Archive for the ‘Photography’ Category
David and I spent this past weekend in New York City, where we got to watch a workshop production of “Fun Home: The Musical,” which is based on our friend Alison’s 2006 graphic memoir about her closeted gay father’s suicide and her own coming out as a lesbian. The show is still being tweaked, and the final production may be quite different from the performance we saw. So all I’ll say about it this. That it was fascinating to see how the producers translated the book’s multi-layered structure and nonlinear chronology to the stage. That the cast was incredible. And that it is very strange to watch an actor portraying someone you know in real life.
The whole experience naturally got me thinking about how we turn life into art, and bring art into life. New York City is a great place for this, because it’s so packed with people who are doing both those things, and very often in public. Walk around town with this mindset, and the abundance of free drama, art and entertainment is staggering. Most of it is even intentional.
Our walk from the bus to our hotel took us through the Avenue of the Americas street fair. We didn’t buy anything. But lots of the wares sure were pretty.
On Saturday night, we went to dinner and the show with my aunt — a great evening all around.
The next morning, we walked out of our hotel to discover a bit of unplanned drama. Thick grey smoke, rank with the smell of electric things burning, billowed from two manholes at the corner of St. Mark’s Place and 3rd Avenue. Firefighters, police officers, and passers-by stood around and watched. The occasional pops and sparks and smoke rings were mesmerizing. Fortunately, no one was hurt.
We walked west to Washington Square Park,
where we paused to listen to a little piano music.
Sitting in the sun beside the fountain, we watched a crew from Dr. Playground retrieve the lime-green shoe a toddler had dropped through the grate.
On Waverly Place, we enjoyed an over-the-top, fantasy feast, courtesy of Babbo.
Continuing through Greenwich Village,
we admired the streetscape…
…and took in some local history.
Then we headed over to the High Line.
I would have been happy to have spent the rest of the day there, just listening to the snatches of passing conversations, trying to fill in the blanks or, in lots of cases, identify the language.
But we didn’t have all day. For one thing, we had to eat, which we did at Bombay Talkie. Our waiter was eager to chat. He told us about economics and religion in his native Nepal, his college courses in criminal justice, his brother’s life as a monk back home, his hopes for the future. “When I tell my professor I want to go into law enforcement, he says I’m too skinny to be a police officer,” our waiter told us. “I want to tell him the police commissioner for the city of New York is also skinny.” We wished him good luck, and he thanked us as if our words had the weight of coins.
Back on the High Line, the sensory stimuli kept stimulating, almost too much to take in.
We strolled the High Line to its end, and then walked around the rail yards to catch our ride back to Providence. We were ready to sit down and rest our senses. But as we waited for our bus, the weekend offered one last aesthetic gesture, cast by the sun through the chain-link fence on the back of one of another departing visitor.
While the world wasn’t ending today, I took my camera for a walk around the garden. Walking with a camera in my hands makes me slow down and pay attention.
Here in Rhode Island, it’s rained almost every day since the beginning of May. While I’ve been staying dry inside, my garden has been growing more and more lush.
Nothing is more satisfying than planting and caring for a perennial and seeing your efforts pay off the next year. We put in an old fashioned bleeding heart last year, and this year it came back bigger and stronger and dripping with flowers.
Our old neighbor was a master gardener. When she moved away and our new neighbors rebuilt their porch, we were the lucky recipients of a mature rhododendron growing where the new steps would go. The builder dug up the bush, wrapped its root ball in burlap, and brought it over to our house. We planted it without really remembering what sort of flowers it had. Turns out they’re pink with pretty black spots, like the sort of thing you might have seen on a hat at the royal wedding.
Every year I think about how much I hate the spirea beside the front steps. It’s messy and sprawling, and it’s taking up prime real estate — the sunny spot by the front door, the first plant visitors see when they come to our house. And then mid-May comes around, delicate white flowers cover the spirea, and I forget all my florocidal intentions.
The ferns are another problem. There are just so many of them. When they die off in the fall, they’re messy and ugly. And yet, how can I resist their primeval luxuriance?
I’m glad the rain finally ended. And I’m very glad the world didn’t.
I take a lot of pictures, and upload many of them to Facebook or Picasa. Watching the world through the lens of my camera makes me slow down and see things I might otherwise miss. Posting the images online helps me keep connected to family and friends. And, just like doing the New York Times crossword puzzle or voting Democratic, taking and sharing pictures is a ritual that links me with my past.
My mother’s father developed stunning black and white family portraits in his basement darkroom. My mother favored color slides: summers at the Cape, travels in Europe, babies, birthdays, the family assembled around the Passover table – in almost every roll at least one shot of my father holding aloft the matzoh, inviting all who are hungry to come and eat.
In those days before digital (or even one-hour film developing), you had to wait to see how your pictures came out. In our family, viewing the slides was an event. Someone would set up the screen. Someone would pile books on the table to raise the projector high enough. Someone would crawl under the couch to plug in the cord. Then we would sit back and see what Mommy took, and how her pictures came out.
Those slides were among the items I claimed when we disassembled the house: eight shoe boxes of about 30 rolls each, with 20 or 24 slides to a roll. It took me 10 years to finally buy a slide scanner and start sorting through the pictures and sharing them online with my family.
Not every shot is worth preserving. Some are blurred. Some are poorly exposed or badly composed – a thumb over the lens, the subjects too small to make out. The computer makes it possible to correct the mistakes. But should I? Is it my job to preserve the record of my mother’s often imperfect photography, or to produce the best possible mementos of my family’s history?
At heart, I am a preservationist — just like my mother. She’s the one who refused to throw away a single slide, even those that came back blank. She even kept the slides that melted and warped when the projector jammed and no one thought to turn off the hot lamp.
When I look at these melted slides, I see my notoriously unhandy father fumbling in frustration with the uncooperative projector. I hear my mother issuing her instructions from across the room. I feel the tension in the room – stress I shrank from when I was a kid, but would give anything to experience again. I doubt that it occurred to any of one of us, back then, that the essential story of our family wasn’t just in the special events Mommy recorded with her camera. It was also in the ritual we enacted, however imperfectly, when we gathered to share that story.