In one of my favorite photographs by Vaune Trachtman, lights from a thousand city windows weave upward into the night. If you go by the photograph’s title, “Prayer,” the commercial district suddenly sheds its steel carapace. And out of that dead bulk, something like an urban ziggurat appears. But even without the title, the transitory reach of light from living room to constellation creates a sacred contract with the image. Strange things like this happen all the time in Trachtman’s work.
“Transitory” is how Trachtman describes her own life. Losing her parents at a young age, she was moved from home to home. Even later in life, Trachtman rarely stayed in any one place for very long: Philadelphia to Rome, Rome to Vermont, Vermont to New York, New York to Seattle, Seattle back to Vermont. It’s like the question that Wright Morris asks in The Inhabitants: “where do you go when the signs don’t point anymore?”
You go to the work—inhabit its vacancies, if only for a moment.
Trachtman captures those moments. Not the moments of the photograph’s subjects: the dancer, for instance, whose limo will be turning back into a pumpkin soon, or the bridge that has already collapsed under the weight of geological time. Not those moments, but the moment of Trachtman’s own fleeting, wondrous, sacred inhabitation.
In this feature, Trachtman shares with Od Review the questions that move her from series to series, image to image, and printing technique to printing technique. For more, check out her website at vaune.net.
I Want To Make That Picture
Have you ever risen in the middle of the night, still in the liminal dreamfog of sleep, and the bedroom you know so well has rearranged itself into your childhood bedroom, or some other suddenly remembered room you once slept and dreamt in, and your parents are still alive, and all your cats are still alive, and the friends who left are suddenly back, and the tragedies that shape the world have not yet occurred, and you take the first couple of steps in the dark to the bathroom, or to the kitchen sink for water, or to tuck in the children, or to crawl into bed with your parents, or to let the dog out or in, and then you find yourself re-entering your body, your room, remembering what is gone and what is not, and you wake to this world full of absence and plenty, all other worlds falling away?
I want to make a picture that feels like that.
Have you ever felt the vibration of New York City in the summer, with its rumble of subways, that forever hum and buzz of electricity, have you felt that ecstasy of crowds, the metronome of the commute, this tumult of perspective, and how at the end of another long day among the streets and buildings the city feels as if it’s emanating off your skin like heat, like an odor, like a siren, and do you remember the way, as night takes hold, we come inside and lock the doors, lie down to rest, and then begin to discharge the day’s accumulated energy, and so rise, and sink, and echo, and pray?
I want to make a picture that looks like that feels.
Have you ever felt the lingering sway of the journey just taken, or felt the anticipatory pitch of the voyage yet begun, or maybe you’ve gently pressed your fingers upon your closed eyes to see what colors are there, and you see the flicker of an unforgotten afterimage, maybe the afterglow of roads and bridges, floating in the fleeting, purplish murk of your memory?
I want to make a picture that looks like that.
Have you ever wandered off and stood in one place long enough that the din of the day falls away and you start to listen to the vastness of winter, to the cold itself, to its lyric of melt and freeze, of breeze and shudder, and you find yourself endlessly circling, circling, yet only once arriving, arriving, at the still, equinoctial moment when winter blinks itself into spring, a second so long in coming that it becomes a loud and solid thing, full of the clamor of fog and mist, pine and needle, birch and bark, telling you the endless, stealthy story of ice and the water’s edge?
I want to make a picture that sounds like that.