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[ VOL 002, ISS 0011 ] in conversation with Jesse Groves; About Prayers In An American Church by Robert Adams
Discussion by Jesse Groves & Shaun H Kelly
Jesse Groves is a photographer and gallery director of both Gallery 27 in Santa Barbara, CA and Visions Gallery in Ventura, CA. He is a contributor for the forthcoming Strant Issue 004 and as well has been a contributor on all but one of the previous issues. He and I both have much respect for the photographer Robert Adams and the author Wendell Berry. The two have been a topic of conversation on many occasion for us and have informed if not how we understand ourselves as people then at least how we understand ourselves as photographers. It was fitting then that we discuss and share together, Prayers in an American Church by Robert Adams. The book is a collection of only 17 images by Adams and 12 quoted prayers, some of which were written by Wendell Berry. The time Jesse and I spent reading it together, like the book itself, was a time of reflection on what it means to be an artist and from where one finds quite and renewal.
JG: Have you looked at this book (Prayers in an American Church by Robert Adams)?
SM: I took a glance. I’ve considered getting it. But I’ve told myself that the next few books I get will be by American color photographers. I’d like to study American color photography for a while.
JG: Part of me wanted to pull out some non-photographic book and say this is what we are discussing. But I have a lot of exhibition catalogues more than I have artist monographs. And it made me feel like I need to go buy more monographs because there is really a different sense of what you get out of them.
SM: Yeah
JG: With exhibition publications you get some academic, referential, art historical – here is how this work is placed in the canon of photography. Artist monographs are what the artists wanted to do. That’s an over simplification but anyhow…
SM: So why did you choose [for us to discuss] Prayers in an American Church?
JG: For some arbitrary reason I wanted to discuss a monograph, something that is the artist’s hand all the way through. I also didn’t want it to be any major monumental American photobook.
SM: By Robert Adams or in general?
JG: In general. Prayers in an American Church is personal and is a book created [by Robert Adams] to go from his hands to another person’s hands. I’ve also been thinking a lot about small edits. We think that it takes one hundred and seventy five images that have been edited out of seven thousand images to make a monumental project. That is an exaggeration but anyways there aren’t that many photos in this book.
SM: To bring up other books, Winogrand’s two retrospective books, the first by John Szarkowski and the more recent edited by Leo Rubinfien are both large. But Szarkowski’s approach in Figments from the Real World was a more precise edit. And [the argument has been made] why should we even look at the work that has now been included in the more recent Garry Winogrand edited by Rubinfien because the point has been made.
JG: Right. So why did I choose this book to discuss? Well I wanted a monograph. I wanted something from the artist’s hands to our hands. Something small in edit. And that also was a little challenging. Because, this book, I think is as much about the words in it as it is the photographs. It plays a lot with context. We get a lot out of the photograph by the words forced juxtaposition. It’s a brave little book but maybe it’s a book you get the luxury to do when you are at Robert Adams’ place in life.
SM: What do you mean?
JG: I don’t know that he could have published this in his thirties or forties. I think he has an audience for it now – because he is Robert Adams not just because of the content.
SM: Do you think, and this is obviously all speculation, but there is a religious component to this book. And maybe a younger Robert Adams’ work would be pigeonholed if he were to put this out earlier. He was part of New Topographics and they were this group of photographers saying this is what is wrong. So would his voice have resonated as much had it been known that religion played a role in his life?
JG: Really dedicating yourself to a craft first, maybe this allows you the opportunity and wisdom later on to be mature and honest about every component of your life.
SM: Yeah.
JG: We are willing to approach the fiber of who these artists are once we know the creative commentary they are making in the world. But we don’t want to start with the fiber of their spirituality or their lack thereof. We want to first know what do they have to give. 
SM: Socially concerned art carries with it this rebellious weight. And so why would we listen to a photographer like Adams commenting on suburban sprawl and rebelling against that when he conforms to a certain religious tradition? That is unfair but isn’t that our collective attitude regarding art and religion?
JG: I do not know what religious tradition Adams participates in…
SM: If he even does. I don’t know.
JG: You know though, I love books that are humble. This book is about as humble as a small version of a hymnal or prayer book.
SM: We have talked about this book quite a bit to just now be opening the cover.
JG: [Reading from the book] Robert Adams says, “Each of us welcome quite. As a private person, a citizen, and a photographer these are some of the words I find myself remembering and repeating.” In hearing this as the introduction to the book I have often wondered whether the use of ‘words’ here is meant to stand literally for the prayers or does he also interpret a photograph as a sort of word. I sort of think he does.
SM: You feel like he means the photographs?
JG: Well I think he certainly means the prayers but I wonder if he also means the photographs. Because looking at the imagery following in the subsequent pages, this is not Robert Adams breaking into new material. It is maybe a closer, less juxtaposed view of the subject matter. He has often photographed trees. And there is a repetition of this work he approaches. It’s hard not to think about all of Robert Adams’ work when approaching this book.
SM: Yeah.
JG: But he introduces this book with the text, “each of us welcome quite.” And a lot of his books spend time looking at places where we’ve drowned out the quite with suburbia or we’ve created a new horrid version of quite by desolating the forest. So isn’t it kind of fitting that the next image [after the introductory text about quietness] is of this forest that provides enough shade that when we do see the sky it is bright and brilliant and maybe there is a bit of peering through to an eternity that we cannot see. I love the way in which the limbs come from outside of the frame, and gracefully bend down and touch the earth. But you have to ask is the tree growing out from the earth and up to the top of the frame? Or are the limbs coming down from top of the frame and touching the earth? Is that the earth there? Those questions aren’t the foremost thing that comes to mind, but he captures the way in which a dense forest everything mingles and envelopes – and I think he gives us a lovely way to start.
SM: There is a disorienting quality to these photographs. It’s hard to tell sometimes the difference between the ground and the sky or which way is up. I am not sure what to make of that relationship between quietness and disorientation.
JG: With the title, Prayers in an American Church we instantaneously understand that the sanctuary that we are entering is the forest, and we are enveloped instantaneously. I love the mystery in this work. And in these first few images, we aren’t seeing how we got in and we are not seeing how we get out of here. We just are here standing in the shade of trees, seeing dapples of light come through and touch these leaves.
SM: We really get drawn into his motivations with this third poem. It reads, “Teach us love and compassion and honor. That we may heal the earth and heal each other.”
JG: Look at that growth. How old do you think that growth has to be? I see this one shadowy dark vein of a branch cutting through the frame filled with leaves and yes it is hard not to imagine it being clear cut like so much of the forests that occupy his previous work.
SM: There is now this juxtaposition with his previous work that I have not until now given much thought to regarding healing of the land and healing of ourselves. A church congregation comes together to practice penitence for hope of renewal. Which is a sense of healing. And so all of a sudden this body of work is perhaps more metaphorical than I have initially given it credit for. I have always considered his work pretty straightforward.
JG: Adams wrote so beautifully about Paul Strand’s work, Time in New England.  Strand, who is one of the fathers of straight photography, has that photograph of the church in Vermont. Strand photographs that church slightly off kilter and the right edge of the church is cropped off and the steeple is cropped off. And something is amiss as though some change needs to be remedied. Adams photographed a lot of churches too. In some way Strand was saying that in America change was necessary for us to be the wonderful country that he loved. And I think Adams is saying that humanity can be full of love, compassion, and honor. And he too spent his life showing us that change is necessary.
SM: Change in us or change in the landscape?
JG: I don’t know that I think there is a difference. I think we need more love and compassion for both the land to be healed and for us to be healed. Do you think his work is asking us to change?
SM: Well if it is asking us to change then perhaps it is asking us to please pay close attention to what is change and what is progress. Or what is change in our perspective and what is industrialization. Because industrialization, suburban sprawl is change. But it is change…
JG: Don’t get me wrong, I am not suggesting he is saying change for the sake of change…
SM: Yes I know.
JG: Adams’ images of clear-cut forests say desolation. Paraphrasing his own words, he said when he went out to photograph that which was beautiful he also found that which was not. And he decided to be honest he needed to record both. Maybe we are all fools for looking at those images of destruction and not changing. And back around to this book – we get to look upon hope that what we have desolated is, or can be restored.
SM: Maybe that is what I was getting at when I was asking what kind of change, whether it is the landscape or us? And maybe not just the trees and the forest but a social landscape too. Maybe the question is what kind of change do we need and what kind of change are we pursuing? Because we are changing that landscape to fit what we feel is our need rather than changing ourselves to fit what the landscape already is. It is the same question that Wendell Berry, who is included in this book, asks and it’s the question of what are we to contribute? I know that is a question that you ask too and it is a question that you feel is important to ask ourselves. When we ask what are we to contribute, we are no longer problem solvers rather we are caretakers.
JG: And this landscape isn’t here to gratify our greed. We are in relationship with it and in relationship with all others who will come into contact with it.
SM: Yes and there is an order to it not imposed by us.
JG: We live in a culture whose goal seems to be dominion over something instead of being a part of a relationship and balance and order of things. The world is going to keep on spinning and we should rest knowing that we do not have control. I wonder would I really know how to right myself better if I studied how a tree limb bows and blooms instead of wondering how I can cut it down and manipulate it into some momentary gift.
SM: We are concerned with what is the solution to problem X but we always tend to put ourselves in control of solving X. And it is almost illogical to concede that we are not in control. So lets concede to that. Does that mean problem X goes away? Should that be a concern or not? To say that there is a problem or a concern for which we do not have an answer and to trust in some type of dialogue is a little bit disconcerting. But isn’t that how we should respond? As though we aren’t in control?
JG: You are talking about that dialogue and how it can be disconcerting and both of us said when we starting looking at these photographs we agreed that they are disorienting. That disorientation is in a way disconcerting too. We aren’t sure looking at these photographs where the ground is sometimes. We have to understand that balance of when to, and when not to take an active role of enacting the potential for change and control. But maybe in loosing ourselves for a moment in nature, nature that doesn’t question its own purpose but just does and is, we can then learn better when to have balance and when to sit still.
JG: We are almost halfway through the book. What are your thoughts thus far?
SM: It is certainly a calmer book than his previous books I’ve spent any time with. In What We Bought: The New World for instance, the photographs are easier to read. Maybe the ideas there are more impactful and the ideas here are subtler because they are dealing with issues that aren’t something that you might see people rallying behind.
JG: You mean the imagery or the prayers?
SM: Well I think it takes the prayers for this to work because it is not as emphatic a statement…
JG: Visually?
SM: Visually and the ideas behind the visuals too. This isn’t necessarily any sort of protest.
JG: It certainly doesn’t have that sense of movement like in some of his other books, for instance in Along Some Rivers where we are given pathways or riverbeds that move us through. Where we aren’t intended to look at just one frame but at two or three.
SM: Yeah. And in Turning Back or Denver: A Photographic Survey of the Metropolitan Area you can discern wrong and right and think back to his statement of photographing beauty and that, which was not beautiful.  But this is subtler. And you have to spend time with it. Because it isn’t just leaves, there is more meaning than just what was photographed.
JG: Robert Adams’ work is richly layered with subject matter and thoughtful comparison between that which man has been invited to participate in and that which man has dominated. Or scarred. But it’s not new photography.
SM: Right.
JG: But there is reward from looking at it and looking at it from a place of quite. Do you know what your quite is?
SM: No I don’t think I do. And maybe that is it. When Adams was younger, making photographs of Denver could he be quite like he can here now that he is much older?
JG: My grandfather is in his eighties and can barely see. We were in Pennsylvania not long ago, and I didn’t think much of it at the time. But we were standing near a field of tall grass, almost four feet high. And we are maybe twenty-five or thirty feet away from the field and he says he thinks it is probably barley. And I think that he can’t see anything more than six inches away how does he know that it is barley? He walks over and spends at least ten minutes walking the edge of the field touching it. And looking back now, I wonder what he was willing to get out of that experience? Was it just an answer as to what this grain might be? Or is the wind blowing through, touching the grain with his fingertips – was that restorative in some way, that the experience was more rewarding than just the answer? And I don’t know. But you asked would Robert Adams at thirty be willing to study this and gain the quite and a sense of rightness from not only making these images but sitting in that space long enough to actually engage with the subject matter. And I think there is an allusion both in the prayers and the way these trees are photographed that leads to an otherness, an other quality to the imagery. That is a jumbled way of saying I do not know. But I do not think I have found another place other than in nature where nature is uncontrolled by man that to some extent I feel most alive. A few nights ago it was very windy and I felt nothing more than the desire to go and be in it. And so I did. I left the confines of my home to be in that wind. And I can’t explain why that was valuable but it was. 
JG: What do you think it is about leaves that Adams creates this relationship with them and the prayers about death?
SM: Don’t leaves work to sustain the tree and to bring honor to the tree in a sense? And leaves embrace death. I read once that leaves do not fall off of trees. They intentionally separate themselves from the tree when winter comes because if they did not the water, which they soak in, would freeze in their veins. And essentially they would choke the tree and kill it. There is recognition by the leaf of the importance of death. And there is a renewal in their death as they fall to the ground and are absorbed by the earth beneath the tree.
JG: That is remarkable to think about. There are a lot of components to a tree. And the leaves are most likened to individuality. It is a nice relationship between a prayer for a loved one and a community. And I don’t know that I have ever thought about what you were just saying that a leaf recognizes that it has fulfilled its contribution and now it is time to go on to its next point of contribution, which is to fertilize the roots, which then continues to sustain the tree. It’s still hard for me not to think of death as an end though.
SM: Yeah. There are plenty of open-ended questions. If we liken the leaf to an individual, does it get to continue to be the leaf that it was before its renewal? Does it continue to commune with the leaves it communed with before its death? And obviously that is not important anymore because it is of a new existence. But aren’t those relationships important?
JG: Time is an interesting thing to think about regarding relationships.
It is almost as though you get three quarters of the way through the book and maybe Adams feels that he doesn’t need to tell you the prayer that he holds. There is an image and a blank page. Here is this space, what is your own? He provides some context early on, but as we progress he lets go of asserting his prayer. This book seems like an invitation [by Adams] and feels like a space that is defined but it is completely open at the same time.
SM: Do you think for Adams, that a body of work like Prayers in an American Church leaves space for him to go back to photographing tree stumps and heavy machinery?
JG: I think so. We started this conversation on the topic that you probably don’t get the luxury of an audience for something like this book until you’ve done everything he has done. Now he has that luxury, an audience to approach the work. But I sort of assume that this has been part of his life the whole time. He has done work somewhat similar to this. And this is a lifetime of collecting prayers. Words that he keeps coming back to. I think here is someone who feels the pain of a tree stump more than I ever have. But this is the other side that he gets to share with us. Here is what affirms him, rewards him, and keeps him going back out to say this is important. But what do you think?
SM: As the consumer of his work I do want more of the tree stumps and the desolation but to finally have that opportunity to let that leaf fall is a reward he deserves.
JG: He has certainly been honest in creating that tension between that which is beautiful and that which is isolated from its sense of belonging. But do you ever fully rest if you believe, and this is something Adams has said himself, that an artist responds from a sense of urgency? What do you and I believe strongly enough to respond in that way? Do we ever get to sit back and say that my work is done and I’ve made my contribution?
SM: Maybe when I’m eighty.
JG: My grandparents seem afraid of the forest. Metaphorically speaking. And I think they see those desolated trees more than the ones that are alive and flourishing in the forest. I don’t know. I keep asking myself, when will I settle down and decide what I am going to pursue fully?
SM: It seems exciting to think about always being in pursuit. But it seems tiring too.
JG: I guess I imagine that this book will always have a very limited audience. I think there is something wonderful about it being such a modest number of photographs. Maybe he took in one afternoon. Maybe he took over five years. Maybe over a lifetime. If we acknowledge Robert Adams’ eye in his other work, then much of this work looks as though he has shifted his attention. And here is this dense forest. And here are words that have restored him. Here is the location and space that has restored him. And over here is his other work, his commentary. But we get to recognize there is a hand at work behind it all. It seems very restrained to say here is a space, some quite, and here are some thoughts.

[ VOL 002, ISS 0011 ] in conversation with Jesse Groves; About Prayers In An American Church by Robert Adams

Discussion by Jesse Groves & Shaun H Kelly

Jesse Groves is a photographer and gallery director of both Gallery 27 in Santa Barbara, CA and Visions Gallery in Ventura, CA. He is a contributor for the forthcoming Strant Issue 004 and as well has been a contributor on all but one of the previous issues. He and I both have much respect for the photographer Robert Adams and the author Wendell Berry. The two have been a topic of conversation on many occasion for us and have informed if not how we understand ourselves as people then at least how we understand ourselves as photographers. It was fitting then that we discuss and share together, Prayers in an American Church by Robert Adams. The book is a collection of only 17 images by Adams and 12 quoted prayers, some of which were written by Wendell Berry. The time Jesse and I spent reading it together, like the book itself, was a time of reflection on what it means to be an artist and from where one finds quite and renewal.

JG: Have you looked at this book (Prayers in an American Church by Robert Adams)?

SM: I took a glance. I’ve considered getting it. But I’ve told myself that the next few books I get will be by American color photographers. I’d like to study American color photography for a while.

JG: Part of me wanted to pull out some non-photographic book and say this is what we are discussing. But I have a lot of exhibition catalogues more than I have artist monographs. And it made me feel like I need to go buy more monographs because there is really a different sense of what you get out of them.

SM: Yeah

JG: With exhibition publications you get some academic, referential, art historical – here is how this work is placed in the canon of photography. Artist monographs are what the artists wanted to do. That’s an over simplification but anyhow…

SM: So why did you choose [for us to discuss] Prayers in an American Church?

JG: For some arbitrary reason I wanted to discuss a monograph, something that is the artist’s hand all the way through. I also didn’t want it to be any major monumental American photobook.

SM: By Robert Adams or in general?

JG: In general. Prayers in an American Church is personal and is a book created [by Robert Adams] to go from his hands to another person’s hands. I’ve also been thinking a lot about small edits. We think that it takes one hundred and seventy five images that have been edited out of seven thousand images to make a monumental project. That is an exaggeration but anyways there aren’t that many photos in this book.

SM: To bring up other books, Winogrand’s two retrospective books, the first by John Szarkowski and the more recent edited by Leo Rubinfien are both large. But Szarkowski’s approach in Figments from the Real World was a more precise edit. And [the argument has been made] why should we even look at the work that has now been included in the more recent Garry Winogrand edited by Rubinfien because the point has been made.

JG: Right. So why did I choose this book to discuss? Well I wanted a monograph. I wanted something from the artist’s hands to our hands. Something small in edit. And that also was a little challenging. Because, this book, I think is as much about the words in it as it is the photographs. It plays a lot with context. We get a lot out of the photograph by the words forced juxtaposition. It’s a brave little book but maybe it’s a book you get the luxury to do when you are at Robert Adams’ place in life.

SM: What do you mean?

JG: I don’t know that he could have published this in his thirties or forties. I think he has an audience for it now – because he is Robert Adams not just because of the content.

SM: Do you think, and this is obviously all speculation, but there is a religious component to this book. And maybe a younger Robert Adams’ work would be pigeonholed if he were to put this out earlier. He was part of New Topographics and they were this group of photographers saying this is what is wrong. So would his voice have resonated as much had it been known that religion played a role in his life?

JG: Really dedicating yourself to a craft first, maybe this allows you the opportunity and wisdom later on to be mature and honest about every component of your life.

SM: Yeah.

JG: We are willing to approach the fiber of who these artists are once we know the creative commentary they are making in the world. But we don’t want to start with the fiber of their spirituality or their lack thereof. We want to first know what do they have to give. 

SM: Socially concerned art carries with it this rebellious weight. And so why would we listen to a photographer like Adams commenting on suburban sprawl and rebelling against that when he conforms to a certain religious tradition? That is unfair but isn’t that our collective attitude regarding art and religion?

JG: I do not know what religious tradition Adams participates in…

SM: If he even does. I don’t know.

JG: You know though, I love books that are humble. This book is about as humble as a small version of a hymnal or prayer book.

SM: We have talked about this book quite a bit to just now be opening the cover.

JG: [Reading from the book] Robert Adams says, “Each of us welcome quite. As a private person, a citizen, and a photographer these are some of the words I find myself remembering and repeating.” In hearing this as the introduction to the book I have often wondered whether the use of ‘words’ here is meant to stand literally for the prayers or does he also interpret a photograph as a sort of word. I sort of think he does.

SM: You feel like he means the photographs?

JG: Well I think he certainly means the prayers but I wonder if he also means the photographs. Because looking at the imagery following in the subsequent pages, this is not Robert Adams breaking into new material. It is maybe a closer, less juxtaposed view of the subject matter. He has often photographed trees. And there is a repetition of this work he approaches. It’s hard not to think about all of Robert Adams’ work when approaching this book.

SM: Yeah.

JG: But he introduces this book with the text, “each of us welcome quite.” And a lot of his books spend time looking at places where we’ve drowned out the quite with suburbia or we’ve created a new horrid version of quite by desolating the forest. So isn’t it kind of fitting that the next image [after the introductory text about quietness] is of this forest that provides enough shade that when we do see the sky it is bright and brilliant and maybe there is a bit of peering through to an eternity that we cannot see. I love the way in which the limbs come from outside of the frame, and gracefully bend down and touch the earth. But you have to ask is the tree growing out from the earth and up to the top of the frame? Or are the limbs coming down from top of the frame and touching the earth? Is that the earth there? Those questions aren’t the foremost thing that comes to mind, but he captures the way in which a dense forest everything mingles and envelopes – and I think he gives us a lovely way to start.

SM: There is a disorienting quality to these photographs. It’s hard to tell sometimes the difference between the ground and the sky or which way is up. I am not sure what to make of that relationship between quietness and disorientation.

JG: With the title, Prayers in an American Church we instantaneously understand that the sanctuary that we are entering is the forest, and we are enveloped instantaneously. I love the mystery in this work. And in these first few images, we aren’t seeing how we got in and we are not seeing how we get out of here. We just are here standing in the shade of trees, seeing dapples of light come through and touch these leaves.

SM: We really get drawn into his motivations with this third poem. It reads, “Teach us love and compassion and honor. That we may heal the earth and heal each other.”

JG: Look at that growth. How old do you think that growth has to be? I see this one shadowy dark vein of a branch cutting through the frame filled with leaves and yes it is hard not to imagine it being clear cut like so much of the forests that occupy his previous work.

SM: There is now this juxtaposition with his previous work that I have not until now given much thought to regarding healing of the land and healing of ourselves. A church congregation comes together to practice penitence for hope of renewal. Which is a sense of healing. And so all of a sudden this body of work is perhaps more metaphorical than I have initially given it credit for. I have always considered his work pretty straightforward.

JG: Adams wrote so beautifully about Paul Strand’s work, Time in New England.  Strand, who is one of the fathers of straight photography, has that photograph of the church in Vermont. Strand photographs that church slightly off kilter and the right edge of the church is cropped off and the steeple is cropped off. And something is amiss as though some change needs to be remedied. Adams photographed a lot of churches too. In some way Strand was saying that in America change was necessary for us to be the wonderful country that he loved. And I think Adams is saying that humanity can be full of love, compassion, and honor. And he too spent his life showing us that change is necessary.

SM: Change in us or change in the landscape?

JG: I don’t know that I think there is a difference. I think we need more love and compassion for both the land to be healed and for us to be healed. Do you think his work is asking us to change?

SM: Well if it is asking us to change then perhaps it is asking us to please pay close attention to what is change and what is progress. Or what is change in our perspective and what is industrialization. Because industrialization, suburban sprawl is change. But it is change…

JG: Don’t get me wrong, I am not suggesting he is saying change for the sake of change…

SM: Yes I know.

JG: Adams’ images of clear-cut forests say desolation. Paraphrasing his own words, he said when he went out to photograph that which was beautiful he also found that which was not. And he decided to be honest he needed to record both. Maybe we are all fools for looking at those images of destruction and not changing. And back around to this book – we get to look upon hope that what we have desolated is, or can be restored.

SM: Maybe that is what I was getting at when I was asking what kind of change, whether it is the landscape or us? And maybe not just the trees and the forest but a social landscape too. Maybe the question is what kind of change do we need and what kind of change are we pursuing? Because we are changing that landscape to fit what we feel is our need rather than changing ourselves to fit what the landscape already is. It is the same question that Wendell Berry, who is included in this book, asks and it’s the question of what are we to contribute? I know that is a question that you ask too and it is a question that you feel is important to ask ourselves. When we ask what are we to contribute, we are no longer problem solvers rather we are caretakers.

JG: And this landscape isn’t here to gratify our greed. We are in relationship with it and in relationship with all others who will come into contact with it.

SM: Yes and there is an order to it not imposed by us.

JG: We live in a culture whose goal seems to be dominion over something instead of being a part of a relationship and balance and order of things. The world is going to keep on spinning and we should rest knowing that we do not have control. I wonder would I really know how to right myself better if I studied how a tree limb bows and blooms instead of wondering how I can cut it down and manipulate it into some momentary gift.

SM: We are concerned with what is the solution to problem X but we always tend to put ourselves in control of solving X. And it is almost illogical to concede that we are not in control. So lets concede to that. Does that mean problem X goes away? Should that be a concern or not? To say that there is a problem or a concern for which we do not have an answer and to trust in some type of dialogue is a little bit disconcerting. But isn’t that how we should respond? As though we aren’t in control?

JG: You are talking about that dialogue and how it can be disconcerting and both of us said when we starting looking at these photographs we agreed that they are disorienting. That disorientation is in a way disconcerting too. We aren’t sure looking at these photographs where the ground is sometimes. We have to understand that balance of when to, and when not to take an active role of enacting the potential for change and control. But maybe in loosing ourselves for a moment in nature, nature that doesn’t question its own purpose but just does and is, we can then learn better when to have balance and when to sit still.

JG: We are almost halfway through the book. What are your thoughts thus far?

SM: It is certainly a calmer book than his previous books I’ve spent any time with. In What We Bought: The New World for instance, the photographs are easier to read. Maybe the ideas there are more impactful and the ideas here are subtler because they are dealing with issues that aren’t something that you might see people rallying behind.

JG: You mean the imagery or the prayers?

SM: Well I think it takes the prayers for this to work because it is not as emphatic a statement…

JG: Visually?

SM: Visually and the ideas behind the visuals too. This isn’t necessarily any sort of protest.

JG: It certainly doesn’t have that sense of movement like in some of his other books, for instance in Along Some Rivers where we are given pathways or riverbeds that move us through. Where we aren’t intended to look at just one frame but at two or three.

SM: Yeah. And in Turning Back or Denver: A Photographic Survey of the Metropolitan Area you can discern wrong and right and think back to his statement of photographing beauty and that, which was not beautiful.  But this is subtler. And you have to spend time with it. Because it isn’t just leaves, there is more meaning than just what was photographed.

JG: Robert Adams’ work is richly layered with subject matter and thoughtful comparison between that which man has been invited to participate in and that which man has dominated. Or scarred. But it’s not new photography.

SM: Right.

JG: But there is reward from looking at it and looking at it from a place of quite. Do you know what your quite is?

SM: No I don’t think I do. And maybe that is it. When Adams was younger, making photographs of Denver could he be quite like he can here now that he is much older?

JG: My grandfather is in his eighties and can barely see. We were in Pennsylvania not long ago, and I didn’t think much of it at the time. But we were standing near a field of tall grass, almost four feet high. And we are maybe twenty-five or thirty feet away from the field and he says he thinks it is probably barley. And I think that he can’t see anything more than six inches away how does he know that it is barley? He walks over and spends at least ten minutes walking the edge of the field touching it. And looking back now, I wonder what he was willing to get out of that experience? Was it just an answer as to what this grain might be? Or is the wind blowing through, touching the grain with his fingertips – was that restorative in some way, that the experience was more rewarding than just the answer? And I don’t know. But you asked would Robert Adams at thirty be willing to study this and gain the quite and a sense of rightness from not only making these images but sitting in that space long enough to actually engage with the subject matter. And I think there is an allusion both in the prayers and the way these trees are photographed that leads to an otherness, an other quality to the imagery. That is a jumbled way of saying I do not know. But I do not think I have found another place other than in nature where nature is uncontrolled by man that to some extent I feel most alive. A few nights ago it was very windy and I felt nothing more than the desire to go and be in it. And so I did. I left the confines of my home to be in that wind. And I can’t explain why that was valuable but it was. 

JG: What do you think it is about leaves that Adams creates this relationship with them and the prayers about death?

