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With heavy clouds and muddy soil, I go home. When I pull into the driveway, off of Route 890, there are tires over gravel, there is me and there are the cars whispering as they drive by. Here is the house my mother grew up in, here is the house my aunt still lives in. Here lives parts of me as a child in another lifetime, here lives bits and pieces of my family's history.
I have wanted to photograph my aunt Cecelia's, my mom's second oldest sister, house for a long time, since I started making pictures.
See, my mom's mom died was my mom was 20 of a heart attack. The details are vague to me, something involving elevator doors opening and closing and one minute being alive and the next not. I have never met my grandmother but the weight of her life and her death have been increasingly apparent to me. My mother marks time with the death of hers; the months before that day in 1978 and the 2-5-10 years after that compose the time line of her life.
Dining Room, Bathroom.
In this house, she, her husband, and her 5 children lived and worked in a space no larger than 900 square feet. My grandfather a dairy farmer, she ran a country store and gas station out of the basement, which still exists in the heavy oak cabinets that now are home to photo albums, Christmas decorations, clothing.
The presence of my family's history is so pervasive in this house that, at times, when I was there on a Sunday in April, I had to close my eyes a few times in order to push it out. Between being offered food ("Are you sure you aren't hungry? We have soup! What about a sandwich? Are you thirsty? Have some iced tea.") and talking about life's details, I took in all of the things that changed since I was young and all of the things that have changed from when my mom was young. The ironing board still comes out of the wall. The bathroom still has that wallpaper in it. The carpet is new, the metal cabinets replaced with a blond wood.
At six, eight, ten, I was terrified of her basement. It was dark, filled with boxes of stuff and felt seemingly unending. There were doors and hallways to places that I had never been in and the majority of it was lit by one single light bulb, turned on by the pulling of a string.
It hasn't really changed much, except it is notably less terrifying than I thought it to be. It packed full of stuff, more stuff then I remembered. Several lifetimes full of stuff stacked to the ceiling, piled on shelves and arranged haphazardly in those oak cabinets.
The weight of home, of history, of time passing, of silence. I think about the details of my family's life, especially it's women, that I am now just learning, have just learned in the past few months and I am overwhelmed with questions. Who I am, who they were, who they are are intrinsically linked together with laughter and bitterness, in the spaces we keep, in the food we eat, in the shape of our bodies.
Tide, Ocean Grove NJ.
With the air warm and thick like its been, I itch to move around, to drive, to explore, to see. The mercury hit 70 one day and the only thing I wanted, needed to do was run to the Atlantic and wiggle my toes in it's bitter, cold waters.
Pier, Ocean Grove NJ.
Let my eyes fill with sunshine and let my skin redden. Let me find that teenage feeling, just one more time. Let the salt stick in my hair. Let it be July.
Pro-Life. Route 309, Outside of Tamaqua Pa. 2007.
While Santorum still held office and wasn't quite a laughing stock* yet, these signs popped up along highways, scattered around north eastern and central Pa, as I had seen a few on my drives through the area and near the town I grew up in. I have no idea of their maker or purpose and I found them to be really bizarre and random. They were well made, obviously constructed with care, and relatively large, as they could be read from the highway. Why the white cross? The flower? Why the text?
I have always been fascinated by the signage along highways. My interest lies not in the billboards, not in the messages and images that want to convince me to spend money, but in the signage that has been put up by individuals. I am perpetually boggled at the maker of such text and signs. What's the intent? Why put something so nonsensical in such a visible place? What need does placing the sign fulfill?
*Depending on who you ask, I suppose.
Routes 61 & 81. Frackville Pa. 2006.
For whatever reason, I have always really loved this photograph. The original chrome, however, was not well exposed (it was probably over about 1.5 stops) and when I first scanned it, it was hard to do much with it and get it to look the way I wanted it to. My photo editing skills have increased ten fold since I made the picture and I was thrilled to be able to clean it up and make the picture look like it should. The sky isn't quite what it needs to be but for now, I can live with that.
Meadowbrook Coal Company. Lykens, PA
I was always really hesitant to use the handful of photographs I took of people while I was photographing. The portraits I made, I always felt, weren't right, weren't quite good enough, didn't fit in with the images I was working with. To this day, I look at this picture and I go "I took that?!".
Jer 29, Outside of Hometown, PA. 2007.
