I was never able to get past the problem of confounding past and present tenses. When I write, my pen produces a gelatinous mixture of happened and happening- anachronistic nows and living ghosts of thens filling my pages.
Robert Frank once told Ute Eskildsen, “Photographs immediately make everything old.” Shifting what is, instantly, to what was.
And in the November 2002 issue, du magazine ran, along with “Robert Frank, Part Two” an excerpt from Dara Horn’s novel, In The Image:
The photographs of my parents’ wedding were destroyed, by accident, by their photographer. The wedding album they have consists only of the photographs that survived this unexplained accident, and most of those are terrible photographs, pictures of people with their eyes closed, or mouths hanging open, or shrouded in shadow. But one of these warped images has always stayed in my mind. In the picture, my newly-married parents are seated on a dais, surrounded on either side by my four grandparents.
It would be an unremarkable family photograph if not for the photographer’s blunder. Apparently this picture, though rescued from oblivion, suffered from some sort of poor exposure which caused certain details of the photograph to wash out of focus and disappear entirely. In this case, no one in the photograph has any eyes. But instead of discarding the print, the photographer decided to improve upon it by drawing in everyone’s eyes a black felt-tipped pen. The result is both unnerving and hilarious: my parents and grandparents, in a portrait taken on one of the most serious and glorious days of their lives, stare out into the future with the bulging eyes of cartoon characters.
It is commonly thought that images are our way of stopping time. But this is not precisely true. Images are the demonstration of our failure to stop time. Yet we take pictures desperately. There are not only costs of living, but also costs of loving, and the price of loving anyone, to be paid sooner or later, is an inevitable fall into a bottomless pit of grief. Our best defense against this fact has been to ignore it – to replace the world we see vanishing with one that we create and preserve, one in which the people we love still sit side by side at a wedding party, staring into the future, even if it requires us to give them new eyes.
In the Hebrew bible we are told that man is made in the image of God; we are created in the image, in the likeness, of something eternal. I used to wonder how it could be that God, when creating man, had failed to replicate his own eternity. It is only in recent years that I have begun to see the tiny mark of eternity inscribed into that image. The eternity latent within us is not in our immortality – for as the Hebrew liturgy reminds us, we are nothing but the cloud that vanishes – but in our yearning for immortality: in our failure to accept that we cannot stop time even as we photograph tombstones, in our drive to preserve what we know we will lose, in our stubborn refusal to stop loving, even though we know the enormous price we will pay. The eternity within us lies in our willingness, as Robert Frank put it, to make the present moment old: that is, to use our own eyes to see the world, and when what we see seems too fleeting, to create our own captured images of it – to draw new eyes for ourselves within which we can see the world as we wanted it to be, as we wish it to be, as what all that is good within us knows that it should be: not merely preserved, but renewed, as in days of old.