Paris Etchics

26 October 2009

Under the bridge by the river we come across the kicked over remnants of a fire – smear of ash in the earth, debris including a broken wine bottle or two, some trash here and there. Sheltered in the curve of the bridge where it comes to meet the ground, against the damp and only mildly graffitied stone wall, there are three crudely improvised mattresses. Not placed together, but rather spread out, isolated, as if the inhabitants of these beds might share this location not socially but in spatial terms only. Something about the still-life of the scene compels – these narrative traces, trails of presence – and whilst S. and I don’t break step my eye reads the scene insistently as we pass by. The first bed comprises a single sheet of plain cardboard, perhaps one metre wide, lain on the ground and stretched towards us, a nothing of pillow for the head, imagined feet to the river. The second bed, nestled parallell to the wall of the bridge, is a small strewn pile of promotional newspapers, slightly impacted with the faintest trace of a human form. The third bed is formed from two separate cardboard sheets, overlapping and marked with the name of some product or another. These sheets are damp, perhaps even sodden, having lain here the longest perhaps, evidence of a night some while ago. The first bed though, takes my eye back to it with it’s absolute simplicity. There is only a  minimal colour difference between it’s muted cardboard and the soft earth, and with its minor traces of inhabitation (non-descript footprints around, a slight indentation at the place where one might imagine hips) it is definitely the most forlorn of these improvised beds. There is a kind of geometric sadness to its oblong – grave-like of course, though I did not think that at the time – presenting enough room for a human to lie in or on, not more, not less. Of course it goes through my mind that these home-made structures are also empty stages of a kind – spaces of absence and potential. But though I know my camera is in my bag I’m somehow reluctant to stop, take it out and make pictures of a scene like this.

Seems like I’m comfortable enough to write about what I see though.. which is puzzling at first. I wonder if it is because the intrusion or appropriation of this fragment from another’s reality is somehow less when done in words? And of course I know I can forever qualify here, with words. Or is it because I don’t trust a photograph for this, with all the camera’s qualities of capture and its relentless aestheticisation? (Or with all the photographs’ claim to truth?).  Perhaps it’s just because I think I can move more nimbly what I am looking at, and the fact of my looking, rather better in words? Words is my place perhaps, more than pictures, and i feel comfortable to negotiate there. Perhaps Hugo would know how to take a picture here? Or perhaps he would also balk at the invasion. Funny. When I filmed my friend K.B. for a video a good few years back, Hugo, watching the footage and taking pity on K’s severe and extended stress in front of the camera, told me that he would have stopped the camera! But then performance is my place also and I’m inured to watching people go further than they had expected to go, revealing themselves. I guess I’m a known vampire of that.