Category Archives: Photography, Reflections

Look at Me: Fragments of a Body

Self Portrait (Neck).

Since I bought a smart phone, three years ago, I have taken photos of my self (many of which are posted on Instagram). This “self-portraiture” has been a necessity of sorts – a way of seeing myself in the world as I pass through or (more precisely) live in it as a physical being. It is a way of viewing my ordinary body without a mirror. Skin, hair, creases, and folds are so utterly commonplace and things that we all share, as human beings. Despite this sameness I feel out of place and flawed. In some photographs I am dressed. However, it is nakedness that is of greatest interest to me since it is literally skin that separates my inner landscape from the outer world.

Each photograph is of a fragment of myself. It is a distorted and incomplete view – a detail. Since I hold the mobile phone in my hand there is no other way to see myself except through these closeups.

Self Portrait (Belly).

The photographs of me are not always flattering but, the only body I truly understand and need to embrace is the one I occupy. Yet, I often want to reject it since it is now a heavier and baggier form than it was in its youth. Wrinkles are now laid bare. I am not quite old but old age is a taboo in North American society. I am past the age of fifty and women, in particular, are led to believe that their shapes are imperfect and regard them with disdain (and all too often I believe this is true for myself). In fact, reshaping one’s body with plastic surgery (in an attempt to recapture youth) is widely accepted.

Some pictures are meant to give a sense of mood. Many are simply the camera (and an app, perhaps) drawing my figure. The person (me) is not the subject; it is the body (mine). I am not dealing with older age, per se.

Self Portrait (Armpit).

There is something freeing about turning the camera toward me. I feel alive and empowered. My body is all mine no matter the imperfections. I intend to continue these photographs. This act of imaging my self as an evolving being is a path to self acceptance.

Self Portrait (Knees).

Self Portrait (Mouth).

Self Portrait (Thighs).

Self Portrait (At Rest With Headache).

Saudade: Traces of the Past

Igatu Chapada Diamantina

Photograph, Igatu, Chapada Diamantina, Brasil

“The famous saudade of the Portuguese is a vague and constant desire for something that does not and probably cannot exist, for something other than the present, a turning towards the past or towards the future; not an active discontent or poignant sadness but an indolent dreaming wistfulness.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saudade)

“Old paint on a canvas, as it ages, sometimes becomes transparent. When that happens it is possible, in some pictures, to see the original lines: a tree will show through a woman’s dress, a child makes way for a dog, a large boat is no longer on an open sea. That is called pentimento because the painter ‘repented,’ changed his mind. Perhaps it would be as well to say that the old conception, replaced by a later choice, is a way of seeing and then seeing again… The paint has aged and I wanted to see what was there for me once, what is there for me now.” – Introduction to Lillian Hellman’s Pentimento

Effigy, Brasil

Efigy, Chapada Diamantina, Brasil

I just finished the second of two back-to-back photography workshops with Ernesto Bazan (this one in Chapada Diamantina, Bahia, Brasil). We visited families in Arandai and Velho Mocambo(?), explored a few out of the way places (i.e., at the end of long, dry, pocked, iron-filled dirt roads), and had the opportunity to watch a celebration of Umbanda. It was quite overwhelming as children from the homes we visited, ran around posing and trying to grab each photographer’s attention. Multiple generations live together, and both calm and pandemonium abound. Likewise, the festivities we witnessed had equal shares of order and chaos. It was easy to get lost in the throes and, as a photographer, to lose intention.

Focusing (no pun intended) is difficult. It is a trait that I must nurture, when a great deal of activity surrounds me. I have to remember to do what I am naturally inclined toward, rather than be swallowed up by the waves of movement around me (or, alternatively, do what I think is expected of me when I take pictures with other photographers). When I heed my own voice I tend to turn in a different direction from others. I do not do this to be contrary or non-conformist but rather to find my own space. I get lost in the details, layers, cracks, and crevices, rather than be swept away by the whole; I go at my own rhythm. Looking until something – almost always intangible – captures me. I then try to transform that particular something into an image.

BEd, Andarai, Brasil

Bed, Arandai, Chapada Diamantina, Brasil

After initial inner struggles (and many poor shots thanks to these fights with myself) what calls to me are typically the quieter and less certain spaces of my surroundings – the things that can be overlooked because they may be too quotidian or too spare. But, I respond to these with my heart – they feel like psychological layers. It is a dance between “me” and “object” – and I explore the space where we intersect. How it manifests itself to me and then how I translate that feeling into image is unclear to me (at least for the moment.) I simply allow myself to be carried with it and go with the grain. Like saudade or pentimento, the photograph becomes an utterance detached from context, thereby giving it a unique integrity and opening it to abstract or new meaning.

