Songlines of Family

The torch was passed. Long ago. She to me, and so on. “I’m done.” “Now it’s your turn” she said walking away.

Life gets in the way, nearly every single day, and before long the calendar reads a foreign date and the wind of winter blows the short grass flat. How can it be? So soon.

When I return now I return with a new, lesser vigor than before. I realize now how little time we have. Soon we, and I, and they will be gone. So why bother? Does there have to be a reason at the end of the rainbow?
Older now, face making stages and “I can’t be bothered” looks. Expected. And yet I still soldier on because within the mess and blown opportunities are a few moments that feel like they need to be saved. But for who?

Will they take the torch or will it have already burned hot and then out? Time. Passage. I move in and out of their lives, mostly out, but have these little things to cling to. Moments I will never see again, or experience, but now with these I can remember in detail. I’m not an every moment guy. I don’t believe in that. I pick and choose when I shoot, and the rest of the time the camera is away, lost like I never had it in the first place. Most importantly out of mind. Otherwise life is always filtered and you forget to actually be somewhere, with someone, at a specific time.
With camera to eye I miss the male Painted Bunting perched on the link fence, one eye open for larger birds and the other on the feral cats circling at his feet, waiting for the right hesitation. The Rufus hummingbird battles with the Broad Tail. The doe licks the fawn near the edges of the property, silent, backlit tongue. Mom talks to my right, tries to edge in with politics but I can’t go there. Ever. Religion too. Nope. My religion is the light I so patiently wait for, the light that fills me with apprehension when it’s right and I have nothing in front of me other than the light itself. At that point there is only appreciation.
These images make me sad. Perhaps I’ve not yet learned to just be with them. Be happy I have them, and that I was the one who made them, but I can’t help thinking of them as fleeting. Soon there will be fewer pieces of the puzzle. Others will come but they will never be the same.

Mom wears a shirt with a photograph I made of her years before, fishing, as the Medicine Stick hands in the her hand. Dirt roads, dust and the alluring protection of cloud cover. Before long the layer will burn off and we will be left with only ourselves and that which surrounds us.

The Princess

It’s been a while since I checked in with a post about the family. Meet Princess. You’ve met her before, in miniature form, but now you get to see her as a little, fully functional human. And I’ll tell you, she is a complete and total dynamo. Give her a banana, she’ll eat it. Give her twelve bananas, she’ll eat them all. The strongest child I’ve ever seen. I swear to God she did the Iron Cross on the playground set, and HELD IT! I was waiting for her to pick up the car. If I was choosing a football team she would be my first pick. And then she opens her mouth and says something and that squeaky voice comes out and your heart just stops. It melts. You realize she is in complete control. You are powerless.

She gets what she wants. When I travel now I can’t pass a gift shop without scouring it for “What Princess would want.” I’m watching infomercials thinking, “She NEEDS that GI Joe with the kung-fu grip.” My credit card is molten hot with goods, services and trinkets from all reaches of the Earth. There can never be enough. Too much is not enough. She is The Matrix.

Rafael Goldchain: I Am My Family

Anyone who reads this blog knows how much of a freak I am when it comes to recording my family, my daily life, etc. I think as photographers this is one of the most important things we can do. So on this note I bring you the work of Rafael Goldchain. A few shorts months ago, while giving a presentation at Society for Photographic Education in Atlanta, I was introduced to Rafael in one of those twist of fate conversations. Talking to one person, someone else walks up, “Hey, do you know so and so?”
Rafael had an accent I just couldn’t place. It sounded Latin, Israeli, French, Turkish and Canadian which left me thinking, “Well, he’s from somewhere.” Rafael had this nervous, creative intensity, driven by pure interest and intelligence.
Oddly enough we both had a connection to Guatemala, and we figured out we were both in Guatemala at the same time, or very close, and had both been influenced by Jean-Marie Simon, me through the book, and he from actually knowing her.
Rafael told me he lived in Toronto and I said, “Oh, I’ll be in Toronto in a few months and there is this photographer I really want to meet.” “Who” he asked. “This guy named Edward Burtynsky,” I said. “I know Ed,” he said. “I was his college roommate.”
So, we exchanged information and off we went.
A few weeks ago, in Toronto, Rafael and I had a beer, with several of his students from Sheridan College where he has taught photography for fourteen years. We spoke a lot about Blurb, about the industry of photography and about my desire to not work as a photographer so that I could focus on my projects. At the end of the conversation he handed me a book, his book, and I have to say I was truly blown away. The one thing we really hadn’t discussed was his work, and suddenly it was in front of me. It is not often I see a project that I’ve never seen before. Rafael’s “I Am My Family” was a project I’d not seen before.
Tracing his family history, Rafael photographed himself as…well…his family. All of it. All the members, through history, and each meticulously done. I love this project and this book. Remember all those images, those small prints kept in bags, boxes and albums that your parents have in their attic? Well, Rafael has those too, and they led him to this book, and the recreation of the history, the humans and the missing details.
I’ve included a link to an article and interview that is well worth reading. I added these images because I needed you to at least have a taste of what this project is about.
Congratulations to Rafael for creating this piece. Original, historical and very well done.

