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Here, There

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Lately there has been a good deal of death among my friends. (And, by friends, I mean the people that I am really connected with on social media as well. I have come to care very deeply about their lives.)  I am of an age where perhaps that is not unusual; but, it has caused me to consider mortality and the afterlife and what I suspect is true. To say “believe” is too strong, like the faith of rabid evangelicals, closed to other possibilities.  Yet, I am open to the strong inclination I have to suspect that those we lose are still around us.

I do not think that an absurd idea. In considering all the things we cannot see and still rely on, from radio waves, the spectrum of gamma and infrared rays, the miracles of telephone, television, wifi, etc. that we accept so casually, why would we conclude that the energy a person possesses, their soul, if you will, just evanesces to nothingness?

I sat alone with my mother when she took her last breath; unconsciously, I had started to breathe in tandem with her, until she stopped. I waited and heard the unforgettable rattle, rat-tat-tat, rise from her chest. I still felt her presence but, after about 15 minutes, her body was just a shell. She was not in it anymore.

She and those I have loved and lost are around me, even my sweet little pets. I have stories to tell you, readers, but I do not want to share those here. I can call upon them to sit with me, help me, guide my way. What some call coincidence is a sign to watch, something that reveals itself that we may not recognize immediately.

As a message to my friends numb with the pain of lost loves, take heart. The nature of the relationship has just morphed, like water changes from vapor to ice, the same and different.

 

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artistic angst

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It is embarrassing to admit that I am anxious and insecure about what to photograph. With all the urgencies and dilemmas that face those on Earth, I am focused on ten days of delicious freedom in Rome, in May, with everything already paid for, and a camera which I love to use.

Nevertheless, I am fearful: of wasting the time, of making stupid pictures, and of coming away with nothing but the taste of pasta. NO, just walking around and enjoying myself is NOT enough. I feel compelled to make something that resonates with my spirit, that moves others, at least a few, to feel and think differently through my images.

That is not a simple goal. It weighs on me heavily, as a duty to the privileges I have, to make something valuable, rather than just fritter time away wantonly, like a silly tourist. I do know I have felt this before. Each time, though, it seems new, like a fresh viral strain of apprehension.

In my head I know I have to pass through the incertitudes, the nagging uneasiness, and the fear of failure. BTW, failure, I consider, as failure to my own standards, not to another’s. I do not expect money, fame, or wealth. I crave, on the other hand, the satisfaction of connecting with myself, to my deepest thoughts and feelings, through my work.

I do not want to offend you, readers, with what may seem the trepidations of an advantaged middle-aged woman. I want to share with anyone who, in making art, has struggled with these same demons. I try to find perspective by gazing at stars, watching the news, or moving away from self focus. Nonetheless, this angst seems to be a part of the process. I do not like it, but it is part of it, anyway. I am like the cranky child struggling to crawl or walk. Not there yet, and entirely exasperated.

 

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My Shady Bent

I have always been attracted to stories about the Mob. We have a farm in Southern Illinois and, down there for summers as a kid,  I heard first hand accounts about men like “Black Charley,” the Birger and Shelton gangs, and Old Shawneetown’s Helen Holbrook. Friends pointed out the roadhouses used for bootlegging, prostitution, and notoriously poor behaviors. These tales were the stuff of local fascination. Even respectable townspeople discussed them, awe mixed with a hint of local pride.

I live near Chicago Heights, a south suburb of Chicago with extensive Mob connections. Big Al’s aunt lived in “Da Heights,”(as it is known here) and Al Capone was no stranger to the town in the 20’s and 30’s. The head of the local Teamsters told me about the soup kitchen Mr. Capone set up during the Depression and he showed me the house where Big Al would throw nickels from the balcony to the kids gathered below. He was one of those kids catching coin. Regardless of murders and mayhem, illegal activities, and wicked deeds, Big Al holds a fond place in my heart. Like New Yorkers’ soft spot for Gotti, many Chicagoans enjoy the notoriety Big Al brought, and brings, to our town.

In my high school, a Catholic school in Da Heights, many of my peers were Mob kids. The President of our Senior Class was a kid who wore starched shirts, black trousers, and a silk tie to school, in an age of madras and Beatle haircuts. He even wore a diamond pinkie ring. In high school. He  is now living out west, and doing well I hear, under the auspices of the Witness Protection Program. Another kid’s dad was a local lawyer for the Mob, found shot execution style in the trunk of his Lincoln.

