I hate saying goodbye. Saying, “See you again soon” feels much easier, even if I know I won’t be back—or see whoever or whatever— ever again. So when I leave, I go quietly, often without saying anything, and without leaving a trace. Sometimes my exit is all about escaping, and sometimes I’m simply moving on to some other adventure. No looking back. No regrets, usually. Just off, alone, into the sunset.
This juxtaposition of rocks at the Finger Lakes Stone Company reminded me of that. At the quarry there were slabs of stone and huge hunks of concrete wherever I looked, and I photographed dozens of lonely landscapes. The only thing I did in Photoshop for this fabricated landscape was piece together a frame from the lengths of concrete-strengthening rebar that I found laying about.
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Long ago my mother used to scold me, “Don’t play with your food.” But I’d keep making hills and valleys in my mashed potatoes anyway. So I guess building fake landscapes is part of my history. And this time of the year, when there’s so much going on, escaping into play-mode is one way I cope with Seasonal Affective Disorder.
At Grisamore Farms in Locke, NY, there were bins of every kind of squash. Smooth, marled, rough and knobbly. A pebbly squash lay against a mottled one, reminding me of a fertile field under a cloudy sky.
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My kids used to accuse me of not knowing how to play, not being silly enough. And it’s true. Silliness never came naturally to me. But now, photo-shopping allows me to stretch the truth and lie. To make things up. To play. Even when I’m depressed.
The bellies were plump and sagging on all the animals at the farm where I was doing a class photo-shoot. Back home, by the time I dropped my images into Photoshop, I couldn’t remember exactly whose belly I’d shot, a sheep’s or a goat’s or a horse’s. No matter. For my fabricated landscape of the week, I was turning whoever’s hairy belly it was into a heavenly body. I placed it over the upended, very somber trunk of a tree that, in my mind, resembled a flowing river. This is about as silly as I get.
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Walking out from a construction site, I passed by something slick, tarlike and greasy, on the ground. I’d had a hard time finding interesting things to photograph at the site but suddenly I was intrigued. The reflection of lamplight and the oozy-goozy-ness of whatever it was on the floor immediately reminded me of a night sky. In Photoshop, I paired it with the dry rusted wrought iron beam I’d discovered in the same building. I burned a highlight in the image of the rusty iron to reflect the “moonlight” of the tarry sky. The darkness of the place in the picture would normally depress me but creating these fabricated landscapes allows me to disappear into them at times and draw up enough light to feel comfortable.
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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.
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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.
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