My husband, Brock Evans, is a masterful story teller. Like Johnny Appleseed, Brock spent most of his life traipsing around the country, telling compelling environmental stories, and spreading seeds of hope and commitment on behalf of the environment where ever he went. Upon hearing these stories, people rose to the occasion: they stepped up, and spoke out on behalf of saving the local places so dear to their hearts.
Brock’s motto, “endless pressure, endlessly applied”, was a sure-fired recipe for success.
Brock’s motto, “endless pressure, endlessly applied,” was a sure-fired recipe for success. Hence, wonderful places such as as Hells Canyon, Congaree Swamp National Park, and the Alpine Lake Wilderness Area are now preserved.
What makes Brock’s stories so captivating is that they do not merely describe a place or an event; rather, they are elaborate tales that incorporate all of the complex and contingent factors on which success depends. By providing a larger context in which the story unfolds, the audience can step into the picture, experiencing it both vicariously and first hand. They can become, in effect, part of the community of practice.
Photography appears to be like story telling in this regard. It is inherently holistic. Although photographers may hone in on a specific target, they give it meaning–above and beyond its aesthetic value–when they situate it in the overall context that rendered its form. Georgetown’s Dean Schaefer, who teaches Looking at Photography in the Communication, Culture and Technology Program, brought this home, when he referred me to Frank Gohlke’s lovely piece, Measure of Emptiness: Grain Elevators in the American Landscape (John Hopkins Press, 1992). Describing how he became enraptured by the poetic possibilities of grain elevators, Gohlke notes:
. . .the grain elevators could not be considered in isolation from the landscape; the building and it context were inseparable. At the same time, I was beginning to realize that the landscape is not a collection of fixed objects on a static spatial grid but a fluid and dynamic set of relationships. Its appearance is the result of a multitude of forces acting in time on the land itself and its human accretions.
Perhaps it is the photographer’s holistic perspective, so well characterized by Gohlke, that allowed my friend and photographer Anna Sofaer not only to discover the solstice and lunar markings on Fajada Butte in Chaco Canyon (see my previous blog), but also to grasp–as no other scholars were able to do–the cultural and religious significance of these markings.
As any child will tell you, without stories and pictures, the world is pretty bleak. As well, it is not very informative. Remember the radio and TV show, Dragnet. In almost every segment, the star, Sergeant Joe Friday, appears at the scene of a crime, where a ‘frantic’ woman is attempting to describe what happened. Totally in command, the stoic hero, Joe, takes out his pencil and notebook, and says: Just give me the facts m’am. Have you every wondered, how Joe could possibly solve the mystery, if all he had to go on were the facts?