Paul in Wonderland (from Bill Burden)

(For those who missed my reading of it, here’s Bill Burden’s eloquent and wise contribution)

For Paul, at the Biblical three-score-ten —

Kind of in the manner of a eulogy for someone who has claimed the infirmities of age for at least the 40 years I’ve known him, but still seems to be hanging on.

In any discussion of “what’s next for Paul,” I think we have to get a handle on what Paul is going to “do” in his next incarnation.

First and foremost, Paul Dorpat is the least idle person I know. I sincerely doubt that he is looking to put his harness down and kick back in some senior paradise. He’s too busy.

As I observed during the years we shared a house in the ‘70s (including the time of the famous 40thbirthday bash) everything Paul did — everything — was purposeful. Not useful, as activities that add to our Gross National Product perhaps, but always with some specific end in mind.

How else could we have had the Helix, the Northwest Film Collective, the famous Sky-River-Rock-Fire movie and the ever-green and ever-satisfying Then and Now oeuvre?

And how else would we have the massive Wallingford Photo Walk project (I don’t think I’ve heard Paul attach a formal name or even description of what he is doing, but that term is how I think of it)?

As some of you probably know, Paul has been documenting, in digital photos, an area of Wallingford. He walks (an excellent exercise for our budding septuagenarian) and takes his photos, about 600 per day. Every day.

I have no idea how he catalogues all these photos (and if you know Paul’s movie-recording history you’ll know why I am mystified) but I pretty regularly get shots that have some story to share from his walk that day.

His goal cannot be just to capture the topography and the structures. 600 shots a day for more than a year-and-a-half would be way beyond overkill, or even compulsiveness (I think). I think he has in mind a specific, if daunting objective: to capture, in exaggerated hand-held, time-lapse photography how fleeting and insubstantial the “solid world” really is.

I think the goal is to get deeper into that physical presence, down to what’s really going on in there, out there, in this burning house.

So a picture of a tree isn’t enough. You have to see the tree with leaves, snow covered, dripping rain, spring-budded — not as an image in itself, but as critical piece of a composite yet to be completed.

So I think of Paul as one of the visionary mapmakers who can’t really describe the coastline until he sees all the tides, all the waves. Does it matter how many maps like that ever get made? And that the ones that do are pretty much the same scale as the world?

Key to his walks are the chance encounters with people on the street. Some know him from his walks and pick up in the middle of continuing conversations. Others may become the subject of a photo, a way to add variety to one of his “set” shots.” (In this setting I also think of Paul as “the king of Wallingford, on his progress around the shire, checking with the citizens).

He also takes shots of people, strangers, who interest him. Some of these have stories connected to them, but in others we are compelled to build a narrative, an explanation, based only on the cues inside the frame — a subatomic particle caught in the shutter flash between two entirely unknowable states.

Like this one, that Paul labeled “Out from wonderland, or To the Hole,” which I think proves that sometimes one picture can be “enough”:

Tonight’s theme may be “Paul in Wonderland,” but at least until he finishes his project, Paul seems to be in his wonderland right here.

Of course, the project that Paul was so committed to more that 30 years ago (Sky-River…), and worked purposefully on for many years, is yet to reach its final form. Actually that’s his NEXT project — he’s planning a video edit in the new year … but he will “need some help.”

Ultimately, perhaps Paul’s real job, from which he has never wavered, is to remain busy enough that old man Death can find no idle entrance.

Don’t stop now!

One thought on “Paul in Wonderland (from Bill Burden)”

  1. What a beautiful, vivid and exquisite tribute to The One Who Cannot Be Described.

    Viewed through the rosy lens of the halcyon Helix days, one could be forgiven for envisioning a familial tie to R. Crumb’s Mr. Natural (however tenuous) and The Chink, who Paul himself gave literary life. He has evolved far beyond either hitherto afore mentioned wise men, stepping into his own legend. We are indeed privileged and blessed to have him share his visual and literary wisdom, his joy and ever-present curiosity with us–and always with a twinkle and gleam in his eye.

    Live long and prosper, Paul!

    M. Patience

    PS—Before the teaming hoards arrive, I’d like to reserve a front row seat to the premier of Sky-River-Rock & Fire, and reserve a first edition copy of Helix Reflux, too, if I may.

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