Skeptical of pat endings and forced epiphanies, an essayist may explore a subject without being required to arrive at certain conclusions. (“If my mind could gain a firm footing, I would not make essays, I would make decisions,” said Montaigne.) A subject that lingers begs for exploration, but next to each room whose door you’ve opened sits another room, yet in the dark.
Beatles Girl won’t go away; she confounds my attempts to understand her. I picture my sentences orbiting the photo, looking for a seam, a way in. An essay about Beatles Girl stymies autobiography—it’s not me, it’s you, I want to tell her. Yet my search for meaning in her expression reveals something about me as well. I’m not simply attempting a biography of a photo; I’m implicated in a pursuit that began in my parents’ basement all those years ago, when as a Beatles nut I devoured the oversized book in which she appears, always drawn back to her after I’d turn the page, the “Red Album” providing the score in the background. She’s sobbing a kind of foreign language. I wonder about her, and also about the ways, and maybe the reasons why, I’ve been tattooed.
Video challenges the prose essay in compelling ways. What I saw as I circled the girl’s perplexing countenance is now in front of you, maybe teasing you, too, with its illusiveness and surprise. What I’ve imagined begins again with you, as you look, either understanding or not the narrative of her face and its blend of light and dark. David Hockney says that faces “are the most interesting things we see; other people fascinate me, and the most interesting aspect of other people—the point where we go inside them—is the face. It tells all.” But Beatles Girl won’t let me in. She isn’t telling anything. Then again: why should she? She’s a girl who’s caught in an unending moment, though she’s moved on, that old paradox. I’m the one lodged back there. It’s me, not her.
One of the difficulties of working with a video essay is how to allow the image to complement the text, and vice versa. I was continuing a monologue I’d first muttered to myself a long time ago, but now I have viewers looking at what I’m looking at, and listening, making up their own minds. How to essay Beatles Girl’s inexplicable expression without saturating that image with voice? One wants to find the right words that might bring an unmoored image back closer to the shores of comprehension.