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When the Unseen Becomes Visible

THIS is an eye - a horse's eye. Monitor photographer

R. Norman Matheny probably didn't see that when he photographed an ice-edged stream in Southborough, Mass., but this is the eye of Big Jim, a horse from my childhood who stood almost 16 hands high. His coat was the color of the stream in this photo. His brow was often wrinkled and thoughtful.

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I don't know the circumstances behind this photograph, nor do I want to. I can picture Big Jim shifting his weight from one foot to another, waiting for our ride to begin. I remember the barn he lived in. Much of the floor had decayed, and I could see and smell the pigs beneath it. Nancy, the grooming girl, tied her black pony to a nearby post; for years she tended the mount that I rode each week.

This photograph speaks to me on a personal level: It triggers the memory of Big Jim's snorting breath on a chilly fall morning. The farmer's house, where I warmed by the fire, was decorated with blue ribbons from horse shows. A gray kitten, shades lighter than Jim, climbed up my legs and my arms.

Had the shape of the ice been different or its lines less defined, I might have seen the eye of one of the younger horses. There were several of them inside the fence. Their muzzles greeted apples and fingers alike.

Had the shutter speed or the lighting been different, I might have seen a toy horse in a display case and my grandfather's reluctant wallet giving up $7 to purchase it. I might have recalled the large, thick tongue of a Clydesdale making its way from my chin to my forehead.

Perhaps this eye is visible only to me. No one else needs to find what I do, but for me to enjoy the photo at all, I had to see more than just ripples in ice and the velvety look of the water. There had to be more of a story than how the photographer chose to capture and contrast two very different textures on one exposure.

I keep going back to this image. Instead of seeing Big Jim, I now find a human eye. The face is that of a warrior - a statue - his features hidden by his helmet. If I stand the photo up on its left side, I see the arm of a discus thrower and the curve of his back. On its right side, I see a figure that reminds me of Edvard Munch's painting "The Scream." When the photo is upside down, I see a barnacle on the belly of a whale. I'm sure there's more, and the more my imagination comes into play, the more att ached I become to the photo.

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