All posts filed under “Writing

Meltdown/Rebuild.

Unsurprisingly, I have been watching, like everyone else, the slope the American economy has been sliding down the last year or so. I am disheartened and worried and cynical and terrified about what the future holds for this country; I fret about my money as well as my future on a regular basis, even though I am relatively gainfully employed. I have seen and benefited greatly from, in my brief 24 years on this planet, a hugely prosperous upswing in the economy and watched, wide-eyed and stupid, as the foundation of the American way of life in late 20th and early 21st century fell out from underneath everyone. It is obvious to cite the 65 banks that have closed since 2008, note the bankruptcy and failures of GM and Chrysler as well as Ford’s shortcomings, the deflation of the housing market and the joblessness that is reported back to me everyday.

It’s all beating a dead horse, really. I can’t say anything about the economic situation of the last 2 years that hasn’t already been articulated and explored better than I can.

What I see in times of seemingly endless struggle, however, is re-examining the way Americans have been living the last 50 years. We have been ever-expanding outward; bigger, better, faster, newer without considering the consequences of the precious land and the vast, gorgeous history that has been sacrificed for our culture of empty, mindless buying and the inherently American need to own a piece of that land for ourselves.

I see the shift when I work out at the Rodale Institute, watching the expanding interest in organic, sustainable and local food. I hear about it when wind and solar energy is slowly starting to be the new go-to for powering our country, as opposed to fossil fuels.

So, when I read about Flint, Michigan’s plans to shrink itself in order to save it, I was amazed. It sounds so counter-intuitive to what Americans think of as a means of prosperity and yet, by making a town (especially that has struggled so notoriously as Flint has) smaller makes so much sense. By bringing the town back to a center and making it more concentrated around that center, it becomes more sustainable, accessible and and economically viable. While I am not saying that decision to give up the house that one has worked so hard to make home is an easy one, to let go of the idea that “This is mine and it will always be mine” for the larger good of a failing community seems like a strange and refreshingly good idea.

Big Box Reuse is a photography project by Julia Christensen about the ways in which people and organizations have taken closed Big Box stores and re-imagined them into places of worship, art, community, health and learning. It is well known that the construction and openings of such places as Wal-mart and Home Depot kills local economies and businesses and to see the space that such places of huge consumerism once occupied reused and remade into a places of purpose is refreshing and inspiring.

So, I Visit.

Stacked Wood. Front Porch II.

I can trace the way back to my birthplace over the worn asphalt roads with my eyes closed. Finding my way through the stretch of Pennsylvania that separates me from there is a second nature, like breathing or sleeping, now in my 24th year. I inhale the warm air pushing through wide open car windows, blink against the sunlight and listen to the groaning hum of my car’s engine in it’s impaired state, later to be found out as a misfiring 3rd cylinder. The language of traveling here is laden with numbers and sharp turns in small towns; the long left off of 309 to 54, the sharp right off of 54 to 61, the steep hill where 42 begins it’s long journey over the Blue Ridge and down into Catawissa. This is what I love, what I am, who I am, what I look for in other places around the country as beauty, as home.

I have said this time and time again but the landscape of central Pennsylvania is who I am. My heart is the rise and fall of the smooth Appalachian mountains, my veins the neglected back roads, my skin the fields. I cannot talk of myself without speaking, conflicted, about this place.

Yet, when I am here, I am an outsider, a foreigner. I know better than to think, to pretend that I belong here. I see the short comings of small-town life and the darkness of my personal history stings like a fresh cut. The memories of growing up here rise out of the back of the mind without much evocation; the corner at 8th and Orange, the building where I went to elementary and middle school, the long hill up to the development I played in. They are there, thick and real and vivid and living. I could not live among those ghosts, those formative years as a person in the present.

Amy & Dan's Garage. Amy's Kitchen Window.

So, I visit. I drive down Market Street in Sunbury and stop at the local hippie shop for moccasins, visit my grandmother on Orange Street in Northumberland for conversation, meander around the life I lived here in my Volkswagen and head out to Amy’s house for laughter, beer, food, and dusk.