The Best

So I don’t have a lot of pictures of myself, nor do I spend much time shooting self-portraits.

Now and then someone shoots a snap of me, and recently, I had the mother of all snaps made.

Home for the holidays, I found myself in a position to spend some time with not only my immediate family but also my nephew and niece, a little beauty I had only seen ONCE in her life. Now she is a slightly wary little critter, so I knew it would take some time for her to warm up to me. Well, it ended up taking NINE days. You could read this several ways. I’m strange and hard to get to know, or she is suspect of full-size people. Some people say kids can sense evil, but let’s hope that isn’t the case.

So toward the end of my trip, my wife and I were able to spend an afternoon with the little princess, the bestest and smartest and prettiest girl in the entire world. I’m not just saying that because she is my niece. It’s true. I realized in the first five minutes she was going to wear me out. She was relentless. Running, throwing things, playing with the dog, running, eating anything she put in her hand, running. After about four hours I was exhausted, looking for someone to pull the kiddie ripcord. I finally tricked her to get her back in the house, and after stuffing more calories down here, I noticed she was looking for a place to land. She had that “I need a nap” look. I could see the tiny wheels turning in her mind. “Dada?” Nope. Not here. “Momma?” Nope, she isn’t here either. “Grandma?” Nope, probably outside hunting small woodland creatures. “Auntie?” Nope.

So then she turned and looked at me. I froze. You see, there is nothing in the world I would rather have happen than this little princess falling asleep in my lap, but I went with the nonchalant, “whatever,” attitude. I figured if I tried too hard she would end up in the dog’s bed, or outside under the patio. She circled around, grabbed her blanket and started circling the coffee table. Inside I was thinking, “Keep going peaches, wear yourself out.” And she did.

Suddenly, tiny fingers clutched at my leg. There was furious scrambling, pulling, grunting and clutching as she wrestled herself up in my lap. “Don’t move, don’t move, act casual,” I said to myself. Yep, this stuff happens to me all the time. I became her surrogate lap.

She flipped over on her back, sunk deep into the pocket formed by the chair and my arm and SLOWLY began downshifting. I couldn’t see her face so I had to read the stunned reaction of those in the room with me. Hand signals were furiously made, fingers pointed, looks of surprise.

And then, she was down.

Out came the cameras. Flash, no flash, pan blur, zoom blur, vaseline on the lens, anything, everything in the arsenal was blasted out.

Her little fingers curled and clutched. Her tiny feet moved and bounced as she dreamed of chocolate fields and banana skies.

I knew then my life was complete. I’d seen ancient ruins, sailed the seas of the world, witnessed events that shook the pillars of humanity, but nothing, NOTHING carried the weight of this tiny being warmly nestled in my lap.

Santa Fe Workshop Contest

Hey Kids,

Wanted to alert you to a new contest that was brought to my attention.

Before I proceed, I think we have far too many contests in the photo-world today, far too many. A few short years ago there were three or four and now we have literally dozens. So when I see a new contest I search it to the core, to see what is what and whether or not I would consider entering.

So when I got this one, I started looking at what it took to enter, what the prize was and who was actually going to be looking at your work. I think all the ingredients pan out. Now, full disclosure, I’ve taught at Santa Fe and I’m hoping to teach there again in the near future. I like their program, their people and what they have been able to accomplish over the years. And, I’ve personally taken two workshops with them, both of which were extremely beneficial to me, and both connected me with photographers I’m still in contact with today. I consider that value.

The list of judges is solid, meaning you have an editorial person(People), a fine art person(also a photographer) and director of one of the large photo collections in the world(someone I had review my work) and the director of the workshops. This means you are getting a wide range of eyes, essential to a good contest.
Also, you could win a workshop. If you haven’t taken a workshop like Santa Fe then this might need some translation. Taking a workshop in Santa Fe is about everything in life falling away, except for your photography. It is about turning off your life and pouring 100% of your mind into what you are trying to accomplish. It is about the interaction with fellow students, looking at work, spending time together and getting your images reviewed by a top-notch photographer, over an entire week(not a one day or weekend, big difference). In short, a good workshop can change your life.
The rest of the prizes are good too, but I can’t over emphasize the workshop aspect.

What I also like about this contest. The topic. Family.
So many of the contests I see are filled with categories that I’ve either seen too many times, OR they are somewhat aimed at a certain type of photographer. In this case, family seems like a wide open topic and also will allow a range of photographer to enter. Even if you shoot advertising for a living, chances are, if you have a family you are documenting them on the side. Could be interesting. Heck, I even thought about entering.

And finally, I don’t know if this happened to you while you read this, but as soon as I read over the requirements I began to think about my own work. What would I enter? What would make the best single image? The best story? THIS is the aspect of entering a contest that often gets overlooked. It makes us THINK about our work. I can’t stop in fact, which might be a problem later when I try to go to sleep.

You don’t have much time. Deadline is September 15th. Take a look.