A portfolio of ten photographs issued in an edition of thirty.
© Gretchen Garner 1980
This is the text that I wrote to accompany the photographs:
To the ancients it meant emptiness, vanitas expressing a sense of profound melancholy about life. The word still speaks for me today. One gains with years, with loss, with irrevocable change a feeling that loss may be the one given of life. Quite wonderfully, though, a certain sweetness accompanies this deepening sense of life’s limitations. There is the growing pleasure of memory; it seems as memories grow faulty in certain respects, they yet grow richer. Dreams, fed by memories, become ever deeper and more mysterious. There is, as well, a growing ability to see the ordinary as the marvelous in our waking lives.
My sense of vanitas, then, is not the grim fatalism of the Dutch still life painters whose skulls and guttering candles reminded them that “death conquers all,” but rather a feeling that life’s very richness lies in its smallest passages, sometimes even in loss itself. Virgnia Woolf, speaking of Mrs. Dalloway, wrote: “All the same, that one day should follow another…that one should wake up in the morning; see the sky, walk in the park;….After that, how unbelievable death was!—that it must end; and no one in the whole world would know how she had loved it all.”
It is a long tradition in poetry to write about pictures, such poems expressing and expanding on ideas provoked by the visual statement. My vanitas photographs mirror that relationship—each being an extension, in visual terms, of the ideas the words awakened in my mind.