The last line of Mrs Dalloway is the ultimate climax: a sweet, sure, substantive stance after the groping gabble of its battle-broken cast. 'Tis a moment, finally, a moment held, heavy with existence, insubstantial as air. The image of Clarissa is as vivid as a photograph, and a passage in Italo Calvino's Difficult Loves defines my ideals for writing as well as photography: 'a pile of fragments of private images, against the creased background of massacres and coronations.'
With my voile tunic shirt from Toast tucked into my sailcloth Marc Jacobs man-slacks, I have an outrageous, ambitious longing to be Virginia Woolf by way of Lee Miller; to capture the surreal beauty of our lives and times, the surprising strangeness of our unsafe world, through a camera of words. The current V&A retrospective of Miller shows how her shots- and her self - are laden and laid-back, at once both playful and posed: surely what any woman, and life, and piece of writing aspires to be. Woolf and Miller were brave, beautiful women, the keepers of our consciousness and consciences.
They played on my mind as I read Kim Edwards' novel The Memory Keeper's Daughter. The keeper of the title is David Henry, a dedicated Lexington doctor whose life hinges on a single, graphic moment, captured by Edwards in memorable, muffled prose - the birth and abandonment of his Down's Syndrome baby in the surreal suspension of a snowy night in 1964. Henry struggles to make sense of his own rejection of his daughter through photography, and the descriptions of his images, which metamorphosise the body of his wife and his patients with the natural world, would surely look something like the cool, sculptural slopes of Miller's bent back.
Lee Miller sat in Hitler's bath, washing in the dirt of war. Virginia Woolf 'plunged into a sea of words and came up dripping', then drowned herself in the River Ouse. I splutter and splash after moments that flash white and empty as a darkroom exposed to the light. But sometimes, just sometimes, a blurred figure holds, ink on paper, momentarily kept.