Hunting for Time

History: a dream we make up to comfort ourselves, which we blanket over the reality of our lives.

I floated around campus, ghost-like. No one was around; or if they were there, I was not. I stepped back into a historical jetlag, which I had felt before, displaced by the modern campus as I left my research session in the library. With my newly inherited memory, and a camera, I sought to rebuild the legacy of the old Garland Oak that once stood on campus. The task proved frustrating as I realized that modernity obstructed my photographs. I became a medium stuck between disconnected identities of past and present. In the memoir Istanbul, Orhan Pamuk suggests that “we might call this confused, hazy state melancholy” (Pamuk 1114-1117). I felt “a melancholy that is communal rather than private” (Pamuk 1117). For the satisfaction of this feeling, I researched the most probable location of the Garland Oak. With the use of scenes from the modern campus as substitutions for what existed before, I attempt to express the communal sentiments that once surrounded the Garland Oak.

The impact of the Garland Oak--"History centered about the Garland oak to a degree not equaled in the case of any other tree on campus" (“The Garland Oak”).

I imagine the role of the once famous Oak to parallel that of today’s largest and oldest tree on campus. The immensity of the tree drew me to the school during my first campus tour at Vanderbilt. I stood next to it and realized my own inferiority and my mistake in underestimating its size. It stands at the heart of main campus as students pass it by every day, preoccupied by priorities that came long after the tree. The past Vanderbilt community seemed more dedicated to the recognition of their beloved tree. “Many parties have called our attention to the fact that the oak in question is no longer in existence” (“The Garland Oak”). The author of the article laments, “once such a landmark no longer stands” (“The Garland Oak”). The old news article, discovered and revived in the Vanderbilt Alumnus Magazine, establishes a sense of community beyond the boundaries of its time period. I felt the loss as I read the disappointment in the past Vanderbilt community’s response to the old photo of the Garland Oak. Though written in 1917, I felt like a part of that community and immediately pondered what happened to the tree. The article provides an answer as if it was a funeral speech, and in doing so it highlights the significance of the tree.

The tree encased much of the campus within its being. Not only was the tree a landmark, but it also served importance in the development of the campus grounds. It was referred to in certain deeds of real estate to explain and locate property location (“The Garland Oak”). The tree also connects with Vanderbilt’s first Chancellor, Professor Garland, a forefather of its development and beliefs, down to the preservation of the squirrels and birds (Vanderbilt) that now run rampant on campus. Symbolically the tree’s location indicated its importance, situated top and center of the hilly campus as prominent sight from any of the main roads that ran through the campus. Entranced by the now mythical tree that seemed to be at the heart of the University’s foundation, I joined the old Vanderbilt community. Through this information, the article builds a community between past and present, the living and the dead.

The crossroads of West Avenue, Central Avenue and University Avenue --"Forty years ago a road led westwards from Broad Street right through the campus towards the Garland Oak" (“The Garland Oak”).

Yet, this connection distanced me from the present. The modern campus became unfamiliar as I used maps to navigate the Vanderbilt of the past. When I would raise my camera to shoot locations, I could not escape the present that I attempted to ignore. Fences annoyed me, the excessive black steel posts angered me, the existence of cars disgusted me, and I loathed any people that stepped into my frame. Modernity imposed itself, obstructing my recreation and disrupting my past connection. Upon later attempting to edit these photos, the technology only sucked away the essence. Change in coloring made the photos less real, and cropping was unsatisfactory. I desired to edit the present, not my photos. Modernity added to the “melancholy” I inherited by reminding me that the inheritance was not real.

the first of the residences on the road from West End through to the tennis courts after passing Kissam Hall […and] guarded the approach to his home" (“The Garland Oak”).”]the first of the residences on the road from West End through to the tennis courts after passing Kissam Hall […and] guarded the approach to his home” (“The Garland Oak”).”]The communal sense of pride and loss from the legacy of the Oak in turn subjected me to private melancholy. I experienced a past connection that never belonged to me, and my intrigue separated me from the community to which I belonged. Pamuk believes that his melancholy “is ultimately as life-affirming as it is negating” (Pamuk 1152). I believe that this applies to the haze of history. I discovered the history of the tree, which was the history of the old Vanderbilt community, which is the history of current Vanderbilt, to reassure me that I continue something important. However, the fact that the tree is history affirms its nonexistence in modern life. Its burial site that has now become Tolman Hall no longer preserves its tangibility, leaving me with the fables and hypotheses that I nestle around photographs of imagination.

and the remains piled up in state along with the bones of many another outworn hero just back of Kissam Hall" (“The Garland Oak”).”]and the remains piled up in state along with the bones of many another outworn hero just back of Kissam Hall” (“The Garland Oak”).”]           

