A Reflection on Centennial Park
A video essay by Katherine Sloan
A Reflection on Centennial Park
A video essay by Katherine Sloan
I went back to the tree. I am not sure which one it was. We lay under it on the grass that afternoon with our iced coffees and gazed at the sprawling branches. If I think about it now, it may have been around this time two years ago. Because it was after spring break, and we were both on the cusp of the next thing, the next romance, the next phase… And it was the last time I remember talking to him, I mean really talking to him.
Has it really been two years? It was so peaceful and lackadaisical with no sense of pressure or finality. There was nothing to worry about; only possibilities of the future to look forward to—neither of us graduating, both of us carefree… but our friendship was about to fizzle in the wake of our separate romances.
And now that both of them are over, we’ve lost touch almost completely. And in a few months from now, we’ll both be locked into jobs on opposite sides of the country, indefinitely.
So I went back to the tree, hoping for the freshness of possibilities and excitement for the future to return to me, carried by the fingers of the branches and grass-blades reaching, merging, striving… but they were trembling, hushed and austere.
This picture could be from almost anywhere. I know which city I took it in, but I don’t remember where or on what day. I remember taking it and being unable to see the screen when I took the photo, but I do not recall the reason for taking the photo.
What I find interesting about it is it’s appearance of aging and it’s somewhat generic quality as an urban image. It could have been taken ten years ago and in a myriad of potential cities, for all you know.
But it was taken last week. I feel that I should remember everything from last week, but my trip to Los Angeles was a blur. I remember only the events that were “important,” but I forget the time and specificities of the in-between and in-transit pieces of the trip. I spent four short days in meetings spread across town, which made for a significant amount of time spent in the car. This photo marks a moment that for some reason I sought to capture while driving in a place that I can’t quite orient within my memory. It could have been Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, West Hollywood, or elsewhere. I find it both striking and unsettling that I’ve already forgotten the context of this photograph. And in some ways, the photograph’s aesthetic looks as if it is self-aware of its own history– as if it knows that it has been forgotten– the information and context has already begun to fade and leak out of the image itself. See how the building fades into blank white, unknown spaces? This photo, for me, serves as a punctum for the transience of memory and reminds me of Perec’s missing memories.
It also speaks to Matalon’s sense of displacement within her own narrative as I think of my own displacement, both in my experience looking at this photograph and my experience in the city itself. It is the city where I will live after graduating, and it is also a city in which I am a foreigner. I do not know the streets, I do not know my way, and I cannot place the image in any specific fashion, just as I cannot place myself in LA specifically. I only know that in a few months, I will be somewhere in LA.
This is symbol that doesn’t mean anything. It’s just something I draw in the margins of my notes sometimes. Visually it recalls the cursive “L” but on repeat, to infinity, and “L,” especially in cursive, always recalls the word “Love” to me, and, in particular, the song that I always associate with the Lindsay Lohan version of The Parent Trap that begins with the line, “L is for the way you look at me…” That song makes me think of the time, or perhaps multiple times that my third – eighth grade best friend Jenna—or perhaps it was Jenna and Amy, my other best friend… or Jenna and her younger sister Sarah—choreographed and performed a dance to that song on my parents’ coffee table for our parents. But I digress. The symbol came from Amy on some occasion or multiple occasions when we were sitting in class together probably in the third grade or before, and she was doodling and continuing or practicing the cursive L to infinity. Maybe she taught that to me, or maybe I just copied her. But it was something we both would doodle together, and it made me feel connected, a counter-part, best friend. It made me feel sophisticated and fancy, and now when I don’t have anything to doodle, I find myself creating the infinite L, and it reminds me of her. We haven’t spoken in years. And we haven’t really even been friends since the seventh grade. And when I draw it I think of her and our intertwined friendship that we thought would continue to infinity.
“Clearly it is another nature which speaks to the camera as compared to the eye. ‘Other’ above all in the sense that a space informed by human consciousness gives way to a space informed by the unconscious.” (Walter Benjamin, 117)
In this photo I primarily intended an (admittedly clichéd) self-shot of one of my eyes. Aware of this cliché, I still wanted to take a photo of myself that captured something of myself that I cannot see without the aid of technology, and the most obvious way to do this is to photograph the physical window through which I see the world, which I can never, save for mirrors, see itself but only through it. The photo came out of both a desire to allude to my own subconscious and the optical unconscious—the truth behind the eyes, the way I see, the volume of information my eye takes in and the utter impossibility of retaining it all—and a desire for a close-up of an object I cannot normally see. When taking this photo, I must have moved my hand or my face, possibly assuming the picture had already taken, but either way, it came out blurred by accident. Really, however, the accidental blur adds depth to the concept because it contains motion, which Benjamin talks about as something we can photograph and freeze in a way that we never see with our human eyes. And the accidental quality of the blur adds an element of the spontaneous, the unexpected, the contingent that Mary Ann Doane talks about and Kracauer values as a way to capture the transience of the modern world through images that resist meaning—something intrinsically magical and wild about the world that only the camera can capture. This, I think is what Benjamin meant when he referred to the space that a camera captures as “informed by human consciousness” giving way to “a space informed by the unconscious” (Benjamin 117).