Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Photograph that Seduced Me


"Hunger is the Best Cook," by Myra Albert Wiggins, is the photograph that pulled me heart first  into ekphrasis. Wiggins was part of the Pioneer Women Photographers shown at the Frye Art Museum in Seattle several years ago. At the time, I believed I was looking at a painting and didn't understand that Wiggins had created this scene by dressing her daughter in an old Dutch costume. Even the panes on the window are merely props - a little bit of black construction paper. The table? Built by Ms. Wiggins for the shoot.

I can't explain what drew me to this image. Why did  I return to the museum three years after the show had left?  How did I manage to track down the exhibition catalogue (with the guidance of the gift shop cashier) so I could learn everything I could about this photographer? Who knew she  would turn out to be a photographer, painter, poet, and world traveler?

Today I was writing to another poet who is skeptical of ekphrais - as I was before finding this image. Since then I have written a series of poems on the photographs, paintings, and life of this artist, Myra Albert  Wiggins. Honestly, I think what has kept me interested in the project is how many different ideas become braided together in the poems. I can draw on the image itself, the photographer's perspective, and my own entirely imagined ideas about the subject, the story. One of the reasons I write, and I know I am not alone on this, is to extend my world view.


  1. Thanks for sharing this, Susan. I am also compelled by the mystery of how a particular image or artifact stimulates our imaginations and draws us in, as if it's cast a spell. My poem about Margaret Fuller came to me urgently from viewing her letters that were on display at the Morgan Library in NYC, where I was living at the time (mid-'90s). I even returned to the museum a second time, and in a snowstorm, in order to reread the letters and take notes.

    Good writing to you!

  2. I can see why it haunted you. Love it!

  3. Mari, I love your story if braving the snow storm (in New York!) to return a second time to the museum.

    Linda, if you are interested in Wiggin's work, check out the book "The Witch of Kodakry" by Carole Glauber. It is a wonderful, carefully researched book with lots of reproductions of Wiggins' work.

  4. Linda, I'm so glad you're smitten as well!

  5. I'm looking forward to your Writer's Craft talk on Ekphrasis for It's About Time in May. Susan, I love your blog -- the photography, art, books and writers you introduce enrich the internet.

    I did notice a difference in the book cover but i can't remember the other one. It would be nice to see them side by side.