Click and drag images to reveal poetry
“Men sat in the street wagering their souls all / while I just wanted to wake up. / I’ve been here before across the bridge to home,” Micah McCoy writes in one of the poems that bears a weight equal to that of his photographs in Minor Prophet. Implausibly enough, I too have been here before; he and I are from towns just 15 miles apart in a central Illinois county of fewer than 17,000 of those souls.
So I know this landscape intimately. What I don’t know is the world of this work. At least not yet, even after repeated viewings (a state of affairs which I enjoy very much). That’s because – as is proper – Minor Prophet is not “about” any particular place on the face of this earth. Which is to say that it is not descriptive of a location, but rather evocative of a situation that pervades both inside and outside the maker – an ultimately unresolvable situation at that.
There are four “characters” (whom we meet in staged photographs that subtly suggest interiorities that are perhaps not entirely frictionless with one another) and they appear to be a family. Still life pictures – of scissors, or of some communion wafers – portend without too much specificity. The plains are nondescript, and although we recognize a variety of seasons, this work does seem to me to have a mind of winter; one hears misery in the sound of this wind.
Nostalgia is often supposed of (or imposed upon) black-and-white photography, but here the tensions and ambiguities are simply too fresh, too wholly present, to belong to any history. “I do desire to summon a wistfulness but if the pictures relate in some way to the past, I think their primary dialect is regret,” Micah says. What’s done is done, but regret is the inescapable echo of what’s done. It stays always close to hand.
Now – mind you – all of this is the artist’s creation. The actual members of his family, and the actual home and land which they inhabited, have nothing to do with this. Micah is a photographer, and the gift/curse of his camera is that he can (must) make use of the absolutely real to convey the absolutely unreal. As proof: “I didn’t really learn anything new about myself or my family while making this work,” he notes. “I had pictures in my mind that I wanted to make, that I believe say certain things.” This, I believe, is why we photographers choose to work with and through our strange machines. To make pictures – which are new things in the world, and different in kind from that world – not mere documents of things already existent.
Speaking to the core of this work, Micah describes “a family faced with existential crisis in a chillingly desperate landscape.” Every unhappy family is for sure unhappy in its own way; I submit that every artist is similarly broken in his or her own way. Minor Prophet stands plainly as evidence of Micah McCoy’s brokenness, and – more importantly – as testament to his longing to make tenuous communion (to wager his soul) with the people and places that are the stubbornly actual stuff of this world, which is the only one we have.