All posts filed under “Writing

On Recent and Not-So-Recent History.

When I wake up in the morning, it is easy for me to forget about the time that I spent frantically, obsessively, and joyously making photographs for an audience. Then, I could hardly wait 7 whole days before coming home to photograph, to leave behind grades and work and school and bills and do nothing but make the photographs I wanted to make. Now, I swim, I shower, I eat breakfast, I drive to work, I work, I come home, I eat, and I go to bed. Somewhere in there, I spend time with my girlfriend, read books about things that matter to me, go to the library, do volunteer work and somehow, find meaning in who I am and what I am doing. I rarely spend time making new work and go months between picking up a camera to make new images. Then, the meaning that I need to have in my life was so ever present on a daily and on-going basis, I had little time to breathe, to think, to just exist. Now, I force myself to find it and the time between making pictures is long and punctuated. Moving forward (as I seem to need to always do), I hope to somehow find a balance between the two.

Before stepping forward, however, I have wanted to turn my eye towards the past, towards the family I came from, the person I was and photographs I made when I was that person in order to figure out who I am today, who I am working towards becoming. There are gaps for me, in my personal past, that I cannot recall. There are months from college and the year that followed that I can’t conjure up no matter how I try; I am missing pieces of my memory as it has been erased by anxiety, truncated by depression.

I have spent the last month scanning, cleaning up and correcting images that I had made during my time photographing in the coal region. My neg binder from that time period is overstuffed with chromes of varying degrees of exposure (good, bad, in between) and images that I had long forgotten about. Editing them and paring them down so quickly in school did not allow me time to live with many of them, to think about them. I made the decisions about those images so quickly that the edit became the entirety of the project and the other images that were taken with them had been forgotten about until recently.

Going through the images and seeing them again for the first time in well over 3 years brought me back to those places. Those moments in and around the shutter opening and closing were present for me so suddenly and vividly. It conjured up all of the thoughts and sensory input that are linked to those places and I remembered why I started making those images, started exploring that place to begin with.

Jack O' Lantern.


The medium of photography is so intrinsically linked to the transformation of subject and the manipulation of reality. I have spent my adult life clinging to a camera, my eye searching and searching for photographs of places and other people that I rarely allow myself to step in front of the camera, to allow myself to be seen in any other way besides what is represented to me in my head. I fear cameras and their steady gaze in the hands of the untrained for fear of seeing myself as I really am, physically.

In November, I had the pleasure of sitting for R.J. Gibson, a photographer working in the tradition of the wet plate process. I knew when I went to his studio I wasn’t interested in being photographed as a typical female of the 19th century, not in ballgown nor in day dress. I definitely knew that I wanted to be dressed as a male character; originally I figure I would be dressed as a Confederate infantry soldier.

While I know that “reenactment” photographs can conjure up unpleasant associations for a lot of people, Gibson’s process of making the photograph for the subject was really incredible to witness. The final portrait is very much a collaborative work. In talking to him, he figured out a way to photograph me as my 19th century alter in a way that was both fun and thoughtful. After telling him that I was a photographer, he felt it would be better to dress me up as a photographer from the 1800’s. I got to pose next to a gorgeous piece of photographic history, an 8×10 wooden view camera with original lenses, constructed around 1865. The photograph it’s self had an exposure of about 14 seconds. I could blink and breathe but my eyes could not move. It was strange to stand in front of a camera lens and be photographed for a full 14 seconds. While my mind was totally blank while standing in front of the camera, I couldn’t help but wonder if, somehow, 14 seconds could somehow capture something more than 1/30 of a second could.

Me, I Just Got Tired of Hanging in Them Dirty Arcades Banging Them Pleasure Machines.

Well the cops finally busted Madame Marie for telling fortunes better than they do.

This boardwalk life for me is through, you know you ought to quit this scene too.

Sometimes, most of the time, particularly in the dead of winter or right before spring’s wild explosion of life and green, I am seeking out what summer feels like. Stifling heat brings a sense of wide open youth, playful desire, endless twilight and wonderment to the world. I want a perpetual summer. I perpetually want sand in my hair and around my toes, I perpetually want sun-licked skin and sticky sweet ice cream and a light heart to make life brighter, easier to bear.

Sea View Avenue. Jesus on the Beach.

Sandy the aurora’s rising behind us, the pier lights our carnival life forever.

So, during a phone conversation I impulsively suggested to A. that we go to Ocean Grove, New Jersey for a long weekend by ourselves. Admittedly, I wanted to be close to Asbury Park, enchanted as I am by the mythology that is Springsteen. I wanted to explore the place more, intrigued as I was by what I saw the last time I was there. I loved Ocean Grove’s obvious preoccupation for it’s past but it’s attention for it’s present and longing for it’s future. Ocean Grove, tucked away from the interstate, sleepy-eyed and quiet seemed like the best place for us to spend our short but much-need time away.

The Boss. Pleasure Island Detail.

My hunt for the elusive light, playful essence of summertime completed it’s self on the Jersey shore, in a second floor room of a historical B&B, along the stretch of Asbury Park’s boardwalk. I fell hard for both A. and Ocean Grove. That sandy strip of beach and the town’s narrow streets lined with quaint Victorian houses and the soft skin of her palm in mine gave me that feeling of summer that I hadn’t felt since I was young. Enormous, weightless, in love.

Asbury Waterpark.

Love me tonight and I promise that I’ll love you forever.  –4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)

Roberts’ 100th Reunion.

Gathering for the Big Group Photo.

The first Sunday of every August, since 1909, the relatives and (now, since there isn’t anyone actually named Roberts there) decedents of the Roberts family gather in Drums, PA to “reunite” with one another. August is not August unless the first Sunday is spent eating food, chatting with people who’s names I can only sometimes recall, drinking birch beer from the tap jutting from the side of the green refrigerator, and gazing out across the pond/lake.

Summer Cabin & the Pond.

It is like any place I go that is populated by my former selves, by my family’s history. There are photo albums containing the group photographs from the time I was born until present day and all 25 of us, all different incarnations of me linger there in the cat-o-nine tails and the swampy ground, around the stream that feeds the lake, with mud-caked feet and a full belly. See, every year each cluster of families is photographed together and those photographs stretch all the way back to the mid 30’s.

Food Stuffs.

Like it’s very existence, the reunion is punctuated by ritual. The potluck lunch is at noon sharp, preceded by a brief thanks given to the Lord for the bounty and nourishment that he’s provided. There is the 50-50 drawing, the meeting to discuss affairs regarding the fiances and future of the reunion, the Chinese auction where my uncle always wins my aunt’s quilt. There are the photo of the families and then there is corn, which has been steaming quietly over fire and under wet burlap sacks the majority of the afternoon.

Gaby & Rafle Tickets. Steaming Corn.

This year had little to no variation on these themes. Inhaling the sweet, damp air, eating my aunt’s macaroni and cheese, flipping through the albums filled with photographs, and wondering around the lake was like most years before. The sensory input at the reunion, forever unchanging, fulfills and marks the beginning of August, to mark the beginning of the end of summer.