Bald Eagles, Chesapeake Bay, Feb 9 2014
Bald Eagles, Chesapeake Bay, Feb 9 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.
The Waiting Room is in great company at Politics and Prose! Thanks to staff for putting it out front and center!
So where are the strong? And who are the trusted?
- Elvis Costello
Plenty to be chagrined about in this world of ours, as 2013 draws to a close. Below are international public figures that give 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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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’.
“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
"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
A sudden absence.
You can certainly feel absence, but how to show it? All photographs are of the past. But some seem to remain in nearly real-time while others reflect what is already becoming dim, falling fast into the haze of memory.
My mother’s companion of many years, Ed Becke, died unexpectedly last week. At 90 he was still up and around every day in the little community by the Chesapeake Bay where he spent most of his life, just down the road from my mom’s house. Nearly every day for the last 14 years since they met, Ed would come over to see my mom, have coffee or a meal together, hang out, fix things, water the plants, cut the grass.
Then last Wednesday he didn’t show up on time. My mom called his grandson, who went over, broke down the door, and found him. Just like that. It started raining that day and didn’t stop for several days.
On Saturday, my mom and I went over to see the place and walk on the nearby beach. I don’t know why really. I can only imagine her memories and shock staring at the empty house.
He built an amazing treehouse in the 1960s. It has a bed, heat, and light. For a while he let a young homeless woman sleep in there. He had one old wooden boat named the Barbara Jane after his first daughter. He showed my mom how to drive that one. Another, called Wild Thing, he bought from Sears in 1941 when he was 18. Sometimes he would hop in one boat or the other and motor around the bend to my mom’s house in the next cove. He had a huge collection of shark’s teeth that would wash in from the bay.
He famously installed a Christmas tree on the swim platform 900 feet out from shore - and ran a cable under the water to power the lights - so a dying friend could see it from his bedroom window. It’s been a yearly institution ever since. I wonder who will keep it going.
Too many wonderful qualities and stories to name. I’ll just say he was a great guy, an old-school classic you could always depend on. And he took loving care of my mom, right to the end. I’ll miss him. We’ll all miss him.
I’m happy to have won 2nd place in FotoweekDC’s 2013 International Awards Competition, Contemporary Life category, for my recent work from Tallinn, Estonia.
The work itself was a long time coming - but a very short time in the making!
I’ve been shooting in Eastern Europe since 1998 for my project East, and I’d been considering how to put a bow on things. I thought about various countries’ transitions over the long term, and realized - where does it end? Does it end? When can a country finally stop being referred to as post-Soviet, post-communist, former Yugoslavia? What happens when Country 2.0 ‘arrives’? Ding, transition complete, please remove from microwave.
I decided Tallinn might be an example of what post-post-Soviet looked and felt like. Estonia moved early, quickly, and aggressively to get out from under the shadow of the Soviet era. Over the summer I was in Finland for a month-long residency, so at the very end of my stay I hopped on the short ferry from Helsinki to Tallinn.
I only had two days, which is absurdly short if your goal is even limited insight into a place. So I kept things as simple as possible, barely set foot in the beautiful old town, and worked only in the bustling new business districts. That seemed to be where I could at least capture an impressionistic sense of the new landscape, and explore the question of whether the past is actually fully past.
The first view at the ferry port was a bit ominous. In front of you looms the massive, moldering Linnahall event center from the Soviet days. The city has no idea how to get rid of it. You climb long steps to get up and over the squat mass of concrete and proceed across a vast weedy plaza, Tallinn’s modern office buildings on the horizon.
These pictures are simply fragmented impressions, which is all I really set out to capture. I wouldn’t try to pass too much judgment from such a short visit. Walking and biking around, I did find the city vibrant and interesting, even in the areas with some pleasantly ragged edges. It feels more dynamic than sleepy Vilnius and more self-confident than I remember Riga in the 90s. In a strange way it reminded me of a mini-Berlin, in the sense that you can feel how yes, the pieces somehow feel all in place, but perhaps only recently, and you’re aware of the gaps.
I’d love to spend more time there. I learned a lot from my kind and urbane hosts Aleksei and Katrin about not just the history but the current mentality of Estonians. Locals may have psychologically moved on since the breakup of the Soviet Union, and may even scoff at the question of whether they are still ‘post-Soviet’. And young people have no memory of that time. But to me a bit of vapor lingers in the crevices. Not necessarily Soviet vapor. Just a sense of the long arc of history still playing out. Just across the Baltic, Helsinki is a Nordic urban wonder but feels a bit staid at times, like fully settled business. Tallinn is a more tumultuous organism, still mutating. Definitely post-post-Soviet, but not quite done yet.