In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.
For I have known them all already, known them all:
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;
I know the voices dying with a dying fall
Beneath the music from a farther room.From T.S. Eliot: The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock
Before I came across Like a Beacon on the tube one morning, I had been searching through my thoughts for poems that not only meant something to me, but that I could do something visual with.
A strong contender had been The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock, by TS Eliot which i’d first come across in Max Huzarewicz’s English class when I was 14 or 15. It hadn’t become quite as embedded in my consciousness as Vergissmenicht by Keith Douglas (or rather Huzarewicz’s exemplary essay on the poem – “‘swart flies’ – the adjective hinting at it’s old English meaning, ‘baleful, malignant'” etc) but there were large bits of it that were possibles for visual representation but had rejected it largely because everything it conjured up for me seemed either too literal (“…do I dare to eat a peach? I shall wear white flannel trousers and walk along the beach”) or else too obviously someone else’s visual image (“…the sky laid out, like a patient aetherised upon a table”) even before you get into the difficulty of finding an aetherised patient in Walthamstow…
But now, I had something much less literal, but nonetheless sparked off by the poem. If Prufrock “had measured out (his) life in coffee spoons” I now had another way of measuring time.
I made the image for this post the next morning after taking the first (post-breakfast) tablet. No longer having all three virgin strips, I photographed one strip rotating it so that the lighting (a diffused strobe over to the left of the strip of tablets which were sat on a light box to make a flat, white background and with a reflector to the right reducing the contrast) would be consistent for a collage of three of the pictures to make up the full week’s course. There is still a line to be smoothed out between the vertical strip of antibiotics and the bottom one on the right but the idea works well enough.
So, then I started thinking about other alternative units of time to stand in for Prufrock’s coffee spoons. Back in the days when I smoked, a packet of rolling tobacco equaled five days, or a cigarette was ten minutes; the government health advisers used to say that three units of alcohol (so three glasses) was the amount a man could drink a day, but now they say it’s two. More healthily, while working out how long it took to go down the flume at the baths, I realised I was counting seconds as elephants…
So, I could see a definite project taking shape from this. Perhaps this can become a third idea for a possible Assignment Two (photographing the invisible). We’ll see…
T.S. Eliot: The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock (Poetry [Magazine], June 1915): http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/poem/173476