Lance Olsen: Girl Imagined by Chance

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Lance Olsen Girl Imagined by Chance
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    Girl Imagined by Chance
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Girl Imagined by Chance: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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Girl Imagined by Chance Girl Imagined by Chance 

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Lance Olsen

Girl Imagined by Chance

for Andi, camera lucida

Everything exists to end in a photograph.

— Susan Sontag, “In Plato’s Cave”

However “lifelike” we strive to make it. ., Photography is a kind of primitive theater, a kind of Tableau Vivant, a figuration of the motionless and made-up face beneath which we see the dead.

— Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida

It is hard to tell where you leave off and the camera begins.

— 1976 Minolta Advertisement

this isn’t a bad place;

why not pretend

we wished for it?

— Jorie Graham, “Over and Over Stitch”

~ ~ ~

~ ~ ~

EXAMINE THE PHOTOGRAPH as closely as you like, only you will not be able to locate the child in it.

You will not be able to locate anything that will become important.

The couple’s move from the northeast to the northwest, say.

The log cabin and fifteen acres of lodgepole pine just outside the viewfinder that brought them here with the perhaps not completely unpredictable promise of a wired-down life.

A slightly more wired-down life.

Your parents’ long brawl with cancer that wrecked your father’s lungs sixteen years ago, your mother’s breasts five.

How, after her mother’s funeral (also cancer, also breast), the woman in the photograph simply turned and walked down the driveway toward the waiting car, slid in beside you, and drove out of her father’s abusive language.


A butter-yellow Subaru.

Or, say, the iridescent mountain bluebird.

The frisky dry breeze.

The iridescent mountain bluebird immobilized in mid-flight in the frisky dry breeze behind the photographer, a thin-necked cattle rancher in a straw cowboy hat and sharp-toed boots from half a mile down the road who dropped by that morning to welcome you to this new place.

To welcome you to this new place and to check you out, needless to say.

To perform local reconnaissance.

The man who snapped the picture in question when you asked if he would be so kind.

How the sheen on the grass looked to you like someone had spilled white paint.

The electric stutter of the phone as the picture in question was being snapped.

How the scene splintered back into everydayness.

How her grandmother spoke to you on the other end of the line when you answered.

How her grandmother spoke to you on the other end of the line and the pickup truck.

The pickup truck and the hunters that ended it all: the things you can see, the things you cannot.

Her grandmother saying how far away you sounded, how worried she was she might never see her grandchildren.

If in fact she ever found herself in a position to possess grandchildren, naturally.

How you tell a story to yourself so many times you begin to think it may never have really happened. That it is just a good story you made up. Only then you realize you have told it so many times it must have happened or you would not be telling it so often.

How, listening to her grandmother, point-of-view began darting around inside your head like that mountain bluebird, seeing yourself seeing and being seen.

The July light.

Like a television commercial for bleach.

The way, no matter how hard you try, you are unable to locate a single thing here that ultimately matters.

That is what you think about as you stand in the guest bedroom later that afternoon, painting.

What will become the guest bedroom.

That is what you think about until Andrea, the woman in the photograph, says to you, apropos of nothing:

She won’t last forever.

Laughing as if what she said might have been a joke.

Standing next to you, also painting.

A gray drop cloth spattered with ultra-white globbets like an abstract expressionist canvas.

A gaseous brilliance to the afternoon light.

You dip your roller into the rectangular tin, raise it to the wall, contract and relax your arm muscles.

You are both wearing bandanas.

You blue, Andi red.

The problem was how several of your colleagues back east began sporting designer splints for their carpal tunnel syndrome.

Carpal tunnel syndrome and tendinitis.

Carpal tunnel syndrome, tendinitis, and ulnar nerve damage.

She called again? you ask, painting.

Twice in one day. Two times. On two separate occasions.

Her cordless is working, then.

Intermittently. It seemed she was speaking from inside a huge wok.


The technology park back in Teaneck is called Digitalus.

This is not that.

The problem was the Day-Glo yellows and greens, mostly.

The battery’s going, you say.

Teaneck, New Jersey.

Which is what I tried to tell her, says Andi, only she couldn’t hear me, understandably enough. I’d say something, and then she’d say What? So then I’d say the thing I’d just said again, and then she’d say I can’t hear you. So then I’d shout You’re breaking up! Put in a new battery! and then she’d say What? What?

The Day-Glo yellows and greens decorated with happy faces, Apple logos, Matisse-red fish, and decals for frig bands like Frankly Ann and Avian Virus.

What happened? you ask.

She began calling me Anita and then she dropped the phone.


A friend, presumably. A friend or relative. I believe I heard a clunk, a clunk or a thunk, and then she picked it up, the phone, and apparently turned it off, thinking she was turning it on, or turning it up.

The orderly application of paint appeals deeply to you.

The light foggy, like the wrong shutter speed.

You watch your right arm rise and fall, vertically, now horizontally, now diagonally, covering the scuffed peach surface with flawless white swathes as if you are applying overexposed sunshine.

You are documenting the work of Virginia Dentatia, the Italian artist who underwent thirty surgeries, all of them broadcast by closed-circuit television to auditoriums around the globe, in order to more closely approximate a Barbie doll.

The largest virtual performance museum on the web.

This is your job.

In some Native American dialect, Teaneck means something interesting, no doubt.

Her intent was not really to look like a Barbie doll.

Her intent was to prove that no female could actually endure the incarnation into a Barbie doll’s figure.

Five or six miles from where you grew up.

Seven or eight.

It is difficult to tell because every town in northern New Jersey looks pretty much like every other town in northern New Jersey.

Every town in northern New Jersey seeps into every other so that the only way you know you have actually moved from one town to another in northern New Jersey is by noticing that the new set of fast-food franchises does not appear in exactly the same order as the ones you passed ten minutes ago.

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