Sunday, May 3, 2009

"Coleridge, it's often claimed, was the last person to have read everything. This voracious appetite for reading was matched, in his writing, by a chronic inability to finish anything. Walter Benjamin, an obsessive collector of books, thought that the most satisfying way to acquire volumes was to write them, but he, too, was able to bring only a few of his most cherished projects to anything like completion.

"It is a trait they share with Gedney. Although he reproached himself on occasions, for not making the best use of his time, this inability to bring any of his varied projects to completion was not the result of laziness but, paradoxically, of immersing himself so thoroughly in his work."

—Geoff Dyer, What Was True: The Photographs and Notebooks of William Gedney

The Kentucky photos are the most striking. The Benares photos possess some of the same qualities—the appreciation for the beauty of a human body in need, an eye for how people shape—unconsciously and unselfconsciously—their bodies against a background, a love of naturalism that carries no overt statement about its subject—but the KY photos hit me more. First, there's continuity—the same family viewed and reviewed, aging. The way people interact with each other. Their interactions with objects—often cars, but also parts of cars, cigarettes, their clothing (men's pants). And, too, I somewhat recognize these people. They remind me of my Frostburg relatives and childhood friends, or Nan's relatives out in Deer Park, with their rural isolation, the tales of violence and illness, the lack of forward momentum. They have no expectation of being remembered by the world. Gedney has remembered them (they seem aware of this in the letters to him, as if he summoned them). He gives those of us who deceive ourselves in regards to our importance—or who inhabit a world in which change is not only possible but expected—the opportunity to recollect how most humans live. His camera doesn't pull these subjects into the limelight. Somehow, they remain where they are.

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