duende The duende is a demonic earth spirit who helps the artist see the limitations of intelligence, reminding him that “ants could eat him or that a great arsenic lobster could fall suddenly on his head”; who brings the artist face-to-face with death, and who helps him create and communicate memorable, spine-chilling art.
I spent my entire childhood in growing up in one house. My parents moved when I was twenty-three; the house was torn down a year later.
I drove past the house when it was in the process of being demolished. The concrete foundation was there, along with frame of the walls and the ceiling. I parked the car, got out, and took a wander through the skeletal remains of my childhood.
I’ve dealt with deaths and break-ups and all manner of typical emotional landmines and upheavals. Perhaps it is a reflection of something that’s either dead or repressed inside me as a human being, but seeing my old house like that was easily the most scarring moment in my entire life.
It wasn’t the whole picture that terrified me. It was the details.
It was the splotch of paint on the roof from where I fucked up trying to paint my bedroom when I was twelve.
It was the bloodstain on the concrete from my sister’s accident with the window back in ‘93.
It was the plastic hooks for the garbage bag hanger in the old laundry room.
It was the shape of the Big and Little Dippers traced over twenty years ago by my father with plastic glow-in-the-dark stars on the ceiling of my old bedroom.
It was the hook hanging from the ceiling in the old dining room; the hook from which nothing ever hung.
It was the specks of black mould along my old window sill. It was the specific scuff marks on the door jamb. It was the knots in the wood in the ceiling.
It was the details.
The details are what stick with us.
No one will ever be able to recount a strict chronology of their life: a “this happened, then that happened, then that happened,” all events and people and places being equal and measured. Psychology doesn’t work that way.
We remember moments: someone’s laugh, the feeling of blushing, the smell of a room.
Pictures of a house or a city that try to capture everything are nothing more than realtor’s photographs or cheap postcards.
The life is in the details.
That’s what I take photographs of. They are nothing more than keys to memory, to a feeling, to a moment in time.
The life is in the details.
The details seep into everything I do: once I walked past an antique store and saw an old Pears Soap tin like my mum used to have; once I walked past an insurance agent and saw through the window a little kid in the waiting room playing with an old Fisher Price car garage; once I was looking for an apartment and their washing machine had the same kind of knobs as my parents’ old washing machine; once I wrote a science fiction story and the main character was perpetually homesick in that same way I have always been.
The details are impossible to ignore. They live in the corner of my mind in that same way your nose sits blurry on the edge of everything you see. As with nostalgia; as with grief.
Nostalgia holds grief as its shadow self.