Thursday, August 31, 2006

Red Arch Mountain, Utah

In Berlin Childhood around 1900 Walter Benjamin relates his childhood immersion in watercolours to the story of an old Chinese painter. The old man invited friends around to see his most recent picture. They were shown a landscape with a footpath leading along a stream and through a grove to a small cottage. When they turned around and looked for the painter, he had gone. They saw that he had entered the picture and was walking up the path to the door, where he paused ‘quite still, turned, smiled and disappeared through the narrow opening.’

Reading Benjamin’s book it is difficult not to reflect on one’s own childhood memories. Benjamin describes the streets, parks and monuments of Berlin but he also dwells on the landscapes of furniture and household objects that a child negotiates. He remembers the power of postcards and the old Imperial Panorama where ‘one afternoon, while seated before a transparency of Aix, I tried to persuade myself that, once upon a time, I must have played on the patch of pavement that is guarded by the old plane trees of the Cours Mirabeau.’ On reading this I went down to our cellar and found my father’s old stereoscope which had enchanted me as a child. The image below, for example, is Red Arch Mountain, Utah, probably photographed in about 1947 (some of the discs have this date). An anonymous photographer’s tiny image in Kodachrome “natural colour”, it now has the time capsule qualities of a miniature landscape in a Book of Hours. What seemed a strange, distant mountain to me as a child is now potentially accessible, but the world that produced the stereoscope is irretrievable, along with the imaginative space of childhood.

1 comment:

ehogg said...

It's always such a pleasure to trackback to your earlier posts, like this little gem with its evocation of a book of hours - such a stratigraphy, and as always, such a resource.