a little jaunt in Rome

I almost titled this one ‘posting hole’ for reasons that will become obvious once you scroll down. I made that post last week and then promptly got busy not posting any more. I did, as you can see, find the missing photos from our fall trip to Italy and Portugal. These are from our brief stay in Rome, arriving late in the evening and leaving the next afternoon.

I have some notes here towards an essay about how I don’t want to end up like W. Eugene Smith in Pittsburgh. Smith was, if not the inventor of the picture-story, then one of the first real masters of it. Incredible pictures, you should look him up. Country Doctor and Minamata and also here’s a good essay on his work in general. Anyway, in the middle of his career, freed from his contract with LIFE magazine, he took a job to spend 3 weeks in the city of Pittsburgh, produce some photos for a book that was already in process.

Instead, he ended up staying for two years. At the end, he owed everybody money, the people that had initially hired him had moved on, his relationship with his photo agency had turned sour (it may have ended altogether, it’s been a while since I had photo history class). He was lost in the vastness of what he’d uncovered, just like, scratching the surface and seeing what he thought was the real Pittsburgh and trying to get it down on film.

I think, when confronted with a story where there was no through line, no simple message, his little tool kit of classic storytelling (classic may not be the right word? but I’m thinking in contrast to, say, Winogrand’s nihilism or Robert Frank’s, well frankness) just fell apart. It was too big for him; not the city but the multiplicity of stories, the necessarily fractured view that trying to take in a whole city brings. He wasn’t able to deal with the contradictions inherent in a place with that many people. I say ‘deal with’ but I really mean put together a photo essay in the narrative mode he was used to from the city at all. That kind of storytelling just can’t be applied with that broad of a subject matter, there are too many things working at cross purposes. Imposing a narrative at that scale, or trying to find one latently, just like, shooting and hoping to get something other than your own projected self, is just impossible.

Is this sounding familiar? Because it’s also me, trying to make San Pablo work for the last five and a half years. I started out thinking it would be a couple weeks of shooting, and then it stretched out, and suddenly I was a bit lost, lacking a compass. Probably didn’t have a firm point of view, from which to really see what I was looking for. That said: the photos are also a record of what I was feeling at the time, the way I responded to the place. If you get enough pictures, or maybe just the right ones, you can kind of get a feel for the person who was taking them, a reverse-psychogeography. It’s a latent image, not something you try for but something you see in review.

There are a lot of approaches to bigger subjects (a comparison of, say, Robert Frank’s approach versus, say, William Eggleston’s, might be interesting), but obsessively continuing year after year isn’t one of them. So anyway, that’s what I’m working on. A final edit, working through the years until I’ve got all the San Pablo together, and then I’ll hopefully have a book. Or, I will have a book, but hopefully it’ll be something worthwhile.

Hope you liked the holes.

Posted by Matt on 2024-01-12T09:08:45Z GMT