leo photophile

Through a glass darkly

In the Cavern

And all the time, something else may be happening, something to do with blindness, with lack of direction, as a route to realisation.

I took the picture in the Gorbals around 1966. I have just discovered the negative, which I don’t think I ever printed. It was probably disregarded as of little interest. But now I see it in a very different light. For me this image has magic.

I don’t recall my state of mind when I took the picture. I think it was probably the girl on crutches that was the subject because I have some close-ups of her playing hopscotch, which were printed. Those prints, however, are nothing compared with the one I overlooked.

As a piece of photojournalism, it records a way of life and has a certain pathos. The street is the only playground these children have. They live in tenements, or closies, and wear hand-me-down clothes. The close-mouth probably stank of cats’ piss. The street is also the everyday setting for women in coats and headscarves and shopping bags, hurrying to the corner shop run by an elderly couple or an eccentric old maid.

On the street On the street, 1966

But this image is something else besides. It has, however, to be seen much enlarged to be appreciated, for then the grain takes over and the secrets begin to creep out of the dark and swim together. The distortion of the 28mm lens contributes to the mystery of the space.

Two things strike me then. The first thing is how the identifiable figures in the image become unknown- seen for the first time. But more curious is the merging of animate and inanimate objects that takes place. The sense is of arrested movement (not just stopped by the  speed of the shutter), so that the plane of the photograph becomes a tableau.

I get the same eerie sense I get from a particular painting by Balthus: La rue, from 1933-35, and also sensed, if my memory serves me, in the slow- motion footage of Jean Cocteau’s Le Testament d’Orphee. The archetypal aura of Raymond Mason’s marvellous bas relais: Carrefour de l’Odeon is also around.

The accentuated grain turns the tableau into tapestry in which the waste paper in the gutter has as much value as the little waifs standing in the middle of the road, or the gloomy immemorial buildings, like the inn in the top left corner. All this was unwitting, not consciously present at the time I took the picture; present, I choose to believe, to the inner eye, an example of seeing blind.

In the end, I don’t know what I am seeing here.  In the Mandaka Upanishad it is written – gnaw the knot of ignorance.  For spirit, according to Hinduism, is to be found in the cavern.


November 17, 2006 Posted by | Uncategorized | 9 Comments