This family picture, discovered in one of my great-grandmother’s many albums, probably has something to do with my becoming a photographer. I have always loved how the world is being erased on either side of the figure as he looks through the viewfinder; how he wears that hill in the background as a kind of crazy top hat, four dimensions collapsing into two; and I wondered what the picture this man made must have looked like. I used to make up stories about how he could photograph whoever was looking at this old photo (in some sort of camera-as-time-machine scenario) and receive pictures of people in the future from the local drugstore that processed the film.
I have poured over pictures like this one since I was a kid, as if I were looking for clues in my family albums. The many pages of little squares and rectangles were more suggestive than definitive for me; not telling stories exactly, but providing space for them. I, the viewer, was invited in as part of the process.
For whatever reason, this seemed to me as good enough a place as any to start this blog. Hopefully pictures will outweigh words by a considerable degree here since I still agree with the poet Charles Wright that “too many things are not left unsaid.” (from the poem A Bad Memory Makes You a Metaphysician, a Good One Makes You a Saint found in his book Appalachia.) However, that personal disposition should not go blindly unchallenged, so from time to time I plan on pushing myself to try and actually use my words. I really don’t know exactly what I will write about or how often, but a few of my main concerns may be found in the title of this blog – local liturgy.
It should be clear by looking at the rest of this website that place is important to me. The idea of a place can be an interesting vehicle or envelope for pictures, stories, songs. The particular place that I am generally focused on stretches between my family home in northeast Tennessee and my current home in Nashville. The rivers and roads in middle and east Tennessee are where I spend most of my time wandering around, and there are other places that I keep returning to as well. To know a place intimately, to allow its history, culture, stories, and landscape to inform what one creates; to see one’s own work as a contribution to this inheritance; this is what I mean by local.
Growing up bapti-costal (baptist/pentecostal – my grandfather and father were/are pastors), the ancient liturgy of the church was not something I was familiar with or even aware of, but as an adult I have discovered and grown to love the liturgical calendar. For various reasons that I may write about later, the rhythm of the liturgical year feels like home to me. It gives form to time itself and it (like my family albums) provides space for stories, even one’s own story. The word liturgy is actually older than the church. The greek word leitourgia means roughly the “work of the people” or “a service performed publicly without recompense.” The term was used in association with the ancient religious festivals from which the theatre was born in Athens. In his book Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea, Thomas Cahill describes the connection between liturgy and the theatre:
“From pagan Greek liturgy came all of ancient drama; from medieval Latin liturgy came all of modern drama. That drama has always risen out of liturgy suggests that even the most secular theatre is caught up in some aspects of communal religious experience: a large, hushed arena of spectators, who laugh, cry, applaud (and perhaps even sing) together and are therefore conscious of their fleeting bonds of community […] their communion with one another as witnesses to a symbolic story that is, at least in some archetypal sense, a mirror of their own lives and the lives of their families and friends.”
I believe this interpretation may be applied to the online arena as well. At least I hope this website and blog may be understood in this light. So the reader/viewer is invited to participate in this rambling local liturgy. Come and see if I can make one bit of sense out of any of this. If nothing else you can make up your own story about the man eternally holding the camera up to his eye.