New Yorker Photo Essay

New Yorker Photo Essay-31
When my own albums fail me, I go down the rabbit hole of Google image search.James Wood, in “How Fiction Works,” writes that photographs can deaden prose.Even when I’m writing longhand, it’s rare that I do not have my photo gallery open, or have a few photographs in front of me.

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It’s not that my memory improved but, instead, that I started archiving these events and ideas with my phone, as photographs.

Now, if I want to research the painter whose portraits I admired at the museum, I don’t have to read through page after page of my chicken scratch trying to find her name.

Henkel found “a photo-taking-impairment effect”—photographing the object led students to remember fewer objects and fewer details than those who simply observed the art.

In a second study, she asked students to observe the objects and then to photograph them using the camera’s zoom.

I can’t remember exactly when I stopped carrying a notebook.

Sometime in the past year, I gave up writing hurried descriptions of people on the subway, copying the names of artists from museum walls and the titles of books in stores, and scribbling down bits of phrases overheard at restaurants and cafés.

“You know the style: ‘My mother is squinting in the fierce sunlight and holding, for some reason, a dead pheasant …

my father, however, is in his element, irrepressible as ever, and has on his head that gravy velvet trilby from Prague I remember so well from my childhood.”Wood’s perfect parody concludes with the indictment that an “unpractised novelist cleaves to the static, because it is much easier to describe than the mobile.” By contrast, Don De Lillo has said that single images inspired some of his novels.

“Did you make detailed notes that day, or do you simply remember all this? In fact, I had written the essay after studying photographs that I had taken of the man and his leeches.

When she praised a specific bit of description, I had to admit that it hadn’t come about spontaneously—it was only after looking carefully at the photographs and trying out various metaphors that I settled on the idea that the leeches were gathered around the middle of the bottle like a belt.


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