A Panoramic View of San Francisco

after the photographs of Eadweard Muybridge

Sepia suits clapboard well. It varnishes the houses with a period air, their dusty stoops and cedar shingles gleaming wearily. We can almost smell the pitch and resin. Street after vacant street banks down towards the water. Scoured paths and pavements of compacted mud craze in the morning heat. A panoramic view of San Francisco. He laid out the surrounding precincts frame by frame, like freshly chloroformed insects. But his plates were slow. Even at the widest aperture exposure times were what -- seconds at least? Enough to let things that were quick enough rub through into transparency. Hundreds of passers-by were turned to a threadbare gauze when they crossed between his camera and the haze of distant light. Perhaps the currency of immortality is staisis rather than enduring power, genius or evil. Once, someone wrote, means never. Most of us falter simply through living once. Notice that packhorse, tethered by the neck to history, its head fudged into anonymity where it ducked to dislodge a fly. That half-presence shows how bodies sometimes turn to dust because they move. Scratch love, shadows, ignorance or the grave, it's what we see which makes us blind.

John Glenday


I was thinking of what you said and it isn't true. Who can say what will come and what will come to nothing? You seemed so far away. The moon had long set, but something distant and cold shone through the half-open window and the form that lay beside me in the bed seemed less than an absence smoothed into the dark. That night, I held you not for warmth or pardon, but for light. Remember that blind man who once passed us in the street? How he touched his stick gently against the world -- just confirming the world still travelled with him -- then strode on as if something that was not darkness lay ahead? John Glenday