Last week, I read in the newspaper that the Nobel prize for literature this year was awarded to Sweden’s best-known poet, Tomas Transtromer. The work of this Swedish psychologist was described as “sparsely written poems about the mysteries of everyday life” while commuting to work, watching the sun rise or waiting for nightfall. His wife stated, “He gets those moments in life, those ordinary periods of change.”
I find myself eager to read his poetry. And suddenly I’m beginning to see kind of a trend.
In July this past summer, an article in the Sunday New York Times magazine section featured a 95-minute documentary film titled “Life in a Day.” The writer of the article, Adam Sternbergh, asks, “How exactly do you make a documentary about a day in the life of a planet — about how people all over the world eat, sleep, pray, work and even learn to shave?” Well, the producer invited everyone on YouTube to film their daily activities on a specific date — in this case July 24, 2010 — and then send in all their raw footage (4,500 hours worth!). The film’s editor,Joe Walker, edited the whole film over seven “marathon weeks.”
Walker and a team of a couple dozen researchers watched, logged, tagged and rated each clip, reviewed the highest rated clips (“only” 600 or 700 hours of footage), whittled that down to a brisk 200-hour version, then a three-and-a-half hour rough cut, and, at last, a final 95-minute film. The writer says, “In the finished documentary, the montages of ordinary acts, repeated from Japan to Dubai to Las Vegas, take on a kind of profundity: waking up, brushing teeth, making lunch. And perhaps most memorable are the films with “unexpected intimacy” — a man with terminal illness, a young gay man on the phone, coming out to his grandmother” — all helping to tell the story of a day in the life of a planet.
Now I find myself eager to see this film, parts of which are available on line.
In the summer of 2009, the Museum of Modern Art in New York City was the site of an exhibit called “Waste Not” — the result of a Communist directive to the people of China to practice a vigilant form of saving and reusing the things of their daily lives. The Chinese conceptual artist Song Dong gathered together all the items that his mother had saved over the years and created the exhibit. Francine Prose, the author of a review in the New York Times, stated that “The result — an ingeniously arranged labyrinth of pens, cookware, buttons, magazines, clothing, shoes, plastic bottles, toys — was powerfully affecting. Walking through the grid of ribbons, buttons, toothpaste tubes, combs and gramophones was a challenge to consider how much our possessions say about us, how eloquently the humblest domestic artifacts communicate the joys and sorrows of family life.”
How I wish I could have seen and experienced this exhibit.
Recently, in my home state of Wisconsin, photographer Mark Brautigam has published a book of photography entitled “On Wisconsin.” Brautigam spent five years creating a meditative photographic series of unremarkable people and places across the state (http://www.js.online.com/blogs/entertainment/130366073.html) as sent to me by a graduate student at the University of Minnesota). In referring to some of the photographs, the blogger Mary Louise Schumacher wrote: “There is the impossibly small house, overgrown by weeds and trees, with an upright green soda bottle and newspaper on the porch. There’s the King’s Hotel in Pleasant Prairie, a low-slung ramshackle outfit with a pay phone, shovel and faded, fold-up stroller out front. There’s the cluster of beige buildings huddled beneath the rusting water tower bearing the town’s name: Luck.” Brautigam says of the state, “Wisconsin is really beautiful. It is a more understated beauty, but it’s a gorgeous state. I needed to be a little more mature to realize that.”
And this, I am definitely going to track down!