Friday, April 11, 2008

Evolution

I have recently been questioning a lot of the founding principles of my MFA project. I have spent my life becoming who I am. I know that sounds like a bizarre and common sense statement, but I don't think it is. I think a lot of people don't work on who they are, but rather follow someone else's rules, someone else's ethical or moral plan, someone else's dream. I suppose I was one of those people from the time I began applying to colleges until I quit my job and came to Brooks.

I wasn't following a dream when I went to Purdue, I was following what I thought was expected of me. Honestly, I was also trying to prove someone wrong about me. I had a physics teacher in high school who didn't believe in my ability to become a physicist. I knew that I could, so I wanted to prove him wrong. I didn't really want to be a physicist, but I had an aptitude for it.

I remember the first picture that I ever took that made me want to be a photographer. I was probably 12. My father let me use his nice camera, his SLR. I took a picture of my sister on a wall on some vacation. It was sunset light, her hair was blowing across her face, and something in me clicked. Some karmic or psychic or elemental bolt of lightning coursed through me. Ever since then I have been fighting a battle between doing what I was meant to do and following the cultural guidelines of success.

After my grandfather died, strange things started to happen. When I let myself follow my heart ravens and crows would be around. When I was choosing a college, which led me to Steve, I let the crows make the decision. After we graduated college I turned away from Steve when a giant raven landed next to me and sat there, watching. When I turned back, he had my promise ring in hand. Our engagement was announced via a cacophony of ravens out at Embarcadero park. It could be coincidence, of course, but for me it isn't. I don't know if it matters to anyone else, but it matters to me.

This project isn't just a final foray into black and white printing, it is the culmination of my life's journey so far. It is my personal mythology, and I am starting to realize that this particular mythology has roots in Nordic folklore, Navajo tradition, Spanish mysticism, and cult fiction. There is something visceral about the raven for many cultures, and for me, there is something equally primal about the process of organic photography, the surprises you get from uncalibrated equipment, undetermined circumstances, happy accidents, and embraced mistakes. It's raw because it is not perfect. It is life.

Monday, April 7, 2008

A Foot in Two Worlds

The more that I engage myself in this project the more I start to question how far I can step into the concept of the Raven imagery without either becoming dark and weary or, worse, my images becoming tiresome and redundant. There has to be something of a shift in consciousness, a shift in focus. I am not sure what that is at the moment and am having trouble identifying how to accomplish what I have set out to do while also bringing something of meaning to the greater world. I suppose at this point in time the project feels narcissistic. This project has meaning to me, but how many other people truly connect with the Raven, truly connect with the burden of being a conduit between to planes. If I am to give over to the images as I did with the first five, I start to question if there isn't maybe a more accessible body of work, something that will affect and influence a greater audience.

I am reminded, however, of the power and instant popularity of Tim Cantor's set of images "Stalking the Scarecrow," "The Instrumentalist," "The Gathering," and "Midnight's Children." There seems to be something elemental about the raven imagery. Something that draws together people who have somehow connected with the mythology, or maybe even just connected with the deep and solemn stare of a raven of their own.

The most important mitigating factor at the moment is my extreme desire and need to shoot more of this imagery. I am not ready to let it go. Not ready to accept that it might not be a final project. It still feels not only vital but valid and necessary. Until I have succumbed to the ultimate project I won't be able to move on, and I think it is in the succumbing that I will ultimately find success and resolution. I cannot explain why I have stopped shooting. I intend to shoot again tonight. Right now. I will set up my strobes and begin the process again. I have to. There is no other path to take.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Origins, Part 2

After the introduction from two days ago I wanted to give you a little more perspective. The previous blog entry was associated with why I write, but the purpose of this blog is to understand what my project is about and why I am doing it.

I will introduce the project concept as we go along, but for now all you need to know is why the Raven is important to me personally.

I wrote the following poem when I was 16. This was the beginning of it all and it is a true story.

Blackbird

A phone call at two in the morning
I didn’t even wake
only an hour earlier
I woke to no sound at all
and no trouble
Sleep came easily back
nothing else ever does

It was 6:45 before I knew
that he had died
The blinds swing
as they always do
when the heat comes on
in the early mornings of winter
the light on the wall
cast through the holes
blinking on and off
on and off
with the swaying

Walking through the day
Tightly bound to the Earth
Heavy steps carry me while my mind
stops caring and my heart
grows stiff
Blinking over red, dry eyes
I see the crow, hear it utter
a low lamenting cry

I look not for where
his shadow touches the ground
but where his wings
touch the air
I fly with him
over the red brick pavement
and for a moment I am free

The next day we drive to Arizona
to see the empty house with new carpet
new paint on the walls
with the ghosted scent of cigarettes
in everything you sit on
in every breath you take

Two sons, three daughters
a new wife and four grandchildren
make up the family of the man
made corpse
lying on a mortuary gurney
in a blue suit
under a white sheet
Some of us pop Vicks and Halls
to make the pain in our throats go away
It is still there

We hold ourselves back and pretend
to listen to the elevator music
piping into the dead room
not giving in to the tears in our eyes
or the cry of our hearts
trying to laugh, nod, be brave and stoic
instead of being real

They block out the real
cover windows with curtains
drape dusty fabric flowers
in recycled vases
lay a gold painted
plastic crucifix on his chest
This is not my grandfather

I try to picture something
other than years of cancerous decay
of fumes and surgeries
and tube fed silence
but I cannot see beyond the pale flesh
until my father walks
to his father’s side
and whispers God bless you Dad
and breaks into tears
I remember

The war hero who flew sixty three missions
Saved the life of a pilot
by pulling him out of a burning plane
consoled a friend
by giving him a poem he wrote
when his mother died
gave his granddaughter a tree to climb

I never said goodbye

So I light all the candles I can find
they burn a real flame
I promise to grow roses, marigolds, trees
never to place a curtain over a sunny window
and when winter comes
the dawn light shining through
the swaying blinds
blinking on and off
I will think of you

At night when the sun is gone
and the candles quenched
I will join you on the wings of a blackbird
whose shadow
never touches
the ground

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Origins

For those of you who know my work, you don't necessarily know why the work is the way it is. Thanks to James D. I have decided to start up a blog about the body of work and its evolution. This is partially as a motivational element to keep producing, partially a desperate need to do something MFA related even in the paltry two week break that we have been given, and partially the other form of creative expression that I am comfortable with, which would be writing.

Most of you know that I am an English Teacher now, but I am not certain of how many of you know that writing is a passion as well. I actually had writing before I had photography. I wrote my first novel, titled "Cat's Eye", when I was 10 years old. Granted, it didn't make a lick of sense, but I did it none the less. 175 pages of fantastical fiction about a boy named Terry and his adventures. I was infatuated with an author named Alan Dean Foster and fashioned Terry after Foster's protagonist, Flinx. It may be a crazy little book, but I still think some of the writing in it is lovely, even almost twenty years later. (I said almost.)

I wrote my second book starting at 16, finished at 22, submitted for publication, was denied, and am thinking about a rewrite to submit it again. The third book I started when I was 25, haven't quite finished it yet.

So when I say I am a writer, I hope that you will take me seriously. Odd, really, I consider myself both a writer and a photographer though I haven't been published as either. Someday, I hope. For both.