The Thread of Truth

The week I went to Wordstock I also took my students to the World Forestry Center to see the Wolf to Woof exhibit. Being a responsible teacher, I previewed the entire exhibit the weekend prior to the field trip. Being a dutiful artist, I brought along my camera. Without a tripod I was only able to obtain a handful of photos, and of that handful only a very few were of any visual interest. They are currently available for scrutiny at Flickr.

I must confess that I love photographing museum displays— the subjects don't move, and with the right depth of field an entire dioramic fiction can become reality. Depending on my mood I might gravitate toward photographing those displays that can be easily mistaken for some scene outside the climate controlled exhibition hall, or I might feel more inclined toward those displays that fail utterly at their illusion. Those failures, once committed to the still image, become beguiling sources of wonder, as the viewer's inclination (despite the proliferation of Photoshop) continues to lean towards accepting photographic images as expressions of truth.

Now that I think about it, whether founded or not, museums also have the aura of truth wrapped about them. Our visits to them are meant to provide a curated experience endorsed by the diplomas and dissertations of experts. More than any other cultural institution we expect nothing short of complete veracity from a museum, for without the assurance of truth, they become nothing more than mausoleums we must pay to enter: tax-dollar vampires that preserve the past from the ravages of fire, time, and context.

I suppose the thread of implied truth could be construed as a tenuous connection between photography and museums, but it is the thread I unwind when I visit an exhibition, and it is the thread that I follow back out into the daylight when I start feeling oppressed by the hushed white walls and gleaming vitrines that fill my viewfinder.

No comments: