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.
“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.
Send me some sun. Need more sunlight now, please. Trying not to complain but it’s been pretty dim around here lately. It’s driven me to light candles, sit for hours before a sunlamp, and beg my best friend to build campfires. Depressed. Desperate. Seasonal Affective Disorder. Already. It’s only November. Winter hasn’t even started yet and I’m missing the sun.
On a class trip to Cornell University’s Lake Source Cooling Plant, lying flat on my back as if on a beach, I stared at the ceiling and focused on the disc-like thing that stood out amid the chaotic collection of apparatus up there. Then, in Photoshop, I tried to turn the thing into a warm, welcoming heavenly body. But there’s nothing quite like our solar system’s beautiful star.
At Barton Valley Farm in Freeville, New York, the horses were warm and welcoming. They seemed delighted about the small group of photography students jockeying around them in the muddy pasture to get the best shots. Having the smallest camera in the group, I wondered if any of the other photographers were experiencing the same problem I was as the horses kept smushing their snouts into my lens. At one point while I was clicking away to get a close-up of one horse’s nose, two other horses closed in behind me sniffing and gently puffing, maybe even nibbling a bit, at my hair. In the middle of the three, it felt like I was being hugged. Great medicine for healing from loss and grief.
The day after I got my COVID booster I could barely move. There was no way I would be able to do anything useful. Feeling old and sore and exhausted, I hung about the house hoping no one would find me in my embarrassingly lifeless state.
At Cornell’s Hydroplant, days before, I’d photographed this old fan. It was standing still in the middle of the churning, pulsing, loud busy-ness of the place. Everything around it seemed shiny and polished. But dust and debris clogged the fan’s blades; it looked like it had been sitting there useless for decades, like it would never be able to function again. The ancient thing wasn’t performing, wasn’t contributing. It wasn’t even particularly beautiful. Why was it there?
Lovingly, in Photoshop, I turned it into a huge sun taking up all the sky.