SnapLines - DOUBLE VISION - "View of Factories" by Hew Charles TorranceDavid – Why do you keep trying to sneak peaks at that photo? I’ve never known you to go in for country club art?

Ethan – And I never known you to spend so much time ogling a leggy blonde as ditzy as that one.

David – Those lips give me ideas.

Ethan – Just so you know I tried to chat her up earlier. I’ve met 30-watt bulbs that were brighter.

David – Since when does that matter? She’s got everything else in all the right places. One night isn’t a conversation.

Ethan – Maybe not for you but I enjoy  actually talking while I’m covering ground.

David – So you’re giving her a pass strictly on the basis of her IQ? Even though she’s got everything else on your shopping list?

Ethan – Actually there was something slightly unnerving about her.

David – Unnerving? And that means exactly what in American. Creepy?

Ethan – Confusing and yes, slightly creepy.

David – Like your idea that Professor Coates wore that sexy perfume to cover the smell of her flesh-eating bacteria.

Ethan – Seductive and a little weird but flesh-eating is maybe going too far.

David – Maybe?

Ethan – Forget the perfume. Look here at this photograph. See how it’s confusing.

David – But not weird.

Ethan – Actually it’s very weird. Tell me what you think it’s a picture of?

David – Factories in a snowstorm.

Ethan – Maybe a snowstorm. That’s what makes it seem pretty and soft, something for rubes to go “ah” over. Why someone would hang it here with this bowl of posies in front of it.

David – They’re daisies. Gerberas actually.

Ethan – Whatever. All this snow covers up how ugly the old buildings really are. Snow is like a wig and padded bra. You never know what’s underneath.

David – How decorations doll up a gymnasium to look like a ballroom so long as the lights are low.

Ethan – Yes, but what if it isn’t snowing? What if this is a picture of something that only appears to be snow?

David – You mean like it was just a trick with the camera? Purposely shot out of focus?

Ethan – Or an impressionist’s attempt at capturing the broken light created by refraction through an early morning fog?

David – That’s going to far. It’s just a fuzzy photograph.

Ethan – Or maybe, even quite possibly, this too-pretty picture isn’t of a city caught in a blizzard of snowflakes but is actually a city strangling on the sooty waste of capitalism gone amuck.

David – So which is it? Snow or coal dust?

Ethan – I don’t know. That’s what makes the photo ironic. It confuses two opposite meanings to reveal how something appealing in one sense is unappealing in another sense. One meaning subverts the other.

David – Seems like if this photo was taken to protest against factory conditions they’d have done better to shoot photos of abused mineworkers. Or publicize the rising rate of lung cancer and asthma, miscarriage, suicide, child abuse and alcoholism.

Ethan – If you clearly delineate the qualities and quantities of good and evil then you mask how good people can also do bad things. How improvements for one part of society can ruin other parts. Irony highlights how good and evil can be packaged together. Siamese twins, eerily identical but linked and off-balance.

David – You like that? Being off-balance?

Ethan – Sometimes. It adds layers and complexity. Gives a better approximation of full-truth.

David – That’s great then you’ll be thrilled to know that the brilliant speaker we’re so anxiously waiting to hear tonight is that leggy blonde over there, your very own Miss Wanting-of-Wits.


View of Factories” photographed by Hew Charles Torrance in 1926
Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburg, PA USA