Archive – Karen Solie

Archive struck me in leafing through the collection it was published in, “Pigeon,” on account of the fact that it doesn’t look like one imagines a poem; it is written in long paragraphs, telling the reader about the contents of a woman’s photograph.

It looks like prose, but it is not so much a story in and of itself but a cataloging—or archive—of the stories a simple photograph and its circumstances contain. Why the photographer chose a disposable camera, the history of the bridge she stood upon, the way the very beginnings of spring are there but not visible in the photograph. The photograph contains more than just the actual visual image—it contains meaning borne of experience and history and interpretation. Solie calls this out: The photographer’s read that the mind fills in dimensions of a viewed object based on the experience of objects of its kind. That, often, we believe in things we see the same way we believe in things we don’t.

Every moment that we’re aware of is just a snapshot, a frozen frame in time. A passerby not in the photo—having walked by a moment before its taking—with a bright blue jacket and a yellow dog, “mov[es] like someone with a backstory.” Sometimes I think I’m not really very interesting, as a person, but there’s something that feels beautiful about the way she puts everything in and around the photo down to the smallest thing into focus, even if for just a moment.