” All things of grace and beauty such that one holds them to one’s heart have a common provenance in pain.
Their birth in grief and ashes.”
The Road, Cormac McCarthy
Let’s start with the Kibbeh (though this is not really a “beginning” and might actually be the end).
It’s colorful, and it’s a home. It’s placed on a dining table that is covered with a floral tablecloth. Beside it, already in gray, a flower-decorated plate. It, too, is placed on a wooden table. It has groves from use. Someone was really here before the person took the picture; the signs will testify. The hand (Omer’s) cradles two strawberries, a sage leaf, a photographic film, and a cable stub (not necessarily in that order). These things are important, the little things. They are important beyond their symbolism in his life or in this story we are telling now. They are important enough for him to save them in the palm of his hand. There is also a cigarette butt, it isn’t Omer’s, but he doesn’t discriminate. It, too, was smoked by someone. This someone was here. Before the person who took the picture, and before us, watching now.
A wall in the fog. Cold and wet daylight. Gray as his heart.
Later, he will write about a conversation in a hallway ending in dazzling light between him and someone. He is gone, that someone, and not just from the photograph itself (he left the conversation apologetically). He peeks through a net at the entrance of a house, whose house we do not know, but we peek together with him, miss something, and don’t remember why. There are many houses. These are buildings that are stuck in limbo, forgotten in unfinished construction and disassembly processes. Lacking entrances and also devoid of people and animals. Time feels slow as if Omer has been standing there for a long time. Within him, something that has long been forgotten is moving. A concrete road that has once led someone somewhere and now leads no one anywhere. There’s a feeling of searching, and it’s also so quiet in the world in which he walks.
Where are the people?
His soil is not what we would like to think of as nature. In this world where he walks us, it is barren and dry, and it grows plants that are hostile to man, and nowhere in it can you find a place to lay your head. The Camellia is tired and covered in road dust. It’s the protagonist of Omer’s old story, his alter-ego, a self-portrait (because we do not have to photograph ourselves to talk about ourselves). The plants are in varying degrees of blooming and artificiality. They’re on the tablecloth, on the plate. They are seeds in the palm of his hand; they wither.
They are a promise of a beginning.
There are moments of rest between the thorns and blocks’ effort, the struggling fig tree, the bush in the concrete lake, and the dry herbs. A bright white bud survived the event that created such a silent world. A Camellia blossomed to a hazy cloud of light. Light up the ladder. At the end of the road, we will reach the sea. The road there feels warm, and the water is milky.
“And there was that step
Of all others, accompanied by a sense of relief
Followed by a deep breath.”
He writes to himself between the pages of his diary, and using the pictures, he leaves us small stepping stones to rest in the river moving forward. He thinks thoughts when he takes pictures, then writes them down in a small notebook, and even later, in ink and a pen-nib on the images. His handwriting is important, and so is the material he chooses to use. His thoughts are profound and immense at times and also small and fleeting; full of self-awareness and humor, they save us, for a moment, from sinking into his dream. There is another wakefulness world, and there is a different story to tell.
Where is the end?
There is no end. Maybe we’re actually talking here about endings and beginnings (in other words, boundaries), about when something becomes one thing or another, about cycles, hardship, and its connection to small moments of grace between a person and his world, a person and himself. Things are not unequivocal in his photographs (and in the world in general, apparently). Nature takes on a rigid form, and the rough concrete actually evokes longing at the entrance of an old house. He writes down a childhood memory accompanied by exposed concrete castings that provide nowhere at all to cuddle. And the light isn’t forgiving either. Barren soil becomes fertile, and so forth. And the concrete is neglect, and the concrete is a promise. It is forgotten and is also home, and home is present but inaccessible. And home also occupies a dream – it is under construction, in use, and abandoned, all at the same time. Omer reverses inside and outside, roles and meanings, when something is alive and when it is a remnant, when it’s essential and when it is forgotten, when it’s functional and when it’s just a relic. And the relics are also appreciated; he covers them with the palm of his hand and guards them. The wooden peg and the rose thorn as well (and we are the peg, and we are the thorn that rest in the palm of his hand).
Omer’s work mirrors the human psyche’s duality, this specific one, and in general. If we were to turn his skin and the inside was outside, what would we see (what we see hanging on the walls)? A soul that can feel everything simultaneously, ache happiness and be saddened by beauty, and also miss what is here right now. The abandoned and hopeful, the weariness and road dust, the forgotten behind but kept close, the places where it’s scratched and spoiled, the delicate, deep, sincere, touching beauty.
There is a promise in the bud and a process in the wilting rose. A rose stub, a rose thorn, a petal.
Omer Israel Landoy, artist and phototherapist.