Thursday, 24 October 2013

William Eggleston

It is all about defamiliarising the familiar. When our eyes are, by no means in any negative way, trained to take for granted a world glutted with colours, hardly we will conceive of something normal as anomalous. But if we now take our unfettered imagination a bit further and let us envisage a world that is essentially monochrome, that every shade and hue are bled out of every object and every entity, gradually and consequently, we will be beholding a fantastical sight that used to leave us sniggering when we were exhuming our parents’ family album. Everything suddenly looks so archaic, and it inspires in us a peculiar feeling that our existence will no sooner be whizzing to an untimely termination. Black and white invariably impart a vague sense of an impending death.

William Eggleston’s photography looks like colours that erupt from the hearts of the monochrome figures, like mummies suddenly coming to life. The feeling is electrifying, but not without tinges of fear and apprehension. Colours denote progress, advancement, modernity, technology, and we, who were hitherto so cosy with our old days’ simplicity, recoil from this formidable monster who wields his sceptre as he heralds change. The beauty of colourful nature is an elusive knowledge we are yet conversant with. Our eyes instead linger on a squalid corner where we used to brook with admirable magnanimity. The place is now deluged with ghastly green light. And we are disgusted.

Green car, green building, set against a purple sky scattered with strands of wispy, orange afterglow. Nature’s composition can be so capricious and indecipherable that we cannot help sensing something portentous coming. With what purpose is the car pulling over beside the building? Whose car is it? Is the person an old friend of the resident(s) of the house? Or is the car also a property belonging to the owner of the house? Is the car unoccupied? Or is someone still in the car?

Anyone endowing with a febrile imagination can take a step too far when assessing this mysterious photo. Almost every piece of Eggleston’s oeuvre is like that, it is constantly veiled with a film of enigma, and therefore breeds numerous stories. But what ultimately engenders the unnerving feel is the colour- the colour that looks so unnatural, so deliberate, and in some cases, so incongruous with the object it represents and illumines.

Before the advent of photoshop or any other graphic editing programmes, a photographer is one who is essentially impassive and staying detached from the object he captures. Even when transposing the object into a subject the photographer is still expected to behold his artwork with a pair of cold eyes. A photographer is no more than a mere recorder, but a recorder who possesses the autonomy of selecting. If there is any flicker of sympathy left underneath the callous nature of a photographer, that is perhaps it- the life of every existing object is at the mercy of the photographer, who presses away the shutter like that formidable monster who wields the sceptre. Life barely trembles when it is immortalised in a photograph.

A photographer might not always be the aloof onlooker of the scene he captures. His presence might also be found in the photo. As in the case of Eggleston’s I feel he is dwelling in that coruscating window adjacent to the green building. His halo is burning but all he knows is that being there he is seeing the world as a ten-year-old, and he is his only friend.

Monday, 14 October 2013

Jan Steen, Woman At Her Toilet (1660)

It is about putting on the stocking like ripping off the flesh on the leg. The elastic material clings onto her leg, like pesterer that refuses to give up his pursuing, however much obstacles he has encountered along his difficult journey. Maybe a mosquito is happened to be entrapped in that stocking, and suddenly, when waking up from his momentary daze, he finds himself landed on this foreign terrain, which is populated with nothing special but occasional cracks and sparse bushes. The mosquito has no more the driving urge of bloodthirstiness left in him. He is no longer young, no, and his wings are wilting and losing its youthful spark. So he trudges on with much difficulty on this vast terrain, burning with this sole intent of his final pilgrimage: that to find a cosy place so he can lie down his wearied body. It is every elder’s ultimate desire to enter the Big Sleep, and to luxuriate in that sweet stupefaction, which is growing more and more intense every counting second, as he smiles a wan smile and sees line between land and sea gradually blur.

The little dog knows nothing about the aged mosquito as he sleeps soundly on the mistress’s bed. Maybe he possess within him some parts of the mistress’s psyche. Even likelier the little dog is the mistress, after one unaccountable and confusing transposition, but still retaining the features and habits of a fluffy creature. She enjoys surveying her poky room through the eyes of the little dog, which are placid and uncontaminated like the lake when the world is yet populated. She knows nothing beyond the four walls and she wants to see no other rooms beside hers. Contentment comes easy. The curtains are imbued with different shades of green which appeal to her, yet at the same time she is tickled by something so amusing that she unleashes an uncontrollable fit of laughter. What she discovers is a shadow, presumably an imprint of hers, which leaps in accordance with the ripples of the curtains. Silhouette. Every living thing is no more but a silhouette.

The chair stands like a lonely warden on a distant planet who waits daily and patiently for someone to take him home. He can still recall, faint though his memory has become, the day when he was pronounced his first death. Never once in his life would he dream of becoming the subject of some unnamed painter’s masterpiece. The painter stopped his heartbeat by rendering him a goblet of blinding yellow against the background of scarlet forest. From that day on whoever sees the abstruse painting talks of a heated contest between those two fires, both threatening to engulf the other, and neither is that easily subjugated by another’s imminent victory. Being revived years later, when, after countless futile attempts that attested to his failure of rekindling the painter’s exceptional artistry, the chair is again back to his familiar earthiness. Often he will comfort himself, his philosophical mind travels far out of the bounds of this shabby room.

And so an arch is appearing, sooner followed by a wall, all built by bricks materialising like drops of rain that leak from the roof. Henceforth the lady decides to sing, to sing a song with a melody that meanders like white smoke in a dark night. Positioning the last brick on its niche I can still hear her singing, thrumming like the drone of a drum, like a nameless creature prisoned in a room cordoned off by numerous labyrinthine corridors, forgotten by time and people. Distantly but distinctly I can still hear her sing.