23 July 2010

And, best of all, the right way up

A short extract from The unbearable lightness of being in Aberystwyth. Partly because it has relevance to (and pokes fun at) photography, the arts, history, and a town which I love ... but because I enjoyed reading it, and hope that you will too.

The wooden car groaned to a halt and I clambered out on to the steeply inclined platform and followed the straggle of tourists who were about to have the Cliff Railway revealed to them as a metaphor for life. You sit expectantly, creaking up the hill, heart filled with anticipation of what's at the top. You can't help noticing the ride itself is pretty unimpressive, and then you get out at the top and wander around for a while looking for something the purpose of which might justify the building of such an elaborate contraption. You meet other souls wandering around with that look of puzzled expectancy, the expression that conveyed the question everyone wanted answered: 'Have you found it yet?' Since no one has, whatever it is, you stop off for a cup of tea in a musty wooden shed that smells like the place the head groundsman at the golf club keeps his tools. After that, spirits slightly raised by the mahogany-coloured tea, you go to check out the camera obscura. On the way in you read with mounting excitement about the piercing clarity of the image you are about to see in which every detail for miles around will be laid before your eyes in supernatural splendour. And then you find yourself in another dark shed, on a raised wooden pathway walking round a grey glass dish in which can be faintly discerned, as if at the bottom of a very deep fish pond where the water has not been changed in years, an image that is Aberystwyth upside down. You stare for a while, as people whisper, 'It's clear, isn't it?' and then the realisation gradually dawns that the image outside, from the cliff top, is bigger, brighter, sharper and, best of all, the right way up.

  • Malcolm Pryce, The unbearable lightness of being in Aberystwyth. 2006 (ch.3). London: Bloomsbury. 9780747578949 or 074757894X (pbk)


Julie Heyward said...

"Landscape! The subject of landscape as a photographic possibility is both pleasurable and very difficult. The subject itself is simply perfect, and no matter how well you manage as a photographer, you will only ever give a hint as to how good the real thing is. We photographers don't really make anything: we peck at the world and try to find something curious or wild or beautiful that might fit into what the medium of photography can hold."

[ ... ]

"Even the great photographs of the American landscape -- the remarkable pictures of Jackson and O'Sullivan -- can't compare with the places themselves. Go see the Grand Canyon, the Canyon de Chelly, Yosemite, the Green River. The photographs of these places are a hint, just a blink at a piece of the real world. At most, an aphrodisiac."

-- Lee Friedlander

Of course, I disagree with him completely. I don't think photographs are competing with the "out there." I think photographs are ... photographs (and landscapes are landscapes, and butter beans are butter beans ...). Or, to put it another way, photographs are not (ever) landscapes.

Felix said...

I agree (with you, JH) completely.

And, of course, to continue the chain of thought, writing (such as the above by Pryce) is neither landscape nor photograph (nor butter beans, for that matter) but writing. :-)

Dr. C said...

Nor is the Green River very green!