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Thursday, 5 July 2012

Tracks (Beyond Soda Lake)

West half of Larger Soda Lake near Ragtown, Nevada. Photo by T.H. O'Sullivan. U.S. Geological Exploration of the Fortieth Parallel (King Survey).

West half of Larger Soda Lake near Ragtown, Nevada: photo by Timothy H. O'Sullivan (1840 [?]-14 January 1882), from U.S. Geological Exploration of the Fortieth Parallel, under the command of Clarence King, 1867-1869 (U S. Geological Survey Photographic Library)

Went out so far beyond known
world's edge all that was left
upon the dry salt waste
our tracks
circling back

Near Steamboat Springs in Washoe Valley, Nevada. Photo by T.H. O'Sullivan. U.S. Geological Exploration of the Fortieth Parallel (King Survey).
Near Steamboat Springs in Washoe Valley, Nevada: photo by Timothy H. O'Sullivan (1840 [?]-14 January 1882), from U.S. Geological Exploration of the Fortieth Parallel, under the command of Clarence King, 1867-1869 (U S. Geological Survey Photographic Library)

Sand dunes on the east of side of the Truckee Desert in Nevada. Photo by T.H. O'Sullivan.U.S. Geological Exploration of the Fortieth Parallel (King Survey).
Sand dunes on the east of side of the Truckee Desert in Nevada: photo by Timothy H. O'Sullivan (1840 [?]-14 January 1882), from U.S. Geological Exploration of the Fortieth Parallel, under the command of Clarence King, 1867-1869 (U S. Geological Survey Photographic Library)

"Saloons and disreputable places of Hazen [Nevada], June 24, 1905": photo by Lubkin, from Series: Photographs of Irrigation Projects, 1896-1938; Records of the Bureau of Reclamation, 1889-1992 (National Archives and Records Administration)


Hazen said...

We are found out
enjoying this
disreputable life
on the wrong side
of the trackless wastes
claimed and reclaimed
daily irrigated
starting over

TC said...

Make it sasparilla and sody water, sir.

These wastelands induce a tol'able thirst.

larry white said...

Tracks...or as Jsime de Angulo said in his Indian Tales, "tras, tras, tras." My son enjoyed my reading that to him so much that he eventually became a National Park Ranger in New Mex., Arizona, Manzanar.



Great poem & photos, especially those vast expanses of young master Timothy H. O'Sullivan, "repeatedly circling back". . .


grey whiteness of fog against invisible
top of ridge, crows calling from branch
in foreground, wave sounding in channel

two figures painted to date,
two portraits of “man”

the other itself, more what
it is, to one another

white circle of moon across from point,
shadowed green pine on tip of sandspit

Susan Kay Anderson said...

That's how it was in Bohemia
said to be a Wasteland
but actually was
part of a great sea
only there was
no shade along
the pleasant beaches--
the rich Washoe
and their pine nuts
the quenching crater
nobody was supposed
to look at
but some did go

Wooden Boy said...

Those foot traces across the waste. Very beautiful.

It seems we always have to return.

TC said...

Talking of exploring and traces, to think of trekking across that desert hauling your photographic kit -- the big cumbersome camera with its large glass plate negatives -- and then of the complicated rigmarole involved in the picture taking, with the half hour exposure times (so that, incidentally and not infrequently, the camera and the photographer himself appear in the picture) -- well, simply to imagine the sheer labour, not to mention the particular vision, gives pause.

Today it's possible to take a picture without any particular skill at all, indeed without one's eyes being open or for that matter, probably, without even being entirely conscious.

Of course it would be the same picture a billion other people around the world would have already taken or would be taking in the next if not the same moment.

Whereas every one of O'Sullivan's amazing photographs, from his blood-chilling apprentice work for Matthew Brady on the battlefields of the Civil War to the grand geological surveys, registering as image the vast amplitude of those raw lonely expanses few white men had ever glimpsed -- is unique.

Many things claimed in later days as attributes of the North Americans may have come under debate, and for good reason. But the one attribute of the continent that remains absolute and undeniable is the sheer enormity of its empty spaces. O'Sullivan's work is the most salient text, the locus classicus, of that. No other artist ever captured those breathtaking, inhuman spaces with such authority.

Susan Kay Anderson said...

Tracks have been left that will never disappear, thanks to the explorers. We can follow their footsteps, walk in them visually but try to actually step there and they disappear, can turn into your own.

Thanks, Tom Clark, for daring to venture to the Wasteland. Try to follow your tracks and they do circle round--which ones are which? I'll have to consult your maps, at least it doesn't seem like I am actually so lost then.

Conrad DiDiodato said...

Curtis Faville has made the comment at his site, apropos of the lack of skill in present photography, that "Photography, invented in the 19th Century, and refined over the last century, has had the intermediate effect of devaluing mere verisimilitude."

It's precisely this "verisimilitude" (it seems to me)that can't be compromised (and assuredly isn't) in O'Sullivan's work here. It's those pesky "intermediaries", known these days as technical improvements, that keep us far from the "quenching crater".

Susan Kay Anderson said...

Add Light & Stir

It might look
like wasted land
but it is actually
somebody's grocery store
and re-supply for making
shoes, tools, and implements
of contact
with the spirits.
Travel is best
at night
way is up
a minor detail.