SM: Don’t leaves work to sustain the tree and to bring honor to the tree in a sense? And leaves embrace death. I read once that leaves do not fall off of trees. They intentionally separate themselves from the tree when winter comes because if they did not the water, which they soak in, would freeze in their veins. And essentially they would choke the tree and kill it. There is recognition by the leaf of the importance of death. And there is a renewal in their death as they fall to the ground and are absorbed by the earth beneath the tree.

JG: That is remarkable to think about. There are a lot of components to a tree. And the leaves are most likened to individuality. It is a nice relationship between a prayer for a loved one and a community. And I don’t know that I have ever thought about what you were just saying that a leaf recognizes that it has fulfilled its contribution and now it is time to go on to its next point of contribution, which is to fertilize the roots, which then continues to sustain the tree. It’s still hard for me not to think of death as an end though.

SM: Yeah. There are plenty of open-ended questions. If we liken the leaf to an individual, does it get to continue to be the leaf that it was before its renewal? Does it continue to commune with the leaves it communed with before its death? And obviously that is not important anymore because it is of a new existence. But aren’t those relationships important?

JG: Time is an interesting thing to think about regarding relationships.

It is almost as though you get three quarters of the way through the book and maybe Adams feels that he doesn’t need to tell you the prayer that he holds. There is an image and a blank page. Here is this space, what is your own? He provides some context early on, but as we progress he lets go of asserting his prayer. This book seems like an invitation [by Adams] and feels like a space that is defined but it is completely open at the same time.

SM: Do you think for Adams, that a body of work like Prayers in an American Church leaves space for him to go back to photographing tree stumps and heavy machinery?

JG: I think so. We started this conversation on the topic that you probably don’t get the luxury of an audience for something like this book until you’ve done everything he has done. Now he has that luxury, an audience to approach the work. But I sort of assume that this has been part of his life the whole time. He has done work somewhat similar to this. And this is a lifetime of collecting prayers. Words that he keeps coming back to. I think here is someone who feels the pain of a tree stump more than I ever have. But this is the other side that he gets to share with us. Here is what affirms him, rewards him, and keeps him going back out to say this is important. But what do you think?

SM: As the consumer of his work I do want more of the tree stumps and the desolation but to finally have that opportunity to let that leaf fall is a reward he deserves.

JG: He has certainly been honest in creating that tension between that which is beautiful and that which is isolated from its sense of belonging. But do you ever fully rest if you believe, and this is something Adams has said himself, that an artist responds from a sense of urgency? What do you and I believe strongly enough to respond in that way? Do we ever get to sit back and say that my work is done and I’ve made my contribution?

SM: Maybe when I’m eighty.

JG: My grandparents seem afraid of the forest. Metaphorically speaking. And I think they see those desolated trees more than the ones that are alive and flourishing in the forest. I don’t know. I keep asking myself, when will I settle down and decide what I am going to pursue fully?

SM: It seems exciting to think about always being in pursuit. But it seems tiring too.

JG: I guess I imagine that this book will always have a very limited audience. I think there is something wonderful about it being such a modest number of photographs. Maybe he took in one afternoon. Maybe he took over five years. Maybe over a lifetime. If we acknowledge Robert Adams’ eye in his other work, then much of this work looks as though he has shifted his attention. And here is this dense forest. And here are words that have restored him. Here is the location and space that has restored him. And over here is his other work, his commentary. But we get to recognize there is a hand at work behind it all. It seems very restrained to say here is a space, some quite, and here are some thoughts.

[ VOL 002, ISS 0011 ] William Christenberry – Working from Memory
Review by Shaun H Kelly
Last week I wrote about the dialogue which photography creates. That ongoing conversation is not without the voice of William Christenberry. He has picked up the conversation that Walker Evans started (or also had continued). It was Walker Evans who encouraged and convinced Christenberry to pursue photography as the medium itself rather than as a tool for painting. Look at Evans’s photographs of the rural south and one might think Evans to be arrogant, recognizing that someone else had a very similar aesthetic and that same aesthetic should be celebrated. However it was perhaps that Evans recognized not himself in Christenberry’s work but rather that both of them had an ability to contribute to this conversation bigger than them both.
Christenberry has dedicated himself to the study of a place and time. For over thirty years now he has returned annually to his home in Alabama to photograph the same vernacular architecture and cultural demarcations of the place he knew growing up. He has done so over and over again and in this routine, has communed with the place he loves, building a relationship of patient observance as both he and that place change. If pursuits in photography can make one a better person (which I also argued in last week’s post) by way of that communion with subject then I believe Christenberry to be if not a good person then at least a person relentlessly trying to be good. Having never met or known Christenberry, I cannot speak with any certainty as to what type of person he is however, Working from Memory is evidence that at least one some occasions Christenberry has pursued his art not as the final intent but rather as a means to respectfully and lovingly live in relationship with that of which he is a part.
Working from Memory is a collection of stories compiled and edited by Susanne Lange. As Lange says in the introduction, it is a book “devoted exclusively to the story-telling element in American artist William Christenberry’s work. Putting that aspect into words, expressing the poetic and narrative quality of his art, is something no one is better able to do than the artist himself.” And so the stories throughout are ones told as by Christenberry in conversation with Lange over the years. Though lyrical they are humble. They carry with them a certain effusiveness. The stories do not speak much to the process of Christenberry’s work. Rather they reveal what happens on the periphery, outside of the art itself. Individuals are affected less in response to his art and more in response to him being a decent human being by how he lives in relationship to the people who also share in the place he calls home. The stories are without pomp and bear the same tone as the southern vernacular that is his subject matter: a straightforward simplicity that like the south evokes much more than what is on the surface. Syntax and word choice by Christenberry linger like the chipped paint on any number of buildings he has photographed. The weight of those words might be the cause as to why the rooftops of old dilapidated buildings sag. More than gravity alone pushes down on those rooftops. It is the weight of history and time, as shared in his stories, that push heavy on the reader as well leaving enough to consider about a particular place and what it means to live in and be a product of a particular place. As evidenced by these stories Christenberry does not take, rather he gives. And perhaps most importantly, he does so perhaps less as an artist and more as a man.

[ VOL 002, ISS 0011 ] William Christenberry – Working from Memory

Review by Shaun H Kelly

Last week I wrote about the dialogue which photography creates. That ongoing conversation is not without the voice of William Christenberry. He has picked up the conversation that Walker Evans started (or also had continued). It was Walker Evans who encouraged and convinced Christenberry to pursue photography as the medium itself rather than as a tool for painting. Look at Evans’s photographs of the rural south and one might think Evans to be arrogant, recognizing that someone else had a very similar aesthetic and that same aesthetic should be celebrated. However it was perhaps that Evans recognized not himself in Christenberry’s work but rather that both of them had an ability to contribute to this conversation bigger than them both.

Christenberry has dedicated himself to the study of a place and time. For over thirty years now he has returned annually to his home in Alabama to photograph the same vernacular architecture and cultural demarcations of the place he knew growing up. He has done so over and over again and in this routine, has communed with the place he loves, building a relationship of patient observance as both he and that place change. If pursuits in photography can make one a better person (which I also argued in last week’s post) by way of that communion with subject then I believe Christenberry to be if not a good person then at least a person relentlessly trying to be good. Having never met or known Christenberry, I cannot speak with any certainty as to what type of person he is however, Working from Memory is evidence that at least one some occasions Christenberry has pursued his art not as the final intent but rather as a means to respectfully and lovingly live in relationship with that of which he is a part.

Working from Memory is a collection of stories compiled and edited by Susanne Lange. As Lange says in the introduction, it is a book “devoted exclusively to the story-telling element in American artist William Christenberry’s work. Putting that aspect into words, expressing the poetic and narrative quality of his art, is something no one is better able to do than the artist himself.” And so the stories throughout are ones told as by Christenberry in conversation with Lange over the years. Though lyrical they are humble. They carry with them a certain effusiveness. The stories do not speak much to the process of Christenberry’s work. Rather they reveal what happens on the periphery, outside of the art itself. Individuals are affected less in response to his art and more in response to him being a decent human being by how he lives in relationship to the people who also share in the place he calls home. The stories are without pomp and bear the same tone as the southern vernacular that is his subject matter: a straightforward simplicity that like the south evokes much more than what is on the surface. Syntax and word choice by Christenberry linger like the chipped paint on any number of buildings he has photographed. The weight of those words might be the cause as to why the rooftops of old dilapidated buildings sag. More than gravity alone pushes down on those rooftops. It is the weight of history and time, as shared in his stories, that push heavy on the reader as well leaving enough to consider about a particular place and what it means to live in and be a product of a particular place. As evidenced by these stories Christenberry does not take, rather he gives. And perhaps most importantly, he does so perhaps less as an artist and more as a man.

[ VOL 002, ISS 0011 ] Once by Wim Wenders
Review by Shaun H Kelly
Animated GIFs are at best anxiety invoking, shortsighted, incomplete thoughts. In perpetuity the moment repeats itself over and over and on and on and on. Like reaching the peak of some digital mountaintop without the climb, without effort and without having to go back down, what happened before and what happened after does not matter and all narrative is lost. You are just there, on the top of that internet summit pumping your fist in victory for what I am not sure, stuck in a self-indulgent moment of climactic theme akin to Sisyphus rolling his rock except instead of eternal toil, you experience (what is supposed to be) some eternal bliss. But really, when something is fated to be repeated over and over again, is there even a difference between labor or leisure, happiness or angst? GIFs are a shortness of breath. Like an asthma attack without an inhaler.
In 1993 Counting Crows released August and Everything After. I was fourteen years old and so it was a perfectly depressing album. It’s themes of abandonment and longing addressed angst I did not even know I had. The album made it romantically appealing to be sad, jaded and burdened by something even if I wasn’t sure what that something was. There is to be fair, albeit tinged with sorrow, a fair amount of pleasure as well. This was a relief and provided a bit of balance because really, I didn’t have to endure all that tough of a youth. But it is the highs and lows that make it an album worthwhile. It is the struggle to be one or the other. To begin a good story or to end a bad one. The album works not because it is all happy but also because it is not all sad. Each song has a beginning, middle, and end and pain and sorrow, elation and delight find themselves somewhere within. The album breathes. If songs on August and Everything After played like a GIF we’d only get to hear sung the line “asleep in perfect blue buildings” but never “help me to stay awake, I’m falling” or “beside the green apple sea.” Peaceful and wrought allegory, contingent with itself, would fall flat like a scratched CD stuck on the best line from the chorus. The album provides space to move about.
I still enjoy the album twenty years later but for different reasons. Something I didn’t pay as much attention to on August and Everything After back when I was fourteen that I do now is how much location plays a role. Specifically, the American landscape is fairly prominent throughout. At least six songs on the album allude to either a specific place like, “down on Virginia and La Loma” or “Maria came from Nashville with a suitcase in her hand” while some songs express certain ideas often associated with America, “across the desert from sea to shining sea.” August and Everything After is not specifically an album about American life, but it certainly uses the landscape as a backdrop.
Also in 1993, Once by Wim Wenders was first published in Italian. In 1994 it was published in German and finally, in 2001 in English. The book is a collection of photographs taken by Wenders as he travelled making and working on his movies. Accompanying those images are essays written by Wenders. They are snippets of interactions with strangers and friends and brief encounters with particular places, many of those places being the American West. There are enough indulgent moments in Once, stories of hanging out with Martin Scorsese, Dennis Hopper, or Francis Ford Coppola and endearing stories that carry with them a certain indulgence of sentimentality regarding impoverished places in the world. But there is plenty more that explores the American landscape. Interestingly enough, a number of those stories from other places in the world, like photographs from Australia, without the context provided by the written essays, look and feel almost identical to somewhere in America, perhaps New Mexico or Arizona. Lisboa, Portugal somehow feels like Butte, Montana by way of Germany. Perhaps that is indulgent of me to say, perhaps ethnocentric to pay more attention to the American landscape in Once. But more so, it perhaps speaks to the relationship Wenders has with these places. He spends a lot of time in the American West and when we see these places, we see him in those places. Maybe likeAugust and Everything After, I like these isolated places, the slow stories, lonely and still, American stories both hopeful and heart aching. There is plenty of both by way of burned down buildings, abandoned movie theaters, along with happier moments, although still amidst at least somewhat trying times, like the moments with friends Wenders photographed while stuck on the side of the road with a broke down vehicle. This occurs more than once. And to be certain to make this collection of essays American, there are a lot of moments in and around cars and on the road.
So why then do I enjoy these stories and images that are yanked out of context as though there were GIFs permanent on paper? Nothing more than brief beginnings are shared by Wenders. “Taking pictures is an act in time, in which something is snapped out of its own time and transferred into a different kind of duration” Wenders says in the introduction to Once. Why do photographs that only take the reader so far into a story before moving on to the next story appeal? Just like a GIF, these images are isolated moments. And just like the photographs, GIFs have a “different kind of duration.” The written stories help to provide some context, but on their own they are only one element be it beginning, middle, or end of a longer story. However, unlike a GIF they allude to something more and give you time to think about something more. They do not jerk and jitter. They do not jolt. They bring you in to the story somewhere be it beginning, middle, or end and really, be it your choice which it is. To think about what happens next or what happened before. The photographs breathe in a narrative rather than gasping at the moment.

[ VOL 002, ISS 0011 ] Once by Wim Wenders

Review by Shaun H Kelly

Animated GIFs are at best anxiety invoking, shortsighted, incomplete thoughts. In perpetuity the moment repeats itself over and over and on and on and on. Like reaching the peak of some digital mountaintop without the climb, without effort and without having to go back down, what happened before and what happened after does not matter and all narrative is lost. You are just there, on the top of that internet summit pumping your fist in victory for what I am not sure, stuck in a self-indulgent moment of climactic theme akin to Sisyphus rolling his rock except instead of eternal toil, you experience (what is supposed to be) some eternal bliss. But really, when something is fated to be repeated over and over again, is there even a difference between labor or leisure, happiness or angst? GIFs are a shortness of breath. Like an asthma attack without an inhaler.

In 1993 Counting Crows released August and Everything After. I was fourteen years old and so it was a perfectly depressing album. It’s themes of abandonment and longing addressed angst I did not even know I had. The album made it romantically appealing to be sad, jaded and burdened by something even if I wasn’t sure what that something was. There is to be fair, albeit tinged with sorrow, a fair amount of pleasure as well. This was a relief and provided a bit of balance because really, I didn’t have to endure all that tough of a youth. But it is the highs and lows that make it an album worthwhile. It is the struggle to be one or the other. To begin a good story or to end a bad one. The album works not because it is all happy but also because it is not all sad. Each song has a beginning, middle, and end and pain and sorrow, elation and delight find themselves somewhere within. The album breathes. If songs on August and Everything After played like a GIF we’d only get to hear sung the line “asleep in perfect blue buildings” but never “help me to stay awake, I’m falling” or “beside the green apple sea.” Peaceful and wrought allegory, contingent with itself, would fall flat like a scratched CD stuck on the best line from the chorus. The album provides space to move about.

I still enjoy the album twenty years later but for different reasons. Something I didn’t pay as much attention to on August and Everything After back when I was fourteen that I do now is how much location plays a role. Specifically, the American landscape is fairly prominent throughout. At least six songs on the album allude to either a specific place like, “down on Virginia and La Loma” or “Maria came from Nashville with a suitcase in her hand” while some songs express certain ideas often associated with America, “across the desert from sea to shining sea.” August and Everything After is not specifically an album about American life, but it certainly uses the landscape as a backdrop.

Also in 1993, Once by Wim Wenders was first published in Italian. In 1994 it was published in German and finally, in 2001 in English. The book is a collection of photographs taken by Wenders as he travelled making and working on his movies. Accompanying those images are essays written by Wenders. They are snippets of interactions with strangers and friends and brief encounters with particular places, many of those places being the American West. There are enough indulgent moments in Once, stories of hanging out with Martin Scorsese, Dennis Hopper, or Francis Ford Coppola and endearing stories that carry with them a certain indulgence of sentimentality regarding impoverished places in the world. But there is plenty more that explores the American landscape. Interestingly enough, a number of those stories from other places in the world, like photographs from Australia, without the context provided by the written essays, look and feel almost identical to somewhere in America, perhaps New Mexico or Arizona. Lisboa, Portugal somehow feels like Butte, Montana by way of Germany. Perhaps that is indulgent of me to say, perhaps ethnocentric to pay more attention to the American landscape in Once. But more so, it perhaps speaks to the relationship Wenders has with these places. He spends a lot of time in the American West and when we see these places, we see him in those places. Maybe likeAugust and Everything After, I like these isolated places, the slow stories, lonely and still, American stories both hopeful and heart aching. There is plenty of both by way of burned down buildings, abandoned movie theaters, along with happier moments, although still amidst at least somewhat trying times, like the moments with friends Wenders photographed while stuck on the side of the road with a broke down vehicle. This occurs more than once. And to be certain to make this collection of essays American, there are a lot of moments in and around cars and on the road.

So why then do I enjoy these stories and images that are yanked out of context as though there were GIFs permanent on paper? Nothing more than brief beginnings are shared by Wenders. “Taking pictures is an act in time, in which something is snapped out of its own time and transferred into a different kind of duration” Wenders says in the introduction to Once. Why do photographs that only take the reader so far into a story before moving on to the next story appeal? Just like a GIF, these images are isolated moments. And just like the photographs, GIFs have a “different kind of duration.” The written stories help to provide some context, but on their own they are only one element be it beginning, middle, or end of a longer story. However, unlike a GIF they allude to something more and give you time to think about something more. They do not jerk and jitter. They do not jolt. They bring you in to the story somewhere be it beginning, middle, or end and really, be it your choice which it is. To think about what happens next or what happened before. The photographs breathe in a narrative rather than gasping at the moment.

[ VOL 002, ISS 0010 ] Eugene Richards and Kickstarter
by Shaun H Kelly
At my day job, I am the manager of the repair department of a camera shop. I have held this job for approximately two years now. Shortly after I took over the position I decided to reimplement collecting a deposit on repairs prior to any work being done. This was not my idea originally but rather a policy that had not been followed by previous management for whatever reason. To speculate, it was most likely because it becomes one more task in a sometimes tedious process sussing out details. But what I inherited was a department full of camera gear that had not been collected by clients at the end of the repair process. This resulted in the camera shop absorbing a fairly significant loss of revenue in repairs for which work had been done and payment not made. Customers simply decided not to pick up their repaired gear and although we had in our possession their camera equipment, California law does not make it simple for us to recoup losses by simply selling off the gear. We essentially had shelves and shelves of lost money in the form of cameras with which little could be done except watch them depreciate in value. The customer, having vested nothing financially in the repair process had simply weighed the consequence of having their gear versus not and decided that all had been lost. It was easier to leave what was broken behind. Reimplementing the deposit has changed this though. The deposit is usually insignificant, totaling often less than ten percent of the final cost of repair but we have much fewer abandoned repairs as a result. Having to invest financially upfront I have found lessens the occurrence of abandonment. Even though a small fee, that deposit encourages commitment and dissuades flippancy.
Well known and respected photographer Eugene Richards has recently begun a campaign on Kickstarter for a book project titled, Red Ball of Sun Slipping Down. Richards is by all regards a documentary photographer intent on raising social awareness for topics of social concern. Red Ball of Sun Slipping Down is “a timely story, an experiment in bookmaking. But because the book speaks of what for some people are off-putting issues—race, poverty, and aging—I feel obliged to self-publish it.” It is set in the Mississippi Delta of Arkansas, a region of forgotten opportunity and plenty of poverty. It is a broken place in need of repair. In an interview with Time Richards says, “My book is about what it was like back in the late ’60s, early ’70s, a time when cotton, poverty, and racism shaped people’s lives. This is shown in black-and-white photographs that have never been published before. But the book is also about the place now, a place that has been called by some the heart of the south. I’ve interwoven recent color work with the black-and-white photographs and a short story that relates my relationship with an impoverished delta woman, but also addresses my own concerns with aging and mortality.”(more here)
The Kickstarter campaign, set to end this Wednesday, is already more than funded. But that is not to say there is no reason if you feel so compelled to contribute, to not donate your money. On the campaign webpage is a breakdown of what opportunities could be had if funded beyond the initial goal. It is hard to say if the campaign was responded to so well because of people’s commitment to The Mississippi Delta or if because behind the project is such a well renowned name in the photographic community. Richards is good at what he does and that is why he is well known. And to add, this isn’t the first time he has self-published a book so again… he knows what he is doing and has exhibited a commitment to his projects and the subjects of his projects. But if Richards was crowdsourcing a project to photograph ballpoint pens because Bic was headed toward bankruptcy, would it get funding? Perhaps so simply because it is Eugene Richards but I’d like to believe that even such a hypothetical campaign like that would fall flat. Not because creative endeavors shouldn’t be supported but because we live in a society that doesn’t ask us to make decisions based upon listening and discourse. The pleadings or consternations, the legitimate concerns, or the passing interests of well known individuals or celebrities, or if the cause has with it a good marketing team, become our mantras… (Make Kony Famous, Make Kony Famous) at least temporarily. The clients at the camera shop at which I work abandon their repairs and we listen to George Clooney on Darfur and quickly decide that yes, Darfur needs our attention because having someone else make that decision for us is easier than deciding if this a commitment worthwhile. There is a wide gap between deciding to repair a camera or not and deciding if fighting genocide should be our concern but the way in which we make those decisions both reflect a certain complacency with our self-centric lives and our concerns become less about the need and more about how can we solve the problem. This leaves us with two options, a savior complex or apathy. Other Kickstarter campaigns addressing issues just as important as race and poverty have most likely been initiated and never fulfilled because whatever hype or aura needed around the cause just wasn’t there. No hype man, no catchy slogans or stickers or bracelets to say you were involved. This is where I believe Kickstarter is not as communal or democratic as they’d like to be. With good causes and campaigns need to be a certain flashiness. They have to have commercial appeal for a product obsessed world. Kickstarter to add is reward based. What I imagine are intended to be most often sincere gestures of appreciation in the form of a gift become the motivation for us to contribute to the campaign. I cannot say that a book by Eugene Richards would not be a nice edition to my bookshelf. There is no information regarding how much the book once published will retail for but a $55 donation gets you a book. That is not too far off a price from how much photobooks normally initially sell anyhow. It is almost more tempting to contribute a lesser amount that does not get me a reward. Wouldn’t that be a more honest contribution? Kickstarter does however I believe promote commitment. Just like that nominal deposit taken up front when we take in repairs at my day job, being invested financially encourages follow through, not just cutting the losses of a broken camera or abandoning our convictions, leaving what is broken behind. Clients often decide, and I sometimes encourage, that because most likely the gear will break again that the repair might not be worth it in the first place. A second repair would put the cost involved above the value of the product. This might be sound financially, but it doesn’t make sense in terms of commitment. That to us such a commitment does not foster a clear reward does not make sense. Much the same, when we see ourselves as the solution and the social concern cannot be fixed, we give up. But commitment encourages us to be just that, committed despite rationality. Sometimes we should if committed, work to repair the chronically broken.
With all this bemoaning of Kickstarter I have (surprisingly to myself) convinced myself that I should contribute to the campaign. Perhaps it is because I grew up in Mississippi and I know the region Richards has photographed just next door in Arkansas. Perhaps I have decided to do so because I get a copy of the book if I contribute enough. But most likely, it is a combination of those reasons, all under the umbrella that I find myself annoyed by lack of commitment from anyone from the clients at the my job to the Clooney, I mean Darfur supporters, and to myself who likes to cavil rather than commit or abandon rather than repair.

[ VOL 002, ISS 0010 ] Eugene Richards and Kickstarter

by Shaun H Kelly

At my day job, I am the manager of the repair department of a camera shop. I have held this job for approximately two years now. Shortly after I took over the position I decided to reimplement collecting a deposit on repairs prior to any work being done. This was not my idea originally but rather a policy that had not been followed by previous management for whatever reason. To speculate, it was most likely because it becomes one more task in a sometimes tedious process sussing out details. But what I inherited was a department full of camera gear that had not been collected by clients at the end of the repair process. This resulted in the camera shop absorbing a fairly significant loss of revenue in repairs for which work had been done and payment not made. Customers simply decided not to pick up their repaired gear and although we had in our possession their camera equipment, California law does not make it simple for us to recoup losses by simply selling off the gear. We essentially had shelves and shelves of lost money in the form of cameras with which little could be done except watch them depreciate in value. The customer, having vested nothing financially in the repair process had simply weighed the consequence of having their gear versus not and decided that all had been lost. It was easier to leave what was broken behind. Reimplementing the deposit has changed this though. The deposit is usually insignificant, totaling often less than ten percent of the final cost of repair but we have much fewer abandoned repairs as a result. Having to invest financially upfront I have found lessens the occurrence of abandonment. Even though a small fee, that deposit encourages commitment and dissuades flippancy.

Well known and respected photographer Eugene Richards has recently begun a campaign on Kickstarter for a book project titled, Red Ball of Sun Slipping Down. Richards is by all regards a documentary photographer intent on raising social awareness for topics of social concern. Red Ball of Sun Slipping Down is “a timely story, an experiment in bookmaking. But because the book speaks of what for some people are off-putting issues—race, poverty, and aging—I feel obliged to self-publish it.” It is set in the Mississippi Delta of Arkansas, a region of forgotten opportunity and plenty of poverty. It is a broken place in need of repair. In an interview with Time Richards says, “My book is about what it was like back in the late ’60s, early ’70s, a time when cotton, poverty, and racism shaped people’s lives. This is shown in black-and-white photographs that have never been published before. But the book is also about the place now, a place that has been called by some the heart of the south. I’ve interwoven recent color work with the black-and-white photographs and a short story that relates my relationship with an impoverished delta woman, but also addresses my own concerns with aging and mortality.”(more here)

The Kickstarter campaign, set to end this Wednesday, is already more than funded. But that is not to say there is no reason if you feel so compelled to contribute, to not donate your money. On the campaign webpage is a breakdown of what opportunities could be had if funded beyond the initial goal. It is hard to say if the campaign was responded to so well because of people’s commitment to The Mississippi Delta or if because behind the project is such a well renowned name in the photographic community. Richards is good at what he does and that is why he is well known. And to add, this isn’t the first time he has self-published a book so again… he knows what he is doing and has exhibited a commitment to his projects and the subjects of his projects. But if Richards was crowdsourcing a project to photograph ballpoint pens because Bic was headed toward bankruptcy, would it get funding? Perhaps so simply because it is Eugene Richards but I’d like to believe that even such a hypothetical campaign like that would fall flat. Not because creative endeavors shouldn’t be supported but because we live in a society that doesn’t ask us to make decisions based upon listening and discourse. The pleadings or consternations, the legitimate concerns, or the passing interests of well known individuals or celebrities, or if the cause has with it a good marketing team, become our mantras… (Make Kony Famous, Make Kony Famous) at least temporarily. The clients at the camera shop at which I work abandon their repairs and we listen to George Clooney on Darfur and quickly decide that yes, Darfur needs our attention because having someone else make that decision for us is easier than deciding if this a commitment worthwhile. There is a wide gap between deciding to repair a camera or not and deciding if fighting genocide should be our concern but the way in which we make those decisions both reflect a certain complacency with our self-centric lives and our concerns become less about the need and more about how can we solve the problem. This leaves us with two options, a savior complex or apathy. Other Kickstarter campaigns addressing issues just as important as race and poverty have most likely been initiated and never fulfilled because whatever hype or aura needed around the cause just wasn’t there. No hype man, no catchy slogans or stickers or bracelets to say you were involved. This is where I believe Kickstarter is not as communal or democratic as they’d like to be. With good causes and campaigns need to be a certain flashiness. They have to have commercial appeal for a product obsessed world. Kickstarter to add is reward based. What I imagine are intended to be most often sincere gestures of appreciation in the form of a gift become the motivation for us to contribute to the campaign. I cannot say that a book by Eugene Richards would not be a nice edition to my bookshelf. There is no information regarding how much the book once published will retail for but a $55 donation gets you a book. That is not too far off a price from how much photobooks normally initially sell anyhow. It is almost more tempting to contribute a lesser amount that does not get me a reward. Wouldn’t that be a more honest contribution? Kickstarter does however I believe promote commitment. Just like that nominal deposit taken up front when we take in repairs at my day job, being invested financially encourages follow through, not just cutting the losses of a broken camera or abandoning our convictions, leaving what is broken behind. Clients often decide, and I sometimes encourage, that because most likely the gear will break again that the repair might not be worth it in the first place. A second repair would put the cost involved above the value of the product. This might be sound financially, but it doesn’t make sense in terms of commitment. That to us such a commitment does not foster a clear reward does not make sense. Much the same, when we see ourselves as the solution and the social concern cannot be fixed, we give up. But commitment encourages us to be just that, committed despite rationality. Sometimes we should if committed, work to repair the chronically broken.