This trip to Brasil was an eye-opener for me on a few levels. I felt that I was walking on a tightrope in both the country and my work. In regard to the Brasil, I became very conscious that behind the myth of a magical/spiritual Bahia lies a very difficult, and sometimes unbelievably harsh, world of poor, landless, and/or homeless people who suffer yet are determined to surmount obstacles. They struggle daily to survive – and do not always succeed.

Homeless, Salvador, Brasil

Woman, Salvador, Brasil

With this as a background, it seems almost trite to talk about my photography. But I am discovering that the  pictures I take are responses to the spaces and places where I work in. During these weeks in Brasil I figured out that I must feel comfortable in my own skin and do what is right for me. It is something I always know but do not always allow myself to remember and act upon. In Brasil I felt strong links to saudade, something that escaped me entirely when I visited the country in 2015. After a while it was difficult not to see it everywhere. Yet, despite the melancholia there is strength and hope that seems to prevail even under some of the more dire circumstances.

My work is not straight documentation but, rather, a subjective (and limited) description of experience. In framing the material subject of a photograph I express an embodied tactile knowledge – it is a gesture toward turning familiar places and objects into visceral experiences. But my photographs barely scratch the surface (or layers) of this state of being, of saudade.

Woman, Igatu, Chapada Diamantina, Brasil

Woman, Igatu, Chapada Diamantina, Brasil

Landscape, Arandai, Chapada Diamantina, Brasil

Landscape, Arandai, Chapada Diamantina, Brasil

Poster, Salvador, Brasil

Poster, Salvador, Brasil

A Need to Know

Near Cachoiera. Bahia, Brasil.

Near Cachoiera. Bahia, Brasil.

Over the years there have been several elements that have consistently played important roles in how my life and my art have unfolded. I grew up immersed in art; my parents took me to museums and encouraged me to be creative – to use my hands by drawing, building, and photographing. Unwittingly, they also taught me to enjoy solitude. Beyond this though, throughout my university pursuit in the visual arts and to this day, I have always craved movement and change (I moved sixteen times in twenty-two years). I have also always felt strongly compelled to learn about and understand other people and cultures – so much so that as a teenager I considered anthropology as a career.

Once I settled into nesting by making my home with Steve, while continuing to dabble in art, the urge to address all of these interests led to my leaving my all-consuming day job as an archivist and setting out to travel on my own for several months. If I hadn’t done so I would not have realized that travel and photography are my true passions.

I have come to understand that both these pursuits have everything to do with the need to know. When I travel, I am completely open to discovery. I want not just to set foot in other lands but to become a part of them, however briefly. I want to see and experience that which is different about other cultures and, dispelling all assumptions, learn about what we all have in common.

Cachoeira, Bahia, Brasil.

Cachoeira, Bahia, Brasil.

In her New Yorker article this past July, Loneliness Belongs to the Photographer, Hanya Yanagihara wrote:

…the person with the camera is not hiding but receding. She is willfully removing herself from the slipstream of life; she is making herself into a constant witness, someone who lives to see the lives of others… the photographer moves through the world, our world, hoping for anonymity, hoping she is able to humble herself enough to see and record what the rest of us—in our noisy perambulations, in our requests to be heard—are too present to our own selves to ever see. To practice this art requires first a commitment to self-erasure…

…The annals of photography contain many extraordinary portraits, but the ones we linger on longest achieve something exceptional: they suggest that in the microsecond it takes for the shutter to blink, some communion has been found, that an unseen life has become a seen one, that attention has been paid, that an act of witness has been accomplished. They remind us how much we want to be seen, and also how infrequently we practice the skill of seeing others. But if there is a cure for the invisibility of loneliness, it is this. It is why, depending on who you are, that click of the camera’s shutter is a sound that evokes either anxiety or relief. Click: I see you. Click: I see you. Click: I see you. You are not alone.

The camera is the instrument through which I observe, discover, and learn as I travel. Although I am behind it, it connects me to others at the same time. It starts the conversation – be it through simple eye contact with the person I am photographing or, sometimes, a profound sense that the person I am photographing understands she has my complete attention and respect. It is when I travel and photograph that I can truly see.

Near Cachoeria, Bahia, Brasil.

Near Cachoeria, Bahia, Brasil.

