(Click on images to enlarge.)
(Click on images to enlarge.)
(Click on image to enlarge.)
Memorial Day is traditionally the day when Americans head for the malls to take advantage of holiday store sales honor their war dead, but maybe it’s time to set aside another day of remembrance—one that honors the victims of lynchings, mass shootings, extrajudicial police killings, and lethal criminal violence. These are the people who weren’t able to enjoy the freedom and security that our soldiers fought for and died to protect. Their shamefully high numbers are a stain on our nation’s conscience.
(A note on the image):
The picture is a composite of photographs that depict: (1) the 1930 Marion, Indiana lynchings of Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith (Lawrence Beitler, photographer); (2) the 1882 lynching of an unidentified Afro-American man; (3) a memorial to the victims of the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting (photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images); (4) an American flag.
From the first link:
Southern trees bear a strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black body swinging in the Southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.
Pastoral scene of the gallant South,
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth,
Scent of magnolia sweet and fresh,
And the sudden smell of burning flesh!
Here is a fruit for the crows to pluck,
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,
For the sun to rot, for a tree to drop,
Here is a strange and bitter crop.”
Another version, sung by Nina Simone with disturbing images of other lynchings.
Just as the explosion of two neutron stars millions of years ago helps put everything in perspective, here is an under-reported news story, the tragic account of a month-old Syrian girl named Sahar Dofdaa and her family, that does it from another angle.
At a time when anti-immigrant voices are becoming more and more powerful in western capitals, and Americans are consumed by Trump’s daily assaults on truth, dignity, and our founding values, it becomes even more incumbent on us to open our hearts to the suffering and injustice in our world. In that spirit, here are two other recent news accounts, from Africa and Asia, that cry out against the danger of compassion fatigue among citizens.
This is what the Trump administration is doing in the name of border security: It arrested a 10-year old girl with cerebral palsy who has lived in this country illegally since she was three months of age. The detention of Rosamaria Hernandez occurred at a Texas hospital where she was taken for emergency gall bladder surgery. Border Patrol agents had stopped the ambulance she was riding in, followed it to the hospital, then waited outside her room until she recovered from surgery. Most patients usually go home at that point but Rosamaria wasn’t able to: Agents arrested her and brought her to an immigrant detention center 150 miles away from where her parents live. More here. The telephone number of the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in Laredo Texas is 956.723.2680 if you’d like to voice your concern.
It’s hard to write about a year in photography when You-know-who has been in the White House for over a week now. Every morning since November 9, I awake in fear at what new outrage he’s about to inflict on this planet through his tweets, executive orders, appointments, calls, and spokespersons. What new lie? Or fresh assault on reality/science/civil rights/or democratic norms and institutions? What new obscenity/flagrant hypocrisy/fraud/or bogus issue? Who will he insult/bully/or fire today?
Trump never disappoints and often outdoes himself. On Friday, he issued a statement in response to International Holocaust Remembrance Day saying:
It is impossible to fully fathom the depravity and horror inflicted on innocent people by Nazi terror . . .
In the name of the perished, I pledge to do everything in my power throughout my Presidency, and my life, to ensure that the forces of evil never again defeat the powers of good. Together, we will make love and tolerance prevalent throughout the world.
Soon afterwards, he slammed the door shut on refugees fleeing unspeakable horrors at home, even those in midflight who had all their papers in order.
The disconnect would be SAD! if it didn’t reveal such a shameless and breathtaking indifference to human suffering.
I fear for a country that is shredding its bedrock principles and values, succumbing instead to prejudice, fear, vitriol, and America Fist (intentional misspelling) domination; a nation in which the ubiquity and influence of fake news all but precludes constructive dialog and agreement on basic facts.
Is it possible to oppose this relentless onslaught without becoming exhausted and just giving up? Is that the master plan? I hope not. Few of us have the stomach for political office but new tools are available now that make it easier to continue fighting. This Washington Post article mentions several outlets for resistance if you’re so inclined. And here are almost 200 methods of non-violent protest that might also be inspiring.
All of which is to say that photography, instead of being front row center in my life, has become a place of refuge from this madness.
Two years ago, I wrote about the best photo workshop I ever attended, which was held at the Zen Mountain Monastery in Mt. Tremper, NY, and led by its founding abbot, John Daido Loori (d. 10/9/2009). It was called Seeing with the Unconditioned Eye and based largely on the approach to photography that Loori had learned from Minor White.
Hara, a Japanese term for the grounding center of energy located in the abdomen, isn’t normally associated with photography. At the workshop, though, it was a vital concept. Loori encouraged us to refrain from taking pictures until we were drawn to a particular subject through the hara. Not only that, but we were asked to wait until we had the subject’s permission before we pressed the shutter.
Permission from a pair of mushrooms or a rock? Not even close: If grades were given, I would have earned an F. In 2016, however, I noticed something subtle happening on occasion. I’d enter a room in my house and feel the palpable presence of light inviting me to get my camera and start taking photos. Or, as happened yesterday, an early morning routine would suddenly be interrupted by the urge to photograph. Sometimes, the initial subject works, but just as often, another image possibility calls out, and maybe a third, until I finally end up with what I hope is a keeper. Outside my apartment, a similar thing occurs: A certain scene or subject attracts my photographic eye, only to lead to another more fruitful opportunity in the immediate vicinity.
Normally, I think of photography as all my doing, all coming from me — capturing an image whose subject couldn’t care less whether it was photographed or not. But maybe the reverse is true, the world beckoning, calling attention to itself, seducing the easy mark. Maybe there’s some kind of exchange going on completely under the radar, a conversation without words or sound, a dance of atoms and energy — who knows? If this is what Loori was talking about, I guess I’m a slow learner. If it isn’t, well, at least it’s an expansive thing to think about.
In that same post from two years ago, I wrote about a growing wish to push myself as a photographer, and not rely on the “same old, same old.” Towards that end, I’ve turned to image “mashups” as a way of producing abstract or more densely textured work. For me, it’s a change of pace from real world imagery, an engagement with the imagination as well as conscious seeing. The process itself is somewhat mechanical and dull; the payoff that comes only at the end is entirely unpredictable. When it happens, it’s very satisfying, but when it doesn’t, several hours of labor end up as discarded pixels in the trash.
In 2017, I intend to start working in the margins more, seeking mystery and complexity in light and form, and breaking traditional rules whenever I can get away with it. And now that I have a borrowed camera with a shorter shutter lag — courtesy of sm — I may start photographing humans once again. If I can figure out how to hold a sign in the air and still take pictures, you’re likely to see some photos from anti-Trump demonstrations that are bound to continue throughout the year. Let’s hope they have some effect.