Some images are laden with memories and associations. I’m not sure if it’s possible to talk about this image without also talking about the film it comes from. If you’ve seen the film then you will remember the moment – a man, The Stalker, is lying on a clump of earth surrounded by water when a black dog runs up and lies down beside him. That’s it. It’s a short scene from a long film – Stalker (1979), by Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky. The film is slow moving, dense and strangely beautiful, every one of its 142 shots replete with ungraspable possibility. Recent works inspired by the film include artist, teacher and writer David Bate’s photo book Zone (2008), photographed in Tallinn, Estonia where the film was shot, and writer Geoff Dyer’s book Zona (2012), an unlikely comedic commentary on the film.
But maybe on a photography blog we should be talking about Tarkovsky’s photographs. His book Instant Light: Tarkovsky Polaroids shows sixty Polaroids taken in Russia and Italy from 1979 to 1984 – but when I think about Tarkovsky, this is the image that comes to mind. And it’s not just me, type ‘Tarkovsky’ into a Google image search and it’s right there, along with B&W variations with the dog running left to right and right to left. There’s also a colour version that was used for the cover of a DVD release. Here’s a short clip from the film leading up to the image: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BXyKlqS07tc&feature=player_embedded
I first watched Stalker at London’s Scala cinema at Kings Cross in the 1980’s, along with the cinema’s resident cat, in a lengthy Tarkovsky double bill. It’s always better watching films immersed in the dark of the cinema, but failing that, Russian film studio Mosfilm have made six of Tarkovsky’s films available to stream for free: http://www.openculture.com/2010/07/tarkovksy.html.
All of this is to avoid talking about the image itself: the man, the water and the dog. The trouble is that once the film has been seen the image refuses to remain as a photograph. Its raft of dense associations cannot be un-known, and trying to unpick it becomes an exercise in knowing that whatever I might imagine it means – it’s not that.
Maybe it’s time to watch Stalker again.