July 7, 2014

[Last year’s 4th of July post is here]

One thing I’ve noticed myself doing lately in conversation is finding excuses to bring up how far back I can trace my ancestry in America.

On my father’s side (hey look, I’m doing it again!), the Crandalls go back to Elder John Crandall, who came over from England in the early-mid 1600s. He was apparently an associate of Roger Williams, who established the state of Rhode Island. John Crandall — same name as my father — was among a group of two dozen souls that settled Westerly, RI (amazingly his homestead still stands, not far from a Wal-Mart). He seems to have been at least somewhat of a dissident-minded pilgrim, which would have endeared him to Williams, who sounds like my kind of guy for his progressive attitudes on slavery, native Americans, and religious freedom. Thomas Jefferson was known to quote Williams. So I reckon that gives me only a few degrees of separation from the Founding Fathers.

On my mother’s side, our first ancestor was 7-year-old Hugh Fraser. In 1707, legend has it little Hugh was kidnapped off the street in Paisley, Scotland and shipped off to America as an indentured servant, ending up on a Maryland tobacco farm. Basically a trafficked child. As traumatic as it must have been, Hugh grew up to marry the owner’s daughter and take over the place. (I guess white privilege extends pretty far back as well, but that’s another discussion.)

The farm was on the eastern shore of the Chesapeake Bay, just across the water from where my mother lives now. The memorial for my mom’s companion Ed Becke, who passed away last year, was held in old St James Church, which existed during Hugh Fraser’s life 300 years ago. Maybe he heard of it, or went there at some point. Maybe I was sitting/standing/walking where he did the same. I find that incredible.

So there are two family links to pre-George Washington America. Not too shabby, as my father might have said.

I love thinking about history in ways that make it more personal and resonant.

Lincoln would often ride his horse from his summer cottage to the White House, passing quite close to where I now live. He surveyed the burial of Civil War soldiers in the cemetery I pass going to my daughter’s ballet lessons. Lincoln’s son Robert died a few years after my house was built — within the house’s ‘living memory’ if you will — which somehow brings Lincoln himself closer.

My parents were married by James Reeb, a Unitarian minister and civil rights activist who would later be murdered by white racist thugs in Selma in the early 1960s. Another reason I haven’t quite forgiven the South yet. His death sparked a national outcry that helped bring about the Voting Rights Act, which Lyndon Johnson signed into law, it so happens, on the day of my birth. Reeb officiated the wedding at All Souls Church, where my parents first met, and where more recently we had my father’s memorial service.

So why bring all this up, aside from a kind of bragging? I certainly believe America belongs to those who arrived yesterday just as much as 400 years ago. Seeing photos of the kids coming across the Mexican border lately, and imagining their plight, made me think of Hugh Fraser. As our country seems more and more unhinged, perhaps it just helps me feel more anchored in where we came from. And since many on the right often lay claim to the legacy of the Founding Fathers and the Constitution, maybe I as a progressive feel compelled to point out that distant history is mine too. And not even that distant. I can learn about Roger Williams and his brave, ethical, humanist stances and think, yeah, I’d associate with that guy too.

May 25, 2014

Best Thing I Did Today - putting the knot holes in my back fence to good use.

February 9, 2014
Bald Eagles, Chesapeake Bay, Feb 9 2014
(via telescope)

Bald Eagles, Chesapeake Bay, Feb 9 2014

(via telescope)

February 8, 2014

Enjoyed being interviewed the other day for a book project on the intersection of photography and spirituality. Took me back to advice I got many years ago from the great Viktor Kolar, “to take your work to a more spiritual level as an artist, you must first develop your sensibilities, then learn how to make them visual”. We talked about receptivity, attentiveness, letting go, channeling instead of contriving photos. All so much more important than gear or technical considerations.

January 20, 2014

The Waiting Room is in great company at Politics and Prose! Thanks to staff for putting it out front and center!

8:22pm  |   URL: http://tmblr.co/ZY9iby14xNBIp
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Filed under: belarus 
December 28, 2013

So where are the strong? And who are the trusted?

- Elvis Costello (via Nick Lowe of course)

Plenty to be chagrined about in this world of ours, as 2013 draws to a close. Below are international public figures that offer hope. If the world is becoming a bully, they are the ones standing up to the bully, not on the bully’s brute terms (which would be futile) but through the soft yet defiant power of integrity, savvy, resilience, provocation, poetry, wit, artistry. Through their actions, words, or sometimes simply their presence:

Pope Francis

If he can piss off and befuddle the mouth-breathers of the world the way he has, he must be doing something right. I imagine he makes the institutional Church very nervous, which also strikes me as a good thing.

