This is about our first visit to the US since the death of my mother. The visit culminated in a memorial observance on a wooded hillside at my cousin’s place in West Virginia. Before going there, Ayşe and I stayed with friends in the Cleveland Park neighborhood of Washington. We made some visits to my mother’s currently unoccupied house in Alexandria. Unfortunately we had little time for much else; at least we could not plan on anything else. I have no intention of recounting the whole trip, but will have some things to say about the photos below.
Staying in Washington proper gave us easy access to the museums—here the most refined of them, the Freer.
One object that I wanted to retrieve from my late mother’s house was the tea bowl made for me two decades ago by the friend with whom we were staying. That bowl is more symmetrical than one on display at the Freer.
We passed underground to the Sackler, where we discovered an exhibit of works by the Armenian-Turkish photographer Ara Güler.
The exhibit was a student project. Shown here are photos from the old citadel of Van and the old church on Akdamar Island in Lake Van: we were fortunate to be able to see these in 2003 during the Turkish National Mathematics Symposium that year. I transcribe the label for the photos:
The photograph shows the truth, that’s why it is more than art.Ara Güler
Truth | Güler asserts photographs, unlike art, display the truth. In this set of images, he seems to illustrate that statement by taking multiple views of the same subject, using his camera to create a detailed record of a site. In the first two images, he records the Citadel of Van, an Urartian fortification dating to the ninth century BCE. He first photographs the fortress from afar, and then he moves closer to shoot details of its outer walls and gate. In the second set of images, Güler shows the Church of the Holy Cross on Akdamar Island in its wider setting. He then carefully documents the exterior walls of the church, which date to the tenth century, by focusing on the carved decoration of the biblical story of Jonah and the whale.
What does it mean to say a photograph shows the truth?
Is this something you think about when you take a photograph?
I think Güler may be making a category mistake here, or at least a category confusion. A photograph may be treated as art, and in this case it is no more or less
true than any other work of art. Alternatively, photography may be considered more generally as an extension of seeing, as for example when a security camera is used in place of a human watchman. Actually the human is not replaced in this example: if we want to know the truth of what happened at the location under surveillance, somebody still has to watch the video. Güler might as well say,
The eye shows the truth, that’s why it is more than art. But does this make sense? We do use our eyes to determine the truth. We may use eyes to figure out what the truth is in a particular work of art; we may use our eyes to see something else. What we see may inspire us to create our own works of art, or else it may inspire us to document what we see. In either case, we could use a camera in our work, or we could use a pencil.
Since 1985, when museum-going on the Washington Mall, I had enjoyed having meals at the vegetarian Indian Delight in the Old Post Office Pavilion on Pennsylvania Avenue. Now Donald Trump is being allowed to turn the Old Post Office into a luxury hotel. The food court is no more. I suppose the tourists should just stay in their home states and eat at the food courts at their local shopping malls. This year, Ayşe and I found Indian food at one of the food trucks parked near the L’Enfant Plaza subway entrance. It was pleasant to eat outdoors, sitting under a tree. It helped that the weather was perfect.
We walked over to the National Gallery of Art.
In an exhibit of Andrew Wyeth, one painting had my name on it. It also displayed the technique of making white streaks in a watercolor by scratching the paper.
On another day we walked to the National Zoo with the elder of our hosts’ daughters. Bridges like this one help to make Washington a beautiful city.
That bridge was over Klingle Road. This road is still being allowed to return to a state of nature, as it was when I lived in the area in the 1990s. Back then, I attended a meeting of our local Advisory Neighhborhood Commission. Some neighbors urged the repair and reopening of Klingle Road; it took too long to get across the park otherwise. My comrade argued the benefits of removing the asphalt instead, to allow rainwater to seep into the ground.
By that logic, ran the counterargument,
we should remove every road in Rock Creek Park! This was not an outcome that my comrades in Auto Free DC would have objected to.
This view of our hosts’ back yard represents another victory: the hillside behind the trees was going to be filled with houses, but apparently the local elite were able to find legal means (historical preservation laws) to prevent this.
