03 June 2010
(from Michal Ronen Safdie's Vapor Trails at the Andrea Meislin Gallery)
Last night at the ICP, listening to Maya Benton and Alana Newhouse talk about the Vishnaic Archive, I was struck by an obvious thought: to read the margins back into photography is a Jewish endeavor. Not unlike a folio of Talmud or Medieval Commentary, we need the margins to fully understand any text, whether that text is verbal, literary or an image. That we Jews see many layered meaning not only in what is written but what is not written is a necessary axiom for navigating our way through life. Why it struck me as I sat among those listening to Maya and Alana's presentation has to do, I suppose, with something George Mosse taught me in Madison more than twenty-five years ago: that images tell stories, powerful ones at that; and when a broader context invades the border, it has the potential to wreak havoc, if not completely undermine, a prior meaning attached to that image.
I took a ride into the city today on my bike to check out the new Michal Ronen Safdie show at the Andrea Meislin Gallery. I love visiting Andrea's gallery. We always have a good chat about life and politics and kids and Israel. And since Andrea is the premier gallery of Israeli photography in New York, visits there always give me a chance to think about George's maxim and to contemplate and interpret image.
After lunch I headed downtown to the Strand for some books. There I saw Art Spiegelman among the buyers, looking very much like a cartoon version of himself: deep in thought; wearing his trademark vest; and a pack of cigarettes conspicuously tucked into a vest pocket. Our clothes are images, too, of course and I looked at myself: Milwaukee coffee shop t-shirt; ragged khaki pants; Brooks trail shoes; bike helmet and back-pack. I was being *that* person, particularly necessary when one has to navigate the tumultuous octane waters of Manhattan streets on two wheels. In game mode, I was ready for anything. So was Spiegelman, since given his pose, I certainly wasn't going to interrupt his study of texts.
Riding back home on the Brooklyn Bridge, I was nearly hit several times by tourists taking pictures. Mind you I was riding quite safely, mindful of my assigned areas, staying within my designated borders, when, with an unnerving mindlessness, some shmoe and his digital device walked into my path, lost in the glassy, miniature *television* of his instantaneous digital delight and damn near had us both killed. "There are borders here!" I wanted to shout, but realized I was fighting a losing battle. The digital has won and it has successfully obliterated borders and boundaries that once held certain rules of transport between the boroughs we inhabit. Everyone wants to create their own experience--and even preserve it with a camera--from the top of the Brooklyn Bridge to the waters off the coast of Israel.
Weaving in and out of human traffic, riding defensively, "looking out for the other guy," as Dad once taught, I thought back to a conversation I had with an Israeli this week about the Flotilla. "We are losing the PR campaign," she noted. "If we had better PR for the past twenty years, we'd be in better shape." I pointed out that Oslo pretty much started twenty years, a city that represents the idea that there still may be a negotiated two-state solution. "That idea is breaking down the borders," I said. While on the Bridge I stayed in my lane. I obeyed the law. I didn't hurt anyone. But had I let my anger fly toward those in my path--my rightful path--I would have wound up in jail. That's just the way it is sometimes.
Other people want the same view we want; and sometimes, despite ourselves, we have to make accommodations.