Sunday, January 23, 2011

A Welcoming Light: The Philosophers’ Club

“Philosophers Club” photograph copyright by Christian Goepel,
all rights reserved, used by permission

I fell in love with the “Philosophers Club” photograph by Christian Goepel the instant I saw it – drawn in by the neon glow through the foggy darkness, the name on the sign, and the barely visible pedestrians in the background (I hope the brightness and contrast of your computer screen shows the subtle details of this image, and be sure to click on the image for a larger view). I like to think those silhouetted figures are headed across the street for an evening of philosophizing.

There are places that hold on to us, and San Francisco is one of the places with a firm grip on me. I don’t remember if I instinctively knew it was the setting of this photograph, or if I subconsciously read the name of the municipal rail station on the smaller neon sign in the distance. It’s more than nostalgia that draws me to Chris’s photograph, though. Along with the elements mentioned above, the story in this image seems to begin in media res. Where have those characters been and what are they up to? How do their stories intersect? Differ? If I could follow them into the Philosophers’ Club, I would no doubt hear some interesting tales. Maybe we’re all just looking for a welcoming light in the fog and darkness, for the possibilities such a place might hold.

Perhaps you have a favorite hangout where you go to hear ideas and share some of your own. I tend to be a listener, one of those quietly nodding in agreement or shaking her head in dissent, content to watch the scene unfold. Such places exist in cyberspace too. A while back, my favorite online haunt was the now defunct Readerville. I still miss the discussions there and haven’t found another place quite like it, though I made some lasting and wonderful connections there that continue today.

Here are some other interesting places online you might want to check out. A relatively new favorite blog of mine is Cathy Day’s The Big Thing, a must read for writers and teachers of writing. Last week, The Millions published Cathy’s excellent essay “The Story Problem: 10 Thoughts on Academia’s Novel Crisis.” I’ve been meaning to post links to excerpts of an interview with Cathy at the Ninth Letter blog ever since it ran last summer. You can read “The Weird Room” interview Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

Numero Cinq is another fairly new site, which began as an experiment by Douglas Glover and his students at the MFA program at Vermont College of Fine Arts one semester. Vermont College is where I earned my MFA, and Doug was one of my workshop teachers there, so I especially enjoy eavesdropping on the ongoing dialogue at this site.

You can count on The Millions and 3QuarksDaily for interesting reviews and essays on the arts, literature, reviews, science, and politics. Since I’m always on the lookout for great photographs and make sure I spend time each day looking at new images, the Lens blog at the New York Times and Mike Johnston’s The Online Photographer are two of my favorite sites. And, because I’m always interested in seeing how San Francisco has changed over the years since I lived there, I check in regularly at Up From The Deep, Julie Lives Here, and Caliber.

Now that I’ve started thinking about various philosopher clubs of sorts, I realize that I have more images of such places, other welcoming lights, which I’ll share here from time to time. A big thank you goes out to Chris Goepel for allowing me to share this image with you.

Photo credit: “Philosophers Club” photograph copyright by Christian Goepel, all rights reserved, used by permission


Christian Goepel, 36, of Larkspur, California, is a graduate of San Francisco State University and a long-time photographer, writer, and transportation historian. His keen interest in photography, public transit, urban archaeology, and sociology developed in his native Chicago and spread to other cities, including San Francisco, where he has lived happily for a decade. Goepel combines his penchant for social documentary and street photography genres, photojournalism skills, and a willingness to take risks to make digital black-and-white images of the cultural landscape surrounding the nation’s railroads, transit, and highways, all the while seeking out people, forgotten places, arcane aspects, and dark corners off the beaten path. He is employed as a railroad manager, transportation consultant, and freelance photographer.

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