The Illusion of Truth

The following images of mine were shown at Gallery 80808 in August 2010 as part of an exhibition by three Columbia photographers on the theme of implicit memory. I am replicating here the digital approximations of these darkroom-produced images, the statements that accompanied each image on a small placard beneath the image, and my original artist statement. I have had a number of inquiries from individuals asking for the location where these images were shot, so I have provided a general indication in parentheses at the end of each placard statement.

If you are interested in purchasing one of the remaining works, please contact me at eplaag@hotmail.com to discuss delivery/shipping and other details. Images are 12″ X 18″ and matted in a 24″ X 36″ black frame with glass

As with all other content found on this website, images and text found here are both protected by copyright and may not be reproduced, archived, distributed, or otherwise shared in any manner without the written consent of Eric Plaag.

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Artist Statement for Eric Plaag
The Illusion of Truth

Photographs often substitute for ‘real’ memories. Many of my long gone acquaintances are remembered through photographs of them and their times. I don’t remember what I was like when I was ten but I have photos of me at that age. When I look at them I see what my life was like eons ago. I get glimpses of memory.

–Gene M., photographer, 2009

As someone who has long been fascinated with the epics of the classical past and the role of nostalgia in shaping memory and understanding, both individual and collective, I typically use my photography and various classical themes to explore deeply personal emotions and experiences. Many of these are familiar tropes in the human experience, but few of us dare to expose them so willingly to a public, outer world that might judge as weak, foolish, misguided, or even insane. Text—specifically, the thoughts that lie behind my images, as expressed in letters and journal entries—has always been an essential accompaniment to my photography.

This time out, my work is divided into two parallel series—one on the evolution of artistic confidence (entitled Aletheia, the ancient Greek term for truth as the coming forth of a thing’s essence), the other on the nature of what romantic love should be (Eros, defined by Socrates as the wholeness achieved between man and woman through the desire to be creative in the face of beauty). By following the associative geography of my illusions of truth, I revisited my past to create new images that will serve as the framework for new associations and new understandings of both love and art and my relationship to each. Unlike some of my past work, however, which has incorporated deeply personal text into the artistic image, these two series offer only brief narrative glimpses of the past on separate text panels, strictly for the sake of context, thus allowing my new images to stand apart and for themselves, divorced of and reimagined from their past associations. Where implicit memories often seek to build associations from the illogic of past experience, my aim is to deconstruct and ultimately destroy those existing associations, thus allowing me to reinvent my past in the context of my present.

Aletheia #1: Grand Illumination
Silver Gelatin Print, 2010
Eric Plaag
$275

“I’m working at a motel, one of my lifelong fantasies (I’m serious about that—don’t laugh). It’s given me the insight to start my second novel. Something about some crazy guy in a motel—wonder who that might be?…I’m also working on another one (obviously the first novel), and I’m pretty far through it. More on this later (I know you’re thrilled by it).”

EP to JM, May 27, 1985

(Interior of Wren Building, Williamsburg, VA)

Aletheia #2: Aurelia
Silver Gelatin Print, 2010
Eric Plaag
$275

“I have started a new story today….It is an unusual fairy tale about an unattractive man with a beautiful gift that wins over the young and fair Catherine. But when she discovers the man behind this gift, she tries to change him, and through this he comes to despise his gift and thus casts it aside. Accordingly, she comes to hate him. Returning to his reclusive world, he rediscovers the gift and lives in loneliness, while she contemplates the world and its resistance to change. Or something like that.”

Journal, December 31, 1990

(Dark Hollow Falls, Shenandoah NP, Virginia)

Aletheia #3: Surrender, Dorothy
Silver Gelatin Print, 2010
Eric Plaag
*SOLD*

“Is artistic starvation and general malaise what I have to look forward to when I leave the world of insurance to pursue my ‘calling’? Is this all there is? Some artsy chairs and a mural and the general sense that nothing real is being accomplished? No, I think this period passes. You mention equal shares of failure, success, and fear, and I think you are right. We are taught not to pursue or succeed at artistic endeavors (‘It’s great that you like latch hook, Bobby, but you need to work for a living!’), only to enjoy them as ‘avocations.’ But what if we succeed? Why, then, we have broken the rules and done something not possible. And having broken the rules—even though our artistic living is legal and stimulating and financially rewarding and makes us good, balanced individuals and makes the world think and generally enhances the quality of life on this planet—well, it is seen as somehow suspect and dirty and immoral (or at least amoral) and cheap and the perfect example of what communism will do, or some such other nonsense to point out why creative endeavor is only folly and so much waste of paper, paint, clay, and canvas.”

