Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Images in Ice: An Exhibit in Three Parts

My friend Jim Shirey sent me the photograph above as an email attachment, with the note that he hoped I was still alive. I am at present, but do not want to be overconfident. I was excited to see another of his amazing photographs of nature, this one part of his ongoing fascination with images of ice and called "ascent of the frost spirits."

Jim uses his camera to pick up spirits in nature. I put this photograph up as wallpaper on my laptop so I could look at them and think about them as I worked on a story I've been writing. At first I found myself thinking of the central figure as Queen Mab, who, according to Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet," brings us dreams. I thought also of Diana surrounded by her nymphs in a line from Keats' "Ode to a Nightingale." The speaker has allowed himself to be carried away on the wings of poesy, seeing in the night sky "haply the Queen-Moon is on her throne/Clustered around by all her starry fays."

Then the central figure began to change, or show her many dimensions: an insect self, even a Virgin Mary self inset in the lower portion of the figure, and back again to her whole and truest self. I told Jim that I loved the photograph though it scared me a little.

What, I asked myself, has he caught in his lens?

He sent me another email, with the following two photographs attached, which he introduced as follows: well, if the frost spirits scare you, try these on for size.

I had to admit these impressed me in a strange way, especially the first one. Lisa Sarkis said it reminded her of a painting called "The Scream" by Edvard Munch. I thought so myself, but it also looked a little like the mask used in the movie "Scream," though much more forlorn. It now seems to me that the primary identity is the forlorn spirit captured in or finding expression or traveling through the ice. The second one I leave entirely to your imagination (alien).
In a longer email, I wrote to Jim:

...whatever madness possesses you enters through your eye in these photos. I don't even know whether they are photographs so much as visions. You once called them portals, and I think you're further than that in these. You are not looking in through a portal, you are all the way through the portal when you are taking the picture...I don't know how you capture these things, but the first step, I'm pretty sure, is seeing them. I will be looking at them for a while to come.

Jim wrote back, referring at one point to a scrape with cancer:

i have gone partially through the portal. being close to death has that effect if you are open to it. this makes me really curious about death. will things come to me and ask what took so long? will they ignore me? do these questions even make sense in the context of death? will i retain enough worldly consciousness to know if these questions are answered? am i going to eat my sandwich before the dog laps it up? the little bastard is eying it already.


These final images Jim just sent me, saying he had caught them earlier in the day.

In the first, it seemed to me the spirit of man and fish moved through ice together, though what the relationship of man and fish might be, or how and why this happened, I cannot and do not want to say. In the second, I find myself thinking of Elizabeth Smart traveling with her cruel and delusionary abductors, though I am certain you will see better images. Why such an image would be caught in ice, I cannot say, so I am almost certain I must be wrong...unless these images are spirit photographs themselves, moments of our lives captured in the frozen waters.

Jim wanted to clarify something about his 'seeing' the images in ice:

by the way, i cannot see these images in the world until i process them. the colors are too muted. so i am taking a picture of what is inside the door and seeing it later. later, the door has changed, so i can never go back.

When I asked him if I could post these on my blog so others could see them, he said: go for it. they are my gift to the world.

About Me

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I write short stories and essays. I have published over seventy stories and essays in magazines, as well as a novel, Jack's Universe, and a collection of stories, Private Acts. I grew up in a military family, so I'm not from anywhere in particular except probably Akron, where I've lived for forty years. Before I came here, I never lived anywhere longer than three years.