Ebb and Flow

Satellite Beach, FL
April 24, 2013

This piece explores the ebb and flow of relationships, our comings and going in each others lives, and the meditative (yet transformative) power of these cycles.  The photographer for this piece was my good friend Amy.  This was the last day I saw her before she moved to the D.C. area.  Here we are:

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But who is the photographer here?  A dear friend of Amy’s (and now mine), Marlowe.  Here they are:

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I have been very sad that Amy won’t be within driving distance, but I’m embracing our parting as part of something bigger.  I’m practicing surrender and acceptance of this coming and going of closeness by connecting myself to the ebb and flow of the ocean.

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This beach also has significance as a place I have travel to and away from since my childhood.

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I am also getting ready to move away.  I am learning to peacefully leave this place knowing that I may return.

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Why orange?
“Yellow and red were compared to light and fire, spirituality and sensuality, seemingly opposite but really complementary. Out of the interaction between the two came orange, the colour of transformation.” -Eva Heller, Psychologie de la couleur: effets et symboliques, pp. 155–56.

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Post-Human

I imagine that I am trying to store my body and soul for digital upload in the future.  If my body were becoming such a file, I imagine that it would undergo lossy compression.  The beautiful shades of gray that make up a classic black and white portrait would fade away as all of my data becomes 1’s and 0’s of binary code.  While my complexity remains, there is no room for ambiguity in this digital world.  My pieces are black or white.  I am static.

While at first this information appears to reflect off my eyes and skin, it soon overcomes my flesh to both define and mask my identity.  Those who download me in the future will only know a shadow of who I was.  Perhaps the new age of computer forensics will be able to reveal the grays that once made me whole.  But do I want them to discover my secrets in between the black and white?

Reliable Untruths

I grew up in Havana, FL, a small town just south of the Florida-Georgia line.  Both of my images address nuances  of my childhood.

1. Cotton Picking Scene

Havana is still very segregated.  When it was time for my mother and the other children of her generation to attend school, their parents (my grandparents and great aunts/uncles) built a private school presumably to “protect” their children from integration.  While the people of Havana are friendly, loving, and non-violent, the roots of prejudice and racism run quiet and deep throughout the town.

I grew up under the watchful eye of Willy (I never knew his last name), a black man and labourer who helped my grandmother maintain a beautiful garden and pool.  He called me “Snook” (I never knew why) until I was old enough to become “Miss Danielle”.  The way I was treated as a child and then a young lady by the black community, I might as well have been Miss Scarlett O’Hara.  This relationship has always deeply disturbed me.  Willy passed away a few years ago, and it has caused me to reflect on this uncomfortable part of my relationship with my hometown.

Much in the way Southern Gothic literature exposed the decay that accompanied the American South’s resistance to change, I offer this image:

Cotton Picking Scene

This image may prompt the viewer to ask a number of questions:
Who is the man? What is he carrying?  Did he dig the grave? Is he a murderer?  Is the man a cotton picker?  Is he black or white or neither?  Is that a body bag?  Is there a body in it?  If so, what is its race?

I would be very interested to hear your own narratives for this image.  I hope you will share some of these stories (or just more questions) in the comments.

I intend for this image to slow down and draw in the viewer.  This is not a shock and awe forgery or a laugh out loud juxtaposition.  It’s like a Rorschach blot for racial issues and is meant to spark dialogue.  I intend for it to feel very real.  To this purpose I emulated the high contrast, blurred look of photographs contemporary with slave labor in cotton fields.

2.  I Grew Up Here

After reading the article about Google Street View Photography, I was tempted to make some Google Street View Manipulations.  I took a Street View photo of my grandma’s house and added bits and pieces from my childhood and our very important “hanging of the garlands” ritual.  I have uploaded it to Google Maps so that it will be available for viewing alongside the original image, but it takes awhile for it to be approved.

I intended to share with Google Street View users who happen upon this house (its next to library, so who knows…it could happen!) my personal experience of it.  I was somewhat disappointed when I saw the house on Street View because I knew there was so much more to it.  So, like a child draws a picture of their family to explain it to an outsider, I manipulated the photo to share my home.  I also meant to stir up some family communication and questions about the house and our traditions.  I enjoy the juxtaposition of the old traditions (and OLD house…it recently had its 100th birthday!) with the modern Street View shot.  I shared this image with my family via Facebook and received the following comments:
“Hey… the address is wrong, and it looks like the garland is photo shopped. Whats with the sidewalk chalk art? There’s no Christmas wreath on the door. and No ladder to get down.. WHat is going on with this pic? The garland just begins and ends with no garland attached on the roof. And if they are putting it up, we usually start from the left side and work to the right side. If it is coming down, the garland is not stewn on the ground. Also, no boxes or wheelbarrow. I know how this happens”

“Is it morning time? Is the sun coming up in the east?”  (We hang the garland after Thanksgiving lunch…in the afternoon.)