When I wake up in the morning, it is easy for me to forget about the time that I spent frantically, obsessively, and joyously making photographs for an audience. Then, I could hardly wait 7 whole days before coming home to photograph, to leave behind grades and work and school and bills and do nothing but make the photographs I wanted to make. Now, I swim, I shower, I eat breakfast, I drive to work, I work, I come home, I eat, and I go to bed. Somewhere in there, I spend time with my girlfriend, read books about things that matter to me, go to the library, do volunteer work and somehow, find meaning in who I am and what I am doing. I rarely spend time making new work and go months between picking up a camera to make new images. Then, the meaning that I need to have in my life was so ever present on a daily and on-going basis, I had little time to breathe, to think, to just exist. Now, I force myself to find it and the time between making pictures is long and punctuated. Moving forward (as I seem to need to always do), I hope to somehow find a balance between the two.
Jack O' Lantern. Pottsville, Pa. 2006.
Before stepping forward, however, I have wanted to turn my eye towards the past, towards the family I came from, the person I was and photographs I made when I was that person in order to figure out who I am today, who I am working towards becoming. There are gaps for me, in my personal past, that I cannot recall. There are months from college and the year that followed that I can't conjure up no matter how I try; I am missing pieces of my memory as it has been erased by anxiety, truncated by depression.
I have spent the last month scanning, cleaning up and correcting images that I had made during my time photographing in the coal region. My neg binder from that time period is overstuffed with chromes of varying degrees of exposure (good, bad, in between) and images that I had long forgotten about. Editing them and paring them down so quickly in school did not allow me time to live with many of them, to think about them. I made the decisions about those images so quickly that the edit became the entirety of the project and the other images that were taken with them had been forgotten about until recently.
Landscaping. Hometown, PA. 2007.
Going through the images and seeing them again for the first time in well over 3 years brought me back to those places. Those moments in and around the shutter opening and closing were present for me so suddenly and vividly. It conjured up all of the thoughts and sensory input that are linked to those places and I remembered why I started making those images, started exploring that place to begin with.
Labyrinth Path, Offerings. Columcille Megalith Park, Bangor PA.
Columcille Megalith Park is a beautiful, spiritual place up the road about an hour or so in Bangor. Nestled along a local, tared and chipped road, it is a place of mediation and silence. That fall day when A. and I visited was warm and sunny, the air sharp. I was taken with it's meandering paths along the woods and the texture of stones. My favorite part of the park was the labyrinth and it's center. There, when you reached the inside of it, was a rock covered with bits and pieces visitors had left behind as an offering, a thank you.
Split Stone, LR+SC
I long for the warmth and the sun from that day. January's thin air and heavy cold has settled into the earth and I am perpetually chasing the chill away with thick socks, sweatshirts, and big cups of tea.
Freshly Fixed Tin Type, R.J. Gibson's Photography Studio. Gettysburg PA.
The medium of photgraphy is so intrinsically linked to the transformation of subject and the manipulation of reality. I have spent my adult life clinging to a camera, my eye searching and searching for photographs of places and other people that I rarely allow myself to step in front of the camera, to allow myself to be seen in any other way besides what is represented to me in my head. I fear cameras and their steady gaze in the hands of the untrained for fear of seeing myself as I really am, physically.
In November, I had the pleasure of sitting for R.J. Gibson, a photographer working in the tradition of the wet plate process. I knew when I went to his studio I wasn't interested in being photographed as a typical female of the 19th century, not in ballgown nor in day dress. I definately knew that I wanted to be dressed as a male character; originally I figure I would be dressed as a Confederate infantry soldier.
While I know that "reenactment" photographs can conjure up unpleasant associations for a lot of people, Gibson's process of making the photograph for the subject was really incredible to witness. The final portrait is very much a collaborative work. In talking to him, he figured out a way to photograph me as my 19th century alter in a way that was both fun and thoughtful. After telling him that I was a photographer, he felt it would be better to dress me up as a photographer from the 1800's. I got to pose next to a gorgeous piece of photographic history, an 8x10 wooden view camera with original lenses, constructed around 1865. The photograph it's self had an exposure of about 14 seconds. I could blink and breathe but my eyes could not move. It was strange to stand in front of a camera lens and be photographed for a full 14 seconds. While my mind was totally blank while standing in front of the camera, I couldn't help but wonder if, somehow, 14 seconds could somehow capture something more than 1/30 of a second could.