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14. A Seasonal Elegy
Beware: mummies & a slideshow
Texte en français disponible ici en pdf: 14. Une élégie saisonnière
Video: A Seasonal Elegy
It’s been a month since I last published. In winter everything seems to slow down and the creative cycle through which I go with every new post since I started Seasons got longer this time around. Slower but not less fruitful, the winter holidays kept me busy, so I didn’t take the time to sit down and write before last week, but I took a massive amount of photos since my last post. They ended up taking a tremendous amount of time to get edited properly, while I figured out what it was all about. This specific creative sequence had been one month long.
When I decided to name my journal Seasons, I didn't realize how true to the idea of natural cycles the actual practice of regularly taking photos, editing and writing would be. As I went through the process of editing the large volume of photos I had accumulated, I realized that I had been trying to force myself more or less to stick to a weekly posting schedule, an aim that has been mostly successful until now, but the experience of taking so many photos and the time it took me to edit them dictated otherwise this time. Life has its own rhythm, and I have come to realize that the periodicity with which I post should reflect this. I have decided to refrain from committing to a specific posting schedule, as the periodicity of my posts may fluctuate. However, I will try to keep them consistent and regular as much as possible.
The photos I am presenting here have all been taken with an old 50mm lens. The second-hand 50mm lens I purchased a few months ago and which I was using until then suddenly stopped working just as I was starting to take photos for this post, and I received the replacement the very day I started writing it. All but a few have been taken with this lens, the other ones with a 35mm.
Winter is the season of natural elegy. Lamenting the passing of the loved ones echoes the longing for spring, in the same way that longing for a renewed life is built in the seasonal cycle of the mind. Yet, at the same time, winter is also a time of excitement for children. They love Christmas and the anticipation of the holiday season.
I enjoy thinking about perpetuating ancient traditions, actuating symbols which signification escapes us a little sometimes and have immemorial origins, like the roots of Christmas, that lie in the ancient festivals that marked the winter solstice and the celebration of the return of the sun.
The figure of Santa Claus, with his red suit, white beard and bag full of gifts, is a modern version of the ancient pagan figures that have been associated with the winter solstice. Many cultures have their own versions of a gift-giving figure that visits during the winter months.
In Norse mythology, there is the figure of Odin, who is often depicted as an old man with a white beard and long robes. He is associated with wisdom, magic, and gift-giving. In the Roman Empire, there was the festival of Saturnalia, during which gifts were exchanged, and the figure of Saturn, the god of agriculture, was honored.
Persephone, the Greek goddess of spring and growth, is taken to the underworld by Hades during the winter months. The cycle of death and rebirth is at the heart of the vision of the solstice. The same hope for rebirth led to the practice of mummification in ancient Egypt. It was a way to ensure that the deceased would be able to continue their life in the afterlife. This practice reflects the belief in the cyclical nature of life and death, and the hope for rebirth and renewal.
Right before the new year, we visited a brilliant exhibition about mummies with the children in the Toulouse Natural History Museum, called Mummies, preserved bodies, eternal bodies. I was surprised by how interested and unafraid they were. I would have been much more impressed if I had seen the same things at the same age they are.
This exhibition shows and explains how humans have tried to preserve the remains of the dead in the hope of an afterlife. This relationship between mummification and the hope of a beyond is apparently not as easily defined as it seems to be sometimes. But if the views vary from culture to culture and in time, it always says something of the bewilderment of men confronted with a corpse. How the absence of something invisible and undefinable in any other way than conjecture or belief would transform us into inanimate matter? Is it possible to make this thing come back, or is it somewhere else, or does it only exist at all?
In an earlier post, The fossils in the dark room, I mentioned the film Begotten by E. Elias Merhige, which begins with a statement that tended to condemn diary-making and photography as a sort of embalming of life, and opposing the use of universal stories and allegory to create a lyrical work that is always pertinent. I stated that I believe that photography is not just a mechanical process, but also an intuitive and creative one that can be used to say something about the universal experiences we live in our ordinary lives.
It is a kind of active witnessing that require photographers to engage with the world, using their body and intuition to create images that can evoke new human intuition and associations in the viewer at a later time. Two photographers with the same gear at the same place and same time can take drastically different photographs, with dramatically different meanings. Photography is not necessarily the mechanical mummification of vision.
We live finite linear lives, but it seems we are able to also experience time in a different way. We experience time through its dilation and constriction through emotions, and can revisit and even reconstruct time through memories and dreams and storytelling. Photography, like other forms of art, is a way to evoke such memories and find human connection beyond direct contact. Marcel Proust's theory of involuntary memory, famously illustrated by his experience with the madeleine dipped in his tea, highlights the power of art to transport us back to a specific moment in time and evoke deep emotions. It can make you see other lives through other eyes.
"The only true voyage of discovery, the only fountain of Eternal Youth, would be not to visit strange lands but to possess other eyes, to behold the universe through the eyes of another, of a hundred others, to behold the hundred universes that each of them beholds, that each of them is" — Marcel Proust, The Prisoner - In Search of Lost Time
In addition to the written reflections in this essay, I am sharing for the first time a video instead of a series of photos. The accompanying video showcases the pictures taken during this period, accompanied by original music that I composed, played and edited specifically for this piece. This multimedia format is something that I tend to create more and more in my artistic works, as I find that the combination of photographs, music, and writing creates an immersive experience for the viewer that I enjoy making. I hope that you enjoy it. I would be grateful if you could take a moment to watch the video and let me know your thoughts on it.
Until next time!
Video: A Seasonal Elegy