The Room In Which I Work | Andrew Seguin
Winner of the Omnidawn Open Poetry Prize
Selected by Calvin Bedient
Evoking the life of Nicéphore Niépce, one of the pioneers of photography, Andrew Seguin’s The Room In Which I Work explores how the invention of the medium was also an invention of language. At once biographical and personal, factual and fictional, Seguin’s debut collection not only provides a unique look at Niépce’s life, but investigates how photography has provided lasting metaphors for how we think, write and talk about what we see. Combining original photographs with poems that range through history, chemistry, collage, dialogue and lyric, The Room In Which I Work is a singular meditation on language and image.
In this continually beautiful series of poems, Andrew Seguin possesses and is possessed by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce, the maker of the first photograph - a “heliograph” blur-shot of his own dovecote in 1826. Seguin brings Niépce forward in ceaselessly absorbing cinematic close ups with partly researched and partly imagined and altogether wonderful authority. The language is a delight: witness “Rain exceeds its noun by falling everywhere”; “Came clouds / of gunpowder to interrupt / my work.” How rare these days: a whole book brilliant without pretention, reconciling mundanity with the most refined observations, and deeply immersed in utter sympathy and respect for another human being.
Cavin Bedient, judge of the Omnidawn Open
Andrew Seguin has exposed the key elements of photography—light and time—and deftly captured their intersection with poetry. He frames his words with captivating original photographs that harken back to the inception of the medium and one of its inventors. This is a stunning and beautifully sequenced work that will appeal to lovers of words and pictures alike.
Dan Leers, Curator of Photography, Carnegie Museum of Art
Andrew Seguin’s The Room in Which I Work is a remarkably well-executed lyric meditation on the histories, the mechanics, and the poetics of photography, from Niépce’s early experiments with “enabling, or allowing, an image…to paint itself on metal inside a camera obscura” up to the poet’s own flâneur-like wanderings through space and time: “I carry a camera, which is to say I carry a question: what should I photograph?” While many of the poems approximate Niépce’s aim to “copy Nature with the greatest fidelity,” throughout the book Seguin hints at the limits of the photographic medium, often by surpassing them in flashes of pure poetic vision: “the rainbow felt forged / by gods playing horseshoes”; “Off went the crow who had ended // the sentence of the power lines.” Lucid, personal, intelligent, moving, formally astute and supplemented with Seguin’s hauntingly playful cyanotypes, The Room in Which I Work is like no other recent book I can think of, and among the most sophisticated and mature debuts in years.
Timothy Donnelly, author of The Cloud Corporation
- Andrew Seguin is a poet and photographer who was born in Pittsburgh in 1981. He is the author of two chapbooks, Black Anecdote and NN, and his poems have appeared widely in literary journals, including A Public Space, Boston Review, Gulf Coast and Iowa Review. His work often explores the intersection of language and image, and has been supported by the Fulbright Program, the Pennsylvania Humanities Council, and Poets House. Andrew lives in New York City.
Evoking the life of Nicéphore Niépce, a pioneer of photography, Seguin explores how photography has provided lasting metaphors for how we think, write, and talk about what we see.
I carry a camera, which is to say I carry a question: what should I photograph? Why should I photograph? For many years I never thought this way. I took pictures.
It is 1812. Russia hisses away from Napoleon like a fuse, and in Germany the Brothers Grimm publish a collection of tales, which includes the story of a man who learns the languages of dogs, frogs and doves. In the Burgundy region of France, Nicéphore Niépce is searching for stones. There is no such thing as photography.
More and more I lift the camera to compose a photograph, my eye flitting through the viewfinder like a dragonfly to find the proper framing, the angle that changes a morsel of the world into a compelling picture, but I do not release the shutter. I am often not able to stand where I want to stand because of traffic patterns, street width, or other circumstances of space, but more often I feel the resulting photograph would have no value, a judgment only the camera can help me to make.
The 18th century is turning into the 19th, the ideas associated with photography are floating across continents — does one refuse to light amongst the short-lived clouds of fireflies, or are they all walking back to their studies, saying it smells like rain?
“The animals of the mind cannot be so easily dispersed.”
– John Berger
Atop Nicéphore’s cane, a dog’s head, carved from bone.