Tuesday, February 3, 2009

What Have You Read Lately?

I am interested in starting a new fine art photography series in which I interpret a great paragraph from a book. One that is descriptive, mysterious, or ambiguous. I am hoping that I will get enough contributions from both my friends and curious strangers that I can create this fascinating visual journey. I will share my new images here on the blog as they are created. If time permits I would like to share one new image per week. If you contribute a paragraph please include the book title and the author. I look forward to your contributions. I will launch the series with this book excerpt.

Travels in the Scriptorium by Paul Auster

The old man sits on the edge of the narrow bed, palms spread out on his knees, head down, staring at the floor. He has no idea that a camera is planted in the ceiling directly above him. The shutter clicks silently once every second, producing eighty-six thousand four hundred still photos with each revolution of the earth. Even if he knew he was being watched, it wouldn't make any difference. His mind is elsewhere, stranded among the figments in his head as he searches for an answer to the question that haunts him.

Who is he? What is he doing here? When did he arrive and how long will he remain? With any luck, time will tell us all. For the moment, our only task is to study the pictures as attentively as we can and refrain from drawing any premature conclusions.

There are a number of objects in the room, and on each one a strip of white tape has been affixed to the surface, bearing a single word written out in block letters. On the lamp, the word is LAMP. Even on the wall, which is not strictly speaking an object, there is a strip of tape that reads WALL. The old man looks up for a moment, sees the wall, sees the strip of tape attached to the wall, and pronounces the word wall in a soft voice. What cannot be known at this point is whether he is reading the word on the strip of tape or simply referring to the wall itself. It could be that he has forgotten how to read but still recognizes things for what they are and can call them by their names, or, conversely, that he has lost the ability to recognize things for what they are but still knows how to read.

OK, it's your turn. Please publish your book excerpt in the comment section or email it to me at

I will post an image based on this passage sometime next week.


Frieda Babbley said...

Oh Bill! Fabulous idea! I'm going to find one right now.

Anonymous said...

Hi Bill,

I don't know if this counts or not, but I'm reading "Defining the Wind" by Scott Huler — it's about the Beaufort Scale, so my descriptive passage is the Beaufort Scale itself:


Frieda Babbley said...

Excerpt from Milan Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being.

Toilets in modern water closets rise up from the floor like white water lilies. The architect does all he can to make the body forget how paltry it is, and to make man ignore what happens to his intestinal wastes after the water from the tank flushes them down the drain. Even though the sewer pipelines reach far into our houses with their tentacles, they are carefully hidden from view, and we are happily ignorant of the invisible Venice of shit underlying our bathrooms, bedrooms, dance halls, and parliaments.

Frieda Babbley said...

Hope you don't mind. This is such a fab idea I had to promote you.

William Zuback said...

Dont' mind at all. I'm hoping for a great response. It will only make the project more interesting and challenging which is what I'm looking forward to. Thanks Frieda!

Anonymous said...

I think it is a great idea! I offer you the opening paragraph of Vladamir Nabokov's autobiography "Speak Memory". One of the great writers and descriptors in the English language yet Russian was his mother tongue. Also the author of the classic "Lolita". I forward this opening paragraph as an attachment. Best of luck with the idea . Bill

The cradle rocks above an abyss, and common sense tells
us that our experience is but a brief crack of light between
two enormities of darkness. Although the two are identical
twins, man, as a rule, views the prenatal abyss with more
calm than the one he is heading for ( at some forty-five hun-
dred heartbeats an hour). I know, however, of a young
chronophobiac who experienced something like panic when
looking for the first time at homemade movies that had been
taken a few weeks before his birth. He saw a world that was
practically unchanged- the same house, the same people-
and then realized that he did not exist there at all and that
nobody mourned his absence. He caught a glimpse of his
mother waving from an upstairs window, and that unfamiliar
gesture disturbed him, as if it were some mysterious farewell.
But what particularly frightened him was the sight of a
brand-new baby carriage standing there on the porch, with
the smug, encroaching air of a coffin; even that was empty,
as if, in the reverse course of events, his very bones had

Anonymous said...

