My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This book is very simple and short for packing such an interesting punch. It was #29 in this year’s reading challenge, a book with pictures.
Bookshelves: art, pictures, artsy-fartsy, nostalgia, americana, non-fiction, social-commentary
This deceptively simple little book is a small collection of anonymous photos donated to MOMA of…girls standing on lawns, with poetic blurbs from Daniel Handler (aka Lemony Snicket) and paintings of the photos by Maira Kalman. And that’s all it is. You can read the whole thing in ten minutes, and that’s meandering.
But wait. Such intrigue. I turn the page, then turn it back, look more closely, study it. Who are these girls, these women? What would someone think of the pictures in my mother’s endless boxes of pictures that have me standing on one lawn or another? I would be as anonymous as any of the women in this book. It’s an interesting way to see yourself, with no context whatsoever, without knowing that was me before my initiation into the clique-ish Job’s Daughters and not a prom, without knowing how much money my mother spent on that beauty parlor hairdo, without hearing the screaming argument as I furiously dragged a brush through it, ruining it because I hated it so. Or without knowing how badly my stomach was knotted as I posed before that first day of school in a new town full of strangers. Without knowing how desperate I’d been to be invited to that birthday party I was on my way to, without knowing how many hours I’d babysat to earn the money for that dress I was posing in, without knowing that lawn was lovingly watered and trimmed by my grandfather and felt like velvet to bare feet, without knowing who loved me enough to want to preserve me at that moment and said, “Stand over there. Let me get a picture.”
A moment in time, sliding over the surface only. But what was the moment, exactly? Who was behind the camera? It’s hard for me to remember, after all these years, and you don’t know at all. I’m just a girl, standing on a lawn. I could be any girl. That could be anybody’s lawn, anybody’s camera. The lack of context is what gives these photos their depth, their potential to be any story you want them to be.
It can be difficult to see these sorts of snapshots as art, or this book as a literary pursuit at all. I think people tend to view photography as the red-headed stepchild of the arts, not taking it quite seriously, especially once cameras became readily available to the common person with no sense of the artistic whatsoever. I fear this has only increased as cameras have proliferated to the point where one can be found in almost anyone’s hand at any given time. Selfies are almost offensively ubiquitous — or are they? Are they another art form, a reflection of the fluidity of art and of our culture? Artist Dylan Neuwirth would say so, judging from his “Just Be Your Selfie” exhibit, recently seen at Tacoma Art Museum and in Seattle’s Occidental Park.
Pictures of girls standing on lawns are going to be few and far between before very much more time passes, and that’s a shame.
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