Wednesday, August 24, 2016

O'Keeffe revenant

The O'Keeffe Research Center is situated in the A.M. Bergere House on Grant Street, in Santa Fe, which was built in 1873 as an officer's house, for someone serving at the Fort Marcy compound, just up the road.  It was never lived in by O'Keeffe - I've no idea if O'Keeffe ever visited it (that seems unlikely), so there's no sense - unlike Ghost Ranch; unlike her house in Abiquiu - of her spirit still being there among the dried herbs and saucepans and furniture.  That's not to say that the house isn't haunted: when I arrived, one of the security guards told me not to be worried if I heard two small children playing, and pulling things around.  Clearly, I'm still documenting my time there, because I know that my own memories of the actual spaces will become blurry soon enough : these are the stairs down from my office; that's a photograph of Ghost Ranch landscape hanging on the wall (Ghost Ranch itself is named after the ghosts of the Archuleta brothers, cattle rustlers in the canyon there).

But this image is also a reverential nod to James Welling's photograph Revenant, perhaps the most extraordinary image among his photographic homage to Andrew Wyeth.  A canny observer of yesterday's image will have spotted that on the board in my office there are pinned postcards of three Wyeth paintings, so this is decidedly apt.  My colleague Suzanne Hudson, in Things Beyond Resemblance, the catalogue of the exhibition of these photographs, has written wonderfully well about this image in terms of its balance between abstraction and documentary, its refusal to "differentiate the support from the image fixed on it" - the white of photographic paper or, in this case, the white of the screen.  I think of Welling's study in terms, too, of memory, whether real or wished-for: of knowing something, some place; of sensing someone's presence within it yet being unable to have it come clearly in view. In turn, I'm not so much thinking of my own photograph as the image of a haunted place, but thinking about how my own memory of this place will, in its turn, doubtless become hazy and obscure.

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