To find out how we got here, read part one.
Blue flag flying. Our intro complete, it is time for the meat of the tour. I can tell you that my group encountered all of the following images. Note I said images, not photographs. This is because I cannot say, exactly, how people experienced them. They could have been nice pigment prints, expertly framed and hung on the wall by our preparator (I have an orange flag for that and it waves from my tool belt at the appropriate times). Maybe they were presented the way you see them now, glowing off some screen, 72 dots per inch. I’d love to think that each was a little diorama, peered upon in a full three dimensions, stray reflected flash bursts shining like some unmoving specters, actors hired when necessary. Photography made real, some sort of photography Pinnochio. That would be special, and would require us all to live inside the pictures. But I really don’t know. I’ve tried writing about it and not writing at all, and either way I end up stumped. All this tour guide business, while a nice conceit, has its limitations. As you might expect, those limitations go hand in hand with the limits of memory, and with what’s in or not in the frame of each picture. What follows are excerpts (in italics) from what I said while standing in front of each of the corresponding frames, whatever image that might conjure in your mind:
Our museum has a fuselage, and what a word that is to start us off! Which syllable is your favorite?
After plenty of research, we are still unclear whether dioramas have to be entirely intentional to count as dioramas. Since photographs do not have to be entirely intentional to count as photographs, and in fact thrive under the influence of little accidents, we have decided to operate from the assumption that dioramas, too, can encompass more than they think they do.
If you’ll step this way, you’ll see what I mean.
But over here, you won’t.
Does anyone believe in ghosts?
Every museum I ever worked in was haunted.
The tough thing about being a tour guide at a museum constructed entirely out of photographs is that photographs get really grouchy when someone brings up “language.” In other words, hm, a museum built of photographs is also a museum built to resist language. Still, something has to spill out of my mouth as we walk around, and whatever does is likely to resemble language. As much as I’d like to, I can’t just gesture and shrug. I have to earn a living.
This is a museum of fragments, each of which is in possession of its own little flat brain, replete with its own history and private connotations. Mix ‘em up and throw ‘em at the board and you’re sure to be faced with an all new, much more generous, but altogether less “logical” game.
In what way is a fossil like a photograph? Think on it, and I’ll get back to you.
Didactic panels? That’s not our style. Look: our curatorial department is just me, picking up and putting down various off-white banners from a stack to perpetuate a self-argument about how much I should let guide-me tell you on this tour. Boring and anxiety inducing! Wouldn’t you rather just gaze upon the woodchuck than deal with that nonsense? You can learn things from the woodchuck’s facial expression. Now that’s a didactic panel. Is that a woodchuck?
No? Capy- No, no.
Nutrias have those teeth…
Let’s move on.
This, from London: A simulation of a simulation of a simulation of a simulation of a —
One of my tour group, a short woman, slaps me in the face. I blink twice.
Right this way, now.
We once watched as this figure hypnotized, albeit briefly, a man with an eyepatch. Though he may have been faking.
And over here is a slippery one. She enjoys nothing more than leaping from one context to another, often without warning. We tracked her down in Kentucky some time ago, when we were working on a totally unrelated endeavor. After a ton of back and forth, we all decided that she made the most sense as part of our collection here.
Think about beige space; of course it would label its celestial bodies.
No, you actually can’t. How would you go about it? It’s a photograph.
We stop here and I point up at the racket. I am silent. I continue pointing until my extended arm starts to tremble. My group becomes restless. Some are gripped by the tension, most look at their phones. The air conditioning hums. Museums are kept cold. Someone sits on the floor. I bend my elbow, then extend it again. Now three people are sitting on the floor. Two more are laying down. Looking at their phones. My arm swings back to my side.
I don’t speak or break stride, just sneeze as we walk past.
When I greet this image with a series of breathy sighs, casting an exaggerated, clownish frown at my audience, it becomes clear to everyone that I am starting to become less verbal. Whether that is due to a desire to let the images speak for themselves, a particular reaction to this scene, or my own waning interest in my occupation is up for debate.
I do sad jazz hands, way above my head, staring right past everybody at a blank wall. Yet morale is still somehow high: my crowd tags along as I stomp off toward the next picture.
This one is quite inviting. Let’s just look.
All of a sudden we have folding chairs. Plastic seats and aluminum, not so contemporary, heavy. Someone wrote “GREG” with a thick marker on the rear of one yellowed seatback. We clank the chairs into position and sit in a semicircle. The gallery is completely hushed. Everyone seems game for this exercise, the just looking. I don’t know what any of them are thinking, and try to stop myself from wondering about it. I’m desperate to shut the group out and focus on my own thoughts.
It becomes an anxious game: I invent a slot machine, flip rapidly past different pictures from different parts of my own history that might fill the white voids. I feel like Mr. Diptych Machine. There’s the first photo I ever remember taking, of an old friend skateboarding sorta well. Next to it is my ex-girlfriend’s cat, a transmission once received over text. How many pictures have I seen in my life? How many in the last hour? Since I made this one, which, gosh, I still like a lot? It’s infinite, right? A strange soup, and you can’t deconstruct soup. I stand.
Remember: This is what we were meant to see.
What do I mean by that? Maybe the next thing we see will clarify it.
And great, the next thing we see is John Kennedy.
And there’s John Kennedy.
Wait, I take it back. Looking at this — I am positive this is a little different than what we were meant to see.
Did anyone come up with an answer to my question from earlier? How is a fossil like a photograph?
Well, that concludes our tour, and I’m glad to say everything went right as planned. Thank you for following along. So you know, you were all just photographed while inspecting this wrecked husk of a fuselage. If you make your way to the gift shop, you will be able to order 8×10 or wallet-sized prints of your portrait. Yeah, just like Splash Mountain.
They disperse. As I watch them go, literally all the kids in piggy-back, I worry that I said too much. Even though I followed the script to a T, sometimes it seems like all this talking just gets in the way. There is so much else to see, but I am the tour guide and the tour is done. I can only hope that they keep looking around.