Just a few pages from the end of Garrett Grove’s book, “Errors of Possession” (Trespasser, 2019), there’s a short, enigmatic story by author Travis Klunick. It’s a vignette about a young man who has set out searching for something called “the hum.” The hum is something mysterious yet comforting. It has the ability to take life’s weight off, bringing a sense of calm in this chaotic world.
The protagonist in the story isn’t sure whether he’ll find the hum or even if it really exists, but he keeps looking, because “there’s so little out there that feels like it’s worth looking for anymore,” and he reckons if it is real and he can find it, “I’d like to get into it.” That is a pretty good description about the journey the reader of this book has been on while turning its pages.
One of the most cliched things I have heard through the years when people talk about photography is “I like photographs that ask more questions than give answers.” Well, that and “you need to get closer.” But as with all cliches, there is some truth in the statement. It turns out, I do like work that is a little bit mysterious and challenges me to think. Grove’s work in “Errors of Possession” does that.
There isn’t much that is direct or literal in the book. It is ostensibly about life in the Northwest, specifically the rural areas found in coastal, farming and logging towns in Oregon and Washington. Grove made the photos from 2015 to 2017, leading up to and right after the 2016 presidential election. It is meant to be a portrait of what life was like for the people in that area during that time. But Grove approached the work much like Emily Dickinson’s famous admonition to “tell all the truth but tell it slant.”
I believe that photography can be “literary,” functioning in the same realm as novels, short stories and poems. “Errors of Possession” strikes me as doing this. Grove’s work in this book can be oblique but poetic. We are given glances, feelings, atmosphere and ambiguity but are not beaten over the head by literal description. The totality of the work gives an impression of the tensions, anxieties and uncertainties that seem to be so amplified in our world these days. As Grove told Aperture about the book:
“I don’t think it provides any answers, but it does take the confusion that I was — and am — feeling and infuses it into the work. I’d hope that this work offers a new way of looking at and thinking about the American Dream.”
And that brings me back to the hum. Life is full of chaos, uncertainty and anxiety. We know at least that much to be true. Artists of all kinds have grappled with this quality of life and have attempted to make sense of it for the rest of us. In a sense, they (and we through them) are always out there searching for the hum.
You can find out more about Grove and his work on his website.
In Sight is The Washington Post’s photography blog for visual narrative. This platform showcases compelling and diverse imagery from staff and freelance photographers, news agencies and archives. If you are interested in submitting a story to In Sight, please complete this form.
More on In Sight:
Want to keep up to date on our latest In Sight posts? Subscribe to our newsletter here.