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Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Aesthetic Ideal of the Anti-hero

In the nineteenth century, a movement in photography called the "aesthetic ideal of the sublime" urged artists to capture images to elicit the physical sensations of fear and excitement. Prior to this, official surveyors for Congress, and later, photographers commissioned by the railroad expansion west, captured the larger picture. Horizons. Mountain vistas. Workers lining a stretch of rail. Technological advances in photography gradually made it possible for the photographer to reach more extreme landscapes.
Grand Canyon of the Colorado, near the big bend by Peach Springs, by William Henry Jackson, probably 1892, when, along with Thomas Moran, they traveled for the Sante Fe Railroad. Jackson was the offical photographer of the Hayden Survey of the American West, 1871-1878.The National Museum of Art, Smithsonian Institution.

This new subject matter allowed viewers to take in exceptional examples and trials of the human condition. Suddenly, it became possible for someone sitting in a Victorian parlor in Connecticut to pick up a stereoscope and experience a moment of terror. Awe. Extreme sympathy. An explorer with a spyglass leaning over the rim of the Grand Canyon. Men baracaded behind a stronghold, guns poised for a Native ambush.

One photograph I found moved me more than all the others. Without getting into graphic detail, its subject was death. Not the kind used to preserve historical record as battleground images or matters of medical study, but a completely voyeuristic look into a moment of extreme grief. This became the dark side of the antagonist in my current novel. An 1880s railroad photographer who longs to capture what no one has before him. The moment life slips away.

This is Charles Pierre Baudelaire, an accomplished poet and translator in nineteenth century France. The poor man became the inspiration for my anti-hero.




The With New Eyes: Exploration and the American West exhibit has moved on from where I experienced it at the Amon Carter in Fort Worth, but I highly recommend it if it comes near you and the American West fascinates you.


If you'd like to read more about my work-in-progress, click over to my website. There, you'll find a quick blurb, a few opening paragraphs and some other photos that inspired The Night Caller.

6 comments:

Katie Reus said...

That's a very interesting way you got your anti-hero. Apart from everyday life, I also get inspiration from photographs and music.

btw, great photo of the Grand Canyon!

Marilyn Brant said...

Loved the photos and the inspiration they provided. BTW, have you been watching New Amsterdam? I've been really enjoying it.

L.A. Mitchell said...

I haven't, but I've heard awesome things. To be honest, I'm gun-shy after falling head over heels for Journeyman and having the networks replace it for American Gladiator. Makes me not want to invest emotionally in any more shows.

I'm SO wanting to get this book done, all I'll allow myself right now is Lost. I hope I can catch up on it from the internet in the summer.

Sue L said...

I love the photos and also the inspiration for your character.

I clicked over and read your except. very exciting!

Sherry Davis said...

This guy looks kind of scary. I'm so glad they invented Head-n-Shoulders shampoo. :)

L.A. Mitchell said...

Once you can get past him looking a bit like Squidward, he's perfectly creepy.