Odorless selves bloom into polymer formations. Plastic sticks shoot sterile nodes. Anti-seasonal Season’s Greetings scream out of sweaty closets stuffed full of forgotten double-knit polyester suits. Sideburn caterpillars slink into the fireplace glow of display screens. The same artificiality as last year fills the air with the cheer of a wig bouncing on a slippery pate. A polyethylene coating for the tongue helps cough up holiday hair balls.
I do not remember the exact moment or place of this photograph. I vaguely remember and assume that I waited for the wave to crash. Or was it a boulder that fell into the sea? Either way it looks like fate now. After the fact. Every particle suspended in a moment. But it never was suspended in actual experience. In that sense, fate seems baked into memory. An inseparable part of it that fails to grasp the immense complexity of randomness. Generalized fate simulations of memory gloss over the myriad of differences under its cover in order to produce some cohesive sense of order. A gist in the mist. A referent to nature sold as an epic experience or a reflection of an aspect of consciousness that never quite happened in the actual way the photographer experienced it nor the viewer. A simulation of a hyperreal moment. A fated memory smashed by particles flying in all directions. Through the reproduction of the image, let us fold this back in on itself. Let us rework this “moment” randomly. Let us bring the mist back into the gist.
Now we are no longer in nature or under its referential control. It is released from any semblance to a fated memory or reality. It feels light and free. Nowhere in particular. More mist than gist. The random process mirrors the random moment. The iterations reveal that there wasn’t really any reference in the first place. No actual moment experienced and relived. Rather, hovering in a space without an atmosphere that Baudrillard called the hyperreal in his book, Simulations (1983): “Simulation is no longer that of a territory, a referential being or a substance. It is the generalization by models of real without origin or reality: a hyperreal.” In this sense, an angle on the illusion of Being can be held through what some people call manipulation of a photograph (or when they scoff at an image being “photoshopped”) when in fact every photograph is a manipulation to begin with (though the very word is too heavy with negative connotations as if it had some evil purpose, so “construction” perhaps fits better to a neutral sense of the process).
This terrible beauty, this eerie sunset of doom is quarantined by a photograph. Here it appears as something from a saccharine dream of candied romance. But in reality it is the harbinger of destruction. Of the heat waves and fire season that people from drought stricken areas such as mine know to loathe.
Comfort and beauty intertwine and comfort finds a way to snake back around and bite harder the hand that wished this world were without the pain baked into all things. Beauty becomes a mirage that blinds the beholder to the harsher truth it conceals. I flinch during this time when people say “look at the sunset” as if it were just a sight to behold devoid of this brutal context where people lose their homes and vast numbers of animals lose their lives and habitats. Then I’ll catch myself saying the same thing and cringe at my mindlessness (but of course blame it on the debilitating heat).
It’s as if it is deep in human nature to live for the postcard image even though it’s a cheap ten cent glimmer of hope. Any shine at all will do to whet the appetite for the notion that things will be alright. As do I reluctantly grab the camera and take the exposure knowing that this outcome will result. An image taken in guilt yet into which I cannot bake the pain to inspire true revelation or change even in my own habits. These petty words trail like an anguished afterthought in a time when comfort (and its twin – convenience) is the business of the day and the sunset has become the barrier signifying the mystery of a collective denial seen as a brilliant display that might as well have been put on by the Dynamation gods in a Ray Harryhausen movie.