EP to JM, July 11, 1993

(Mormon Temple, Kensington, MD)

Aletheia #4: Midnight in Giza
Silver Gelatin Print, 2010
Eric Plaag
$275

“Thank you for showing me that it’s okay to think what I’ve been believing all along about Boston and the next fifteen years of my life. Some days I wake up and think that the cast of Boston characters I interact with will all be waiting in Jordan Hall at work. I’ll be ushered in and the entire crew will be smiling warmly. Someone will say, half apologetically, ‘Just kidding.’ Then they’ll give me a trophy.”

EP to JM, July 16, 2001

(Jockey’s Ridge, NC)

Aletheia #5: Telesterion
Silver Gelatin Print, 2010
Eric Plaag
$275

“While I understand your disdain for recklessness, I also hope you don’t ever confuse that recklessness with the calculated risk-taking that’s necessary for us to accomplish anything truly great with our lives. If your efforts in Winnsboro are any indication, I suspect you won’t. But as someone who shares with you the flaw of taking on too many things and always being pressed to get them done, I urge you NOT to stop being that way. The curiosity and confidence and courage that inform that headstrong desire to do so much are our lifeblood.

“A long time ago, I let someone break my confidence, and I played it safe for about ten years. It was a terrible mistake, and it took me a long time to make things right. If I can impart any wisdom, I’d ask you to always live by the mantra that’s now engraved on the back of my watch: ‘Be brave. Jump.’ Life is way too short to do otherwise.”

EP to MP, November 9, 2004

(USC Horseshoe, Columbia, SC)

Aletheia #6: Consider the Alternative
Silver Gelatin Print, 2010
Eric Plaag
$275

“And for the longest time, I felt the most overwhelming sense of remorse and guilt. I’d been writing almost non-stop for several months leading up to turning in the thesis, so I took a few weeks off to rest the writing ‘muscles.’ When I tried to start writing fiction again, though, a strange thing would happen. Whenever I’d enter ‘the zone,’ B___ would be there. And boy was she pissed. It frightened me so much that I’d write in dribs and drabs, trying not to get involved enough to be in the zone, and all I was creating was crap. A few more forays into the zone, with increasingly visceral and angry visits from ‘B___,’ and I’d had about enough. So I stopped writing fiction. For eight years.

“I finally made my peace with B___ (or at least with the voices in my head) a couple of years ago….Since then, I’ve been too busy (or so I tell myself) with grad school and research to do much creative writing, but if I’m honest with myself, I also know that I’m terribly nervous about whether anything will be any good after so long. I know that I’ll hold myself to old high standards—sort of like expecting Gene Kelly to be ready to tap dance after eight months in a body cast—and I’m terrified of finding out I don’t have ‘it’ anymore.”

EP to MP, November 17, 2004

(Burial Ground, Wellesley, MA)

Aletheia #7: Cellar Door
Silver Gelatin Print, 2010
Eric Plaag
$275

“I’m thinking maybe I need to get away for a couple of days on my own this time, without anyone else along for the ride, but I’m not exactly sure where I’d go, nor am I clear what I’d do (or be looking for) once I got there. For some reason, I’m reminded of a quotation someone shared with me about how sometimes when we’re looking for something, the best thing for us to do is stand still so it can find us. Maybe I need to stand still—just not at my desk chair staring at my novel.

“Overall, such an odd set of feelings/emotions right now, ones I’m not sure I’ve ever felt before. Impulsively antsy and irrationally overcautious, all at once. And that doesn’t sound to me like a good combination.

“Anyway…happy reading, and thanks again.”

