Friday, January 1, 2010

Christenberry and Agee, David Lynch and Interview Project

"If I could do it, I'd do no writing at all here. It would be photographs; the rest would be fragments of cloth, bits of cotton, lumps of earth, records of speech, pieces of wood and iron, philials of odors, plates of food and of excrement."

- James Agee

Serendipity is the only muse I know. A few weeks ago I was asked to speak about "my photography," and during the talk, I relayed a story about losing a friend in an area of the Appalachian Trail outside of Washington, DC on my first spring break from college. A few days after we reunited, in my restlessness, I discovered that the only photographer whose name I knew at the time, William Christenberry, was speaking a mile away from my friend's home at George Mason University. So I had my friend drop me off.

There, sharing the urinal and the sink next to me, this stranger, who later would climb up the side of the stage and begin speaking, stumbled through dark hallways alongside me as we both tried to make it to the auditorium of the arts center. Mr. Christenberry is still one of the few artists whose humility and lack of pretension honor him first as a man, and then, incidentally, as someone who makes objects and photographs. His manner and ways of being are what is to be learned, and this informs his work. I remember that he told me after the lecture that he does not use e-mail, and that he was one of the few close friends of Walker Percy, a novelist whose prescience about the spiritual condition of modern man, seriousness and attention to his craft, seem to render most modern authors blind and spineless. To this day, Christenberry's relentless quoting, throughout his life, of James Agee's journal entry during the writing of Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, still makes demands upon, and haunts, all of the artwork or representations I come across. Agee seems to esteem the dirt of the grave of the child in Hale County over any other representation which would choose to comment upon it, speak to it, or mimic it.

I was thinking of Agee's comments above earlier today as I stumbled across David Lynch's Interview Project. The project has single-handedly ennobled my perception of marrying the internet and film, and maybe even art, perhaps for good. Interview Project is a great collection of short interviews with strangers encountered by Lynch's team, asking earnest questions to normal people encountered while traveling on the road. It is indescribably beautiful in its level of candid reception and presentation of individuals, without pretension and seemingly without ulterior motives other than individuals as means and ends unified and embodied before a camera. If you have the chance to watch the short films, please be kind to yourself and do so. Agee would be honored.

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