30 November, 2020

Life, Death, and Lack of Experience: Another struggle of the inadvertent historian

A few years ago, I wrote "Life, Death, and Lack of Closure," about a seemingly-inevitable trap of living life after becoming an inadvertent historian: that because inaction — the decision to not document something — is in itself a form of curation, you never really escape from the anxiety of not putting time into documentary work. That is, the awareness that you could be documenting things, but aren't, lingers like a specter throughout everyday life. Even as I described it then, I still feel it now.

I've gotten better at seeing the opportunity and not just the cost — "I am deciding to be present in this moment," rather than just "I'm deciding not to document this moment." But I think some people have a sense of ease at letting moments pass by which I've never managed to recapture.

But I just discovered a new form of this trap.

31 October, 2020

Second Wind

It's kind of funny to think that the last time I saw my DSLR, it was looking back at me. February 29th. My life had just taken a huge turn — after 22 years of pole vault, I decided to retire, and I went to the photo studio to take some self-portraits that would hopefully capture how unmoored and adrift I felt in that moment.

Little did I know, another huge turn was just around the corner. Little did I know that "unmoored and adrift" was going to be the theme of the year.

30 September, 2020

Orange Haze

A gentle giant rumbled in the sky
In older times, when weather was a friend
With eyes shut tight, I'd feel the wind drift by
But patterns, large and small, began to bend

I grew up in the midwest, and it's a place that leaves an impression on you. Winters were cold. Summers were warm. Fall was the browns, oranges, and ochres of falling leaves and pine needles. And springs were the green and the crisp, bright sunlight that promised the start of the next cycle.

It rarely just rained. More typically, there was rain with a deep, rolling, distant reverberation of thunder, at times interspersed with a sharper, but still amicable sound of nearer thunderclaps. It wasn't a crack, so much as the sound of tearing a giant piece of paper, as the vibrations continue to echo through the material itself.

Those were the days when "go inside when it's lightning outside" was something that adults said, and that you did because you were told; not because you actually understood what could happen.

Sometimes, during the perfect thunderstorm, the gentle, humid breeze would feel so wonderful amidst the chorus of pitter-patters emanating from the raindrops landing all around you…

31 August, 2020

[Doc Diaries] Photographing Art: Texture

One of my favorite challenges in photography is finding ways to represent experiences, and sentiments, that aren't just visual. Like, "how do I convey the scent of a field of grass, moments after a long-awaited rain?" Or the sound of the whistling wind, whipping through a barren midnight city street during a winter snow storm? The tart taste of a tantalizing, freshly-plucked tangerine? Or maybe it's a feeling, like the wistful sorrow of celebrating love, even as you let it go.

But you can break it down further, can't you? What about touch? You could show the dull glow of a piece of glass that looks friendly enough, but will bite you with a searing heat if you get too close. The shivering cold stillness of watching the sun set over an ocean beach, having forgotten to wear a jacket but too transfixed to do anything about it now. Or what about the smooth, polished texture of a rapidly-shrinking cube of ice, swirling and bobbing in a cup of tea?

Texture's an interesting one… Of course the key to representing any of these feelings is to reference something the viewer already knows, right? To show something so innately familiar that the feeling, or the sentiment, emerges anew from the viewer's own thoughts and feelings and memories.

But texture is interesting. It is, in many ways, the most visual of the non-visual senses. As humans, the idea of seeing a surface or a material and making inferences about how it might feel is second-nature. This one looks pointy. That one looks slippery. Better not fall over there or you'll scrape a knee… The connection from vision to a sense of texture is surprisingly direct.