Ellen Feldman Photographs and Commentary

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Time Recovered

Much of Ellen Feldman’s photography deals with motion. Single frames hold a spontaneous moment in suspension. “I . . . spy on people,” she explains, “and like to stay invisible, but don’t much care if my cover is blown.” A woman in motion, the dancer and chorographer, Nicole Piece, has been the subject of a ten-year collaboration with Feldman: the dancer in her studio subverting gravity, inventing form as she leaps, spins, and balances precariously; the photographer in steady but asymmetrical orbit adding time to space.

The images here, in contrast, are still and introspective. They are meditations on how the captured instant is forever the country of the past. They are meditations as well, on traveling with one’s parents to that country, knowing that however much the generations echo each other, they cannot complete the journey together.

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I

[Isabel] found herself desiring to emulate [the talents, accomplishments, aptitudes of Madame Merle], and in twenty such ways this lady presented herself as a model. ‘I should like awfully to be so!’ Isabel secretly exclaimed, more than once, as one after another her friend’s fine aspects caught the light . . . .

Portrait of a Lady, Henry James


Paris light refracted in glass enlarges and distorts. In the City of Light, dark glasses are powerless against the reflection in the vitrine of that shop that sells the secret to the meaning of the city, the shop that is always closed when we try the door. These scarves are talismans, as Gallic as Villon. Arms folded in that way, chin at just that angle, gaze intent on reading in the people passing by their stories. Just like your mother. So much like your daughter . . .


II

A child of seven or eight and a young dachshund walked gaily west, toward fifth Avenue and the Park and out of Zooey’s sight. Zooey reflexively put his hand on a crosspiece between panes of glass, as if he had a mind to raise the window and lean out of it to watch the two disappear.

Franny and Zooey, J.D. Salinger

A photograph of a woman reading is not the same as a photograph of a woman reading a book whose title we can see, a title that induces a double exposure through the lens of memory. In J. D. Salinger’s novel, Franny Glass, in a spiritual crisis, lies on the couch for days, weeping. Fragile, she may either stand intact or break, under the assault of family and the cosmic notes that can shatter body and spirit . . .


III

These were my two worries when I was a child: one was that I was not [my parents’] true daughter, and would be sent away. The other was that I was their true daughter and would never, ever manage to escape to the outside world.

Earthly Possessions, Anne Tyler

The women raise their arms in the gesture, both sultry and vulnerable, of Picasso’s subjects in Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, it only works because one becomes two just as in the Picasso – – that artist, that lover, that father in summer. The mother holds her cigarette, the ice cubes melting in her drink. The daughter is lost in thought, her leg smooth and curved like a Matisse cutout, wondering about the weather in Paris where she is posing in the nude. They will find their way there together – – one day . . . .

[Introduction and commentary by Marilyn Richardson. This piece appeared in a different format in the Sept./Oct. 2010 issue of the Women’s Review of Books.]

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