Gothic columns of petrified motion,
graceful as a chorus of dying flowers
So go Owen Hill’s lines over Robert Eliason’s image of the northeast corner of Telegraph Avenue and Haste Street. With bright sunlight in the vacant lot where once the Berkeley Inn stood and on the fading Victorian behind, the foreground a silhouette of the spiked iron fence with a shadowy but youthful feminine figure hurrying past—overlays of what the avenue’s once been, is now, and always seems to be. The two Moe’s booksellers’ collaborative series of photos with words, The Telegraph 3 p.m. Project, is now on display inside and out businesses up and down the avenue and on various websites, including the City of Berkeley’s.
“Main Street U.S.A. on the surface/Belies an Emma Gold man dream-world.”
The project began with Eliason’s afternoon breaks from the bookstore, walking the avenue and taking pictures with a digital camera. “For about 25 years, I’d been taking pictures on Telegraph, mostly black and white, with every kind of c amera you’d imagine. A year ago, I got a digital and went crazy with it.” He took more than 45,000 photos over the past 10 months, boiled down to about 200 in the project, 81 with lines of verse superimposed.
“I look for movement, colorful groups; holdin g the camera at chest-level—sneaky,” he says. “I just react, wherever my eye goes. I don’t even have to look for every picture.”
Indeed, he shows an Eadweard Muybridge-like sequence of stills that give the impression of motion, pointing to the one that m ade the cut. “That’s why there’re so many, as many as 600 in a half-hour. If I can get a couple out of all those.”
Eliason says, “I’ve really admired Owen’s writing for a long time, and threw lots of ideas at him for some kind of project to do togethe r. Finally, these pictures of the street just hit.”
“These pictures were just too good,” Owen Hill said. “I had to do something. We’ve been looking out the same window at the avenue for about 20 years. I wasn’t confident I could write enough—and, once th e Telegraph Business Improvement District backed us to hang the pictures up and down the street, I was writing under deadline—writing poetry under deadline is interesting.”
Walking north on the avenue, the 11”x17” prints come into view discretely, same a s the moving tableaux that inspired them do. Strolling by Tandoor Kitchen, two of them attract attention in the side windows on Parker Street.
“Two kinds/of spirals/helix/& volute:/the spontaneous/feats of/the sidewalk/saltambiques” are the words imposed over a streetlife picture, and another, “Often when the community/comes together to/celebrate/itself things get/kind of/messy,” with a group of happy, messy faces.
In the window at Moe’s Books, above the “Almost Moe” bust of the store’s founder sporting his cigar is a picture of the same window and sculpture with the following verse, “it is generous/and democratic/that there is a saint/for almost every situation/there is even a saint for/second-hand bookstores.”
Concentrating more on democracy and p oetry than beatitude is another, appropriately opening with words Allen Ginsberg quoted from Whitman in a Beat poem written in Berkeley: “to lie/between/the bride/and the bridegroom/as the poet said/after eyeballing/the coeds.”
Some storefronts bear imag es of the storefront itself, without any text. There are a few verseless pictures of life on the street (a group of kids playing a sax, flute and keyboards on the sidewalk). Others focus in both words and image on the younger denizens: “Youth/hits the wal l and bounces/away barely scathed/leaving behind a few loose bricks” over a photograph of sun-drenched figures casting lush shadows on a glaring brick wall.
The two collaborators are now recognized on the street.
“Famous on my own block,” says Hill, who lives around the corner from the avenue at the Chandler Apartment, which is also the title of his detective novel (of a private eye working in a bookstore).
There are plans to exhibit all the pictures and a book proposal is in development. On July 11, a t the celebration of Moe’s birthday, there will be slides shown of the project, with Telegraph Avenue street poet Julia Vinograd reading.
“We have precedents,” says Eliason, “That landmark ‘60s book of Richard Misrach photos, Telegraph 3 a.m., was an inspiration for the title of the project. As Owen said, we want to show the sunnier side. But that’s the time of my break, too, when I’m out shooting.
“And about 10 years ago, there were photos of storefronts exhibited in those same windows, like some of ours are.” he continues. “We hope to help raise the consciousness of the street a little, spruce it up, in Owen’s words. Change the way you look at everything that’s going on out here a bit.”
The complete Telegraph 3 p.m. Project can be seen at http://l ostinthestars.com/telegraph.Se