Friday, July 31, 2009

muscle memory

Today I picked up the final pages of my transcribed interview with Carl Bower. If you recall, Carl is the photographer who graciously offered to come to Detroit to help me work on the text of my self portrait book, Falling Into Place. He had seen my Blurb book and heard me speak in Eugene Richards' workshop during Look 3 Photo Festival in Charlottesville, Virginia in June. Carl became deeply committed to seeing that Falling Into Place be published and get out into the world. His way of offering tangible help was to come to my home for an overnight stay and during those two days and one night to ask me probing questions that I answered and recorded digitally. We ended up with four hours of recorded material. I took these files to Victoria of Top Notch Transcription Service, a local business I found online, and have now received the entire transcription--170 pages in hard copy and as a MS Word document. Victoria did a magnificent job and took a very personal interest in my project.

So now my task is to tease out a small percentage of my verbiage to use as text in my book. In two weeks I'll be attending a 4-day writers retreat with two wonderful writers I've worked with in years past: Anya Achtenberg and Demetria Martinez. Their retreat is called "Writing From the Eye of the Storm" which feels appropriate to what I'm now feeling in relation to this project. I'll be working on my text before and during the retreat and look forward to receiving feedback from Anya, Demetria and the other writers--many of whom I know--who will be part of the circle. The timing could not be more perfect.

Today's self portrait was inspired by reading two questions Carl asked me in the final minutes of our two days together: What is the aching of muscle memory? When muscles remember, what do they think about?

Sunday, July 19, 2009

a sign of the times

At first I thought the sign said "Hungry, need food" so I reached into my dashboard compartment where I keep dollar bills for just such a purpose. But when I stopped at the traffic light and could clearly see his sign, I rolled down the window and asked what kind of work he needed. He said, "I used to do janitorial work but now am mainly doing things like landscaping." I'd guess that "landscaping" would include cutting lawns, pulling weeds and maybe planting trees and shrubs. Last week he'd started coming out on the street corner with his sign and had gotten a few jobs as a result. Today he was out there waiting for a woman who'd promised to come back on Saturday to give him a job. He was OK with my taking his picture.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, of the 49 metropolitan areas with a Census 2000 population of 1
million or more, Detroit-Warren-Livonia, Michigan, reported the highest unemployment rate in May, 2009, 14.9 percent. But this is probably lower than the reality because of the methods used in taking the survey. For instance, if this fellow had been interviewed yesterday he would have been counted as employed because he'd earned wages during the week prior to the interview. It wouldn't matter how much he'd earned or how temporary was the job. Another point is that for purposes of the survey a person is considered unemployed if they are jobless but are actively looking and are available for work. That means if they've stopped looking and simply given up on finding a job--as many have--they are no longer counted as unemployed.

Then there is the Wall Street-based Goldman Sachs bank that received--and has now paid back--a $10 billion injection of TARP funds in late 2008 to help it weather the market meltdown. According to an article in the New York Times last week, "Goldman posted the richest quarterly profit in its 140-year history and, to the envy of its rivals, announced that it had earmarked $11.4 billion so far this year to compensate its workers. At that rate, Goldman employees could, on average, earn roughly $770,000 each this year--or nearly what they did at the height of the boom."

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

becoming "an unmoved center"

After working for days to capture this particular image, I was grateful today to discover a link to this quote from "Zen In the Art of Archery" by Eugen Herrigel, a Westerner who had lived in Japan:

“Should one ask… how the Japanese Masters understand this contest of the archer with himself, and how they describe it, their answer would sound enigmatic in the extreme. For them the contest exists in the archer aiming at himself—and yet not at himself, in hitting himself—and yet not himself, and thus becoming simultaneously the aimer and the aim, the hitter and the hit. Or, to use some expressions which are nearest the heart of the Masters, it is necessary for the archer to become, in spite of himself, an unmoved center. Then comes the supreme and ultimate miracle: art becomes “artless,” shooting becomes not-shooting, a shooting without bow and arrow; the teacher becomes a pupil again, the Master a beginner, the end a beginning, and the beginning perfection.”

Special thanks to Erica McDonald for pointing me in this direction.

