I’ve just been set thinking about Tim Page by an introduction to one of the stories in this year’s ‘Year’s Best Horror’. He was one of my teenage heroes, perhaps the best photographer to cover the Vietnam War. So, I’ve been rooting round on the web to take another look at his pictures.
What’s striking about them is their combination of formal precision and emotional immediacy. Page was always an artist as much as a journalist, creating images that both described the historical moment and spoke more broadly of the shock, disruption and terrible waste inherent in war.
Aestheticising responses to war, to tragedy in general, have been criticised, but I think they’re terribly important. They distance the shock from the moment, helping to move it from the particular to the universal. Page’s photographs were taken almost forty years ago; but they still function as a powerful and effective comment on events of today.
To use Pound’s formulation (given that he’s been such a strong presence this week), ‘art is news that stays news’. Making art from the moment is a process of distancing meaning from the temporary – making sure that the core is preserved, and that the work created will have all the immediacy of the moment 50, 100, 1,000 years from the moment of its creation.
Non-realist writing of any kind makes that distance as overt as possible. In the current critical climate, that openness lays it open (at least if you’re writing prose fiction) to much negative commentary. For me, the most constructive response to that kind of negativity is not to point to the quality of the work itself but rather to the aesthetics that underlie its relationship with reality.
But back to Tim Page. Arguments about aesthetics are really secondary to the quality and impact of the work itself. Here’s a link to his online gallery, well worth checking out.
I tend to over-intellectualise things; looking at his pictures after writing the above has reminded me that sometimes you’ve just got to step back from all of that, and just look at the work, and take it in, and let it go to work on you. His pictures do that; they’re just fantastic. Enjoy!