One evening, recently, I couldn’t write. I’d been drafting parts of an academic manuscript the entire week and assembling and sequencing images for a potential photobook, and I wanted a break. But I didn’t want to read or watch TV. I decided, as is often the case, to drive. To park somewhere and wander with my camera and take pictures. It wasn’t a true respite, however, since what I would take pictures of would, potentially, become a part of the photobook I’m working on.
As I was walking around, I was propositioned by a prostitute. I’d seen her before she approached me. She was twirling around while walking on the sidewalk. She seemed happy. Filled with joy. Her golden hair flopped to the left, and to the right, luminous in spite of the evening.
When we were close enough she said, “Hey handsome, do want to party tonight?” I said, “No, no thanks.” I smiled when I turned her down. She was just trying to work, earn a dollar. And she smiled. And we parted ways as quickly as our ways came together. She’d asked me with a certain levity, a singular ease. She seemed to be walking, always, on the verge or in the middle of another twirl. She might as well have asked me, “Would you like to have some coffee?” or, “Hey, wanna dance?”
I walked around for another hour, taking a few more pictures.
When I got home, I wasn’t tired yet. It was almost midnight. I decided to watch Blue, the first movie in Krzyszof Kieslowski’s Three Colors Trilogy. The movie takes place, presumably, the same year as the founding of the European Union. In it, the main character, Julie (played by Juliette Binoche), has lost her daughter and her husband, who’s a composer, and was at the time of his death commissioned to produce a composition dedicated to the future unification of Europe.
The movie contains many references to the future, to an aleatory, though seemingly imminent, tomorrow. The mouse and her babies. The unfinished symphony that always, until the end, seems aborted. And how Juliette, who’s found out that her husband was unfaithful, seems devoted to thwarting any future, while holding on, nevertheless, to her daughter’s memory, the personal private to-be––in the form of her mobile, comprised of shimmering blue crystals. The anxiety to complete a work of art, to fulfill a social and political promise, and how the two in this movie is so subtly connected, is encapsulated elegantly, brutally, in the psyche, and behavior, of Juliette. How the singular and personal become the occasion for thinking of the collective.
But this movie offers no answers, in spite of the fact that at the end the symphony seems to have been completed. In the second installment of the Three Colors Trilogy, Kieslowski troubles any notion of harmony.
In Blue, one of the characters, a women living just below Juliette in her flat in Paris, is called a “whore.” She works at a sex club, performing for an audience. She has an affair with her neighbor, a married man whose wife approaches Juliette for a petition to have her thrown out of the apartment building, a request that Juliette responds to by saying, “It’s none of my business.”
I think again of the woman who so politely propositioned me on the street, here in the desert. There’s no way to reconcile all the histories and visual cues that flooded my mind that particular night. It’s impossible to do so, after all. I was taking pictures. But my sharpest memory is imageless: I made no picture of it. My keenest memory of that night is how Juliette Binoche’s hair looked. But it also has to do with something John Berger had written about images (and in particular, pictures), and how they can reach into our memories and become, suddenly, tactile. I’d seen Juliette Binoche’s hair before: that brown, that sheen. I know how it feels on my fingertips, how it can fall and slacken across my palms. I know, because of its color, how it feels just at the edges of my lips, how it smells. I remember a woman. And yet I also see in it the drift and the ache and the uncertainty whenever the notion of unity is promised.
I know the precarity of being smiled at, even if this smile is for survival.
Copyright Ryan Canlas 2017