"And all this brings me back to myself, for I too have been changing in some curious way. The old self sufficient life has transformed itself into something a little hollow, a little empty. It no longer answers my deepest needs. Somewhere deep inside a tide seems to have turned in my nature. I do not know why but it is towards you my dear friend, that my thoughts have turned more and more of late. Can one be frank? Is there friendship this side of love which could be sought and found? I speak no more of love-the word and its conventions have become odious to me. But is there a friendship possible to attain which is deeper even, limitlessly deep, and yet wordless, idealess? It seems somehow necessary to find a human being to whom one can be faithful, not in the body (I leave that to the priests) but in the culprit mind? But perhaps this is not the sort of problem which will interest you much these days. Once or twice I have felt the absurd desire to come to you and offer my services in looking after the child perhaps. But it seems clear that you do not really need anybody any more, and that you value your solitude above all things.."
Justine, Lawrence Durrell

Anonymous said...

From: The Girls in Their Summer Dresses
By: Irwin Shaw

"Go ahead," Frances said.

"When I think of New York City, I think of all the girls, the Jewish girls, the Italian girls, the Irish, Polack, Chinese, German, Negro, Spanish, Russian girls, all on parade in the city. I don't know whether it's something special with me or whether every man in the city walks around with the same feeling inside him, but I feel as though I'm at a picnic in this city. I like to sit near the women in the theaters, the famous beauties who've taken six hours to get ready and look it. And the young girls at the football games, with the red cheeks, and when the warm weather comes, the girls in their summer dresses . . ." He finished his drink. "That's the story. You asked for it, remember. I can't help but look at them. I can't help but want them."

From: The Great Gatsby
By: F. Scott Fitzgerald

We walked through a high hallway into a bright rosy-colored space, fragilely bound into the house by French windows at either end. The windows were ajar and gleaming white against the fresh grass outside that seemed to grow a little way into the house. A breeze blew through the room, blew curtains in at one end and out the other like pale flags, twisting them up toward the frosted wedding-cake of the ceiling, and then rippled over the wine-colored rug, making a shadow on it as wind does on the sea.

The only completely stationary object in the room was an enormous couch on which two young women were buoyed up as though upon an anchored balloon. They were both in white, and their dresses were rippling and fluttering as if they had just been blown back in after a short flight around the house. I must have stood for a few moments listening to the whip and snap of the curtains and the groan of a picture on the wall. Then there was a boom as Tom Buchanan shut the rear windows and the caught wind died out about the room, and the curtains and the rugs and the two young women ballooned slowly to the floor.

Bill, I like this one from Gatsby too – your call:

He smiled understandingly—much more than understandingly. It was one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it, that you may come across four or five times in life. It faced—or seemed to face—the whole external world for an instant, and then concentrated on you with an irresistible prejudice in your favor. It understood you just so far as you wanted to be understood, believed in you as you would like to believe in yourself, and assured you that it had precisely the impression of you that, at your best, you hoped to convey. Precisely at that point it vanished—and I was looking at an elegant young rough-neck, a year or two over thirty, whose elaborate formality of speech just missed being absurd. Some time before he introduced himself I’d got a strong impression that he was picking his words with care.

Anonymous said...

READING: W. S. Merwin, in The Language of Life, by Bill Moyers

Poetry, like all the arts, is an expression of faith in the integrity of the senses and of the imagination; these are what we have in common with the natural world. The animals have no doubt about the integrity of their senses – they’re essential to them – and whatever the animal imagination may be, we can imagine it as being connected with their senses. Our remaining connections with what we call the natural world are our dreams, some of our erotic life, if we are lucky, and any sensual experience that we can still believe in.

We go into a supermarket and we have artificial light, canned music, everything’s deodorized – we can’t touch or taste or smell anything, and we hear only what they want us to hear. No wonder everybody wanders around like zombies! Because our senses have been taken away from us for awhile. A supermarket brings the whole thing into focus. The things that are there don’t belong there, they didn’t grow there. They have a shelf life, which being rented, so that we can buy them. It’s only about selling things. This is a very strange kind of situation, but it’s typical of our lives.

Poetry, like al the arts, not only reconnects us to the world, it emanates from the connection with the world of the senses and the imagination that remains. When that connection is no longer there, there will be no arts, and we won’t even know what we missed – we really will be zombies walking around, if we can walk at all, in sort of eternal supermarket.

Anonymous said...

