Running Falling Flying Floating Crawling — a “loose compendium” of photos and related texts — came about as the afterthought to an exhibition that never took place. When Mark Alice Durant, the book’s editor, was asked by a small museum to develop a show his initial thought was to feature photos of the human body running, falling, and floating. When the museum show failed to materialize Durant added two more verbs — flying and crawling — and curated it between two covers instead. Hesitant to write a single introductory essay to connect disparate images, he reached out to a crew of critics, curators, art historians, poets, and fiction writers to respond to the included photos as each saw fit. The resulting book frames and interweaves a wide range of material: photos by 56 artists (or 58, if you count both names in two collaborations) complimented by the writings of 24 authors (and one editor). 

Since Running Falling Flying Floating Crawling is not intended as a definitive survey or authoritative tome, its contents follow an intuitive order curated by its editor. Themes come and go, and overlap, as do moods and associations. The texts are presented to enhance each reader’s individual experience of the photos through context, poetry, and individual rumination — but not to affirm fixed meanings. This approach respects the power of each photo to explore states of being and moments of experience outside any externally imposed framework. For this reason, the book does not have to be read in page order and is well suited to being left on one’s bedside table for random perusal at the end of the day. 

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Atul Bhalla, “Leap from Panchganga” (2015)

In that spirit, respecting no particular order or theme, the following are some images and text that made an impression. 

The photo that appears just before the book’s preface, “Jeno Kertész, September 2, 1923” by André Kertész, is based on a small snapshot measuring 1 1/2 by 2 inches. Representing at least three of the verbs in the book’s title (running, flying, and floating) it features a pair of inked-on wings that Kertész added to the original print. It was discovered by Durant while he was researching another Kertész photo and, in this sense, it seems to stand for the collaborative and idiosyncratic spirit of Running Falling Flying Floating Crawling.

The metaphorical possibilities of flight also animate “Leap from Panchganga” by Atul Bhalla. As writer Jean Dykstra points out in her text, “Embracing the Void,” the two leaping boys in the photo “seem to merge into one multi-limbed, Kali-like creature.” The godlike potential of Bhalla’s joyous image is more than counterbalanced later in the book by six photos by Sarah Charlesworth. In “Falling, Fear of: Sarah Charlesworth’s ‘Stills’” Jennifer Blessing explains how Charlesworth culled news images of suicides from newspaper archives and enlarged them to over six feet tall to create “visual tombstones for the not-yet-dead victims suspended in midair.” 

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Lilly McElroy, “I Throw Myself at Men #12” (2008)

A number of the photos in Running Falling Flying Floating Crawling were generated as documents of performances. These include six images from Lilly McElroy’s series I Throw Myself at Men (2006–8) — a spirited yet sarcastic take on courtship rituals — and a suite of images from the series Laundromat-Locomotion by performance artist Steven Pippin. Inspired by the 19th-century motion studies of Eadweard Muybridge, Pippin created his nude, running self-portraits in a New Jersey launderette using 12 washing machines converted into fully operational cameras. John Divola’s As Far as I Could Get series is interpreted by David Campany as standing for life’s big questions: Life’s purpose. Men’s purpose. Death. Nature. Loneliness. Time …

Published by Saint Lucy Books, which “aims to publish idiosyncratic books that combine words and images that investigate the marginal, hidden, and parallel histories of photography,” Running Falling Flying Floating Crawling offers innumerable discoveries. Rich in sensations and ideas, it uses unexpected juxtapositions of text and image to offer both antidotes to the mundane and passageways to the profound. 

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Steven Pippin, “Laundromat / Locomotion” (1997)
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Denis Darzacq, “Hyper #3” (2007-9)
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John Divola, from the series As Far as I Could Get (1996-97)

Running Falling Flying Floating Crawling (2020), edited by Mark Alice Durant, is published by Saint Lucy Books and is available online.

John Seed is a professor emeritus of art and art history at Mt. San Jacinto College in Southern California. He is also the author of Disrupted Realism: Paintings for a Distracted World (2019) and More...

One reply on “Photographs as Passageways to the Profound”

  1. Is it possible to make visual art that doesn’t require accompanying text to appreciate it?

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