I want to celebrate two artists this week – a photographer and a writer. Ed Douglas has appeared in these posts before, and a couple of weeks ago I went to see his latest exhibition at Hahndorf. It was terrific. He has put together tableaus (tableaux?) of items – photographs, twigs, stones, feathers, seeds, leaves, a tray in one, candles, his own writing, numbers, ashes – on his father’s drawing board. The resulting images are meditative, rich with ideas and beauty and bring Ed’s world (his background, his way of working, his reflections on life, his particular angle of vision) into connection with issues in the wider world – in particular the environment and, in this exhibition, the way we continue to be influenced by our own past and the historical past. There were some photos of pictures of Ed’s family members and stories written in Ed’s hand about their lives. I didn’t take pictures of them, but they were poignant and fascinating, especially placed as they were on his father’s board, and appealed to me very much. Here are some photos I did take, to give you a flavour.
Then, this weekend I got hold of this year’s edition of Best American Essays, a yearly anthology that I usually read and enjoy, this year chosen by the inestimable Rebecca Solnit, who writes in her introduction, that “the essayist’s job is to gather up the shards or map them where they are, to find the pattern out there or make one…about the disconnections and mysteries. This reading of the world is a form of travel, questing and searching and gathering…trying to find out how things fit together… how the personal and the public can inform each other…how discovery can be a deep pleasure”. She goes on to say that she wants essays to be “a place where the experiential and the categorical, the firsthand and the researched, converse, question or just dance in each other’s arms for a while”. Ed’s pictures, in this way, are little essays. I think they do this kind of dance and exploration, the reflection and modest, allusive philosophising. Marvellous.
Rebecca Solnit herself does these things in her work – connecting the personal and the political, the particular with the broad. Her non-fiction writing is often both trenchant and beautiful, and “maintain[s] the diplomatic relations between journalism and poetry, owning something from both territories… functioning in both” (as she says in the book’s introduction about good essays in general). As a reader it is thrilling to find these ways into the minds and thoughts of folk across the seas (or in the Adelaide hills, or wherever), and to be lifted onto new ground by the raft of ideas pushed out from the imaginations of writers. Same goes for visual artists. I love it.
What a pleasure it is to connect – writers and readers, artists and their viewers, ideas and meanings, human to human, across the miles, in time, through quiet reflection and the work we do; making discoveries, unravelling mysteries (or just being awed by them), seeing beauty and being alive, alive-o.