對 / Face
Andrew J. Russell, official photographer for the Union Pacific
There is a face a man makes for the camera, another for his commanding officer. But I don’t get close enough to see. I let the gandy dancers stand as they will beside these tracks the company orders them to build. Shovel by shovel mouthed up from cold ground. Their shapes, not eyes I am to graft upon collodion. Here where the railroad’s nerve and flash tremble over towns like packed organs. Mechanics are the flesh I photograph. The men are just for scale, frames to elaborate a different immensity. Not that of war, the trenches my outfit trolled, scouring the churned-up fields, sun’s blank eye staring us down– Battle remnants I turned to stereoscope– each punched-out hole doubled, in its parlor viewing, to a face. What parent, what sweetheart dared to look? The last we took was a bloated rebel an assistant propped beside a gravel pile that, in their converging lines of sight, seemed to reach and scratch my own eyes out. The gandy dancers, I’m told, are former soldiers. Just living. The crack of gunpowder barely stirs them. They laugh as they work in this shelter of a canyon’s shadow. Tender against its stone lip rising like a wave about to break above them.