“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands, but in seeing with new eyes.” —Marcel Proust
Any visitor to Huntington library and gardens will know that it offers many beautiful sights to see. I’ve been visiting this Southern California treasure since around 1986, and have also enjoyed its expansions and changes over the years. Indoors, of course, are famous paintings such as the “Blue Boy” and “Pinkie,” plus a Gutenberg Bible, the Ellesmere Chaucer, a first folio of Shakespeare, and Audubon’s spectacular Birds of America. The outdoor attractions are equally beautiful, especially the Chinese, Japanese, Australian, and desert gardens. These are among dozens of additional gardens that celebrate distinctive plants from around the world. The variety of trees, shrubs, flowers, and other plants never ceases to amaze. And a visit is not complete without high tea in the Rose Garden Tea Room. I have always enjoyed my visits for academic and literary events and to see the art collections and special exhibits, the library displays, and how the many gardens change with the seasons.
But the Huntington offers another beauty, and it’s easy to miss. All the people from around the world who come and go, and the details they look for, provide their own attraction. We see them in this book, through a collection of finely observed photographs by Don Baird, each one revealing an aspect of the Huntington that is not listed in the guidebook, never pointed out on a map. What’s more, each photograph is presented with a haiku poem that directs our attention, or in some cases misdirects it to produce an unexpected synergy. Together these pairings give us an uncommon look at the common that’s too often overlooked. But neither a photographer nor a poet at heart will miss these opportunities for fresh experiences from careful observation, for fresh seeing with new eyes.
Annie Dillard once wrote the following, in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek: “But there is another way of seeing that involves a letting go. When I see this way I sway transfixed and emptied. The difference between the two ways of seeing is the difference between walking with and without a camera. When I walk with a camera I walk from shot to shot, reading the light on a calibrated meter. When I walk without a camera, my own shutter opens, and the moment’s light prints on my own silver gut. When I see this second way I am above all an unscrupulous observer.” This book, perhaps paradoxically, offers photographs and poems that can be seen without a camera, without a notebook in hand.
Michael Dylan Welch