EP to LL, May 27, 2006

(Charles River Aqueduct, Wellesley, MA)

Aletheia #8: Considering Ida
Silver Gelatin Print, 2010
Eric Plaag
*SOLD*

“I need to write the book I want to write and be okay with the changes I make. This might mean adopting some of his recommendations and ignoring others….I’m just edgy about making changes that gut the feel of the book; I can’t do that. I outlined for him my dealbreakers—the book ultimately must be about the true, often hidden nature of love and compassion; it must allow the gods to redeem themselves—especially regarding the Calliope/Homer tragedy from the past; and the book must be connected to the real world in a way that allows readers to feel as if these events really did occur and that they have a part to play by reading the book.

“…I realize that some of this may not mean very much to you anymore since it’s been a while since you read the book, but if there is anything that you do feel like weighing in on, I would be most grateful for the feedback.”

EP to FTM, November 3, 2008

(Lexington, SC)

Aletheia #9: Night Crossing of the Kephisos
Silver Gelatin Print, 2010
Eric Plaag
*SOLD*

“Since he died, I have been really adrift and confused. He was my best friend, my artistic mentor and soulmate, and my business partner….Losing him has been crippling in many respects.

“But the thing I keep coming back to is the sound of his voice in my head, telling me to quit hedging about the move to Oregon and finishing the book and doing the really innovative photography stuff I’ve been planning and making my own vision of the arts initiative come to fruition. ‘Now you know how short life can be, and how suddenly things can change,’ he seems to say.

“I’m not ready to make grand pronouncements about what I’m going to do, but I can say that Teresa and I both feel strongly that our time here in Columbia is nearing its end. We both feel stuck, and we are both hungry to be living the lives we want, rather than the lives we’ve settled into by circumstance.”

EP to LL, March 28, 2010

(Rising Hopes, Broad River, West Columbia, SC)

===

Eros #1: Prodigal
Silver Gelatin Print, 2010
Eric Plaag
*SOLD*

“The stranger has come back again…Perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps my thoughts are complete and utter bunk….K__ says I’m too hard on myself—that I’m too sensitive. C____ and L____ and D______ insist I do not give myself enough credit. I know they are right. I also know I must learn to love who I am before another will truly be able to love me.”

Journal, July 14, 1990

(Mary’s Rock, Shenandoah NP, Virginia)

Eros #2: Doppelganger
Silver Gelatin Print, 2010
Eric Plaag
$275

“I asked her to go for a walk with me. We went to the lake, sat…on the bench on the boathouse dock. The moon was shining through racing clouds, almost full. It reminded me of that dream, the eerie blue light and the strange comfort I feel….We talked about C____. We talked about how he is jealous, does not listen to her, does not make time for her. She says she knew this when she started to date him—but somehow hoped that there was more. She said she does not love him. She started to cry.…I could not bring myself to kiss her. Even though I wanted to. Even though she wanted me to.”

Journal, April 27, 1991

(Sunken Garden, Williamsburg, VA)

Eros #3: Penance
Silver Gelatin Print, 2010
Eric Plaag
$275

“Whatever we say about her, I think she did one thing right—she knew that being friends with me would only be painful to both of us; we couldn’t have stayed ‘broken up’ if our lives depended upon it, because every time we spent time together after the break-up, we ended up fooling around. So, she did the smart thing; she severed ALL ties. She is probably a much stronger person for having done so.”

EP to DB, February 28, 1996

(Chowning’s Tavern, Williamsburg, VA)

Eros #4: On the Payroll
Silver Gelatin Print, 2010
Eric Plaag
$275

“Tonight I studied there, a guest…by her invitation. Tonight she agreed to go to Waltz Ball on the 17th. Tonight we spent 45 minutes sitting in the window smoking and talking and being with each other like we so like to be….I only wish I knew what was going on. It bothers me to the point that I am tempted to sneak a peek in her journal, but realize how wrong that would be. (Has she ever peeked in mine?)”

Journal, April 5, 1988

“I hope all is well with you and family. I’ve been thinking a lot about peach wine coolers and Capri menthols on the Capitol steps lately.”

