Stillness You Can See


Stillness You Can See

Photographs show us what isn’t there as well as what is. The expanse of sky is something, but it is also nothing, an emptiness spilling out of the frame endlessly. It is a fiction, even its blue, that we imagine is there for us, a fragile canopy, who knows how it stays there. What defines this sky is another emptiness, the flats, the marshgrass where nothing is moving, not even the wind.

Stillness you can see, there and not there.

I have spent time in spaces like this one on immobile days of summer that have turned off the sound. A day as silent as a photograph. But someone has been here–and the caption tells us that someone is often here, doing church business, but without the caption the photograph is only a sign of unnamed presence and absence. I prefer not knowing. What has been left behind is a book, a mug for coffee or tea. I assume the book is a Bible, even without the caption. A reader has sat here facing the empty landscape, torn between what is in front of her physically and before her metaphysically, the already-not-yet of Biblical time in which we can read from the first moment to the last without leaving our chair.

The image is all presence, spirit, made more immediate by the certainty that someone was here. Jesus appears on the lake shore after resurrection, here and not here, sitting quietly and then gone. But not gone. And so it is with all of us. Why has she left, the one who was here? Where has she gone? Will she come back? Absence can be a coffee break; it can be death. In this moment, confronting the void, we cannot know. -Ken Arnold

On View: “Church Office, Beaver Alaska”, a photograph by The Rev. Scott Fisher, Fairbanks Alaska

Ken Arnold is a writer living in Portland, Oregon. You can read more of his work here.

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