Dreaming Together: Books at The Camera Store

  By John Veldhoen

What my writing for this blog can achieve is limited most of all by exigency, but since what I have penned here was written periodically, I can make limited reparations for the stupid things that I have said. Writing tends, like painting and photography, to point outwards to other things. If I was explicit about what I know is the ultimate nature of reality, while it would be a heartfelt recital, I wouldn’t be able to take credit for it. The early part of this blog is irenic, and the last piece I wrote about materialism and synesthesia was wrong. I certainly admit to materiality, and I am deceived not least of all by my own vanity. This recalls a Christian apologist from India that I have been reading recently, who wrote about a Zen adherent, and an incident where the disciple thought of his heart is like a mirror needing to be cleaned, and to whom the apologist replied that if everything is nothing, where can the dust cling?

I should be a lot less abstract. If I gave a recommendation of how I would like to see photographs ideally made right now, I would cite my affection for the work of Levi Wedel. He photographs the city I live in, in some ways making me think of how Eugene Atget photographed Paris. Levi is able to take what he sees as a given, and photograph without restiveness, or so it seems to me when I look at, or almost through his crystalline geometries. I admire them for depicting things as they are as photographs. What is it to dream together, but also a civic exercise? In the middle of the last century, there was a lot of conversation about dreams, as there were people who believed that the content of a dream was grammatical, in the old sense. That has been replaced by science, which also used to be thought of as grammatical… What I mean by the “old sense” is hard to express here, as well as what I mean by grammatical, for that matter. I have gone through periods in my life when I have read with much joy and excitement, again recently, finding great pleasure in discovering older forms of learning. There is a theme in the books that I have most enjoyed reading, throughout my life, and that is encyclopaedist, and mostly classical. I know my mindset, and though patristic authors have leavened my obsession with encyclopaedism, I am aware of my tendencies. At this very moment, even as I am tempted to dive headlong into Macrobius’ commentary on Cicero’s “Dream of Scipio”, I have Calvin’s commentary on Seneca’s “De Clementia” waiting for me. (I spent the afternoon reading Marshall McLuhan on the trivium and Thomas Nashe, waiting for a friend at a doctors office in Bowness, listening to people plan to take their children to a community parade). To me, you have to understand, even if this mode of knowledge is largely seen as irrelevant today, it is reassuring, yet at the same time new, exciting, subtle, and true.

The other day, sitting under a tree in front of the shop during lunch I read a beautifully written introduction to Thomas Browne’s “Religio Medici”, a book I have read part of before, but now in an “Everyman’s Library” edition, taken out of the library, that was first published in the Manchester Guardian in the 1940’s. In what some may call a tangle of references, what I want to convey in writing this is how grateful I am to sell books at The Camera Store, and also to write whatever this blog has been, and I want to indicate to my reader what my dream is for them in reading this… Nested in the collection of photographs at The Camera Store, in the archive of copies, are signature experiences for anyone interested in reading photographs. The collection of photographs in the books that The Camera Store has amassed during the time I have been there, and before, has grown to the point that there is an experience to be had akin to what it feels like to be dreaming together. I respect the people I work for, and with, who have made a place for that to happen. There was a picture of Ezra Pound in John Szarkowski’s “The Photographer’s Eye” that used to be at The Camera Store, the book is out-of-print for the time being, which is a shame. That picture and the following pages get to the heart of what I am (badly) trying to grasp. Maybe it is in the content of a letter from photographic historian John Tagg to the painter Antoni Tapies (I write maybe because I can only imagine, I haven’t been able to get a copy of it to read). Or is it in David Campany’s tour-de-force book “A Handful of Dust”? Is the meaning in the title of an exhibition that Campany wrote material for, called “the still point of the turning world” (that the store is awaiting the catalog from, the title based on a part of a poem by T.S. Elliot)? Is it in the Helen Leavitt monograph? Is it in Malike Sidibe’s monograph, or in the “Provoke” collection? Is it in Edward Burtinsky’s images of the scarred earth? Or is it in the horrific visions of Don McCullin? The truth ameliorates all of the above, but as I often say about the collection of books at The Camera Store; it is almost as though it were designed so that one could spend hours lost in a dream in order be wide awake afterward.

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In addition to being on our sales team, John curates The Camera Store's book selection and is a contributing author of our blog. He likes to think about photography, talk about photography, and sometimes write about photography.