EP to LL, September 21, 1998

“I am rushing to finish projects today, so I have no long recitation of all that is going on over here to offer. But my spidey sense was tingling something fierce this afternoon with thoughts of you, and I’m not sure what that’s about. So, I thought it best to take time out, say hello, and let you know that you’re on my mind. I hope all is well.”

EP to LL, March 20, 2008

(Capitol, Williamsburg, VA)

Eros #5: Allelopathy
Silver Gelatin Print, 2010
Eric Plaag
*SOLD*

“For 18 years, they did the dance of anger. She resented the man he had become because he was no man at all, a poseur. He resented that she had so easily pushed him away and made a mess of her own life in the process. They would have flurries of letters for a month or two, then not speak for five years at a time….One day, the boy sat and read all the correspondence with her, uncertain where the girl he loved had gone. Was she hiding? Was it a test? Had she ever been there?…What if his girl was his perfect other? What if he had to choose between having his girl and being himself?

“This story has no happy ending yet.”

EP to CJ, December 12, 2002

(Ridgeway, SC)

Eros #6: Now Find the Forest
Silver Gelatin Print, 2010
Eric Plaag
$275

“I was just putting my son to bed, and he asked me to tell him about J____, the first girl I was ever crazy about. I fell for her when we were both in fifth grade. And the pattern should sound familiar, though I didn’t recognize it until I started telling him the story. J____ was nuts for me, totally nuts. And then I became nuts for J____. And then I started trying too hard, overthinking things, instead of just being cool with the fact that we liked each other. And it ended badly, after three years of torturing myself over her. It occurs to me tonight that I’ve been chasing J____ for the last 27 years, in one form or another, repeating the same mistakes over and over and over again, and only now am I seeing clearly this flaw in my own socialization. And it depresses me so.”

EP to PH, January 14, 2005

(West Springfield, VA)

Eros #7: Bang Bang
Silver Gelatin Print, 2010
Eric Plaag
$275

“On top of all that, somehow, my muse keeps finding ways to kick my butt into staying focused on what I should be doing right now, instead of wasting energy on ‘nonproductive’ things. I guess this is a ‘project,’ too. She’s smart, she is, though I don’t always like her technique. But I know her heart’s in the right place, even if she is a little heavy-handed sometimes. See, just when I’m about to catch my breath, she dunks me under the water again. You know…out in the rip current. So, what do you think? What would I have to do to catch a break from her? Or is this how it will always be?”

EP to MP, August 2, 2005, Unsent

(Portsmouth Village, North Core Banks, NC)

Eros #8: Ballad of the Sad Café
Silver Gelatin Print, 2010
Eric Plaag
$275

“A very dear friend recently urged me to read Carson McCullers’s ‘The Ballad of the Sad Cafe.’ There’s a moment when the narrator writes, ‘And the curt truth is that, in a deep secret way, the state of being beloved is intolerable to many. The beloved fears and hates the lover, and with the best of reasons. For the lover is forever trying to strip bare his beloved. The lover craves any possible relation with the beloved, even if this experience can cause him only pain.’ We quarreled over this part, my friend and I, as I tried to point out to her that while it can be this way between two people, it does not have to be. She eventually agreed, although she pointed out that this description of love is only true for oneself when one is the beloved. Her rejoinder saddens me and makes me wonder if the lover and the beloved can ever find peace….After all, as long as the beloved maintains such a view, anything the lover does is by definition a sin in the beloved’s eyes, whether the lover remains attentive, attempts to be respectfully distant, or becomes altogether indifferent.”

EP to IM, April 25, 2008

(Art Bar, Columbia, SC)

Eros #9: Das Reich Der Zwei
Silver Gelatin Print, 2010
Eric Plaag
*SOLD*

“And so I must say now how very much I appreciated your input on the question of love and the need to ‘kill’ those who hold power over us….It is so strange to me that the things I long for have changed so much over the past three and a half years….Maybe this has all been about finding balance, and maybe that balance is best exemplified by what you describe as ‘unconditional love’—the complete acceptance of the other without resentment, the odd mingling that someone once called the marriage of independence and interdependence.”

EP to IM, May 10, 2008

(Timber Hollow, Shenandoah NP, Virginia)

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