Monday, 1 June 2009

What urban circumstance leads to this moment, when deep in the heart of a city, all traces of human civilisation are evaporated? To write in this way, to present an image, whether developed from negative or memory, is to suggest a beginning. That which exists within the photograph has no history. All traces of evolution and progression are lost. By hunting within dusty cardboard boxes at a fleamarket and finding two such photographs without so much as an inked date on the reverse, we can recreate this erasure of all that has gone before.

When one occurrence resides within a determined route of occurrences, each one an effect to a cause, then a beginning is needed. Where no more causes can be found, at that moment where an event refuses to be both progenitor and descendant, at that moment where the photographs are taken into gloved hands bound against the cold, we enter into a cosmogony - a narrative with which to understand the creation of order.

Beginnings are, however, never as they seem to be. The photographs, now purchased from the market, brought home and laid upon a wooden table under candlelight, are mere lapses within causality. They are no more beginnings, than you or I can claim to be immaculately conceived. They are merely lapses in visible causality, artefacts of hidden human processes.

The city likes to hide things. Krakow holds many myths of lost rivers, borne of fifteenth century etchings and sketches. For some, the route of the hidden river is clearly marked by streets. Starowiƛlna, or Old Vistula, is one such street which follows the exact line of an ancient mapped river, perhaps filled in some centuries ago as a prevention against the common outbreaks of cholera said to come from its infested waters. Some see this as coincidence, nothing more.

The hidden river has both source and mouth, but its exact journey is unknown. Approximations of its slow path are made with lines and ink on transparent papers laid over town maps. Rooms of men sit late into the autumn night imagining the flow of water deep beneath the layers of soil, debris and concrete, lamenting nature's lost course, realising not that this hidden river was in fact never a dammed tributary but man-made in origin and defensive in purpose.

So it is that many have sat staring into photographs, tracing the confluence of events that led to the moment instilled. Many have been wrong, or have adapted their own narratives for such unfit purpose, or simply given up in the face of the image's stubbornness. Some however, have understood photographs differently, not just as precedents, but as both beginnings and ends.

Imagine that within a city the renamed concrete and earth that covers a hidden river leads you to find both its source and its eventual re-emergence above ground. Imagine and understand it thus. A narrative, once formed, is impossible to forget or deny.

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