I am attentive to my environment; I am constantly framing moments in my mind’s eye as it sweeps the landscape around me. I try to capture the feel of things with my photographs – of people, of spaces, and of objects. Although I have begun to work on photographic projects in the last year, my pictures are first and foremost about the subject in each individual image and about the impression it made on me. I work toward getting at what lies beneath the surface. Through photography I collect experiences, remember, learn, and share what I have felt and seen. To quote Yanagihara again, “The lens may distance the photographer from the rest of humanity, but with that distance comes an enhanced ability to see what is overlooked.” I would also venture to say that wandering with my camera brings this photographer closer to intimate exchanges and humanity. It is my propensity for travelling alone that, perhaps ironically, enables this.

Quilombo near Cachoeira. Bahia, Brasil.

Quilombo near Cachoeira. Bahia, Brasil.

Quilombo near Cachoeira. Bahia, Brasil.

Quilombo near Cachoeira. Bahia, Brasil.

Breathless Without You

I am playing with an ongoing series of diptychs and triptychs of photographs, mostly shot in completely different places and/or years apart (and certainly not meant for each other), that seem to come into being when put together. The three pictures below are something of an exception to the rule and were taken during my last trip to the Salton Sea, in California, a few weeks ago. Not intended to be linked, jointly they come to life.

Desert Shore, California.

Desert Shores, California.

Off Highway 111, California.

Off Highway 111, California.

Bombay Beach, California.

Bombay Beach, California.

The Nature of the Place

Big Cypress Preserve, Florida, U.S.

Big Cypress Preserve, Florida, U.S.

In a post from August 10, 2015 I wrote,

I have never considered landscape photography something I “do” nor a genre in which I am seriously interested. Yet, as I review my images of the last few years, I notice that I have taken my fair share of landscape photographs. Apparently, not only do I like “being” in the natural world, I like taking pictures of it from time to time. Looking through Ewing’s book, and other photography books I have, it is evident that the groundwork for landscape photography is as varied as the world itself and that imagery of landscape includes all forms of the man-made. Sometimes, my photographs are devoid of human figures but they are, nonetheless, often pregnant with human presence.

The first three months of this year I was in Florida – a place I do not much care for unless I am in its natural environment. At the end of my stay, there, I had the opportunity to spend time in Big Cypress National Preserve and Everglades National Park. I have been to the Everglades multiple times and adore it but never have I visited Big Cypress. The few days were terrific and resulted in driving to various hiking spots. Perhaps because I recently inherited the book Landscape (part of The Library of World Photography series), from my father, I have been looking at more landscape photography than usual – much of it in black and white. Not coincidentally (perhaps), I could not help but feel in my heart that this part of Florida was meant to be seen in black and white and elusively; this sentiment was abstract but strong as I was engulfed in the terrain and had the opportunity to meditatively reflect on this ecosystem. Unlike many other landscape images in my repertoire, the following are pictures from an environment seemingly devoid of human touch.

Big Cypress Preserve, Florida, U.S.

Big Cypress Preserve, Florida, U.S.

Everglades National Park, Florida, U.S.

Everglades National Park, Florida, U.S.

Big Cypress Preserve, Florida, U.S.

Big Cypress Preserve, Florida, U.S.

Big Cypress Preserve, Florida, U.S.

Big Cypress Preserve, Florida, U.S.

Working Music

Century Village, Deerfield Beach, Florida, U.S.

Century Village, Deerfield Beach, Florida, U.S.

Once upon a time, when I was involved in visual arts other than photography (mixed media sculpture installations and a bit of drawing and monoprints), I listened and sang, while I worked, to the music I walk by. These past few months, in Florida, it has not been easy to go out and take photographs so I have spent most of my “photography time” processing my work, instead (i.e., editing images and/or sequencing them). When doing this I tend to listen to music without words. Much of it is percussion. When I started listening to jazz, in my late teens, my ears and heart concentrated on the drums and bass. It is not surprising that listening like that has carried itself to today and relates to the music I love, in general. The following list is not comprehensive but is what I tend to listen to most often *if / when* I work to music.

Alarm Will Sound : http://www.alarmwillsound.com/recordings.php

Andy Akiho : http://www.andyakiho.com/#video

Bill Evans : https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=bill+evans

Glenn Gould : http://www.glenngould.com/video/

Glenn Kotche : http://glennkotche.com/listen (probably better known for being part of the band Wilco)

Jun Miyake : http://junmiyake.com/

Kadri Gopalneth : https://www.google.com/search?q=kadri+golpaneth&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8#q=kadri+gopalnath&tbm=vid

Oscar Peterson : https://www.oscarwithlove.com/pages/listen

Ravi Shankar : http://www.ravishankar.org/

Rudresh Mahanthappa : http://rudreshm.com/

Sigur Ros : http://sigur-ros.co.uk/valtari/videos/ and https://vimeo.com/sigurros/videos

Steve Reich : http://www.stevereich.com/ (click on mp3 or video to listen/watch)

Century Village, Deerfield Beach, Florida, U.S.