Lately my allure for the Mob has surfaced because I am binge watching Lilyhammer, a Netflix series about an American mobster in Norway, played brilliantly by Steven Van Zandt.  My husband does not hold with my attraction at all. He grimaces slightly when I show him my extensive brick collection from dismantled locales in Illinois where legendary Mob misdeeds occurred.

Easily influenced, I think I need to temper my enthusiasm, somewhat.  Last night in bed, after I had watched a couple of episodes of Lilyhammer on my iPad, my husband came in to update me on the current winter storm warnings.

Hub: Hon, Skilling just said we may get up to 12 inches of the white stuff tomorrow.

Me: Fuck me. (Accent is on “me.” Mob version of “Dang.”)

 

 

 

 

 

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shame on me

I really enjoy playing games on my computer, sometimes.  Gin rummy, Solitaire, Canasta, and Dominoes are my favorites. On the website where I play, one wins badges and gets tokens for accomplishing challenges. There are sound effects that accompany the games, like the shuffling of cards, and bugles blaring to celebrate a win. The graphics are very well done, colorful, cartoony but not overdone. One can choose an avatar to represent oneself that is humanlike, selecting facial expressions, skin color, eyes, hair (color, style, and length), weight, etc. There are avatars with disabilities and avatars in uniform. One can buy clothes and pets and different destinations for it to go with the tokens you win. I make mine look like a younger, slimmer me with cute dogs.

According to the site, there are over a million and a half subscribed players from around the world. It costs roughly 35.00 dollars a year and I have been a subscribed player since 1999. It is rather horrific to think of the number of hours I have spent playing games throughout the years.

As I said, I enjoy playing games on my computer, but only sometimes. During the years I have played, I have learned a bit about myself, not all pleasant. It takes me back to the times, I must have been about 10, when I dumped all the pieces on the RISK board, letting them fly hither and yon, when my brother was about to take over the world. Now I can only play with robots. I used to play with people, strangers, also members of the site, but that was awful. The competition was fierce and oftentimes people would berate and insult me if I won. It was too upsetting to interact with real humans.

So my time with robots has taught me how competitive and petty I can be. I have had to face that I do not like to lose, even to a robot, if indeed it is a robot and not some very underpaid illegal. My computer screen gets full of spittle from the spray of razzing when I win. If I lose, the robot is lucky; if I win, I claim skill.

It is dreadful to face one’s shortcomings, especially when one has no intention or desire to change. I am a bad loser and a bad winner. And, I am glad I stay away from other competitive ventures where I would only disgrace myself.

 

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May 9, 2015

The month of April flitted away with my illness; enfeebled I was by a ridiculously resilient bug.  It edged in, nefariously, simulating minor sniffles, proceeded hastily into infection, and triumphed at end with a pounding round of super tree pollen allergies. I am not whining, just stating the unembellished truth. I accomplished almost nothing, taking an unusual aversion to books and movies. Computer games, on the other hand, filled my days and weeks, a mind weakened me.

Gin Rummy online became the sole vehicle to combat inertia. I sat before my large computer screen and played, sometimes ten hours a day. Food and potty breaks were mandatory, but an inconvenience. Soon the robots I played revealed their subtle personality traits. I perceived slight differences in the styles of play between one robot and another. One was more aggressive, one a bit stupid, another shrewd.  Even the animated cards themselves amused me. The 6 and 7 of clubs, when paired, looked remarkably like a pair of flirtatious Argentinean tango dancers. Cute minis and tokens kept things pleasant but there was a strange dark undercurrent.

The robots, I believe, were not robots at all. Looking to outsource jobs, the Game Center had deployed a good number of the political prisoners in Guantanamo to play with their paying members. Our government was glad that terrorists could be kept occupied and that a US company could prosper at their cost. The prisoners themselves hated us, infidel gamers, but they HAD to play, and were punished if they did not lose. Sometimes when I won I felt I was being patronized. If a prisoner rebelled and won the game, there was hell to pay with the guards. Despite that they figured it was worth it to prove their superiority.  And, in the end, as I despise losing, I knew they despised losing, and I began to despise winning.

I am up and better. May is here.

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The shameful hiatus

This respite has been unmerited and irresponsible. If one has the occasional reader, then respect is due and I have been remiss. I apologize.

I am no longer employed. Since I last wrote, I do not think I had committed to retiring. But, the deed is done and I am no longer a teacher. I am happy, fearful of my financial future, but I do not live in Syria and I should count my lucky stars each and every day.

