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Inspired by Wallace Stevens:

Thirteen Ways of Looking at Kasper's

Taking its title from the Wallace Stevens poem “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird,” (here) this series invites viewers to see a hot-dog joint in the Temescal neighborhood not so much in stanzas but in frames. We invite viewers to not only remember Stevens’s poem, but also to bring their own fresh lenses to the building, the photographs, and the story of a man, a family, and a neighborhood. We encourage imaginative leaps and free associations as an urban island morphs before our very eyes.


Stevens published his poem in his first book of poetry, Harmonium, in 1917, and the poem has been linked to the Imagism and Cubism of that time. (The Imagists relied on concrete images drawn in precise, colloquial language rather than traditional diction and meter. The Cubists made a practice of offering a number of possible views of a subject observed over a span of time, finding in the process unity and stasis.)


The poem is composed of thirteen short, separate and somewhat mysterious sections that Stevens described as thirteen different “sensations.” They might also be seen as fragments, as standalone poems, and as haiku (though none of the sections meets the traditional definition of that poetic form).


Each section refers to a blackbird in some way, with the bird taking on disparate meanings as the poem unfolds; but the landscape, the snow, and the sky contribute equally to the constantly shifting image in the poet’s sights. And so the poem is also a collage, a kaleidescope, and a rumination on perspective—on how each of us looks at and understands the world around us in a distinct way.

This fits with what Malcolm Ryder calls “the poetic logic of vision”: in viewing pictures we move from observation to curiosity to metaphor and back. Each of us brings a distinct understanding of our world, yet that understanding continues to change and influence what we next see and what we next know. 


The camera calls our attention to what is often overlooked, and in doing so becomes not merely a collector of images but an instrument of inquiry. But, ultimately, it is the viewer who holds the brush, the pen, the key to the story.


When exhibited in a physical space, viewed are encouraged to write their own stanzas, to add their own impressions and memories and imagery to those he has written. Their collective responses form a constellation of meaning.


And so “Thirteen Ways of Looking at Kasper’s” is intended as a constantly shifting kaleidoscope of experiences, questions, and ideas--not just of the photographer, but of viewers, whether they be residents of the Temescal neighborhood in Oakland or denizens of a writers collective in SF or citizens of from anywhere who visit the Oaktown website.


Constance Hale

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