Highlights from the first two volumes
of The Journal of Contemporary Photography.
BY RICHARD WILBUR
They are one answer to the human need
For a second life, and they exist for us
In the secular heaven of photography,
Safe in emulsion's cloud
Through which we glimpse them, knowing them as we know
The angels, by report and parched surmise.
Like Milton's seraphim who veil their gaze
Against the beams of God,
Often we see them handsomely asquint
When captured by a bursting photoflash,
Or dazzling and bedazzled on that beach
Where currently they sun;
And yet perhaps they seem most brilliant when,
Putting away all glamor, they appear
In their old clothes at home, with dog and child,
Projecting toward the lens
From a couch not unlike our own, a smile
Sublimely confident of mattering.
They smile, too, when we spot their avatars
Upon the actual street,
Sharing with u s the little joke that we
Have known them in a different dimension;
But since they strike u s then as subtly changed-
Pale, short, a trifle older-
It is not hard to yield them back to dream,
From which their images immutably
Bestow a flourish on our muted lives,
Even though death betray them.
Still, there are fewer sightings year by year
Of the trenchcoat carried niftily over the shoulder,
The innocent sultry look, the heaved guitar,
The charming pillbox hat,
And fewer of their dreamers left to grieve
As all those glossy selves, transcendent still,
Slip unaccountably into the morgues
And archives of this world.
A Note on the Earliest Photographs
BY LEONARD BASKIN
To what unknown penetrable depths do the earliest photographs probe? The driving intensity of their actuality, the brooding textures of their scrutinizing black & whiteness, the near-hallucinatory super-reality of their stillness; one is overcome by their revelatory honesty, the stark rigidity of the sitters pushed into monumentality by the long exposures. The light seems strained, an all-revealing, irrelevancy-draining, pervading luminosity that clothes the photographed figures in an aura of obsidian-like solidity. And from their submersion in immobile daylight, the portrayed are depicted in a variety of puissant attitudes. The truculent stare of Nadar's bewigged George Sand or the passionately self-embracing Eugene Delacroix, the stony lyricism of David Octavius Hill. The unassailability of Biow's Alexander von Humboldt, Cameron's remote & astral Herschel & Southworth & Hawes' truculent Lemuel Shaw, [Melville's father-in-law.] The near-endless gallery is wondrous, directing our eyes along the camera lens 's path into the hidden modalities of the time, exposing the obscured personalities & drawing the veil of nineteenth century prudery & formality.
I Awaken from the Lillies
BY SUSAN LUDVIGSON
And when did I decide to enter it,
the lily that is my name?
When I first learned it, as a child:
(Susan-Heb. a lily)
I knew only the kind that grows in water,
floats on the surface white
as a gown.
Each year in my back yard they make
a fiery circle. They are like the ones
a girl wore in my dream,
her headdress of cannas enormous,
taller than she was. Eve in the garden,
the garden already polluted.
Nearly fifteen years since we lived
in the land where weeks ago
a physician's fingers were sliced off,
then his hand, then his arm,
for treating the wrong clan.
We were innocent.
Love was innocent,
if love is ever innocent.
All night I lay
inside a fluted blossom,
lay in a silken bunting,
in a white cradle.
I napped there,
I swayed in the lightest wind.
Contributors in Volume 1:
Leonard Baskin, Ann Beattie, John Bennette, Robert Olen Butler, Denise Bethel, A.D. Coleman, Morri Creech, Dana Gioia, Amy Fleury, Daile Kaplan, Christopher Mahony, Kevin Meaux, Duane Michels, Raul Peschiera, Rixon Reed, Thomas Southall, Lance Speer, John Stauffer, John Stevenson, John Stilgoe, R.S. Thomas, Anne Tucker, Frederick Turner, Richard Wilbur, John Wood, and Paul Zimmer.
Contributors in Volume 2:
Ann Beattie, John Bennette, Morri Creech, Rachel Morris, Elizabeth Dewberry, Lee Fontanella, Susan Ludvigson, Raul Peschiera, Rixon Reed, Josh Russell, Lance Speer, John Stauffer, John Stevenson, Michel Tournier, Frederick Turner, Scott Whiddon, and John Wood.