Wednesday, June 5, 2013

each instant

To Look at Any Thing

by John Moffitt

To look at any thing,
If you would know that thing,
You must look at it long:
To look at this green and say
“I have seen spring in these
Woods” will not do–you must
Be the thing you see:
You must be the dark snakes of
Stems and ferny plumes of leaves,
You must enter in
To the small silences between
The leaves,
You must take your time
And touch the very peace
They issue from.

"I want to write you as one who is learning. I photograph each instant. I delve into words as if I were painting not just an object but its shadow."

- Clarice Lispector

The John Moffitt poem is from a book called, Teaching with Fire. I was thinking, how much I've learned from reading C.L. - she who writes as one who is learning. How grateful I am for her. And also - it would be unlikely that any publisher in Canada, anyway, would publisher her work if she were writing today. This thought is a misery to me.

I was talking last night with a friend about the photographer, Vivian Maier. Her story is interesting, but not inspiring - in fact it's terrifying, that a person could produce such a body of work and be completely unknown her entire life. It was a moment of sheer luck, perhaps serendipity, that her boxes of negatives were found by the right person - that this person recognized what he'd found, and did something about it. It could just as easily have ended up in a landfill. What's inspiring is her dedication and persistence. What's inspiring is the way she looked at the world, and not just the world but its shadows, its small silences. What's inspiring is her work. Her seeing.

So many of the shots she took were split second reactions. And yet they feel as though she were taking her time. "Be the thing you see," goes the poem by Moffitt, and one gets the sense that Maier enters into things, their being, she enters into the instant of a photograph, into time.

Soon I will sling my camera around my neck and walk out into the suburbs. I understand that obsession with looking, looking, looking, walking. And trying to photograph instants. To be a student of the instant. I'm a little less anonymous than Vivian Maier, but not much.


  1. Oh Clarice Lispector!!!! It's when I read bits here and there that I am grateful for being such a lucky person, because I'm able to read Lispector and Pessoa ( do you like Pessoa? My favorite of all)in Portuguese which is also my native language.
    Love her! And yes what a pity that would be, not to be able to read Lispector but I imagine that there are a lot of writers we "miss" because they are not just what the editor is expecting to sell.
    Maybe they should create a secret society :) ...

  2. Shawna, those photos are beautiful. Coral on the grey background - just stunning. Yes, I can see that you ARE the poppy . . .

  3. Shawna, those photos are beautiful. Coral on the grey background - just stunning. Yes, I can see that you ARE the poppy . . .


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