Seasons of Light

Seasons of Light
These two pieces are excerpted from a group of twenty photographs and short stories entitled Seasons of Light, by HCP member, Peter Brown. The original photographs are in color, the text is printed on single sheets, and the twenty pairs are first grouped in folders and then sequenced in a box. The end result being a combination of book and portfolio. Here, the photographer writes about the work.

I began thinking about using words with photographs about four years ago. My initial inclinations as an artist had to do with writing, and through college and beyond, I wrote a fair amount of fiction. As I wrote, my work grew increasingly visual, so much so, in fact, that I began to consider using other media. In 1972 I stopped writing and began to photograph seriously.

I see Seasons of Light as a coming together of two great loves, each of which can tell a truth in a different way. Photography can, on occasion, speak so explicitly that its parenthetical truths become lies of interesting dimension, while writing can lie so convincingly and with such guilelessness that falsehoods are taken for granted as more general truths begin to emerge.

Combining these traits in a single work can make for a compelling mixture of mystery and fact, of dreams and the everyday. It has enabled me to use more of myself and the world than a single photographic image is able to provide or an imaginatively generated image is able to provoke in others. The result can be as literal as a camera or as imaginative as the combination can bear.

One more note on process: the prints are dye transfer, and I worked with 801 Editions in Houston to produce them; the text is letter press printed with the help of Leo Holub. Ann Rosener and the Stanford University Art Department, and the entire process has been the work of mans people other than myself. Seasons of Light can be seen at Harris Gallery in Houston.

Two True Stories

When I was twenty, a friend of mine whom I greatly admire told me in the cathedral in Tours that she liked the colored light from the stained glass windows better than the windows themselves.

I was stunned. She was a woman who rarely dropped her guard. She was beautiful, worldly, and, perhaps more important, two years older than I. A chance for some serious one-upmanship had arrived and I grabbed it. I said that I didn’t understand what she was saying; that the rationale for the windows was lost if their content was ignored; that what she was responding to was certainly understandable but of minor importance and that on any claim of aesthetic response it was clear that hers was close to the bottom. As I talked, my eyes were repeatedly drawn to a splash of red, yellow and blue light on a white stone pillar and I felt like a real fool.

The second story concerns my grandfather who, among other things, was a missionary in China, a chemist and a photographer.

During the looting of Nanking in 1927, troops from the north stormed into my family’s house. The children were hidden upstairs, my grandmother had carefully swallowed her wedding ring, and my grandfather, after welcoming the officers into the house and offering them tea, was pushed up against the living room wall to be shot. The lieutenant in charge pulled out his handgun and while in the process of loading it, dropped the clip of bullets to the floor. Without hesitating, my grandfather reached down, picked it up and handed it back to the man.

The lieutenant was so astonished that he put his gun down. He apologized to both my grandparents, ordered his trips out of the house and ended up shaking my grandfather’s hand.

The Places I Took This Photograph

As I took this photograph for the first time, the city of Pittsburgh was burning to the gound outside. Smoke and pre-fire pollution filled the air, cars honked, people shouted, sirens howled as the shutter clicked, a major American city was reduced to ashes.

The second time I took this photograph was in Jamaica. We had just come back from the beach and the sun was setting over the water. I didn’t intend to be in the picture, but for some reason stick my head in at the last moment. We had finished that morning and had laid on the beach all afternoon. I remember thinking as I took the photograph that the excitement of the morning did not mesh well with the boredom of the afternoon. They clunked together like Jamaica and Pittsburgh, taking a swing and missing, like biting into a sandwich and having it disappear.

I took this photograph for the third time in northwestern Massachusetts. I was interested in the way the light fit into the wall, the lampshade with bits and pieces of my grandmother’s Chinese cutout adhering to it, the almanacs on the table; hearth, home, hominess, familiar beds, familiar rooms.

The final place I took this photograph was in Morocco. I was traveling on a summer grant which had just run out and ran into a film crew at work on a short story by Jane Bowels. I was hired for the day to take stills. This was part of an elaborate set construction that I photographed at the end of a long day of shooting.

A painter friend told me he though tit had been done in Turkey or Madagascar. This is good Pennsylvania Dutch wallpaper. Pittsburg burns. You can make out the smokestacks in the shadows.

By Peter Brown