“…Slipping in, where one slips away, examining how one begins to process the story of survival, from contrition to understanding…” — Ronaldo Wilson, p.59, Farther Traveler
Sprawled out like a after sex, the publication NEWSPAPER by Marcelo Yáñez, recreating the style of an old Peter Hujar publication from decades ago, in a pre-AIDS time.
Size: a standard newspaper.
Style: all grey scale, no text, just images.
Subject matter: varied, but often-naked bodies, contorted, turned away or experiencing pleasure, otherwise through a lens distortion or abstraction.
I too am sprawled on the floor, trying to get as close as possible to the paper. Even though it’s new, the slight musk of matte paper lends wisdom, and reminds me of Sundays spent as a teenager in Kenosha, reading the local rag, always seeing the world beyond the white lower middle class life I was born into.
As I decide to write this, I’m pressed up so close to the carpet, I see every strand of synthetic fabric. It’s as if I need to write this as one of the flattened subjects in these photographs.
But whose object am I? Who owns me?
Silence for a moment, the fan whirrs on a warm, still summer evening. I think maybe my desire is unwavering, a hunger for justice, maybe I’m here to be closer to Peter, who resides in the ink droplets that make these visuals possible.
I look up from the lines for a minute and see my past reflected in one of the many full-page photographs: a naked white boy, interlocked with a Black lover, hiding with my face turned from the camera as he, the Black man in a world run by white supremacists, cannot look away. His eyes pierce through me, they leap from the page, saying, “If I am murdered, do not forget I existed.”
[Side note: This is the genius of photography: it’s ability to become a space for the viewer not just to gaze at, but also embody. You take any photographic moment out of context and bring it into the present, past, or even future.]
I finally decide to sit up. In from me, in the other section of NEWSPAPER, a man seems to almost vanish into the underexposed forest around him. One foot is lifted up but the other is flat. His back is turned, as well as his head. You cannot see his face once again, and one of his arms is positioned outward and flat, but in such a way his hand vanishes, the entire limb resembling a stub.
I search really hard for a metaphor here. I see the image and imagine how poetic I can be, but I only seem to find my own tears. Grief is pushed out as I recall my words earlier, the moment when my voice quivered as I read the names of those Black and brown bodies murdered by police, by hatred. Grief is pushed out in this year of dissolution.
Yet this man’s fragility is different from the obfuscation of the other image. Whereas I was [he? it’s hard to find the right pronoun when embodiment happens] not facing the reality of the camera before, here I feel unafraid, scarred but not just the wound. I’m somehow ready to face the camera when I wish to, even as I push forward with the path I have decided is right, even if it takes me to dark places almost constantly.
I could do this forever it seems like, looking at image after image, stuck in the after-dark of the flash bulbs, the gloomy could-have-been scenes, Peter Hujar’s own spectral presence. Our dead queer brother, who fucked and got AIDS along the way, and died from it. I could be trapped in the pain I experience every time I have to write, “This person died of AIDS-related complications.”
But none of this is a trap.
I pause, and turn the phrase over again, in my mind, on my mouth like the taste of iron, chanting none of this is a trap none of this is a trap none of this is a trap.
To get close to picture as text, to use it in tandem with the expectations of being alive and fighting in this world, means never being able to really get stuck. NEWSPAPER is not about misplaced nostalgia. It’s about taking a moment in time, lengthening that time into an eternity of never forgetting, which is all achieved by being alive into the future.
For me, this future starts over again every time there’s another shooting or massacre or news of a failed policy that allows more HIV/AIDS death. Slipping in, where one [wants to] slip away.
I do not slip away.
I cannot slip away, not any more.