With all this bemoaning of Kickstarter I have (surprisingly to myself) convinced myself that I should contribute to the campaign. Perhaps it is because I grew up in Mississippi and I know the region Richards has photographed just next door in Arkansas. Perhaps I have decided to do so because I get a copy of the book if I contribute enough. But most likely, it is a combination of those reasons, all under the umbrella that I find myself annoyed by lack of commitment from anyone from the clients at the my job to the Clooney, I mean Darfur supporters, and to myself who likes to cavil rather than commit or abandon rather than repair.

[ VOL 002, ISS 0010 ] in conversation with Hugo Martinez; On Food, Heritage, and Family Dynamic
Interview by Shaun H Kelly
Hugo Martinez is a photographer born in Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico and currently living in Santa Barbara, California. He recently completed the Masters of Fine Art in Photography program at Brooks Institute for which he made the series, The Recipe Can Change which explores by using food and recipes as a metaphor for his Latin American family and the culture in which he was raised. 
HM: I felt three images constituted and represented the ideas that I wished to discuss with this project. From those three images came what is now The Recipe Can Change. First and perhaps most important was “Discoursing for 2 Hours & 20 Minutes”. That image turned everything around for me. It was made after a long discussion with my mother. From that discussion I came to understand all that  I wish to hold onto from my culture, my family and the basic ideas behind cooking and following a recipe that is passed down from generation to generation. Life is like a recipe. I learned from watching my mother that cooking is a little science, a lot of art, and a good amount of experimentation. Even if we follow the recipe exactly, most often it does not turn out as we hoped it would. There are traditions in my culture that we as Mexicans should always follow. “3 Second Decision” is about religious tradition and how we as Catholics should always listen to, follow and obey the Catholic Church. I feel at times I am turning my back to that which I was raised to believe and yet I am tired of being told how and why to behave solely on the promise of the afterlife. The church is always this tempting force that we are taught to reach for only to have it trap us within its grasp. Through it all my mother has been the strength that held us together for the sake of her children and out of fear of us growing up with a completely broken family. She has been broken herself at times yet she always managed to remain resilient. “3 Ounces of Concealed Strength” is about my family’s dynamics. It is about both my parents. I do not wish to keep certain recipes by following in my father’s footsteps. However, some recipes I have learned from my mother. They are ones that I will follow until the day I die, having even half the strength she has as a woman, a wife, but most importantly as a mother.
SM: Do you have a favorite meal your mother makes?
HM: Actually I do. It’s pozole. And it’s represented in Discoursing for 2 Hours & 20 Minutes. It is very time consuming. It is a very involved process. When my mom cooks it she takes her time to make sure everything taste right. It reminds me of that and it is also a time we can spend in the kitchen together. And it tastes good.
SM: What is pozole?
HM: It is a Mexican traditional dish of hominy soup with pork. When my mom makes it she serves the dish and will have all these other dishes on the counter top filled with toppers… cut up cabbage, radishes, avocado, and tomatoes.
SM: Do you know how to make it?
HM: No but for this project, that image is the turning point of realizing how I needed to approach everything. I think there were three images before that but I really connected with that image. My mother was visiting and my girlfriend who was assisting me with this project was gone so my mom helped set that one up. It was the first time I got to talk with her about what this project actually entailed. And how it progressed to what it is. Before it was hard to communicate what exactly it was about. Also, their first language is Spanish and it was hard for me to say what I was saying here in a school setting where it is all English and the vocabulary we use is a bit academic. It was hard for me to communicate the concepts and ideas behind it. So going back to that pozole image, with the pig’s ear, I was able to really connect with my mom. The feelings and emotions came out in the process of making it with her. And I knew that was what I needed to carry across. 
SM: What was the focus before?
HM: My father and the relationship I have with him, which is represented by the image of the belt tied around the meat, the relationship I have with my brother represented by the butternut squash and then the stitched hanging ribs. Those three images came before Discoursing for 2 Hours & 20 Minutes. They are definitely gloomier. There is definitely tension and in a way anger although I don’t necessarily want to say anger, initially I guess it was. The relationship I had with my father is where it started. I grew up with an abusive father. But I shifted because it was more about resentment but also moving forward. The images are homage to the past but in a way it is me finally letting go. It became what I want to embrace about my culture and my family but if there is a recipe that I don’t want to follow then I have that choice. At the end of everything you have this choice… do you want to change that recipe.
SM: I like that this is very personal work. It is about you but it is not about looking at you. It doesn’t have a feeling of pity but does carry with it this weight of both tension and anger but also opportunity.
HM: Very much so. I am glad you say that because like I said, with those first three images it seemed to be going in this direction of pity me. But after makingDiscoursing for 2 Hours & 20 Minutes and having that conversation with my mom I wanted it to be more embracing.
SM: I look at the ones that evoke tension first. Those catch my attention first. Those are great to respond to and perhaps easier to respond to. And often our first response is anger. But then we can move past that and I love that image, which I didn’t like as much at first as I do now, of the mortar and pestle with the raspberries and roses. Those roses are beautiful growing out from this device that in order to utilize the ingredient you have to mash and crush it.
HM: I wanted to take this negative experience that I have been holding on to and to sound cliché, to blossom from it. What has happened can’t be undone but I can make sure that it doesn’t repeat itself. In order for me to grow I have to release that tension like the mortar and pestle. There has to be this destruction.
SM: I want to talk a little about two images, Morning Preparation and Fifteen Minutes After School. This might fall apart, but think about the two images and take me through a typical day growing up that starts at breakfast and ends at dinner.
HM: Morning Preparation is us coming off a previous evening of tense situations. In the morning if someone said one wrong word the rest of the day could be shot to hell. Or no one says anything and it is a lonely day. Fifteen Minutes After School is a continuation of that. If my father had a bad day it came out towards the family. I never knew what I was coming home to. I didn’t know if it would be quite and calm or a household in which my father was upset or had been drinking and am I going to get beat or abused. In both of those images, everything is hanging on a thread.
SM: The photographed ingredients… are those from meals that you grew up eating?
HM: Yes and no. I chose stuff connected to my childhood and past and stuff connected to my heritage and traditions but I also looked for things that were symbolic. For example I don’t eat fish. I am allergic. But fish comes from a water deity and water is representative of giving life and connects to femininity, which goes back to mother nature or mother earth. Life if given by the mother and so that image with that fish is representative of my mother and that tension that I had to hear about regarding her relationship with my father.
SM: These images are like dioramas. And sometimes the images feel conclusive but many of them feel like a set up for what might happen or what could happen.
HM: Right. When I moved away from home I wasn’t experiencing that troubled family dynamic. It was my time away at college, enjoying being on my own getting to meet new people and create my own path. But my mother would call me often and the conversations were about the troubles at home. It was still that heavy cloud over me. I felt as though I couldn’t get away. Those nails were right there.
SM: Meals are really central to a family. And often it gauges that dynamic or how close knit a family is by rather or not a family sits down for meals together. Did your family sit down and eat meals together?
HM: Yes. But there was definitely an eventual move away from those meals together. It started changing my junior year of high school. But up until then it was always a sit down meal together. But what happens is that in my culture, the Latin or Mexican culture, the men get served first. My dad and me and my brother were always first. It’s not as though my mom didn’t get to eat but she would eat standing up because she had other stuff that needed to be hot and ready or things on the stove. So she would always be back and forth. She never really actually sat down and ate with us all that much. But yes there was this sense that dinner was ready and you had to come and eat at the table.
SM: But at some point those family meals fell apart?
HM: Yeah but I think it came from the introduction of a computer and video games into the home. My brother or I needed to do homework or we had a TV so we would go sit in our own rooms. It was teen adolescence and not wanting to be with my parents. But when we go back to visit now we all sit down together.
SM: Do you feel as though there was a tension within your family that when adolescence came for you and your brother and you didn’t want to eat with your parents, that there was this opportunity or excuse for a break? Was there tension that maybe your mom felt and it was a bit of a relief to have an excuse to not have to have these meals together that were not all that enjoyable anyway?
HM: I don’t know. For us it was a relief because we didn’t have to be around that source of tension. Because as soon as you walked in, when something was going on between my parents you could just feel it. And we didn’t have to listen to that argument. But whenever something was going on, my mom never stopped cooking for us even if she was beyond pissed at my dad. But she wouldn’t serve him. She would make sure my brother and I ate and during those times is when she would make us sit at the table again because she was upset.
SM: This was a way for her to hold it together.
HM: Exactly. She tried to make sure that at least she wasn’t losing that connection with my brother and me. Even if for a moment she had lost it with my dad. But sometimes it could be a sense of relief for my mom because she didn’t have to deal with or argue with my father.
SM: So it was an out, a reason that everyone didn’t have to sit down together and no one had to bring up everyone’s frustrations.
HM: And I could tell when she was upset she would make the meals that took a little longer. She could get lost in the cooking.
SM: Do your mom and dad see this body of work as you unashamed of your past or angry at your past? Do they recognize that it is less about anger and more about contemplation?
HM: My mom I believe definitely has. I have had the privilege of discussing it with her a lot more. My mom wanted to engage in the conversation more. My dad just appreciated it. He didn’t want to discuss it. My dad is proud but doesn’t understand it at the level that I wanted to get across. He feels that I said what I needed to say and that was that. My mother felt very connected. He I think is having a hard time admitting that he is okay with it. I feel once he gets to that step he’ll feel like he was very wrong. Which he was. But for him it will be a hard step to take.
SM: You’ve talked about this work as the work itself being the dialogue. It’s apparent that the work is a dialogue with yourself. But do you see it also as a dialogue with your parents?
HM: I do. And I hope they see it that way. Conversations even at home with my father are very short though, very straightforward.
SM: In addition to your education in photography you have a degree in cognitive science and I find that interesting. You have these recipes that you talk about as metaphors for life and how those recipes get passed down from generation to generation. Now given our cognitive ability to understand how everything fits together and how experiences and perceptions and how we respond all form who we are… I feel like with your educational backgrounds, one very scientifically based and one artistically based you are working on these similar ideas of what happens when all this stuff melds together. Is that why recipes appealed to you as the metaphor?
HM: I don’t know if it was specifically for the recipes. But I did with my educational backgrounds want to see how I could explore these ideas with both the left side and the right side of my brain. I can see how it relates though. I had this recipe set up for myself but I chose to change it. But I didn’t even think about until now how that could be related to what I am dealing with in those images. These things are put together in the images that aren’t related to see what the outcome will be.
CR: Do you watch the cooking competition show Chopped?
HM: Yes I love that show.
SM: It is addictive. So the contestants receive baskets of mystery ingredients. They do not know what is inside until they open it up. And then they have to create a dish using those ingredients. Most of the time the ingredients sort of make sense together although they might be difficult to combine. But there is usually this one curve ball ingredient that definitely doesn’t belong. The challenge is to incorporate that ingredient as well. So you’ve talked a lot about the relationship with your mother, and how you are close to your mother. And because of an abusive relationship, you weren’t so close to your father. Now looking back at who you are, and how these ingredients that comprise your life have made you, do you see your father like on the show as a curve ball ingredient? Or does he make just as much sense in the mix as your mother but offers a completely different dynamic?
HM: I would consider myself that oddball ingredient. There are three reasons why I did this project. First is holding on to heritage, next is the family dynamic of love and turmoil, and then this thing that I have with Catholicism. It is the big umbrella that hangs over every Latin American in the world. So I feel as the odd ingredient because I was the first one in my family that has separated or distanced myself from those traditions and culture. I am not very Mexican. My mom is very traditional. She barely speaks English even to this day. She very much holds on to that Latin American woman roll in which she does all the cooking and cleaning. My dad is very machismo still; he is the head of the household. If I look at what a traditional Latin American household, although I feel bad for saying, that is what it was supposed to be. That’s what they knew. My parents live on a ranch now and my dad is holding on to this ranchero lifestyle. My brother is following in my dad’s footsteps. I am the one who has done my own thing. I never really had Mexican friends and I stutter a lot when I speak my Spanish, even when I was young. But it has started to change since they came to America. Still though you can see that traditional Mexican home. The three of them in that realm work and I sort of got tossed in the mix in a way. But in the past maybe five or six years my father is breaking from that role. 
SM: What do you think is the impetus for that change?
HM: It came from accepting the American culture. That and my mom coming to realize that she could stand up to him and say enough is enough. It was also when my brother and I went off to college, and us realizing that we are men now. There was only one incident after us going off to college that happened and both my brother and I stood up to him and said that he cannot do this anymore.
SM: How old were you and your brother when you came to the U.S.?
HM: I was a year and a half and he was three.
SM: How old were your parents?
HM: My mom was 21 and my dad 24.
SM: And you came here illegally?
HM: Yes. My brother and I were handed over to a relative who had children of her own who were around the same age as us and she had documentation for them because they were born in the U.S. So they passed us as their kids. My mom had to hand us over and she and my dad crossed the border through the mountains and dessert. When she talks about it she talks about it in this way that I cannot express but as though she were handing us off never to be seen again. That could have happened. She could have been caught and sent back or something could have happened that ended their lives. That was one of the worst moments of her life and she would never do it again if she had the choice. Even though she realizes how much our lives have benefited from coming here.
SM: The Recipe Can Change is from a place of contemplation. It is not solely angry or solely optimistic. Do you feel as though that is where you are though?
HM: I can’t help but realize that this work is emotional and it has been revealing and I’ve dug down deep. In the beginning I was definitely angry and I wanted to, in creating the images, stab things and strangle things. But it has moved on to acceptance and rejuvenation for anew and to come to a realization that I am the only one who can decide. I am hopeful where this can go with not just the artwork itself but also myself.
SM: I think you’ve done well. I don’t think art is about therapy and is not meant to heal the artist. Photography specifically does well to create a dialogue. And as much as I have asked you about your personal experience those photographs are universal. We all understand tension and hopefulness and your work uses something else that we understand, food, as a catalyst to make it very accessible.
HM: I want reactions from people. I was able to put so much of myself into it but walk away from it as well.
SM: It is personal but not specific. I can look at it and don’t have to be a Mexican with an abusive father to understand. If this recipe is a culmination of who you are and who your family is, did it turn out the way you would have wanted had you the opportunity to change certain ingredients? I don’t think that your father, and it doesn’t seem that you think so either, was a bad person because he was abusive. But it made you both who you are. At the core we are I believe good people who do bad things. So if you could have changed the recipe, would you have done so?
HM: The recipe of my life?
SM: And your family.
HM: Well this project wouldn’t exist if I did. It’s hard to say. For my mother’s suffering I would want to change it. Without a doubt. But maybe we wouldn’t have had as strong a connection if that weren’t there.

[ VOL 002, ISS 0010 ] in conversation with Hugo Martinez; On Food, Heritage, and Family Dynamic

Interview by Shaun H Kelly

Hugo Martinez is a photographer born in Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico and currently living in Santa Barbara, California. He recently completed the Masters of Fine Art in Photography program at Brooks Institute for which he made the series, The Recipe Can Change which explores by using food and recipes as a metaphor for his Latin American family and the culture in which he was raised. 

HM: I felt three images constituted and represented the ideas that I wished to discuss with this project. From those three images came what is now The Recipe Can Change. First and perhaps most important was “Discoursing for 2 Hours & 20 Minutes”. That image turned everything around for me. It was made after a long discussion with my mother. From that discussion I came to understand all that  I wish to hold onto from my culture, my family and the basic ideas behind cooking and following a recipe that is passed down from generation to generation. Life is like a recipe. I learned from watching my mother that cooking is a little science, a lot of art, and a good amount of experimentation. Even if we follow the recipe exactly, most often it does not turn out as we hoped it would. There are traditions in my culture that we as Mexicans should always follow. “3 Second Decision” is about religious tradition and how we as Catholics should always listen to, follow and obey the Catholic Church. I feel at times I am turning my back to that which I was raised to believe and yet I am tired of being told how and why to behave solely on the promise of the afterlife. The church is always this tempting force that we are taught to reach for only to have it trap us within its grasp. Through it all my mother has been the strength that held us together for the sake of her children and out of fear of us growing up with a completely broken family. She has been broken herself at times yet she always managed to remain resilient. “3 Ounces of Concealed Strength” is about my family’s dynamics. It is about both my parents. I do not wish to keep certain recipes by following in my father’s footsteps. However, some recipes I have learned from my mother. They are ones that I will follow until the day I die, having even half the strength she has as a woman, a wife, but most importantly as a mother.

SM: Do you have a favorite meal your mother makes?

HM: Actually I do. It’s pozole. And it’s represented in Discoursing for 2 Hours & 20 Minutes. It is very time consuming. It is a very involved process. When my mom cooks it she takes her time to make sure everything taste right. It reminds me of that and it is also a time we can spend in the kitchen together. And it tastes good.

SM: What is pozole?

HM: It is a Mexican traditional dish of hominy soup with pork. When my mom makes it she serves the dish and will have all these other dishes on the counter top filled with toppers… cut up cabbage, radishes, avocado, and tomatoes.

SM: Do you know how to make it?

HM: No but for this project, that image is the turning point of realizing how I needed to approach everything. I think there were three images before that but I really connected with that image. My mother was visiting and my girlfriend who was assisting me with this project was gone so my mom helped set that one up. It was the first time I got to talk with her about what this project actually entailed. And how it progressed to what it is. Before it was hard to communicate what exactly it was about. Also, their first language is Spanish and it was hard for me to say what I was saying here in a school setting where it is all English and the vocabulary we use is a bit academic. It was hard for me to communicate the concepts and ideas behind it. So going back to that pozole image, with the pig’s ear, I was able to really connect with my mom. The feelings and emotions came out in the process of making it with her. And I knew that was what I needed to carry across. 

SM: What was the focus before?

HM: My father and the relationship I have with him, which is represented by the image of the belt tied around the meat, the relationship I have with my brother represented by the butternut squash and then the stitched hanging ribs. Those three images came before Discoursing for 2 Hours & 20 Minutes. They are definitely gloomier. There is definitely tension and in a way anger although I don’t necessarily want to say anger, initially I guess it was. The relationship I had with my father is where it started. I grew up with an abusive father. But I shifted because it was more about resentment but also moving forward. The images are homage to the past but in a way it is me finally letting go. It became what I want to embrace about my culture and my family but if there is a recipe that I don’t want to follow then I have that choice. At the end of everything you have this choice… do you want to change that recipe.

SM: I like that this is very personal work. It is about you but it is not about looking at you. It doesn’t have a feeling of pity but does carry with it this weight of both tension and anger but also opportunity.

HM: Very much so. I am glad you say that because like I said, with those first three images it seemed to be going in this direction of pity me. But after makingDiscoursing for 2 Hours & 20 Minutes and having that conversation with my mom I wanted it to be more embracing.

SM: I look at the ones that evoke tension first. Those catch my attention first. Those are great to respond to and perhaps easier to respond to. And often our first response is anger. But then we can move past that and I love that image, which I didn’t like as much at first as I do now, of the mortar and pestle with the raspberries and roses. Those roses are beautiful growing out from this device that in order to utilize the ingredient you have to mash and crush it.

HM: I wanted to take this negative experience that I have been holding on to and to sound cliché, to blossom from it. What has happened can’t be undone but I can make sure that it doesn’t repeat itself. In order for me to grow I have to release that tension like the mortar and pestle. There has to be this destruction.

SM: I want to talk a little about two images, Morning Preparation and Fifteen Minutes After School. This might fall apart, but think about the two images and take me through a typical day growing up that starts at breakfast and ends at dinner.

HM: Morning Preparation is us coming off a previous evening of tense situations. In the morning if someone said one wrong word the rest of the day could be shot to hell. Or no one says anything and it is a lonely day. Fifteen Minutes After School is a continuation of that. If my father had a bad day it came out towards the family. I never knew what I was coming home to. I didn’t know if it would be quite and calm or a household in which my father was upset or had been drinking and am I going to get beat or abused. In both of those images, everything is hanging on a thread.

SM: The photographed ingredients… are those from meals that you grew up eating?

HM: Yes and no. I chose stuff connected to my childhood and past and stuff connected to my heritage and traditions but I also looked for things that were symbolic. For example I don’t eat fish. I am allergic. But fish comes from a water deity and water is representative of giving life and connects to femininity, which goes back to mother nature or mother earth. Life if given by the mother and so that image with that fish is representative of my mother and that tension that I had to hear about regarding her relationship with my father.

SM: These images are like dioramas. And sometimes the images feel conclusive but many of them feel like a set up for what might happen or what could happen.

HM: Right. When I moved away from home I wasn’t experiencing that troubled family dynamic. It was my time away at college, enjoying being on my own getting to meet new people and create my own path. But my mother would call me often and the conversations were about the troubles at home. It was still that heavy cloud over me. I felt as though I couldn’t get away. Those nails were right there.

SM: Meals are really central to a family. And often it gauges that dynamic or how close knit a family is by rather or not a family sits down for meals together. Did your family sit down and eat meals together?

HM: Yes. But there was definitely an eventual move away from those meals together. It started changing my junior year of high school. But up until then it was always a sit down meal together. But what happens is that in my culture, the Latin or Mexican culture, the men get served first. My dad and me and my brother were always first. It’s not as though my mom didn’t get to eat but she would eat standing up because she had other stuff that needed to be hot and ready or things on the stove. So she would always be back and forth. She never really actually sat down and ate with us all that much. But yes there was this sense that dinner was ready and you had to come and eat at the table.

SM: But at some point those family meals fell apart?

HM: Yeah but I think it came from the introduction of a computer and video games into the home. My brother or I needed to do homework or we had a TV so we would go sit in our own rooms. It was teen adolescence and not wanting to be with my parents. But when we go back to visit now we all sit down together.

SM: Do you feel as though there was a tension within your family that when adolescence came for you and your brother and you didn’t want to eat with your parents, that there was this opportunity or excuse for a break? Was there tension that maybe your mom felt and it was a bit of a relief to have an excuse to not have to have these meals together that were not all that enjoyable anyway?

HM: I don’t know. For us it was a relief because we didn’t have to be around that source of tension. Because as soon as you walked in, when something was going on between my parents you could just feel it. And we didn’t have to listen to that argument. But whenever something was going on, my mom never stopped cooking for us even if she was beyond pissed at my dad. But she wouldn’t serve him. She would make sure my brother and I ate and during those times is when she would make us sit at the table again because she was upset.

SM: This was a way for her to hold it together.

HM: Exactly. She tried to make sure that at least she wasn’t losing that connection with my brother and me. Even if for a moment she had lost it with my dad. But sometimes it could be a sense of relief for my mom because she didn’t have to deal with or argue with my father.

SM: So it was an out, a reason that everyone didn’t have to sit down together and no one had to bring up everyone’s frustrations.

HM: And I could tell when she was upset she would make the meals that took a little longer. She could get lost in the cooking.

SM: Do your mom and dad see this body of work as you unashamed of your past or angry at your past? Do they recognize that it is less about anger and more about contemplation?

HM: My mom I believe definitely has. I have had the privilege of discussing it with her a lot more. My mom wanted to engage in the conversation more. My dad just appreciated it. He didn’t want to discuss it. My dad is proud but doesn’t understand it at the level that I wanted to get across. He feels that I said what I needed to say and that was that. My mother felt very connected. He I think is having a hard time admitting that he is okay with it. I feel once he gets to that step he’ll feel like he was very wrong. Which he was. But for him it will be a hard step to take.

SM: You’ve talked about this work as the work itself being the dialogue. It’s apparent that the work is a dialogue with yourself. But do you see it also as a dialogue with your parents?

HM: I do. And I hope they see it that way. Conversations even at home with my father are very short though, very straightforward.

SM: In addition to your education in photography you have a degree in cognitive science and I find that interesting. You have these recipes that you talk about as metaphors for life and how those recipes get passed down from generation to generation. Now given our cognitive ability to understand how everything fits together and how experiences and perceptions and how we respond all form who we are… I feel like with your educational backgrounds, one very scientifically based and one artistically based you are working on these similar ideas of what happens when all this stuff melds together. Is that why recipes appealed to you as the metaphor?

HM: I don’t know if it was specifically for the recipes. But I did with my educational backgrounds want to see how I could explore these ideas with both the left side and the right side of my brain. I can see how it relates though. I had this recipe set up for myself but I chose to change it. But I didn’t even think about until now how that could be related to what I am dealing with in those images. These things are put together in the images that aren’t related to see what the outcome will be.

CR: Do you watch the cooking competition show Chopped?

HM: Yes I love that show.

SM: It is addictive. So the contestants receive baskets of mystery ingredients. They do not know what is inside until they open it up. And then they have to create a dish using those ingredients. Most of the time the ingredients sort of make sense together although they might be difficult to combine. But there is usually this one curve ball ingredient that definitely doesn’t belong. The challenge is to incorporate that ingredient as well. So you’ve talked a lot about the relationship with your mother, and how you are close to your mother. And because of an abusive relationship, you weren’t so close to your father. Now looking back at who you are, and how these ingredients that comprise your life have made you, do you see your father like on the show as a curve ball ingredient? Or does he make just as much sense in the mix as your mother but offers a completely different dynamic?

HM: I would consider myself that oddball ingredient. There are three reasons why I did this project. First is holding on to heritage, next is the family dynamic of love and turmoil, and then this thing that I have with Catholicism. It is the big umbrella that hangs over every Latin American in the world. So I feel as the odd ingredient because I was the first one in my family that has separated or distanced myself from those traditions and culture. I am not very Mexican. My mom is very traditional. She barely speaks English even to this day. She very much holds on to that Latin American woman roll in which she does all the cooking and cleaning. My dad is very machismo still; he is the head of the household. If I look at what a traditional Latin American household, although I feel bad for saying, that is what it was supposed to be. That’s what they knew. My parents live on a ranch now and my dad is holding on to this ranchero lifestyle. My brother is following in my dad’s footsteps. I am the one who has done my own thing. I never really had Mexican friends and I stutter a lot when I speak my Spanish, even when I was young. But it has started to change since they came to America. Still though you can see that traditional Mexican home. The three of them in that realm work and I sort of got tossed in the mix in a way. But in the past maybe five or six years my father is breaking from that role. 

SM: What do you think is the impetus for that change?

HM: It came from accepting the American culture. That and my mom coming to realize that she could stand up to him and say enough is enough. It was also when my brother and I went off to college, and us realizing that we are men now. There was only one incident after us going off to college that happened and both my brother and I stood up to him and said that he cannot do this anymore.

SM: How old were you and your brother when you came to the U.S.?

HM: I was a year and a half and he was three.

SM: How old were your parents?

HM: My mom was 21 and my dad 24.

SM: And you came here illegally?

HM: Yes. My brother and I were handed over to a relative who had children of her own who were around the same age as us and she had documentation for them because they were born in the U.S. So they passed us as their kids. My mom had to hand us over and she and my dad crossed the border through the mountains and dessert. When she talks about it she talks about it in this way that I cannot express but as though she were handing us off never to be seen again. That could have happened. She could have been caught and sent back or something could have happened that ended their lives. That was one of the worst moments of her life and she would never do it again if she had the choice. Even though she realizes how much our lives have benefited from coming here.

SM: The Recipe Can Change is from a place of contemplation. It is not solely angry or solely optimistic. Do you feel as though that is where you are though?

HM: I can’t help but realize that this work is emotional and it has been revealing and I’ve dug down deep. In the beginning I was definitely angry and I wanted to, in creating the images, stab things and strangle things. But it has moved on to acceptance and rejuvenation for anew and to come to a realization that I am the only one who can decide. I am hopeful where this can go with not just the artwork itself but also myself.

SM: I think you’ve done well. I don’t think art is about therapy and is not meant to heal the artist. Photography specifically does well to create a dialogue. And as much as I have asked you about your personal experience those photographs are universal. We all understand tension and hopefulness and your work uses something else that we understand, food, as a catalyst to make it very accessible.

HM: I want reactions from people. I was able to put so much of myself into it but walk away from it as well.

