Last year I learned of the journalist Charles Bowden, as he died in September, listening to a radio obituary, and to a portion of a talk he gave regarding a book he had written about an assassin from Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. I later came to read more of Bowden’s writing, especially on the subject of that place. I found the writing a corrective to the work of the novelist Roberto Bolaño, and his book 2666, which I had read nearly five years earlier. At the time, that book was in fashion, and now, I am sickened by how much time I used to spend reading fiction. Bowden’s work became known to a number of people at the same time as his passing, and in that way, I came to two pieces of writing that Bowden wrote for Aperture magazine. I was working on “Blue Desert”, a book of occasional writings by Bowden at the time, my copy from the library had a pencil insertion from another reader, a sentence beginning “Outside the parking lots are packed with campers, trucks, and vans and every machine has a toy poodle yapping in the window” was edited with a comma inserted to read “Outside, the parking lots…”
The experience of reading Bowden is like this, I gave him to a good reader (full disclosure, one of the owners of the store), and after a few paragraphs he came back with “punchy”. I write all this because I know I have a certain style; I don’t gussy up my writing too much, I tend to get a bit too philosophical, and I have found that I am not too punchy, deep down. It is interesting, as far as temperament is arrested by prose, and the fact that two pieces of writing by Bowden, “The Lives of the Saints”, and “The Other Life of Photographs” focus differently on the subject of photography. The former one, I feel with less correctness, and the latter one with great intelligence and truth. In both, like in the work of any photographer, there is the question of mentality, and how a given temperament colors the assertions of truth that are framed and selected.
In “Lives of the Saints”, Bowden employs the question of theodicy to work as a negative truth claim, requisite in an absolute rejection of one type of experience on the basis of suffering, which he is willing to espouse in order that pure experience can be set against a relativist, or universalist position. He would hold a core experience of hunger (and therefore attachment) beatifies, in sharp opposition to a salvific God, who cannot be believed inasmuch as there is suffering. This is to lack faith, which exists in spite of suffering, and does not take suffering as a cause for deistic negation, or worse. In essence, Bowden feels that the appetite for the world, and all that is in it, and deep observation, cannot be expressed by one photographer’s credo that the camera could be used as a means to “rediscover and identify oneself with all manifestation of basic form with nature, the source”. I am unsure of Bowden, since disjointed though experience can be, and painful, it seems to me like intersection is the rule, not the exception; photographs, suffering, love, writing, all become servants in time, and mastery is elusive (if not illusive).
What is certain is that some things speak greater meaning than others. Aperture magazine declares itself as “speaking the language of photography”. My feeling is that language, or more broadly speaking, communication, is dialogical. Looking at Aperture Spring 2015, and Summer 2015, I am struck with how willing the magazine is to confront a different viewpoint, engendering humility. At the highest level, photography is a conversation, and the magazine initiates those to become a part of it, I love Aperture for this, and I am very proud the Camera Store continues to stock it.