Eileen Myles’s photographs remind me of those moments of quiet excitement right as you do something you’re unsure about. They remind me of what it’s like to speak your mind, turn thoughts into writing, or click the shutter on a framed piece of world — being careful not to rustle or think too much, lest you lose the instant. Printed on unframed luster paper and pinned directly to the wall, Myles’s photographs in poems at Bridget Donahue are taken from the writer’s Instagram and don’t feel precious at all, though there is something relentlessly intimate in their flat-footed irreverence. To call Myles’s photographs “poems” feels right; both can be read fast, then taken in slowly, bit by bit — as means to understand how seeing becomes feeling in the spaces we move through every day.
poems is at once unexpected and beguiling, as it shifts between images abruptly — showing us the green view from Myles’s bed in their East Village studio and apartment, then their dog Honey, tunneled eye-deep into a pair of boxer briefs. The photographs are all around 24 by 18 inches and could have been printed on your inkjet printer at home, making them feel like proofs or tests, immediate and imperfect. “-” (2017) is the result of someone writing hard, so much so that they’ve ripped a crater in the paper. Next to it is “The cow was not drugged” (2017), which shows a matted and melting swirl cone waiting for another lick. Chocolate and vanilla blur abstractly, the froyo variously smooth and lumpy, and oddly sensual.
The exhibition fittingly accompanies a new book of poems and essays titled evolution. In poems, images come together like in Myles’s writing — take their recent poem “For My Friend,” where a couple of lines after “There were/ two super/ new cars/ and then/ some pink/ chicken/ filets,” we get “also they/ are/ working/ in the ceme/ tery/ I can see/ their blue/ ladder/ from here” without any warning. The turn from the mundane is detached but poignant, reminding us that anything and everything can cut deep when something else is on your mind.
“sex” (2017) steals a bashful smile with its familiar nighttime stretch of shining, wet asphalt, always ahead when you leave the party early and alone. Newspaper vending boxes cast shadows across the pocked ground, and a bike wheel barely pokes out from the bottom of the photo. Seen with “Consternation about Mimm’s” (2018), wherein Honey appears blurry and waiting at the end of her leash, Myles captures our need to keep moving forward, past an emotional moment, even if we don’t know why yet. Their photos jerk us through the air, recalling the early moments of trying to figure out your bearings in a new place.
poems also includes a selection of framed, older photographs sitting in a bin, ready to be flipped through like posters at the store. That possibility of finding an image by chance is like scrolling through Instagram and maybe relating to one of Myles’s posts — or, as they put it in a recent interview, figuring out “How close is your moment to my moment.” The photographs in poems are in line with Myles’s poetry of evolution, fleeting details caught by their iPhone akin to subjects added on second thought at the end of a line. I imagine Myles’s photographs forming in the line breaks between disparate images — flashing, reconsidering what’s next.