Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Storm Lorry and the Donnée


One of my favourite photographs by C, taken from the car as we were driving home on a stormy summer evening. The rain is hitting the windscreen, a storm is about to break out on the left and then we approach this lorry to our left fringing the storm with a lightning symbol on its side. It's a photo that speaks for itself and needs no voice, unless the voice is going to talk about something else invisibly, as if by lightning.

The image is so potent it might be considered to be a donnée. I remember a donnée from our early days in Hichin, when the houses next door to us were demolished, and I came home one dusk to find four white doves ranged around two black on the walls still standing. The poem that resulted, titled A Donnée appeared in my second book November and May, back in 1982. The true subject of the poem was the hinterland between dream, symbol and reality, when all three coincide.

The donnée presents us with moments of fullest, self-exhausting significance. I don't mean in the earth-shaking sense, simply in that the meanings or suggestions of things appear to coincide with their appearances. In the case of this photo it involves a deep pun of some kind.

But maybe the donnée lies all around us, unnoticed. What was the Cartier-Bresson phrase about the decisive moment? He also said this:

The creative act lasts but a brief moment, a lightning instant of give-and-take, just long enough for you to level the camera and to trap the fleeting prey in your little box.

And see, there's the lightning already in it, in that lightning instant of his, just as it is in the lorry and in the mind. A lorry full of lightning, shifting fast as lightning, and the poem too, wherever it exists, heavy as a lorry, fully charged with electricity, thundering along.

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