.
Zonis, Classical Persian Music, 193.
Nettl, “Persian Classical Music in Tehran: The Processes of Change,” in Eight Urban Musical Cultures,
Ibid, pp. 151–154.
Miller, Music and Song in Persia: The Art of Āvāz, 22.
Bernini's Apollo and Daphne, a Motion Sculpture Event, Matthew Holmes
The lover, who would fleeting beauty clasp
Finds bitter fruit, dry leaves are all he’ll grasp.
Gian Lorenzo Bernini produced many masterpieces of the Baroque with impressive artistic skill. In one such masterpiece, Apollo and Daphne, completed in 1625, Bernini depicts the myth of Apollo tragic obsession with the Nymph Daphne made famous in Ovid’s Metamorphoses while fulfilling two equally impossible objectives. First, with exceedingly realistic visuals, Bernini succeeds in accurately portraying the scene by animating every inch of the statue, while staying true to Ovid’s continuously active storytelling style. Second, as he does this, he depicts multiple points in the story by playing the scene out as the angle one views it changes. Bernini ties these moments together in a narrative by urging the viewer to walk around the sculpture, viewing it from different angles, each perspective providing a new frame in the sequence. Through the blending of these frames, the statue directs a movement around it that sets the figures into motion as the metamorphosis takes place.
Ovid’s account of the story, while relatively short, conveys important virtuous motifs like the danger of hubris, and the irrationality of erotic love through irony and tragic poetic justice. The story in Metamorphoses begins with, Apollo, gloating with pride after just having slain Python. Taunting Aphrodite’s son Eros who also carries a bow and arrow, Apollo insults him, “Are arms like these for children to employ?” Eros replies to Apollo that he will conquer him, and does so by shooting two arrows, one golden and sharp to “make the lover bold,” piercing Apollo’s chest. The other one, blunt, and tipped with lead, finds Daphne, and “Drives her desire away”. After this, the chaste nymph will not take any suitor and begs her father to let her live and die “without the marriage tye”. While her father reluntantly consents, he proclaims “her wish wou’d prove her punishment: For so much youth, and so much beauty join’d, Oppos’d the state, which her desires design’d”. At this point in the story Bernini picks up Ovid’s motifs and unravels the rest of the story as he enacts the climatic scene.
As when th’ impatient greyhound slipt from far,
Bounds o’er the glebe to course the fearful hare,
She in her speed does all her safety lay;
And he with double speed pursues the prey…
If the statue stood in its original position, the viewer would approach it from the behind and a bit to the right. From this angle, the story starts in media res, during the chase. Apollo’s figure dominates this scene, in mid stride, running out of control. His tilted shoulders, his wound back muscles full of torque and outstretched right arm indicate an off-balance, un-Olympian sprint. Here, the motif of irrational infatuation of Eros manifests in Apollo as he uncontrollably pursues the nymph. The conflict that this scene presents – the embodiment of male composure, moderation and aretê in a mad dash for some fleeting love – instantly draws on the curiosity of the audience. Like walking into a movie during the pinnacle action scene, the drama grabs the attention of the viewer, demanding the viewer to investigate and watch the climax resolve.
Caught in the wind like the sail of a boat clinging to its mast, Apollo’s drapery intensifies the drama and directs the scene. The robe swoops from Apollo’s front, over his shoulder and out, reaching towards the viewer in an embracing motion, then curls down and across his back, swirling towards his groin, the source of his irrationality. After crossing the front of his body again, the drapery whirls around one more time, flapping wildly as it tails off like a flag held by a charging soldier. The lines of the drapery invite the viewer to begin the circular and vertical movement around the sculpture, to follow the scene. The end of the drapery doesn’t point straight back as it seems likely it would; rather it curls around to the left, indicating the flow, urging the viewer to turn to the next page.
The nymph grew pale, and in a mortal fright,
Spent with the labour of so long a flight;
And now despairing, cast a mournful look
Upon the streams of her paternal brook;
Oh help, she cry’d, in the extreamest need!
