Page 20 - WTP Vol. VIII #3
P. 20

 In 1985, I entered in wonder the catacomb-like gal- leries of the Museo Egizio in Turin. In Turin with
a man from whom I soon would part as a lover— though we remain friends to this day—I photo- graphed, using a Polaroid 600 camera, the pleasures and artifacts of our trip, which all had to be close
up and therefore small enough to benefit from the Polaroid’s pleasing square frame and shallow depth of field.
The beauty of this camera, which unfolded like an ac- cordion, bulky compared to today’s slivers, was that I could switch off its automatic flash. Instead of f-stops and an ASA (both of which had always mystified me) there was a tiny half-moon-shaped dial for adjusting the existing light from bright to dark. That was all I needed to unlock the truth of photography: its magic is in the play, confined by the frame, of natural light. (I have never liked Polaroid flash portraits, not even those by Andy Warhol.)
The colors of Polaroid 600 film had a moody, murky saturation that seemed to me to release the aura of the subjects—faces and objects alike—it recorded. The Polaroid 600 itself resembled an early box cam- era, its square film positives standing in for old glass negatives. Like a Hasselblad or Rollei, one could even screw the Polaroid 600 onto a tripod, steadying it for breathless long exposures. With it, I have made por- traits, in focus, by candlelight.
In Turin, I photographed obsessively everything I could get my hands on, provided I could catch the subject in a beautiful transit of sunlight and shadow.
I felt, by turns, like Caravaggio, capturing a pale loved face emerging from a dark background; or Niepce, who made the photograph some consider to be
the very first: a table setting of plate, goblet, knife and spoon, homely utile objects (not unlike grave goods) that attracted, through an accident of history, Niepce’s inaugural gaze.
In the golden half-light of the Museo Egizio, I was particularly fascinated by a mummy from whom
the carapace had fallen away or decomposed, leav- ing a long, slender skeleton the color of toast. It was the remains of a woman, the label said, and indeed, there seemed a certain delicacy to its structure. In an old wood and glass vitrine adjacent were grave spoils I like to believe were hers: golden discs labeled “orecchini femminile” (female earrings);
Excerpted from Outlaw Aria, a memoir
various stony ornaments; small turquoise spheres, markers from a game; and of course, pane delle tombe, bread of the tombs, brown, petrified and porous as pumice. The labels describing these items were of paper and handwritten. I had once care- lessly studied Italian with the same impatience I harbored towards f-stops.
Today, we can translate words and capture images with our iPhones. In 1985, my technology consisted of IBM Selectrics, Xerox and fax machines and Pola- roid cameras, at the time the state-of-the-art means for creating, preserving and transmitting texts and images. I like digital cameras for the same reason
I loved Polaroid: seeing a finished image instanta- neously enables me to correct whatever dissatisfies me. There are virtually no lost opportunities.
Obsessively, I recorded our stay in Turin, focusing mostly on the inanimate: apart from a series on the grave goods, I shot plaster bocce balls we picked up at a flea market, the mistletoe above our hotel bed
(it was almost Christmas), two school chairs on our balcony lit by cold slats of winter sun, the colored lights at nighttime, festooned above the streets, that spelled out the word “Auguri”, the Italian expression for Happy New Year. To me it signified omens—good or bad?—I didn’t yet know. Perhaps “Auguri” prefig- ured, though I did not want to see it, the passing of the rage for possession that passed for love in my life, a change in form, not content.
I would, a year later, migrate to Europe on my own, thinking this sea-change which so ensorcelled me to be permanent. I would stay seven years, acquir- ing new languages, lovers, clothes, and even part of a 19th century house, eventually dispersing everything but the languages, some things torn from my breast. Later, I would even lose the Turin Polaroids, preserved for years in an album I kept, a careful photographic record of who and where I’d been, even if that record was metonymic in nature, a compendium of clues—again, often inanimate— rather than one of momentous markers of life: weddings, births, family holidays. In my life, there were none. This may sound sad, or as if I feel sorry for myself.
It’s not, and I don’t. I suppose if I view my life and its visual traces from the vantage point of what Hilton Als calls “this common world,” my past appears full
Bread of the Tombs
lisa Zeiger

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