The Looking Glass

The Looking Glass is a virtual gallery space that exhibits artwork reflecting Hamish Hamilton’s dedication to the beautiful, meaningful and surprising things that enrich our everyday lives. Throughout 2014 The Looking Glass will be curated by Eliza Robertson.

My Stories Think By The Way They See

by Eliza Robertson

I grew up in a house where you could not see the walls. You would see Chinese masks, certainly. Vintage lithographs, woven baskets, tin toys. A Taj Mahal lamp. My dad designed museum exhibits for thirty years; he amassed objects. As a writer, I cannot help but feed my stories through a visual filter. That is—my characters think by the way they see. I don’t think this is something I can help. There was so much to look at as a child. My first word was Mimo—the Sicilian puppet that hung on my bedroom wall.

One of my best friends is a photographer. For her, I have worn Nutella as lipstick. I have pasted my face with hair wax and rainbow sprinkles. Thanks to time with this friend, photography has become of special interest to me. I have written stories off the backs of photographs, and photographs often slip into my fiction. Many writers turn off the internet when they write. I wonder: how do they google-image? My daily productivity (or, to be crude, word count) correlates with my number of task bars. Most of these pages display images—documentary photographs, to remember the shape of a tree, but also “Black and WTF” portraits, ads from old Sears catalogues, dress patterns from Vogue.

Short stories too provide snapshots—a relationship or moment in a single frame. Like a photo, fiction invites us to be voyeurs. Many distinguish photography from painting by its instantaneity. As someone who has waited with a pumpkin on her head while the photographer composes the shot, I disagree. I wonder if one difference between the two mediums is light. A photographer relies on the light available to them—from a natural source, like sun through the window, or the lamps they set up. However, a painter can bathe her canvas in light without sun or a lamp. In this way, they may have more control—like writers.

To echo my Looking Glass predecessor, I include literature in contemporary art. I write and read visual art into fiction, and I hear poems, maybe entire novels, in a photograph or painting (or collage, sculpture, street mural, exhibit). I look for art that surprises me, but also art that jostles me with its familiarity—a face we have no reason to recognize, yet do. I hope to share work that encourages you to keep staring at it. Work that reminds you of a book, or a poem, or the idea you had to write one.