Blind Spot by Teju Cole
This book drew me in because of its lyrical writing and powerful photographs. It is a book about photography, and it was revealing to read how a good photographer interprets his work.
Cole says, “This project came about when I began to match words to these interconnected images.” He goes on, “In each place I have traveled, I have used my camera as an extension of my memory. The images are a tourist’s pictures in this sense. But they also have an inquiring feeling to them, and in some cases, showed me more about the place than I might have seen otherwise.” The commonalities among the photos are glimpsed in layers, fragments, or fleeting intuitions. “I am intrigued by the continuity of places, by the singing line that connects them all. . .” Cole says, “Human experience varies greatly in its externals, but on the emotional and psychological level, we have a great deal of similarity with one another.”
Take cities, for example. Cole says, “All cities are one city. What is interesting to find, in this continuity of cities, the less obvious differences of texture: the signs, the markings, the assemblages, the things hiding in plain sight in each cityscape or landscape: the way streetlights and traffic signs vary, the most common fonts, the slight variations in building codes, the fleeting ads, the way walls are painted, the noticeable shift in the range of hues that people wear, the color of human absence, the balance of industrial product versus what has been made by hand, greater or lesser degrees of finish, the visual melody of infrastructure as it interacts with terrain: wall, roof, plant, wire, gutter: what is everywhere but is slightly different.”
Some of the photographs, especially those of signs, juxtapose words and images in echoing layers. For example, “a sign saying ‘cars’ bearing an image of a car above a car.” Other images are metaphors for ideas that are reinforced by the accompanying text. “More than the work itself, its form, its genre, its existence in tangible form, what interests me is the secret channel that connects the work to other works. Tarkovsky calls it ‘poetry.’ . . . When I make a work, no matter how small, its poetic possibility interests me, those moments in which it escapes into some new being.”
Like me, Cole is drawn to themes that make their appearance again and again. One of these themes is blind spots. Cole says, “To look is to see only a fraction of what one is looking at. Even in the most vigilant eye, there is a blind spot. What is missing?”