ESSAY FIFTEEN Image Story Part Two
You’ll love the view from
When I was a child, my family traveled by car over a great part of the U.S. - I had been to almost all of the States by the time I was eighteen. These vacations involved a great deal of driving, and the trips often lasted weeks. I cannot in all honesty say that I have clear and separate memories of each place we visited; many of the memories are bits and fragments. There are a few, however, that are as clear today as they were then.
When we lived in New York City, I remember visiting a kind of mansion or private castle up in New England, with very elaborately carved wooden doors and when you turned the doorknobs, all sorts of “things” on the door moved. Each door was a complexity of levers; animal and plant carvings, shapes and designs, and all were mobile. I have no idea what the rest of the building was like, but those doors are as real and kinetic today as they were when I was a preteen. Another memory was of visiting a thundering waterfall that plummeted into a dark cave-like hole at its base, and then vanished without a trace. I also remember being somewhere on a bay or sound in one of the Western States during a period when there had been a freak low tide (an ebb tide?) and when we got there, the entire bottom of the bay was exposed for miles - an enthralling glimpse of a forbidden, barnacle and weed encrusted, slimy desert. Boats sitting in the muck, tied to docks fifteen feet above them, standing on tall, spindly legs, anchored in that same muck. A watery door had briefly opened giving me a view of things never before seen.
I don’t specifically remember the locations, and by the time I asked my parents about them (years later) they could not even remember the incidents (my father thought the low tide might have been in Puget Sound in Washington). The memories, the wonder, and the magic that these places (and a few others not mentioned) engendered in me are still real today. Nobody else in my family remembers those wonderful doors (I have a hunch they were somewhere in New Hampshire or Connecticut), and I probably could not find them today if I had to. The point is, I don’t have to because I have this wonderful memory, and I suppose that I am a bit afraid to compare my image with the “reality” I might discover. We went to many other more spectacular places such as Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, The Badlands and Meteor Crater, and I remember them also. They were great, I am glad we went, but they are not magic - they were regular wonderful memories we all have, concerning something we did. These special memories are far more intense and they feel that they live deep inside of me – They feel as if they were places I was meant to visit.
These incidents are my special memory, and in my adult life, I realized that I needed to discover why they are so important. My whole family remembers walking to the top of the Statue of Liberty, but only I own that waterfall. What I remember about those places is probably not the actuality of the place but the super actuality they had. They were more than what they really were; they had a presence that transcended their physical nature. To me, they are not real locations, they are mythic, magic and marvelous, they are special because they are really not knowable. If the real doors were truly spectacular, then the rest of my family would have remembered them, and they would be part of some advertised tourist attraction today.
Let me give you an example of how these Image Stories have entered my art. Many of my black and white photograph deal with rock formations, crevasses, cave openings, and fallen objects that almost but not completely form a blockage. In all of these structures, what has always intrigued me, were the small slits, cracks, and portals that allowed light to enter or pass through. Several years ago, I hung an exhibit of my photography, and its title was “Holes in the Fabric – A Portal to What is Beyond”.
Last year, several writers and I collaborated on a contemporary interpretation of the Greek Play, “The Trojan Women”, that was a rather free form mélange of acting, dance and spoken word. In a bull session, one of the other writers pointed out to me that virtually every scene I wrote revolved around doors. After the fall of Troy, the Trojan Women are locked in a guarded room to await their fate:
A door is such a simple thing. It’s an accessory to a hole in the wall. It opens, it closes. That’s all it does. A door is a hole in the wall, interuptus. Yes, such a simple thing. A hole, with a wooden flap, on a hinge, with a lock . . . and a key. A key? He who controls the key, controls the portal.
I have since gone back, and a great deal of my artistic output over the years - photography, sculpture and writing have been greatly influenced by these Image Stories of mine. They deal with doors, openings and uncovering secrets. Perhaps my motivation for writing ArtQuest is to offer my readers an entrée into the world of creative self-expression.
In Essay Sixteen, (the third segment of Image Story); I’ll present some exercises that may help you discover how your stories can be visualized. As always, I welcome your comments and observations, and if any of you have IMAGE STORIES that you would like to share, I would love to add them to this series of essays.