On Returning to the Future

As you well know (and you know you do) I am in love with form.  Maybe not form in everything, but form in art.  I’m especially in love with it because I it aids in my creative process.  If I’m writing a sonnet, I have this restrictive guideline I have to work against and, while I’m working against that, my subconscious comes to the fore.

In my current work-in-progress, THE UNDERGROUND EMPIRE OF JOSEPH WUNDERKIND, I’ve adapted a form in terms of the way I structure the book.  Specifically, I’m talking about the chapters.  As it is now – though if the book calls for it, I my cry uncle on the form altogether – each chapter is placed inside a single room.  It’s working well, so far (then again, one room is essentially a city-park-size garden), and at the very least it gives me an idea of what sorts of events I’m leading up to in the novel.

(To give you an example of what I mean, when I write plays I usually get to a point where I start planning future scenes.  The way I do this, however, is not by detailing what the scene is about, but simply listing who will be talking in the scene, who will be confronting each other.  This leaves me freedom to come up with the “plot” on the spur of the moment, but gives me a push towards knowing what that plot will be because the characters each have specific baggage of goals and interests before entering into that particular scene.)

Using form in such a way allows me to be (or at least to feel like I’m being) spontaneous while also restricting the boundaries of what I can actually create.  Look at it this way, if all of infinite space could be bound in a nutshell (Thank you, Shakespeare), then you can be infinitely creative no matter how many restrictions are piled on – even though the result will be different than if you hadn’t had those restrictions in the first place.

And, so, Irina Werner.

I don’t know where I found out about Irina Werner or, more specifically, her “Back to the Future” project, but I’m glad I did.  In it, she takes photographs of people from twenty to thirty years ago and then, using the people as they look now, recreates the photograph as closely as possible.

The resulting pictures are really stunning.  They are funny and touching and moving in ways that I can’t quite explain.  In many instances, the pictures are life-affirming.  Take, for example, the couple in front of the yellow house.  Already in middle age when the first picture was taken, the second gives us them after having weathered another few dozen years together, looking just as happy as before.

But that also brings out the underlying darkness of this project that is unavoidable.  Aging.  Time passing.  In between these pictures so much time has passed, unrecorded except for the effect it had on the people before us.  We take pictures to remember who we are, who we were, but as soon as the shutter clicks we are no longer that person.  Even now, looking through these pictures, the people are different than they were the year before.

And yet, that fact is also what makes these pictures beautiful.  They attempt to create a sort of permanence by recreating the past within the present, the attempt doomed to failure.

But look at the expressions on their faces.  That smallest curl of the upper lip, the same after twenty years.

As long as we are here in these bodies, no matter how much they change, we are here.

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2 Responses to On Returning to the Future

  1. Jason Myers says:

    This was one of zefrank’s viewer projects from back in the day. Some of them don’t have quite the meticulous attention to detail, but they are endless, personal, and fascinating: http://www.zefrank.com/youngmenowme/

  2. Andrew says:

    That’s pretty awesome, yessirree. I really like the “Back to the Future” ones because of the attention to detail, but Zefrank’s project, as usual, is darn cool.

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