The Whale in the Margin
The Whale in the Margin began as much of my work often has: with a book. Moby-Dick has been for me, since I read it while living in China in 2005, a source of wonder. It’s not that I love playing detective for its myriad allusions or have a scholar’s interest in the history of whaling, but that I am entranced by the story’s telling. Melville’s sentences, with their propellant rhythm and beguiling syntax, are like tow-ropes pulling me through a strange and sparkling sea.
While re-reading Moby-Dick in 2009, I was struck by the idea of taking such a baroque book and transforming it into something spare. I envisioned stripping the book of its words, leaving Melville’s punctuation to be the graphic of what he had wrought, like a musical score or a map of constellations. As a poet as well as an artist, I am always investigating what we see through language—especially through its pauses, gaps and margins. To wit, a comma closely examined resembles a whale.
Transforming my vision into images was a slow process. I began by scanning selected pages of Moby-Dick, excising all of the words in Photoshop, then creating digital negatives of those pages and printing them as cyanotypes. Beautiful and hieroglyphic, those early prints yet left me feeling I had more to do. So I began creating collages inspired by the book from a range of source material, including old dictionaries and illustrated copies of Moby-Dick, which I added to the negatives of pure punctuation to ultimately create a new set of cyanotypes.
Afloat on grammar, the whales in Moby-Dick’s margins finally emerged, as did the creatures and crew of its ship. But its waters remain deep, blue and bottomless.
Andrew Seguin is a poet and photographer who was born in Pittsburgh, PA, in 1981. Since 2008 he has been devoted to the 19th century cyanotype process and to cameraless photography, employing them most often to explore the intersections of art and language.
He is the author of a full-length poetry collection, The Room In Which I Work (Omnidawn, 2017), and two chapbooks: Black Anecdote (Poetry Society of America, 2010), a winner of the Poetry Society of America’s New York Chapbook Fellowship, and NN (Tammy, 2016). Andrew’s poems have appeared widely in literary magazines. His work has been supported by the United States Fulbright Program, Poets House, and the Pennsylvania Humanities Council. He lives in New York City.