The review described him as “an inadvertent physicist whose photographs confront us with the black holes of city life and the sense that human time is ungraspable, factors to which Paul Linear shows us how to respond to with both a sense of wonder and a little fear.”
“Physicist” sounded weird to Paul. Did C.C. Jackson, the reviewer, mean to say that his sense of space and time looked scientific, like, it invoked a wave or quantum theory about relationships when it came to envisioning the world? Or, did it allude to the form of documentation that he constructed in his collection, EDGE/EDGE, in which he typed in the temporal, spatial, geographic, co-ordinates and temperature readings for each photograph, intending, in part, to contrast the “certainty” of mathematical data with momentary, visual impressions? Or, maybe, C.C. had to fill up space, as only words can, because, as Paul said in one of his gallery talks, he had in mind that his work sought to defeat language by emptying the images in EDGE/EDGE of identifiable content, even as they had necessarily to appear “readable.”?
He orders a cappuccino and carries it to an outside table. B2 is pinched in triangularly on the corner of Dickinson, across from a bar the locals called “the Pope,” for The Pub on Passyunk East. What could the C.C. stand for? Not exactly a physicist, he had theories about his projects. In his talks, he did say that he conceptualized the sidewalk shots taken in South Philadelphia because he realized how much time he had spent walking around there. What he left out was how he kept going back. And why.
The first thing he had noticed was that the street names in the neighborhood could be juggled to make up characters from a bad novel about degenerate aristocrats: Ellsworth Washington, Morris Tasker, Dudley McKean, Reed Dickinson, Sigel Hoffman, with Emily and Buelah thrown in as mistresses or servants. The strange part about it had to be that below Broad, South Philly was known for its Italian and once Jewish, Irish and Black neighborhoods, so no telling who first came up with the street names to run East-West against the numbered ones afer Front. The more recent Asian and Central American families probably did not ask who streets were named after.
Sidewalkwise, Paul picked up on the disorienting block by block schemes of tilting squared and rectangled patterns on the streets. Some framed blackened jellybean sized pebbles embedded in dark grainy cement, others were more straight etched and boxy, cut in over mealy dishwater grey concrete. There were mud brown iron gas and water pipe caps inset near the curbs, but they had no order he could figure out. And they were ugly, the faces of buried toad idols pressed up to street level.
There is a minor artistry involved in the construction of sidewalks and, although he did not include them in the images, Paul did shoot the stamps and metal plaques of the companies who marked their work: Joseph Sigismondi, Pasquale Di Saverio, and members of an Iuezzi family. Italian stonemakers, descendants of the masons who built Rome, he imagined, carving their initials in plain sight for the ages.
In the “sidewalk series” Paul conscientiously walked around South Philly and managed to capture a plot of footsteps, walkers, and time passing. Guided more by existential than geometric driftings, the sequences in the show were arranged to intimate the futile attempt by urban dwellers to chart the surface of quotidian experience within precise quadrants. The image he liked most squared a plain white chalked tic-tac-toe diagram. He placed it on the floor of the gallery, under glass, as if challenging people to step on it. In other shots, shadows from the stoops in front of the row houses and occasional tracings of an interplay among legs and shoes – of walkers in all seasons – added up to a vague story, he had to admit: sic transit gloria mundi.
The idea of sidewalk images came to him as he sat outside the B2 Café over a year ago. At the time, he had been seeing Megan, a dancer who lived on Passyunk. He told her about photographing sidewalks. She didn’t say anything. As wrapped up in making dance and keeping her company together as he was in photography and travel, their schedules and circles of friends kept them orbiting each other without much contact until they just lost touch.
Now he had to find her and clear something up. He goes inside for another cappuccino, carries it outside, sits down and opens up the City Paper. On page 11, he reads the review of her dance concert, again. “Megan Multi’s Concrete Choreography" premiered last Thursday night. Featuring rapid projections of sidewalks popping randomly on screens behind isolated spinning and floating dancers, the work intimates a physics of displacement and the wonder of how movement as ordinary as walking connects to universal laws of motion.”
He didn’t want to read any more, but there it was. “Part ethnologist, part gamer, Multi acutely collapses time and the body into slomo and kinetic images that coalesce at a single, joyous points…” Blah. Blah. Christ. How did C.C. get away with this crap? He thought about writing a letter.
So, what was he going to say to her? If he could even find her. It wasn’t as if fucking sidewalks were secrets. And it did make as much sense to take photographs of them as to dance on them. He didn’t own the idea. Besides she was cool, just too busy. Maybe he shouldn’t take it all so seriously.
A girl with a murky blue tattoo on her calf stops in front of him and ties the leash on her dog to a parking meter. She brushes past him into B2. The dog barks.
As Paul watches, the dog takes a shit on the sidewalk. Gravity, he realizes, has more than one meaning.