“Your Mama Too(my grandmother)is tricky, she knew the Google Street View car was coming and made your brother put up the Christmas decorations in May! lol”(This observant viewer noted the Google copyright date!)

And my favorite:
“Did google photoshop it??”

I Grew Up Here 

Surveillance and the Power of the Digital Image

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The readings and multimedia materials this week were EXCELLENT.  I especially enjoyed The Nine Eyes of Google Street View and the careful observations and philosophies of its author, Jon Rafman.  I was very touched by his desire to give significance to people and places who may feel insignificant, and using Google Street View recreates the feel that raw documentary photography once excited.  In a powerful summary of his process and this collection of images, the artist/author makes his intentions clear:

“The collections of Street Views both celebrate and critique the current world. To deny Google’s power over framing our perceptions would be delusional, but the curator, in seeking out frames within these frames, reminds us of our humanity. The artist/curator, in reasserting the significance of the human gaze within Street View, recognizes the pain and disempowerment in being declared insignificant.”

In an atmosphere flooded with artwork that insights only panic and distress in reaction to our surveillance, it is refreshing to see work that harnesses this surveillance (however frightening it may be) to validate and consider our humanity.

The article “Negative Dialectics in the Google Era: A Conversation with Trevor Paglen” by Jullian Stallabrass also addresses issues of surveillance in photography, but from a different point of view.  Instead of raising questions about the public under observance, Paglen’s work plays with what the public may not observe: CIA “black sites”, secret military operations, and classified spacecraft.  I’m now quite worried for Trevor’s safety. o.O

The Yes Men hijinks beautifully illustrate the power of the digital image.  My favorites used the Chevron campaign and the New York Post to communicate strong messages to the public.

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Introvert/Extrovert Self Portraits

I’m a fairly even split of introverted and extroverted.  As a person who values authenticity in myself and others, I’m often troubled by this dual nature.  Which one is “the real me”?

Unsurprisingly the answer is “both”. During adolescence it was especially difficult for me to embrace both parts of my personality as authentically “me”.  My introverted self would get impatient with (and sometimes jealous of) that happy-go-lucky, extroverted social butterfly that possessed my body and brain when people were around.  Alternatively, my extroverted self would become suspicious of and embarrassed by the pensive dreamer that could only thrive in intense solitude.  An important part of my maturing into adulthood was helping these two understand each other and play nice.  Sometimes as I’m transitioning from one mode into another, they give each other a little wink and a nod, and I smile. 🙂

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Un-seeing/Un-thinking

Here’s the thing about photo manipulation: I cannot un-see what I’ve seen.

Though I may train myself to spot fakes (The Deceptive World of Photo Retouching) and become wary of ads claiming to portray authentic, natural beauty (Were the Dove Ads Retouched?), I will never be able to remove those images from my mind.  While I may tell myself that heavily photoshopped men and women are not real, it is a much greater step to believe they are not ideal.

I found the use of photo manipulation in Benneton Unhate Campaign effective, yet disturbing.  I had a difficult time looking at these images.  Instead of putting me at ease and causing me to think positively or humorously about the relationships between the kissing subjects, my discomfort about their relationships skyrocketed.  I became acutely aware of the animosity between them and maybe even felt a little violated for them.  I do not necessarily agree with the intentions of the campaign, and this may have contributed to my uneasiness about the images.

It is exciting to see artists like the ones in the “Reality Bytes” article use photo manipulation in sophisticated ways.  I believe this field of work is in its infancy and will gain great popularity.  I especially enjoyed Gutschow’s surreal lanscapes which had a greater impact on me than I expected them to and Lux’s subtle, haunting portraits.

Photo manipulation plays a significant role in our interpretation of politics and perception of history.  Because it is difficult to un-think the thoughts implied by a photograph, even an obviously doctored one, visual culture will always present itself as a battleground with territory worth claiming.

Images are especially powerful because we cannot un-see what we’ve seen, and we cannot un-think what we’ve thought.  While we can analyze and criticize the message an image has sent us, we cannot erase our exposure to that message.