I can remember the old library in Ithaca. It was a great place to hang out, especially in the oversized book section where I could page through endless picture books in search of inspiration. Library Place is now a construction site for a downtown senior living center, and I didn’t imagine there would be anything inspiring, that I’d feel like photographing—until I stumbled upon a wrought iron beam that had been corroding, left exposed to the air and water. Intrigued by the pattern and colors, all I had to do in Photoshop was burn out a rising sun. An image of metal treads got photo-shopped into a frame.
On Sunday mornings when I was a kid, my father would take my sister and me out flying in his small airplane. Gazing out the window, over the noise of the airplane engine I would sing Susie Little Susie, an old folksong about a poor girl and barefooted geese that couldn’t afford to buy new shoes. All the while I picked out tiny houses or teeny-tiny individuals down below us. “God bless the people who live there,” I’d say, from up above the world. I felt very privileged and close to God up there. And, though I hadn’t experienced the loss of anything greater than a goldfish or two back then, I knew that everyone needed someone praying for them, needed someone watching over them. Feeling fairly secure, I sent out love and blessings to strangers.
These days, I pick out bits and pieces of my photographed images to create small worlds in Photoshop. Maybe it’s the calm or maybe it’s elation—something about what goes on in my head when I’m photo-shopping reminds me of flying over the world in the back of my father’s plane. For this fabricated landscape, I pumped up the blue color of a slate slab so I could make it into a river or a bay. I paired it with a mossy patch of ground I found in a Maine woods this summer, to create a fake aerial landscape.
As a recent graduate of David Kessler’s Grief Educator Program, I am viewing grief differently now: I see grief as the pain of having loved, and view the pain of loss as a catalyst for purposeful action. Harrowing wounds have become my cherished scars. And the life I once saw as ruined due to loss is now a full life that honors my beloved ones who died.
One also needs to be flexible in the ways of viewing things when creating fabricated landscapes. I flipped last week’s cement “sky” upside down to turn it into this week’s land. Then, in Photoshop, I changed last week’s red slate hill into this week’s teal blue sky. Or—if you can imagine moving the horizon line upwards off the picture—this week’s landscape becomes an aerial view over the shore of a calm bay.
Every night, walking the dog in the driveway, I look to the sky and sing or pray or talk to my daughter who died. To me, the night sky is not a vast void. It is peppered with stars or lumbering clouds, falling snow, raindrops, and sometimes fireflies. It can carry fog or whipping winds. It can reverberate in frog song or roar with thunder. Though I look up and howl into the heavens, I know that is not where I will find my beloved ghosts.
One day in August, shortly after the rains stopped, I photographed a red slate walkway so that the mortar between the slabs of slate might be envisioned as the night sky.
How was I going to photograph endless piles of books for two whole hours, I wondered. My photography class was visiting the building that houses The Friends of the Library Book Sale, and just seeing all the shelves and boxes crammed from floor to ceiling with books was activating some of my darkest deep-hidden emotional responses.
For months I’d been de-cluttering my house. Clothing, kitchenware, tchotchkes, outdated electronics… old books, many of which were among the accumulations at The Friends of the Library. My home had felt lighter and I’d felt less depressed after unloading so much of my stuff. But here, in this jam-packed place, I felt my breath trapped in my chest. It was like I could sense the countless agitated souls of all the homeless books taking flight. And I had this unshakeable need to escape.
It took several days to gather up the courage to view the photos I’d taken. Finally, dropping them into Photoshop, I rotated an image of shelved books ninety degrees and extended the concrete floor to concoct an unsettling gray sky. Then, de-saturating the color on the trim of an old oak bookcase, I crafted a frame for my fabricated landscape of the week.
“You’re gonna have a great new life, Meena-Mouse,” I told the quivering mouse in the Hav-a-Heart trap as we approached a nice shady spot in the grass by a stream. “You take care of yourself little-one. There’s a food store right over there and if you follow the stream you’ll come to houses nearby.” I held the cage up to examine Meena one last time.
In addition to the Trader Joe’s Organic peanut butter I’d used to lure the poor creature into the trap, I’d fed it oats, bits of chocolate, and blueberries cut in half. I’d stuffed pieces of tissue through the top of the trap so it could have a soft bed. And first thing in the morning I’d driven down off my hill with the mouse in the trap, carefully secured in the passenger seat, so it wouldn’t be caged up any longer than necessary.
The last few mice I’d let loose had frantically clung to the trap with their tiny feet. That had freaked me. I’d had to clunk the trap on the ground several times to get the mouse to drop out, to go free. This time I was prepared for that. But what I wasn’t prepared for was the mouse immediately springing out with a fast flying leap—right into the water.
For this week’s fabricated landscape, I flipped a photo of trees reflected at the edge of my pond. The frame was pieced together in Photoshop from a warm scarf.