Peregrination, (c) Reva Brooks.
Train to Calais, (c) Reva Brooks.
Lupita, (c) Reva
Confrontation, (c) Reva Brooks.
Chiapas, (c) Reva Brooks.
Brothers, (c) Reva Brooks.
Procession, (c) Reva Brooks.
Little Brother, (c) Reva Brooks.
Open Doorway, (c) Reva Brooks.
of the Earth, (c) Reva Brooks.
|April 8. 1998,|
I sit in Reva's office, surrounded by
her things, wondering if she uses this room anymore. There is a shelf with many photography books
on it: Edward Weston: His Life; U.S. Camera 1957 (two copies); The Decisive Moment by Henri Cartier
Bresson; Great Photographic Essays from Life; Photography as Fine Art; Photography and Society;
Picasso and Co. Behind me is the door to the darkroom. On the table to my right sits a picture of
Leonard and Reva as old folks framed in silver. Papers are scattered and piled all over the wooden
desk. It reminds me of living in [Millbrook artist] Bernie Martin's studio space after he died
although then I felt inadequate and not worthy of working at his desk which was probably true at the
time. This is my log of being here. My place to write about my impressions of Reva, the encounters I
have with her. The things I don't want to forget. It isn't my journal. My journal is the flower
covered, spiral-bound notebook. This is strictly about Reva. What she says. Who she appears to be.
She is old. Her mind twists and
turns from one moment to the next, skipping into the future and then the past, the time before she
knew me. She keeps forgetting who I am but still she is interested. She eyes me and asks Karen who I
am. She's intrigued by the fact that I am here to write about her. Yesterday she wanted to get started
right away but this morning, when I meet with her, here in her office, the tape recording turning, she
will probably have forgotten who I am. I will have to go and get her. I don't think she is even awake
yet. Her eyes are bright and shiny and intelligent. It seems that she wants niceness but not in a
simple way. Not niceness...maybe joy is a better way of saying that. But it isn't joy that appears in
her photographs. Her photographs are like my words, heavy with grief, opening up a dark tunnel into
the unspoken. Disturbing for some because they deal directly with death, the effects of death. They
capture the personality of it.
"Who's this pretty
young girl?" Reva asked when I first arrived here and sat silently on the grey hearth of the
fireplace. I was busy looking around the room at Leonard's collage works with the echoed moon image,
and the wall-size tapestry with it's browns and blacks and blazing reds. Some of Reva's photographs
are propped up on the piano, their corners bent, beside catalogues from long passed exhibitions.
"Confrontation" stared at me, the feeling in her face caught in motion like the image of a
wave standing curled before crashing. It was the first photograph of Reva's that I ever saw, I found
it in the Art Gallery of Peterborough library, in the catalogue for the 1955 Family of Man exhibition
at the M.O.M.A. I wanted to meet the woman who could capture someone like that, unguarded, raw, the
eyes gleaming with tears and the tiniest metallic reflection of the camera's imagined lens.
"She's not so young," Karen said. Reva's dark eyes,
young and bright, curious, uncovering, examining, made me shy beneath them. "Why, sure she is.
She looks 14, or 16." "She's twenty-five." "Twenty-five!! My goodness!" We
all laughed. This morning the scenario repeated itself. Reva looked at me shyly, unsure, and then
turned to Karen and said "who's that?" Reva looked sideways at me and after Karen said I was
here to write about her, that I'm a marvelous writer, she said "yes but does she understand
people?" That threw me off. Made me suck my breath in. I told her that I try to and I think she
saw later (when I read aloud the small piece that I wrote about her going down the hill to take the
picture of the Mexican neighbour's dead child) that I do. She was confused as to whether she wrote it
or I wrote it. It made me see how much of a partnership this is. Reva telling me her tales and me
translating them into story. I attempt to capture her. Like the camera captures people. I am
photographing her life with words. Random moments. Important moments. The moments of decision that
Reva made, that created her life. These moments include her marrying Leonard, moving to San Miguel,
picking up the camera for the first time; becoming nervous about photography and putting the camera
down and now, Reva approaching her death.
There is so
much to say. This afternoon I felt as if all of my thoughts were too large for the small hole of
my mouth. Half the time I couldn't speak. I sat in the kitchen with the others. Leonard's excited
hands waved his eternally present cigarette around, the tip of it scattering ashes all over the table,
into his drink. His eyes were so bright. We sat around the kitchen table for hours, talking about art
being the arrow of civilization and how if we don't have art we aren't civilized. We might as well
return to being apes. I understood what he was saying and it made me really excited to be sitting
there, talking, while Christina, their cook, gathered ingredients to take next door to her house in
order to prepare her secret chicken mole for commida. We were talking about important things: God and
art, art and society, the universal spirit, things that Lawren Harris would have spoken about back in
the thirties when Reva was in the Theosophical Society with him. The conversation swelled like waves
in a harbour, changing and growing, glinting like glass.
Through the window I could see Raoul watering the garden, dipping his bucket into the
cistern, the poppies waving their red mouths, the blooms of the blue morning glories stretching wide
to receive the morning sun. The birds sang while we sat there, impressions sinking into my mind,
freezing on a kind of mental film, the shutter snapping in my memory. I wondered where Reva's camera
is as I watched her across the table, looking tired, nodding at something Leonard was saying or
exclaiming in agreement. It seems to me an incredible thing that this same woman held that small
machine with such dexterity, wandered through villages with Spanish tripping off her tongue. The
camera hovered in front of her, always ready to receive the moment's perfect image.
