A True Portrait of Tom Bethell
Sometimes words can capture, partly, a human personality, or at least give a glimpse. Other times a photo or other portrait speaks eloquently in a way that words can’t. Photographer Laszlo Bencze has taken photos of intelligent design proponents and Darwin skeptics, including several portraits of journalist Tom Bethell, whose passing I noted here yesterday. Tom was 84 years old. Bencze sent a beautiful and expressive photo of him, reproduced above with permission, along with this:
I am very saddened to hear of Tom Bethell’s death. Not only was he pivotal in my turning away from Darwinism due to his 1976 Harper’s article, which I clipped from the magazine and still have, but we also became friends during one of his visits to California. He allowed me to do an edit on his book, Darwin’s House of Cards. It was so well written that my suggestions were rather minor. He was erudite and a true gentleman.
The photo was taken in Laszlo’s living room in 2013. I’m no photographer but it seems to me that what the artist is trying to do is capture an image not just of the subject’s body but of his heart, whatever we understand that to mean (personality, will, spirit), maybe even his soul. In my estimation, this portrait succeeds.
A Stronghold Against Paraphrase
This occurs to me, not pertaining to Tom Bethell alone. Take a moment to browse Laszlo’s other photos. I was struck by his images of Flannery O’Connor’s home, including one of her typewriter and writing desk. The photo is accompanied by this quotation from a letter she wrote:
A story really isn’t any good unless it successfully resists paraphrase, unless it hangs on and expands in the mind. Properly, you analyze to enjoy, but it’s equally true that to analyze with any discrimination, you have to have enjoyed already…
The same might be true of photos or of people. We’re reminded of this when people die, and at other times.
I was going to say that the way Tom’s right eye is illuminated, in a penetrating manner, speaks to me. Suggesting a penetrating intellect, or some such thing. But you know what? That falls absurdly flat. When we try to paraphrase — summarize, or indicate in words what draws us to someone or something — and find that it “successfully resists paraphrase,” then we know we’re in the presence of something very good. The more secure the stronghold against paraphrase, the more special the object of our failed praise.