Half in Shade: Family, Photography and Fate by Judith Kitchen

half in shadeThis is a complex one. Judith Kitchen has inherited dusty boxes of old photographs, belonging to her family and stretching back over generations. Some of the black-and-white figures she finds there are labeled, or recognizable to her; but many are strangers. In a series of short pieces – meditations, essays, ramblings, experimental forms – she wonders over these photographs. Sometimes she uses her imagination to tell their stories; sometimes she uses research.

She is also being treated for cancer, and the narrative of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation responds to the history she researches and creates. She plays with concepts. Every photograph has an unseen character, the one behind the camera; who was he or she, what did he or she see? In looking back into time, she can see both more and less than the characters in these pictures. They know one another, they know where they are, and oftentimes Kitchen does not. But she knows what Paris in 1939 has looming over it. She knows what will come.

My reactions to these pieces varied. Kitchen is a poet, and she wanders into a sort of free-form poetry that reminds me of abstract art: I understand that the people around me see and interpret a great deal that is hidden from me. I wonder if I’m not smart enough for the appreciation of this art. I like Kitchen best when she says what she means, playing with language a little along the way. The more abstract she gets, the less I comprehend. I don’t think my mind works the same way hers does.

But I like what she did with the idea of photography, the examination of light and exposure, the questions about how certain confounding photos (like the young woman surrounded by handled objects before a snowy lake) were posed, arranged, intended, carried out. I like what she did with history, and family history, and the uncertainties we have to accept. I love the artistry of this sentence:

The clapboard’s horizontal plane cuts through the outlines of their lives as they stand facing us across the intervening years, chance encounter that will fuse her rough pinked hem, his knot at ease, our own unbridled mysteries.

The homonym of knot, the rhyme of ease and mysteries.

Half in Shade is a complicated thing and contains many different opportunities to delve in. I’m not sure I’m up to it, at least not on my own. I think this is a class someone could teach for a whole semester. Recommended for people who understand and like Faulkner.


Rating: 7 second looks.

One Response

  1. […] narrative. She also includes family photos, and thus reminds me of Judith Kitchen’s Half in Shade. (This one came first.) Allison is concerned with the challenges these women have faced, and how […]

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