[Photography] is an enduring record of many things seen only once in a lifetime and enables the fortunate possessor to go back by the light of his own fireside to scenes which would otherwise fade from memory and be lost.
—George Eastman on the Brownie Camera, 1900
As I look at a black-and-white photograph
taken from the backseat of a late ‘50s Chevy,
the driver turned and speaking to the passenger
riding shotgun, one hand on the wheel, a tear
in the fabric of the roof, I think of Eastman.
He made a single frame, the exposure of light
to film, beauty bathed in bleach, resonate.
His imagination grew like early cameras, opened
like an accordion gasping air, pulled into the shape
of a pyramid turned on its side. He made a living
of pausing time, of making instants infinite. He took
memory from darkrooms to billboards and the walls
of our homes. Yet, he too knew his limitations.
To my friends: My work is done. Why wait?
Today I walked through his house, a movement
like a stop bath over a print, to absorb the images
that surrounded him. An elephant head
mounted on the wall. Tusks that reach out
like calcified arms. Floral patterns shaped
from wrought iron, black vines crawling
up walls and over archways. Ashtrays
crafted from animal hooves. Tabletop flowerpots
crafted from animal hooves. An endless archive
of prints and films. Open gardens cut with brick walkways,
an explosion of red shades. Transmission fluid. Dried blood.
The throats of orchids in bloom.
Michael Sarnowski earned his MFA in Creative Writing from Vanderbilt University, where he was a recipient of an Academy of American Poets Prize. His poetry has appeared in Potomac Review, Memoir Journal, Spry Literary Journal, and Foundling Review, among others. He has been a Visiting Writer-in-Residence at Kingston University London, a writing resident at the Vermont Studio Center, and currently lives in Rochester, New York.
Illustrated by Meghan Murphy.