Because I am no longer employed, it is important to do something worthy every day. It would be easy to stay in my pajamas and watch movies on my iPad all day, with a nap in between films, but I have restrained from doing that. I have begun writing a fictionalized memoir which I began in 1984 but left off when I let someone read it and they were frighteningly enthusiastic. This time is different. I write a couple of pages a day. I write with a pen. When the ink from a good pen flows properly, the story is just as fluid. I use a lined black and white composition book which says Composition Book on the outside.

A couple of pages feels right. Nothing too obsessive, nothing that feels compulsory. I have no idea what I will write, as pen moves to paper. That is a wonderful feeling, like the open road, like a photo of Robert Frank that I have in my head. I tell stories that are made up but based on an element of truth, something I have heard. Sometimes the strange events that occur there make me laugh.

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And, now, it is time to visit with my husband as he is employed and he deserves my attention.

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beginnings and ends, ends and beginnings

2/15/2014

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Bittersweet feelings about the turn of events in the last couple of days. I had a large exhibition scheduled for June in Perú and I have had to cancel because of the baggage limitations of the airlines. The airline, Spirit, the worst and cheapest, told me first that it was a restriction on the Peruvian end, an airport restriction. Now I find it is an airline limit. So, to ship the work would cost me $2000.00 each way, for the large crated images and boxed frames.

It doesn’t matter. I really don’t want to fight on every end, overcome so many obstacles in one hemisphere or another, just to exhibit my work. It is not the way things should be, if there is a real appreciation of the work itself. Why should the photographer have to jump through so many hoops to put images up on a bare wall? As one friend put it, “It’s like throwing a party for oneself.”

I am sick of the whole thing. I just like making photographs and creating images. I want to step back from the pressure to exhibit, whether self-imposed or otherwise. No one is knocking down my door to view my work, much less collect it. I don’t want to look for sellers or buyers.

I felt this way 25 years ago when I left graduate school in 1988. I saw the art world as a bullshit game, with success as arbitrary as tiddlywinks. I continued to make my work but began sticking my head out since the advent of things like websites, online galleries, and greater direct communication among photographers online. Then things started sucking me in. I began to show work, look for opportunities, and submit to publications. I have had some very nice invitations from cultural centers, museums, and magazines. I have had moderate success, good success in the view of some.

The nagging dissatisfaction with the process has not changed. My gut tells me that what I need to do is get back to the place where it began.

I want to take pictures.

I want to shoot film.

I want to develop film.

I don’t want to seek out venues.

I don’t want to think about an audience.

And, I certainly do not want to bend over backwards for anything or anybody.

In a way, I feel relief, somewhat liberated and, in another way, sad. It is mixed bag.

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The Times, oy.

2.4.2014

It’s has only been a couple of days since the Super Bowl, a stupid spectacle in my eyes, and the Super Bowl commercials, which are somewhat less irritating. This year I saw the Bud Light one with a retriever puppy and the Budweiser Clydesdales that reduced me to tears. Blubbering after a 6o second spot that promotes the drinking of beer is the height of lunacy but I succumbed.

What was far more annoying was when I heard about the Bob Dylan commercial for Chrysler. I didn’t watch it live, but my husband came into the bedroom after the game and told me about it. He was mildly surprised but I almost gagged.

Bob Dylan, the scrawny anti-hero of my youth. This was the guy whom I have looked up to as the King of Cool, rough around the edges, scornful, and cynical. At the last concert when I saw him live, he refused to even look at the audience but kept his back to us the whole time. Arrogant but at least in keeping with his disdain for convention and his jaundiced view of humanity.

I said, “Chrysler?”

“Yeah,” said hubby, “and it lasted almost two minutes. Weird.”

Then yesterday I watched it. Well, I watched half of it. I could not watch more than one minute. His grizzled grey hair was dyed brown and his accent, very fake cowboy. I tried to believe that he was singing for Detroit, the underdog city. I wanted to believe that he was donating all the money from the commercial to rebuilding a city that deserved to survive, but not because of General Motors, or Dodge, or Ford.

I was just fooling myself. When he started singing about the greatness of America, I wanted to yell, “Hey, what’s wrong with you, you dick? Did somebody tie you up, drug you, threaten you, and force you to get a dye job? What happened to the rebel who knew that this rhetoric about America The Great is bullshit?”

He just sold out. Like Dennis Freaking Miller. One day, a frothing radical, the next a Fox show host.  He became like his own lyrics. He serves somebody, but somebody that smells like a goddamn Republican.

“You may call me Terry, you may call me Jimmy
You may call me Bobby, you may call me Zimmy
You may call me R.J., you may call me Ray
You may call me anything but no matter what you say.

You’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody,
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.”

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The Times They Are A-Changin’. They certainly are. Fucking A.