Works Cited

“The Garland Oak.” Jean and Alexander Heard Library. Vanderbilt University Special Collections, 10 Oct. 2011. Web. 12 Apr. 2012.            <http://www.library.vanderbilt.edu/speccol/digcoll/garlandoak.shtml&gt;.

Pamuk, Orhan (2006-12-05). Istanbul (Kindle Locations 1114-1152). Random House, Inc..Kindle Edition.

Vanderbilt University. “Landon C. Garland 1875-1873.” The Chancellor Search. Vanderbilt University, 2008. Web. 7 Apr. 2012.            <http://www.vanderbilt.edu/chancellorsearch/garland.html&gt;.

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They Use Our Mouths To Speak

         Photovism: activism through photography. When used with sarcasm, suggests a criticism of lack of action

            Ex. “photovism at its finest” (muttered as I stood near Kirkland holding my camera)

Orhan Pamuk’s novel almost seems frantic. He grasps for memories and denounces those he finds inadequate in his lone salvation of his home of Istanbul. While I love the imagery and composition of the novel, I feel as if he does not give enough credit to how the presence of the inanimate objects speaks.

 I really love these flowers. This is what I truly wanted to photograph (even though I already considered capturing the tents because they were so blatantly there). However, the “photovism” statement said a million words in one sentence. The artists that Vesna Pavlovic presented in her presentation would argue for the validity of “photovism”. The silence of their photos mixed with memory, implication, connotation and knowledge speak louder than words alone.

The idea of a photograph becoming part of what it captures also interests me. The muttered sentence itself shows how the act of taking a photograph has an immediate assumed purpose when it’s associated with certain things. The photo itself becomes a form of activism by capturing it.

 

 I’m not sure if the person was truly being sarcastic, but if so, the exchange between the photo and its subject inverts. A criticism that the photo is inactive suggests that the subject will become inactive. The inaction of this still activism is all of a sudden maximized. The message of the still objects distorts, and critics wonder if something is really being said, is something really going to be done, or is this just more publicity for whatever it is protesting?  In that way, there is also a risk in relying on objects to speak for its self, as others can manipulate or misread, or reject it altogether.  Pamuk finds this thought overwhelming.

In any case, now every time I see these flowers which I loved simply because of the way they leaned towards the sun, they’ll be associated with “photovism.”

Still Indicators of Life

In 1957, Kissam Quad opened up as a newly renovated all-male dormitory, to replace the old Kissam on Alumni Lawn (http://www.vanderbilt.edu/magazines/vanderbilt-magazine/2012/03/the-three-lives-of-kissam-hall/)

Men were recovering from the effects of World War II or being remembered for their lives taken in the effort, women were rising in the fight for equal recognition, and blatant segregation still thrived in the South.

The two artists discussed by Vesna Pavlovic that moved me most, Taysir Batniji and Jessica Ingram, both made me question the social commentary present in everyday life. This theme was especially prominent in Ingram’s work, and while her photography of sites of violent acts of racism held powerful messages, I was drawn to this image

for its simplicity and seemingly untampered sense of reality. The little book above the toilet seems so telling of personality and moral, making me realize that we leave traces of social commentary through the way we live.

Taysir Batniji interests me in his attention to shape, texture, and detail in his photography and other works of art. I felt that this photo

combines both methods because it suggests the obscure sense that I feel upon reflecting on the building where I temporarily live. The buildings of Kissam Quad have their own statements simply because of their presence in another time period where social context differed so drastically. I see the urinal in my bathroom and am reminded that this building was intended for men. Then I realize the specific kind of man the building was intended for, and wonder how, back then, that man would feel to know that one day a black woman would stay there. It was both intriguing and eerie to view my status in relation to generations of college students.

   Something about the shape and structure of the windows in the staircases captures the weird feeling. Perhaps it’s the darkness, allowed little glimpses of light only through the restraint of cross-shaped openings. The cross shape itself suggests ideas of morality, religion, and all the social issues that come with it. I realize I’m not the only one who feels this way because I’ve heard several parents and students equate the buildings to a prison. Even though it was in good humor, and meant to address how unsuitable the buildings are for modern life, I think it demonstrates that objects of time have a similar effect on many people. To me, this photo exemplifies the power of still indicators of life that Taysir Batniji presents in his works. It then makes me wonder whether photos create social commentary or simply bring it to light; something Jessica Ingram questions in the way she uses photography.

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Detached Experience

My dad once told me, when I was between the age of ten and thirteen, the story of Caribbean rebels ( in St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands) who all jumped off a cliff together and smashed on the rocks below. They’d rather, he said, give up their lives than be a slave. There were so many of them that to this day the rocks remain red with their blood. At the time I wasn’t sure how I felt about the story: it didn’t have a time period nor a specific place. But the story set my mind spiraling with imagination and contemplation, and even though I forget about it for years on end, absorbed in my daily life, it reappears momentarily with the same vivacity.                        

