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Art Book Review: Black and Blue by Carol Mavor
Carol Mavor's Black and Blue: The Bruising Passion of Camera Lucida, La Jetée, Sans soleil, and Hiroshima mon amour looks to cinema and art to expose memories through imagery and senses. Mavor takes the gallery of images that fill Black and Blue and juxtaposes them with her own life. She uses these essays to examine her feelings about her mother and her mother's memory in regards to developing Alzheimer's Disease. "My mother has lost herself. My mother has forgotten herself. My mother no longer fears forgetting. There is nothing to remember" (p. 3). In this book Mavor, Professor of Art History and Visual Studies at the University of Manchester, takes an autobiographical look at events of the past—the bombing of Hiroshima, racial tension—and the images that have documented those events, and tells about the impressions left on her life. The recovery of these impressions is often heightened by an artistic experience.
As I read this book, I lost myself in the writing, floating through a dream of images of rolling marbles, landscapes of ash, on the smile of an auntie in an old photograph, of a blue washcloth in a bathtub. The artwork that colors the text is charged with emotions of motherhood, of death, of race and of coming to terms with events in life out of our control. I wandered back and forth between the essays recalling black milk, black rain and black ink, carried away in the melancholy mixed with delicacy. Mavor writes, "Perhaps you cannot see the happiness, but can you, at least, see the black?" (p. 110). Her words are delivered veiled in lace and set afloat on an open sea of mourning. Through literary and artistic sources she brings a sense of physicality to her feelings, such as when she writes, "Proust's Japanese paper flowers and those of my childhood were exquisite and immediate, echoing the intense feeling of an involuntary memory, which is more pure, more sincere than the memories we intellectually strive for. They just grow out of nowhere, and the satisfaction in this is not unlike the satisfaction of making cyanotype photograms (cameraless photographs)" (p. 126).
The book examines post-war French works, Roland Barthes's Camera Lucida, Chris Marker's La Jetée and Sans soleil, and Marguerite Duras's and Alain Resnais's Hiroshima mon amour, but also takes on photographs, literary works, and sculpture. Mavor writes, "In an echo of Marker's Le Jetée, 'this is the story of a woman marked by an image from her childhood'" (p. 16). Her book captures the sensing, without having been there, or a memory without the experience, the scene from a film or a photograph that brings about nostalgia, "Like Hiroshima mon amour, this book provocatively (and hopefully effectively) combines catastrophe with frivolity as the text moves between the public and private, in an effort to make sense" (p. 18). She gives us numerous examples of art to lose ourselves in, try some of these: