A friend is liquidating her art gallery and today, for a pittance, I bought a poster with this image. In the dim warehouse where the sale was held and with the soft quality of the paper, I thought the poster was a reproduction of a painting, not a photo. How could it possibly be a photo? Look at it larger: here or here (click on the image to enlarge).
How could a man be standing there so calmly, hands in pockets, when he’s about to die? Yet photo it is. In fact, it’s part of a series of photos by lighthouse photographer (who knew there was such a thing as a lighthouse photographer?) Jean Guichard. All are of the same wave, same lighthouse, same surreally serene figure. Some are even more dramatic than this one.
(Here is an an animation of all seven photos.)
The good news: The man in the photo — one of the lighthouse keepers — didn’t die.
Turns out this is one of the most famous lighthouse photos ever (and who knew there were such things as famous lighthouse photos? Although if there are, I’d say these three must be close rivals).
I thought the poster would be too disturbing to hang on my wall. I bought it because it was so intriguing, such a bargain, and such a powerful reminder that life is short — yet we infinitesimal human beings can do such extraordinary things.
I pinned it up tonight over my desk. Knowing the lighthouse keeper survived makes all the difference. Instead of finding the image depressing as I expected, it fills me with a sense of something good that I can’t quite define. Wonderment. Courage. A reminder that some moments just have to be seized, some diems carpéd. A reminder that, even on a really, really bad work day, somebody else has a tougher job than I do. A reminder that, no matter how irresistible a force seems, sometimes we really do overcome. A sense of amazement at what man achieves despite his limitations. Maybe even (does this sound too sappy to say?) … hope.
BTW, a couple of the above links go to AllPosters.com, a company that has not only a dazzling selection of posters and art prints, but is impressively honorable and very friendly to deal with. No financial interest here. But I’ve bought from them a couple of times can recommend them without reservation to anybody who likes posters, giclee prints, printed tapestries, and other not-too-horrifically-budget-breaking wall beautifiers.