Life’s bittersweet underbelly revealed itself for me this last year, making 2015 one which I’ll never forget. As written in some previous posts, I’ve struggled trying to identify, to understand, then to express the emotions 2015 has left with me; as artists, we don’t run from the pain, we embrace it and use it.
I’ve long contemplated this photograph and several variations thereof; I knew I had to make it, but struggled with a satisfactory iteration in camera. But in December, one of my dearest friends suggested a balloon for the composition as we discussed my image plans while driving in northwest Texas. The wheels began turning, and this last Saturday, I made the first image of the idea, channelling my sense of isolation in the below-zero temperatures.
I made a needed trip to Texas about a month ago, and had some needed time with some of my besties in the whole world: George, Melinda, Liz and Keira. But photographically, I’m currently in the creative wilderness, and the trip gave me an opportunity to make an image that expresses that sense of wandering.
I went to Texas recently with my good friend and former assistant Liz McCue to see several other dear friends, including two accomplished photographers, Melinda Green Harvey and George Nobechi Bumstead. On the way there, we drove through myriad small towns, but in one, took a wrong turn. As we looked for a spot to turn around, both Liz and I exclaimed at the same moment, “Did you see those chairs?!?!”
I’ve begun a new project called “The Bones of Winter,” and sketches are important to the final product in any endeavor. The above is one such draft, and all are focused on a poem of Dickinson:
The sky is low, the clouds are mean,
A travelling flake of snow
Across a barn or through a rut
Debates if it will go.
A narrow wind complains all day
How some one treated him;
Nature, like us, is sometimes caught
Without her diadem.
While I was in New Mexico this summer teaching at the Santa Fe Photographic Workshops, I took a pilgrimage to the Andrew Smith Gallery, which deals solely in photography by the likes of the Westons, Ansel Adams, Edward Curtis and Lee Friedlander. Paul Caponigro is also there, and while he is most certainly not afforded the fame given to Ansel Adams, he would be very deserving of such. An original Caponigro has deep, midnight blacks punctuated by staccato bursts of near-white that leave the viewer unsettled and contemplative, yet placated by the natural beauty so overlooked within daily life. They are poems of sublime quietness.
So after I had left the landscape of mystery behind, moving north to Colorado, I found in my travels a small lake in the wilds of the Sawatch range that moved me much like a Caponigro.
I learned long ago the Great Plains is populated by closet feminists, for here women are just as capable (and welcome) riders and ropers as men. Just watch a few breakaway calf roping performances, and you’ll understand that in the wide spaces before the Rocky Mountains, women need not pull any punches. Tough as nails and happy to prove it.
On seeing the mural, the girl’s coat integral in the dance, I couldn’t help but hear Emily Dickinson, and make pictures.
I cannot dance upon my Toes—
No Man instructed me—
But oftentimes, among my mind,
A Glee possesseth me,
That had I Ballet knowledge—
Would put itself abroad
In Pirouette to blanch a Troupe—
Or lay a Prima, mad,
And though I had no Gown of Gauze—
No Ringlet, to my Hair,
Nor hopped to Audiences—like Birds,
One Claw upon the Air,
Nor tossed my shape in Eider Balls,
Nor rolled on wheels of snow
Till I was out of sight, in sound,
The House encore me so—
Nor any know I know the Art
Nor any Placard boast me—
It’s full as Opera—
Some people shoot pretty things like landscapes; I find Sylvia Plath and Ezra Pound in the nooks and crannies of the places I visit. And here was just such a poem, a Plath tucked away in the forgotten recesses of the desert air. Steiglitz called his small images “Equivalents,” for they were the visual equal of his emotional response to a scene. Indeed such a thing happened here for me, but as Andrew Southam has said of me, I live in a poet’s body.
In his first Geographic story, Sam Abell made a photograph of his mud-splattered car as a response to the inspiration of Christopher Pratt, one of Canada’s most important modern artists. In the same spirit, while in the rain-soaked, mud-sodden region of eastern Wyoming in 2015, resulting in much the same pattern on my car, I made a photo as a tribute to Sam Abell’s importance to modern photography.