Up close with the black-and-white of things

“It is essential to prove that beauty may be in small, dry things.”

~ T.E. Hulme

I concede for the Official Record that my web-publishing choices are often eccentric and idiosyncratic. After all, a post featuring four closeups of a vine-adorned, chain-link fence shot one blue-sky day in Charleston, West Virginia — and rendered all in blacks, whites, and greys — is not ever going to be an algorithmic barn-burner on the ‘Did you see this?!?’ interwebs.

Still. The T.E. Hulme quote (above) gets at something essential. A small thing, an unconventional view or a dry-as-bone chainlink fence might be just as much an aesthetic encounter with beauty as the theatrical sunset, a tea-rose in all its glory, or a fetching face.

To be honest, I was not intending to freeze-frame the hundred nuances of light and shadow these fence closeups reveal. (Click them bigger to see what I mean and thanks again, Sir Jobs, for slipping a high-end camera in my pocket in iPhone 7 form). I was, instead, seeking to capture the top-half signature of an 18-wheeler passing on the interstate before getting in my car out back of Capitol Market.

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When I eyeballed the photos later I was pleased to find these unexpected still-life portraits of the reciprocity of sunlight and shadow. They play out against the knotted, tensile strength of rigid fingerlings of chainlink, while nature’s own viney fingers interlace with this net of human steeliness. These vines seem like delicate visitors, tentatively climbing, link by link by link. Yet isn’t it the case that Mother Nature’s lightest touch can also be a bear claw’s crushing death grip over time? Give it half-a-century and these vines will overwhelm this wall of metal. And — eventually — bring it completely to heel.

We do not have dominion over Nature (much as dominionists and other creation hogs may love to believe). We are instead part of a multiplex story. A linkage, speaking of things that link up, one to the other, next to next. A quantum net. I fully expect the human portion of Nature’s intricate, sinuous web will be overthrown and we’ll be brought to heel ourselves before the existence of this great web of being is ever truly threatened with annihilation.

If we don’t get our chainlinks right, that is.

“Humans Up an Alley.” | Charleston WV, september 2022 | TheStoryIsTheThing.com photograph


“Steeple Hills” | Elkins WV (as seen from the porch of Halliehurst Hall, Davis & Elkins College, july 2022) | TheStoryIsTheThing.com photograph


Men who chop down mountains,
Who eat a forest whole,
Are like the blind pickpocket.
Blank to what they stole.

(from “EPIGRAMMAR: Short Poems and Epigrams for a Post-Dow Industrial, Anti-Delusional Age,” by Douglas John Imbrogno (1997, by A-OK POETRY Press)

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Dear Douglas – here’s is an epigrammatic pairing to your P.S.

9/20, While Mowing

You’ve been entrusted
to the Land. That’s why
The Land takes care of you
and that’s why the Land
Doesn’t throw you away.

What you wrote about these photographs reminds me so much of a gallery exhibit and talk by the photographer/artist Rick McCleary at The River House last weekend.

Rick had paired photos he’d taken both recently and in the past, some of which were ones he didn’t think much of when he took them. A pair might have been an overlay from 2020 with a street scene from 1975 to give you some idea.

What really struck me is that photography, unlike any other art form I can think of, has this remarkable ability to show such incredible beauty even if it wasn’t seen the first time. As poets and writers we Never go back into our early writings and find truly great poems or masterful prose. Artists never dig out paintings when they were just learning how to paint and find their masterpiece was already painted, and whatever songs you first clanked out are rarely what someone would consider ‘great’. It’s different with photography I think, and I really love how you saw something so entirely different and beautiful in those photos even though you didn’t notice it then.

Carry on. Hope all is well. I see you’ve been successfully laying low on Facebook.

Douglas Imbrogno says:

Thank you for the thoughtful commentary, John. I love the serendipity of what I call ‘iPhoneography,’ of traveling with a cigarette-box slim, high-end camera on one’s person at all times. It allows — or maybe creates? — the possibility of such moments. Struck by the attempt to capture one top-of-mind intention (the projectile of a passing 18-wheeler on an overpass), the camera has other ideas. Or my positioning of myself in that moment maybe creates other possibilities. Is this just a boon of autofocus? So, that my shots are just an unintended techno-byproduct, as the camera says to itself: ‘Hey, there’s something much more distinct and close-at-hand — let’s focus on THAT interlaced metal and vine thingie!!!’

Does that question even matter in this age of techno-magnified human perception? Perhaps, were I ever to show this photos-and-words sequence of a seeming banal set of images I should co-credit my iPhone!

Errol+Hess says:

Cropping is the essence of all photography and writing.

Douglas Imbrogno says:

Truer words were never writ, sir. (Or typed …) ON A RELATED NOTE: That is why, in my opinion the Oscar for ‘Best Editing’ is equal to, if not greater than, the Oscar for ‘Best Director.’

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