Another bridge view: of Rock Creek Park, with the minaret of the Washington Mosque barely visible beyond it, from the Taft Bridge along Connecticut Avenue. I first walked across this bridge around 1980, when a friend and I took the subway from the Pentagon to Dupont Circle (as far as it went then) and walked up to the Zoo. Then as now, I was enchanted by the carpet of trees viewed from above. This is right in the middle of the city of Washington. A city need not be paved from border to border.
We were on our way to Dupont Circle again. It was fortuitous that Capital Pride was that day. Here a small band of counter-demonstrators (escorted by a single police officer) have entered the crowd. Nobody seemed too concerned. The amplified preaching was somewhat annoying.
The parade began. I suppose these are Dykes on Bikes.
Next day: the Phillips Collection.
There happened to be a special weekend program: Jazz ‘N Families Fun Days. I used to walk down to listen to the Sunday afternoon concerts of serious music here in the Music Room of the Phillips. Today there was jazz—which can be taken seriously as well. Here was the Rochelle Rice Quartet. I enjoyed the concert, which featured a tune or two that I recognized; but I have a poor memory for specific instances of music.
Actually that is not always true. I can remember a song heard only once. An example is unblock Youtube. I heard this tune on the radio around 1990, and it haunted me since. Some time in the ’00s, a search on remembered lyrics revealed the artist.
I call this my favorite painting in the Phillips Collection: Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot (1796–1875),
Civita Castellana, 1826 or 27. I think it must be one of the oil sketches made outdoors on the scene. I associate this painting with crossing the Blue Ridge on the way to West Virginia.
The next concert at the Phillips was by the Kayla Waters Trio. I was lucky to get this shot just as Ms Waters looked back at her band.
In Alexandria on another day, I wanted to document a memory about perception. Here is a spread from Volume 11, Look and Learn, from the 15-volume Childcraft: The How and Why Library, 1970 Edition (Chicago: Field Enterprises Educational Corporation). When I was young, the painting shown here did appear to me, as the text suggests, as blobs of colors. I could not see the bull. My father could see it, and he made some attempt to induce me to see it; but I could not see it. This is a simple example of how seeing is not simple. Is it also an example of how, in the words of Ara Güler above, a photograph shows the truth, while a painting may not? I do not think so. We must learn to see photographs as we learn to see anything else. If, as a young child, I could not see the bull in the painting here, then in particular I could not see the bull in the photograph well enough to find a resemblance to the painting.
This is my own work of art, as it hung on my mother’s wall. I made it when I was a high-school senior, playing around with a Japanese brush and ink. I put a lot of strokes on paper that year: often multiple strokes, but sometimes single strokes like this one. I liked this one the best. It may not make sense to anybody else.
A few years earlier, I had taken an old white sheet and, using die, marked it in the middle with an enormous yellow dot. Stretching the sheet between four windows, I displayed it on the rear wall of our house. From across the fence, a neighbor asked,
What is that? My friend told her my answer:
It’s a dot. (I think I had been inspired by the dot in Vonnegut’s Sirens of Titan.)
At an outdoor meal, Ayşe and the younger daughter of our hosts made faces.
Hearing the bells, we walked up to the Washington Cathedral, the northern face being lit by a setting sun that was above the equator. The scaffolding is to repair the damage caused by an act of God: the 2011 earthquake.
We were going to pick up a rental car at National Airport (the one that Congress renamed, with the approval of President Clinton, for the President that broke the air traffic controllers’ union). We had time for some lunch from another food truck (Jamaican this time) and a visit to the Hirshhorn. Unfortunately the upper floors were closed for renovation. In the photo is one of the slogans on display on the lower level.
We drove the rental car to West Virginia.
The previous weekend, my cousins-once-removed had been given tiny creatures by their grandparents. Left to soak in water, the creatures swelled to this size.
The light of the setting sun. Almost heaven indeed.
The south front of the house, from down by the river.
Down by the river.
The road up to the graveyard.
The old mill.
Beside the river.
The graveyard from the other side.
Down the mountain towards the pigs.
The usual scene from the house. We drove the rental car to Dulles Airport and flew home to Istanbul via Amsterdam.
Added April 21, 2016: I have not visited the New World since the trip reported here. The stone that I had ordered for my mother had not arrived by the time we had to leave West Virginia. I think this was the company’s fault, though I never pursued the matter.
It was just a stone. Here are two photos sent to me later by my cousin.