The Other Reality

Cold Monsters

Posted in MFA, Studio Work by aryckman on October 5, 2008

I went out shooting this morning.  I set my phone to chime Reveille just before sunrise.  It didn’t have the desired effect of propelling me out of bed but I did eventually manage to drag myself, limb by sorry limb, out of the comfortable, warm bed into the cold morning air.  As you might have guessed I’m not quite over the waking up yet.

I’ve been anxious to shoot.  Up until August of this year I had been shooting almost obsessively around my grandfather’s house.  Each visit I’d come armed with a variety of cameras and film.  No particular objective in mind, just the desire to capture things before they change completely– change to the point where the environment of so many childhood memories disappears.  I suppose it would be accurate to say that I’m terrified of this change but I don’t think even that sums it up as well as I would like, it seems empty and trite compared to the urgency I feel.  I feel that as the evidence of my childhood, my happiness, disappears so will the instigators of those memories.  And without a physical object to trigger them the memories too will vanish.  Beyond the physical environment there is my grandfather, Tato, to consider.

My grandparents were the keepers of this property.  They created this place that has become so important to me.  My grandmother passed away several years ago so now it is up to Tato to keep things going.  He’s getting older of course. And as he is a practical person things continue to change.  The retro carport that used to stand next to the house has been replaced by a giant, green, vinyl storage shed.  His garden fence has undergone a serious evolution, from non-existent to a veritable barricade comprised of multiple layers of barbed-wire, electric and construction fencing.  As much as I hate these cosmetic changes because they challenge my mind to retain an accurate memory of what was as well as what is they seem unimportant when faced with the fact that eventually the person who affects them will be gone. His energy is waning and he can only attend to a limited number of the necessary chores needed to maintain the property.  Its hard to watch and I dread the day when that limited number of activities is reduced to none.

If I plan on visiting Tato sometimes I don’t call in advance.  I don’t want to call because if he doesn’t answer I’ll feel panicked.  What if something happened to him?  I know–can think rationally– that he probably couldn’t hear the phone, is sleeping in his chair or is outside. These are all very reasonable and likely things but that doesn’t do anything to ease the anxiety of wondering if there is something more to the unanswered call.  I’d rather just show up unannounced and see for myself that everything is fine.

So why did I stop photographing in August?  Was my obsessive quest to capture things before they disappear quenched?  No, I started grad school.  I’m sure that sounds negative, as if grad school has stopped me from fulfilling my need to connect with an important familial location and time in history.  Before I went to Vermont College of Fine Art for my first residency at the end of July I felt that my work had stagnated.  Even though I constantly photographed I felt that I continued to photograph the same subjects in the same way resulting in rolls of images with the same beehives and some poses from the same vantage points.  These images weren’t satisfying my need but I didn’t know how to change– my thoughts and actions always traveled along the same path.

Being forced into the intensive atmosphere of the residency with fresh perspectives on my work was very helpful, giving me ideas that hadn’t presented themselves to me before. Also, my artist-teacher gave me a writing assignment.  I was to write free-thought lists, one of which was about my grandfather’s property.  After writing the list, I wrote about the list and I came to the idea that I should work backwards– recording my memories and then photographing the place in response to them.  Recently when I’ve visited Tato I’ve come armed with a digital voice recorder.  I isolate myself in various locations and talk awkwardly into the microphone.  I should be transcribing them but I haven’t found the time to do that yet and I have several hours recorded which makes the task seem daunting.  I wonder how much of each recording is just awkward silence.

I decided to photograph this weekend because its fall.  Each season has its own special attributes and set of events that come with it at my grandfather’s.  In the fall his beloved fruit trees and grape vines that he works so hard to preserve are ready to be harvested and I didn’t want to miss them in all their glory.  Its important for me to record this aspect of life here.  This is why I roused myself this morning.  This is why I tromped across the soggy yard and allowed my white converse low tops to absorb the maximum amount of water possible, because I wanted to capture this.  I’ve been strongly considering using the digital medium in this new approach because I feel that it might give me more flexibility in the long run.  And this morning I used a borrowed Canon EOS 20D.  I was able to prevent myself from chimping–checking the preview screen after each and every shot– but I feel that I shoot differently with digital.  I took over 200 images but are any of them good?  I’m afraid to look.  I feel using the digital medium turns me into a second rate nature photographer, impressed with every detail of every plant.  Instead of focusing on the ideas I’m trying to capture I see a sun-illuminated birch leaf and rush over and attempt to turn it into a good photo.  Ah well.  What to do?

I’m disheartened.  I feel that this morning was not at all effective.  Not only do I not feel any more prepared to photograph after my brief recess from shooting, I also feel lost as if I’m not sure that I should even bother with this– that I’ll never be able to capture what I want.  That I will reduce this much loved homestead into heartless cold photographs that will never be printed or looked at or loved.  This fate seems worse than never making them in the first place.  It would be better to let my memories slowly fade leaving only the impression of the loving warmth associated with them than create cold monsters that will replace my memories altogether.  I can’t imagine that any of the images I made this morning will be worth reviewing let alone loving.  They’re just 0s and 1s anyways.

2 Responses

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  1. Lisa Ulik said, on October 5, 2008 at 8:05 pm

    hey Lexi-
    It’s great to read your blog…about your experiences working and searching for inspiration on this particular day at the homestead. I can totally relate. I have had similar experiences…trying hard…but not feeling like anything connects. Maybe coming back to these images at a later date will be a different experience for you. Sometimes it is difficult to know what meanings and patterns emerge from a body of work until they become a bit distant. I feel for the loss of your grandmother and grandfather…the impact. My family also has an old homestead which flows in and out of my memories; a place of real, physical history with old junked cars and mended trees, etc. The place itself has many imprints of those who lived there but I find the place itself is never as warm and delicious as the memories I have of it…the shared experiences there. I hope you will not remain disheartened. Your photographs show such an understanding of humanity! Trust your sensibilities and instincts; they will serve you well. I look forward to reading more about your journey.


  2. Dennis Hart said, on October 6, 2008 at 10:41 am


    I was moved by your words. Having just sold my grandparents house in August, I share some of your concerns. I will say this though, the childhood memories we all have are uniquely our own, permanent within our minds (with some exceptions), and impossible to recreate through any other means. Your challenge may be to work with individual elements relating to these memories to create feeling, and your disappointment may lie in not wanting to distinguish these 2 separate things. Keep at it, it’s a difficult but exciting endeavor.


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