Online Exhibits@Yale

"Desire to Capture, Desire to Expose: H.D.'s Narrative Devices" by Caroline Sydney

H.D. at Yale: photograph of Hilda Doolittle, Norman H. Pearson, and Bryher in front of Sterling Memorial Library, Yale University.

H.D. at Yale: photograph of Hilda Doolittle, Norman H. Pearson, and Bryher in front of Sterling Memorial Library, Yale University.

The album of Hilda Doolittle, better known as H.D., the imagist poet who lived and wrote from 1886 to 1961 asks the question, “Who is she?” on nearly every page. Assembled sometime after 1914 over the course of many years, the scrapbook is part family history, part European grand tour and part Rauschenberg collage. Her scissors traced the outlines of many women, including herself (and a few men), at once affirming and dictating the roles they play in her life. Looking at the scrapbook unaided by historical and biographical information, it is nearly impossible to identify each figure and his or her relationship with the others in the album.

Photography, and particularly cinema, was important to H.D., who in 1927 founded the magazine Close Up which covered international film. Driven by this interest, H.D. took many of the photographs in the album and frequently chooses to isolate them from their original context, placing them into a setting assembled from souvenir postcards. Just as capturing an image on film points to say: “look here,” so too does the process of collage, which zooms and crops and orders. In this way, she brings the art of the photography closer to the language of a filmstrip.

In Athens, Still Remains Derrida writes of Jean-François Bonhomme’s photographs of the ancient city: “This book thus bears the signature of someone keeping vigil and bearing more than one mourning...” And the same could be said of H.D.’s scrapbook. Though she keeps vigil over the many spheres of her life, her scrapbook refuses to mourn, but bears memories to the living.

"Desire to Capture, Desire to Expose: H.D.'s Narrative Devices" by Caroline Sydney