TC said...

Yes, I do get that, Susan. The real waste land is very close at hand, here. They call it the I-80 corridor. This morning it's closed due to a "major police operation". Not uncommon in this waste land.

In such a landscape the only time I would willfully venture out or hope to make contact with the spirits is night time.

It was the error of setting foot upon the street before night fall (five minutes before full darkness) that proved the cardinal karmic mistake in a lifetime of many ordinal and subordinal karmic mistakes. The car that struck me was dispatched from Day World, I am all but certain. The driver's windows were steamed up in a very good simulation of internal spontaneous combustion, it must be for that reason a certificate of Civic Merit for verisimilitude was bestowed.

That last bit I do not know for sure, though; it's more a semi-trained speculation.

But this much I do know. Down is always just around the corner, insouciant and blind and not speaking the language of the target object; and up went that-a-way.

These truths came to me through the opaque glass of an extreme photosensitivity in a moment of lucid endarkenment and transitory weeping two days ago in full daylight confusion beneath the conjoined awnings of the co-branded Taco Bell/KFC unit at the shopping mall nigh unto the surgeon's office. It must have seemed to the impatient honking motorists that I had appeared from another dimension, much as the Higgs boson particle, to impede their purchase of necessary holiday bar-b-supplies.

Nin Andrews said...

Beautiful, and yes, I do think of the photographers. Oddly I find it harder to use the cameras that do it all than the older ones where I had to contemplate the light and decide whether or not it was worth clicking . . . And I think all that contemplation is in the older photos somehow. Do I only imagine it?

Your moment of weeping btw Taco Bell and KFC makes perfect sense even to those who have not been mowed down, who do not suffer photosensitivity. I sometimes think insensitivity is our latest survival tool--and the one that will kill us all in the end.

Thank you again for yet another compelling and beautiful post.

TC said...

Thanks Nin. Your Poland photos strike me as something nobody but you could have done. Perhaps it's not so much the equipment a person uses as the person using the equipment.

Know what you mean about the insensitivity, the shield against feeling. It's what I meant by Day World, I guess.

O'Sullivan captures the plenitude of vacancy. In its place we have substituted the vacuum of vacancy. Day for night. The waste land day, in its fullness, has only the Colonel and his transfats to offer. Everything always in and on the same tracks.

The waste land of the night, on the other hand -- so many more interactions, so many more surprises. For instance -- and this is already 20 years ago now, already the past, but still, just a random example -- the unfolding complication involving Johnny and Archie and Maggie.

vazambam (Vassilis Zambaras) said...

Both poem and photos splendid and the link to the wasteland of night video—what can I say? Is it just a coincidence that Johnny and Archie meet in front of a store window where one can see reflected as mirror writing the aptly prophetic sign “The Black Hole Video Shop”? Folks, you only get one opportunity to see it, so don’t miss it.

TC said...

Vassilis, for a squinty eyed kid you have an awfully sharp eye for the essential detail. I thank you for that. You have caught the central image in what I believe to be the best British film made in the past twenty years. It is a work that recalls the "gran rifiuto" of Dante and Cavafy; the harshness and the darkness of the directorial view constituted a grand refusal of commerciality, and not surprisingly the film was a box office flop, never made it to general distribution in the US and to this day it is not available on DVD. But it remains a classic.

The location for that sequence begins at Lina Stores Ltd, 18 Brewer Street, Soho. At 5:10 the camera pans to the right, tracking Johnny (David Thewlis) as he walks off past the streetwalker standing in the doorway. And behind her we see the plate glass reflection of the sign for Black Hole Videos. Is that shot an accident? I would say almost certainly not, though Leigh's improvisational approach probably made the shot possible. One imagines his eye catching that conjunction of signifiers and seizing upon it, trusting that there would be viewers as careful as you who would understand that the Black Hole of the film itself is centered in that sequence, and as Johnny passes across the event horizon created by the meeting with Archie (the brilliant Ewan Bremner) and is sucked deeper into the night from which he will not escape unscathed, that reflected sign is the signal of the point of no return.

In this gallery of thumbnails, the seventh still from the left, top row, finds the director standing outside Lina Stores Ltd.

Mike Leigh beside Lina Stores Ltd

The second shot in this set of location views for the film gets a slightly wider image of that same corner.

Lina Stores Ltd, a wider view

But none have captured the Black Hole reflection in a still shot.

Speaking of this film, and of his method in general, Leigh has said: "...I start with no script. I do a brief of the film for myself, which is usually pretty fluid. Then I work with the actors for an extensive period creating the characters, through conversation, research and improvisation. Then we go out and invent the film on location, and structure it and shoot it as we go. To me, that's what it's all about. It's about using film as a medium in its own right, not as a way of including the decisions of various committees."

Are there coincidences? are there accidents? or is the universe just one great accident devised by brainless architects from deep within the black hole control room? somewhere beyond the event horizon beyond soda lake?

tpw said...

Hmmm...The Shamrock Saloon---I think I once played a gig there long ago.

Another great post. Thanks, Tom.

TC said...

Terry, only the shadows, perhaps, have protected you from being identified as the man on the street outside the Shamrock Bar.