In a few days we’ll be driving back along the R24 to O. R. Tambo. Taking that same road in towards Johannesburg a few weeks ago, and looking at the Linksfield Ridge as we turned north at Gillooly’s, got me thinking of Ivan Vladislavić’s Double Negative and the story that unfolds across the valley to the south of that spine after a trip up Langermanskop. Photography (the book has a preface by Teju Cole), memory, and social perspectives are central themes in this novel that was written to accompany TJ – the probing pictorial history of Johannesburg documented in David Goldblatt’s photographs.
I wasn’t in Oslo for the Matmos/Ashley performance, but looking through the festival booklet a photograph of Messiaen notating birdsong under the foliage of a large tree did catch my eye. A beautiful photograph that conveys something of the act of listening, I made an oil painting of it while taking art classes many years ago. Looking at it again reminded me that Messiaen, in answer to my question of there being an equivalent to sketching in music, took some steps in this direction – even though those notations, incorporated into large works, were never really presented as small standalone pieces.
I’ve been walking around for the past two days with the deep black and white contours of René Burri’s “Men on a Rooftop” etched into my mind. Taken in São Paulo by the Swiss photographer in 1960, it is also an image that has haunted writer Teju Cole for many years, so much so that he embarked on a quest to reconstruct it. He tells the tale of that attempt in the latest installment of his photography column in the New York Times.
“The photograph isn’t what was photographed, it’s something else,” as he quotes in the article. “It’s about transformation.”