—Image

Subject: Lavender and Gas or, That Which Is Not Yet a Subject in the World

By Quinn Latimer
Authors
  • Quinn Latimer

    Quinn Latimer is the author of Rumored Animals (Dream Horse Press, 2012) and the forthcoming Describe This Distance (Mousse Publishing, 2013), about the work of Sarah Lucas, as well as shame, palindromes, passivity, fertility statuary, Mexico, Napoleon, Antonin Artaud, and Susan Sontag. Her writing has also appeared in Artforum, Frieze, and The Paris Review. She is the editor of, most recently, Paul Sietsema: Interviews on Films and Works (Sternberg Press, 2012) and co-editor of No Core: Pamela Rosenkranz (JRP-Ringier, 2012). "Emmy Moore's Journal: An Exhibition Based on a Letter in a Short Story by Jane Bowles," a group show she organized, opens at The Printed Room at SALTS, in Birsfelden, Switzerland, in June 2013.

Joseph Nicéphore Niépce, View from the Window at Le Gras (1826)

I.

Images for first photograph. Report images. Below this

Lexical line a grid of images. Image one: a roof. Image two:

A roof. Image three: a roof. Image four: a selection of roofs,

A street, so a different image, perhaps not the first, not

Really, but we won’t go into that here. Let’s concentrate

On the most common result in the computer’s vast,

Luminescent archive. How it glows. Also the image

I was asked to consider, so reproducible, so here, with its

White tilted plane of roof shook out—a pale sheet

In the middle of the darker, sooty image. Images. Chimneys

Or buildings rise like shadowed, hatted figures on both

Sides. Or dull, rusted, occluded knives. Guards. Sentinels. Pear tree.

Chimney. The image might have been taken out a window.

(The title insists this.) 1Joseph Nicéphore Niépce, La cour du domaine du Gras [View from the Window at Le Gras] (c. 1826). Certainly it provides the context

For one, suggestion of window. Also its form. Window as

Aperture, monitor, field, painting, mouth, world, language,

Window. In the research I was conducting earlier, a filmmaker, 2Michel Auder. Born in Soissons, France, in 1945; lives and works in New York and Oslo.

Also French, trained his camera on the windows of his

Neighbors. For decades. Grids of buildings, grids of images, grids of

Windows not like the dark eye sockets of Middleeuropean ruins

But like the glassy, reflective surfaces of—what. Of

Monitors. As the filmmaker’s video camera switched

Windows like frequencies, like channels on the radio,

It became apparent that there are only a finite number

Of things one can do inside a window—that is, inside

One’s interior. These include: Cooking with friends, eating

Alone, undressing, fucking, sleeping, masturbating, dressing,

Sitting unmoving inside the artificial glow-field of television

Or computer, such technology dependent on the year of filming. 3Ibid. See Auder’s film Untitled (I Was Looking Back to See if You Were Looking Back at Me to See Me Looking Back at You) (2012), color, 15 min. These then

Become subjects. Add to this, after Joseph Nicéphore Niépce:

Making images. “A fence around a franchise,” 4Brandon Shimoda, “The Grave on the Wall,” in Portuguese (Ottawa: Octopus Books and Portland: Tin House Books, 2013), 5. says my friend,

The poet. “That which is not yet a subject in the world,” 5Irit Rogoff quoted by Julian Stallabrass in “Rhetoric of the Image,” Artforum 51, 7 (March 2013): 72. says a critic,

The stranger. Thus subjects arise also in the exterior, beyond

The frame of window and the house and subjects it keeps.

Oh interior: Was roof a subject before Niépce caught it.

Pale as the shiny white stomach of a fish, fluorescent atop

The pewter shore of his document. Represented it. Reproduced it.

Sent it up river into the future, my illumined monitor?

Another critic once noted that: “Epic poets and pop artists

Have to work with the mythical material as it is given.” 6From Michael Fried’s parenthetical aside in his review of Andy Warhol’s 1962 show at the Stable Gallery, cited in the fourth footnote in Anthony E. Grudin’s “‘Except Like a Tracing’: Defectiveness, Accuracy, and Class in Early Warhol,” in October 140 (Spring 2012): 139–164.

