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?
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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.
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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.
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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.

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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.

Journal Entry: Discourse, August 2014

How does someone really make a difference?

I honestly don’t know. At least anymore. Do one thing? Do it well and hope that others follow along? What I find challenging today is the lack of allowable discourse. If you mention something the Canadians do, or the crafty Europeans, one of the responses you get here is “Well then why don’t you go live there?” Questioning the way things are has become “anti” and frowned up.

Let us look no further than online photography. I don’t look at work online, and I’m dangerously, dangerously close to not looking at ANYTHING online outside of my immediate requirements of email and work related issues. That’s it. My departure from social has had a profound influence on me, and this influence grows stronger and stronger each day. The vast majority of online discourse is predictable and catered to the overwhelmingly positive. You know the favorite kisses, “Amazing,” “Incredible, “Awesome snap.” Etc., Etc. This isn’t discourse. The news is embarrassing. One real story buried under celebrity, the outlandish and the tricks to feed the insatiable advertising machine. We are bought, sold and traded on a daily basis.

I’m in the Texas Hill Country today, my final day here, and this trip has been a strong one. Where I sit now, looking out a picture window, I see little to no influence of modern man. Five acres. I’m sitting in one small space on five acres of land owned by my bloodline. The cabin is hand built, fortress like and yet it is under constant attack by the forces of nature. Rain, wind, relentless sun and an absolute army of the insect and animal world. Yesterday a scorpion in the shower. Brown recluse under the desk I sit at now. And just this morning, outside as the sun peaked over the Twin Sisters, I see deer, raccoon, squirrel, white wing dove, vulture, hawk, bull snake, fire ant, chickens, feral cats and an abundance of song birds. Last night mosquitos and clicker bugs bombarded my waiting carcass.

There is no chance in winning this war. It’s evident we are the visiting species. Yet a few scant miles away the Earthmovers do their best to enslave this wild beast, and they do it in the most shortsighted, ignorant, arrogant way. Just do it and do it quickly. The new road is already showing signs of fray. The traffic has already overwhelmed the “upgrades.” “Progress” is made as the horizon is painted with identical rooftops, all needed to be air conditioned in the summer and heated in the winter. The three foot wall of Earth has been replaced by the six inch wall of toxicity. (Our neighbor’s house was lined with toxic insulation. I know because I walked it as it was being built. Right there on the warning label.)

I’m not the only one. Others I know look around and ask “Why?” But none of us know what to do, what step to take. Do you take a stand? Maybe. When you take a stand you are often times labeled, pinned, accused of being “revolutionary,” a “kook,” or something worse. Anti-American? Questioning is now subversive. In Orange County a man yells at me in the parking lot of the market because I rode the 2 miles from my house on my bike to shop. “You shouldn’t be on that thing,” he says to me, shaking with rage. Why? Was he stuck in traffic on the way to the same market? Has the bike become a lightning rod? Or do we have a growing, underlying anger emerging from what is clearly a dead end street of human “evolution?”

I see many underlying issues, but the one I find most troubling is greed. Look no further than our current wars, the financial collapse, the auto industry lawsuits, real estate bubbles, etc., etc. Greed. Plain and simple. Driving the daily engine to acquire. You question this and suddenly you are “anti-progress,” or “against competition.” The cover ups, the bail outs, the leaks of atrocity. They are endless, and the media makes sure we are good and scared while being good and burned out on all things that matter.

Drugged. That is how I would describe this, or us. We are straight trippin. So we medicate with media. We medicate with television. We medicate with the internet. We seem to know everything and nothing at the same time. I’ve written a lot about attention span, something I find wildly interesting. “You should write multiple posts per day.” “You need listicles.” All words of advice about blogging. Forget the truth. Forget how you really feel. Do what you need to do to gain, to get and to promote. Man, I’m so over this mentality. How many of my photographer friends live dual lives? The online, professional life and then the real one they wake up to each day. They pretend, the clients pretend and the awkward imbalance continues while EVERYONE whispers behind closed doors.

The truth hurts, but it’s a good sting, like eating ginger, or wasabi when it goes up your nose. We don’t need much. We really don’t. I have too much. I’m guilty of some of the things I complain about, and my mind wanders like a felon on furlough at the Playboy Mansion. I’m not centered. I have no real answer. But with each passing day my mind gets closer to making a stand.