In his first story, “Dr Henry Selwyn,” Sebald keeps a consistent motif of unattainable forgotten memories that return upon their own whim. When the narrator speaks of  a photo that Dr Selwyn was unwilling to explain, he proclaims, “That view of the Lasithi plateau […] made a deep impression on me at the time, yet it later vanished from my mind almost completely” (17). When the narrator recalls how the memory finally did return to him, vividly explaining the experience of the place, he points out an error in his memory, “which in reality I have still not seen to this day [speaking of Lasithi]” (18). This triggered the connection to my memory because I have never actually seen the place which my dad spoke of, nor experienced the event (obviously), but its memory always returns with clarity.                                                                     

Using the generic photo of a beach in St. John mirrors the way Sebald uses photos. It adds a level of irony to my memory, because when I took this photo my mind was on one thing: the beach and its beauty. Now it serves as my only personal photo of St. John that I can provide for this story. The photos that Sebald uses may serve the same purpose, to stand in as the only evidence possible, but they also reinforce the story’s obscurity. This picture shows that I’ve been to one of the bays in St. Johns but it also reminds me that I have no feasible evidence of the story that had an impact on my mind. Sebald’s photos always detach me from the story because it’s not clear if they are real or relevant, but just the same they provide visual stimulation to further contemplate the story.

Okr-aintance

    

I looked through different eyes at what I tasted with the same tongue.

Unsuspectingly, I dove into a plate of salt-fish and rice given to me by my Grandma. I was so hungry and so excited to be eating real seafood again that I’d resolved to eat everything off the plate, even the vegetables (getting older apparently makes vegetables more tolerable, even good sometimes). I’d never seen these little green things before that were now in my plate, but I ate them anyway. Of course, infused with the red beans, fresh tomatoes and sauce, flavorful beans and rice and the delicate but welcome surprises of salt-fish chunks, the first bites were delicious.

But then I felt it. The slime, the slippery, crept into my head, my senses, my being: this was Okra. My heart sank. My joy dropped (and so did my fork). I stared at the green slices in disbelief, having flashbacks to that long night at the table, struggling to swallow the slugs that my Grandma called “okra”. It was a horrid, whining, chair squirming memory. I thought I’d never encounter Okra again. I was too big to be tricked into that now, I thought.

I sulked over to find her and ask her, already feeling the betrayal. These little green slices weren’t the Okra I knew. I knew it as a whole (as one collective obese peapod). “Grandma, what are these,” I asked, already defeated. She looked at the plate and smiled, “It’s Okra!” She must have also remembered my horrid encounter. They tricked me, her and the Okra together. And even though I thought the okra slices weren’t bad until my recognition, I removed every piece from my plate. They were and always would be revolting.

I took these photos to become re-acquainted, so that a mishap such as this would never happen again.

Maybe that’s a little dramatic. But that’s how it felt. This experience conjured up the dramatic and imaginative thoughts and experiences of my childhood self, and I could think of it in no other way. These photos attempt to show the “horrid vegetable” to me in a new light. But though I admire their new appearance, I can’t bring myself to re-invent my conceptions of the subject. With each picture that becomes clearer and closer, I still feel revulsion. Even though photography allows me to capture my new perception, it still serves a just as powerful purpose of conjuring past feelings. A photograph does not have to capture the old moment to possess this power; it can also capture old memories through new methods of vision.

Physics of Memory

My attempt to understand the confusion of Perec’s memoir/novel lead me to the parallel bridges on 21st Avenue. Each bridge, facing one another, identical and providing sight of the other over a stretch of land with mutiple obstructions and distractions of view, represents one of the parallel narratives of W, or The Memory of Childhood. I could even go so far as to say that the “V”s displayed on each bridge represent the double-V that Perec uses to explain his attempt to understand his childhood. But when I saw the first bridge, I instantly realized a deeper meaning.

I took this photo standing on the first bridge, viewing the second. I felt so weird standing there for the first time, but recalling such a familiar feeling. In class, one of the suggestions was to take a picture representing an earliest memory of Vanderbilt. This was it: “Vanderbilt” became real to me when I saw that first bridge, which I now stood on viewing the second. I felt the essence of that day, thinking, “this should (will) be familiar, but it’s not (yet)”. It was strange that I felt this while standing on the first bridge, because I first felt this feeling when I saw the bridge from below. I imagine that is what Perec feels when fabricating the narration parallel to his life. He looks at his duplicate history attempting to grasp the real thing, with the frustration of knowing that the real answer should be right under his nose.

