3/22/2018

In finding new things to look at and read for photographic inspiration I also found my thesis from last year. The BFA Photo class of 2017 was the only fine art major at Pratt to require a written thesis in addition to an exhibition for graduation, and this was the first year the photo department required it of their seniors.

I just sold the last copy of my thesis exhibition’s corresponding book, by the same name. The work can be viewed here.

It’s a calm day in the middle of May. There’s not a cloud in the sky. I’m driving with my dad in the passenger seat and my mom in the backseat, down route 29 in Maryland. We’re taking my dad home from the rehab facility, where he stayed far too long, among the ailing, among the dying, not allowed to walk. I remember thinking about how it was a facility after all, not a home, not a house. My dad wants to play a Thelonious Monk song, “Abide With Me.” I’m so glad that he’s out of the hellhole that I let him play it, I fumble with the cords and the car while driving so he can play the song. It’s an incredibly simple piece in E flat major, about fifty seconds long. The whole half-hour of our ride home is spent listening to a chorus of jazz instruments play an old spiritual over and over again. Quietly I surpass the speed limit by about ten miles an hour, passing both a correctional facility and a DMV, and looking at a sky full of nothing pass. I am feeling so full of relief and dread simultaneously, and tears are coming out of my eyes, and I am driving, and my parents remain. Months later I ask him what the song is, and when I tell him why I remembered it, he says, “wow, I had forgotten.”

When I began to consider how my dad’s memory began to falter more in recent months, I began to see the world differently. I grappled with the fact that my memory becomes a void as I collect more of it, and things I’ve assembled in my mind, associations I’ve made, become an intricately strung web that spreads out for miles.  This body of work is responding to the process of remembering, and reacting to a time of change and transience with me and with those surrounding me. The photographs serve as a constant in this turbulence, evidencing that remembering is an act that, at times, is as easy as breathing. These images highlight empty spaces, places that have been passed over, and the memories that hang heavy in the background, all in a shroud of ephemeral light.

Some photographs provide a space that can be explored, where others force a sensation of dizziness, of trying to find footing. The passage of time is an inevitable subject matter. The portraits address more directly the impermanence of life, and my own fear of inevitable loss lingers at the edges of each image. This project is a result of wanting to recognize the place my life exists in, at this present moment, so I may return to and reference what I remembered once before.

While my relationship with my family is a large driving force, and thinking of my dad forgetting, changing, and dying terrifies me enough into continuing to make the work, the photographs ultimately are created from wanting to have something to look back on. The images also address a fear of my own forgetting and exemplify the conscious, reflexive habits I repeat in order to keep on remembering. While this is a personal project, I am intentionally trying to keep the images thematically ambiguous in order to appeal to others, but not vague enough to not hold any sonority.

My own body and memory rarely fail me. I don’t believe it’s an act of forgetting if someone takes the time to put a memory away in boxes. I don’t believe it’s forgetting if someone keeps memories saved. I so seldom forget, unless something’s worth forgetting– I remember everything, even the traumatic, and revisit it all often. I don’t send belongings away to forget, I do it to make others remember. A handful of these images echo the anxiety of knowing I will eventually forget something, but not knowing when; it is not unlike the sentiment that you never know when the last time you’ll see someone in person will be. The choice to photograph otherwise meaningless spaces– a vacant parking lot space, a collection of rotting branches, a pair of holes peering out from the edges of a floor of grass– speaks to my desire to grasp and hold onto the memories I have.

Upon further investigation, one will be able to see that initially alluring images, while visually appealing, all represent a sense of unsteadiness. The darkness behind the holes in the grass symbolizes what it is like to lapse and miss a stair. The branches exemplify what happens after limbs become invalid and rest against one another for support, abandoned. The cluster of bricks emerging from tepid green water remember when they were part of a house, a home. The bottles that are broken, the feeling of “already been,” is what this work is about. A sense of having been visited before, lived in, discarded before I could even try to get my hands on it, are what some of these places embody. Not already done, but already been.

