Teju Cole’s Blind Spot is a combination of lyrical essay, travel journal, and philosophical reverie presented in stunning, formal color photographs paired with the artist’s texts, joining voice and vision within one frame. In the course of nearly nonstop global travel, Cole’s camera has captured ships in Capri, a park in Berlin, a collection of globes in Zurich, graffiti in Beirut, and a young boy’s hidden gaze in Brazzaville, of which he writes, “There is that which is carried, like a cross. There is that which drapes over, like a funeral sheath. Everywhere, I begin to see as I am carried along by my eyes, are these two energies.”
In his extensive travels, Cole initially began “using my camera as an extension of my memory. The images are a tourist’s pictures in this sense.” I witnessed this memory-making firsthand when Cole was in Santa Fe to read for Lannan Foundation’s Readings & Conversations series in February 2016. As I drove him through the City Different’s winding, hilly roads, Cole could barely contain his excitement, asking to stop the car several times to make an image — and notably not of our extraordinary southwestern views but of mundane subjects I might never have noticed. He makes the ordinary sublime, elevating common objects like scissors, globes, fences, and tarpaulins. His is a genre of photography that makes the viewer cognizant of seeing — no easy task. As photographer Thomas Joshua Cooper writes, “If we are sighted, we tend not to notice the differentiated acts of looking and seeing. The given is that looking and seeing are central, but distinct to the process of picture-making.”
Each image is named for the city in which it was made and is accompanied by an original piece of writing from Cole. Sometimes the text describes the moment or place. Other times, the image serves merely as an inspiration or pathway to another memory, as with Cole’s image Beirut, May 2016, of a concrete apartment block in Lebanon. Leading with a reprint of an Emily Dickenson poem, his text begins:
Poets die. They must. But the poems, if vital, give a light that each future age refracts in its particular lens. No, not “give a light”; they “light in here”; contain themselves a light from which they cannot be separated. Like the sun, they illuminate and yet remain perpetually illuminant.
The exhibition presents 32 images with text, a grouping selected by the artist himself. The entire series, numbering more than 150 images, is presented in a book published by Random House in 2017. A reviewer for the Guardian said, “On encountering a collection of Teju Cole’s photographs and writing, I began to wonder about the mind behind the camera, the eye giving such careful attention to, for instance, a pair of scissors; then a dirt hill; folding chairs; mesh; a siding; part of a brick wall; imitation Gucci bags; crushed plastic bottles. . . . With few exceptions, the photos here memorialize such items, ostensibly common things made radiant by the quality of Cole’s looking.”
We are so pleased about Teju Cole’s visits to Santa Fe — first as author, now as photographer, forever as witness.