Russell Brand

Yeah, say what you want (and you could say a lot), from what I’ve seen the guy’s become a formidable truth-teller. He’s bringing it.

Jon Gnarr

The cross-dressing, former punk, comedian-mayor of Reykjavik, Iceland founded a nonsense political party for nonsense times and got elected. Behind the quirkiness and schtick is a deep humanism.

Malala Yousafzai

The girl shot by the Taliban for advocating for girls’ education. If only the rest of us had half her clarity, decency, and courage.

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina

Pussy Riot members recently freed from remote Russian prisons, where they spent the better part of two years for singing an anti-Putin punk song in a church. Their fierce intelligence and continued defiance are astonishing and inspiring. Fight the Power.

Bill McKibben

350.org founder. If we somehow manage to save ourselves from the worst of climate change, it will be thanks in significant part to the relentless and selfless efforts of Mr. McKibben to spell out both the problem and an alternative. One of the greatest living Americans, in my view. This is a group that deserves your year-end charity.

Kofi Awoonor

One of Africa’s great elder poet-statesmen, lesser known than Mandela but a cultural giant. In Kenya for a literary festival, he was among those killed (at age 78) in the terrorist siege of Nairobi’s Westgate Mall.

Josef Koudelka

At 75, Koudelka hasn’t changed much. His latest photo book, on the Israel-Palestine wall, is in its own way just as bold and uncompromising as his 1968 work from the Soviet invasion of his native Prague. His ability to develop and maintain his consistent artistic vision over a lifetime - with an austere, monastic rigor that precluded ever owning a car, phone, or computer - makes him an extremely rare breed. He’s the kind of photographer other photographers worship (guilty). See his recent interview with the NYT’s Lens blog here:

http://lens.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/11/19/josef-koudelka-formed-by-the-world/

December 22, 2013
Wow, a blast from the past from my photographer friend Karel Cudlin. That’s me in booth 9. Karel and I had an exhibit together in Minsk on the afternoon of 9/11. At the opening the Czech cultural attaché was the first to tell me what was happening at home (some friends said they knew but didn’t want to ruin the opening so didn’t tell me). Later we went to a nearby restaurant TV to watch the towers fall, etc. It was hard to get English info, internet wasn’t great… Karel and I shared a flat, he would translate from German and Russian reports… this was later in the day at a call center, trying to reach home to check on family. I remember how kind and sympathetic Belarusians were about it.

Wow, a blast from the past from my photographer friend Karel Cudlin. That’s me in booth 9. Karel and I had an exhibit together in Minsk on the afternoon of 9/11. At the opening the Czech cultural attaché was the first to tell me what was happening at home (some friends said they knew but didn’t want to ruin the opening so didn’t tell me). Later we went to a nearby restaurant TV to watch the towers fall, etc. It was hard to get English info, internet wasn’t great… Karel and I shared a flat, he would translate from German and Russian reports… this was later in the day at a call center, trying to reach home to check on family. I remember how kind and sympathetic Belarusians were about it.

November 11, 2013
My father, in the Korean War. As a veteran he was never much for war stories, but I remember some of the human ones. Getting lost in a rough area while photographing on leave in Japan. Threatening to kill a (much bigger) fellow soldier who was bragging about raping a local girl. As a medic, he once had to sever the badly mangled leg of an ‘enemy’ soldier. He used to tell me how he reluctantly but quickly made the final snip, set the limb aside, gave the guy a cigarette. My dad would always choke up when he remembered how the guy looked him straight in the eye, nodded, and simply said, ‘thank you’.

My father, in the Korean War. As a veteran he was never much for war stories, but I remember some of the human ones. Getting lost in a rough area while photographing on leave in Japan. Threatening to kill a (much bigger) fellow soldier who was bragging about raping a local girl. As a medic, he once had to sever the badly mangled leg of an ‘enemy’ soldier. He used to tell me how he reluctantly but quickly made the final snip, set the limb aside, gave the guy a cigarette. My dad would always choke up when he remembered how the guy looked him straight in the eye, nodded, and simply said, ‘thank you’.

November 11, 2013
“I wore black because I liked it. I still do, and wearing it still means something to me. It’s still my symbol of rebellion — against a stagnant status quo, against our hypocritical houses of God, against people whose minds are closed to others’ ideas.” 
- Johnny Cash

“I wore black because I liked it. I still do, and wearing it still means something to me. It’s still my symbol of rebellion — against a stagnant status quo, against our hypocritical houses of God, against people whose minds are closed to others’ ideas.” 

- Johnny Cash

(Source: tommy2shoes, via shebelievedshecouldandsoshedid)

October 27, 2013

j-carrier:

"you do this because you like it, you think what you’re making is beautiful. and if you think it’s beautiful, maybe they think it’s beautiful.” - lou reed