As the viewer’s perspective shifts clockwise around the sculpture, more drama unfolds as Daphne, unable to outrun the Olympian, cries to the gods for help. As Apollo begins to wrap one arm around her torso, trying to grab hold of her, she reaches up towards the sky, as if that’s the last chance she has to escape. Her fingers, fanned out and stretched like she can feel that her escape lies just out of her grasp. Her hair wildly swings behind her as she shakes her head, denying Apollo’s grasp. As she tries to reject his pull she arches back throwing her chest forward and toward the sky, in the opposite direction of the weight imposed by Apollo’s embrace. The desperation in Daphne’s animated posture draws pity and empathy for the nymph. The sight causes tension in the viewer, hoping that the gods hear her prayer.
As Daphne jumps to the air, making her final plea, Apollo immediately comes to a halt, freezing all forward motion, and setting up the climax. Upon finally coming within reach of her, her sudden stop takes him by surprise, and throws him even more off-balance. Apollo’s right foot plants firmly into the ground, and with his left leg in the air and all his weight shifted forward, he barely maintains his stance without plowing into Daphne. The undeniable sense that Apollo will topple into Daphne puts the whole motion out of balance, like a cliffhanger waiting for a resolution in the next scene.
As the drapery did before, it directs the motion from this scene to the next as it winds around Apollo’s body. The tail of the cloth comes across Apollo’s waist and then swings around his back and over his shoulder, spread out like a parachute. Then, it twists tightly around his forearm that barely maintains a grip on Daphne. The drapery comes to an end as it gently grazes Daphne’s thigh and points down at the laurel tree trunk strut, just next to Daphne’s left leg. From this angle the drapery now frames the scene very specifically. The lines of the flapping loop of cloth that runs across Apollo’s back start and end at the laurel tree strut, competing a full circle. The circle encompasses Apollo, and fixes him to Daphne and the stump. The framing keeps the viewer’s attention in the last moment of the struggle, when Daphne’s chest opens to the sky as Apollo pulls on her torso, trying to keep her down. It also echoes round motion, the circular movement the sculpture invokes. Finally, dangling down at Daphne’s leg, like a fading transition that provides a smooth guidance, the drapery moves the attention to the next scene. As the viewer follows the guidance further around the marble actors and the gaze shifts down towards the ground under Daphne’s feet, the metamorphosis begins.
Scarce had she finish’d, when her feet she found
Benumb’d with cold, and fasten’d to the ground:
A filmy rind about her body grows;
Her hair to leaves, her arms extend to boughs:
The nymph is all into a lawrel gone;
The smoothness of her skin remains alone.
Starting on Daphne’s left leg, now looking at her almost straight on, the action seems to slow down, or at least changes its momentum. Now the movement flows upward as Daphne’s body transforms, pulling the observer’s eyes over each individual texture and detail of her blossoming metamorphosis. An animated blending of her feet turning to vines that extend through her toes, as they root her to the ground. A sheet of bark covers the space between her legs, from her feet, halfway up her torso. The bark, becoming the trunk of the tree, does not cover her legs, but blends with them so well in some parts, one cannot distinguish where the flesh ends and the wood begins. At other parts, the interacting between the two is so animated, that it invokes a feeling that mutation crawls like a spreading disease over his skin. The sprawling bark extends up to her torso and meets with Apollo’s drapery and his hand and the transformation of her legs seems to sprout from towards this intersection. Her contrapposto now resembles that of an old tree, knotted, bended and twisted. Reaching for the gods, the transformation flows out of her fingertips as her waving hair touches them, the combination blossoms into leaves. Apollo appears from this angle to have regained composure and balance. He now just looks longingly at what remains of Daphne’s human form, but with a striking classic composure. On the other hand, the expression on Daphne’s face leaves one last finalizing punctuation to the moving figures to close the scene; a freeze-frame finish on the look of petrified fright with her mouth open for one last, unattainable gasp of air.
Of coarse, the story of for Ovid ends here, however Bernini’s story never finds an end. Part of the brilliance of the piece derives from the realistic portrayal of each individual component. One can admire each specific part of the sculpture, without having to view compositionally this way. But like way any good director of film meticulously chooses each shot so the overall movie flows well as a whole, Bernini directs the eyes to the next shot, like turning the projector reel so one can’t help but keep moving through the sequence enjoying each frame in the context of the one that follows and the one that precedes it.
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