SM: It is personal but not specific. I can look at it and don’t have to be a Mexican with an abusive father to understand. If this recipe is a culmination of who you are and who your family is, did it turn out the way you would have wanted had you the opportunity to change certain ingredients? I don’t think that your father, and it doesn’t seem that you think so either, was a bad person because he was abusive. But it made you both who you are. At the core we are I believe good people who do bad things. So if you could have changed the recipe, would you have done so?

HM: The recipe of my life?

SM: And your family.

HM: Well this project wouldn’t exist if I did. It’s hard to say. For my mother’s suffering I would want to change it. Without a doubt. But maybe we wouldn’t have had as strong a connection if that weren’t there.

[ VOL 002, ISS 0010 ] Create Not Acclaim
by Shaun H Kelly
Photographer Carrie Mae Weems was named as a 2013 MacArthur Fellow. Weems work is focused on current issues facing African Americans. Her work as stated (here) by the MacArthur Foundation, examines “the complex and contradictory legacy of African American identity, class, and culture in the United States.”
Recently an essay appeared on Slate titled, “Why are there no MacArthur Geniuses from the South?” The post originally appeared on Inside Higher Ed, an online news source featuring “a powerful suite of tools to help higher education professionals get jobs and colleges identify and hire employees” and is “a gathering place for all of the many constituents and diverse institutions that make up the rich web of higher education.” In short, it is a website to help educationists get the job one wants and a place to promote a broader community of educators. My wife works in higher education and based upon some conversations we have on the drive home from work, if there is a place where community needs promotion it is academia with its pushing and shoving for prestige and tenure by those employed to educate our youth.
The essay argues, by way of asking why not, that there are not enough MacArthur Fellows from the South. The author, John Warner provides what he believes to be stand out reasons as to why he has never been named as a MacArthur Fellow with number three getting most directly to the point:
1. I haven’t done anything worthy of being chosen as a MacArthur Fellow. Often, the most obvious answer is indeed the correct one.2. I’m getting too old to be a genius. Of this year’s class, more than half are either exactly my age (43) or younger.3. I live and work in the South.
Below I have compiled a list of my own. It is of things I have never been awarded because they are events that I have elected to not be part of by way of intentional or passive decision-making. Categorically they have made me in part who I am.
I have never won first place in a potato sack race because I have never participated in a potato sack race.
In second grade I did not win the Michael Jackson look-a-like contest because I did not participate in the Michael Jackson look-a-like contest
In second grade I did not win the Madonna look-a-like contest because I did not participate in the Madonna look-a-like contest.
Despite these early setbacks, I went on to attend college. I attended a small private religious institution about one hour from where I grew up. Given that the college was small and private and therefore more expensive than state colleges, scholarships helped to fund many students’ educations. Some scholarships were awarded to minority students in an attempt to diversify the otherwise homogenous, white student population. During my time attending this college, there was an instance in which a fellow student was denied a minority scholarship for African Americans. He was denied not by luck of the draw or poor merit. It was because he was not considered African American despite being born in Egypt and having moved to the United States, thereby making him categorically an African American. The purveyors and proprietors of this scholarship had perhaps made a mistake on their part: a typo of sorts within the list of qualifications on the application. The problem was one of nomenclature. They had intended one thing, all likely unassuming of another, which was a broader interpretation of the term African American.  The scholarship was intended for a particular ethnic group. And although it is typically understood what is meant by the term African American, it could be argued both ways in this case. By geography, the student was African American despite being Caucasian. By social class and race he was not.
The categorization of people often presents itself as problematic, introducing bias and unfair treatment of one particular people over another by way of exclusion. Such bias is what Carrie Mae Weems’ work is in part about and justly so, it is such bias that needs addressing. In the case argued by John Warner, it is also a categorical inequality that he attempts to address. However, the argument although admittedly a bit tongue in cheek, does not carry with it the same weight that ironically, the now MacArthur Fellow (that being Weems) attempts to address in the very work for which she was awarded the title. I do not believe that Warner is equating racial inequality with award distribution inequality amongst Southerners. But it is not a commonly held sentiment that Southerners have been the targets of unfair or unjust treatment. In fact as history shows unfortunately, excluding African American Southerners, it has been just the opposite.  I should note that John Warner is a satirical writer whose work has been published by McSweeney’s. I should also note that first, I am a Southerner having been born in Texas and spent my entire life (excluding these most recent five years in California) living in Mississippi and second, I agree with Warner that there is but a small group of Southerners amongst those deemed “genius” by the MacArthur Foundation. More individuals from the south should be considered or at least less from the places that a surprising majority due hail. Many worthwhile creatives are from the South. Let me name three: William Eggleston, Flannery O’Connor and Wendell Berry.
While the awarding body members of the MacArthur Foundation might not have it out specifically for southerners, they are perhaps inadvertently ignoring southerners. This is central to Warner’s argument and it might very well be true. Award processes and events where in by participants are selected by means of judgment are typically an incestuous affair. I have been fortunate to have my work exhibited in a few group shows. For these shows, some people were selected to have work included and some were not. And in every group show of which I have been a part, I have had some connection to those who were responsible for producing the exhibit. It is a process not without bias but it is also how the selection process works. I do it myself with each issue ofStrant. I have yet to seek out, nor do I intend to seek out, people I do not know to be included in the magazine or interviewed on the blog. My intent is to encourage the work of those whom I know rather they are regarded with high esteem within the world of photography or if they are absolute unknowns. And if one believes this to be an unfair process, then I hope one day I have the opportunity to meet you. I have found that through the short life of this magazine and blog thus far that the means of getting the interview or producing each issue is far more rewarding for me at least than the end product. I hope those whom I have called upon for help in doing so feel the same.
My intent is not to single out John Warner as self-loathing. With him I am hopefully promoting a more balanced idea of reward and recognition. Nor is my intent to dilute the value of being named a MacArthur Fellow. We all deserve to have our voice be heard. And being listened to and awarded for one’s creative voice carries with it often deserved recognition and with that recognition new opportunity. But perhaps what we need more is less about individual achievement. Perhaps what we need is to value intimate work with, knowledge of, and strong relationships with others within a tangible and less-about-prestige community of like-minded as well as unlike-minded people. Praise can take a back seat. Get to know those who hold power to influence if acclaim is what you seek. Get to know those who care about you more than they do your work if what you need is honest reward.

[ VOL 002, ISS 0010 ] Create Not Acclaim

by Shaun H Kelly

Photographer Carrie Mae Weems was named as a 2013 MacArthur Fellow. Weems work is focused on current issues facing African Americans. Her work as stated (here) by the MacArthur Foundation, examines “the complex and contradictory legacy of African American identity, class, and culture in the United States.

Recently an essay appeared on Slate titled, “Why are there no MacArthur Geniuses from the South?” The post originally appeared on Inside Higher Ed, an online news source featuring “a powerful suite of tools to help higher education professionals get jobs and colleges identify and hire employees” and is “a gathering place for all of the many constituents and diverse institutions that make up the rich web of higher education.” In short, it is a website to help educationists get the job one wants and a place to promote a broader community of educators. My wife works in higher education and based upon some conversations we have on the drive home from work, if there is a place where community needs promotion it is academia with its pushing and shoving for prestige and tenure by those employed to educate our youth.

The essay argues, by way of asking why not, that there are not enough MacArthur Fellows from the South. The author, John Warner provides what he believes to be stand out reasons as to why he has never been named as a MacArthur Fellow with number three getting most directly to the point:

1. I haven’t done anything worthy of being chosen as a MacArthur Fellow. Often, the most obvious answer is indeed the correct one.
2. I’m getting too old to be a genius. Of this year’s class, more than half are either exactly my age (43) or younger.
3. I live and work in the South.

Below I have compiled a list of my own. It is of things I have never been awarded because they are events that I have elected to not be part of by way of intentional or passive decision-making. Categorically they have made me in part who I am.

  1. I have never won first place in a potato sack race because I have never participated in a potato sack race.
  2. In second grade I did not win the Michael Jackson look-a-like contest because I did not participate in the Michael Jackson look-a-like contest
  3. In second grade I did not win the Madonna look-a-like contest because I did not participate in the Madonna look-a-like contest.

Despite these early setbacks, I went on to attend college. I attended a small private religious institution about one hour from where I grew up. Given that the college was small and private and therefore more expensive than state colleges, scholarships helped to fund many students’ educations. Some scholarships were awarded to minority students in an attempt to diversify the otherwise homogenous, white student population. During my time attending this college, there was an instance in which a fellow student was denied a minority scholarship for African Americans. He was denied not by luck of the draw or poor merit. It was because he was not considered African American despite being born in Egypt and having moved to the United States, thereby making him categorically an African American. The purveyors and proprietors of this scholarship had perhaps made a mistake on their part: a typo of sorts within the list of qualifications on the application. The problem was one of nomenclature. They had intended one thing, all likely unassuming of another, which was a broader interpretation of the term African American.  The scholarship was intended for a particular ethnic group. And although it is typically understood what is meant by the term African American, it could be argued both ways in this case. By geography, the student was African American despite being Caucasian. By social class and race he was not.

The categorization of people often presents itself as problematic, introducing bias and unfair treatment of one particular people over another by way of exclusion. Such bias is what Carrie Mae Weems’ work is in part about and justly so, it is such bias that needs addressing. In the case argued by John Warner, it is also a categorical inequality that he attempts to address. However, the argument although admittedly a bit tongue in cheek, does not carry with it the same weight that ironically, the now MacArthur Fellow (that being Weems) attempts to address in the very work for which she was awarded the title. I do not believe that Warner is equating racial inequality with award distribution inequality amongst Southerners. But it is not a commonly held sentiment that Southerners have been the targets of unfair or unjust treatment. In fact as history shows unfortunately, excluding African American Southerners, it has been just the opposite.  I should note that John Warner is a satirical writer whose work has been published by McSweeney’s. I should also note that first, I am a Southerner having been born in Texas and spent my entire life (excluding these most recent five years in California) living in Mississippi and second, I agree with Warner that there is but a small group of Southerners amongst those deemed “genius” by the MacArthur Foundation. More individuals from the south should be considered or at least less from the places that a surprising majority due hail. Many worthwhile creatives are from the South. Let me name three: William Eggleston, Flannery O’Connor and Wendell Berry.

While the awarding body members of the MacArthur Foundation might not have it out specifically for southerners, they are perhaps inadvertently ignoring southerners. This is central to Warner’s argument and it might very well be true. Award processes and events where in by participants are selected by means of judgment are typically an incestuous affair. I have been fortunate to have my work exhibited in a few group shows. For these shows, some people were selected to have work included and some were not. And in every group show of which I have been a part, I have had some connection to those who were responsible for producing the exhibit. It is a process not without bias but it is also how the selection process works. I do it myself with each issue ofStrant. I have yet to seek out, nor do I intend to seek out, people I do not know to be included in the magazine or interviewed on the blog. My intent is to encourage the work of those whom I know rather they are regarded with high esteem within the world of photography or if they are absolute unknowns. And if one believes this to be an unfair process, then I hope one day I have the opportunity to meet you. I have found that through the short life of this magazine and blog thus far that the means of getting the interview or producing each issue is far more rewarding for me at least than the end product. I hope those whom I have called upon for help in doing so feel the same.

My intent is not to single out John Warner as self-loathing. With him I am hopefully promoting a more balanced idea of reward and recognition. Nor is my intent to dilute the value of being named a MacArthur Fellow. We all deserve to have our voice be heard. And being listened to and awarded for one’s creative voice carries with it often deserved recognition and with that recognition new opportunity. But perhaps what we need more is less about individual achievement. Perhaps what we need is to value intimate work with, knowledge of, and strong relationships with others within a tangible and less-about-prestige community of like-minded as well as unlike-minded people. Praise can take a back seat. Get to know those who hold power to influence if acclaim is what you seek. Get to know those who care about you more than they do your work if what you need is honest reward.

[ VOL 002, ISS 009 ] My Friend from Memphis by Huger Foote
Review by Shaun H Kelly
While rummaging through cardboard file boxes at a used book sale this weekend I passed over a particular book at least twice because to be completely honest the cover is not attractive. I left having decided not to include My Friend from Memphis by Huger Foote as part of my purchase, which did include: although beat up, a first edition of Family of Man (at a great price too) along with four issues of Granta. One issue includes work by Donovan Wylie and another work by Mary Ellen Mark. I returned to the book sale that afternoon in order that my wife could do some rummaging of her own and it wasn’t until then that I even picked up Foote’s book.
At this point I did not pay attention to the title. I thumbed through a few pages and dismissed the work as too derivative and put it back in the file box. Although, the images were attractive. They were made with bold colors in mind. And so the old, worn out axiom proved true that one cannot judge a book by its cover. However, this little story does not serve as a motif on which I reveal that ironically the book is well worth the read on its own. I did after all; dismiss it at least three times now. However, the images were so familiar. They stuck with me as I dug through those white cardboard office file boxes for at least the tenth time having almost resolved that there was nothing that this sale had left to offer.
I grabbed the book once again, this time paying attention to the title and that is when it hit me… this work is very much derived of William Eggleston right down to geography, subject matter, and the saturated color printing. I flipped to the colophon and there was an unexpected credit to Mr. Eggleston himself for an introductory text. At this point the book I felt had earned its merit and my assessment of it almost being a rip off was unfounded. What appealed to me however was not so much the imagery alone. It is certainly good imagery. I enjoy looking at them and they lend a new perspective. To be fair, the work is different. One could distinguish the two without much effort. However, it became more appealing because an artist such as Eggleston lent himself to another artist whose work looks so much like his own. The book and the work within became part of a conversation between two people who share similar stories. Huger Foote is the son of Shelby Foote, the famed civil war historian and author. So, much like Eggleston, Huger Foote was born into wealth and prestige. Foote also like Eggleston, is from the south and started out photographing in black and white. He had commercial success doing so and it was while shooting a portrait of Eggleston for Vanity Fair that the two met. And it was Eggleston who seemed to have encouraged Foote in color much the same way it was done for him.
The back-stories of these two artists do diverge in many ways I am sure and the comparisons are all in all likely slim. Furthermore, it is not all that valuable to continue comparing these two photographers. It is evident that the predecessor of the second has no qualms about his disciple of color. It is evident that one influenced the other. And it is evident that Eggleston influences me. It was after all only after realizing whom the “friend” was in the title and that the “friend” had contributed to the book that I decided to buy it. Do not hide one’s influences as though they will not come to light anyway. This is the resolve of which I have convinced myself.
My Friend from Memphis includes many images of looking through windows, looking over fences, through doorways, and around corners. Into this and out of that. There are also many photographs of jumbled messes of briars, flowers, and vines. There is, a lot of looking through and there is a lot, to look through. Much the same are photography, influence and art. There is so much that informs what the artist creates even to the point of mutual creation, a give and take of subject matter, composition and element. Where one artist ends the other has begun about five miles back. There is an honesty to the work of Huger Foote as influenced by the great William Eggleston as there is an honesty by Eggleston in recognizing himself as a teacher. In My Friend from Memphis Foote seems to sort through his influences, peering through windows past open and closed signs, pushing away limbs and leaves, and finding himself in a conversation already started. In the introduction, Eggleston paraphrased something shared to him by Lee Friedlander. He said, “we feed on each other’s works, we enhance each other. We don’t have anything to be jealous of. As artists, we give precious stuff out, and we take it back. And that helps us. It simply helps us. It’s not so simple, but it helps us.”
In the intro by Eggleston and the accompanying biography of Huger Foote, it is shared that Foote suffered a gunshot wound. Point blank during a car jacking. His time at home in Memphis during which he photographed work within My Friend from Memphis was while he was convalescing. I wonder about Eggleston’s choice of words when he shares how artists help one another. How it might be that one artist helps to heal another when by way of either a life changing event or simple persistence, one’s foundation is finally and abruptly shaken. How one’s heart might bleed and what it feels like. Like from black and white to color it changes. I consider growing as an artist also a time of healing. How one begins to break one way of seeing in order that another can come about. How a wrecked artistic voice might sound like a shotgun blast and the healing of the eyes might look like the reflection of light from a windowpane, the same one that a friend in Memphis, TN has already photographed at least once before.

[ VOL 002, ISS 009 ] My Friend from Memphis by Huger Foote

Review by Shaun H Kelly

While rummaging through cardboard file boxes at a used book sale this weekend I passed over a particular book at least twice because to be completely honest the cover is not attractive. I left having decided not to include My Friend from Memphis by Huger Foote as part of my purchase, which did include: although beat up, a first edition of Family of Man (at a great price too) along with four issues of Granta. One issue includes work by Donovan Wylie and another work by Mary Ellen Mark. I returned to the book sale that afternoon in order that my wife could do some rummaging of her own and it wasn’t until then that I even picked up Foote’s book.

At this point I did not pay attention to the title. I thumbed through a few pages and dismissed the work as too derivative and put it back in the file box. Although, the images were attractive. They were made with bold colors in mind. And so the old, worn out axiom proved true that one cannot judge a book by its cover. However, this little story does not serve as a motif on which I reveal that ironically the book is well worth the read on its own. I did after all; dismiss it at least three times now. However, the images were so familiar. They stuck with me as I dug through those white cardboard office file boxes for at least the tenth time having almost resolved that there was nothing that this sale had left to offer.

I grabbed the book once again, this time paying attention to the title and that is when it hit me… this work is very much derived of William Eggleston right down to geography, subject matter, and the saturated color printing. I flipped to the colophon and there was an unexpected credit to Mr. Eggleston himself for an introductory text. At this point the book I felt had earned its merit and my assessment of it almost being a rip off was unfounded. What appealed to me however was not so much the imagery alone. It is certainly good imagery. I enjoy looking at them and they lend a new perspective. To be fair, the work is different. One could distinguish the two without much effort. However, it became more appealing because an artist such as Eggleston lent himself to another artist whose work looks so much like his own. The book and the work within became part of a conversation between two people who share similar stories. Huger Foote is the son of Shelby Foote, the famed civil war historian and author. So, much like Eggleston, Huger Foote was born into wealth and prestige. Foote also like Eggleston, is from the south and started out photographing in black and white. He had commercial success doing so and it was while shooting a portrait of Eggleston for Vanity Fair that the two met. And it was Eggleston who seemed to have encouraged Foote in color much the same way it was done for him.

The back-stories of these two artists do diverge in many ways I am sure and the comparisons are all in all likely slim. Furthermore, it is not all that valuable to continue comparing these two photographers. It is evident that the predecessor of the second has no qualms about his disciple of color. It is evident that one influenced the other. And it is evident that Eggleston influences me. It was after all only after realizing whom the “friend” was in the title and that the “friend” had contributed to the book that I decided to buy it. Do not hide one’s influences as though they will not come to light anyway. This is the resolve of which I have convinced myself.

My Friend from Memphis includes many images of looking through windows, looking over fences, through doorways, and around corners. Into this and out of that. There are also many photographs of jumbled messes of briars, flowers, and vines. There is, a lot of looking through and there is a lot, to look through. Much the same are photography, influence and art. There is so much that informs what the artist creates even to the point of mutual creation, a give and take of subject matter, composition and element. Where one artist ends the other has begun about five miles back. There is an honesty to the work of Huger Foote as influenced by the great William Eggleston as there is an honesty by Eggleston in recognizing himself as a teacher. In My Friend from Memphis Foote seems to sort through his influences, peering through windows past open and closed signs, pushing away limbs and leaves, and finding himself in a conversation already started. In the introduction, Eggleston paraphrased something shared to him by Lee Friedlander. He said, “we feed on each other’s works, we enhance each other. We don’t have anything to be jealous of. As artists, we give precious stuff out, and we take it back. And that helps us. It simply helps us. It’s not so simple, but it helps us.”

In the intro by Eggleston and the accompanying biography of Huger Foote, it is shared that Foote suffered a gunshot wound. Point blank during a car jacking. His time at home in Memphis during which he photographed work within My Friend from Memphis was while he was convalescing. I wonder about Eggleston’s choice of words when he shares how artists help one another. How it might be that one artist helps to heal another when by way of either a life changing event or simple persistence, one’s foundation is finally and abruptly shaken. How one’s heart might bleed and what it feels like. Like from black and white to color it changes. I consider growing as an artist also a time of healing. How one begins to break one way of seeing in order that another can come about. How a wrecked artistic voice might sound like a shotgun blast and the healing of the eyes might look like the reflection of light from a windowpane, the same one that a friend in Memphis, TN has already photographed at least once before.

[ VOL 002, ISS 009 ] in conversation with Larry Mills; About Short Track by Jake Mendel, Growing up Near Modesto, and his series American Made
Discussion by Larry Mills & Shaun H Kelly
Larry Mills was born in Modesto, California, the town George Lucas made the setting for his movie American Graffiti. Modesto is a town about car culture. It is perhaps the American town most associated with hotrods, cruising, and drag racing and just like the characters in American Graffiti, Larry as a teen cruised McHenry Boulevard. That is, before the cops cracked down. Larry and I recently talked about his growing up in and around Modesto. We talked about the freedom of cars and America’s youth. The catalyst for the conversation was Short Track, a book about a particular auto racing culture in America by Jake Mendel. We also talked about Larry’s series American Made, a project that exist somewhere between from where we came and where we are going. 
CR: You grew up in Modesto, CA right?
LM: That’s where I was born. I lived there until I was about six but I grew up in Turlock.
CR: There is a piece on NPR I read recently about car culture and it references Modesto and the movieAmerican Graffiti and how the kids in the movie, which I’ve never actually seen…
LM: That was my parents’ era.
CR: So your parents would just drive around town?
LM: Yep.
CR: NPR interviewed teens in Modesto and many of them do not even own a car.
LM: When I was a teenager everyone had lowered mini trucks.
CR: Me too. When I was in high school there was a culture centered around cars but there wasn’t a strip that everyone would cruise…
LM: Yeah everyone would park in parking lots.
CR: Yeah exactly. In my town there was a parking lot behind the Fast Lane gas station where everyone would park. And the cops would show up and, I guess because they didn’t have anything better to do, would make everyone leave.
LM: When I first started cruising in my early teens we’d go to Modesto to McHenry Boulevard where they cruised back in the day like my parents or old downtown Modesto. But the cops started cracking down on that. So we would stay in Turlock and cruise Geer Road, which was a long stretch, two-lane this way two-lane that way. We’d drive to one end and back to the other. The cops would say if they saw us go back and forth more than twice we’re going to pull you over and give you a ticket so everyone started hitting the parking lots. But there was one section of town, three blocks long, where you could come out of one parking lot, cross the street into the next and then the businesses were all connected. So we’d cruise through each one until we got to the end and turn around and park, and watch people go by sitting on our tailgates.
CR: I think about that now and I don’t know what law was really being violated. I guess sitting in the parking lots is trespassing…
LM: Or loitering.
CR: Yeah even though it was usually a vacant parking lot. But what’s the law against driving around in circles?
LM: I don’t know.
CR: Nobody questions authority.
LM: If you were to cruise Geer Road on a Tuesday all day long that wouldn’t happen but do it on a Friday or Saturday night and they’ll give you a ticket. Probably though because it escalates into a fight or people being stupid and driving recklessly which is kind of part of it you know.
CR: This whole scene is so foreign to me. As a kid I would have never thought it was okay like these kids in Short Track, to be so close to the engine of a car. Everything under the hood is foreign to me. I wonder about these kids in these photos. If they want to do what their parents do.
LM: I am sure they do. I’ve got a buddy whose three year old is into it already. He is checking out the hotrods as they drive by.
LM: When they are around it like this, they are destined. It was always around me. It’s just there. And when you were a kid that was your thing. You want to get a fast car after you get your driver’s license. It was a big deal, who could do the biggest burn out as they left the high school parking lot. But I had a scooter.
CR: You drove a scooter to high school?
LM: Yeah I was only sixteen when I was a senior. I turned seventeen November of my senior year. And I just drove a scooter to school every day. But I could do donuts and pop wheelies. That was badass. [laughs]
CR: Why are you into cars?
LM: Growing up near and around Modesto everyone is into it.
CR: Is it really that big?
LM: Yeah there is nothing else to do.
CR: But there is nothing else to do in a lot of towns.
LM: Probably because it is so rooted there. Because of American Graffiti. My mom always bought cars that had a V8 engine. I asked her why and she said, “when I want to pass I want to pass” and she told me that the reason there is no gas left is because her generation used it all up.
LM: I tried to get my dad to help me buy my first car. I wanted a hot rod but he wouldn’t have it.
CR: So what was your first car?
LM: A Toyota Celica because my dad thought I should get something economical. I had to do what he said because he was the moneylender. One day he called me up and said he had found a great little Celica parked on the side of the road for sale and that we should check it out. We went and looked at it and he thought it was nice and I was just ready for a car. But that car lasted six months. I blew a stop sign and t-boned another car and totaled both of them.
CR: Was anyone hurt?
LM: The other guy was shook up. He cut his head, a tiny cut. But he was in a Volvo, which was good. I blacked out when we hit. I went over the curb and barely missed a telephone pole and stopped in someone’s front lawn.
CR: What were you doing to cause this, just driving too fast?
LM: Yeah. I was driving from Turlock to Modesto. I was going to buy tickets to see AC/DC…
CR: Nice.
LM: … and I’ve been on every single road in Turlock except for this one. And I was looking for the road I needed to turn onto. But the guy whose yard I ended up in was really upset because he had told the city there had been too many accidents at that intersection already. Not even a year later they put in a four way stop with a big blinking red light.
CR: So your series, American Made… I like seeing these old cars in contemporary settings. Cars become a timestamp of a certain era. So to see your photographs, maybe there is this dying hope. Maybe that’s heavy and not your intent when you see these vehicles…
LM: Like it is trying to survive.
CR: Well yeah. Maybe freedom is back in 1960 or 1970 and it’s 2013 and if we could just hold on to freedom.
LM: All cars look the same now. That’s why I tend to photograph old cars because I recognize them apart from one another. I used to be able to look at a car and know exactly what it was.
CR: But do you think there is anything to kids not being interested in cars and the opportunities for youth now?
LM: It’s hard.
CR: It’s tougher to grow up maybe. There are expectations and it cost so much money to live up to these expectations. I look at pictures of cars and projects like your American Made and I wonder if maybe teenagers don’t want cars because it isa symbol of freedom and hopefulness and maybe there is less hopefulness with this generation.
LM: Is it just as simple as insurance and gas cost too much money and they won’t be able to afford the next iPhone?
CR: Yeah I don’t know.
LM: Maybe that is there freedom.
CR: There is this romanticized feeling about social media because it is some sort of sharing but I don’t buy it. Maybe I am being nostalgic about my youth or maybe it really is just superficial.
LM: It is totally superficial. I say that but I still do it. I turn off the alarm on my iPhone first thing in the morning and then I look at Instagram but then I wonder what is wrong with me?
CR: There is no intent to preserve anything. Everything is experiential and it’s gone. But like this culture in Short Track, intentional or not, there is an effort to preserve.
LM: My dad, he is the third owner of his house. He bought it from my grandpa. My grandpa bought it from Gene Winfield who is hugely famous for building custom hotrods and is from Modesto. There are all kinds of strange little ties to the hotrod community. My dad owned jacked up cars with big fat tires in the back when I was kid. He didn’t work on them but he had to have hotrods. He drove fast. He’d put the clutch in and let me shift the gears. I was driving when I was twelve.
CR: My dad would try to get me to drive before I turned fifteen but I was always afraid. I wasn’t interested in driving until I got my license.
LM: I’ve never been able to own the car I really wanted. I was forced into the Toyota Celica that I destroyed and then by dad sold me his so I went from a ’72 to a ’78 Celica. The only car that I ever got that I liked and wanted wasn’t a hotrod, it was a ’65 Volkswagen bug but I loved it. Now I own a Ford Ranger and I want to sell it and go buy a Mustang. But there is this side of me that says get something economical. I’ve never had that car in which I could just let loose.
CR: It is interesting to think that the Millennials might not be interested in cars because maybe they aren’t interested in owning anything and they are more interested in experience. But I look at Short Track and I don’t think these people are interested in owning things either. The vehicle is literally and figuratively a vehicle to live this certain life and enjoy themselves. If you for instance, didn’t grow up in Modesto it would be something else.
LM: If I grew up in Silicon Valley I’d be a computer programmer. Good Lord help me if that happened. [laughs]
CR: The cars are a means.
LM: Yeah you don’t see millionaires out driving a beat up car with these folks. The young kids though. It’s a totally different world. I couldn’t believe it when I got my license and a car. It was freedom in a huge way.
CR: Freedom and cars being tied to that notion is definitely part of our American culture. Cars give us freedom. Moving out here to the west coast I saw that even more. Out here were these pioneers who set out on their own in search of freedom. And that mentality becomes a mentality of a place. It becomes ingrained.
LM: Yeah I don’t recall thinking I will have freedom once I get a car but once it happened it was on. You realize. I didn’t even have anywhere in particular to go. It was just a good feeling. I loved driving out into the country on a long two lane road, corn growing on either side, crack a tall boy and just drive with the windows down.
LM: I graduated from high school in 1988. Barely but I did. I worked a job running the stamping press that stamped bottle caps on wine cooler bottles. My friend’s parents owned a beach house on Morro Bay and my friend asked if I wanted to go. I was eighteen or nineteen at the time and I didn’t want to be where I was so I split. I lived in Morro Bay for about nine months, maybe a year. I didn’t know what I wanted to do but I didn’t want to stay in Turlock. I ended up being a parts driver for an auto dealership. That sucked, the people I was living with were partying way to hard so I left. I went back home and got a job driving a forklift in a warehouse, which is what my dad did. He worked for Hershey’s for 39 years and my mom worked at a vegetable processing plant. Blue-collar work. So just like my granddad did and my step dad did I worked in this warehouse. I was getting benefits and making decent money for Turlock standards. And one day on a freak chance I drove my brother to Berkeley to see his girlfriend and her friend was in town from UCSB. She and I hit it off and I started driving to see her. It was my chance to escape again. My mom was so upset because I quit the warehouse job. She was traumatized. But this girl was going to school and would hang out in the library. It was what I wanted to do but never thought I was smart enough to do it. So then it was my idea to make money at art. I took photography at Santa Barbara City College and that was it. I was hooked.
CR: We are ambitious when we are young. But at some point we hopefully are okay with just enjoying ourselves.
LM: Yeah.
CR: There is this weird thing, I think it’s American that you can’t just live to enjoy.
LM: Right you have to be living to achieve some higher level.
CR: Blame it on the Protestants that life for us is about working hard.
LM: It can be.
CR: Which can be a good thing but enjoy yourself too.
LM: I was self-employed for four years. The freedom was nice but the stress of not knowing when the next buck is coming gets to you. I’m totally happy now working a nine to five.
CR: I am okay sometimes working a nine to five. Not all the time but sometimes. Often I wonder what I am doing spending forty hours of my week at a job but it’s what you do with the other time you have.
LM: You have to learn to love what’s happening right now. I feel like I have back peddled in a way but I am okay with that. I have a clearer picture.
CR: We do move in circles it seems. We eclipse ourselves and go back from where we came.
CR: The people in Short Track, their idols are NASCAR drivers.
LM: For sure. One guy has a Dale Earnhardt tattoo.
CR: Was Dale Earnhardt that good?
LM: He was like the Elvis of NASCAR. But what I like about this book is that it is the underbelly of NASCAR. It’s not so glorified. The crustier the better. It’s more approachable. In a way it’s more heartfelt.
CR: Well these people are proud. They don’t give a shit about appearances and they are proud of what they do.
LM: The glitz and glamour gets boring. I like this one. This is how you get into the track, show up to a little booth and hand over cash.
CR: I like the signs: no alcoholic beverages, no firearms.
CR: How long have you shot American Made?
LM: Probably as long as I’ve been taking pictures, if I looked back. But consciously I’d say since 2000. I noticed when I was living in San Francisco people had these old cars in their driveways. It was like stepping back in time.
CR: And you know the cars well enough to know they were American made? And here is my ignorance about cars… but with these older cars is there such a distinction between assembled in America versus made in America?
LM: It was more that they were American cars. There is a photo I have of a Chevy Lumina and I don’t know if it was made in America. But there is something about the style and beauty. I was attracted to that American style. It was those old cars like my dad had. The ones I learned to do brake stands in.
CR: You learned how to do what?
LM: A brake stand. Where you stand on the brake and gas at the same time and just melt all the tread off the tires. [laughs]
CR: Look at Detroit and look at American industry on the decline and here are these cars. They are symbols of hope and freedom. Pontiac is gone and although Ford and Chevy are still trying, what does that mean?
LM: I want American cars to continue to be made. It’s jobs, it’s pride, and it’s straight up coolness. It’s better than a Honda. Anything that has wheels though I love it. Anything that is about speed, about gas and about being loud I love it.