Given by whom? And what of the early photographers?

The fish’s fluorescent belly glitters in the sun, baking like a

White roof among pastoral architectures in the provinces.

A field of salt, a sky of salt. Sky as white as roof or field

As fault. Well. The aforementioned French filmmaker, with whom I

Shared lunch today, appears to have interpreted his mythical

Material as heads, skyscrapers, bodies, ruins, beaches,

Televisions, paintings, airplanes, drugs, beds, babies,

Temporality. These, then, are some of the things you could

Have photographed, Joseph Nicéphore Niépce, had you been born

Later. Bred earlier by some century, however, you began with a roof.

This seems practical.

 

II.

Here, a roof. There: A roof. Like a body, a slide or grit, it comes

Back again, at an angle. Sloping, we say, to others or in sleep.

If one doesn’t dream of roofs, why not. If one does, the question

Remains. The roof like the top of our thought, like the poem

The poet said should take the top of your head off. 7Emily Dickinson in a letter to Thomas Wentworth Higginson: “If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can warm me I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry. These are the only way I know it. Is there any other way?” Your

Photographer was sane or a dreamer. Or a bureaucrat

By nature. Not very talented at drawing, it’s said. See

That river, said his father. Draw that. He couldn’t. Pewter

Was his photograph, then, not paper. Not very reproducible at all.

If he couldn’t draw, the “scientifically-minded gentleman

Living on his country estate near Chalon-sur-Saône,” this detail

Strikes me again and again, like a clock, its delicate

Swiss hammer. In the upstairs rear window of his home

In Burgundy, Joseph Nicéphore Niépce set up his camera

Obscura, “placed within it a polished pewter plate coated

With bitumen of Judea (an asphalt derivative of

Petroleum), and uncapped the lens.” Eight hours later

He removed the plate and washed it tenderly with oil

Of lavender and white petroleum. His hands flashing

Like fish. Dissolution. Some redness. Away came the bitumen

That had not been “hardened by light.” Light is hard—

We are all hardened by it, but perhaps not so beautifully

As Niépce’s pewter plate. Perfumed with lavender and gas.

The Royal Society was unmoved by the hardness

And delicate odor of his underexposed plate, picture,

“Process.” 8Barbara Brown, “The First Photograph,” first printed in the WAAC Newsletter 24, 3 (September 2002) with the permission of the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, The University of Texas at Austin. Retrieved from http://cool.conservation-us.org/byorg/abbey/an/an26/an26-3/an26-307.html (accessed 3 May 2013). Which he called, wonderfully, “Heliography.”

Which brings up the question of temperature. Well. What fever

Is his strangeness, what temperature? What year, what his?

What yore. What her. Why this change to the photographer’s

Gender? Not sure. Salt somewhere. Something else: There is a French poet

Whose poems are so good in translation that I am afraid

To learn the language. (An empty, vainglorious fear: I am lazy

And terrible at languages.) Nevertheless, who do I love then,

The poet or his translator? 9Emmanuel Hocquard, The Invention of Glass, trans. Cole Swenson and Rod Smith (Ann Arbor: Canarium Books, 2012). Perhaps the person who blurs

Between them, that writer, their winter. Their shared estate.

Its country. You can love lovers like this too, your ardor

Centering between them like some ancient, impractical,

Impassioned instrument to measure the universe (that which is

Also a roof). It looks like a comma, this instrument, is made

Of ivory. Worn from the hands that wielded it, the instrument

Is found by screeners at the airport. Your bag open sadly

Like a mouth. Smell of lavender. They threaten and sigh:

You cannot take it with you. They toss it. Or somebody

Keeps it. Brings it home and places it in the glass cabinet,

Next to the decorative plates depicting country homes

In southern France.

 

III.