I watched her. Brown eyes on the table, fingers reaching for a
watermelon pickle. I feel so young here. Reva crouches on the cusp of her life, somewhat confused by
the remnants that are behind her, the marks of her life that act as proof of her place within society.
Her life's work. I think she is sometimes startled by the importance that has been placed on her
photographs. They are like a script, a silent documentation of her inner vision, flatly, obviously,
visible; the emotion inside of her emerging unarguably into print. The pictures are like artifacts of
her individual society. It is this society of self that has sustained her through her life, in her
efforts to understand herself and, in understanding herself, to reflect the universal condition: love,
pain, grief, innocence. This is what we were talking about at the kitchen table.
How art is really artifact, it's a statement of who we are, and the
best art is a statement of the fundamental qualities of humanity: the eternal search for meaning, the
passage through confusion to insight. I think that art is the ambition to refine ones ideas and ideals
into an image; to reach a clear, precise canvas, a note of stunning clarity, a sentence that rings
like a meditation gong, the sound and vibration of it echoing truth. Reva did this by picking up a
camera for awhile. She took only one or two frames and none at all if her subjects were uncomfortable.
Without any words at all, she drew an emotional connection with the person. She allowed them the
space, the freedom, the safety, to respond to her directly with their eyes wide open and unguarded.
She let them be themselves. The shutter collapsed beneath her finger, the light imprinted itself upon
the dark film, and the individual standing before her became shape and shadow, form and emotion, a
being translated into an impression, a person made persona. "That's me in there", she's said
about her photographs. "As much as my own face". It is her. It's her own face reflected in
another's, a moment of intimacy that snapped like a spark, birthing an image of a vulnerable person,
one that is witnessing the witness, reflecting the vision of the viewer. That vision, Reva's vision,
is subterranean, embedded in the unconscious, no more predictable than what it was she was thinking
yesterday, at the kitchen table, her arms resting on the wood, her eyes rising every now and then to
Leonard's face and to his mouth moving around the words of an article that he read to us about art and
society and the disintegration of both.
Reva used he
camera like I use the pen, like Leonard uses the brush, as a tool for connection to this vision
that I believe originates within a greater self, a spirit that is shared with all others, a connection
that is definable by the simple fact that we all exist within the same realm of universal experience,
knowing the innocence of youth, the inevitable fact of death, the raw pain of a mother who has lost
the baby she barely had. Reva has known these things. She has been the viewer. The viewer is the
artist. The artist is Reva Brooks. The art is ageless.
Lauren Carter is a writer who makes her home in
Peterborough, Ontario. She has finished one as-of-yet unpublished novel and is currently at work on
the biography of Reva Brooks. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Toronto, Canada, May 1913. Married Canadian artist Leonard Brooks in October 1935. Canadian citizen,
resident in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico since July 1947.
2001 Ottawa, Canada, Canadian Museum of Contemporary
1998 Toronto, Canada Stephen Bulger Gallery
Mexico, Casa Cultural, Retrospective
1997 San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, Centro
Cultural Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes, 50 year Retrospective
Mexico, Museo Casa Diego Rivera,
1972 Toronto, Canada, Royal Ontario Museum
New York, New York, Lincoln Center, Photographs of Mexico and Documentary Music Theme
1972 Guanajuato, Mexico, Universidad de Guanajuato
1972 Aguascalientes, Mexico, Casa
1972 San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, Centro Cultural Instituto Nacional de Bellas
1970 Mexico D.F., Mexico, Palacio de Bellas Artes 1970 San Antonio, Texas, Witte
1970 Mexico D.F., Mexico, Anglo-Mexican Institute
1970 Santa Barbara,
California, Museum of Art
1998 Kingston, Canada, The Edward Day Gallery,
The works of Leonard and Reva
1981 Windsor, Canada, Windsor Art Gallery,
Art for All
1976 San Francisco, California,
San Francisco Museum of the Arts, Women in
1967 Montreal, Canada, Expo 1967,
The Camera as Witness / Regards
sur la terre des hommes 1962 Versailles, France, Grands Photographes de Notre Temps
1961 Paris, France, Biblioth"que Nationale
Salon International du Portrait
1956 Hanover, New Hampshire, Dartmouth College
1955 New York,
New York, Museum of Modern Art,
Family of Man
1949 London, Canada, London Art
U.S. Camera Annual
Canadian Art spring 1950, vol.7 no. 3
Country Home, March 1990, Volume 9/number 2,
The Canadian Art Colony in San Miguel de
Friends of Photography, Carmel, California 1972
Family of Man
Point de Vue, D'Art et Image,
Enciclopedia del Sapere, Milan, Italy
BibliothAque Nationale, Paris
Museum of Modern Art, New York
Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes, M"xico D.F.
Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography
David Alfaro Siquieros, Mexico D.F.
Rufino Tamayo, M"xico D.F.
Rico Lebrun, Los Angeles,
John Huston, Ireland
Mackinley Helm, Santa Barbara, California
Ayala and Samuel
J. Zacks, Toronto
Helen Hayes, New York
Kate Simon, New York
Henry Miller, California
Freeman Tovell, Ottawa
and many other private collections