It was not one of my better days. The sun was cruel and cold in a colorless sky on the morning a container of blueberries fell and burst all over the front seat of my car. I continued on with my errands, getting caught at every traffic light on the way downtown, picking up mashed berries each time I stopped for a red light. Finally at the county offices, I found a good parking spot but the pay station kept rejecting my credit card and I had no coins on me. So I dashed in to quickly to pick up the papers I needed. And, as I’d feared, my car was ticketed by the time I got back out.
Life can be harsh. Some days it’s difficult to leave the safety and comfort and predictability of home. My photography shoots don’t always end up in cozy lit studios, green valleys with pretty horses, or intriguing mountains of material wastes. At Cornell’s Hydroplant and Lake Source Cooling Plant there were ridged metal plates, grates and grinders, and all sorts of machinery with moving parts. Signs warned, “Keep Back,” and I did. And later, in Photoshop, I collaged several steely sharp-looking parts to create a hard merciless sun over a landscape of mashing metal.
Holiday wishes: This year my heart goes out to the people who aren’t where they wish they could be, or who aren’t with the loved ones they yearn to be with. The people for whom someone or something is missing. I’m wishing you sweet comfort wherever and however you are. May the sad circumstances you find yourself in for the holidays yield a gentle unexpected peace.
At Cornell University’s Lake Source Cooling Plant, there were waves of rolled mesh supported by laths of wood and metal. I didn’t know what they did or were for but they quietly reflected the light, and I could imagine tiny creatures walking the smooth length of them. But where was the water, I wondered? And how would all this cool it? Cornell’s water and the lake water never mix. In Photoshop, for a black sun over the mesh-screened landscape, I imported the image of a nearby completely dry flanged pipe that conducted who-knows-which water who-knows-where. The lake seemed impossibly far away.
There was a blue tarp behind the glittering mound of metal scraps at Upstate Shredding in Owego—a perfect sky for a jeweled mountain. The only thing needed to complete my fabricated landscape was a sun or a moon. In Photoshop, I cut-and-pasted the image of a silvery ring I’d found lying in the muddy ground between the piles of scrap.
Now, looking over my photos of scrapyard rubble, what I see is ruin, like the aftermath of the recent tornadoes. What were once my mountains of treasure are now landscapes of loss and devastation. As I sort through my photos, on the news I see people picking through piles of debris. And with the holidays coming up, I’m thinking of those who lost homes and all their treasures. Who lost loved ones. And I’m wishing them peace and comfort. And plenty more treasure to fill up their emptiness in the days to come.
“You look radiant,” an old friend told me just as I was thinking about how horribly ancient and spent she, herself, looked. How she looked didn’t really matter though. After years of not seeing her, it was clear she was still an inspiration to me.
They say you attract what you radiate. I’ve always appreciated people who exude warmth and positivity. And I’ve always wished I could have an uplifting effect on those around me. But, of all the things one could radiate—warmth, positive energy, joy and happiness, peace, light, …love—I’m pretty sure I suck up or drain more than I radiate.
In Photoshop, after a photo shoot at Cornell’s Hydroplant, I warped the image of a well-used mop into a furrowed field, and positioned a pile of old hose over it to be some sort of heavenly body, perhaps an alien planet. Something other than a sun, since it wasn’t reflecting or radiating anything.
There were gigantic mountains of various sorted materials at the scrapyard. And one was gleaming. The photography students were being guided through the eerie landscape of Upstate Shredding in Owego, New York, a scene one might easily view as depressing, especially on a damp sunless day. The junkyard was filled with huge mounds of smashed cars, old abandoned appliances, and all the broken used-up detritus of modern human life. So I was drawn to whatever light I could find. As we approached the base of the glittering mountain, I noticed the ground was littered with softly shimmering metals, the remains of cutouts from the tops and bottoms of tin cans. Gold and silver riddled the muddy ground.
It reminded me of the time, as a kid, I discovered lots of quarters dropped in the street. It also brought to mind the line, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” For me, in the midst of all the waste, it was like finding a veritable treasure. I photographed the heck out of it. We all did.
Later, when I surveyed the images I’d shot, the mountain looked like a dark but gaudy pile of garbage under a dull sky. In Photoshop, I turned a picture of the tin-riddled mud upside down, inverted it into a negative, and pumped up the highlights to bring forth a moon.
The girl told me, “Jesus loves you.” She was always telling me this. Or texting me. She said this to others as well and it sometimes made them uncomfortable. But to me, even though I’d never had anything to do with Jesus, it was like music to my ears.
“I’m pretty sure Jesus loves you too,” I texted back to the girl, not knowing how to respond but imagining this was something she’d like to hear from someone else.
How could I not feel warmed by a message of love after all the negative, demeaning, hateful remarks too often being conveyed these days, especially by leaders, government officials, celebrities, and others who get widely heard? Just because someone or something is different from what one is familiar with, people shouldn’t be degrading in their communications.
Every weekend this past summer there was sweet music coming from next door. “Nyckelharpa,” the musicians called the strange instrument I had never seen before. And although I couldn’t dance to the unfamiliar rhythms of the Balkan music they played, the elaborate haunting tunes always filled me with joy.