I found myself awakened to the point of tears today in front of a work of art. Despite the onslaught of art in which I have been exposed to in the last few years, you’d think this would happen more often. But the instances when art suddenly uncoils something within, melts a mundane frozenness, or leaps me into a moment of being – unfortunately, these moments happen less and less.
But today, I stood in front of a series of photographs by Rineke Dijkstra, and tried to hide the welling up that seemed so awkward and inappropriate in a sterile, brightly-lit museum environment.
We are of a time when photography is so facile as taking your phone out of your pocket and clicking it, and so mechanical as to overlay an algorithmic alteration to a photo with the push of a button, and so ubiquitous that even my mother (a monk, no less) captures and broadcasts photos of her grandson on her slick iphone.
Yet, Dikjstra’s meditative work solicits something missing in the accelerated onslaught of photography everywhere else. It is found in a realm of expert photography that cannot be mechanized and is all too elusive – the expression of an untranslatable but no less palpable human interiority creeping out from under a futile veneer. And such excision and study of this interiority necessitates a compassion for the subjects but also recalls one’s own vulnerability – places where we don’t admit that we could use compassion towards ourselves. This is Dijkstra’s poetry. As my friend said to me on the way out of the exhibit, you don’t think this is photography, her work transcends the photograph.
But that is not the main reason I was so moved today.
Within this series taken over 3 years, bearing witness to what time does to a young man entering adulthood, there are flashes of atemporality — 8 images sliced out of time and forever frozen in the present tense. Moreover, if you come to love him, like I did, you can sense something unchanging, a steady center at battle with the hard world. The minimalism of these works makes plain what he so arduously introverts at each point in time — plaintive lips curled to the edge of a cry, a stoic brow hovering over deeply questioning eyes, cheekbones hardening over the softness of youth. I am delivered to a heart-rending moment when one opens to the particularity of his experience and rediscovers qualities that are irrevocably and universally human.
How could I not think of my own son, and not mourn all that has already passed and changed in him? How could I not grieve that one day I will not exist to see him and his evolution? That even as much as our lives are intertwined now, there will be a great deal of his life unfathomable to me, completely unreachable. How could I not be flooded by the pain of loving something so fickle as a life – and so overwhelmed that if I didn’t push it back a little, I would be a blithering mess, in a sterile, brightly lit gallery of the MOMA. It was a moment in the day-to-day delusion that all remains safely the same, when I am suddenly awoken to the inescapably temporal. And from there, flowing in the rhythms of temporality, I can come to relish one exquisitely measureless, timeless beat.
Today’s Advice: “He who to himself binds a joy/Doth the winged life destroy/But he who kisses the joy as it flies/Lives in Eternity’s sun rise.” — William Blake