I/Eye: On Photography

Back to Santa Fe…with “Los Caprichos”

Posted in Uncategorized by Sheila Newbery on September 8, 2011
Bakersfield, California (2011) © Sheila Newbery

Bakersfield, California (2011) © Sheila Newbery

These photos were taken in Bakersfield last May, during a drive out to Santa Fe with my friend Julie (author of Wired magazine’s math column). I’ll be heading back to Santa Fe soon, this time to go to a book-making workshop organized by Alex Webb and Rebecca Norris Webb with Radius Books. I’ll be working on Los Caprichos: After Goya, a new project.

One sight from that earlier trip still lingers: a freight train crossing the Mojave, casting a mile-long, slow-moving shadow that undulated across the scrublands. The sun was low to the southwest and the train’s silhouette was recreated in a beautiful upside-down pattern of fantastic distortion. A filmmaker would have loved it. Probably everyone who’s driven across the desert has seen such a thing, but I hadn’t. I wasn’t quick enough to photograph it — Julie and I were hurtling in the opposite direction. But it got me thinking: about trains and travel….

When I started making preparations for this trip, I’d pretty much already decided that I’d take the train. It was a visual thing — the memory of that freighter, and also a recent revisiting of Montaigne’s Travel Journal, which impressed me (afresh) with its account of the rigors of travel in the sixteenth century. I’m sure I can’t imagine what it was like to attempt an overland journey back then: Montaigne must have been desperately uncomfortable much of the time — and his kidney stones made things worse; he took to the road in part to find a cure.

If, as Montaigne supposes,  reflecting on experience is part of furnishing the mind, then the essential blandness of air travel is a rushing negation of encounter with the world that lies along the way. It’s an optimization.  Sure, there are plenty of reasons why one wants to optimize; but this time I want to slow it all down.  I want to see the landscape from a lower, slower vantage. I want to talk to the people I meet.

So, train it is.

Bakersfield, California (2011) © Sheila Newbery

Bakersfield, California (2011) © Sheila Newbery

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