One of the teachers who had the most impact on me in my years as a university student was Ilja Wachs, who taught a course on 19th century fiction. He was a chain-smoker, constantly bumming cigarettes from me during our bi-weekly conferences in his office where we would talk about the personal project work I was doing in addition to the class assignments.
My project second term was the novel The Brothers Karamazov, which I dutifully read and prepared a well-detailed outline which would culminate in an analysis of the main character’s motivations as well as his relationship with the world around him, careful to include details from the novel, to show that I’d really read the book. After I’d presented my outline, Ilja stubbed his cigarette out on the sole of his shoe, took my 5 page pre-magnum opus and tore it into little pieces over his tiny, grey wastebasket, overflowing with small coffee cups and what I can only imagine were the outlines of my classmates.
“That’s bullshit,” he told me. “Go back and read it again. And re-read it. You’ll find something new every time. Then we can REALLY talk about this book.” So I did re-read it. Not twice, but 1 1/2 times. And some passages dozens of times. Which is pretty good considering the number of books I’d bought and never opened. And he was right. The re-read always revealed something new, as if Doestoevsky had secretly changed something around while the book sat on my desk between reads. The paper that I wrote is long lost, but still remains one of the most meaningful pieces of work I’ve ever done in my life. Without an outline and not a single citation of the text. Just my impressions as I strolled, and re-strolled the side streets and alleys carved out by Dostoyevsky.
In case you’re interested, here’s a video of Ilja in action.
I try to take the same approach when I walk through the streets looking for my shots. Barcelona is geographically a small city, so the possibilities of finding completely new images every trip through are finite. As I’ve stated in previous entries and in my “about” page, part of my objective in this blog is also to re-visit certain favourite places and watch them change with time, an opportunity we don’t have in a museum with their scolding security guards and multi-million-dollar works protected by glass and laser alarms.
Here are a few re-visit shots, in various states of flux and decay.