Center Road.

Dusk at Amy’s, my aunt, has the type of long light that I have trouble finding where I live now. The shadows get long and parody the objects that they are and the light turns purple and flat as the sun disappears slowly over edge of the soy bean field. Here, in the garage or the warm kitchen or the softly lit living room, I like to watch the sun’s light diminish and listen to the sounds of night come up. Here, the fireflies blink randomly in numbers than border the thousands and the quiet is expansive.

Of Making Pictures: Then, Now, Here, There.

My thoughts on picture-making have shifted greatly over the last 12 months or so. School taught me to think about picture-making as a means to communicate some greater truth about your subject and relate to greater social issues. Coming home and working in a environment that is about picture making in another way, a way born solely out of aesthetic has made me re-evaluate what it means to pick up a camera. I work among those* who’s main purpose in making pictures is to make them fit into a mold of what pictures are “supposed” to be. It’s rare that I see a picture come through the lab that isn’t a take on some other example of what good photography is suppose to be. Macro shots of flowers, pseudo fashion shots, moody pictures of architectural and industrial decay, highly edited wedding shots are all common in my workplace and it’s hard, sometimes, to not roll my eyes while adding two points of density and hitting enter to move on to the next order.

And it’s not that either camp is particularly bad (although I do have trouble letting go of the high-art/important notions I learned in school, as in I try not to scoff at fluffy pictures of flowers and babies), but both camps have their place and merit.

Personally, I struggle with both of them. The high art camp takes things too seriously and thinks too much; the suppose-to camp doesn’t think enough. I’d like to straddle the line between the two, making photos that are highly pleasing to the eyeball (trying to, at least) and making photos that are compelling to think about. Though, making work at all is challenge for me lately.

The camera I shot with in North Carolina was a beast of a high end DSLR that was as satisfying to shoot with as a Hasselblad.** The body substantial and the lens crisp, the photos I took there are gorgeous but without much brains. I chalk this up to the novelty of the camera and the lens, because it’s hard for the novelty of a 14mm lens to wear off. I’d like to be able to reconcile this at a later date and blend the two ideas together.

I have also been more concerned with documenting my experience of life, no matter how minuscule. More than anything, pictures of my friends, family, and the beauty I see in the mundane details of living seem much more important and precedent than discussing some universal truth through photographs. I think that I am getting back to the reasons I picked up a camera and fell in love with picture-making in the first place.

*Though I am not saying they are bad at what they do, because they aren’t. I just can’t do photography that way. Also, most of them are making money from their work and I am not. In fact, none of my work has been even seen all that much with exception of here and my website.

** Film cameras. Sigh.

Magnolias.

Massive Magnolia Tree. On my drive down, I couldn’t help but noticed the abundance of fantastic looking trees that populated the highway sides. My mouth slightly ajar, my foot heavy on the gas pedal my stomach empty and my bladder full, I wasn’t really up for doing sight seeing or slowing down to look at stuff. So I pushed on, well above the speed limit to get to my destination in a timely manner.

That is, until I saw a magnolia tree. I unfortunately missed the blossoming of the trees probably by about 2 weeks (too early) but until I went to North Carolina, I had never seen a fully matured one in person. I am perpetually dumbfounded by these ancient trees when I ever I see them. Their leaves are fat and waxy and the branches are elegant. I felt this stupid sense of wonder when I zoomed by one on the highway, my breath sharp in the back of my throat. I probably would’ve about died if they were in bloom when I was down there.

This particular magnolia tree was in the front yard of Reynolda, R.J. Reynolds’ Estate. I wanted to stay underneath the big, winding branches and the fat leaves and read and stay cool. I wanted to give that massive trunk a hug just because it existed and I couldn’t get my arms around it if I tried. I collected about a dozen of their seed pods to bring home with me.

Magnolia. Such a lovely word, too. I’d like one day to have a magnolia tree in my front yard.