At lunch today, the French filmmaker said: “Being

Under the empire of this thing,” his silver bracelets

Shining, distracting, becoming, as though developing

Upon our white tablecloth, a kind of photographic

Paper or plate, the pale roof of our very fine lunch. Two

White persons eating: one French, one not. I was not

Sure if his empirical metaphor was about drugs or

Making images. Both empires, their evidence, involve

Chemical reactions, as the nineteenth-century “scientifically-

Inclined gentleman,” Joseph Nicéphore Niépce, surely

Understood. To increase the comparative linguistic

Complexity, taking images can also be like a drug. Its addiction.

One wants to take more and more. Or make, as we say

In European-inflected English. Make images. What

Did Niépce’s syntax sound and step in as he explained to the

Royal Society what he had taken, what made? What verbs

Rinsed in lavender and white petroleum did fall

Off his tongue. With his plate rinsed by light, his suspect

Heliograph, did his mouth bloom this same red-yellow

Sun—nineteenth-century lumière filling his red-blue mouth,

Its siren, with illumined nouns and adjectives, blazing,

Sun-drenched declaratives? No, he was in London.

There was no light. But it’s a pretty set of questions,

And I apologize for them. Their purple

Remind of—lavender.

 

IV.

A man stands at his studio’s window, surveying

The architecture that describes him: country. He does not

Know how to draw but his eyes do not know this, delineating

Contours of roof and farm buildings so finely.

The roof like the flag of his intelligence, waving

Blindly. As white in the sun as a flag: its poverty.

Outside, fields of lavender dip and wave in the heat,

Their oil developing like an image under the sun, scenting

Joseph Nicéphore Niépce’s sensibility with an ache

For alchemical transformation. To witness nature—

Our own, and others—is to be gifted the need, like salt,

To record it. To record our record of it. Everyone

Knows this. The banality and brilliance of this sentiment

And requirement. To burn the thing we see, our seeing it,

As if from a window, into the consciousness of others

By something other: a metaphor. Or pewter. Your barn,

My flag, our fish, its salt. Sky some white some roof. Or paper.

Each as phosphorescent as a photograph, burning bright.

Thus is the subject of Niépce’s photograph not a roof

But a window. We are viewing not a provincial country

Spread but the sprawling estate of an imagination. See

Then Niépce’s tremendous opacity, his sensibility—so

Specific and general, simultaneously—as represented by

The landscape that describes him. If he is “scientific”

It is only because the word is so beautiful. Particularly

When partnered with the “19th century.” Such “early” science

Conjures so much. He knew this, what language could point

To, what kind of similitude. The title of his heliograph suggests

As much: View from the Window at Le Gras. Not a roof

But a window. Not a landscape but a view. How sad for him

That his own viewership was so few. Well. Things do

Sometimes come to us later. Exits and on-ramps spiraling

Like country roads in the dusk-blue of a lithograph.

Too bad he partnered with that French artist, Louis

Jacques Mandé Daguerre, in 1829. That didn’t work out.

Niépce died four years later, producing “little more work,” 10Brown, “The First Photograph.”

It is said. I picture this. He stopped sitting at the window, drawing

A roof with his eyes. The sun went out, “like a light,”

As it were. There was no light. The pewter pastures

Of his estate browned. Lavender fell. Blooms brittle

And then dust. Purple specters like bruises. Darkness

Like dust, not water. No scent. Still his plate remained.

A face thinking like a pewter mask at the window.

Now cold to the touch. His view. His view. Here, search it.

Images for first photograph. Report images. Below this lexical

Line a grid of images, without weather. Only technology

And something other: ardor. So. Image one: a roof. Imagine

One: a roof. Image two: a roof. Imagine two: a roof. Image

Three: a roof. Imagine three: a roof. Image four: a selection

Of roofs, a street, so a different image or imagination, perhaps not

The first, not really, but we won’t go into that here. That is for

Later.

 

 

This text was commissioned as part of Between Seeing and Believing, a symposium, which took place at Witte de With on March 30, 2013. Eschewing the idea that a single image holds a single narrative, three literary writers – Maria Barnas, Angie Keefer, and Quinn Latimer – were tasked with composing replies to a shared source image independently. The image in question: the first permanent photograph from nature, View from the Window at Le Gras, 1826 by Nicéphore Niépce.