[ VOL 002, ISS 009 ] in conversation with Larry Mills; About Short Track by Jake Mendel, Growing up Near Modesto, and his series American Made

Discussion by Larry Mills & Shaun H Kelly

Larry Mills was born in Modesto, California, the town George Lucas made the setting for his movie American Graffiti. Modesto is a town about car culture. It is perhaps the American town most associated with hotrods, cruising, and drag racing and just like the characters in American Graffiti, Larry as a teen cruised McHenry Boulevard. That is, before the cops cracked down. Larry and I recently talked about his growing up in and around Modesto. We talked about the freedom of cars and America’s youth. The catalyst for the conversation was Short Track, a book about a particular auto racing culture in America by Jake Mendel. We also talked about Larry’s series American Made, a project that exist somewhere between from where we came and where we are going. 

CR: You grew up in Modesto, CA right?

LM: That’s where I was born. I lived there until I was about six but I grew up in Turlock.

CR: There is a piece on NPR I read recently about car culture and it references Modesto and the movie
American Graffiti and how the kids in the movie, which I’ve never actually seen…

LM: That was my parents’ era.

CR: So your parents would just drive around town?

LM: Yep.

CR: NPR interviewed teens in Modesto and many of them do not even own a car.

LM: When I was a teenager everyone had lowered mini trucks.

CR: Me too. When I was in high school there was a culture centered around cars but there wasn’t a strip that everyone would cruise…

LM: Yeah everyone would park in parking lots.

CR: Yeah exactly. In my town there was a parking lot behind the Fast Lane gas station where everyone would park. And the cops would show up and, I guess because they didn’t have anything better to do, would make everyone leave.

LM: When I first started cruising in my early teens we’d go to Modesto to McHenry Boulevard where they cruised back in the day like my parents or old downtown Modesto. But the cops started cracking down on that. So we would stay in Turlock and cruise Geer Road, which was a long stretch, two-lane this way two-lane that way. We’d drive to one end and back to the other. The cops would say if they saw us go back and forth more than twice we’re going to pull you over and give you a ticket so everyone started hitting the parking lots. But there was one section of town, three blocks long, where you could come out of one parking lot, cross the street into the next and then the businesses were all connected. So we’d cruise through each one until we got to the end and turn around and park, and watch people go by sitting on our tailgates.

CR: I think about that now and I don’t know what law was really being violated. I guess sitting in the parking lots is trespassing…

LM: Or loitering.

CR: Yeah even though it was usually a vacant parking lot. But what’s the law against driving around in circles?

LM: I don’t know.

CR: Nobody questions authority.

LM: If you were to cruise Geer Road on a Tuesday all day long that wouldn’t happen but do it on a Friday or Saturday night and they’ll give you a ticket. Probably though because it escalates into a fight or people being stupid and driving recklessly which is kind of part of it you know.

CR: This whole scene is so foreign to me. As a kid I would have never thought it was okay like these kids in Short Track, to be so close to the engine of a car. Everything under the hood is foreign to me. I wonder about these kids in these photos. If they want to do what their parents do.

LM: I am sure they do. I’ve got a buddy whose three year old is into it already. He is checking out the hotrods as they drive by.

LM: When they are around it like this, they are destined. It was always around me. It’s just there. And when you were a kid that was your thing. You want to get a fast car after you get your driver’s license. It was a big deal, who could do the biggest burn out as they left the high school parking lot. But I had a scooter.

CR: You drove a scooter to high school?

LM: Yeah I was only sixteen when I was a senior. I turned seventeen November of my senior year. And I just drove a scooter to school every day. But I could do donuts and pop wheelies. That was badass. [laughs]

CR: Why are you into cars?

LM: Growing up near and around Modesto everyone is into it.

CR: Is it really that big?

LM: Yeah there is nothing else to do.

CR: But there is nothing else to do in a lot of towns.

LM: Probably because it is so rooted there. Because of American Graffiti. My mom always bought cars that had a V8 engine. I asked her why and she said, “when I want to pass I want to pass” and she told me that the reason there is no gas left is because her generation used it all up.

LM: I tried to get my dad to help me buy my first car. I wanted a hot rod but he wouldn’t have it.

CR: So what was your first car?

LM: A Toyota Celica because my dad thought I should get something economical. I had to do what he said because he was the moneylender. One day he called me up and said he had found a great little Celica parked on the side of the road for sale and that we should check it out. We went and looked at it and he thought it was nice and I was just ready for a car. But that car lasted six months. I blew a stop sign and t-boned another car and totaled both of them.

CR: Was anyone hurt?

LM: The other guy was shook up. He cut his head, a tiny cut. But he was in a Volvo, which was good. I blacked out when we hit. I went over the curb and barely missed a telephone pole and stopped in someone’s front lawn.

CR: What were you doing to cause this, just driving too fast?

LM: Yeah. I was driving from Turlock to Modesto. I was going to buy tickets to see AC/DC…

CR: Nice.

LM: … and I’ve been on every single road in Turlock except for this one. And I was looking for the road I needed to turn onto. But the guy whose yard I ended up in was really upset because he had told the city there had been too many accidents at that intersection already. Not even a year later they put in a four way stop with a big blinking red light.

CR: So your series, American Made… I like seeing these old cars in contemporary settings. Cars become a timestamp of a certain era. So to see your photographs, maybe there is this dying hope. Maybe that’s heavy and not your intent when you see these vehicles…

LM: Like it is trying to survive.

CR: Well yeah. Maybe freedom is back in 1960 or 1970 and it’s 2013 and if we could just hold on to freedom.

LM: All cars look the same now. That’s why I tend to photograph old cars because I recognize them apart from one another. I used to be able to look at a car and know exactly what it was.

CR: But do you think there is anything to kids not being interested in cars and the opportunities for youth now?

LM: It’s hard.

CR: It’s tougher to grow up maybe. There are expectations and it cost so much money to live up to these expectations. I look at pictures of cars and projects like your American Made and I wonder if maybe teenagers don’t want cars because it is
a symbol of freedom and hopefulness and maybe there is less hopefulness with this generation.

LM: Is it just as simple as insurance and gas cost too much money and they won’t be able to afford the next iPhone?

CR: Yeah I don’t know.

LM: Maybe that is there freedom.

CR: There is this romanticized feeling about social media because it is some sort of sharing but I don’t buy it. Maybe I am being nostalgic about my youth or maybe it really is just superficial.

LM: It is totally superficial. I say that but I still do it. I turn off the alarm on my iPhone first thing in the morning and then I look at Instagram but then I wonder what is wrong with me?

CR: There is no intent to preserve anything. Everything is experiential and it’s gone. But like this culture in Short Track, intentional or not, there is an effort to preserve.

LM: My dad, he is the third owner of his house. He bought it from my grandpa. My grandpa bought it from Gene Winfield who is hugely famous for building custom hotrods and is from Modesto. There are all kinds of strange little ties to the hotrod community. My dad owned jacked up cars with big fat tires in the back when I was kid. He didn’t work on them but he had to have hotrods. He drove fast. He’d put the clutch in and let me shift the gears. I was driving when I was twelve.

CR: My dad would try to get me to drive before I turned fifteen but I was always afraid. I wasn’t interested in driving until I got my license.

LM: I’ve never been able to own the car I really wanted. I was forced into the Toyota Celica that I destroyed and then by dad sold me his so I went from a ’72 to a ’78 Celica. The only car that I ever got that I liked and wanted wasn’t a hotrod, it was a ’65 Volkswagen bug but I loved it. Now I own a Ford Ranger and I want to sell it and go buy a Mustang. But there is this side of me that says get something economical. I’ve never had that car in which I could just let loose.

CR: It is interesting to think that the Millennials might not be interested in cars because maybe they aren’t interested in owning anything and they are more interested in experience. But I look at Short Track and I don’t think these people are interested in owning things either. The vehicle is literally and figuratively a vehicle to live this certain life and enjoy themselves. If you for instance, didn’t grow up in Modesto it would be something else.

LM: If I grew up in Silicon Valley I’d be a computer programmer. Good Lord help me if that happened. [laughs]

CR: The cars are a means.

LM: Yeah you don’t see millionaires out driving a beat up car with these folks. The young kids though. It’s a totally different world. I couldn’t believe it when I got my license and a car. It was freedom in a huge way.

CR: Freedom and cars being tied to that notion is definitely part of our American culture. Cars give us freedom. Moving out here to the west coast I saw that even more. Out here were these pioneers who set out on their own in search of freedom. And that mentality becomes a mentality of a place. It becomes ingrained.

LM: Yeah I don’t recall thinking I will have freedom once I get a car but once it happened it was on. You realize. I didn’t even have anywhere in particular to go. It was just a good feeling. I loved driving out into the country on a long two lane road, corn growing on either side, crack a tall boy and just drive with the windows down.

LM: I graduated from high school in 1988. Barely but I did. I worked a job running the stamping press that stamped bottle caps on wine cooler bottles. My friend’s parents owned a beach house on Morro Bay and my friend asked if I wanted to go. I was eighteen or nineteen at the time and I didn’t want to be where I was so I split. I lived in Morro Bay for about nine months, maybe a year. I didn’t know what I wanted to do but I didn’t want to stay in Turlock. I ended up being a parts driver for an auto dealership. That sucked, the people I was living with were partying way to hard so I left. I went back home and got a job driving a forklift in a warehouse, which is what my dad did. He worked for Hershey’s for 39 years and my mom worked at a vegetable processing plant. Blue-collar work. So just like my granddad did and my step dad did I worked in this warehouse. I was getting benefits and making decent money for Turlock standards. And one day on a freak chance I drove my brother to Berkeley to see his girlfriend and her friend was in town from UCSB. She and I hit it off and I started driving to see her. It was my chance to escape again. My mom was so upset because I quit the warehouse job. She was traumatized. But this girl was going to school and would hang out in the library. It was what I wanted to do but never thought I was smart enough to do it. So then it was my idea to make money at art. I took photography at Santa Barbara City College and that was it. I was hooked.

CR: We are ambitious when we are young. But at some point we hopefully are okay with just enjoying ourselves.

LM: Yeah.

CR: There is this weird thing, I think it’s American that you can’t just live to enjoy.

LM: Right you have to be living to achieve some higher level.

CR: Blame it on the Protestants that life for us is about working hard.

LM: It can be.

CR: Which can be a good thing but enjoy yourself too.

LM: I was self-employed for four years. The freedom was nice but the stress of not knowing when the next buck is coming gets to you. I’m totally happy now working a nine to five.

CR: I am okay sometimes working a nine to five. Not all the time but sometimes. Often I wonder what I am doing spending forty hours of my week at a job but it’s what you do with the other time you have.

LM: You have to learn to love what’s happening right now. I feel like I have back peddled in a way but I am okay with that. I have a clearer picture.

CR: We do move in circles it seems. We eclipse ourselves and go back from where we came.

CR: The people in Short Track, their idols are NASCAR drivers.

LM: For sure. One guy has a Dale Earnhardt tattoo.

CR: Was Dale Earnhardt that good?

LM: He was like the Elvis of NASCAR. But what I like about this book is that it is the underbelly of NASCAR. It’s not so glorified. The crustier the better. It’s more approachable. In a way it’s more heartfelt.

CR: Well these people are proud. They don’t give a shit about appearances and they are proud of what they do.

LM: The glitz and glamour gets boring. I like this one. This is how you get into the track, show up to a little booth and hand over cash.

CR: I like the signs: no alcoholic beverages, no firearms.

CR: How long have you shot American Made?

LM: Probably as long as I’ve been taking pictures, if I looked back. But consciously I’d say since 2000. I noticed when I was living in San Francisco people had these old cars in their driveways. It was like stepping back in time.

CR: And you know the cars well enough to know they were American made? And here is my ignorance about cars… but with these older cars is there such a distinction between assembled in America versus made in America?

LM: It was more that they were American cars. There is a photo I have of a Chevy Lumina and I don’t know if it was made in America. But there is something about the style and beauty. I was attracted to that American style. It was those old cars like my dad had. The ones I learned to do brake stands in.

CR: You learned how to do what?

LM: A brake stand. Where you stand on the brake and gas at the same time and just melt all the tread off the tires. [laughs]

CR: Look at Detroit and look at American industry on the decline and here are these cars. They are symbols of hope and freedom. Pontiac is gone and although Ford and Chevy are still trying, what does that mean?

LM: I want American cars to continue to be made. It’s jobs, it’s pride, and it’s straight up coolness. It’s better than a Honda. Anything that has wheels though I love it. Anything that is about speed, about gas and about being loud I love it.

[ VOL 002, ISS 009 ] White Towers by Paul Hirshorn and Steven Izenour
Review by Shaun H Kelly
In 1926 White Tower, a chain of restaurants serving hamburgers and coffee marked by a particular architectural ornamentation, as the name of the chain suggest: a distinct white tower, was established out of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. As the chain grew, each new building was designed around the white tower, and the chains “primary form of advertising was the striking appearance of its buildings.” Although White Tower has seen its heydays come and go, at its peak in the mid-1950s the restaurant operated 230 locations throughout the Midwest and Northeast, the architects of the chain followed the principle of form follows function, which suggests that the shape of a building should be based upon its intended purpose.
In 1979, White Towers by Paul Hirshorn and Steven Izenour was published. The book served as a photographic catalogue and homage to the architecture of the restaurant chain. The author’s note reads, “everyone on the East Coast will recognize these gleaming little white buildings, located in older business districts and along roadside strips, open all night, serving hamburgers and coffee, but few will be aware of their architectural history.” The book is an attempt to make aware that history. It is a study of “a series of buildings that set out only to be visible and evocative in order to sell hamburgers…” and White Towers the book, unlike say Twentysix Gasoline Stations or Every Building on the Sunset Strip by Ed Ruscha, does not carry with it the intent to be anthropological. The authors did not intend to make a statement. It is simply a document of the architecture of White Tower the restaurant chain, whose intent was to sell hamburgers and perhaps similar to that of the book, to “…not to be original or inventive.”
Whereas Ed Ruscha’s work is conceptual in thought, White Towers is ontological and without intent accidentally anthropological. White Tower restaurants were documented; therefore White Tower restaurants must have existed. The value of the book is not that it points to something else, but that it documents that there once was something from which to point. The buildings within each photograph are figures on their own, not subjects of narrative. Ruscha’s photographs are important works of art. And in form the two books follow a similar method of photographing a particular structure over and over. Ruscha’s books though are both hugely influential and indispensable to Conceptualism. White Towers however does not find itself in that canon. But look in the parking lots of the restaurants as depicted in these photographs and see an evolution of our American urban landscape. Look at the prices on the menus compared to the price of a hamburger or slice of pie today. Look at the portraits of waitresses who worked to subsidize their husband’s salary during World War II and White Towers is of notable historical value.
When published White Towers might have been nothing more than an effort to revive a struggling restaurant chain. By 1979 the number of restaurants in the chain had been reduced to 80. It might have been a not so conspicuous nod to capitalism, an exaltation of free enterprise and how the post-war, urban America thrived on a market of cheap commodities. It might have simply been what the author says it set out to be, tribute to a well-executed effort of architectural design. Even still, given the demise of the chain, it perhaps foreshadows a coming demise of free market and the collapse of infrastructure of some of our nations largest cities. The chain began to fail after all, as inner city population dwindled and people migrated to suburban settings. Not even at five cents a hamburger could the chain keep up. Perhaps the author’s intent saying, “everyone on the East Coast will recognize these gleaming little white buildings” was to suggest familiarity, a sense that something had been left behind, for the restaurants “located in older business districts and along roadside strips” as though that context had contemporary and commercial appeal. Reading the text thirty-four years after its publication however, the words foreshadow a coming demise of a time now in which old business districts and roadside strips are less relevant and more nostalgic, much like five cent hamburgers, a relic of the past. And it perhaps still foreshadows an even further decline. A time in which not only the coming and going of a chain of restaurants seems dated but as well, the mode in which one can exist at all seems a way of the past. The hamburger might be a lasting American institution, even as the market in which it thrives struggles.

[ VOL 002, ISS 009 ] White Towers by Paul Hirshorn and Steven Izenour

Review by Shaun H Kelly

In 1926 White Tower, a chain of restaurants serving hamburgers and coffee marked by a particular architectural ornamentation, as the name of the chain suggest: a distinct white tower, was established out of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. As the chain grew, each new building was designed around the white tower, and the chains “primary form of advertising was the striking appearance of its buildings.” Although White Tower has seen its heydays come and go, at its peak in the mid-1950s the restaurant operated 230 locations throughout the Midwest and Northeast, the architects of the chain followed the principle of form follows function, which suggests that the shape of a building should be based upon its intended purpose.

In 1979, White Towers by Paul Hirshorn and Steven Izenour was published. The book served as a photographic catalogue and homage to the architecture of the restaurant chain. The author’s note reads, “everyone on the East Coast will recognize these gleaming little white buildings, located in older business districts and along roadside strips, open all night, serving hamburgers and coffee, but few will be aware of their architectural history.” The book is an attempt to make aware that history. It is a study of “a series of buildings that set out only to be visible and evocative in order to sell hamburgers…” and White Towers the book, unlike say Twentysix Gasoline Stations or Every Building on the Sunset Strip by Ed Ruscha, does not carry with it the intent to be anthropological. The authors did not intend to make a statement. It is simply a document of the architecture of White Tower the restaurant chain, whose intent was to sell hamburgers and perhaps similar to that of the book, to “…not to be original or inventive.”

Whereas Ed Ruscha’s work is conceptual in thought, White Towers is ontological and without intent accidentally anthropological. White Tower restaurants were documented; therefore White Tower restaurants must have existed. The value of the book is not that it points to something else, but that it documents that there once was something from which to point. The buildings within each photograph are figures on their own, not subjects of narrative. Ruscha’s photographs are important works of art. And in form the two books follow a similar method of photographing a particular structure over and over. Ruscha’s books though are both hugely influential and indispensable to Conceptualism. White Towers however does not find itself in that canon. But look in the parking lots of the restaurants as depicted in these photographs and see an evolution of our American urban landscape. Look at the prices on the menus compared to the price of a hamburger or slice of pie today. Look at the portraits of waitresses who worked to subsidize their husband’s salary during World War II and White Towers is of notable historical value.

When published White Towers might have been nothing more than an effort to revive a struggling restaurant chain. By 1979 the number of restaurants in the chain had been reduced to 80. It might have been a not so conspicuous nod to capitalism, an exaltation of free enterprise and how the post-war, urban America thrived on a market of cheap commodities. It might have simply been what the author says it set out to be, tribute to a well-executed effort of architectural design. Even still, given the demise of the chain, it perhaps foreshadows a coming demise of free market and the collapse of infrastructure of some of our nations largest cities. The chain began to fail after all, as inner city population dwindled and people migrated to suburban settings. Not even at five cents a hamburger could the chain keep up. Perhaps the author’s intent saying, “everyone on the East Coast will recognize these gleaming little white buildings” was to suggest familiarity, a sense that something had been left behind, for the restaurants “located in older business districts and along roadside strips” as though that context had contemporary and commercial appeal. Reading the text thirty-four years after its publication however, the words foreshadow a coming demise of a time now in which old business districts and roadside strips are less relevant and more nostalgic, much like five cent hamburgers, a relic of the past. And it perhaps still foreshadows an even further decline. A time in which not only the coming and going of a chain of restaurants seems dated but as well, the mode in which one can exist at all seems a way of the past. The hamburger might be a lasting American institution, even as the market in which it thrives struggles.

[ VOL 002, ISS 008 ] in conversation with caitlin fitch; About Family, Mental Disorder, and Impartiality of Photography
Interview by Shaun H Kelly
Caitlin Fitch is a photographer originally from Westminster, Maryland who currently lives in Ventura, California. She is one half of the visual co-creative outfit, Turner & Fitch with partner and photographer Mark Turner. She is also a member of the collective Multimedia Beast. Over approximately the past four years on return visits to Westminster she has been photographing her family and specifically, the story of her father who in 1980 was diagnosed as schizophrenic and later as bipolar and with schizoaffective disorder, all of which according to Caitlin are simply labels and only one way to describe the father she loves. Her father raised Caitlin while her mother was the working parent. They share a unique and at times difficult relationship which she has been documenting as part of her project, Those I Am From. She shared with me recently about the project, growing up with her father and his mental disorder and how photography has served as an impartial medium through which she has come to understand from where she came.
SM:  The project is called Those I Am From so, which came first you shooting or the title?
CF: Shooting. The title came from a project that Mark and I were going to do as a joint project. Mark was going to photograph his grandparents and I was going to photograph my Dad. Those I am From was going to be the title. We shot a documentary about Mark’s grandparents instead and changed the title of that toNow We Wait.
SM: Did the project come from simply shooting your family and realizing you had something or did you have an idea already that you wanted it to be a story about your father?
CF: I think I’ve always wanted to do a story about my dad because it is really a wild story and he is an interesting guy.
SM: How many years have you been shooting this?
CF: Since 2007. I shoot whenever I go home. He is pretty easy to take pictures of.
SM: Why do you say he is easy to take pictures of?
CF: He does weird stuff. I can take anything he does and look at the pictures and think that that is me, that that has made me who I am, which is where the title came from.
SM: So if you didn’t have the title already out there and attached or if you had the opportunity to abandon the title and call it something else would you or do you still feel like it is an adequate title?
CF: I could probably change it. I am not that attached but that is where it is right now.
SM: It has evolved from the idea that it is about your heritage?
CF: Yeah.
SM: Because you have said it is about leaving your past behind more than it is about your dad.
CF: It was. I have a long edit on our website and then a shorter edit that we put out on the Multimedia Beast blog.  The editor for Multimedia Beast asked me to create the shorter edit. He knows the story that my Dad has a mental illness and that is a huge aspect of my life and my family’s life and everything that we are. But I had never explained it that way. They cut it down to something closer to what the story actually is, which is something I was shielding myself from.
SM: You’re putting it out there that this is about your dad and your dad is bipolar.
CF: It’s complex. Yes he is bipolar and is being treated as bipolar by our family doctor, his psychologist is treating him for schizoaffective disorder and when he was first diagnosed in 1980 he was diagnosed as schizophrenic. Labels are labels. He is bipolar and he has psychotic episodes.
SM: Do you believe that it is about leaving your past? Do you think you can leave your past?
CF: No, not anymore. I thought I could and that is why I moved out here [California]. For a long time I was dead set on the idea that I was going to say fuck all of that. Because it is a ridiculous, chaotic way to grow up and I didn’t care because I was going to get out. Photography was how I got out. I decided this is what I was going to do and I had to do it on the other side of the country. But I’d go home and shoot photos and it became therapeutic and allowed me to accept it.
SM: And recognize that it is part of who you are?
CF: Absolutely. It is like Garden State, which is such a stupid thing to say but it is totally like that movie.
SM: You have to say because I have never seen that movie.
CF: Well, you are trying so hard to get away from something but everything is pulling you back. Not physically though, I am not going to move back to Maryland. Some people understand things through experience.
SM: There is a Polaroid photograph of a two-story house. Is that the house you grew up in?
CF: Yeah.
SM: And that is the house your parents still live in?
CF: Yeah.
SM: Can we talk about some of the crazy things that might have happened in that house?
CF: Yeah.
SM: Your dad had a plan to burn the house down, what was that all about?
CF: He was having a psychotic break from reality. This was before I was born. It was way more intense before I was born. He got into the idea that my family is Native American and that our house was built on sacred Indian burial grounds and the only solution to this problem, which is not true and it is not built on sacred Indian burial ground, was to burn it down. He didn’t do it and I am pretty sure he was hospitalized after.
SM: Ok it was before you were born but your siblings were around. Was this a moment in which he had a gas can and matches in his hand or is he discussing a plan with your family about what to do? Basically was there a threat where everyone might have to run out of a burning building or was he planning it out?
CF: Probably more of a plan but I don’t know. He could have been thinking it in bits and pieces and my mom put it together or he could have literally said it. I can think of times in my childhood when he has done both.
SM: This was all after your parents were married?
CF: Yes. They were married in 1974. My oldest sister was born in 1974, my next sister in 1976, my brother was born in 1979, and then my dad had his first breakdown in 1980. I was born in 1989.
SM: That is a long span in which they weren’t quite sure what was going on or they weren’t sure what to do?
CF: My mom eventually put it all together. His conversations with her became paranoid about people following him. He was working for Canada Dry and he thought they were illegally smuggling drugs into the country in Canada Dry bottles. He was a local truck driver. That was his fascination and it got bigger and bigger and more convoluted and he got more and more irritable. I’m assuming the first time he had a break down she made an emergency petition which is when she would go to the courthouse, explain what he is doing, and prove that he is a danger to himself and others. Then the police come and take him away in handcuffs.
SM: By the time you were born he was on medication?
CF: Yes. He was put on medication in 1980. But he goes off his medication and will go crazy and my mom will have to figure out if he has stopped taking them, talk to the psychiatrist, he’ll go back on and then he will be okay for a little while. But since I was born he was hospitalized seven times. I know this because I have talked to my mom as research for this project. It has been healthy to talk about it I think.
SM: This project has been good for your mom?
CF: Good for me. I don’t know about her.
SM: Well what about your dad? How does he feel about this project?
CF: I’ve asked permission. Which was a funny conversation. But I think he is okay with it. I think he has realized what he has put everyone through. Whether he meant to or not he knows that it was negative. And this is my way of dealing with it.
SM: Do you think he feels regret? Is this penitence for him?
CF: I think he feels regret in certain ways. He has apologized to all of us.
SM: Even though it is something out of his control.
CF: But he does feel regret because it is him doing it even though it is not exactly in his control. We all understand that. Although my siblings feel differently than I do.
SM: Your dad was somewhat of a stay at home parent when you were growing up, often just the two of you?
CF: Yeah.
SM: What was that like with your dad potentially having these moments prone to bizarre behavior and anger?
CF: It wasn’t terrible. Which is surprising to say. I really love my dad. He raised me, which is why I have such a different perspective than my siblings. But it was weird for sure. For instance we would spend a lot of time at the park drawing large murals on these rolls of paper that he would buy at an office supply store. We would push together six or seven picnic table and draw these scenes and hang them on the wall back home. But they were always weird. He would include pictures of stairways to heaven and magical trees, really bizarre things. But it was fun and I have fond memories.
SM: Looking at some of these photos though, there had to be sadness. I look at these photos and many of them carry this weight of sadness. Maybe that is the resilience of kids that what you experienced was fun. But do you recognize it now as a burden or was it ever a burden growing up?
CF: Yeah it was sad. I couldn’t be in my house for periods of time when he was breaking down. I would stay at my sister’s and bring our pets so he wouldn’t let them out or do something crazy to them. And I definitely felt my mom’s sadness. She was in therapy for a lot of the time I was a kid. I have seen my dad in handcuffs being taken out of the house and not really understanding what was going on.
SM: How did you process, for instance, going to your sister’s house and even more traumatic perhaps, seeing your dad taken away in handcuffs?
CF: I knew that he was mentally ill. It was explained that his mind is sick. That made it easier I’m sure but I definitely dwelled on it as a kid. I was probably a quieter kid but also perhaps more accepting. And I think now I have a bigger tolerance for weirdness than most people. I don’t think it was explained to my siblings because it was new to them. They grew up totally different than I did. And now they don’t visit home too much.
SM: They don’t visit your parents?
CF: No, not much. My parents will visit them occasionally but they don’t have a very close relationship.
SM: Your siblings and parents don’t have much of a relationship?
CF: Their childhood is something I am so glad I didn’t have to live through.
SM: Is there, as a part of this body of work that perhaps you haven’t shared yet that explores some of these difficulties?
CF: A little. There is a photo I took of a statue of the Virgin Mary. She has a broken hand. It was taken out of the second edit of the work. To me it is such an important photo. Religion was such a huge part of my life growing up. And there was a schism because if my dad was talking about religion it meant he was going nuts and for my mom it helped her. For me it was this wonderful thing that was just a little bit broken.
SM: I think that is a nice way of putting it. You said it is like a wonderful thing that was just a little bit broken. Do you think of your family that way?
CF: I think so.
SM: You have said that photographing allowed you a perspective that wasn’t purely emotional. What do you mean by that?
CF: It put something else in front of it. I could take a picture and look at it later and think about my life in a way that wasn’t just that dad was bad and mom was good or mom was bad and dad was good, that this is bad and that this is right. It wasn’t about that. There is no good or bad there is just this picture. There is just this picture of my niece with her hand over the grass that feels like me playing when I was a kid. And I can look at these photos and not have to think of them in a judgmental way. This is just my story.
www.turnerfitch.com

