Tuesday, 30 December 2008

The distance a photo a day makes

Did you notice my little sidebar slideshow? Yes, after 18 months I finally got to grips with a slideshow widget.

Some of my friends take a lot of photos, ordinary stuff, stuff you just stumbled upon, nothing special. I also saw the archive of someone who had taken a photo every single day for over 20 years until he died. And I must admit I am intrigued by the pretend simplicity and innocence of using a single photo to represent a day. No words (well, maybe a caption, please?!), no drowning in incessant chatter. Just an image.

So, when I was walking down one particular street in Uelzen last Monday, I took a photo. That road is part of an area in that small town that in memory is my favourite place in the world. My grandparents lived there in a housing association flat, and in that flat I spent a large part of my first few years. And most good things seem to have happened there.

Some days in December, #4
Sternstrasse, Uelzen
Monday, 22/12/2008

It already started with the name of that area: At the star - Am Stern. Imagine that: to live at the star. How fabulous. And: their flat was on the second floor. High up from the ground, and with a balcony. Even more fabulous.

After leaving primary school, I would walk that road for two years every day after school to get to the bus station. AND THAT ROAD TOOK FOREVER. IT WAS SOOOO FAR AND SOOOO BORING. Forgotten was the great name. Star Street became Boredom Street. Just this year I ended up walking that road a couple of times into town. The first time for probably 20 odd years. I timed it: eternity lasted precisely 7 minutes when I was 9.

So, eternity, photographic simplicity, and memory lead to something that has come up a few times before: distance, familiarity and abstraction.

I was walking down that road and that difference in time then and now was one of those moments where it became so clear how stuff had changed, the stuff that had happened in those years, that that is somewhere I grew up but I feel utterly foreign nonetheless: I struggle with the customary unpoliteness when talking German, I say far too often please and thank you, hold doors open, try to queue orderly, and forget that words have literal meanings. And then again: I do all know this. It is mine... if not in presence than in past. And: the longer I am away, the more confident my awayness does become.

I think this is the distance I am circling around in some of my seascapes. See these two posts over at Watermarks, if you haven't read them before.

Well... they also go back to some of the thoughts around landscapism and abstraction, there's some links on the Summer sketches post.

I hadn't quite caught sight of the importance of distance before. But Star Street made it just so much clearer. There is a poem to go with this:


Wie einer, der auf fremden Meeren fuhr,
so bin ich bei den ewig Einheimischen;
die vollen Tage stehn auf ihren Tischen,
mir aber ist die Fremde voll Figur.

In mein Gesicht reicht eine Welt herein,
die vielleicht unbewohnt ist wie ein Mond,
sie aber lassen kein Gefühl allein,
und alle ihre Worte sind bewohnt.

Die Dinge, die ich weither mit mir nahm,
sehn selten aus, gehalten an das Ihre - :
in ihrer großen Heimat sind sie Tiere,
hier halten sie den Atem an vor Scham.

I found a translation by Phillip Kellmeyer (sorry, I did change it, felt it could do with improvement):

The lonely one

Like someone who sailed distant seas,
I am with the ever natives;
full days are standing on their tables,
yet for me distance is full of promise.

In my face a world reaches in,
perhaps deserted like a moon,
they leave no feeling alone,
and all their words are inhabited.

The things which I took with me
look rare, compared to theirs -:
in their great home they are animals,
here they hold their breath in shame.

So not to make strange creatures hold their breath, I am taking some photos of the world where no feeling is left alone and all words are inhabited. To make theirs a bit more abstract and distant? Possibly?
I also doubt the title:
is it not much more about being foreign/alien/strange rather than lonely?
Ok, the latter may be a result of the former, but not necessarily so, no?

- Distance? Abstraction? What's new? Oh, and BTW, the poem is Rilke again.

But, do have a look at the photos, one a day while I'm here:


JafaBrit's Art said...

wow, what a fabulous post and the introspection and connections to your art, the images.

Katherine Tyrrell said...

I'm coming back to read this again later when I've finished my blog post about my personal review of 2008.

How much more interesting to really look back on one's life and influences!

Gesa said...

Thank you, you two! Funny, how things do unravel and come together... I hadn't quite thought of that before.
Katherine, yes... I will be looking back more immediately now to the past year.
JafaBrit - I need to have another look at your starry night drawing and your own memories. I very much like that smallest scale sketchbook project and am curious where it will go

Philipp said...

Great works of art - like the pastels.
Thanks for stumbling over and posting some of the excrescences of my venial Rilke habit (breaking of which was definitely not part of this New Year's resolution).
Also thanks for the improvements, please, please do feel free to browse some of the translations and let me know which ones could use a little pastellist infusion @ http://www.srcf.ucam.org/~pjk42/rilke_files/rilke.html
If you're also interested in idiosyncratic and insignificant contemporary poetry (mostly in German) a site delighted to be visited would be: http://omnibus.uni-freiburg.de/~pk372/poetry.html

Gesa said...

Oh, I blushed at your email this morning, Philipp. How did I forget that the blog is not an offline diary. :)
Yes - I will have another look at your website - I have little experience with poetry translation, and tend to use it rather pragmatically if I want to communicate some of the German stuff to non-German speakers; and, yes, I will have a look at some idiosyncracies, am rather fond of them myself.