Saturday, November 10, 2012

photography's gift: the people you meet

Avery Duncan, class of 2013
click on image to see it larger

It was the last day of summer and everyone knew it. Even though it was October, temperatures were hovering around 80 degrees F. Forecasters were predicting highs in the 50s for the next day so everyone was savoring today's warm sun and mild temperatures. Ed and I were enjoying our last outdoor lunch of the season at a table in front of the Hydrangea Kitchen across from the high school.

The kids had just gotten out of school for the day when a tall good looking young man came up and asked me, "Aren't you the photographer?" I said I was. He introduced himself as Avery Duncan and asked if I would ever have time to take a look at his photographs of Detroit. I said "Sure" and asked if he had any he could show me today. Avery brought over his laptop, set it up on our table and showed me some stunning images of Detroit's buildings, images that showed the beauty of the city I love. Well, Avery loves it too and his photos show it. We got to talking and in the midst of our conversation he asked if I could possibly take his senior class picture for the yearbook.

Today Avery came to my studio here at home and I managed to take 77 portraits from which he could choose the one he liked best. Avery's choice was a smiling portrait of himself dressed in a suit and tie taken from the waist up. My favorite, artistically speaking, was the photo posted above. Yes, it is rather dark and moody--certainly not suitable for a yearbook picture--but I think this image captures something in this young man that most people rarely see. Our cameras can do that sometimes: catch the intensity that drives us to persevere and overcome challenges others might not even know we are facing. From this image I know that Avery will make his way in the world with strength and determination. He is a young man of purpose and I wish him well.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Andrew Drury on Creativity and Imagination

Andrew Drury, drummer, performing in Jason Kao Hwang's ensemble at Edgefest 2010

Occasionally we are fortunate enough to hear exactly what we need when we need it. And so it was for me on Election Tuesday this week. I was a basket case that day, anxious and scared about how the vote might go. And then I received an email from a drummer I had met and talked with during last weekend's Edgefest sponsored by the Kerrytown Concert House in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Andrew Drury and I had connected on a deep level and I had asked him to send me a copy of a graduation speech he had made to fifth graders at an elementary school in Brooklyn back in 2008. There was something about the way he described it that made me feel it was something I needed to hear. And I was right. Now, with Andrew's permission, I would like to share it with you...

Keynote Speech for a Fifth Grade Graduation (2008) given by Andrew Drury

(NB Fifth graders at a school in Brooklyn where I led junk percussion workshops in 2007-8 invited me to give the keynote speech at their graduation. So I wrote this. The school is a dual language (Spanish/English) school so an administrator friend of mine translated each paragraph into Spanish after I read it in English.)

Before I share with you some of my words I want to share with you some drumming.

(Everybody drums)

I want you to notice that we just did that all BY OURSELVES. We made something beautiful out of nothing—but ourselves. That music was inside of you. That beauty was inside of you. Creativity and imagination are inside of you.

You're born with creativity and imagination. They are free. If you are human, you have them, and no one can ever take them away from you. Not only that, your imagination is totally unique and there's no other imagination exactly like yours. That blows my mind. It took billions of years of evolution and history to create you. You guys, each and every one of you, are amazing.

You all have successfully spent a chunk of your life in a wonderful, wonderful school. The teachers and other people running (your elementary school) care very much about you, and have thought very carefully and intelligently about how to give you the things you have need. But some big changes are coming.

First, you won't be at (this school) any more. You'll be in different schools, different situations, around different people. It would be great if all of them were like (your school), but unfortunately in this society that’s not how it works. You’ll be around new people. Some who will help you and inspire you, and some who won’t.

Second, you yourselves will change. You'll enter and go through adolescence and start turning into young adults. Your bodies will change. You'll look different. You’ll look in the mirror and one day think “I look pretty” and another day think “I look ugly.” Your minds will change and you'll think differently. You'll feel new kinds of emotions.

What I want to tell you today is that your imagination, your creativity, your spirit will be with you in all your situations and changes. And the more you exercise them and use them, the more powerful they will be.

It's like exercising so you can do a sport better, or practicing so you can get better at drumming, or math, or writing, or science. The more you exercise your brain, the stronger and more flexible it will be. The more you exercise your imagination and creativity, the better you will be in dealing imaginatively and creatively with life's challenges, and situations, and opportunities.

You won’t be the only one who benefits from this. THE WORLD needs you guys to be imaginative, creative, and inspired. A lot of us adults are waiting for you kids to share with us your wisdom and ideas. (Some day you all are going to be running things— taking care of us and changing our diapers.) You are the next generation.

The world needs young people who can think, imagine, create, and do. We need young people who can express themselves with words, with images, with rhythms, with dance, with tools, with science. We need young people who love truth, and who can figure out for themselves what is true and what is false despite what television, or anyone else, says. We need young people who can figure out for themselves what is fair, and what is not fair, and how to make the world a better place.

We adults can't wait to see and hear what new kinds of beauty young people in your generation are going to make. Your imaginations are the most important things in the world really—some day all of us adults are going to be old and decrepit and your generation will be running the world. Who you all become will be who society becomes and what history becomes.

* * *

I want to read you a poem I'm working on. It's not finished. It's in progress. Right now I'm calling it "For Graduating Fifth Graders."

be thinkers, creators
be curious about the world, about people
taste ajiago in Bogota, and tamales in Sunset Park,
ask people on a bus in Nicaragua for the story of their lives
figure out a way to get to Mali and play guitar with the amazing
musicians there
figure out a way to be at home in Brooklyn
and play with the amazing musicians here

be writers, drawers, spray paint artists,
make up your own comic books
make up your own stories
and tell them in funny voices
and record them on cassettes and CDs

be researchers, inventors
discoverers, investigators
finders of evidence
experimenters, builders

write down your coolest ideas in journals
and make plans for how to make them happen
figure out the details
think of big ideas
and big plans that no one would expect to hear from a person like you

listen, always listen
take notes, observe
try to make sense of what’s going on
and imagine something better
or something different

don’t accept the narrowness
when life’s pliers try to clamp you down and squeeze out your spirit
it happens to everyone
so just respect that fact
and don’t get sucked into a rut of petty nonsense
figure out what’s truly important to you
figure out how to get on your feet
and moving in the positive direction

decorate life
take something plain and make it fabulous
see something beautiful and stop to appreciate it
take time
and dance some patterns into it
take a bucket, and drum some beats
paint your wall, or your face, or your friends face
in amazing, weird colors

* * *

I want to end by drumming again. But before we drum I want to share with you something the poet Amiri Baraka wrote about some music by an amazing musician, and one of my heroes, John Coltrane. He wrote:

“If you can hear, this music will make you think of a lot of weird and wonderful things. You might even become one of them.”

I want you to listen to the music of your life, and imagine a lot of weird and wonderful things. And if you do, I think you will become one of them.

(Everyone drums).

Fifth Grade Graduation Speech by Andrew Drury