Tuesday 22 July 2008

Photo of the Day: Child with Toy Hand Grenade

I'm currently working my way through Phaidon's The Photo Book and was struck by this picture by Diane Arbus. The commentary to the photo helped me understand why:

The grenade, grimace and claw-like hand seem to point to a desperate future, hysterical and militarized. The picture works because the strangeness of the boy is staged within a kindly natural scene: there is even a rhyme between those paired tree trunks and the child's spindly legs. Arbus's subject, here and elsewhere, is the discrepancy between imagined and idealized worlds, represented here by the trees and the sunlight in the park, and the violence apparently promised by the child. She imagined dystopia, but always regarded it from the point of view of the Garden of Eden (23)
It's interesting to compare this interpretation from the unknom Phaidon commentator with that of Wikipedia's. The former tries to grasp the photo within some kind of wider symbolic context and perhaps manages to grasp to the heart of its message. The latter interpretation, in true "historical-critical" fashion, is content to describe the surface image and tell us how the photo was taken. The result is that the power of the photo is lost in irrelevant detail.

Or is it irrelevant?


Bob MacDonald said...

and its leaf shall not wither... why should psalm 1 provide an antidote?

Phil Sumpter said...

I'm afraid I don't quite get you there, Bob ... Could you expand? Are you saying following torah will return us to something like Eden?

Bob MacDonald said...

Sorry Phil for the cryptic nature of my comment. It was free-association (or perhaps not-so-free but suitably bound). The trees in the boulevard seem strong - well rooted but dry. The 'tree' that the boy represents - himself, his family and culture, seems weak and ruled by terror - unlikely to be fruitful.

The association of the image immediately was with the tree of life in Revelation 22:2 that gives its fruit 12 times a year which I see as alluded to in Psalm 1 and also by way of the allusion in Ezekiel 47:12.

And by the river upon the bank thereof, on this side and on that side, shall grow every tree for food, whose leaf shall not wither, neither shall the fruit thereof fail; it shall bring forth new fruit every month, because the waters thereof issue out of the sanctuary; and the fruit thereof shall be for food, and the leaf thereof for healing.

All this took place in my mind in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye.

Loving Torah is good - may we all be instructed by the Holy One.