On Friday I saw the Hammershoi exhibition at the Royal Academy following Anisa’s recommendation. Anisa takes photographs of moments in quiet rooms, which are sometimes repeated, sometimes with the focus diffused, sometimes warm with light or with sharp points of detail.

We meet infrequently over tea and I ask her to bring photographs, and I go through them, keeping them in their careful order though she says I needn’t, folding them back into the papers and envelopes that separate them and keep them in their groups. They have a quality that presses its poetry onto the things around the prints, and so I want to be careful with the papers and envelopes, and the cups and the tabletop, and the words we use to speak about them.

Last time we met it occurred to me that I might have been looking at all the same photographs as the time before. Some of them were certainly familiar, some of them might have been new, but in an important way her photographs are all the same thing. They concertedly pace out a certain mood or moment, and it’s in the nature of that mood that it turn around and around and repeat itself, and that it be photographed over and over, in variations. Her photographs seem all to be a single work, though I know there are hundreds of them and I’ve only seen a fraction. She never throws any of them away.

The writing next to each of the Hammershoi paintings is very matter-of-fact, with just title, date, medium and details of the collection each work belongs to. Historical and anecdotal information is kept to panels at the entrance to each room, leaving the paintings to communicate amongst themselves. Walking around the rooms with just the pictures and their acquisition details in mind, I was struck by the strength of witnessing all the paintings together in one place, watching one another’s bare walls.

It meant coming to the exhibition seemed an intrusion into the quietness of the painter’s everyday life, which felt abundantly available to peruse, and which after all I understand he kept fairly close, because not much is known about his private life. One room contained mainly paintings of windows, and so the windows seemed to belong to the room I was in, which put me on his floor.

I wonder whether it was alright to be seeing so much of his work at once, and whether it was a violation of the quietness I felt each painting intended. Though I’m reminded of Peter Dreher’s Tag um Tag ist guter Tag paintings, whose tireless repetition is precisely the element that allows them to stay quiet and to hold themselves back. In October last year I wrote: “Dreher is private, and smooths himself out of his work. What he leaves behind is the cancellation of the project entirely; the pulse of insistent indecision; an anti-manifesto”.

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