[ VOL 002, ISS 008 ] in conversation with caitlin fitch; About Family, Mental Disorder, and Impartiality of Photography

Interview by Shaun H Kelly

Caitlin Fitch is a photographer originally from Westminster, Maryland who currently lives in Ventura, California. She is one half of the visual co-creative outfit, Turner & Fitch with partner and photographer Mark Turner. She is also a member of the collective Multimedia Beast. Over approximately the past four years on return visits to Westminster she has been photographing her family and specifically, the story of her father who in 1980 was diagnosed as schizophrenic and later as bipolar and with schizoaffective disorder, all of which according to Caitlin are simply labels and only one way to describe the father she loves. Her father raised Caitlin while her mother was the working parent. They share a unique and at times difficult relationship which she has been documenting as part of her project, Those I Am From. She shared with me recently about the project, growing up with her father and his mental disorder and how photography has served as an impartial medium through which she has come to understand from where she came.

SM:  The project is called Those I Am From so, which came first you shooting or the title?

CF: Shooting. The title came from a project that Mark and I were going to do as a joint project. Mark was going to photograph his grandparents and I was going to photograph my Dad. Those I am From was going to be the title. We shot a documentary about Mark’s grandparents instead and changed the title of that toNow We Wait.

SM: Did the project come from simply shooting your family and realizing you had something or did you have an idea already that you wanted it to be a story about your father?

CF: I think I’ve always wanted to do a story about my dad because it is really a wild story and he is an interesting guy.

SM: How many years have you been shooting this?

CF: Since 2007. I shoot whenever I go home. He is pretty easy to take pictures of.

SM: Why do you say he is easy to take pictures of?

CF: He does weird stuff. I can take anything he does and look at the pictures and think that that is me, that that has made me who I am, which is where the title came from.

SM: So if you didn’t have the title already out there and attached or if you had the opportunity to abandon the title and call it something else would you or do you still feel like it is an adequate title?

CF: I could probably change it. I am not that attached but that is where it is right now.

SM: It has evolved from the idea that it is about your heritage?

CF: Yeah.

SM: Because you have said it is about leaving your past behind more than it is about your dad.

CF: It was. I have a long edit on our website and then a shorter edit that we put out on the Multimedia Beast blog.  The editor for Multimedia Beast asked me to create the shorter edit. He knows the story that my Dad has a mental illness and that is a huge aspect of my life and my family’s life and everything that we are. But I had never explained it that way. They cut it down to something closer to what the story actually is, which is something I was shielding myself from.

SM: You’re putting it out there that this is about your dad and your dad is bipolar.

CF: It’s complex. Yes he is bipolar and is being treated as bipolar by our family doctor, his psychologist is treating him for schizoaffective disorder and when he was first diagnosed in 1980 he was diagnosed as schizophrenic. Labels are labels. He is bipolar and he has psychotic episodes.

SM: Do you believe that it is about leaving your past? Do you think you can leave your past?

CF: No, not anymore. I thought I could and that is why I moved out here [California]. For a long time I was dead set on the idea that I was going to say fuck all of that. Because it is a ridiculous, chaotic way to grow up and I didn’t care because I was going to get out. Photography was how I got out. I decided this is what I was going to do and I had to do it on the other side of the country. But I’d go home and shoot photos and it became therapeutic and allowed me to accept it.

SM: And recognize that it is part of who you are?

CF: Absolutely. It is like Garden State, which is such a stupid thing to say but it is totally like that movie.

SM: You have to say because I have never seen that movie.

CF: Well, you are trying so hard to get away from something but everything is pulling you back. Not physically though, I am not going to move back to Maryland. Some people understand things through experience.

SM: There is a Polaroid photograph of a two-story house. Is that the house you grew up in?

CF: Yeah.

SM: And that is the house your parents still live in?

CF: Yeah.

SM: Can we talk about some of the crazy things that might have happened in that house?

CF: Yeah.

SM: Your dad had a plan to burn the house down, what was that all about?

CF: He was having a psychotic break from reality. This was before I was born. It was way more intense before I was born. He got into the idea that my family is Native American and that our house was built on sacred Indian burial grounds and the only solution to this problem, which is not true and it is not built on sacred Indian burial ground, was to burn it down. He didn’t do it and I am pretty sure he was hospitalized after.

SM: Ok it was before you were born but your siblings were around. Was this a moment in which he had a gas can and matches in his hand or is he discussing a plan with your family about what to do? Basically was there a threat where everyone might have to run out of a burning building or was he planning it out?

CF: Probably more of a plan but I don’t know. He could have been thinking it in bits and pieces and my mom put it together or he could have literally said it. I can think of times in my childhood when he has done both.

SM: This was all after your parents were married?

CF: Yes. They were married in 1974. My oldest sister was born in 1974, my next sister in 1976, my brother was born in 1979, and then my dad had his first breakdown in 1980. I was born in 1989.

SM: That is a long span in which they weren’t quite sure what was going on or they weren’t sure what to do?

CF: My mom eventually put it all together. His conversations with her became paranoid about people following him. He was working for Canada Dry and he thought they were illegally smuggling drugs into the country in Canada Dry bottles. He was a local truck driver. That was his fascination and it got bigger and bigger and more convoluted and he got more and more irritable. I’m assuming the first time he had a break down she made an emergency petition which is when she would go to the courthouse, explain what he is doing, and prove that he is a danger to himself and others. Then the police come and take him away in handcuffs.

SM: By the time you were born he was on medication?

CF: Yes. He was put on medication in 1980. But he goes off his medication and will go crazy and my mom will have to figure out if he has stopped taking them, talk to the psychiatrist, he’ll go back on and then he will be okay for a little while. But since I was born he was hospitalized seven times. I know this because I have talked to my mom as research for this project. It has been healthy to talk about it I think.

SM: This project has been good for your mom?

CF: Good for me. I don’t know about her.

SM: Well what about your dad? How does he feel about this project?

CF: I’ve asked permission. Which was a funny conversation. But I think he is okay with it. I think he has realized what he has put everyone through. Whether he meant to or not he knows that it was negative. And this is my way of dealing with it.

SM: Do you think he feels regret? Is this penitence for him?

CF: I think he feels regret in certain ways. He has apologized to all of us.

SM: Even though it is something out of his control.

CF: But he does feel regret because it is him doing it even though it is not exactly in his control. We all understand that. Although my siblings feel differently than I do.

SM: Your dad was somewhat of a stay at home parent when you were growing up, often just the two of you?

CF: Yeah.

SM: What was that like with your dad potentially having these moments prone to bizarre behavior and anger?

CF: It wasn’t terrible. Which is surprising to say. I really love my dad. He raised me, which is why I have such a different perspective than my siblings. But it was weird for sure. For instance we would spend a lot of time at the park drawing large murals on these rolls of paper that he would buy at an office supply store. We would push together six or seven picnic table and draw these scenes and hang them on the wall back home. But they were always weird. He would include pictures of stairways to heaven and magical trees, really bizarre things. But it was fun and I have fond memories.

SM: Looking at some of these photos though, there had to be sadness. I look at these photos and many of them carry this weight of sadness. Maybe that is the resilience of kids that what you experienced was fun. But do you recognize it now as a burden or was it ever a burden growing up?

CF: Yeah it was sad. I couldn’t be in my house for periods of time when he was breaking down. I would stay at my sister’s and bring our pets so he wouldn’t let them out or do something crazy to them. And I definitely felt my mom’s sadness. She was in therapy for a lot of the time I was a kid. I have seen my dad in handcuffs being taken out of the house and not really understanding what was going on.

SM: How did you process, for instance, going to your sister’s house and even more traumatic perhaps, seeing your dad taken away in handcuffs?

CF: I knew that he was mentally ill. It was explained that his mind is sick. That made it easier I’m sure but I definitely dwelled on it as a kid. I was probably a quieter kid but also perhaps more accepting. And I think now I have a bigger tolerance for weirdness than most people. I don’t think it was explained to my siblings because it was new to them. They grew up totally different than I did. And now they don’t visit home too much.

SM: They don’t visit your parents?

CF: No, not much. My parents will visit them occasionally but they don’t have a very close relationship.

SM: Your siblings and parents don’t have much of a relationship?

CF: Their childhood is something I am so glad I didn’t have to live through.

SM: Is there, as a part of this body of work that perhaps you haven’t shared yet that explores some of these difficulties?

CF: A little. There is a photo I took of a statue of the Virgin Mary. She has a broken hand. It was taken out of the second edit of the work. To me it is such an important photo. Religion was such a huge part of my life growing up. And there was a schism because if my dad was talking about religion it meant he was going nuts and for my mom it helped her. For me it was this wonderful thing that was just a little bit broken.

SM: I think that is a nice way of putting it. You said it is like a wonderful thing that was just a little bit broken. Do you think of your family that way?

CF: I think so.

SM: You have said that photographing allowed you a perspective that wasn’t purely emotional. What do you mean by that?

CF: It put something else in front of it. I could take a picture and look at it later and think about my life in a way that wasn’t just that dad was bad and mom was good or mom was bad and dad was good, that this is bad and that this is right. It wasn’t about that. There is no good or bad there is just this picture. There is just this picture of my niece with her hand over the grass that feels like me playing when I was a kid. And I can look at these photos and not have to think of them in a judgmental way. This is just my story.

www.turnerfitch.com

[ VOL 002, ISS 008 ] Cape Light by Joel Meyerowitz
Review by Shaun H Kelly
My wife and I live in a beach town and each year about this time I am reminded that it is a destination for families on summer vacation. Fortunately for us, although it is an expensive town in which to own a home, it can be relatively inexpensive to rent an apartment and more affordable than the town twenty minutes north of here in which we work. The commute at times can be more than a grind, especially during the summer. Although deemed through certain stretches as a freeway, the 101 is unlike any freeway I have traveled and more like an inefficient county highway that has been unable to keep pace with the demands of an exponentially growing population. Lanes have been added over the years but because it cuts through cities and towns, because it winds up and down the edges of mountains and runs along the Pacific shore, the traffic can be liken to the traffic of major city surface streets: stop and go, and in the summer usually more stop than go as vacationers flock to what is in all honesty a beautiful place.
In the waiting room of my wife’s doctor’s office I was studying a photograph on the wall: a large black and white print by a local photographer but one that could occupy a frame purchased from a big box chain like Target or Wal-Mart. It was a generic coastal landscape photograph of a very beautiful place. Although the scene looked foreign and a bit exotic and at the same time unfortunately cliché, it was of the place in which I live.  And in this little town each summer, rental houses that normally sit empty are occupied, the hamburger stand just around the corner that is usually less than busy has a line all the way to the train tracks, and our landlord has to post private parking signs out front because the streets are lined with parked cars, the owners of those cars kicking their feet in the sand and splashing in the ocean just a block away.
If it sounds as though I am complaining a bit it is because I am. But I am complaining fully aware that it’s a bit foolish to do so. We do live in a beautiful place, fortunate to have found affordable housing in an otherwise inflated market. I complain because this place for me is not a destination, it is where I live and work and living and working is disrupted every summer by these beachgoers.
In the 1980’s, John Hughes was quite the prolific filmmaker. From 1982 through 1989 he wrote and/or directed seventeen movies. Most of them­ dealt with teenagers and the angst and anxiety of being one but somehow this struggle was romanticized much like the idea of living in a beautiful coastal California town. One in particular, which he wrote but did not direct, was The Great Outdoors starring John Candy and Dan Aykroyd. The basic plot is two families, one middle class and the other wealthy, sharing their time in a vacation town much like the one in which I live except that it is set not at the beach but rather in the mountains. Geography in this case does not matter though because the same romantic notions happen. The vacationers find the place to be paradise while the locals simply call it home. And I imagine that here in my town lives a teenage girl who shares this sentiment, much the same as the teenage girl named Cammie in Hughes’ vacation comedy. Chet’s son Buck falls for Cammie. And perhaps reality is that he is caught up in how romantic this vacation town is and by association, so is Cammie. For Buck, it is a break from the anxieties he faces back home in Chicago and all the relief that the small town offers is personified in this teenage girl. It’s easy to fall in love with such a place.
Unlike most of Hughes’ movies though, the attention is not on the teenagers but rather the adults who contend with anxieties of their own. The antagonist of the movie is Roman, a wealthy and superficial individual played by Dan Aykroyd, who crashes the vacation of his brother-in-law Chet the protagonist, a middle class slightly inept individual played John Candy. There is a scene in in which Roman’s wife Kate says to her sister and Chet’s wife Connie, “it’s so lonely being wealthy” to which Connie replies with as much empathy as she can muster, “I wouldn’t know about that.” Kate goes on to complain about how much time Roman spends away from home and we the omniscient observer of this confessional conversation get the joke. Kate is naïve and privileged and doesn’t understand that it’s not being wealthy that is so hard but what it takes to be wealthy. Although comical the scene is poignant because it clearly draws a distinction between the two families. The wealthy are completely unaware of how imposing the ease of which they can do anything they want is on those who have to work hard to get such rewards. A vacation in a cabin in the woods for one is a luxury while for the other is simply something they could do as easily as turning on the television to watch reruns of The Breakfast Club.
I have never been to Provincetown, another destination town located on the  east coast. But I do own a copy of Cape Light by Joel Meyerowitz, a romantic document of a beautiful town that I imagine is much like, again, the town in which I live and also the town depicted in The Great Outdoors. I picked it up at a used bookstore for far less than I would have paid anywhere else. It’s good summer fare. To be accurate, Cape Light is also about process, how Meyerowitz put down the small, 35mm camera in favor of the bulking view camera. The effort to do so allows the “heightened objectivity” as Clifford S. Ackley, Associate Curator at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston wrote in the foreword, “to intensify our experience of color in the world around us.” And although the resulting images are beautiful, and they evoke contemplation of color… I do not know if color is what I really want to contemplate and I question how objective any photograph can be. To study color and process I think is worthwhile but I instead think that surely there is beautiful color somewhere other than this place where the wealthy eat lobster and the working class save up to vacation and I bet the traffic in and out of Cape Cod sucks just as bad as highway 101.
Meyerowitz is a great photographer and I wish I owned a book by him other than Cape Light. His street photography and how he throws himself into a scene, and then diverts the viewer to the things on the peripheral of what is happening are well worth contemplation and completely engaging. They are far more engaging than his study of the light that hit the deck of the beach house he rented in Provincetown to shoot Cape Light. They remind me a bit of that print I saw in the doctor’s office. Photographs of the shore are boring. And photographs of sailboats are overrated. And by biased association, these photographs remind me of what the locals in such a town might deal with on a daily basis that the summer time crowds bring, things that come along with sail boaters and beachgoers and living in a destination town like overpriced restaurants, traffic jams, and an almost mandated appreciation for a beautiful place in which all the residents are tainted by shame for thinking I will be so damn happy once these tourists are out of here. But the process of slowing down and shooting with a large format camera, for Meyerowitz having been busy shooting in the bustling city of New York prior to this project, must have been like a teenage summer romance. And he does provide us with a great bit of accuracy, love it or loathe it, what summer looks like in all its hackneyed wonder.
I do like it when we see diners that sell hamburgers that probably really aren’t outstanding. That is an odd tension only summer vacation creates. I like it when we see how beautiful the simple glowing interior light of a sedan can be parked outside what has to be an expensive summer rental. As though by proximity everything is now beautiful. But it is just a restaurant, it is just a car, and Provincetown is just one more beach town with a quaint little gas station just like all those other quaintly romantic gas stations. For the schmucks who have to labor hard. For the rich assholes. Like summer time, like white pants, like greasy hamburgers, complaining about traffic, crown molding, baseball, cigarettes, cheap gas, cheap beer, hotdogs and six figure salaries, punching the clock and porterhouse steaks, sand between your toes, and my isn’t this place beautiful and to think how blessed we are to be able to afford to vacation here and yeah the wood that we imported to build this deck alone cost me a year’s salary but it was worth it, is all cliché. But like Meyerowitz’s photograph of a tapestry on it printed a leopard, hanging on the wall above a young girl in a bikini, it is all tensely beautiful.

[ VOL 002, ISS 008 ] Cape Light by Joel Meyerowitz

Review by Shaun H Kelly

My wife and I live in a beach town and each year about this time I am reminded that it is a destination for families on summer vacation. Fortunately for us, although it is an expensive town in which to own a home, it can be relatively inexpensive to rent an apartment and more affordable than the town twenty minutes north of here in which we work. The commute at times can be more than a grind, especially during the summer. Although deemed through certain stretches as a freeway, the 101 is unlike any freeway I have traveled and more like an inefficient county highway that has been unable to keep pace with the demands of an exponentially growing population. Lanes have been added over the years but because it cuts through cities and towns, because it winds up and down the edges of mountains and runs along the Pacific shore, the traffic can be liken to the traffic of major city surface streets: stop and go, and in the summer usually more stop than go as vacationers flock to what is in all honesty a beautiful place.

In the waiting room of my wife’s doctor’s office I was studying a photograph on the wall: a large black and white print by a local photographer but one that could occupy a frame purchased from a big box chain like Target or Wal-Mart. It was a generic coastal landscape photograph of a very beautiful place. Although the scene looked foreign and a bit exotic and at the same time unfortunately cliché, it was of the place in which I live.  And in this little town each summer, rental houses that normally sit empty are occupied, the hamburger stand just around the corner that is usually less than busy has a line all the way to the train tracks, and our landlord has to post private parking signs out front because the streets are lined with parked cars, the owners of those cars kicking their feet in the sand and splashing in the ocean just a block away.

If it sounds as though I am complaining a bit it is because I am. But I am complaining fully aware that it’s a bit foolish to do so. We do live in a beautiful place, fortunate to have found affordable housing in an otherwise inflated market. I complain because this place for me is not a destination, it is where I live and work and living and working is disrupted every summer by these beachgoers.

In the 1980’s, John Hughes was quite the prolific filmmaker. From 1982 through 1989 he wrote and/or directed seventeen movies. Most of them­ dealt with teenagers and the angst and anxiety of being one but somehow this struggle was romanticized much like the idea of living in a beautiful coastal California town. One in particular, which he wrote but did not direct, was The Great Outdoors starring John Candy and Dan Aykroyd. The basic plot is two families, one middle class and the other wealthy, sharing their time in a vacation town much like the one in which I live except that it is set not at the beach but rather in the mountains. Geography in this case does not matter though because the same romantic notions happen. The vacationers find the place to be paradise while the locals simply call it home. And I imagine that here in my town lives a teenage girl who shares this sentiment, much the same as the teenage girl named Cammie in Hughes’ vacation comedy. Chet’s son Buck falls for Cammie. And perhaps reality is that he is caught up in how romantic this vacation town is and by association, so is Cammie. For Buck, it is a break from the anxieties he faces back home in Chicago and all the relief that the small town offers is personified in this teenage girl. It’s easy to fall in love with such a place.

Unlike most of Hughes’ movies though, the attention is not on the teenagers but rather the adults who contend with anxieties of their own. The antagonist of the movie is Roman, a wealthy and superficial individual played by Dan Aykroyd, who crashes the vacation of his brother-in-law Chet the protagonist, a middle class slightly inept individual played John Candy. There is a scene in in which Roman’s wife Kate says to her sister and Chet’s wife Connie, “it’s so lonely being wealthy” to which Connie replies with as much empathy as she can muster, “I wouldn’t know about that.” Kate goes on to complain about how much time Roman spends away from home and we the omniscient observer of this confessional conversation get the joke. Kate is naïve and privileged and doesn’t understand that it’s not being wealthy that is so hard but what it takes to be wealthy. Although comical the scene is poignant because it clearly draws a distinction between the two families. The wealthy are completely unaware of how imposing the ease of which they can do anything they want is on those who have to work hard to get such rewards. A vacation in a cabin in the woods for one is a luxury while for the other is simply something they could do as easily as turning on the television to watch reruns of The Breakfast Club.

I have never been to Provincetown, another destination town located on the  east coast. But I do own a copy of Cape Light by Joel Meyerowitz, a romantic document of a beautiful town that I imagine is much like, again, the town in which I live and also the town depicted in The Great Outdoors. I picked it up at a used bookstore for far less than I would have paid anywhere else. It’s good summer fare. To be accurate, Cape Light is also about process, how Meyerowitz put down the small, 35mm camera in favor of the bulking view camera. The effort to do so allows the “heightened objectivity” as Clifford S. Ackley, Associate Curator at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston wrote in the foreword, “to intensify our experience of color in the world around us.” And although the resulting images are beautiful, and they evoke contemplation of color… I do not know if color is what I really want to contemplate and I question how objective any photograph can be. To study color and process I think is worthwhile but I instead think that surely there is beautiful color somewhere other than this place where the wealthy eat lobster and the working class save up to vacation and I bet the traffic in and out of Cape Cod sucks just as bad as highway 101.

Meyerowitz is a great photographer and I wish I owned a book by him other than Cape Light. His street photography and how he throws himself into a scene, and then diverts the viewer to the things on the peripheral of what is happening are well worth contemplation and completely engaging. They are far more engaging than his study of the light that hit the deck of the beach house he rented in Provincetown to shoot Cape Light. They remind me a bit of that print I saw in the doctor’s office. Photographs of the shore are boring. And photographs of sailboats are overrated. And by biased association, these photographs remind me of what the locals in such a town might deal with on a daily basis that the summer time crowds bring, things that come along with sail boaters and beachgoers and living in a destination town like overpriced restaurants, traffic jams, and an almost mandated appreciation for a beautiful place in which all the residents are tainted by shame for thinking I will be so damn happy once these tourists are out of here. But the process of slowing down and shooting with a large format camera, for Meyerowitz having been busy shooting in the bustling city of New York prior to this project, must have been like a teenage summer romance. And he does provide us with a great bit of accuracy, love it or loathe it, what summer looks like in all its hackneyed wonder.

I do like it when we see diners that sell hamburgers that probably really aren’t outstanding. That is an odd tension only summer vacation creates. I like it when we see how beautiful the simple glowing interior light of a sedan can be parked outside what has to be an expensive summer rental. As though by proximity everything is now beautiful. But it is just a restaurant, it is just a car, and Provincetown is just one more beach town with a quaint little gas station just like all those other quaintly romantic gas stations. For the schmucks who have to labor hard. For the rich assholes. Like summer time, like white pants, like greasy hamburgers, complaining about traffic, crown molding, baseball, cigarettes, cheap gas, cheap beer, hotdogs and six figure salaries, punching the clock and porterhouse steaks, sand between your toes, and my isn’t this place beautiful and to think how blessed we are to be able to afford to vacation here and yeah the wood that we imported to build this deck alone cost me a year’s salary but it was worth it, is all cliché. But like Meyerowitz’s photograph of a tapestry on it printed a leopard, hanging on the wall above a young girl in a bikini, it is all tensely beautiful.

