The Picture that Remains: Will Brown (photography) and Thomas Devaney (poems), produced by The Print Center

Saturday, March 1, 2014

I receive an extraordinary number of books and manuscripts here at my tiny house, and I struggle to keep up. Inevitably I disappoint more people than I make happy. I always feel lousy about that.

But earlier this week, when a PDF of The Picture that Remains appeared in my in-box, I stopped. I could tell at a glance that this project—a collaboration between the photographer Will Brown and the poet Thomas Devaney—was the product of something genuinely artful, and good. I could see, too, that its publisher, the esteemed The Print Center (its mission: "to support printmaking and photography as vital contemporary arts and encourage the appreciation of the printed image in all its forms") had cared enormously throughout its making of this glorious object. The typography, the duo-ing, the quiet space, the photographic shine are exquisite singularly and combined.

And then there is the introduction by Vincent Katz, which doesn't just tell the story of this particular adhesion of old photographs and new words, but tells as well the history of artistic collaboration, touching on Manet's and Mallarme's shared conversation about Poe, the cohering spirit of Black Mountain College, and the some-of-this and some-of-that conducted by the poet/critic Edwin Denby and the photographer/filmmaker Rudy Burckhardt. Katz's introduction is an education.

The pages that follow are an education, too—in the old streets of Philadelphia's Queen Village, in the shops that had closed for good, in the cars we presume to be abandoned, in the stories inscribed inside an old hutch, in the clothes that are hung in a window. Brown's photographs fill me with the longing that I experience every time I look at a Walker Evans photograph. They say, simply, This was.

Devaney, who once taught at Penn and now teaches poetry at Haverford College, is well known for his intriguing collaborative endeavors; he has consistently found a way in to seemingly closed things and pulled the shutters back. Here, in The Picture that Remains, Devaney nests his images in the in-between of what the photographs say and how the mind interpolates. He suggests what was. He fictionalizes for the sake of learning something true.

About that corner hutch, for example, Devaney writes:

A sack of purple potatoes fueling a clock.
Some trickle, some stream in the black
walnuts stain—its current current:
three quarts of hulls, one quart rain water.

Who could not love a project like this? Who would not commend Elizabeth Spungen, the executive director of The Print Center, for encouraging this collaboration, for overseeing the making of the book, and for ensuring that photographs that had been locked away are seen again—and percolated by Devaney's words. Listen to Spungen, who writes this in the end, and you'll be listening to the sound of real art, still in the making:

And so all the pieces have come together, and we have succeeded in bringing these magnificent photographs out of the boxes which safeguarded them for thirty years. It is both ironic and fitting that the images that Brown captured so many years ago prefigured what his pictures would become—a paean to a time and moment long passed.
Copies of the book are available from The Print Center, located at 1614 Latimer Street. They can also be purchased online.


Elizabeth Mosier said...

Thank you for letting us know about Tom's book, Beth!

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