Meaning. Yes, okay, I’ll do it. “What is the meaning of all this?” Yes, I just asked that question. What is the meaning of life? Is it building another strip mall because you own a concrete company and that’s what you do? Is it covering the Gaza Conflict? Is it joining a monastery and attempting to find peace? No idea. Perhaps we aren’t supposed to know.

Journal Entry: S. Texas August 2014

Thunderclap
Duramax dreams
this place would be difficult for me now
after all that has transpired
the squint, effortless after a while
dust devil with the condor above
nature untouched by modern man
footprints below but pavers can be heard on the wind
they are coming
you have two choices
surrender
or take to what you can’t see, what your instinct tells
is out there
and run with it
bark, feather, bone and all that remains is the dust
the cycle continues
my little tribe is on the precipice, something we all know is coming
but we are still unprepared
nothing we can do to change the odds
life just runs, powerstroke
pistons rise and fall, rise and fall
hammering as the clock betrays any chance of changing course
drop the main sail, hoist the jib
hold that rudder like it’s made of gold
stay the course
but it gets more and more difficult
when you know you can’t pretend, what alternative ending awaits
the fateful decision you promised you would never make but
know you will surrender to
the buildup is just about more than I can take
hints here and there, more hints
you hope they are misunderstood, something you can apologize for later
whispers, tilt that new brim down a notch and don’t move
wind swirls a chop pattern as the line unwinds above your head,
down your arm and into the wild green
there is nothing to do now but wait

South With the Night


“I have lifted my plane from the Nairobi airport for perhaps a thousand flights and I have never felt her wheels glide from the earth into the air without knowing the uncertainty and exhilaration of firstborn adventure.”

Beryl Markham, “West With The Night.”

I was rereading this book, something I do every few years, and came across this passage which made me stop and think. This is obviously in regard to flying but I think the same idea can be applied to the idea of leaving to go photograph, at least for me. The idea of not knowing what is going to happen is one of the things that really gets my blood going. People photograph for a variety of reasons, all of which are equally valid in my mind. I have a list of reasons why I do it. The need to record, sense of history, sense of documenting and for the adventure of it all, and this is where this quote most aptly applies. The adventure of it all. I know that the vast, vast, vast majority of my images will simply not work, so embarking on a photo-adventure with high numbers of perfect “keepers” as the goal isn’t really on my mind. The idea of consistent failure is true for everyone, but we can fool ourselves into thinking, or Photoshop ourselves into thinking, that a higher number actually work, but let me just say..they don’t. There, don’t you feel better? Relax and enjoy the relevance of this fact.

It never gets any easier, this photography thing. I might think I know what I’m looking for, and I have settled my technique to a certain degree, but I don’t really know anything. I feel the pressure, self-induced, each time I leave the house. I begin to snoop around and when I frame something that shows hope the walls of insecurity and pressure begin to crumble. But each night these same walls are rebuilt.

These images were made a BMX track in Texas, and are photographs I think I have posted before, but I did so again because I wanted to emphasize the point above and the one to follow. I was at this track with a Hasselblad, 80mm and tripod, YES I said tripod. I was going to say I never use tripods, but I will amend that to “I rarely use tripods.” These tracks are home to many, many people with cameras. In most cases they are home to the dslr and long lens. After all, people are trying to get photographs of little Timmy burning up the track. I get it. Well, I don’t have a little Timmy, but I do have a nephew who was burning up the track. I shot a few of those pictures, but was left with an empty feeling. Peak action sports images are not my thing. I LOVE sports, but shooting sports, not so much.

I wasn’t alone at the track. I had a brother, sister and friend riding shotgun, but in my mind I was entirely alone. You know how it is when you put a camera in your hand. Little else matters.

The humidity made me shoot these pictures. It did. The humidity made me realize the important thing about these images had to be how they made me FEEL about being here. The adventure here was in the details, in the atmosphere and it was my job to snatch them away, preserve them so that someone else could FEEL what is was like to be here, not only SEE what it was like.

I don’t remember how many images I made this night, but it wasn’t that many. A few rolls perhaps. Doesn’t matter. But I can remember every single detail because my mind was set to “adventure” mode and I was entirely ready to embrace the unknown.