[ VOL 002, ISS 008 ] Competitive Youth Sports Diary, Pt. 002
by Shaun H Kelly
There is an obligation for each of us to being a participating member of family and peers, which is recognizing who you are to be. And we are not defined by detriment but by how we respond to circumstance. My father spent the better portion of my youth helping me trying to figure that out. But what appealed to my dad as a youth was of little interest to me and so he didn’t have much as a point of reference and there was most likely a good bit of guess work. Baseball was proving to be less and less likely my thing. My dad is a hunter and we had tried hunting, something he did growing up as did all his brothers, his sister, his mother and his father. They still do today. There is an overabundant whitetail deer population in Mississippi and therefore plenty to entertain this family tradition. Many cold mornings my dad and I awoke very early before the sun rose and set out into the woods. A decent portion of hunting is about waiting patiently. A good hunter knows where to wait because he has tracked the deer’s path and knows its routine. This part of hunting appealed to me because it did not require an active decision. It was very similar to how I played baseball where as a defensive player in the outfield I spent most of my time waiting for a pop fly that never came and as an offensive player waiting at the plate for a strike that never arrived. I regard hunting and hunters as a culture interesting, much more than athletics and so this tradition despite my lack of interest had and still has some appeal. It carries with it customs and rights of passage. It is some semblance of my southern heritage and a vestige of ancestors reliant on the ability to exact death in order to sustain life.
But the single reason that I could not hunt was what took place when a boy killed his first deer, the ritual matter-of-factly referred to as getting your face bloodied. As implied, the hunters face would be covered in the blood of the dead deer: a ceremonial acceptance amongst those who had also killed before. And it was more than just implied that although boys do hunt, men hunt and kill. I had witnessed my cousin’s transformation, his physical body being lifted and his face not simply being bloodied but his head being dunked into the bucket of guts and entrails beneath a sacrificial whitetail. As though coming out of a baptismal fount he arose changed, the spirit of a boy left somewhere in that bucket of death, deer blood for the sake of family blood and the essence of a man dripping and red on his face. His insight was anew. This was something for which I was not ready. I did not recognize it at the time, but it was less the physical act than it was the ritual, that I could will my place and rank in my family, my heritage, into existence by one simple act of waiting patiently for innocence to trot out of a thicket and into the sights of my shotgun and that I could kill it and I could become a man. In youth baseball this hesitance repeated itself, as I would wait patiently for the umpire to call ball four and rather than earn my base I would take it without having to swing the bat. Much the same I could eat a meal of venison steaks on the account of someone else’s efforts, having never needed to pull the trigger.
At some point though, as one grows older one is not allowed to be childish any longer. One is not allowed to remain so passive. Once I arrived in the upper age baseball league I became a liability to the team. My strategy of patience as I thought it was turned out to be a detriment not a defining characteristic of who I was as an athlete. Whereas a ten year old couldn’t throw a strike to me a fourteen year old could. Soon the baseball found my strike zone. Its duty like responsibility finds you with precision. I knew how to wait. But I didn’t know or care to learn how to act. Whereas I was often walked just four years ago I was now being struck out on a regular basis and it was apparent I was not an athlete. It should have been more apparent that who I was and going to be both by my family and by my peers needed addressing. I’ve put down my gun and haven’t swung a bat in some time because although it takes time, responsibility hones its ability to reason with you until nothing is left but to reply.

[ VOL 002, ISS 008 ] Competitive Youth Sports Diary, Pt. 002

by Shaun H Kelly

There is an obligation for each of us to being a participating member of family and peers, which is recognizing who you are to be. And we are not defined by detriment but by how we respond to circumstance. My father spent the better portion of my youth helping me trying to figure that out. But what appealed to my dad as a youth was of little interest to me and so he didn’t have much as a point of reference and there was most likely a good bit of guess work. Baseball was proving to be less and less likely my thing. My dad is a hunter and we had tried hunting, something he did growing up as did all his brothers, his sister, his mother and his father. They still do today. There is an overabundant whitetail deer population in Mississippi and therefore plenty to entertain this family tradition. Many cold mornings my dad and I awoke very early before the sun rose and set out into the woods. A decent portion of hunting is about waiting patiently. A good hunter knows where to wait because he has tracked the deer’s path and knows its routine. This part of hunting appealed to me because it did not require an active decision. It was very similar to how I played baseball where as a defensive player in the outfield I spent most of my time waiting for a pop fly that never came and as an offensive player waiting at the plate for a strike that never arrived. I regard hunting and hunters as a culture interesting, much more than athletics and so this tradition despite my lack of interest had and still has some appeal. It carries with it customs and rights of passage. It is some semblance of my southern heritage and a vestige of ancestors reliant on the ability to exact death in order to sustain life.

But the single reason that I could not hunt was what took place when a boy killed his first deer, the ritual matter-of-factly referred to as getting your face bloodied. As implied, the hunters face would be covered in the blood of the dead deer: a ceremonial acceptance amongst those who had also killed before. And it was more than just implied that although boys do hunt, men hunt and kill. I had witnessed my cousin’s transformation, his physical body being lifted and his face not simply being bloodied but his head being dunked into the bucket of guts and entrails beneath a sacrificial whitetail. As though coming out of a baptismal fount he arose changed, the spirit of a boy left somewhere in that bucket of death, deer blood for the sake of family blood and the essence of a man dripping and red on his face. His insight was anew. This was something for which I was not ready. I did not recognize it at the time, but it was less the physical act than it was the ritual, that I could will my place and rank in my family, my heritage, into existence by one simple act of waiting patiently for innocence to trot out of a thicket and into the sights of my shotgun and that I could kill it and I could become a man. In youth baseball this hesitance repeated itself, as I would wait patiently for the umpire to call ball four and rather than earn my base I would take it without having to swing the bat. Much the same I could eat a meal of venison steaks on the account of someone else’s efforts, having never needed to pull the trigger.

At some point though, as one grows older one is not allowed to be childish any longer. One is not allowed to remain so passive. Once I arrived in the upper age baseball league I became a liability to the team. My strategy of patience as I thought it was turned out to be a detriment not a defining characteristic of who I was as an athlete. Whereas a ten year old couldn’t throw a strike to me a fourteen year old could. Soon the baseball found my strike zone. Its duty like responsibility finds you with precision. I knew how to wait. But I didn’t know or care to learn how to act. Whereas I was often walked just four years ago I was now being struck out on a regular basis and it was apparent I was not an athlete. It should have been more apparent that who I was and going to be both by my family and by my peers needed addressing. I’ve put down my gun and haven’t swung a bat in some time because although it takes time, responsibility hones its ability to reason with you until nothing is left but to reply.

[ VOL 002, ISS 007 ] Competitive Youth Sports Diary, Pt. 001
by Shaun H Kelly
“For 60 percent of the adolescents in any fourth grade classroom, sports are a humiliation waiting to happen.” –Chuck Klosterman, from George Will vs. Nick Hornby
I am not an athlete although from the age of five until fourteen I participated in competitive team sports. I played one year of soccer. The following summer I played T-Ball then Buddy Ball, and then Little League. Along the way were a number of humiliating incidents. I played left field just like Kevin Mitchell, the former San Francisco Giants outfielder who, when focused, played baseball very well. Kevin Mitchell was a power hitter. He ended his career having batted .284, with 234 home runs, 760 runs batted in, 630 runs scored, 1,173 hits, 224 doubles and 25 triples in 1,223 games. Power hitters like Mitchell often play left or right field because they are usually bigger than say a shortstop or second baseman and less agile but more powerful. When someone like myself who is neither big nor powerful is placed in left or right field it is because that position is the least detrimental to the team goal of winning given that not too many ten or eleven year olds can hit the ball 200 feet. I was safely kept away from the action, which was fortunate because I couldn’t catch a fly ball and certainly couldn’t throw very far. On the occasions the ball did find its way to my patch of grass I was often greeted by the shortstop in order that I could toss rather than throw the ball. I recall a few occasions on which I actually handed it to my teammate, him resigning that this particular play did not go well and it was best to end it and not give more opportunity to the opposing team.
Although I grew up in Mississippi, the San Francisco Giants were the team I followed. Will Clark, one of the biggest professional baseball players to come out of Mississippi, played first base for the Giants. I recall that my Mom’s cousin had a connection to Will “The Thrill” Clark. They both attended Mississippi State University and had mutual acquaintances. One year I received a signed 8×10 glossy from “The Thrill” and it wasn’t just one bought from a collector but straight from the source. Kevin Mitchell and I though seemed to have more in common other than less than three degrees separation from Will Clark. The obvious of course is that we are much more different than similar. For instance in 1989, having overrun a pop fly hit by St Louis Cardinal Ozzie Smith, Mitchell was able to catch the ball bare handed. This was a career highlight for Mitchell. A career highlight for myself was the game during which I pissed my baseball pants while in the outfield because I had most likely drank too much Gatorade. I managed to play the rest of the game and make it home and change without anyone except one teammate, an equally bad player, noticing. Another highlight was being presented a game ball by my coach as a memento; an honor normally reserved for when a player had hit a home run. It was presented to me however to mark the occasion of getting my absolutely one and only hit during my entire career from Buddy Ball all the way through to the Little League. Whereas intentions of my coach were well, the action was shameful and a realization at the age of fourteen that perhaps I had wasted a significant part of my youth.
Kevin Mitchell and I both seemed to have been more interested in other things than baseball. Mitchell was someone who was not only an angry individual, having on more than one occasion being arrested for assault, but also often showed up late for practices or skipped out on events such as MVP award dinners. If I was an angry kid (which an argument could be made that I was) it was far more suppressed than was his anger. And although I showed up for all my practices it was because my parents had no problem forcing me by threat of being grounded from Nintendo. I was not however completely forced to play baseball. Each year I elected to do so and was only made to commit to how I had chosen my summers would be spent. Each year perhaps out of indifference I chose baseball and also because I liked the idea of being a baseball player but not actually being an athlete. And unfortunately where I grew up the private shame of pretending to be an athlete was not as bad as the public humiliation of being a more creative individual say for instance in the high school band or drama club.
Physical size also played a role in the trajectory of Mitchell and my baseball careers. However whereas Mitchell’s struggle to keep his weight down affected his ability to play, I was always the smallest person on the team. In neither T-Ball nor Buddy Ball did this matter but once in little league where other kids actually pitched, my height played a more significant role. If stats were kept in these leagues I most likely would have been ranked high if not led the league in on base percentages not because I could hit well or even run fast (I could in fact run fast) but because I was always walked. Players who were being groomed as hopeful all-stars on the mound had not quite honed their skill to pitch with precision. Or at least not enough accuracy so that when someone less than average height batted they could throw three strikes.  Baseballs whizzed by my shoulders or just above my chin or skimmed the ground in front of home plate as the pitcher attempted to compensate for the previous pitches too high. I developed a sort of relaxed batting technique, which was to stand at the plate with my bat on my shoulder waiting for the signal from the umpire to take first base. This led to batting lessons with my Dad that never really sank in. He might have known how to hit a ball. But he didn’t know the art of waiting patiently for ball four as I did. I saw it as a unique and perhaps intimidating technique and also a way to avoid all that attention from my teammates and the parents in the bleachers were I too actually get a hit. I was quite the passive player. My Dad saw it as something else, knowing what those future all-star pitchers would be capable of in two or three years…. throwing a strike to even the shortest of players.

[ VOL 002, ISS 007 ] Competitive Youth Sports Diary, Pt. 001

by Shaun H Kelly

“For 60 percent of the adolescents in any fourth grade classroom, sports are a humiliation waiting to happen.” –Chuck Klosterman, from George Will vs. Nick Hornby

I am not an athlete although from the age of five until fourteen I participated in competitive team sports. I played one year of soccer. The following summer I played T-Ball then Buddy Ball, and then Little League. Along the way were a number of humiliating incidents. I played left field just like Kevin Mitchell, the former San Francisco Giants outfielder who, when focused, played baseball very well. Kevin Mitchell was a power hitter. He ended his career having batted .284, with 234 home runs, 760 runs batted in, 630 runs scored, 1,173 hits, 224 doubles and 25 triples in 1,223 games. Power hitters like Mitchell often play left or right field because they are usually bigger than say a shortstop or second baseman and less agile but more powerful. When someone like myself who is neither big nor powerful is placed in left or right field it is because that position is the least detrimental to the team goal of winning given that not too many ten or eleven year olds can hit the ball 200 feet. I was safely kept away from the action, which was fortunate because I couldn’t catch a fly ball and certainly couldn’t throw very far. On the occasions the ball did find its way to my patch of grass I was often greeted by the shortstop in order that I could toss rather than throw the ball. I recall a few occasions on which I actually handed it to my teammate, him resigning that this particular play did not go well and it was best to end it and not give more opportunity to the opposing team.

Although I grew up in Mississippi, the San Francisco Giants were the team I followed. Will Clark, one of the biggest professional baseball players to come out of Mississippi, played first base for the Giants. I recall that my Mom’s cousin had a connection to Will “The Thrill” Clark. They both attended Mississippi State University and had mutual acquaintances. One year I received a signed 8×10 glossy from “The Thrill” and it wasn’t just one bought from a collector but straight from the source. Kevin Mitchell and I though seemed to have more in common other than less than three degrees separation from Will Clark. The obvious of course is that we are much more different than similar. For instance in 1989, having overrun a pop fly hit by St Louis Cardinal Ozzie Smith, Mitchell was able to catch the ball bare handed. This was a career highlight for Mitchell. A career highlight for myself was the game during which I pissed my baseball pants while in the outfield because I had most likely drank too much Gatorade. I managed to play the rest of the game and make it home and change without anyone except one teammate, an equally bad player, noticing. Another highlight was being presented a game ball by my coach as a memento; an honor normally reserved for when a player had hit a home run. It was presented to me however to mark the occasion of getting my absolutely one and only hit during my entire career from Buddy Ball all the way through to the Little League. Whereas intentions of my coach were well, the action was shameful and a realization at the age of fourteen that perhaps I had wasted a significant part of my youth.

Kevin Mitchell and I both seemed to have been more interested in other things than baseball. Mitchell was someone who was not only an angry individual, having on more than one occasion being arrested for assault, but also often showed up late for practices or skipped out on events such as MVP award dinners. If I was an angry kid (which an argument could be made that I was) it was far more suppressed than was his anger. And although I showed up for all my practices it was because my parents had no problem forcing me by threat of being grounded from Nintendo. I was not however completely forced to play baseball. Each year I elected to do so and was only made to commit to how I had chosen my summers would be spent. Each year perhaps out of indifference I chose baseball and also because I liked the idea of being a baseball player but not actually being an athlete. And unfortunately where I grew up the private shame of pretending to be an athlete was not as bad as the public humiliation of being a more creative individual say for instance in the high school band or drama club.

Physical size also played a role in the trajectory of Mitchell and my baseball careers. However whereas Mitchell’s struggle to keep his weight down affected his ability to play, I was always the smallest person on the team. In neither T-Ball nor Buddy Ball did this matter but once in little league where other kids actually pitched, my height played a more significant role. If stats were kept in these leagues I most likely would have been ranked high if not led the league in on base percentages not because I could hit well or even run fast (I could in fact run fast) but because I was always walked. Players who were being groomed as hopeful all-stars on the mound had not quite honed their skill to pitch with precision. Or at least not enough accuracy so that when someone less than average height batted they could throw three strikes.  Baseballs whizzed by my shoulders or just above my chin or skimmed the ground in front of home plate as the pitcher attempted to compensate for the previous pitches too high. I developed a sort of relaxed batting technique, which was to stand at the plate with my bat on my shoulder waiting for the signal from the umpire to take first base. This led to batting lessons with my Dad that never really sank in. He might have known how to hit a ball. But he didn’t know the art of waiting patiently for ball four as I did. I saw it as a unique and perhaps intimidating technique and also a way to avoid all that attention from my teammates and the parents in the bleachers were I too actually get a hit. I was quite the passive player. My Dad saw it as something else, knowing what those future all-star pitchers would be capable of in two or three years…. throwing a strike to even the shortest of players.

[ VOL 002, ISS 007 ] in conversation with nell campbell; About Lee Friedlander’s The Jazz People Of New Orleans
Discussion by Nell Campbell & Shaun H Kelly
Nell Campbell is a photographer living in Santa Barbara, California. She grew up in Lake Charles, Louisiana and spent some time living in New Orleans where she began to photograph among other things, the jazz culture of the city. She owns a substantial and noteworthy collection of photobooks. The living room of her home serves as a library where the coffee table and couch serve as makeshift shelves. It is my aspiration to overwhelm a space of my own with photobooks. I asked her to choose any book from her collection and we would sit down and have a conversation. Over Abita Turbodogs (Abita is a beer brewery located 30 miles north of New Orleans) the topic of conversation was largely centered around New Orleans and the work of Lee Friedlander and other photographers we both admire. In no way was the conversation all that linear and we had no expectations but to have a good conversation. Photography and New Orleans was a good place to start.
NC: I debated about Garry Winogrand and then I decided to talk about this book The Jazz People of New Orleans by Lee Friedlander
SM: I didn’t even know about this book.
NC: It came out in 1992 and I read the text a long time ago and I reread some this afternoon, but Friedlander photographed in New Orleans, from ’57 to ’74 apparently, jazz musicians
SM: Yeah, he started out doing musicians as a paying gig. Photographing in color.
NC: I don’t know if I have ever seen any color by Friedlander
SM: I shouldn’t say it’s not good but it’s not his really layered stuff.
NC: There was a photographer in New Orleans, his last name was Bellocq and he photographed prostitutes in Storyville using glass plates and on some of them he scratched out the faces. Friedlander found the glass plates and he printed them using, you’re probably too young to know about Printing Out Paper?
SM: Yeah I don’t know.
NC: It was a paper Kodak made and somebody else probably had it too and you could use it for proofs or contact sheets and you could expose it in the sun and it would turn purple. Portrait studios used it because they’d give people them as proofs but the customer couldn’t do anything with them because if you left them in the light they would darken.
CR: So you never fixed them?
NC: Right. Well I didn’t know you could fix them at the time… I would kill to have some of that paper now but he [Friedlander] fixed them.
SM: How long ago did this happen?
NC: I feel like it was in the early ‘70s, or maybe late ’60s. There’s a Louis Malle movie called Pretty Baby with Brooke Shields that’s about this period of time and there was a show at the Museum of Modern Art and there is a book, I have the book.
SM: You know there are not many interviews, at least that I can find, with Friedlander. But he seems like this quirky out there guy who would be out of touch with everybody but then you read stories about the plates he found and he is connected and he’s been behind the scenes on stuff you wouldn’t necessarily know.
NC: Yeah I’ve never read an interview with him and it does seem like they would show up on the web. I did see his retrospective in New York. That was eight years ago or nine years ago.
SM: MOMA put out that big yellow book.
NC: Yeah I bought that and haven’t opened it because I guess I saw the show [laughs] and I thought that I would look at that at another point in time. So the reason I picked this book today [The Jazz People of New Orleans] is because I lived in New Orleans from 1964 until 1969 and I started taking pictures in New Orleans in 1968 when I got my first camera. And I used to photograph Jazz Funerals. There is a musician in here, Slow Drag Pavageau… I photographed his funeral. So when I was looking today at books I thought part of this time I was in New Orleans he [Friedlander] was photographing there.
SM: So you guys overlapped.
NC: Well, I mean my photographs aren’t anything like Lee Friedlander’s.
SM: Well whose are?
NC: It’s a place I love and it’s a period of time I was there. It’s interesting to know a photographer when you’re young or you learn about a photographer and then you look at them later when you get older and you have a different [perspective]. 
NC: Some of these photos are pretty straightforward portraits and then some of them are more kind of the Friedlander style.
SM: Yeah this one of Slow Drag… it’s that low angle, shooting up his torso… and others I guess are pretty straightforward but you still see those skewed angles and things [that Friedlander is known for].I started paying attention to Friedlander when I was shooting black and white and I feel like I pick up on somebody and I get really interested for a while and then everything I try to shoot ends up emulating them, to the point that I should stop.
NC: I knew somebody once who said it’s not a bad thing to do. You should just do it and you’ll work yourself out of it.
SM: I hope so.
NC: Or you will work into something that’s different.
NC: Not all the pictures in the book are as straightforward as the portraits, or as formal. A lot are taken at Jazz Funerals. Brass Bands parade in the fall and people follow and dance behind the bands. The photos of those events are more in the Friedlander style that we think of.
SM: It’s interesting, this one of Papa Jack Lane and then the one of Slow Drag, they almost feel a little bit like his self-portraits.
NC: I wonder if Friedlander was ever a musician, if he ever played music.
SM: Yeah I don’t know. But you know, a lot of his self-portraits often have that low angle.
NC: Do you know the book Self Portrait?
SM: Yeah
NC: I bought that when it came out and there is at least one photo in there from New Orleans and I recognize, it’s just a window, but I knew that window. To me it’s like reading a novel when you’re twenty and then, reading it again when you’re thirty-five or when you’re fifty. What you bring to it and what strikes you about it is completely different.
SM: So how long ago did you get The Jazz People of New Orleans?
NC: ‘92
SM: And looking at it then and looking at it more recently, because you said you connected to it because of the locale, but looking at it now because you haven’t been in New Orleans for so long, is it the same feeling when you look at it or something different?
NC: Well, I still like seeing it because it is a time period in my life and I am probably relating to it more personally and should think about it more photographically but because I spent the first two years of my life in New Orleans which I don’t really remember, but we went there all the time… my family and I did. And I used to stay with my Aunt in New Orleans by myself when I was a kid. And we always went to New Orleans and I went to college and lived there before I came to California and I’ve always gone back. So it’s kind of… what’s the term, well it’s my home as much as Lake Charles is.
SM: They’re not too far apart are they?
NC: Two hundred miles.
SM: Ok but you said you should think about them photographically instead of personally. So tell me what you mean.
NC: Well I was thinking about the ones of the people in the streets and some of the people I know of, some of the people I photographed at street parades, and I look at these and I think I am always trying to make a focus. To really have a sense of what it was like to be there. I photographed Kid Sheik and Sadie Cola [a New Orleans Jazz musician also photographed by Friedlander] and I took this picture of the whole family and I took the prints back next time I went to New Orleans and went and knocked on the door, and gave them to Sadie. She thought I was trying to sell them [laughs].
SM: She accepted them?
NC: Yeah.
SM: What was the span of time between you taking them and you giving them.
NC: That I don’t remember.
SM: Are we talking years and years?
NC: No I don’t think it was very long, it might have been a couple of months.
SM: So what do you think about this one?… The Young Tuxedo Brass Band
NC: Well I’ve heard of these bands and it is a little time capsule because of the Pepsi billboard and I don’t want to look at as being just a nostalgia thing but you know it feels like it’s a cold winter day. And the other thing I’ve noticed is that now when you go [to the parades] there are these huge crowds and at this time the jazz funerals were really for jazz musicians. And now people hire jazz bands to have a jazz funeral. Then as all the older jazz musicians were dying off it felt as though the jazz funerals were going to end. And now they have a second or third life and also New Orleans has changed since the hurricane [Hurricane Katrina] not just physically but there are so many new people who moved to New Orleans, mostly young people, and New Orleans has gotten really popular. I think because it almost got lost and people think it’s really interesting and tourism is huge. I photographed the Mardi Gras Indians three or four times. The first time was in 1991. And they do a parade on Super Sunday (which is the Sunday closest to March 19, which is St. Josephs Day) and there were some people there and we followed the route all the way from St. John’s Bayou all the way to the Municipal Auditorium and there were a few people taking pictures. And then I noticed from pictures in the newspaper at St. Joseph’s Day this year there were police barricades and it’s a huge crowd now. When I lived there I didn’t even know about the Mardi Gras Indians. They were their own thing in their own world.
SM: Couldn’t you almost look at this photo and on the billboard is a white woman with a Pepsi in her hand and here is this culture other than theirs imposing its presence on their culture. And how does that relate? Maybe it has become something different.
NC: The truth is at that time you didn’t see black people in ads or commercials on television. So maybe that is why you notice it because you are younger but in a certain way I don’t think about it because I am used to how that was the way it was at the time. There were magazines geared toward African Americans but on the streets… You are much more thoughtful than I am.
CR:  I don’t know. I might be imposing too much myself.
NC: No, you’re right it is interesting.
SM: To me, maybe I am way off base here but here is The Young Tuxedo Brass Band, the Pepsi billboard behind them and a Stop Ahead sign and turn the page and at the bottom of the frame is a car edging its way into the crowd. So here again, not that cars were new to this culture but does that same idea carry over into this frame, a more modern way of life pushing its way onto the crowd?
NC: Well I don’t know if that car is moving or it’s just parked.
SM: Sure, we could never know. Do you know what the significance was or is for a parade for a funeral?
NC: Well there is a service, then the band comes and they play funeral dirges on the way to the cemetery, there is usually a hearse taking the body but everyone else is walking. After the burial they play upbeat music and people are dancing. But I don’t know how it evolved….
SM: It reminds me of Albert Camus’ The Stranger, in the opening scene his mom has died and they walk to the graveside with the casket.
NC: So the tradition of how you get the body to the cemetery is that you walk it there.
SM: Maybe it is just a matter of practicality that you have to get the body from the church to the cemetery. This is a cool frame how the back window of the hearse mimics the shape of the church.
NC: I was looking at that church today and I have no idea where it is but it reminded me of some of the churches I saw in the lower ninth ward after the hurricane. You know I tend to photograph things pretty straight on and I am trying to break myself of that but I don’t think like this. I once saw a video of Joel Meyerowitz of him photographing on the street in New York and he is jumping around all over the place in front of people. It’s really interesting to see how some street photographers work. It was shocking to me in a way, how he was such a presence. I am always trying not to be such a presence. And it’s different if you are at an event but I guess the other thing about this book for me is that I was photographing on the street in New Orleans, I lived in the French Quarter and I walked around trying to learn how to take pictures. I didn’t even have a light meter [laughs] and when I was thinking about it today… photographing on the streets in New Orleans was my roots. I guess because I am interested in the culture.
SM: Were you photographing events just to be there or as paying gigs?
NC: No, and I don’t know what my intention was. I was just documenting things. And it was the kind of photography I was drawn to and I didn’t photograph things I wasn’t interested in but I have photographed things I didn’t agree with.
SM: Well that doesn’t negate that you were interested. If it does, I don’t want to look at William Christenberry’s Klu Klux Klan work anymore.
NC: [Laughs] Right.
SM: I tend to shoot differently when I am working versus when I am shooting for myself.
NC: I worked for the United Farm Workers, following Cesar Chavez. And I travelled with him for six weeks in 1976. It was the most grueling six weeks of my life. We would often get up at 7:00 in the morning after sleeping on the floor somewhere; I was the only woman in the group. There was Cesar, the Press Secretary, the Head of Security, and all these young Chicano guys who were the guards and the drivers. We travelled in two Plymouths. I think it had a flat head six engine. It was something easy to work on and that was why they chose them. They had a fleet of these Plymouths. But I think about how I was always trying to do my job, and a lot of times I could have done my job in thirty minutes or an hour and then I could have just taken pictures myself. And I did do some of that but I think about what I could have done. But then I look at it and some of it I like but some of I think is really junk. But you have a different mindset. And it’s different for different people. I often wonder if it’s gender, people work differently obviously, but I see some people who really ponder their shots and then people who just go off intuitively and shoot. I tend to operate more intuitively. And sometimes I over shoot something, especially if it is still [laughs] and I think I lose something because it’s not intuitive anymore.
SM: Yes, once you realize you are in a moment you have killed that moment and you are creating a new perspective.
NC: I haven’t seen your photos so I don’t know how you shoot.
SM: I try to be intuitive. So getting back to Friedlander, and you mentioned the Meyerowitz video, and I have never seen a video of Friedlander shooting but he often seems very unnoticed.
NC: Well in this shot, this is probably a 28mm [lens].
SM: Yeah he has got to be close. Nobody in this frame is looking at him, and granted there might be ten other frames with someone looking at him….
NC: And a lot of these people probably knew him. I remember at a jazz funeral in one of the cemeteries, one of the St. Louis cemeteries I think. And people were climbing on the tombs [in order to see] and I have this memory of this man photographing with a camera like a Leica and I wonder if it was Friedlander. I have no idea. I should go back and look at my negatives. [Looking at the book again] I love these shots taken from the side, looking at the procession going by and maybe it is sentimentality for me and it shows the time but there is also the Friedlander…. I mean here is a telephone pole in the middle of the frame. I would be trying to get that pole out.
SM: On the left side of the pole there is nothing but women and on the right nothing but men. And then the next frame is the band and it’s made up of nothing but men.
NC: There were women singers but I don’t remember women musicians other than women who played the piano.
SM: Yeah and you aren’t going to see a piano in a parade. But here in this frame the man and woman look like they are about to run into one another. Maybe there is no tension here between men and women but I think it’s interesting to look at that divide.
NC: Have you ever seen Paul Fusco’s RFK Funeral Train? I think it’s a great book.
SM: Yeah, I think so. No one had thought to photograph a funeral procession in that way and now that he did it, it’s done and another photographer doing it would just be copying him.
NC: When I saw the book, it’s so fascinating because he is shooting from a moving train with a slow film. And I think about it and part of me at the time would have thought that it’s technically kind of weak but it’s a great book. I don’t think about it that way now. For me it’s trying not to see things straightforward.
SM: Friedlander certainly challenges some traditional ideas of composition. Like sticking a phone pole right in the middle of the frame and completely disrupting the flow of this line of people.
NC: And why do you think he did that?
SM: I don’t know.
NC: It’s kind of the way we see. Maybe not so consciously but it is.
SM: It is, and maybe it’s about how the camera sees. Unless we are paying attention we would ignore that phone pole. But the camera wouldn’t. Friedlander’s frames are often so cluttered… like in this frame with all these women.
NC: They are the second liners, the dancers.
SM: It’s interesting because there is a lot of clutter but it works. It’s all about the women. These two men, the trumpet, the sax, the banner all kind of frame these women. Maybe another photographer would have hoped they had a telephoto lens to get in there….
NC: But this feels like what it is like to be there. New Orleans is its own special place.
SM: Which is what is nice. But that’s what I was talking about when I look at Friedlander doing that kind of thing and then I catch myself doing the exact same thing and I don’t know what to do. I like in this frame this guy’s posture. Looks like he is dancing and it kind of looks like a response to the camera.
SM: Who published the book?
NC: Pantheon. I think I bought this second hand.
SM: I like buying second hand. Yesterday I was down in L.A. and I went to Arcana Books. Have you been to their new location?
NC: Yes it is kind of mind boggling.
SM: Exactly. At their old location, granted much of their stuff was in the back and you had to ask for it so you couldn’t really browse through everything they had, but I spent two hours there [at the new location] and I felt like I didn’t hardly look at anything. I realized I like going to used bookstores because there is a limited selection and when you find one it is great. But at Arcana I know there are hundreds of great books but I can’t sit there and search through every single one and find that one I like. It was a lot more sterile than the old store. Clean and white. But it was fine.
NC: They let me go in the back once…
SM: At the old store?
NC: Yeah because I asked to use the restroom so they took me through the back and it was like being in the stacks of a library, just shelves and shelves and shelves of more books.
SM: Yeah I guess that is why they got out of the old spot.
NC: And because Culver City [where the new store is located] is the happening spot now.
SM: I noticed that driving around. And Third Street Promenade [in Santa Monica where Arcana used to be located] is such a commercial spot. It seemed like an odd place for an art bookstore.
NC: Hennessey + Ingalls is still there, it is on Wilshire now but it used to be on the Promenade and there was a bookstore called Midnight Special. It was a general bookstore but it started out mostly as a political bookstore in the ‘70s or ‘80s but they went out of business.
SM: Well so my intent was to get a book, I wasn’t sure what, but after two hours of searching I thought I am definitely getting a book and there is no way I am walking out of here without one or I mind as well spit on the floor on the way out. But I was so stuck on what to get. So after all that I ended up getting William Eggleston’s Guide. I just happened to not own that book. So after digging through all these contemporary books trying to come across one I never had seen before….
NC: If I bought every book I ever wanted I’d be in the poorhouse.
SM: Yeah there was a book I really wanted to get, and my budget was only about thirty bucks, but the book I wanted was about one hundred dollars.
NC: What was it?
SM: Hillbilly Heroin, Honey [by Hannah Modigh]
NC: Well it’s great to get Eggleston. You know I bought an Eggleston book at a rummage sale for I think five dollars. And it’s signed.
SM: Really?? What book?
NC: [Leaves to get the book] It’s the Hasselblad Award book.
SM: That’s really cool. They had no idea.
NC: Do you want another beer?
SM: No I am good.
NC: Do you think we have anything worthwhile [recorded]?
SM: Yeah I think so.
NC: So are you going to the Solstice parade?
SM: I didn’t plan on it but after looking at Friedlander’s work I think maybe I should.
NC: I go when they are lining up. I used to follow the parade but I don’t care about those shots anymore I guess. Mostly I just walk around and it’s habit. But I thought maybe I should try to be more serious this year. The other thing I like to do is once it passes me at Cota Street I go to Paradise Café and have a hamburger. I am done.
SM: Well I just think about parking and I say forget it.
[After browsing Friedlander’s book a bit more, thumbing through Eggleston’s Hasselblad book as well as Alec Soth’s Sleeping by the Mississippi, we shared stories that should not have been recorded and then called it a night.]

