Tuesday, September 20, 2005

November 91

This entry originally published on another site in November '03, commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination. The photo is from November of 1991.

My mother used to talk about the Kennedys all the time. She would say, “Rose Kennedy won’t allow her family to discuss politics or religion at the dinner table.” Or “the Kennedy children promised their parents that they wouldn’t smoke or drink till they were 21.” I remember her talking about how she wanted a “pill-box hat” to wear to church, till she got one. When she noticed, while I was still very young, that my one leg was longer than the other, she told me to stand with one foot slightly in front of the other to even out my hips. “the way Jackie Kennedy stands in pictures; I think she has that too,” she would say, meaning the unven legs. So in every picture I saw of Jackie Kennedy then, later when she would become Jackie O., and even now, when I see an old picture of her standing, I look to see the position of her feet. Life magazine did a whole spread on the Kennedys, I saw the magazine with the pictures at my aunt’s house, and was mesmerized by them.

There were other pictures in Life magazine, too, pictures that mesmerized me in a different way. The people in some of the shots seemed oblivious to the camera, and were caught displaying some intense emotion for all the world to see. Sometimes the subjects were immobilized by the camera at the moment that something, something important, had happened. The pictures weren’t slick and perfect. They sure didn’t look like our family snapshots; they weren’t fabricated or smooth, like a lie. They were blurry, or grainy, and they were often in black and white. The truth of the situations they were depicting, I knew, was hidden somewhere within them, and I studied them till my eyes ached searching for it. Surrounded by constant uncertainty at home, I was hoping to feel what it felt like, for once, to see the truth.

My first camera was a Polaroid Swinger that my brother’s girlfriend gave to my sister and me. I wanted to try to take the kinds of pictures I had seen in Life; I used to try to catch my subjects unawares. I would practice “posing” in front of a mirror as if I was surprised by or didn’t know about the camera, imitating the shots I saw in Life magazine, hoping that by mimicking the expressions of truth, I would know what it felt like to express something true: joy, sadness, anger.

When I began to study film in college, I was drawn to documentary, hoping to emulate the style of and continue the discourse of what I thought was truth begun by those images in Life magazine I saw at my aunt’s house as a child. I quickly learned that what I had thought looked like the “truth” to me as a child was no more than a style, and I would have to find another way of expressing the truth.

Maybe the most famous images of JFK are contained in the 486 frames of the footage filmed by Abraham Zapruder on November 22, 1963 in Dallas, Texas. For forty years now, people have searched these images till their eyes ached, mesmerized, hoping to see the truth in them. I don’t remember the first time I saw the Zapruder film, but I always feel dread when I see it begin, the unsteady flickering, as if the film itself is aware of the devastation to come and is reluctant to continue. It is a horror film in the truest sense, and though the monster is lurking out of sight, we know it is about to strike. I want to shout out at the screen, “don’t get in the limo, don’t go. Don’t.” But the film goes on, the motorcade comes around the corner of Dealy Plaza, the limo moves smack in front of the lens, he slumps forward, then his head flies back, the spray of blood like a red halo.

Comments from original publication
u4eah @ 2003-11-21 23:01 said:
Hello History,
I find your writings completely fascinating. The succinctity and humor that colors your style engages endlessly. I love how you leave it up to the reader to make the many connections you embed throughout the paragraphs, instead of adding all the verbiage-which is something I`m constantly trying to shave-off when I write.
I came accross this site while sniffing around various digital camera places and your page happened to be the one that I saw first. It was the story about smell of the roses and how it brought you the flood of memories-not the kind one would normaly associate with the smell of roses. As I casually skimmed the first few sentences I was literally jolted from the twist in subject-flow that soon followed and was hooked for hours reading your stuff, nice work girl. I had tried to post several times in some of those fo-logs but no joy.

Looks like fun here...

just_eddo @ 2003-11-21 23:06 said:
I still believe mimicking a reaction can help you empathize with the real thing. As a kid I grew up mostly on my own. Until I was about 12, even when I found something unbelievabley funny, I did not have a natural reaction to laugh, smile or even grin. To this day I can dissociate my expression from my emotions, and I do so frequently at work. At play, I feel (fool?) more when I act out the emotion.

itinerante @ 2003-11-21 23:08 said:
That last comment was me, Eddo`s my brother and he`s sleeping over tonight. Eddo wisely knew he should learn both the dos and the don`ts, and became very sophisticated in his expressions from a very early age.

grantbw @ 2003-11-21 23:10 said:
Ingrid,this touches me in so many places, I don`t know where to begin. You reach way in, and you don`t flinch from looking at what you bring up. There`s no "maybe" about whether you`re a true poet.

I was 15 and in 10th grade math class when the drafting teacher (the only one in our high school with a radio in his classroom) opened the door to our classroom and said, "President Kennedy has been shot." We were all so innocent -- such a thing was so inconceivable -- that we thought it was a joke. We laughed. And he had to say, "No, it`s true." Then we had to conceive the inconceivable.

(On a less somber note, we seem to be shooting each others` old neighborhoods these days. When I first moved to Philadelphia in 1967, I lived just four blocks to the right of where you`re standing in this picture, at 19th & Spring Garden, next to the Chapel of the Miraculous Medal.)

Thank you for what you show us -- in words and in pictures.

ranabass @ 2003-11-22 02:41 said:
Thanks as always for your engrossing story. I was particularly grabbed this time by the Life Mag pics and the search for truth in images...

celt_dog @ 2003-11-22 07:13 said:
i think we were separated at birth.

kitsh_lover @ 2003-11-22 16:49 said:
It`s a interesting literature here, as far as my skils on English language goes, I was facinated by your text.

petitesoeur @ 2003-11-22 17:42 said:
the story is amazing and touching as is the picture of you camera in hand

the one thing of learned after all these years is that so many of the things that we believe only happened to us are experiences that other people have had also -- a happenstance of life validating the phenomenological concept of intersubjective truth

arto @ 2003-11-23 15:40 said:
another wonderful chapter...

vanessasimoes @ 2003-11-23 19:07 said:
you almost do not write...

glazier @ 2003-11-23 23:15 said:
i love the way you put this entry together, beginning with personal, unexpected details and ending, simply, with the most resonant detail---all of them exploring what we find and what we fail to find in film. i don`t know, you`re just a stellar writer, it`s a pleasure to read your flog.

ceekay @ 2003-11-24 07:34 said:
Excellent words, girl. They touch me and make me think. Thank you.

retina @ 2003-11-25 09:05 said:

machine59 @ 2003-12-03 21:55 said:
thanks for the story

eliahu @ 2004-01-19 15:36 said:
my mother bought a Bolex, but she bored us to death with hours of tedious home movies. put me off film-making for many years. i was 9 when kennedy was shot..it was my best friend`s birthday that day.


Blogger sylvia said...

Your history writing is still among my favourites. I didn't realise that you had moved it to a blog. That's my cold weather reading for this month sorted. :)

12:30 PM  

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