Strangers in strange lands Melissa Catanese’s Voyagers
Melissa Catanese’s Voyagers
Aschoolgirl is poised on a small bench, one leg tucked beneath the other, book in hand. What is she reading? What visions of places near or far do the words on the pages spark in her mind? Perhaps she’s reading nothing more than a textbook of boring equations or facts to be memorized. Perhaps it is a tale of enchanted lands full of heroines, monsters, and magicians. Maybe her pulse races out of fear for a princess of renowned beauty, brought under the spell of a witch’s curse. But she could also be reading about Polish scientist Marie Curie and her pioneering work in radioactivity, or British biophysicist Rosalind Franklin and the discovery of DNA.
A stout man in middle age, losing his hair, scours the Bethlehem Globe-Times, holding his head in disbelief. Perhaps he’s shocked to learn of a decision by the city council that will affect his business, or dismayed by the harrowing accounts of a war overseas.
A younger man, nattily dressed in clothes from a bygone era, sits in a rocking chair, a small tome open on his lap, a slight smile indicating his amusement. Maybe it’s the latest adventure penned by his favorite mystery writer or fantasist — Arthur Conan Doyle, perhaps, or H. Rider Haggard. It could also be a bawdy tale of wanton lust or a compendium of off-color jokes loaned to him by an impertinent college buddy.
A woman sits in a darkened room, reading by the sharp glow of an electric lamp she’s positioned toward the pages, making maximum use of its brilliance. She might be moved by the fates of star-crossed lovers meeting in clandestine locations, destined for a tragic end. Or maybe she reads of bearded villains plotting murder at midnight on a fog-shrouded London pier, or of gangsters drinking gin from coffee mugs in a Prohibition-era speakeasy and planning a bank heist. Whatever stories the pages hold for her, she bears a devilish grin.
What all these readers have in common is that they are travelers, even though they are sitting still, ensconced in easy chairs, nestled on benches, or lounging on their beds. They are moved by words strung together into sentences, sentences arranged into paragraphs, and paragraphs comprising tall tales, true tales, biographies, histories, novels, poems, and every possible written form. They are voyagers whose journeys transcend time and place, transporting them out of the mundane trials and tribulations of the here and now. Their travels live on in their minds long after they’ve turned the last page.
These readers — these time-travelers and globe-trotters — are the subjects of Voyagers, beguiling collection of candid black-andwhite photographs assembled by Melissa Catanese, a creator of art books in which she arranges treasuries of vernacular photographs into wordless narratives. She culled the largely anonymous photographs from a collection of more than 30,000. The images show all sorts of people from all walks of life poring over books, magazines, newspapers, journals — any manner of printed material. In much the same way as we imagine the books in these images speaking to their readers, the photos from Voyagers also speak for themselves.
All we can do is imagine in what distant ports of call these voyagers make their steady ways, page by page. And that is what Pasatiempo’s annual writing contest is ultimately about: wonder and imagination. We extend a heartfelt thank you to Catanese for the use of the images from Voyagers to illustrate this special issue.
Voyagers by Melissa Catanese is published by The Ice Plant.