[ VOL 002, ISS 007 ] in conversation with nell campbell; About Lee Friedlander’s The Jazz People Of New Orleans

Discussion by Nell Campbell & Shaun H Kelly

Nell Campbell is a photographer living in Santa Barbara, California. She grew up in Lake Charles, Louisiana and spent some time living in New Orleans where she began to photograph among other things, the jazz culture of the city. She owns a substantial and noteworthy collection of photobooks. The living room of her home serves as a library where the coffee table and couch serve as makeshift shelves. It is my aspiration to overwhelm a space of my own with photobooks. I asked her to choose any book from her collection and we would sit down and have a conversation. Over Abita Turbodogs (Abita is a beer brewery located 30 miles north of New Orleans) the topic of conversation was largely centered around New Orleans and the work of Lee Friedlander and other photographers we both admire. In no way was the conversation all that linear and we had no expectations but to have a good conversation. Photography and New Orleans was a good place to start.

NC: I debated about Garry Winogrand and then I decided to talk about this book The Jazz People of New Orleans by Lee Friedlander

SM: I didn’t even know about this book.

NC: It came out in 1992 and I read the text a long time ago and I reread some this afternoon, but Friedlander photographed in New Orleans, from ’57 to ’74 apparently, jazz musicians

SM: Yeah, he started out doing musicians as a paying gig. Photographing in color.

NC: I don’t know if I have ever seen any color by Friedlander

SM: I shouldn’t say it’s not good but it’s not his really layered stuff.

NC: There was a photographer in New Orleans, his last name was Bellocq and he photographed prostitutes in Storyville using glass plates and on some of them he scratched out the faces. Friedlander found the glass plates and he printed them using, you’re probably too young to know about Printing Out Paper?

SM: Yeah I don’t know.

NC: It was a paper Kodak made and somebody else probably had it too and you could use it for proofs or contact sheets and you could expose it in the sun and it would turn purple. Portrait studios used it because they’d give people them as proofs but the customer couldn’t do anything with them because if you left them in the light they would darken.

CR: So you never fixed them?

NC: Right. Well I didn’t know you could fix them at the time… I would kill to have some of that paper now but he [Friedlander] fixed them.

SM: How long ago did this happen?

NC: I feel like it was in the early ‘70s, or maybe late ’60s. There’s a Louis Malle movie called Pretty Baby with Brooke Shields that’s about this period of time and there was a show at the Museum of Modern Art and there is a book, I have the book.

SM: You know there are not many interviews, at least that I can find, with Friedlander. But he seems like this quirky out there guy who would be out of touch with everybody but then you read stories about the plates he found and he is connected and he’s been behind the scenes on stuff you wouldn’t necessarily know.

NC: Yeah I’ve never read an interview with him and it does seem like they would show up on the web. I did see his retrospective in New York. That was eight years ago or nine years ago.

SM: MOMA put out that big yellow book.

NC: Yeah I bought that and haven’t opened it because I guess I saw the show [laughs] and I thought that I would look at that at another point in time. So the reason I picked this book today [The Jazz People of New Orleans] is because I lived in New Orleans from 1964 until 1969 and I started taking pictures in New Orleans in 1968 when I got my first camera. And I used to photograph Jazz Funerals. There is a musician in here, Slow Drag Pavageau… I photographed his funeral. So when I was looking today at books I thought part of this time I was in New Orleans he [Friedlander] was photographing there.

SM: So you guys overlapped.

NC: Well, I mean my photographs aren’t anything like Lee Friedlander’s.

SM: Well whose are?

NC: It’s a place I love and it’s a period of time I was there. It’s interesting to know a photographer when you’re young or you learn about a photographer and then you look at them later when you get older and you have a different [perspective]. 

NC: Some of these photos are pretty straightforward portraits and then some of them are more kind of the Friedlander style.

SM: Yeah this one of Slow Drag… it’s that low angle, shooting up his torso… and others I guess are pretty straightforward but you still see those skewed angles and things [that Friedlander is known for].
I started paying attention to Friedlander when I was shooting black and white and I feel like I pick up on somebody and I get really interested for a while and then everything I try to shoot ends up emulating them, to the point that I should stop.

NC: I knew somebody once who said it’s not a bad thing to do. You should just do it and you’ll work yourself out of it.

SM: I hope so.

NC: Or you will work into something that’s different.

NC: Not all the pictures in the book are as straightforward as the portraits, or as formal. A lot are taken at Jazz Funerals. Brass Bands parade in the fall and people follow and dance behind the bands. The photos of those events are more in the Friedlander style that we think of.

SM: It’s interesting, this one of Papa Jack Lane and then the one of Slow Drag, they almost feel a little bit like his self-portraits.

NC: I wonder if Friedlander was ever a musician, if he ever played music.

SM: Yeah I don’t know. But you know, a lot of his self-portraits often have that low angle.

NC: Do you know the book Self Portrait?

SM: Yeah

NC: I bought that when it came out and there is at least one photo in there from New Orleans and I recognize, it’s just a window, but I knew that window. To me it’s like reading a novel when you’re twenty and then, reading it again when you’re thirty-five or when you’re fifty. What you bring to it and what strikes you about it is completely different.

SM: So how long ago did you get The Jazz People of New Orleans?

NC: ‘92

SM: And looking at it then and looking at it more recently, because you said you connected to it because of the locale, but looking at it now because you haven’t been in New Orleans for so long, is it the same feeling when you look at it or something different?

NC: Well, I still like seeing it because it is a time period in my life and I am probably relating to it more personally and should think about it more photographically but because I spent the first two years of my life in New Orleans which I don’t really remember, but we went there all the time… my family and I did. And I used to stay with my Aunt in New Orleans by myself when I was a kid. And we always went to New Orleans and I went to college and lived there before I came to California and I’ve always gone back. So it’s kind of… what’s the term, well it’s my home as much as Lake Charles is.

SM: They’re not too far apart are they?

NC: Two hundred miles.

SM: Ok but you said you should think about them photographically instead of personally. So tell me what you mean.

NC: Well I was thinking about the ones of the people in the streets and some of the people I know of, some of the people I photographed at street parades, and I look at these and I think I am always trying to make a focus. To really have a sense of what it was like to be there. I photographed Kid Sheik and Sadie Cola [a New Orleans Jazz musician also photographed by Friedlander] and I took this picture of the whole family and I took the prints back next time I went to New Orleans and went and knocked on the door, and gave them to Sadie. She thought I was trying to sell them [laughs].

SM: She accepted them?

NC: Yeah.

SM: What was the span of time between you taking them and you giving them.

NC: That I don’t remember.

SM: Are we talking years and years?

NC: No I don’t think it was very long, it might have been a couple of months.

SM: So what do you think about this one?… The Young Tuxedo Brass Band

NC: Well I’ve heard of these bands and it is a little time capsule because of the Pepsi billboard and I don’t want to look at as being just a nostalgia thing but you know it feels like it’s a cold winter day. And the other thing I’ve noticed is that now when you go [to the parades] there are these huge crowds and at this time the jazz funerals were really for jazz musicians. And now people hire jazz bands to have a jazz funeral. Then as all the older jazz musicians were dying off it felt as though the jazz funerals were going to end. And now they have a second or third life and also New Orleans has changed since the hurricane [Hurricane Katrina] not just physically but there are so many new people who moved to New Orleans, mostly young people, and New Orleans has gotten really popular. I think because it almost got lost and people think it’s really interesting and tourism is huge. I photographed the Mardi Gras Indians three or four times. The first time was in 1991. And they do a parade on Super Sunday (which is the Sunday closest to March 19, which is St. Josephs Day) and there were some people there and we followed the route all the way from St. John’s Bayou all the way to the Municipal Auditorium and there were a few people taking pictures. And then I noticed from pictures in the newspaper at St. Joseph’s Day this year there were police barricades and it’s a huge crowd now. When I lived there I didn’t even know about the Mardi Gras Indians. They were their own thing in their own world.

SM: Couldn’t you almost look at this photo and on the billboard is a white woman with a Pepsi in her hand and here is this culture other than theirs imposing its presence on their culture. And how does that relate? Maybe it has become something different.

NC: The truth is at that time you didn’t see black people in ads or commercials on television. So maybe that is why you notice it because you are younger but in a certain way I don’t think about it because I am used to how that was the way it was at the time. There were magazines geared toward African Americans but on the streets… You are much more thoughtful than I am.

CR:  I don’t know. I might be imposing too much myself.

NC: No, you’re right it is interesting.

SM: To me, maybe I am way off base here but here is The Young Tuxedo Brass Band, the Pepsi billboard behind them and a Stop Ahead sign and turn the page and at the bottom of the frame is a car edging its way into the crowd. So here again, not that cars were new to this culture but does that same idea carry over into this frame, a more modern way of life pushing its way onto the crowd?

NC: Well I don’t know if that car is moving or it’s just parked.

SM: Sure, we could never know. Do you know what the significance was or is for a parade for a funeral?

NC: Well there is a service, then the band comes and they play funeral dirges on the way to the cemetery, there is usually a hearse taking the body but everyone else is walking. After the burial they play upbeat music and people are dancing. But I don’t know how it evolved….

SM: It reminds me of Albert Camus’ The Stranger, in the opening scene his mom has died and they walk to the graveside with the casket.

NC: So the tradition of how you get the body to the cemetery is that you walk it there.

SM: Maybe it is just a matter of practicality that you have to get the body from the church to the cemetery. This is a cool frame how the back window of the hearse mimics the shape of the church.

NC: I was looking at that church today and I have no idea where it is but it reminded me of some of the churches I saw in the lower ninth ward after the hurricane. You know I tend to photograph things pretty straight on and I am trying to break myself of that but I don’t think like this. I once saw a video of Joel Meyerowitz of him photographing on the street in New York and he is jumping around all over the place in front of people. It’s really interesting to see how some street photographers work. It was shocking to me in a way, how he was such a presence. I am always trying not to be such a presence. And it’s different if you are at an event but I guess the other thing about this book for me is that I was photographing on the street in New Orleans, I lived in the French Quarter and I walked around trying to learn how to take pictures. I didn’t even have a light meter [laughs] and when I was thinking about it today… photographing on the streets in New Orleans was my roots. I guess because I am interested in the culture.

SM: Were you photographing events just to be there or as paying gigs?

NC: No, and I don’t know what my intention was. I was just documenting things. And it was the kind of photography I was drawn to and I didn’t photograph things I wasn’t interested in but I have photographed things I didn’t agree with.

SM: Well that doesn’t negate that you were interested. If it does, I don’t want to look at William Christenberry’s Klu Klux Klan work anymore.

NC: [Laughs] Right.

SM: I tend to shoot differently when I am working versus when I am shooting for myself.

NC: I worked for the United Farm Workers, following Cesar Chavez. And I travelled with him for six weeks in 1976. It was the most grueling six weeks of my life. We would often get up at 7:00 in the morning after sleeping on the floor somewhere; I was the only woman in the group. There was Cesar, the Press Secretary, the Head of Security, and all these young Chicano guys who were the guards and the drivers. We travelled in two Plymouths. I think it had a flat head six engine. It was something easy to work on and that was why they chose them. They had a fleet of these Plymouths. But I think about how I was always trying to do my job, and a lot of times I could have done my job in thirty minutes or an hour and then I could have just taken pictures myself. And I did do some of that but I think about what I could have done. But then I look at it and some of it I like but some of I think is really junk. But you have a different mindset. And it’s different for different people. I often wonder if it’s gender, people work differently obviously, but I see some people who really ponder their shots and then people who just go off intuitively and shoot. I tend to operate more intuitively. And sometimes I over shoot something, especially if it is still [laughs] and I think I lose something because it’s not intuitive anymore.

SM: Yes, once you realize you are in a moment you have killed that moment and you are creating a new perspective.

NC: I haven’t seen your photos so I don’t know how you shoot.

SM: I try to be intuitive. So getting back to Friedlander, and you mentioned the Meyerowitz video, and I have never seen a video of Friedlander shooting but he often seems very unnoticed.

NC: Well in this shot, this is probably a 28mm [lens].

SM: Yeah he has got to be close. Nobody in this frame is looking at him, and granted there might be ten other frames with someone looking at him….

NC: And a lot of these people probably knew him. I remember at a jazz funeral in one of the cemeteries, one of the St. Louis cemeteries I think. And people were climbing on the tombs [in order to see] and I have this memory of this man photographing with a camera like a Leica and I wonder if it was Friedlander. I have no idea. I should go back and look at my negatives. [Looking at the book again] I love these shots taken from the side, looking at the procession going by and maybe it is sentimentality for me and it shows the time but there is also the Friedlander…. I mean here is a telephone pole in the middle of the frame. I would be trying to get that pole out.

SM: On the left side of the pole there is nothing but women and on the right nothing but men. And then the next frame is the band and it’s made up of nothing but men.

NC: There were women singers but I don’t remember women musicians other than women who played the piano.

SM: Yeah and you aren’t going to see a piano in a parade. But here in this frame the man and woman look like they are about to run into one another. Maybe there is no tension here between men and women but I think it’s interesting to look at that divide.

NC: Have you ever seen Paul Fusco’s RFK Funeral Train? I think it’s a great book.

SM: Yeah, I think so. No one had thought to photograph a funeral procession in that way and now that he did it, it’s done and another photographer doing it would just be copying him.

NC: When I saw the book, it’s so fascinating because he is shooting from a moving train with a slow film. And I think about it and part of me at the time would have thought that it’s technically kind of weak but it’s a great book. I don’t think about it that way now. For me it’s trying not to see things straightforward.

SM: Friedlander certainly challenges some traditional ideas of composition. Like sticking a phone pole right in the middle of the frame and completely disrupting the flow of this line of people.

NC: And why do you think he did that?

SM: I don’t know.

NC: It’s kind of the way we see. Maybe not so consciously but it is.

SM: It is, and maybe it’s about how the camera sees. Unless we are paying attention we would ignore that phone pole. But the camera wouldn’t. Friedlander’s frames are often so cluttered… like in this frame with all these women.

NC: They are the second liners, the dancers.

SM: It’s interesting because there is a lot of clutter but it works. It’s all about the women. These two men, the trumpet, the sax, the banner all kind of frame these women. Maybe another photographer would have hoped they had a telephoto lens to get in there….

NC: But this feels like what it is like to be there. New Orleans is its own special place.

SM: Which is what is nice. But that’s what I was talking about when I look at Friedlander doing that kind of thing and then I catch myself doing the exact same thing and I don’t know what to do. I like in this frame this guy’s posture. Looks like he is dancing and it kind of looks like a response to the camera.

SM: Who published the book?

NC: Pantheon. I think I bought this second hand.

SM: I like buying second hand. Yesterday I was down in L.A. and I went to Arcana Books. Have you been to their new location?

NC: Yes it is kind of mind boggling.

SM: Exactly. At their old location, granted much of their stuff was in the back and you had to ask for it so you couldn’t really browse through everything they had, but I spent two hours there [at the new location] and I felt like I didn’t hardly look at anything. I realized I like going to used bookstores because there is a limited selection and when you find one it is great. But at Arcana I know there are hundreds of great books but I can’t sit there and search through every single one and find that one I like. It was a lot more sterile than the old store. Clean and white. But it was fine.

NC: They let me go in the back once…

SM: At the old store?

NC: Yeah because I asked to use the restroom so they took me through the back and it was like being in the stacks of a library, just shelves and shelves and shelves of more books.

SM: Yeah I guess that is why they got out of the old spot.

NC: And because Culver City [where the new store is located] is the happening spot now.

SM: I noticed that driving around. And Third Street Promenade [in Santa Monica where Arcana used to be located] is such a commercial spot. It seemed like an odd place for an art bookstore.

NC: Hennessey + Ingalls is still there, it is on Wilshire now but it used to be on the Promenade and there was a bookstore called Midnight Special. It was a general bookstore but it started out mostly as a political bookstore in the ‘70s or ‘80s but they went out of business.

SM: Well so my intent was to get a book, I wasn’t sure what, but after two hours of searching I thought I am definitely getting a book and there is no way I am walking out of here without one or I mind as well spit on the floor on the way out. But I was so stuck on what to get. So after all that I ended up getting William Eggleston’s Guide. I just happened to not own that book. So after digging through all these contemporary books trying to come across one I never had seen before….

NC: If I bought every book I ever wanted I’d be in the poorhouse.

SM: Yeah there was a book I really wanted to get, and my budget was only about thirty bucks, but the book I wanted was about one hundred dollars.

NC: What was it?

SM: Hillbilly Heroin, Honey [by Hannah Modigh]

NC: Well it’s great to get Eggleston. You know I bought an Eggleston book at a rummage sale for I think five dollars. And it’s signed.

SM: Really?? What book?

NC: [Leaves to get the book] It’s the Hasselblad Award book.

SM: That’s really cool. They had no idea.

NC: Do you want another beer?

SM: No I am good.

NC: Do you think we have anything worthwhile [recorded]?

SM: Yeah I think so.

NC: So are you going to the Solstice parade?

SM: I didn’t plan on it but after looking at Friedlander’s work I think maybe I should.

NC: I go when they are lining up. I used to follow the parade but I don’t care about those shots anymore I guess. Mostly I just walk around and it’s habit. But I thought maybe I should try to be more serious this year. The other thing I like to do is once it passes me at Cota Street I go to Paradise Café and have a hamburger. I am done.

SM: Well I just think about parking and I say forget it.

[After browsing Friedlander’s book a bit more, thumbing through Eggleston’s Hasselblad book as well as Alec Soth’s Sleeping by the Mississippi, we shared stories that should not have been recorded and then called it a night.]

[ VOL 002, ISS 007 ] Kodachrome by Luigi Ghirri
Review by Shaun H Kelly
We have never accurately seen ourselves but rather, only representations in the form of reflections in mirrors or rain puddles or in a photograph. It is understood that a mirror image is not an exact duplicate but rather opposite and that photographs can lie and only tell certain truths. Yet most all of us regard presentation, how we look to others, as important and rely on these means to show us what we look like. And because we cannot see ourselves how others see us, at some point short of vain insanity we have to trust that our answer to the question do we look presentable or do we even care, has been somewhat satisfied.  Otherwise no one would ever make it to work on time, hours having been wasted in front of the mirror trying on an infinite number of different colored shirts and haircuts would always end in frustration, the barber or stylist simply having to give up on pleasing us with regards to a question that cannot be accurately answered. But what do we look like is an important question. Not so much the question do I look good in red or which way should I part my hair but more so, how do we collectively represent who we are?
Recently in the news I read that there will be another photograph of the planet earth taken from space. It will be photographed from The Cassini spacecraft, which is currently in orbit around Saturn. The photograph will take place on July 19, 2013. A similar photograph was taken in 1990 but this time, because Saturn will be at the time of the photo-opt, eclipsing the sun and because of improvements in photographic technologies, our pale blue dot as it has been described will be photographed more accurately. Even still, the image will only result in the planet being a few pixels. But because of the new technologies it will be accurate to what it would look like if we were on The Cassini spacecraft looking back at Earth, which is to say essentially what it would look like to be looking back at ourselves from very, very far away.
In the forward to Kodachrome, Ghirri references another photograph of Earth. It was taken in 1969 from a space shuttle on its way to the moon and it was the first photograph taken of our planet and as Ghirri said, “the power of containing everything vanished in front of the impossibility of seeing everything at the same time.” This he argues creates a problem and “the space between the infinitely small and the infinitely big was filled by the infinitely complex problem: man and his life, nature.” And so by looking at ourselves wholly and as objectively as we can manage we are not provided answers but rather a more complex question. The photograph of the Earth from space attempted something we had not been able to attempt before. It provided us the opportunity to look in at ourselves, our entire existence while at the same time looking out at who we are in relation to everything bigger than everything we know first hand. But really I do not believe that this was the first time we had the ability to simultaneously look in at ourselves while looking out at the infinite. It had already been afforded to us by way of photography. The camera had given this opportunity but had already shown us rather we recognized it or not, that this attempt at objectivity creates a problem. In fact this is perhaps where photography and Kodachrome begins. That by looking out we find ourselves looking in and by looking in we often find ourselves looking out.  From the very first image of the infinite blue sky and in front of it power lines, imposed much the same as the photograph imposes composition to the scene we impose ourselves onto the infinite. This photograph is followed by images of objects atop building protruding into that infinite sky including a horse on which perhaps we could ride into the unknown, or perhaps Ghirri’s camera is just that, a vehicle to explore all at once the finite and in the infinite. And what he captures are common scenes: mountain ranges and mirrors, the camera itself, children and men, men and women, umbrellas left out, beach chairs put away. Included are murals and advertisements, much like a mirror they are representations of ourselves. Also included are photographs of paintings and other works of art. Perhaps most strikingly, photographs of postcards of works of art as well as scenes similar to the very ones he photographed, all contained in white wire racks like frames of framed things, all framed by the camera… infinitely contained by our limited perspective. And they look like that picture of Earth from 1969 and we recognize that the entire time we have been looking out at what Ghirri sees with his camera we have been looking at ourselves looking at the world, looking back at ourselves from not so far away.

[ VOL 002, ISS 007 ] Kodachrome by Luigi Ghirri

Review by Shaun H Kelly

We have never accurately seen ourselves but rather, only representations in the form of reflections in mirrors or rain puddles or in a photograph. It is understood that a mirror image is not an exact duplicate but rather opposite and that photographs can lie and only tell certain truths. Yet most all of us regard presentation, how we look to others, as important and rely on these means to show us what we look like. And because we cannot see ourselves how others see us, at some point short of vain insanity we have to trust that our answer to the question do we look presentable or do we even care, has been somewhat satisfied.  Otherwise no one would ever make it to work on time, hours having been wasted in front of the mirror trying on an infinite number of different colored shirts and haircuts would always end in frustration, the barber or stylist simply having to give up on pleasing us with regards to a question that cannot be accurately answered. But what do we look like is an important question. Not so much the question do I look good in red or which way should I part my hair but more so, how do we collectively represent who we are?

Recently in the news I read that there will be another photograph of the planet earth taken from space. It will be photographed from The Cassini spacecraft, which is currently in orbit around Saturn. The photograph will take place on July 19, 2013. A similar photograph was taken in 1990 but this time, because Saturn will be at the time of the photo-opt, eclipsing the sun and because of improvements in photographic technologies, our pale blue dot as it has been described will be photographed more accurately. Even still, the image will only result in the planet being a few pixels. But because of the new technologies it will be accurate to what it would look like if we were on The Cassini spacecraft looking back at Earth, which is to say essentially what it would look like to be looking back at ourselves from very, very far away.

In the forward to Kodachrome, Ghirri references another photograph of Earth. It was taken in 1969 from a space shuttle on its way to the moon and it was the first photograph taken of our planet and as Ghirri said, “the power of containing everything vanished in front of the impossibility of seeing everything at the same time.” This he argues creates a problem and “the space between the infinitely small and the infinitely big was filled by the infinitely complex problem: man and his life, nature.” And so by looking at ourselves wholly and as objectively as we can manage we are not provided answers but rather a more complex question. The photograph of the Earth from space attempted something we had not been able to attempt before. It provided us the opportunity to look in at ourselves, our entire existence while at the same time looking out at who we are in relation to everything bigger than everything we know first hand. But really I do not believe that this was the first time we had the ability to simultaneously look in at ourselves while looking out at the infinite. It had already been afforded to us by way of photography. The camera had given this opportunity but had already shown us rather we recognized it or not, that this attempt at objectivity creates a problem. In fact this is perhaps where photography and Kodachrome begins. That by looking out we find ourselves looking in and by looking in we often find ourselves looking out.  From the very first image of the infinite blue sky and in front of it power lines, imposed much the same as the photograph imposes composition to the scene we impose ourselves onto the infinite. This photograph is followed by images of objects atop building protruding into that infinite sky including a horse on which perhaps we could ride into the unknown, or perhaps Ghirri’s camera is just that, a vehicle to explore all at once the finite and in the infinite. And what he captures are common scenes: mountain ranges and mirrors, the camera itself, children and men, men and women, umbrellas left out, beach chairs put away. Included are murals and advertisements, much like a mirror they are representations of ourselves. Also included are photographs of paintings and other works of art. Perhaps most strikingly, photographs of postcards of works of art as well as scenes similar to the very ones he photographed, all contained in white wire racks like frames of framed things, all framed by the camera… infinitely contained by our limited perspective. And they look like that picture of Earth from 1969 and we recognize that the entire time we have been looking out at what Ghirri sees with his camera we have been looking at ourselves looking at the world, looking back at ourselves from not so far away.