Turning to Ovid in a Moment of Transition

A photographer found comfort during the pandemic in the “Metamorphoses,” the classic work on nature and change.

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Photographs and Text by Celeste Sloman

OVID’S “METAMORPHOSES” has served as inspiration for visual artists for hundreds of years, and in 2020 it felt as relevant as ever. It was the first book that I read as I hunkered down in my apartment at the height of the pandemic. Ovid’s cast of human and bestial characters are at the mercy of capricious Gods who constantly change themselves and everything around them into different forms. These transformations are both beautiful and ghastly, violent and serene — a blurring of boundaries between humans, nature and forces more powerful than ourselves. What inspired me most about the “Metamorphoses” (I read David Raeburn’s classic translation) is how vibrant and visual these stories are, and how Ovid captures human desperation and fragility. In making these images I wanted to reflect on the idea of becoming something else. Ovid’s physical and emotional landscapes are constantly shifting. I wanted to visualize the feelings we are going through as we start to transform back into our normal lives, re-engaging with ourselves and with nature.

“Nothing retains its original form, but Nature, the goddess of all renewal, keeps altering one shape into another. Nothing at all in the world can perish, you have to believe me; things merely vary and change their appearance.”

“The part of the stones which consisted of earth and contained some moisture was turned into flesh; the solid, inflexible matter was changed into bones; and the veins of the rock into veins of blood.”

“As wave is driven by wave. And each, pursued, pursues the wave ahead. So time flies on and follows, flies and follows. Always, for ever new. What was before is left behind; what never was is now; and every passing moment is renewed.”

“My soul would sing of metamorphoses. But since, o gods, you were the source of these bodies becoming other bodies, breathe your breath into my book of changes: may the song I sing be seamless as its way weaves from the world’s beginning to our day.”

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