Archives for September 2013
“Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in.” -Henry David Thoreau
Alongside the river of my imagination I found an old camera. It comes from long ago. A deep brown wooden box with tarnished brass knobs. Its appearance at once intrigued me and filled me with fear of the unknown. It bears no makers mark and tells nothing of what it has seen. It’s fixed eye is only prepared to tell new stories of light and dark and the impressions they make upon silver. I have always seen the path of the artist as stepping stones we move across. It is not a fluid path. We constantly move forward and backwards like the tide. While most water rushes forward with the current (with the mindfulness of slowing down) some turns against the momentum and retreats into the darker recesses of the river. This is how I began to slow down and explore wet plate collodion photography.
I am under a black cloth peering into a luminescent upside down image of the world that appears upon the ground glass. My fingers slide the ancient bellows along their brass rails and the image comes into focus. I hold the tin plate in my fingertips, pouring the collodion into a generous pool then tilting it in a circle. The sticky syrup flows around the edges followed by a gentle rocking back and forth to smooth ridges and waves. Inside of the dark tent the plate is submerged into a silver bath. How silver sees is the magical element of making tintypes. Yellow appears as black so that a sunny dress might become somber. Blue appears as light grey or white so that a tattoo might disappear and blue eyes become pale almost translucent. With the plate in its wooden plate holder I return to the camera. Are you ready, I say, pulling the slide and removing the lens cap. I count slowly one one thousand, two one thousand and place the lens cap back on.
Back in the dark tent,I pour a small amount of developer across the plate and watch carefully as the scene shows before my eyes. As soon as mid tones appear I wash the plate with generous amounts of water. Water stops the developer prior to it going in the fixer. It is here in the fix that I see the photograph take shape before my eyes. I marvel at the wonderful marriage between art and chemistry. The hand of the artist is seen in every step from the way the collodion or developer flowed, the fingerprint on the edge, the dust in the air. Today I have made a photograph by hand. The process leads to many surprises and imperfections and that is why I love it. I am deeply grateful for this moment of creation and the wonders that making tintypes affords. I breathe deeply because for me slowing down, or trying to, has become an important source of creativity and the well spring of all beautiful things.
“Slow down and everything you are chasing will come around and catch you.” John De Paola
‘I weep for Narcissus, but I never noticed that Narcissus was beautiful. I weep because, each time he knelt beside my banks, I could see, in the depths of his eyes, my own beauty reflected.’ ~ Paolo Coelho
Narcissus gets a bad rap. He falls in the river, obsessed with his own reflection. Then his name gets taken up as the worst of all offenses: narcissism.
What this quote brings up for me is that we are all obsessed with our own reflections, really. Isn’t that why we are hooked in certain relationships? Because like the river, we are enamored with the person we see as ourselves in a lover’s eyes or a child’s eyes or a parent’s eyes? We are mirrors for each other.
This is an aspect that I get to look at straight on right now, having just lost a grandmother and a father within a month of each other. I will never again see my grandmother’s eyes light up in delighted surprise when I walk into a room. I lost a father who reminded me of my best traits, especially at times when I needed to hear them most.
In mourning their deaths, isn’t it for myself that I weep? I miss the reflections, the ones that said, “Look! This is who you are. Beloved.”
Reflections are the beauty of a childhood imagined. The daydream of life captured in a flash of sunlight and sea sparkle. I dig turning the world on its end; diving inside (outside) to peek beneath (beyond) the ordinary world I face everyday.
The dreaminess of reflection aptly resembles the many layers that life hands us. Nothing is as it seems, I say. And so I gaze into puddles, searching for other dimensions. Through reflection, two worlds break free to become one. Two selves connect at the ankle while standing in a cold New England puddle.
Photography is equal parts abstract art and truthful storytelling. Reflections provide creative control. Bending and twisting my world into something surreal and obviously obscure, I take pleasure in tweaking my reality. The space around me doesn’t define me when I make it my own. We are all the versions of self we’ve ever been. Who we once were (at the same time) who we are now. Together yet different, we are one and the same.
Reflections become windows into our minds. Like paint on canvas; it’s a glimpse of a loved one, abstracted but true. We catch each other in passing, these reflections. Images become words, thoughts, and dreams. They mark a place in time: the confusion of life turned inside outside upside down or an honest mirror into reality. I’m not from here, I’m from everywhere… and it’s vaguely familiar at the same time disorienting.
Welcome to my world.
For me, September has always felt more like New Year’s than New Year’s has. I know without a doubt that its seasonal, as summer slowly shifts into fall, but even more so, it’s the start of the school calendar. Although my school days have long been over, learning and growing continue, which means September marks yet another start to a brand new session. There’s a palpable energy that swirls around this time of year for me; a mixture of excitement for what’s ahead and reflection on what has been. Because new beginnings can offer hope, possibility and awareness, I try to slow down enough to pay extra attention to my intuition, my yearnings, and my perspective. I am well aware that the intentions I set now can impact and influence how my next chapter will read as the Universe and I continue on as the co-authors of my autobiography. And because mine is a large in part a picture book, my images also help in setting the tone.
Although I’m the first to admit my everyday life is more cluttered and chaotic than calm and composed, my photographs almost always reflect the later. What I’ve come to realize is that as I document my daily life, I use my camera as a creative tool to mine for the small, shimmering moments that bring me joy, peace, and clarity. I choose to focus on the sparkle and shine of my sometimes tarnished life because it keeps my head and heart where I want them to be; centered, grateful and most of all happy. The images that I create from and of my life illustrate the sublime and often subtle things that exist in the midst of anything and everything else.
As for my New Year’s resolution? I resolve to take good notes and continue to tell my story using my camera to honor my life and the lives of those I hold dear, to reflect back all the love, light and unmistakable beauty there is to be found in each fleeting moment of every single day.