There is a good Southern term ‘sit me on my ear.’ Not sure just how Southern it is or even exactly what it means beyond what it means to me, but I recently had an experience that sit me on my ear.
I read the other day some verses written by an eminent painter which were original and not conventional. Always the soul hears an admonition in such lines, let the subject be what it may. The sentiment they instill is of more value than any thought they may contain. To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men, — that is genius. Speak your latent conviction, and it shall be the universal sense; for always the inmost becomes the outmost — and our first thought is rendered back to us by the trumpets of the Last Judgment. Familiar as the voice of the mind is to each, the highest merit we ascribe to Moses, Plato and Milton is that they set at naught books and traditions, and spoke not what men, but what they thought. A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within, more than the luster of the firmament of bards and sages. Yet he dismisses without notice his thought, because it is his. In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts; they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty. Great works of art have no more affecting lesson for us than this. They teach us to abide by our spontaneous impression with good-humored inflexibility then most when the whole cry of voices is on the other side. Else tomorrow a stranger will say with masterly good sense precisely what we have thought and felt all the time, and we shall be forced to take with shame our own opinion from another.
Yeah, I wish I had written that but I didn’t. Ralph Waldo Emerson did. It is sometimes interesting to contemplate things that have influenced our thinking. I seem to be attracted to some strange mentors, Emerson, Hattersley and Michels. Well, maybe Emerson isn’t so strange. I still have no idea what Transcendentalism is and if I ever find out then I might consider him strange but then I would have to admit that I also am strange.
Maybe all three are pushing photography toward the metaphorical.
I freely confess that there is little that I can find fault with Emerson.
No one has influenced my thinking on photography to the extent that Hattersley has. On first encountering Hattersley most of what he wrote was new to me but it was like seeing a light for the first time, it resonated with me from the beginning. When I share Hattersley with other photographers they are unimpressed and often repulsed. So I have to question, how I got so far off course. How have I become so corrupted that I can no longer see photography the way other people do. Surely they are right and I am wrong—that is the point at which I go back and reread Emerson.
Michels is totally metaphorical. Or maybe metaphorical is the only way that I want to see Michels work. He does much of what I wish I had the talent to do photographically.
Addendum: Sorry I have to add to the previous paragraph: There is a depth to Michels photographs—which includes what he writes about the photograph since the two are one, inseparable. In one sense it is universal and in another sense tremendously, wrenchingly personal. As much as I want my photography to emulate this universality and personal intimacy, it is a depth that I do not feel I am intellectually capable of reaching but in many ways it is a goal I should work toward… but don’t.
I think the attraction is… but here is the question. Is it really because we have similar concepts about life or art or is it that their concepts have influenced my concepts. Where is it that the individual begins and where is it that the individual becomes the outside influences? I am not sure that I know.
I am still recuperating from the Duane Michels lecture at the MFA last Friday. Still trying to sort out just what I want to take from the lecture, if anything. I was excited to see and hear Michels because he has been such a strong influence to my thinking on photography. Excited enough to be sure that I made the drive back from Dallas in time to get to the lecture. Now I am questioning how I can be so greatly affected by someone that sees the world so differently. It is not that Michels is gay. That doesn’t bother me. It is not that he photographs men sans skivvies. That doesn’t bother me. It was the tirade against most everything outside of photography that I believe that bothered me. Can I separate his work from the toxic tirade that seemed to garner almost unanimous approval and great applause from the audience? Is this a person whose work I want to admire? Maybe more importantly, are these people that I should choose to associate with? Those questions were weighing very heavily on my mind when I left the museum. They still are. Along with, "How do I rebecome a recluse?"