Alphabet of Light, #6, by Kirsten Rian (Germán Herrera)

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Photograph by Germán Herrera


“I have started believing that the value of art is the feeling it produces in us, artists, when it is ushered to existence, inspired... and, hopefully, the feeling someone living it and connecting with it, may experience; the transmission. But for that, you have to be able to recognize what is inspired and what is created, by a mind, a cartesian Newtonian mind asserting its separation from that to which we all belong (and perpetuating the dream we have been thought to believe as reality),” my friend Germán Herrera says, as we discuss art’s relevance and reflexive place. 

Relevance, and even reality, are dictated by the emotional investment we attach to a person or object. What happens when the tangibles documented by the image--the action or specificity--are gone? My computer hard drive recently decided to stop working, one random morning. The very first hit of panic was not for the potential work lost or even various creative projects, those could be pieced back together; but it was for the snapshots, the everyday photos of the past few weeks that hadn’t necessarily been backed up. The photo harbors what now is only memory, and memory is an unstable rumpled fabric map of reality. 

My reaction to the computer crash cued me as to how fierce I’ve become about documenting what I believe in the moment to be the reality of experience, or evidence of my family’s language. And there’s a reason for this. A year ago my kids’ dad unexpectedly and suddenly passed away. The archive of a life rests in photographs now. Their visual connection to a person, to this part of their history, are cued now from rectangle pieces of paper. And how the content of how those images is interpreted has become a language all its own, ever-shifting, as nuances of daily life stack to interfere with clarity on whatever that ‘reality’ was in the first place. My kids look at photographs of their dad, goofy ones dressed up at Halloween, more serious ones of him holding them in the hospital the day they were born. It is how my son and daughter are brave.

“To build a personal imprint through creativity you have to go beyond your zone of comfort, stick it out, create your own language,” Germán continues. And I would add, on some fundamental level, at least in my family, this individual vernacular becomes essential to survival, collapses time, takes us back to the moment held in the frame, and directs a spray of light to those corners in ourselves that darken from time to time. 

My son says, “What?” a lot. Born with significant hearing loss, he’s world is quieter than that of a lot of us. Tinnitus provides varying frequencies of buzzing and pitched hums that thread across, between, through ordinary conversations about what to have for dinner, homework, the “I love yous” scattered throughout the day. I often wonder about tones and timbre and gain variances affecting his interpretation, in ways creating a new language, one of a different interpretation than mine. I hear, “Mama, let’s walk the dog,” as unencumbered words, straight, stark; for my son this simple sentence is a library of sounds, the wrong parts muffled, the annoying parts accentuated. 

Whether visual or verbal, the creative impulse to improvise and riff off ourselves, work with the circumstances given, is basic human nature. I see it with how my son compensates for the losses in his life. I see it when I find an artist who invests vulnerably and openly in seeing. 

Paul Strand famously said,“Thoreau said years ago, ‘You can’t say more than you see.’ No matter what lens you use, no matter what the speed of the film is, no matter how you develop it, no matter how you print it, you cannot say more than you see. That’s what that means, and that’s the truth.” (Aperture vol. 19 no. 1, 1974). 

You can’t say what you can’t hear or hold, either. But one can remember. One can stay committed to trying. Even if at times it means squinting, or saying, “What?”

I’ve been attached to Germán’s images for a long time. They make me feel. They are intuitive, emotive. One hangs right by my front door ushering in or out the day, light, the people I care about. He says, “The images are correspondences,” and now more than at any other time, I believe that to be true--of Germán’s photographs, of all the imagery I’m drawn to by famous or unknown photographers, of my own family snapshots. 

Germán tells me, “There is the inherent nature of photography being a medium that uses the reality "out there" as its reason to exist, to record such reality....the minds out there trap our attention by the way they see, there are not many of those, and then, I may add, the hearts are even more difficult to find, artists with the honesty and capability of reporting on their own journeys, or who make imagery about ‘what is.’” 

What is, is what we have, remembered or otherwise. 

To view more of Germán’s images, go to

Name index: 
Germán Herrera