Many images reference each other, though in its final presentation, each image should provide its own singular experience. This project is not about making a series of images that all look the same, but rather a series of images that speak to a collective experience of what my memories look like. The images don’t all focus on one singular locale, space, time of day, or type of environment, besides availability or convenience. Some images were taken the first time I visited the location; others are pictures of places I have been countless times. The intention is to create an environment in which the viewer can experience the awareness of precariousness at the edge of oblivion.

My work relates and responds to that of observational photographers like Lee Friedlander and William Eggleston, Catherine Opie’s 1999/In and Around Home and Stephen Shore’s American Surfaces. A large part of my urge to relate to these artists is because I  appreciate the way they use photography to describe their surroundings– they make color a place one wants to lie down and fall asleep in– and another part of it is because this kind of photography is natural for me. The reflexive urge to document a certain place, to return to it, to find new places, to seek out a different sun, is what drives me to create, and it resonates with what these people did before me. These artists sought out to create a narrative, and this is my way of doing the same thing. My narrative is irrevocably laden with emotion and memory, and that is what results in the image frame.

In returning to these places, in looking a bit differently, I have created new memories and associations. I find my dad sitting on my sister’s new couch, though in the same Virginia sun we both run back to any chance we get. I find Lowell again in our space in the parking lot, but I have the memory of his funeral in my periphery. And, as I revisited, time passed. Futures spun out around me as I fumbled with the past and present.

The unsteadiness in these images alludes to the possibility of change, a sea of uncertainties ahead. These images are pinpointing where I am in life at this moment, and where I have been, and to never forget, to let it become a living and breathing part of me.



2/15/2018

Today was my first day back at work after being laid out by the flu that’s going around. A week of feeling the effects of basically everything that can go wrong with the human body and it’s finally over. I tried to not be giddy or over-excited but I’ve never been sick for so long (thank god) and I didn’t realize how much I missed certain things. Hunger, for instance. My coworkers, a busy Manhattan street, the staggering subway, what the back of a halal cart smells like. And looking at pictures.
I included these two photos from three years ago because of their symbolism, attached to this day, attached to love. This is 35mm color film. The first I took on the Pratt campus after my long-distance boyfriend who I was madly in love with went back home. I have still not cried so much over one person. The second was where I smashed a wine bottle he left in my dorm room, behind some dumpsters, after he dumped me over the phone. I’m not complaining (this is by far not the worst thing to happen to me, or anyone).
I liked the composition, the duality of gesture. I remember this being my real kickstart into making “fine art” work– I took a trip to Richmond and took some photographs I will remember for a long time, if not by their visual characteristics than just by the way it felt to create them: empowering, revitalizing. Manifesting myself with each photograph, doing something that’s purely for me. Every time I have fallen in love I feel like I have to make holes in this armor I’ve made for myself, and every time I fall out of it I come back to it stronger.
But I don’t say this because I am single and miserable. I don’t love this holiday, but this year for valentine’s day I was given a card with a constellation on the front. Inside the card, my valentine wrote about the parallels to the star photographs I make, and without having to say much more, I felt seen, understood, and loved. This is a greater gift than any bottle of wine, bouquet of flowers, or even hearty sex romp– and it’s a gift that can be shared every day. I love my craft and I love that there is someone who cares enough about me to get that, to center me back on what matters.
(There are many someones. I love all of you.)
In the spirit of today (yesterday technically), here is a brief descriptor of something I love, love, love:
Driving or walking late at night, while it’s raining or snowing very gently. This has been the only saving grace of working nights, the past 14 months, and it is likely the thing I will miss most. It’s private, in a way. In some parts of the city, I feel safer at night than I do during the day. The joke is nothing is safe but there is a sense of security I find in empty streets, unbothered, in neons left on for no one. For a moment or two, just to put it on film, it’s mine, and I cherish it.


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