"IN THE EARLY MORNING he went back out onto the street. The cafe had only just opened. The air tasted sweet. He accidentally brushed against the ice-cold marble table-top. He thought of the eggshell on the table in his room. His reflections were laid out in artful counterpoint to the streaming current of reality. Through the glass pane he could see an old-fashioned corset-shop in the window opposite, in which a lone bustier hung from a metal mannequin in the otherwise empty display, decorated with lace. He enjoyed the unique musical score of accidental perceptions."
the image is a cabinet photograph circa 1900, that has been in my collection for a few years and was supposedly taken in long beach california. the text is a "chapter" of gerhard roth's 1973 hallucinatory novel in fragments: the will to sickness.
upon re-reading roth's surrealist-ly tactile book saturday morning, i figured i should post this little "window" text as a follow up to friday's windows. much of roth's text reads like a visible "field recording", but it is his last sentence that captured my attention; for in many ways, it reflects the sensibility of the blog, as well as much of my work. it suggests the potential of an invisible, yet "scored, path" in looking, as he deftly balances the words "score", "accidental", and "perceptions", to create an activity of image-perceiving, or gathering, that is not unlike a series of stepping stones. the eyes as gatherer, the mind as archivist.
the phrase reminds me a bit of a short quote by walker evans on collecting that i forgot to put into my initial post on his postcard collection:
"i think artists are collectors figuratively. i've noticed that my eye collects."
for evans, this "collecting" (or mindful seeing), becomes a score that sets an action in motion - taking a picture. where roth's Kalb is constantly absorbing and moving, evans is also stopping time to create a physical record of such perceptions. here, the question becomes one surrounding accidents, as one wonders if a photographer like evans began his photographic looking with conscious intentions or if at times he was able to simply happen upon something in the moment, as if he too was able to be led by "the unique musical score of accidental perceptions" rather than a map of his own predetermined seekings. i would imagine it was a bit of both - visible in evans' postcard collecting as well as his photographic practice.
roth suggests that the things we see in sequence are somehow unconsciously connected, and perhaps there is meaning in the supposedly accidental order or sequence of what we see and how we see. even when one is absent minded, moving the eyes from one thing to another can be miraculously active... eyes dance upon things as fingers on piano keys, following a score, and one sees the bones of an idea: perhaps it is not only the seeing that is scored, but one's entire experience of the world...
if looking is like a series of sequential notes in a musical score, then whatever our eyes will rest upon in the next few seconds will be a combination of what is determined (scored) and undetermined (accidental), the path is set in motion... but that doesn't mean there isn't room for wrong notes. roth challenges us to seek meaning in the relationships between each thing, each vision, or each thought...
so how does the text relate to the photograph, other than the fact that there are actual windows in both? roth's "seeing-path" through a world both scored and accidental, perfectly describes the life moments captured by photographic artworks that folks now tend to call a "vernacular photograph"- a spiffy term for what is essentially an amateur snapshot. like the phrase "folk art", the term has become complex and fuzzy, with multiple definitions more or less inclusive depending on the collector that is using the term.
while i can't imagine someone saying that they collect "musical scores of accidental perceptions", roth's phrase is ideal in suggesting the birth of a candid photograph, and yet it doesn't necessitate the maker be an amateur. it clearly suits any un-staged moment regardless of the training and/or ability of the capturer.
certainly, "a musical score of accidental perceptions" could describe any photographic moment, but in line with roth's text as a whole, it seems clearly aligned with the so-called "candid" moment - a moment that is less controlled and more discovered. it's a guy with a camera circa 1900 walking with people at some kind of street fair, stopping to capture in a photograph a complex arrangement of people, on several levels of horizontal space, with several levels of spatial depth, some compressed, some expanded... (or one might simply say, a guy walking down the street, snapping a photo of some street performers...).
the interesting thing is that this moment of perceiving the "accidental" is no different than the one that generated stieglitz's masterpiece's - the "steerage" - which might be the ultimate photographic example of perceiving this "musical score of accidentals". surely both humans, the master and the amateur, felt some inner pangs in their own visual situations that suggested they bust out the camera and capture the visual moment.
all of this, of course, is simply a long winded road, full of left turns, that allows me the small happiness of feeling that in some way, the process of my work, essentially a combination of perceptions, scores, and accidents, is also somehow connected to the process of life; and that in roth's phrase, my being, seeing, making, doing, collecting, etc. are all connected by a tangled mass of invisible threads - sometimes known and most times unknown. roth suggests that these threads continually bind the accidents, perceptions and scores, in such a way that they are always together, and their connectedness can never be broken... god bless the beauty of invisible things felt yet not quite fully understood or known.
Labels: collecting, gerhard roth, RPPC, scores, seeing, vernacular photography, walker evans