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Undergraduate Student Blog, Speaking of Princeton

Undergraduate Student Blog

Slide Work

My work with images

Peer down over the light and let’s go back in time…

 On the edge of an island you can see four men at land’s edge near tranquil tan colored waters that parallel slightly lighter tranquil tan colored skies. A shirtless black man emerges from the bush; a basket atop his head filled with some tropical leaf. Another black man also shirtless with breezy white shorts stands on the far right attending to a horse whose coat is just a shade darker than his shorts; next to his feet is a basket full of orange fruit.

Both of these men are slaves, overseen by two other men between them who readily betray a European identity. Both are layered in billowy shirt, cape, large pants stuffed in riding boots, and wide brim hats (either the slaves must be quite cool or they quite warm). One of the overseers is mounted on his brown mare, and just behind him is the other. With hand raised as if to beckon someone, he looks across the waters to an island saturated with thick green vegetation, save for a vast clay crater revealing the orange-yellow foundation of all the green. Atop the island is a settlement of several limestone walled, red tile-topped buildings. Perhaps this is where the horse will trod sleepily through the sands, as the slaves follow with their goods?  

The Dutchman Franz Jonsz Post painted the scene I have tried to describe above, called "Itamaraca Island, Brazil" (1637). Had this painting not come first to mind perhaps I would have chosen Charles Sheeler’s "Water" (1945) depicting the power generators of the Tennessee Valley Authority. These massive machines stand monumentally under metallic skies, with all the pride and arrogance of Ozymandias—“Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!” Or perhaps more homely Jean-Baptist Chardin’s "Still Life with a Basket of Peaches, White and Black Grapes with Cooler and Wineglass" (1759), in which said objects appear to the viewer at eye level, with one white grape hanging just over the table edge ready to be plucked.

I have not learned about these painting in an art history class, but on the second floor of McCormick Hall at the University where the Visual Resources Department is located. Four times a week I go there to work. My job is to sort, organize and discard the hundreds of thousands of 30mm slides once used to teach students about every image the hands of man have made from Lascaux to Warhol. The only tools I use for the job are a light table (to illuminate the images), a magnifier and my own notebook and pen, for while very few of these slides are called out of their shelves by professors, they now provide a more personal education to my own eyes, which just as Rilke’s are “learning to see.”

 I place the magnifier over the small strip of film cased in glass, and then I bring my eye down to it. I see myriad representations of history, culture, faith, passion and imagination, from long gone empires by now obscure artists, to names and places still very current today. I don’t like all works equally, but it would be to the disadvantage of my eyes and studies not to look earnestly upon yet another crucifixion—there must be hundreds in Western art—as I would the non-religious variety of modern art. After all, once an hour or so passes, I clean my workspace and bid farewell to the other people in the office, and return to looking at the literal world that has not chosen its colors so carefully or arranged object so meaningfully. Looking at that brings me real work.