Century Village, Deerfield Beach, Florida, U.S.

Century Village, Deerfield Beach, Florida, U.S.

Century Village, Deerfield Beach, Florida, U.S.

Century Village, Deerfield Beach, Florida, U.S.

Century Village, Deerfield Beach, Florida, U.S.

 

 

 

Picture my Parents

At the Beach

At the Beach

I usually photograph people who are strangers, and in places away from home. I take photographs of friends and family only from time to time. But since I photograph that which touches me – and of course friends and family do exactly this – it may be time to consider photographing the people I love, more often.

Almost four weeks ago I arrived in Florida to spend 2.5 months with my parents – specifically to help my mum take care of my dad and to help her around the house. She turns 87 tomorrow; as will my father, in six months. I have written about them in my blog before. Since we live far apart (I live in the Boston area and my parents live in Canada), every time I see them I realize how they have aged. It is strange, almost surreal, to be taking care of someone who once was your care-taker. Doing just that, this year and last, has made my admiration and love for them change and grow.

It was about ten years ago that my mum noticed small, subtle changes in my dad’s behaviour – short-term memory loss and moments of confusion. He continued to decline in slow intervals. Even though he has never been diagnosed, based on the various dementia descriptions on the Mayo Clinic and NIH sites, my sister, mum, and I have figured out that he has had multiple “mini” strokes (confirmed by his doctor) and (probably) has vascular dementia. No matter, it gave us comfort to put a name to what was/is going on with his memory. His decline is slow but steady. There are physical changes, and loss of the interests and personality he once had.

At the Pool

At the Pool

My mum suffers the most from this situation, although she will deny this. It is not unusual to hear that the caregiver is the one who fails in a more critical way because of stress. I have seen my mum age quickly and her friends have made note of this, too. It is all due to her hard work and great worries this past decade. Day in and day out she spends her time loving, ministering to, and monitoring my dad. This wears her down far more than she is willing to admit.

Living with them in Florida is my little way of giving my mother a breather and enabling them to escape the snow, ice, and frigid temperatures of Montreal (it is also a way to give my sister a break – she is the one who is there for them the rest of the year – and for that I am truly grateful). I drive them around and do whatever I can. Most of my time is spent with my dad. I don’t dress or shave him (he is still capable of doing both although he needs a little help at times), but I look after his mental well-being. This helps structure his life so that he does not constantly sleep or binge-eat – as is his wont. When we play scrabble, somehow his mind is fairly clear; this is the one intellectual activity that still really works for him. When we’re together, we play five, six, seven games a day.

Game of Scrabble

Game of Scrabble

After three weeks of this I must say that I am exhausted each night. With this experience, I worry even more about my mum – much more than I worry about my dad who, with good and bad days, remains in good humour despite awareness of his own disconnectedness and decline (which he pokes fun at).

My mum is a fiercely independent woman. She makes sure that I (and my sister who lives in Montreal) respect her independence while we remain supportive and ready to help her manage. My mother is a strong and intelligent woman; she’s also sad, angry, nervous, and stressed. She’s angry with herself, angry with my dad, and angry with aging, to a certain extent. But she still laughs because my dad can still make her do so. She is in pretty good shape and her head is “mostly working” (as she likes to say). My father, in his simplified condition, has faced aging differently. He goes with the flow and is content to be alive. He has always embraced life and is mostly good humoured. When he is not, it is largely due to his illness and in reaction to being pushed to do something he does not want to do.

Reading

Reading

I am very aware that I am still an intruder, of sorts, in their lives, and that taking pictures of them makes me more of one. But with these photographs I hope that I am able to capture my parents and their relationship with one another.

The three of us live under the same small roof 24 hours a day. The photographs I have taken of them in the last few years are not many – partially because my mother does not want to be the center of attention. But! I realize it is critical to capture them before they are lost to me, before this chapter of our lives together ends. I am fortunate to have this period with my parents – seeing them love and care for each other or even get frustrated with one another. For me, it is all about watching their changing relationship and appreciating that as well as valuing my relationship with them.

Addendum: Out of respect to my mum (per her request), I have aborted this project.

At the Pool

At the Pool