Tuesday, January 23, 2007

El sentido de la vida es cruzar las fronteras

This is not about a photographer or photography, exactly. The renowned journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski has crossed the last frontier and I felt compelled to take note of his passing here. For a great interview about the significance of his work, and in particular the meaning of crossing frontiers, one ought to read this piece from El País. It is for Spanish speakers, but maybe you can babelfish it.

In some ways Kapuscinski is an apt companion for those of us who travel with lenses instead of pens. His essayistic portrayal of the world is very much in tune with our own methods of capturing life on the run: like Montaigne he was an essayist through and through, a man who tested, probed, explored contradictions and was happiest when he hit upon the trenchant ironies that after all are the only satisfactory truths that life offers us. He had a novelist's eye for character and detail, a flair for storytelling, and a healthy love of humanity despite a clear-eyed view of its foibles.

When I look back on what has led me to this particular point in life, I find that essayists have had a huge influence on me. First there was Joseph Mitchell, whose portraits of New York -- a New York that still existed in tattered form when i was a child -- compelled my father to collect us kids together and go on Mitchellesque explorations around town. The love of exploration, of meeting different people and learning about their lives was instilled in me by those magical outings. I am not the only photographer influenced by this writer: Diane Arbus's early forays into the eccentric followed directly in his path. Then came Montaigne in my college years, who introduced me to the pleasures of traveling conceptually through ideas in a similarly picaresque mode.

For Kapuscinski this idea of crossing borders is the essence of his endeavor. As El País points out, "Hay otras barreras que también es necesario saltar: la de la cultura, la de la familia, la del idioma, la del amor... "Mi vida ha sido un cruzar constante de fronteras, tanto físicas como metafísicas. Ése es para mí el verdadero sentido de la vida." One must constantly cross all types of barriers -- cultural barriers, linguistic barriers, and family barriers as well as national borders, class lines, and so on. Perhaps it is the inevitable effect of our being outsiders to the places we visit that we should find our most fruitful interrogations undertaken from this vantage point of transit rather than rootedness, but the perspective that derives from being in between and on the edge is somehow the most sane we can adopt. However that may be, it requires a nimble wit, and Kapuscinski had it in spades.

"Caminante, son tus huellas el camino."