Blog post alert: The brilliant composite photographs of Jupiter captured by NASA's James Webb telescope make you understand the appeal of optimistic science fiction!
Picturing a World
Wow! David Hockney! thought I, when I saw this photograph by Ian Capper at Geograph. Explore the many paintings at 2005 The David Hockney Foundation and you'll see why. I'm not sure how a writer should use the moment—to imagine a rural place? to catch that sense of aha! when a character makes a mental connection? In any case, it gave my day a lift and I'm still smiling.
Now look at this photograph of a bridge over a canal! Even when I don't want to describe something in detail in a story, I want to be able to visualize it for myself so that I know I'm not building an impossibility into the plot. The physical world, moreover, shapes our lives and should shape the lives of our characters. Okay, so I'm trying to imagine a bridge over a towpath in winter. Here I have the architectural solution for going from one bank to another. Curves and straight lines, bricks and stonework, messy dead grass and moss. I can see the muddy track as well as cobblestones, damp under the bridge, and a gate on the far side. Perfect for giving me assurance now, and you never know when some detail will suggest a future plot development.
Website alert: The story of the how this and other daguerreotypes were recovered from a shipwreck is found at "Doomed ship of gold's ghostly picture gallery is plucked from the seabed." It's a good enough tale in itself. But don't you wish you knew more about this woman with her coiffed hair and those racy black lace sleeves? For me, it's one step from the knowing look in her eye and the crooked smile into siren territory. A few more changes, and I could make her a mermaid with dangerous intentions. Or, of course, there is the possibility of gold-rush historical fiction. And get this: there are other unrecovered daguerreotypes and ambrotypes still down there in the same wreck, lying on the seabed. Now how suggestive is that!
This morning, I ran across this photograph in a fascinating new book, Gothic: An Illustrated History by Roger Luckhurst. What interests me is not its connection to all the permutations of sensibility collected under the term Gothic. No, as the world fears a new war in Ukraine, it was the image of horrific destruction that hit me first. Then wonder at the books still so neatly shelved, then a smile at the calm, plucky Englishmen (those hat!) perusing books. But wait, it's probably staged.
Michael Garrick's photograph of exuberant, overflowing, flowering, abundant life taking over an abandoned greenhouse (used here under a Creative Commons License) was just the tonic I needed on a very cold morning in New England . Sure, there's the pandemic, worrying political news, and the terrifying prospect of all that climate change will bring. And still, wildness breaks through our structures, constrictions, and failures to bring subversive glee and wonder.
The reward of blog-crawling on a rainy day was a post on "Harlequin Foods" at Victorian Paris. I knew that "pot-luck" soups were sold by street vendors to the poor, but get this: There was an entire trade in leftovers or rogatons from the kitchens of palaces, noble houses, fine hotels, embassies, and so on. The cook or the footman sold them to a vendor or reseller who came to the back door, and they began a journey of sorting and distribution until they reached a stall in Les Halles, where they might end up on a patchwork plate of mixed scraps more or less artfully arranged. In that form, they were called arlequins, probably because their patchwork appearance resembled the costume of the Commedia dell'arte character, Harlequin.
As a follow-up to my last post on carte-de-visite albums, here's a German lady holding an album of somewhat larger photos. The photographer, Bertha Wehnert-Beckmann, would be worth exploring in depth as possibly the first female professional photographer. For German speakers, the place to start: A German Lady.
A cousin recently turned up a family carte-de-visite album among her mother's things. I knew about the little photographic calling cards that people used to collect and exchange. They were invented—and patented—by a Paris photographer, Andre Adolphe Eugene Disdéri, and I had looked at individual examples of famous people when I was researching Where the Light Falls. What I didn't know was that soon after Disdéri's invention, someone invented albums with framed pockets into which you could slip your collection and keep adding. Old albums with annotations, like those in the Sturgis-Codman album, would be a wonderful resource for seeing the relations among friends and family or the interests of a collector. Historical fiction writers and family historians, happy hunting!
Website alert: Does anybody else perceive a rider on the back of a horse in this detail from NASA's video animation of a flight past the planet Jupiter?!? And if so, is an elephant-headed rider looking over its shoulder or is that an elaborate hood? I'd love to see the photographs from which this segment of the video is projected. Meanwhile, whether you are as taken by this imaginary cosmic figure as I am, do check out Ride With Juno As It Flies Past the Solar System's Biggest Moon and Jupiter. It's mesmerizing