Looking out over the new snowfall — how much heavier it appears at this afternoon hour, before turning back to lightness at night — I’m reminded again of your photographs of the tree in different seasons. This impulse to catalog a fixed view in its changes seems basic to the pleasure of taking pictures. One naturally takes up some kind of repeated gesture, and this one is an especially poignant expression of the camera’s power as a resonant instrument. The changed appearance of the single location betrays the fact that these extricable moments are fundamentally unalike but for your click, and so of course these photographs are always self-portraits, though of a fugitive kind. And anyway, I like that you settled on the tree, as it allows me to imagine you and the oak regarding one another, transfixed by a different scale of time.
The discipline of vision…This is what I was I was after when I quoted Monet in my piece on Gary Beydler’s short films: “One does not paint a landscape, a seascape, a figure. One paints an impression of an hour of the day.” Last week I saw two of Monet’s paintings of the Rouen Cathedral at the National Gallery, and then four more reproduced in John Berger’s essay in Harper’s (“The Enveloping Air: Light and Moment in Monet”). The artist’s study of the cathedral’s infinitude of shades — its constancy of shape is only a container (as the church to the spirit) — makes for a vivid demonstration of the above adage. Seeing the vertical portraits arranged side by side, I can’t help but think of a film strip — though of course a series is not a sequence.
Similarly to the Rouens, Beydler’s Venice Pier is comprised of successive realizations of a scenic view. The pier’s strong perspective lines dissipate in the imagination, floating upon a boundless array of light and mood. Beydler constructs a linear progression down the pier — a kind of walk — but the individual shots are free from narrow chronology. It is Beydler’s final film project and the first he created in editing (the earlier ones are variations of the single-take film).
Venice Pier is animated by countervailing forces: Beydler’s rigorous blueprinting and his surrender to happenstance (both what happens and how it appears). I trace this joyful tension back to Monet’s Rouen. Besides resulting in a lucid film structure, Beydler’s sequencing first of all makes us acutely aware of variations we would not otherwise see — something that extends not only to atmospheric conditions, but also to changes in the social field, which in turn intimate the pier as an accessible, democratic space. Of course we know that the sky looks differently from one day to the next, or that a destination like the pier has a distinct feeling on a sunny Saturday as compared to a rainy Tuesday, but it’s quite another thing to register this truth in a compressed, sensual frame. Secondly, we experience each shot both in its immediacy — peeling off postcards from past afternoons — and its relation to a whole. From this comes an incandescence akin to focusing one’s attention upon a familiar sight — a landscape, a lover’s face — and blurring the perceptual lines between what is present and what is remembered.
Perhaps it suffices to remark that returning one’s attention to the same view in a more or less concentrated way is one definition of melancholy.