Inside a camera’s dark working space, the substrate is time. The shutter performs its work on it analytically, carving it like a microtome into membranous instants permeable enough to sight to be conceived through. These are, as unscientists say without realizing, slices of life. On one side, our side, each of these slices faces the paginated record of the past. The pages can be grouped by epochs or (take your pick; they’re interchangeable now) hours.

The other side, the side we can’t yet see, faces that which is not yet on record. Because it has not yet been differentiated, it is a substrate for all our senses. Because we are in its presence in the dark in a camera, we want to know it’s there, but we can’t yet conceive it. Waiting in the dark, demarcated under the lens, is a boundary between the image’s past and future existences in time, and in thought we realize that boundary as an instantaneous understanding of something that has been waiting all along for perception.

Then the shutter opens.

It will have opened itself only for a fraction of a second, but the sense of sight which filled that instant before time became sectioned into division is for ever.

This clear, pure and entirely greaseless product, cannot possibly injure

Illustration by Will Grefé, 1919. http://www.americanartarchives.com/mulsified.htm


Notwithstanding, coconuts can injure when they fall from their trees. That’s why it’s unusual in Hawaii’s urban areas (such as, here, the Hawaiian Electric substation next to my neighborhood post office in Honolulu) to find a tall palm like this one that hasn’t been trimmed.

Any discrepancy between the expressed or implied contents of the above documents should be taken up with your insurance agent. I’d recommend Mr. Stevens of Hartford Accident and Indemnity, who once wrote a tree rider titled “Of Mere Being.” Conclusively, in the fine print (it was the last policy he published in his lifetime), it enumerates that

The palm at the end of the mind,
Beyond the last thought, rises
In the bronze decor,
A gold-feathered bird
Sings in the palm, without human meaning,
Without human feeling, a foreign song.
You know then that it is not the reason
That makes us happy or unhappy.
The bird sings. Its feathers shine.
The palm stands on the edge of space.
The wind moves slowly in the branches.
The bird’s fire-fangled feathers dangle down.