Monday, April 21, 2014

old catahoula

THERE’S A COLOR photograph of a boucherie in Catahoula. A hog has just been slaughtered, and its organs are being collected in basins and buckets. A boy facing the camera poses with the head of the hog.
      The matriarchs hunched forward, pointing out hog parts to the young people. Although the photograph is silent, I can tell that shes talking, her arms extending toward them in a frozen gesticulation. Shes holding a knife and what looks like a folded stomach in her right hand, maybe its a liver. Her left hands open, empty and entirely red with blood.
  Most of the old traditions have died or are dying. My father grew up speaking first French then English; my generation did not. The last Mardi Gras carnival was held in 2004 after a period of slow decline from its full flowering in the 70s. And the Christmas parade, now a fire engine and a float or two, hangs on by a thread. 
     Fishermen still pull crabs and catfish from the lake, but theyll tell you they miss the way the lake used to be, so clear it was almost blue. The old Catahoula is gone. The lake’s filling up with silt. All we have left are memories and pictures. Soon well have only pictures.
     If spirit is the human ability to reach across space and time and pull the past into the future, it’s no stretch to say that pictures are spiritual, that photography is a spiritual pursuit. When we freeze a moment on film we bottle the slippery spirit and carry it forward. Then we fade, but our pictures stay frozen. 
     Haunted by the spirit, a picture is a ghost. Unbury three thousand pictures and you’ll unbury three thousand ghosts. Quilt them into a matrix and, well, it’s easy to wax mystical. Flesh melts, but the spirit remembers. Pictures are forever.