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ICONIC PHOTOGRAPHS, PUBLIC CULTURE, AND LIBERAL DEMOCRACY

No Caption Needed is a book and a blog, each dedicated to discussion of the role that photojournalism and other visual practices play in a vital democratic society. No caption needed, but many are provided. . . .

February 22nd, 2010

Diving into Midwinter

Posted by Hariman in no caption needed

The holidays are a distant memory, snow is falling again, and ordinary activity can seem frozen into work and routine.  What else is there to do?  Days are short, there is too little sunlight, depression lurks amidst the layers of heavy clothing, and just getting about can be a series of chores.  One’s options, it seems, are limited.

But don’t tell this woman:

A-winter-swimmer-jumps-in-005

The caption read, “Shenyang, China: A swimmer jumps into icy water at a park.”  Really?  You’d think the writer had seasonal affective disorder; doesn’t “jump” suggest suicide?  As it is, however, she is not jumping but diving, and instead of going to her death she is throwing herself into life.

The tension between death and life suffuses the photo. The snow shrouded treeline along the field of whiteness could be the frozen shore of the netherworld, and the cold, dark, glassy water seems a catch basin for dead souls–like the shadow solidifying under its surface.  But suspended against this there is the incredible vitality of her strong, beautiful body, and even the puff of snow testifies to her quick kick up into the air. And all this for one reason: the amazing shock of slicing into the cold water, the sharp gasp, the radiant fire of skin alive.

In 1872 Christina Rossetti penned a beautiful poem that many encounter as a Christmas hymn.  The first verse speaks to anyone regardless of faith–to anyone, that is, who has known winter.

In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter, long ago.

There is more than one kind of winter. Too much in American national life at the moment seems locked into bleak patterns of dysfunction and stasis.  Too many people are hoping to settle for what is safest, and too many are resigned to simply making do or getting by.  Who can blame them?  When leaders are abdicating right and left and the future looks bleak, it makes sense to pull the blanket close around yourself and not take any risks.

Stuck in the middle of winter, perhaps one should simply wait for spring.  I’d like to think, however, that somehow each of us could take the plunge into a better life.  This might mean nothing more than doing something unexpected or otherwise out of season.  Who knows how much that could change?

Photograph from Reuters.

One Response to ' Diving into Midwinter '

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  1. Amy said,

    on February 22nd, 2010 at 2:39 pm

    Hey Robert,

    This is lovely. I posted to facebook.

    A fan from Bloomington

    Amy

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