Capturing the Moment: The Intersection of Poetry and Photography in the Work of Paul Shivell and Jane Reece
Photography’s own etymology connects it to writing: photography literally means writing with light. A great many poems focus on light and time, photography’s two essential ingredients. Illumination is at the heart of both, the illumination of something evanescent, intense, fleeting. The singular eye of the photographer is akin to the singular voice of the poet. How alike poems and photographs can feel, both concise slivers of the whole, blinks of time and sensation.
~ Scripps College, 2006
Part of my work as an archivist is creating exhibits which highlight our collection materials. Exhibits give us the chance to show off some of our materials, sometimes the familiar, sometimes the unknown, and to take our materials –usually copies, not originals, by the way– to different areas. Special Collections and Archives is located on the top floor of our library, a place few people head unless they know they want to see us or to find a quiet spot to study. Many of our exhibit cases, including our largest ones, are located just inside the main entrances to our library.
My colleague, officemate, and BFF Toni and I have just finished creating and installing two cases of exhibits that we both simply fell in love with while doing the project. We hatched the idea for these cases back in early winter and have been putting them together ever since. The focus –Capturing the Moment– centers on the work of Jane Reece, a local Dayton photographer from the early part of the 20th century, and her fabulous photography.
"The Poinsettia Girl," Jane Reece self-portrait, 1907.
Coupled with Reece’s phenomenal photographs are other local Dayton artists, notably the Schwarz Sisters, who founded the Dayton Ballet, and poet Paul Shivell.
Toni created the magnificent and hauntingly beautiful exhibit on the Schwarz Sisters and Reece.
Capturing the Moment: The Intersection of Dance and Photography in the Careers of the Schwarz Sisters and Jane Reece
Reece’s photographs of the two sisters capture their beauty and elegance, their graceful movements.
My contribution was the side of the exhibit pictured at the top of the post – the Jane Reece and Paul Shivell connection. Shivell’s poetry is a mix of religious works, folksy dialect poems, and –what I think are his best works– his pastorals, many of which were written about the Stillwater River near Dayton. His first book was published in 1898, but it was his second one, Stillwater Pastorals, which attracted the most attention. Indeed, it caught the eye of one famous American poet, Robert Frost. As I noted in a post last fall about Frost, Frost sent a letter to Shivell, complimenting him on the book, mentioning two poems by name. When I saw that letter, I knew I wanted to create an exhibit about this little-known Dayton poet. When Toni raised the idea of doing an exhibit using Reece’s photographs, I knew it was a winner. Part of the new Shivell collection we have are portraits of Shivell and his family taken by Reece. Between the Shivell collection (which is still being processed) and the Reece collection, there were many portraits available to work with. Reece took portraits of Shivell, including a stunning study of just his hands. She also took family portraits, photographs of his children, and there are Reece photographs of Shivell’s daughter from about the age of 4 or 5 all the way up into adulthood. In return, Shivell had written several sonnets to Jane Reece, including works about her cottage, the art of her photography, and several on specific images, including his own portrait by her. And in a strange, final connection, I discovered that Reece had taken a series of portraits of Robert Frost as well. I love it when things come together.
So, especially since April is National Poetry Month, what better way to celebrate Poetry in Motion than by looking at the unique blending of dance, poetry, and photography, each an art of capturing the moment.
[Note: This post is #16 of 26 of the April A-to-Z Challenge. Please see the button on the right of the page for more information.
Last year’s “P” post: Peacock in the Park.]