From an essay by Teju Cole on his time exploring and photographing the landscape of Switzerland:

Light from the world could be fixed on a surface: It was possible to take the shadow away from the body and show it elsewhere.

I always enjoy Cole’s musings on photography and the wandering quality of his prose. And I like reading a piece that feels effortless: the type of writing that, for a moment, empowers me and makes me feel like I can sit down right here and now and type words, one after the other, like this person.

Sometimes, when I read Teju Cole, I feel like we’re wandering streets together, without a destination. Or maybe I retreat inward, and when I reach the end of the piece, I’ve returned to the surface. I feel my skin, this skin I’m in.

Miranda’s writing affects me in a similar way. Her musings are like water, and I sense she might think that as a positive thing, as much of her recent writing is about water, inspired by water. When I read her prose, like her road trip notes, I’m taken elsewhere, too. I’m not sure where, but it’s not a place I can reach on my own. Her first sentence sits at the surface, and as I read, I submerge. When I reach the end, I’ve come up for air, and it’s almost as if I’ve gone somewhere, but also nowhere at all.

Published by Cheri Lucas Rowlands

Senior editor at Longreads / Automattic

5 thoughts on “Surface

  1. Hi, I came across your post as I was trying to make sense of that quote from Cole’s essay (on light, surface and shadow). I have to translate it – into Italian – but I don’t understand what he means by “take the shadow out of the body”. Maybe you could help me…
    Thanks anyway,
    Rome, Italy

    1. Hi Diana — that sentence comes from this paragraph in his essay:

      This was the age of firsts: The first photograph containing a human being, the first photographic self-portrait, the first aerial photograph, the first news photo (it showed a man being arrested). You couldn’t have your photograph taken in 1825, but by 1845, there were thousands of photos, of people, things and places. Light from the world could be fixed on a surface: It was possible to take the shadow away from the body and show it elsewhere.

      This can mean different things to different people. For me, I understand it to mean that in the age of photographs, people, places, and things were now able to be captured and frozen on paper — that someone could take a picture of a person — capture or “steal” a piece of them (like their shadow) — and display it on a photograph.

  2. What a beautiful, mix of your thoughts with a tribute to the work of others. I can see already, this is a dangerous place for me to visit on a busy day. Worth setting time aside for. Cheers —

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