Hundreds of amateur photos culled from liquidated estates, broken families and abandoned histories were shuffled into boxes at a street fair in Berlin. They were priced by size and age and the historic relevance carried no more currency than the personal with a birthday celebration costing the same as an advancing military formation.
I picked through this anonymous archive and bought ten images.
The photos are either staged, performed acts or the record of people witnessing the particular, uncanny or unique: severe snowfall, coronation of a massive church bell, children’s theatre production, workers inspecting a truncated structure, tug of war.
Each of these shots is an enigmatic riddle simultaneously posed in multiple languages. The players are unknown, the locations ambiguous and the impact of the documented event remains elusive. It’s these peculiar incidents and paused theatrics that continue to engage and confound me.
We suspend our disbelief to embrace the illusion.
We willingly participate in acts of delusion and fabricate elaborate, renewable facades to shield the inevitable.
(Cue the magician)
Perhaps I should speak only for myself.
My reflection, after all, is the only one I see.
The gestures made end at the length of my arms.
Suspended in disbelief, I clutch the illusions I’ve fostered and hold them close to my vest.
Shifting manners, methods and levels of madness to face the crowd, I adjust my tics and temperament to match this year’s model.
Relative truth and absolute beauty are the two sides of my palmed coin and heaven help me if, when tossed, it lands on the edge.
I shuffle through my newly acquired photos and realize how easy it is to merge the riddles and tease out new fictions with the randomly auditioned players:
“That structure being inspected is the failed roof that collapsed after the brutal, late season blizzard. The bell is a civic memorial to those lost in the March disaster and the annual reenactment by the children of the heroism displayed during that fateful, frozen week continues to honor the departed…”
It’s a photographic Rorschach test of my own narrative predilections and further evidence of my need to order the random occurrence of living by generating comforting, familiar tropes to hang my reason, hopes and hesitancies on.
(Enters stage left flourishing a silk.)
Are you not confounded… muddled… mystified?
I give you now these poised and pointless moments that will rise or sink to the metaphoric levels to which you deem them worthy.
Ignore what it is you think you see!
These visible wires and swinging traps are simply this poetry’s punctuation marks.
But please, dear ladies and gentlemen, grant me a moment to set the snares and load the shot.
When I return home, these photos will be mixed with my own mementos. This rogue integration will rupture the veracity of my lived documents and slyly embellish the offered evidence of my having been.
(Applause dies down. Walks to center stage)
It’s our hollow belief that exhaled smoke and spattered mirrors could double this venue’s capacity.
To have you see what I need you to see takes such little effort.
Every option is here, suspended in the wings, swaying to the rimshot cadence.
Was it Berlin?
It’s the sleight of hand, hesitating slightly before the reveal knowing that what truly dazzles can only be seen during the briefest intermission.