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.
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.
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
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/
Oscar Peterson : https://www.oscarwithlove.com/pages/listen
Ravi Shankar : http://www.ravishankar.org/
Rudresh Mahanthappa : http://rudreshm.com/
Steve Reich : http://www.stevereich.com/ (click on mp3 or video to listen/watch)
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.
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.
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.
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.
As some of you know, over the last year I have taken several photography workshops to help me get beyond my self-taught, working-on-my-own, vacuum. One of the (many) things I‘ve discovered while at these workshops is that some people have a fear of approaching and photographing strangers. During my travels I realised that this is certainly not one of my issues. I take complete pleasure in going up to people and striking up conversations. Some of my images are informal street photographs but many are straight “portraits,” taken after asking permission or at least having been acknowledged by the subject. The latter approach is my preferred way of working.
I believe that I reach out to strangers with humility, curiosity, and openness. I have no qualms about asking someone who captures my interest if I may photograph her. I tend to spend a little time chatting with the person as s/he becomes more comfortable with the idea of being photographed. This actually makes the interaction more congenial and collaborative which is how I like it. There are those who say no but then, of course, there are those who simply say yes and allow me to shoot away, without particularly wanting to chat.
My inclination when taking these portraits is to get very close to the person. I have an M43 camera and utilize the 24mm and 90 mm full frame lens equivalents. The first enables me to get close to my subjects yet shows them in the context of their surroundings. The second lens lets me get wholly closer. The 24mm lens facilitates a story (should the viewer want to read one) because it is a wide one; there is no need to step back to get the background and diminish the subject while doing so. I believe that by getting closer to the person I create a more powerful image.
As I spend time with my subjects I try my best to follow these simple rules of my own making: be honest and direct with people, and always be respectful. By doing this I am being true to myself and feel I am inching a little closer to the emotional lives of the people I photograph.
… that pulled me in and drew my curiosity (still lives, of sorts).