Descending or not descending into hell – two photographs

This photograph 'Valparasio, Chile' by Chilean photographer Sergio Larraain stopped me in my tracks.  

I'm again trying to write an 'open appreciation' by pointing to issues and then moving into the sub-conscious and surreal by mentioning associations.  I recognize, of course that other people may have a different set of associations.

After that I have included my photograph 'Two arrows' and my response to that.

The squares, triangles and planes are like an operatic stage-set. They registered (with me) before the two girls because the overall design works powerfully as a whole.  Of course it echoes Cartier-Bresson in the stregth of its geometry.  HCB has a photograph of a girl about to disappear left at the top of a steep set of stone steps in a white Greek village.

One girl is in shadow.

There is even slight ambiguity as to which way she is walking but the fact that she is following another girl, perhaps her older sister,  forces us to accept she is walking away – and most belt bows are tied at the back.  There is a hint that she is left-handed – and, horror of horrors is her arm cut off at the elbow – or is it that her arm is hidden in forward movement.  I recall a photograph of an African boy helping dress his father both of whose arms were amputated by terrorists. 

Are they both carrying square bottles – like many olive oil bottles?  Are they on the way to a shop – or is the liquid refreshment from the heat

The girl in the shadow is about to step into light – glaring light.

The two girls shoulders, hair and very upright stance suggest they may be sisters – with the older one leading.

The girl in the light is similar but different – she might already be a young woman, certainly she is experiencing the world as someone quite a few years older than the smaller girl.

More subconsciously and surreal-ly

Their walk suggests;

ET's approach back to the space ship

The walk of the Midwich cuckoos in the film The Midwich Cuckoos

Even a hint of a Zombie walk – though oppressive heat might explain – walking in a way to stay as cool as possible.

What are they passing through – stages of growing up?

What are they descending into?

The sense of confidence and control in the 'stance that suggests their walk' doesn't give any sense of threat – so it's not a hell of any kind.  

It is very processional, very operatic.  The geometry is perfect. The moment is perfect.  The narrative possibilities obey Francis Bacon's 'The job of the artist is always to deepen the mystery.'

Sergio Larrain was a  born in 1931.  Amazon still has a book he did of London in 1958/59 with Mike Seaborne.  The picture is to be found on p261 of Phaidon's 'the Photo Book'


My photograph 'Descending and two arrows'

This photograph 'appeared' when travelling via the metro/underground in Budapest.

As is so often the case in 'Street Photography' I grabbed it unconsciously, like a bear mid-stream to whom the salmon leaps – snap! (Impossible lighting & v modest camera)

I didn't construct it consciously. It was a gift, not something directly worked for. I only saw it afterwards, back home.

If someone else had taken it, and I had looked at it, really looked, I would be stunned! So I will try to 'critique' it as if it was another photographer's work.

One key is the two arrows. Another is that the two men look to be the same person.

Three people. Two worlds.

The man coming down the steps – a clone or alternative version of the beggar-man at the foot of the steps?.

Perhaps they represent two parallel versions of reality as in the 1998 film Sliding Doors – except the two, and their realities, have come together at the particular moment of the photograph.

Perhaps the two are the same person who decades ago when 'Two roads diverged in a yellow wood' took the wrong road, except in a parallel reality the other road was also taken. The two versions, the two selves the two roads come together on the steps of the metro in this moment.

One is holding a cup, the other, I think, sun-glasses.

One exudes wretchedness and a hatred of the world that dealt him his deal, a world that won't fill his cup sufficient to displace that hatred? His sound is, "Ssssssssss".

Perhaps his gay/girlie pink bag is the punctum if you view the scene through Barthes-ian spectacles.

One exudes super-relaxed nonchalance. His sound is, " Hi guyyyyyyys, yo, how are y'all". (Yes, yes I know that is a mixture of out-of-dates idioms!)

Presumably he also has a cup – what does it contain? Not the dregs of bitterness.

Two descend from a world of super-brightness.

One huddles on the lower-most step.

In hell?

But which way is hell? What good is it the seduces us? The good deeds of the ordinary people are the sins of saints.

Which one is in hell, or might be tomorrow, following a turn of events?

Might their positions be reversed, if having coincided they take the next step along the journey?

Two arrows point. One points ascendingly, but not like a Zen master. One appears to point descendingly.

Which arrow is to be trusted?

Upwards there is the possibility of super-white teeth. Upwards there is a restaurant that asserts itself.

The woman is mysterious. Did she reject one, and accept the other? Is her own dual two-pathed reality about to come into a single moment? Did she turn back instead of making a choice between two roads.

Do we willingly descend?

Is hell a state of being, not a place, a state of being that we engender or step out from.

Would hell be the eternal living of the road not taken? A vision of this risk is Hirokazu Koreeda's film 'Afterlife'

Or a meeting with our 'selves', sub-personalities, that each made their own journeys and rattle and jostle our consciousness for space and time.

Are we ascending or descending?

Is the light too bright, as for eyes freed of cataracts?

Will we all realize the full consequences of choices made?

Is redemption in Abe Lincoln's home spun, "Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be."  Hell or heaven is the state we (choose) to live in?

Who, or what, makes up our heart-mind?


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