Doctor Walker was a cold incisive surgeon; he went by the book. He was one of the first that created to-do lists and this made the operations run smooth. The scalpel has no heart. He was a sort of literalist. And Bob, as they called the anesthesiologist, came always rumpled with the same plaid shirt everyday and seemed to click the gas just at the right time to put the patient under the spell. There was an ether about him. This is where dreams and reality get confused. Where our past is another’s future. Where the blur occurs. Where we become disembodied and float towards the light. Bob was always restless. They both got along despite their obvious class and generational differences. Walker even wrote a recommendation letter for Bob when he decided to go out on his own. He crossed the country with his wife and kids. The headlight beaming to the road like the surgeon head-light to the wound. And returned back to the city of his birth after fourteen years.
The writers of the day, who seemed all to live in the damp basements or top floor lofts, took on a glum view of the world as if looming fiery holocausts already beat them to oblivion. Snow always passed over the street lights. Political tension was in high-voltage like the sparks atop the tram cars. Igor, his son, was fascinated by the flash powder explosion used to brighten the studio for the yearly family photo portrait. From that day on he contracted a small twitch in anticipation of another bolt of studio lightening might explode at any moment. He apprenticed with the photographer, whose studio was situated on the corner of one of the narrow canals and prospect proper. And he began to shoot on his lunch breaks and even was allowed to take the new small camera home on the weekends. His father, preferred to stay inside the alcoholic ether on the depressing endless winter nights and brought Igor along with him to the bars, and Igor brought along the small clicking machine. On the way, the same woman sold flowers on the corner hoping for gentlemen to pick up a few chrysanthemums on the way to their lovers warm beds. The snow scratched the darkened buildings. And sat atop the soldiers shoulders heavy and wet woolen coats on the way home to their mothers. With his own mother they visit the Hermitage. He didn’t shy away from the naked statues. He secretly hoped it would come alive. A perfect woman. Igor stood on the tips of his toes and kissed her ivory lips when his mother searched for the Impressionists. I admit when I worked at the museum, I fell in love with a smooth marble statue in the American Wing where I paced incessantly while I guarded her treasures. When they returned home the windows slung along the Prospect glowed from within and he dreamed of being there, unnoticed, for just enough to time to click the shutter and advance to the next frame.
In a past perfect continuous world there are no time zones. The days were nearly as dark as the nights. Would have-could have-should haves mix in our minds like back-flashes brought on by the halo around gaseous street lamps or smoke, or muddy puddles reflecting the sky and ourselves. The anesthetizing clear liquid also doubled for windshield wiper fluid and it was cheaper by the liter. And the beatific springtime poplar trees cottony seeds that they called pukh also doubled as a radiation absorption. We cannot say what an image means unless we put a label on it. It’s simply just a reaction to the light passed through glass. The silver-gelatin particles dissolve into itself when mixed at the right temperature and dilution. Magic comes from alchemy. Every era had their own dilutions. The Ancient Greeks mixed their wine with water in varying parts depending on the occasion. A bit of Dostoyevsky; a slice of Tarkovsky; even a pinch of Ivan Bunin. Set the table. Feast! The patterned wallpaper will start to blur in a few hours. All happy memories resemble one another, and each unhappy memory is unhappy in its own way.
Mary walked Paris at night and got lost in the streets that once were familiar to her in her maiden days, and wrote a book about the images in Igor’s book Past Perfect… entitled Accompaniments. I walked the streets of Istanbul feeling the steps of my maternal grandfather a century ago. The past is always present. We all walk the city at night feeling that we are the only survivor. Yet the escalator was still working, dragging us back up into the night, from the deepest metro, doubled as an unground bunker, just in case, the shutter clicked, the gas lever pushed a bit too much, to sleep beneath the glowing Winter, and Spring no more, never to wake, but only to dream.
The dream, the book, the poem, the melody, the painting, and the flickering image, inspire us to create more stories, more songs, and so it goes through the ages, from cave walls to cosmic waves, and that is the mark of a work of art, to transcend place and time. This is not Petrograd, Leningrad, nor St. Petersburg, and it’s not the 19th, nor the 20th century. It’s Past Perfect Continuous, by Igor Posner.
Jason Eskenazi is a Fulbright Scholar and Guggenheim Fellow for his work in Russia which resulted in his prize winning book Wonderland : A Fairy Tale of the Soviet Monolith. He is also the author of By the Glow of the Juke Box: The Americans List, about Robert Frank’s The Americans. He is also the editor of the satirical Dog Food magazine about photography. Eskenazi has also curated in four photo festivals in Turkey.
Past Perfect Continuous, by Igor Posner, is available here: https://redhookeditions.com/portfolio/past-perfect-continuous/
By the Glow of the Jukebox: The Americans List, by Jason Eskenazi, is available here: https://redhookeditions.com/portfolio/americans-list/