Rebecca Solnit – words of wisdom

I have a to read list that is rather long at present. On that list is Rebecca Solnit’s A Field Guide to Getting Lost. It’s there not least because I noted a number of other photographer’s in an article on the Humble Arts Foundation blog cite it as an influential piece of work, more particularly the essays relating to blue.

In my blog post Women and the blues, I loosely touched on how many women seem to use the cyanotype process (possibly more so than men) and how the colour could be the determining factor for this.

One of my go-to cyanotype image-makers Meghan Riepenhoff said in her comment on the Humble Arts Foundation article:

A Field Guide to Getting Lost was a revelation for me. When I read this passage, I knew the title for my series was Instar. Solnit’s description of this biological process felt like poetry, and it so elegantly wove together the beauty, chaos, truth, and pain of transformation. Her use of language, the ability to integrate such a complex palette of ideas, and the encompassing nature of her inquiry imprinted on me.

For many years, I have been moved by the blue at the far edge of what can be seen, that color of horizons, of remote mountain ranges, of anything far away. The color of that distance is the color of an emotion, the color of solitude and desire, the color of there seen from here, the color of where you are not.

Some of my earliest memories include the color blue: a blue satin blanket, the deep luminous blue of stained glass windows, the blurry blue kaleidoscope of eyes open underwater, the way the entire world around me looked blue just before darkness. Solnit’s The Blue of Distance encapsulated and evoked so many of the ways the color impacted me personally, and also pointed to the more universal mystery of the color that is our sky, our deep seas, our unknown.

The truth is that these two passages revealed something to me that shifted my soul, and then embedded in my work. The poignant experience of reading these words taught me about how I wanted my work to operate, to feel, to provoke, and to last.

With such a deep response from Riepenhoff alone, I feel I have a duty to look further into the distance to discover more about why I return again and again to the cyanotype.

But some of Solnit’s words from her March 2017 essay Protest and Persist: why giving up hope is not an option I used in my oral presentation. It does not relate to photography nor the colour blue. This essay opens with a paragraph explaining what influenced Edward Snowden to expose the National Security Agency’s secret surveillance projects. He said it was an act by Daniel Ellsberg back in 1971 that had inspired him to do so.

It is this that struck a chord with my Harena Now work. If people speak up, even if there is no guarantee of success, it may be at a later date that what you have done because you believe it to be right has a positive influence.

Influenced by the words of Michel Foucoult, Solnit states that, “A tree can live much longer than you. So will an idea, and sometimes the changes that result from accepting that new idea about what is true, right, just remake the world. You do what you can do; you do your best; what what you do does is not up to you”.

With the global sand crisis now costing lives due to the pressure to access sand, mainly for the construction industry, essays such as Solnit’s provide a source of indirect support – that the choices I make now may create change for the better in future.

Online References:

Humble Arts Foundation. Available at: http://hafny.org/blog/2017/4/reading-rebecca-solnit [accessed August 16]

SOLNIT, Rebecca. 2017. ‘Protest and Persist: why giving up hope is not an option’. Available at: http://rebeccasolnit.net/essay/protest-and-persist-why-giving-up-hope-is-not-an-option/ [accessed August 16]