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August 14, 2017 | by  | in Visual Arts |
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Blind Spot

Not far into Teju Cole’s new book, Blind Spot, after Nuremberg and before Muottas Muragal, comes Auckland. A photograph of the Aotea Centre, reflected in a glass, or maybe chrome, surface spreads across one page before creeping beyond the spine into the other. The light is dappled, the landscape slightly distorted, the human presence shrouded and unknowable. I looked at the photograph for a while, wondering how it seems to float before I realised it is because Cole himself is not reflected within it. This sense of distance carries throughout the book, which is intimate but evokes a sense of solitude. Cole never appears within the images, and although the texts are written in the first person they have a strange play to them, as though “I” becomes “me”: reader. “Auckland”, the text beside the photograph reads, “Tane and his siblings conspire to push apart their mother, Papatuanuku, the earth, and father, Ranginui, the sky. In the space forced between the two is the light of the world. The light falls and flows between two eyelids.”

Light falls and flows until the shadows, reflections, and various plays of light become to feel prolonged; until we forget these images track instances, not passages, of time. Cole takes photographs that look like memories. The texture of memory, he writes, is “an intense combination of freedom verging on randomness and a specificity that feels oneiric.” The texture of memory is the soft curves of light playing on a mesh curtain in a hotel room in Nuremberg, folding in and out of shadow; or, perhaps it’s cooler to the touch: the harsh facets of a mirrored surface. The texture of memory has never been the smooth, slippery surface of a photographic print.

Could we consider reflection as synonymous to memory? Both look backward — “re”, as prefix (recollection, reflection) is derived from the latin for “behind” — which is not to say they cannot move forward. Think of the Hawaiian term for future: Ka ua mahope, “the time which comes after or behind.” Blind Spot features many photographs of reflection: in glass, in puddles, in the rephotographing of images. Cole writes that these subjects, images already made, are “neither more nor less than the ‘real’ elements by which they were framed […] Which world? See how? We who?”

Cole’s instances of reflection draw our attention back to the photographic lens, reminding us that what we know of the scene is only what the frame allows us: that the photograph is always, at least, a view of a view. Blind Spot asks us to look for the continuity of places in spaces where we might not have thought to: in dreams, in dappled light, in shadows, in reflection; “hearing the silence because we have heard some of the sounds.”¹

 

  1. Greg Denning, “Empowering Imaginations,” The Contemporary Pacific 9(2) (1997): 419-29.
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