Tuesday, August 11, 2009


Ian Frazier's two-part Siberian travelogue in the recent New Yorker was quite a read. It's pretty rare that an essay of that length can be completely transformed by one sentence, in this case the next to the last one. There I was in my mind riding shotgun in Frazier's van, fending off the mosquitos while ferrying Siberia's great rivers when BOOM!... I came to that sentence and woke up. Was the whole thing a dream? Or just a reminder that reading takes time, that unlike many things in our culture it isn't instant. Words come in a sequence that gives the mind room to churn.

Nowadays photographs come in sequence too. I don't mean groups of them as in a book, but individual photographs. Often when I look a photograph on the web, if it is a large file it unveils itself sequentially in a slow scroll from the top. You know the ones which take forever to download? Here's an example.

Summer evenings slowly download...

First the top of the photograph, then the middle... If the photograph looks boring by this point I've probably hyperlinked elsewhere. If the top and middle seem promising I will stay for the bottom.

It seems to me that viewing photos in this way is fundamentally different than seeing them all at once. The top of the photo carries an extra burden to be interesting. For the bottom there is less pressure. I wonder if photographs themselves are being altered to fit. Are photographers loading the the top of their images with extra oomph? Will we look back on this era 30 years from now and wonder why all the pictures seem topheavy? Or maybe photographs will be structured like Frazier's essay, totally transformed by some twist at the bottom?

A slow unveiling. This seems to be the structure of summer. It arrives in sequence at a languid pace, the pace of a long day or a great body of water, except for the end which falls suddenly yelling SURPRISE!

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