In certain of these posts, I’ve put together two stories or quotes that go at one thing from different directions, or whose common ground isn’t obvious on the surface, aiming to spark for you some realization that can’t just be given or explained. This time, the two sets of words that I’ve joined come from two seemingly-almost-comically-different sources. The first is a poem by Juan Ramon Jimenez, the Spanish poet who won the 1956 Nobel Prize for Literature and was a leading figure in what is sometimes called with good reason the Golden Age of Spanish poetry (also including as it did such wonderful writers as Antonio Machado and Lorca). The second set of words is from a speech by the American comic actor Jim Carrey. Jimenez may not have had the same kind of extremely zany humor that Carrey has shown in his movie & TV stardom, but Jimenez was certainly not a stiff. One of his treasured creations was a book of prose, Platero y Yo (Platero and I). Platero was his donkey.
Once you read these words from Juan Ramon and Jim the Riddler, I doubt that you’ll have any trouble seeing why I put them together. But you may ask yourself, as you probably have in reading various posts of mine before, What in the world does this have to do with photography? If your aim in making photographs is art, and if your aspirations for that art go beyond income and popularity, then the answer is “Everything.” Truly finding your artistic “style” and achievement, in my view and experience, goes beyond what is typically recommended, which is more about branding than it is about trying to make great art. If we’re serious about the latter, then we need to be engaged throughout our lives with the development of our character and our soul, not just trends, or even past triumphs in the art (essential though that is). First, Juan Ramon:
“I AM NOT I”
Juan Ramon Jimenez
(translated by Robert Bly)
I am not I.
I am this one
walking beside me whom I do not see,
whom at times I manage to visit,
and whom at other times I forget;
who remains calm and silent while I talk,
and forgives, gently, when I hate,
who walks where I am not,
who will remain standing when I die.
And this is an excerpt from a speech that Jim Carrey has given more than once, with variations, in recent years:
What’s happening right now inside everybody is they’re going, “who am I?” And they’re depressed. People go like, Oh, Jim’s been depressed and stuff. Well, yeah, I was depressed when I was trying to be the Wizard of Oz, but now I know that Oz is a character. I think everybody deals with that. Everybody walks around and they go like, “why am I depressed?” Well, it’s because you’re trying to be something for the world and as soon as you let that go, better things happen, because they’re just happening. Now it’s the sadness, you know. Sadness comes, happiness comes, it’s the weather that flies by in the sky, it doesn’t sit on you so long enough to drown you. A few months ago, I woke up, and I suddenly got it. I understood suddenly how thought was just an illusory thing and how thought is responsible for, if not all, most of the suffering we experience. And then I suddenly felt like I was looking at these thoughts from another perspective, and I wondered, Who is it that’s aware that I’m thinking? And suddenly I was thrown into this expansive, amazing feeling of freedom, from myself, from my problems.
You could tell from the way I titled and began this post that when I started it writing it, I planned to include just the Jimenez poem and the quotation from Jim Carrey’s speech. But having gotten to this point, I’ll ask you to indulge and follow me if I add one more piece that these things have brought to my mind, and that I hope you’ll enjoy, a poem that I wrote and published many years ago, called “Shadows”:
What do we know about the race of shadows?
Those who watch closely
can see the truth.
If you flourish your fingers above the lamp,
their shadows on the ceiling
will dwarf and command you.
On calm days, down by the lake,
I’ve seen cool shadows walk on water.
The shadows know
about cracks in the attic
that bleed at night,
about light that pinches like insect beaks,
about the woman whose life is the muffled jangling
of wire hangers in a closet.
They take whatever they meet
in a weightless embrace.
The shadows read ahead in our books,
they know how our ill‑lit stories end.
As for words, this ink is made
from the watery blackness of shadows.
These words aren’t mine, but my shadow’s.
See how it holds its own shadow‑pen!,
how it guides my hand across the page
as an older brother guides his bewildered sibling
across a busy street.
As for stories, the shadow‑children are hushed
when their parents tell them fables
of the princess carried off
by the Ruler of Shadows.
In his kingdom, everything shines for a time,
then fades, taking on the true splendor
of shadows. But the sad girl can’t understand.
She wastes her life with mourning.
Tonight, alone at this battered desk,
I think of old betrayals.
And I remember one night as a child:
Closed in my room, I heard the raucous
noise from the grown‑ups’ party ‑-
the sniggering, the shrieks of feigned surprise.
I remember kneeling on the carpet, pressing
my ear to the shadow on the floor
as a doctor puts his ear
to the patient’s chest.
And I heard, on the other side,
the serious voices, I heard the slow feet walking.
I thought, “I wonder if I
could go there. I wonder if those
are the real people.”
And in that moment, without my knowing,
already my soul grew darker.
Wishing you the opening of many doors and windows between now and the time that we meet in the next post!
Was the Alfred P. Sloan Scholar for the Humanities at the University of Michigan. Obtained a Master of the Fine Arts degree from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, where I was selected as a Writing Fellow in Poetry by the Program faculty. Have published poems, essays and reviews in many magazines, anthologies, reference works, and other publications, including The Nation, The Iowa Review, Virginia Quarterly Review, Parabola, OMNI, and the exhibition catalogue for Art at the Edge of the Law at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum. Received a law degree from the University of Michigan, and have changed the law and created educational programs in the fields of arts law, historic preservation law, and public construction and contracting law in the State of Connecticut. My photographs have appeared in international, national, regional and state juried exhibitions, and have been selected for awards including Honorable Mentions in the Architecture, Fine Art (series), Nature (series), Open Theme (series), Portrait, and Seascape categories from the international Fine Art Photography Awards, and an Honorable Mention in the Fine Art-Other category from the International Photography Awards. Photographs of mine have been selected for exhibition or publications by or in the 2019 International Juried Exhibition of the Center for Photographic Art (Carmel, CA), 2019 International Competition of The Photo Review, the 2019 Open Exhibition of the Center for Fine Art Photography in Fort Collins CO, F-Stop Magazine, Shadow & Light Magazine, Black Box Gallery in Portland OR, Praxis Gallery in Minneapolis MN, the Darkroom Gallery in VT, PhotoPlace Gallery in VT, A Smith Gallery in TX, the New Britain Museum of American Art, and many other journals and venues. My work has also been selected for inclusion in the Flatfile Program of Artspace New Haven (CT). My photography website is at www.lawrenceruss.com .