It is all too easy--for me anyway--to get in a tizzy when an idea pops into my happened with this photo. So simple an idea, actually, but such a complex step-by-step process to bring it to fruition. First I had to buy the kite, one that spoke to me of playful soaring. Then I had to find the right kite-catching tree in a place where there would be someone who could "rescue" it later. Next I talked to the park maintenance supervisor to get his OK. The next step was the fun part--going down to the park at a "good light" time and finding someone to fly the kite for me. In particular, to fly it into the tree I'd already chosen.

I was lucky. On Saturday we had a lovely dusk with a sprightly breeze. I scooted down to the park and looked around for a likely kite-flier. My friend Aly was sitting by the water with a friend and I told him of my search. He said, "Well, it's been a long time but I used to fly kites." So this 70 year-old retired social worker from Egypt unfurled my shocking pink ladybug kite, got it up in the air and flew it into the perfect spot in the kite-catching tree!

After an unsuccessful series of shots that evening, I got up at 7:15 a.m. the next day and found my kite glowing in the early morning light. It was then that the kite and I became one, the tree and I became one, the morning light and I became one, and my camera and I became one. An unmoved center.

So now my "Falling Into Place" book project has one more image. And this image is more important to me than the thousands that preceded it. Why do I say that? Because it answers the question posed to me last week by Carl Bower, the photographer who came from Washington, DC to Detroit to help me with the text for the book. And what was Carl's question? "What is the longing of your body and how would you show it in a photograph?"

To see how this image fits into the whole, check out my website.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

July 4th, 2009

Is it just me, or did this July 4th feel better than the last eight???

Friday, July 3, 2009

seeing with new eyes

Since completing the photographic essay workshop with David Alan Harvey and Jim Nachtwey at LOOK3 Festival of the Photograph three weeks ago, I have barely picked up my camera. I'd say this is the longest I've gone without taking pics since I bought my first digital point-and-shoot in December 2000. Then today I was reading a book, "Martin Parr" by Sandra Phillips, that I'd bought after hearing Martin speak and show his work to the audience in Charlottesville's Paramount Theatre during Look3. It got my juices going and I went around the park finding unsuspecting people to photograph. This little girl was one of them.

But things are different for me now. Even when I'm shooting from my lap, as I did here, my inner eye is looking at the entire frame in a new way. I keep hearing Jim Nachtwey's voice saying, "Think of each frame as a piece of sculpture. Walk around it. Take into account its dimensionality. See it from all angles." I also hear Jim's frequent critique of our images: "You were five seconds too late (or early) and/or five steps too far to the right (or left)." I hear both Jim and David say, "Yes, you captured the moment, but is it a PHOTOGRAPH?" That became the mantra of the week, "Is it a photograph?" Time and time again we students would ask, "What do you mean? How do you define a 'photograph'?"

Well, they never did actually define it in words, but they did show us what they meant as they critiqued our photos for five hours every day. By the end of the week it got so we knew when we were looking at a "photograph" and when we weren't. The photograph had all its elements in place, there was a certain harmony to the whole (even if it was a quirky harmony), nothing distracted our eye from what the photographer wanted us to see, but most importantly, there was a certain feeling that hit us in the gut when we saw a "photograph" and a kind of apathy when we didn't.

When I look at the photo I shot today, I'd say it's close but it would have been better if I'd been just a step or two to the left.

And it isn't just Jim's and David's words I remember. It is their actions. I can still see David Alan Harvey shooting pics during a spontaneous bluegrass performance by some wonderful ole Southern boys outside a crowded bar in C'ville at 1 a.m. on the last night of the festival. I see how he was squatting, standing, bending, dodging this way and that, stationing himself in as many different positions as possible in order to get different angles with every shot he took. The man was in perpetual motion. He was a living example of what he'd called "working it non-stop" whenever conditions were perfectly set up to take good pictures.

So now I'm wondering if I just needed some time to let all that I'd seen and heard during those remarkable six days--eight days counting the festival--percolate down deep into my being before picking up my camera again. My guess is that I'll be assimilating what I saw, heard and experienced for a long time to come. I'd been told that taking a workshop with David Alan Harvey was life-changing, but add James Nachtwey to the mix and you're talking once-in-a lifetime. Am I grateful? Hell yes!