"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.
As some of you know, I’m developing my next photo book. The working title is Fairy Tales from the Fault Lines, a collection of photos from the ‘real’ city of Washington DC (the ‘hoods, not the federal footprint). Personal, everyday-life vignettes of my native city that hopefully short-circuit tribal/provincial stereotypes.
I’ve got a ton of images already from the past few years, I’m currently in book editing and design mode. But I also want to keep shooting and refining my ideas, as well as building an online platform for the future book.
So here’s my new Tumblr sketchbook, front-loaded with a little batch of the latest stuff. Hope you’ll follow it if that’s your thing. I’ll mix mostly new and some older images, written story fragments, and whatever else makes sense. I welcome any and all feedback!
The work (including the full backlog) is on Instagram too:
New sketch - I tried to evoke a group of settlers’ space journey to a new world (well, of course compressing what would be months or years to 01:58). Liftoff > transit > contact > arrival. You’ll need headphones, let me know if the ‘story’ comes through in the little sounds.
A few night pics with the 5s, processed just a bit with King Camera app.
First shots with the 5s camera yesterday. Used the new filters in the iOS7 Camera app to make them BW, otherwise untouched. Seems a significant, even startling, upgrade from the iPhone 4. Though I kind of miss the more raw, scrappy, poetic look of the 4 w/Hipstamatic. In a way hoping the 5s won’t be TOO good… Well, guess thats what destructive editing is for :).
A new sketch of mine (best with headphones), just a simple repeating phrase for all the innocents killed in Nairobi… especially the children… I was also struck by the loss of 78-year-old Ghanian poet/writer/diplomat Kofi Awoonor, due to perform that night at a literary festival…