"I could smell the curves of the river beyond the dusk and I saw the last light supine and tranquil upon tideflats like pieces of broken mirror, then beyond them lights began in the pale clear air, trembling a little like butterflies hovering a long way off. Benjamin the child of. How he used to sit before that mirror. Refuge unfailing in which conflict tempered silenced reconciled. Benjamin the child of mine old age held hostage into Egypt. O Benjamin. Dilsey said it was because Mother was too proud for him. They come into white people's lives like that in sudden sharp black trickles that isolate white facts for an instant in unarguable truth like under a microscope: the rest of the time just voices that laugh when you see nothing to laugh at, tears when no reason for tears."

from The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner.

That should give you something to work with, mystery and ambiguity.


Anonymous said...

Hi Bill

Here's my contribution. It's from "Another Roadside Attraction" by Tom Robbins.

"There are three mental states that interest me," said Amanda, turning the lizard doorknob. "These are: one, amnesia; two, euphoria; three, ecstasy."
She reached into the cabinet and removed a small green bottle of water-lily pollen. "Amnesia is not knowing who one is and wanting desperately to find out. Euphoria is not knowing who one is and not caring. Ecstasty is knowing exactly who one is--and still not caring."

I hope you get some good image ideas from this!


Frieda Babbley said...

LOVE Tom Robbins!

Jim Schulman said...

Dear Bill - Dreams, even daydreams have non-understood power! But the white spheres you dream of might be a haunting of the introduction to "The Prisoner" a 1960's British TV series of, I believe, only 12 episodes.

I love the way so many of your posted photographs play wickedly with scale, visual and temporal - especially your interpretation of Nabokov.

Here are my excerpt challenges to you:

First, just a book title: "Anything We Love Can Be Saved" by Alice Walker.

Second, from Wisconsinite Aldo Leopold's conservation epic, "A Sand County Almanac": "We mourned the loss of the old tree, but knew that a dozen of its progeny standing straight and stalwart on the sands had already taken over its job of wood-making.
We let the dead veteran season for a year in the sun it could not longer use, and then on a crisp winter's day we laid a newly filed saw to its bastioned base. Fragrant little chips of history spewed from the saw cut, and accumulated on the snow before each kneeling sawyer. We sensed that these two piles of sawdust were something more than wood: that they were the integrated transect of a century; that our saw was biting its way, stroke by stroke, decade by decade, into the chronology of a lifetime, written in concentric annual rings of good oak."

Lastly, from master American Architect Louis Sullivan's "Kindergarten Chats":
"For I am as but a flake of snow within this winter's night; slowly settling to my rest, among the myriad of flakes; asking no more; seeking no more; questioning no more - accepting all.
You appall me, master!
Why should I appall?
I should think you would despair!
Why despair?
Oh, in this mournful winter night, and all that it implies!
And so I might,were not, likewise, implanted in my heart THE BELIEF IN SPRING!"

Ninabird said...

Great Idea, are original stories okay?
A friend recommend you to me. D.R., said you were a great photographer. I'm anxious to check this our. This could be very interesting, and great fun

William Zuback said...

Thanks. Yes you can submit an original story. Just include the authors name. If it is you then please include your full name. I received one sound recording actually from a radio program which is on the list to interpret. No hard and fast rules here so please submit your passage.

Ninabird said...

Thanks for the reply, I'll get working on it.

Ruth Vilmi said...

Great idea, Bill. I've passed your idea on the the Women in Photography group on LinkedIn. I hope that's all right with you:-)

William Zuback said...

Ruth, I'd be thrilled for you to pass this on. I am finishing the series with two more images since I have an exhibit next February. If people want to send passages I probably won't work on any new ones for a while but may revisit the series at a later date. Thanks for your interest.

Maryana said...

I am God (Tru.1) and you are God (Tru.1)! All things that you can see and all things that you cannot see. Anything that your mind can perceive, and all things that your mind cannot come to perceive, are God. All that is, is not, or in between, is One. Whole. Good and bad, or anything in between, is God. Before or after death, time and space, the future and the past. All this is One, all this is God. Every action is meant to be. Nothing is accidental. Everything is with purpose. Think about what you are reading, as it is coming directly from the tru.1.

Excerpt from "LIFE EXPLAINED TRU. 1" by Chad Cooke.