Discrete objects muddy stale airs, actually, these two: a ring-bound collection of thirty 35mm photographs by Christian Michael Filardo and a USB drive filled with five noise’d scores by Angelo Harmsworth. Both invite touching, peering, feeling. I do touch, I do peer, I do feel, I seethe, I run my fingernails along the edges of each.
In the world, online, I present myself as an aesthetic surface. I am particularly seen, and I do a lot of watching. I look at friends and strangers through the images they offer, and I work too hard to read into them, out of context, often badly. I over-interpret and construct whole dramas from single snaps. I hover, I misread, I mull and sneak. I strain. Eventually, I restrain. I talk myself through this process. I learn to process.
Still, I look for the pleasure of seeing and being seen.
See, I was thinking about the figure of the voyeur, and it didn’t quite fit. It didn’t feel like a sex thing; I didn’t see or hear those same desires. “Voyeur” fit in more with a kind of hovering figure, the consistent lingerer, the creep. To creep. The moment of the feeling of being watched, turning around, seeing shadows, shifting gaze, rubbing arm, breathing out, moving on. Like how, sometimes, in the night, I want you. I think I need you. I text you. You’re asleep. Somehow, I fall asleep without you. You get back to me in the morning. The feeling’s gone. We hurry on.
It felt like there was some other lens through which they were looking back at the voyeur. I wrote to Angelo. He agreed. He said, “Everyone is a voyeur in the city.” He said, “Not literal voyeurism but perhaps the secrets of a special looker.” The special looker. I liked that. To use the voyeur as a gesture towards some other, as-yet-undefined character.
I really like “the special looker,” mostly because of all the ways to take that phrase. The special looker being Christian, especially looking, literally, through many lenses. I wrote to Christian. I asked him what cameras he used for these photographs. He told me that he used a Contax G2, an Olympus Stylus Epic, and a Yashica T4. I asked him why he used those ones. He said, “I prefer to shoot film because it is accessible while being enough away from digital that things occur in a moment, and there are no do overs. What you get is what you get, some of it sucks and some of it is good. It’s impossible.”
Some of it sucks and some of it is good, but what can’t be done over is an essence. The feeling of a time and freezing certain whims of nature. What Christian sees is the way snow settles into wind-blown ripples on a car windshield; the way a drone hovers in the open sky of the desert; the way a dog’s face appears through the links of an ivy-covered fence. What recurs through these pictures is a gesture toward nature, whether that manifests as a stone, or a flower, or a cloud, or a leather glove, a glass of wine, someone washing their hair in the shower, two arms reaching out over white desert sands. A lot of the photos are cropped close enough that I begin to obsess over the textures of their framing, rather than the narrative of the imagined scene. I begin to think about the way the wind sounds in the desert or how shower water taps against the curtain. It’s imaginary. It’s impossible. How the special looker laughs, or sighs.
Angelo wrote that some of the photographs were taken especially for the project and others were collaboratively selected from “rolls of the past.” They tried to choose images that captured the surrounding concepts of the release, like solitude, patience, clairvoyance, acceptance, and the brutality and transcendence of the mundane. The special looker sees stones and hears them. The special looker forges special connections and impossibly captures them. Together, the photographs and audio comfortably connect, but stay even more comfortably distinct. Total autonomy and total support: this was once articulated to me as the definition of true love. Something to reach for, over sky or sand. Becoming overcome.
My coworker goes to Niagara Falls and tells me how being there made all the petty things happening in her life feel unimportant. I try to imagine being that overwhelmed and the barrage of sound that cleared her head of its muck. Angelo describes his work as “static,” and I’ve been unable to find a better descriptor. Texturally and tonally, totally, but also for the way that the scores each build up to an accumulative presence. They are stable. They do not wander, they do not drift. They are steady, they are constant, they move through me repeatedly, fixedly, so that eventually I’m rocking back and forth with them in a slow, sad trance. By the fourth score, “Shadows of Intimacy,” I’m filled with something like grief, and I’m unable to shake it. I try to imagine the waterfall and how grief persists in the face of awe and beauty and little victories. Grief also surges through five parts, and by the last one, it is fully articulated, not absolved.
A female voice, which Angelo recorded from a public speaker system on a trip to Japan, calls from the background of the last score, “Plaster Dress at Dawn.” Her voice clairvoyant, her voice comforting. I want comfort. I walk down the street rubbing a rose quartz stone. It’s so soft, it feels like petrified silk. The pad of my thumb fits flat against one of its sides. I press into the stone, and I feel a pressing in my stomach. I speak sometimes. Sometimes, I stay silent. I keep rubbing the stone and feel this rubbing in my temples, feel a lump form in my throat, feel the ghost of a hand I know close around the back of my neck and squeeze gently.
Grief like the wide desert, like big, big waterfalls. Grief like return, like regret. Grief like no do-overs, and what has been will be. Grief like what will happen will also be. Grief like the feeling of the soft rose stone. Grief inconsolable, steady. Grief of lack, grief of memory. Grief that not enough never enough. Grief for an event, the non-event, the current event. Grief for violence. Grief of change and no change. Grief of love, in love, of loving. Grief to look at, especially.