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A Truth and The Truth

A fellow photographer and blogger, Lewis Bush, on http://www.disphotic.lewisbush.com, posted a fine article yesterday about truth in photojournalism. One point of his is that no photograph can be trusted as to the message/meaning ascribed to it, for multiple reasons that he describes very well, the least being the manipulations of the image by the photographer him/herself.

Beyond the photojournalistic image, though, I think there is NO photograph that can reveal the truth; it can only reveal a point of view. There is a difference between A Truth and THE Truth. There are photographic images that hint at something that might have existed for that fraction of time. Beyond that, the rest must be left to the viewer to believe or not to believe. Is how we read it based on our biases? Think of other factors that filter the message.

Even snapshots succumb to the need for close scrutiny. We may think them less contrived. And, yet, remember the false smiles, the cheesy kisses, the demands of the photographer on the subject, for example, to simulate a happy occasion.

I like to look at images and see what I think they say.  Sometimes there are gestures that reveal something unintended by the person taking the photograph or by the subject in the picture. We see only one angle and conclude something, which might not be true at all. The photographer may have chosen it because of the message intended. This image is one example of how a photograph can be read or misread.

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I see a grandmother with her hand on her grandson’s neck. They are dressed for a formal occasion, a Communion, a Bar Mitzvah, perhaps a wedding. Her corsage says wedding but I cannot be sure. The background suggests there is a hired photographer with backdrop, props, and lights taking the picture. I assume it is Grandma because both she and the boy have reddish hair, there is that age difference, and there seems to be a close relationship between them. Grandma’s red fingernails draw attention to her quasi-grip on the young boy’s neck. That is the funny part of the image for me, her hand like a ventriloquist’s, holding his dummy.

This is likely an outtake that survived. Had her fingers not been right there, we could have read this quite differently. Perhaps the one chosen from the contact sheets by the family had her hand behind the boy.  But this one made the list of Awkward Family Photos.

Here is another one I like in that same list.

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The members of the family seem prepared with props, wigs, or expressions for the photographer, with one exception, the little girl with her fingers in her mouth. She is caught unready or unsure of what is even happening. Again, the sister or mother’s gesture pressing her two fingers on to the little girl’s shoulder seem to say, “Don’t Move.” The little girl looks a bit nervous, sucking on two fingers, and the balloon just looks sad. To me, to me.

Final thought for the day. Does it matter that we recognize the subjectivity of the photograph? Well, apparently, it does. There is something so convincing about “seeing it with one’s own eyes” that even the most savvy viewer can be seduced by the illusion that it is real or true.

Advertising photography, intended to sell a product, creates a fantasy for us. We may know that, intellectually, but the sales push driven by imagery still works its magic. My current favorite is the Ralph Lauren fashion ad played before and after Downton Abbey, models parading turn-of-the-century-inspired gowns in front of an Abbey-like building. We become the perfect audience prepped for the pitch.

Whatever the image, trust not, at least not completely.

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reverential respect

Right now it is wicked cold. And, the forecast for the week ahead looks worse. Bone chilling temps, -17, real temp, not wind chill. What it was like before furnaces to warm a house is unimaginable. The people who populated these lands, Native Americans, pioneers who settled, must have been very hardy folk. Survival is such work.

In the early ’70’s, I lived in an Indian village in the Andes for a while. The nights were cold, at over 12,000 feet, way above the tree line, so cold that we boiled water to make Jell-O, put it on the wide window sill, and, within an hour, it turned cold and firm. It might get to 10 degrees at night. The room of the house where I stayed had mud floors; the walls were adobe, about two feet thick. I cooked with a primus and there was no running water. About six blocks up the hill, there was clear water, an Incan underground spring with water as pure as pure can be, and very icy. I would fill and carry buckets of water back to the room but, being klutzy, I usually only made it back with two half buckets full.

That was just for a few months. Civilization was only two hours away by truck, which came to the village with supplies at least three times a week. There were dirt roads that were fine. I spent most of the day buying and preparing food, washing, doing chores. I was not a photographer yet, though I used a camera occasionally. The man I lived with at the time was a painter and, as the days passed, the walls soon filled with canvases the colors of the earth and sky, burnt ochres, dark and light siennas, cobalts, ultramarine blue.

The knowledge that I could leave, get to a hospital if I needed, made everything easier. We were there because we wanted to be there. We made choices. One could turn back.

The house in which I sit in now, in front of this computer, where an energy grid I rely on keeps us safe and comfortable, was on Indian Territory two hundred years ago and conditions, for humans and animals alike in winter, so extreme.

Awed.

Chinchero

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