Take a deep breath
Some notes on Anna den Drijver’s Enchanted Blossom
This book’s title is as clear as it is elusive. There also seems something pleonastic about it. Is blossom not enchanting anyhow, without having to emphasise it? I would argue to the contrary: it becomes enchanted because someone enchants it or points to blossom as something worth perceiving as being enchanted. In Japan the spring blooming of cherry trees amounts to nothing less than a sacred event. There is also something very humble about the annual celebration of a thing so short-lived and transient as blossoming. To our delight its ephemeral beauty is cyclic. The practice of “flower viewing” called Hanami is ancient and forms a recurring motif in Japanese literature and printing.
Anna den Drijver’s self-published photobook Enchanted Blossom expresses a Japanese-like sensibility. It opens with an enigmatic portrait – of a woman resembling the photographer – printed in pink. She is veiled by a semi-transparent texture and having her eyes closed, as if suggesting that the picture story that follows comes straight from a dream. If seeing a photograph is like dreaming with your eyes open, Enchanted Blossom very much alludes to a dreamstate, yet infused by the sensory and visible reality. The second opening image, a few pages into the book, offers a blackand- white view of a cloud formation, later returning in colour in a full-page spread. The ever-changing shapes of clouds boost the imagination, as we remember from childhood, and as so wonderfully expressed in Martinus Nijhoff’s unforgettable poem ‘De Wolken’ (The Clouds). The miracles became words and drifted on, Nijhoff wrote.
The words occasioned by the clouds paradoxically are just as transient as they are animated and reanimated by the poet and the reader. At the end of the poem the narrator lies in the grass with his own child and finally understands why his mother wept, at the time when his own juvenile imagination was so vividly encapsulated by the clouds.
In a photo story of merely twenty-seven images (twenty-nine when also counting the identical images with which the book begins and ends), in black-and-white and subdued tones of colour, Den Drijver conjures up an associative image chain linking implicit themes such as transience, vulnerability, fertility, and covering and uncovering. There is a joy of observing (patterns in) nature but also attentiveness to the graceful limberness of children’s bodies. Twice a white swan appears, at a quarter of a turn, one time in a visual rhyme with a child in ballet position arching backwards, of whom we can only see its bended legs. The short story inserted in the beginning of Enchanted Blossom tells of the different symbolic meanings given to the white swan by cultures globally. And like the long-necked swan (“totem of beauty and grace”) who bridges the higher and lower realms, Den Drijver’s poetic meditation could be read as an invitation to fly high and low, to not pin down any image or combination thereof to a fixed meaning, and to dream with the eyes wide open.
- Taco Hidde Bakker