Perec’s random rants as he tried to explain this slightly annoyed me, but now I understand. My first Vanderbilt memory, my first “essence” of Vanderbilt, that I recall does not bring feelings of nervousness or excitement. The familiarity hit me on that first day when I realized that these bridges looked exactly like the toothpick bridge I designed for Physics in high school, especially with the indentation at the middle. That’s all I think about when I see them. I remember designing, building, and presenting that bridge in class much better than I could remember my first day at Vandy (which is all a blur). I feel what I think Perec felt when describing his one certain but seemingly insignificant memory of the boarding house (pg. 129). The memory is significant, simply because that is all that’s there.

A Silent Affair

Roland Barthes has a love affair with the photograph in its objectivity; it is a disposable object with its own separate function and effect. As he ventures into the relationship between photography and memory, he seems to neglect the function and effect the latter. The memory that he often discusses can be defined as simply “Something remembered”(“definition of memory”). The memory for which many of us argue is “the mental faculty of retaining and recalling past experience” (“definition of memory”). This definition puts emphasis on the faculty, the subjective aspect of memory that fluctuates throughout time. I briefly explored objectivity and subjectivity in my first post when I bisected the idea of history presented in chapter twenty six of Camera Lucida. As I look over the posts of my classmates, I realize that a dichotomous relationship exists as a larger theme neglected throughout Barthes work that clashes with his audience’s desire to retain the significance of a memory associated with a photograph.

The quote that brings this problematic neglect to light declares, “Not only is the photograph never, in essence, a memory […] but it is actually […] becomes a counter memory” (Barthes 91). Many posts focused on the blocking of memory. However, with the word memory defined, “counter memory” becomes the key phrase in this passage. After telling the story of a touching photo that belonged to her mother, and the memory that her mother recalled from the photo, fbbillups states, “I will never truly know if there is any certainty in her words because it was not captured in a photograph (thank goodness…).”                                                                                                               Fbbillups touches on the absolute uncertainty of a recalled memory, because what her mother shares cannot be proven through that particular photo. (Warning: crude material) In order for a photograph to prove the day of one’s conception, it would either have to capture the act with a date that matched that of scientific evidence of the date of conception (improbable), or it would have to capture the actual biological conception(impossibe), which even then could never be proven as the subject. The extent of disturbing (I apologize) technicalities demonstrates that the spectator values not the accuracy of the photo, but the counter memory. The counter memory in this situation is the recalled (or reconstructed) memory that lasted over time in her mother’s mind as a moment which conjures irreplaceable feelings that can never be proven or discounted. In other words, it is simply the current state of “something remembered” that has been slightly altered by the “mental faculty to recall” which has been guided by a photograph. The true moment can never be recalled with indisputable accuracy, which doesn’t matter either way.

While Barthes does not address the multiple perspectives of memory, he does slightly acknowledge the struggle of the human mind to maintain the significance of memory. He claims the photograph to be “superior to everything the human mind can or can have conceived to assure us of reality” (87). Jsl412 seems to agree with Barthes, when he states, “that moment will never be remade, but re-imagined and analyzed, through the new eyes of the viewer.” In examining an old photo of him and his father from a time period when his mental state was completely different, jsl412 realizes the struggle described by Barthes.ImageJsl412 can only remake, or reconstruct, a memory to surround the evidence shown by the picture. This also relates to one of Barthes earliest and simplest statements: “the photograph mechanically repeats what could never be repeated existentially” (4). Jsl412 highlights this in his differentiation between re-creating a moment and re-imagining a moment.

Another post by Dwliu interacts with Barthes’s statement because its seemingly layered photo creates a mirage of memories. Dwilu explores a dichotomy of memory when she states, “real memories rise to the surface unannounced when I come across a random object, hear a moving piece of music, or smell a familiar scent. False memories […] center around a hazy image or story”. What she calls real memories may be remnants of true moments that are truly “something remembered”. What she calls false memories are the counter memories that the mind has formed in order to preserve the feelings that the original memory would provoke. Her post and layered photo demonstrate that the objectivity of a photograph with which Barthes obsesses falls short of our general desire to preserve sentiment and significance at all costs.

Barthes also seems to realize our need for sentiment, providing a sort of disclaimer: “we have an invincible resistance to believing in the past, in history, except in the form of myth” (87). I apply what he calls myth here to the counter/constructed memories we create to retain significance. Photography does not exactly cancel our resistance but it can serve as an obstacle, until we move our memories to accommodate the photo’s input. Our memory becomes reconstructed as time changes, but its main faculty is in preserving a feeling. It becomes a counter memory when evidence provided from the true memory, such as a photo, forces the mind to work around this information to retain the feeling. In any case, it seems that the lasting memory still remains dear to the spectator no matter what alterations occur, and that the significance of the photo will always remain second to the significance of the memory. Continue reading