Anne Noggle: An Engagement With Time

By Charles Schorre

I usually like to feel a photograph, drawing, or, painting, seldom reading about them until I’ve reacted in my own sweet time, sometimes never reading about them. The work of Anne Noggle and this book in particular happened to me the other way around. I felt compelled to find out something about this work and the person who made it.

What few things I’d seen of Noggle’s made such a weird and negative impression on me I guess you could even call it magic this I had to find out if she was more than some strange mid-life exhibitionist. (“ Myself 7AM, 1977;” “Face-lift #3, 1975;” “Stonehenge Decoded, 1977.) When I first saw a reproduction of Face-lift #3, I felt that Anne was in some self-destruction process.

Female body parts, the female as heroic figure, re-viewing the usual from an uncommon vantage point, seeing something for the first time although you’ve been with the vision all your life these are some of my interests, but this stuff of Noggle’s really was some discomfort to me. She knocked me down right in my own path. It took this book to get me cheering for her.

In his forward, Van Deren Coke says, “I first encountered Anne Noggle (encountered is the right term, for the word meet does not accurately convey the essence of he experience) when I was chairman of the Department of Art at the University of New Mexico…. What is consistent and, I do believe unique about her pictures is their humanism combined with her frankness bout aging. These are the things Anne Noggle gets down more incisive than the other photographers I can think of.”

She is on her own trail and she’s making up the map as she goes along. Her remark that “We have to create our own world a kind of secret place,” is nothing new, but for her I think it was really something. What she is doing is so authentically hers because authenticating Anne Noggle is what she is doing.

Janice Zita Grover, in her essay, notes that “the facts of Noggle’s wholly separate careers as a flyer and as a military officer, as an artist beginning a career only in middle age seem to have played decisive roles in empowering her to do the particular work she has chosen.”

But the most enlightening information comes from Noggle’s own essay, Seeing Ourselves, (taken from a speech delivered at the Portland School of Art, in Maine). Noggle says, “I’ve been thinking about you…. And about what I could tell you that might come back to you at some time when you especially needed a life. In truth I didn’t know whether to talk about art or peanut butter sandwiches. They both feed us. The real feast is life itself, and since I’ve lived the greater part of mine I thought I’d ruminate how I’ve gotten from there to here.”

She came to photography through crop-dusting, the Air Force and Paris in World War II, and art history in New Mexico. “I was in this plane in World War II and intentionally spun it. It was way out of rig and wouldn’t stop spinning, and I tried to get out and I found the central force too strong to even move so I decided if I was going to die, I would die trying and then did everything they had told us not to do with the controls and the plane out of the spin just short of tumbling around in the sky. And how I shook after I landed, and no one even noticed the miracle of my being still here on earth.”

I feel that her work and how she must be going about this work are a continuation of that spin-out.

“Living, in itself, doesn’t have a value for you as an artist unless what you have thought and done the fright and delight and the grin and the sin and the children and morning light and all the rest – ride in your insides and ferment and come together,” she writes.

“I photograph people, most often older women, focusing on the tension between the iron determinant of age and the individual character of the subject. I try for images that get beneath the surface into that unchanging arena of the human psyche, formed in early life, which grows into maturity but does not relinquish its basic character throughout one’s life. That deepest self, discernible only to one who is patient, watchful, and perhaps older oneself. The image I see is of youth betrayed by age, of spirit strong but fragile with time. I want to show who the people in my pictures are, and how damned difficult it is as each of us in our time becomes them.”

At the end, Noggle says “thee nineteenth century romantic ideal of the individual as the source of creativity took as a central metaphor the Aeolian harp a wind harp that creates is own music. Postmodernism avows that the individual artist can no longer be seen as a creator but merely as a participant in the intellectual rumination of the times. If that is true, perhaps seeing ourselves is no more than a game. But the idea that everything that can be done by the individual has already been done is nonsense.

“To look straight into a face and find the pulse of what it is to be human, that is what fuels me, that is the sum of my mind and my longing. I am always aware of our unceasing engagement with time and space out ultimate limitations translated into life and death. How wonderful it is to have meaning in our work to have a life work that sustains us as we sustain it by our willing labor, and every now and then a reward like getting to be here in your time and space and having a chance to communicate with you.”

I hope someday to meet Anne Noggle. I’d like to talk with her and photograph her hands and face. I do not feel that Noggle will ever commit suicide.

In his book Walker Percy, an American Search, Robert Coles writes “So it is that the mind is awakened. We begin looking, if not searching. And it is ‘we’: [Percy says} There is the ‘I’, the consciousness which is confronted by the thing and which generates the symbol by which the conception is articulated. But there is also the ‘you.’ Symbolization is of its very essence an intersubjectivity. In other words, we don’t only come to terms with the world by adapting to signals of various kinds…. We also gain what Percy calls ‘possession’ of the world by using symbols, and the second kind of knowledge is existential because what is comprehended has become part of ourselves, is in us, does not require signals, however indirect or unobvious, but has been ‘made’ by us, exactly as a poet comes up with his symbols, using his words suggestively, so as to convey meaning. Percy believes such mental activity cannot be further reduced; it is what uniquely characterizes human beings and it is what he calls a hermeneutic, a way of looking at and comprehending something, in this case the existential ‘facts’ of our daily lives.”

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