poetry/photography collection

Heaven is a Photograph by Christine Sloan Stoddard

heaven

By Alex Carrigan

In her newest poetry and photography collection from CLASH Books, author, artist, and filmmaker Christine Sloan Stoddard draws the connection between the creative processes behind creating a photograph and the necessity of female expression. Through a series of poems written from the viewpoint of a female photographer, Stoddard presents sixteen poems, each paired with an original photograph, that underscores the challenge and audacity that comes from capturing both literal and figurative essence through the camera’s lens.

The collection opens with “The Dead Girl Artist’s Scientific Method,” where Stoddard writes “have you ever read / an artist statement / written by a cadaver?” This long poem examines the photographer as both the subject and creator of the picture, especially as she is viewed by a man who doesn’t love her or appreciate her artfulness. “was it my curly hair? / did he long for straight? / was it my mayan nose? / did he want a ski slope? / was it my ripe olive tone? / did he prefer peaches and cream?” she writes.

Other pieces in the collection tackle similar subjects, with the narrator of the poems examining her subjects, who are often female, and attempts to capture them as photography subjects and as people in her sphere. Many of the poems in the collection attempt to examine hallmarks of girl- and womanhood, such as playing with dolls (“barbies only ever owned / a point-and-shoot / for photo albums / never seen beyond home” from “Daughter Behind the Lens”), attending important social events (“do not bring cameras to parties / people want freedom in / their tomfoolery” from “Camera for Company”), and continuing one’s education in more intense environments (“the lens obsessed / do not choose / medicine or law” from “BFA”).

The photographs Stoddard included with each poem are also quite fascinating. Many of the pictures are created through found objects and a good number of them seem to be taken on the same rooftop setting. Many of the objects are transformed with paint and other materials, and finding the connection between the pictures and the accompanying poems is quite a fascinating challenge for the reader, but also quite illuminating of Stoddard’s artistic eye.

For example, the poem “BFA” features a photo of a framed piece of artwork depicting an octopus, its canvas and frame looking as tagged as the brick wall behind it. The poem features lines like “the relentless grip of / societal expectations / could shatter / the skull” and “four years and / nobody knows / what is next,” which seem appropriate for a creature known for camouflaging and for its many suckered tentacles. Other pictures in the collection play with the rooftop setting, covering pipes with masks or drawing attention to the deep gray color of the setting.

Heaven is a Photograph puts the reader behind, in front of, and inside the camera through Stoddard’s evocative photography and poetry. Through the lens of her viewpoint character, the collection demonstrates the universal and personal appeal of photography in an impactful and vivid manner. Stoddard describes the art of photography as it relates to creation, legacy and memory in a way that makes the act of clicking the shutter button both a spiritual and artistic act.

You can find the book here: https://www.amazon.com/Heaven-Photograph-Christine-Sloan-Stoddard/dp/194486637X

Alex Carrigan (@carriganak) is an editor, writer, and critic from Alexandria, Virginia. He has edited and proofed the anthologies ‘CREDO: An Anthology of Manifestos and Sourcebook for Creative Writing’ (C&R Press, 2018) and ‘Her Plumage: An Anthology of Women’s Writings from Quail Bell Magazine’ (Quail Bell Press & Productions 2019). He has had fiction, poetry, and literary reviews published in Quail Bell Magazine, Lambda Literary Review, Empty Mirror, Passionate Chic, Quarterly West, Whale Road Review, ‘Stories About Penises’ (Guts Publishing, 2019), ‘Closet Cases: Queers on What We Wear’ (Et Alia Press, 2020), and ImageOutWrite Vol. 9. You can find his work at carriganak.wordpress.com.