Thursday, May 21, 2015


I have got so much that I desperately need to do but I am not in a photographing mood--I am in a writing mood and that is always dangerous.

I know people tire of me writing about Ralph Hattersley but Ralph played a very big roll in my development as a photographer. I never met Ralph. I only know of him through his writings and when I share those writings with other photographers they are generally unimpressed or at worse repulsed. It seems at times that Ralph wrote what he did just me. His writings may be the only topic where Janet and I strongly disagreed photographically; well that and the overexposed photograph at the CAM of the woman on the beach.

Ralph wrote things that I needed to hear. I took much from Ralph photographically but I took one thing from Ralph that I probably should not have taken. I say that only from the standpoint that my life might have been more comfortable had I not.

He convinced me that as a human being I, along with everyone else, was terribly flawed and that my photography was going to expose all those flaws and I wouldn’t even realize it. It was going to paste them all right out there where everyone could see them. (and it did) Remember, it was the sixties and we were much more introspective. I just never outgrew that time--I still have the shoulder length hair, the Nehru shirt and the love beads--they may be invisible but believe me, they are still there.

Of course, my first reaction was to give up photography. I almost did.

He said that publically admitting to my shortcomings was a gift I could make to humanity, and to myself. Besides that it would help me to become more authentic in my photography.

My admission would allow others to accept their shortcomings, to realize that we were all in this together and all so very much alike. I still am not entirely sure of that point but hoping it was true have always publically aired my laundry list of perversions, insecurities and out right screw-ups over the years. I am pretty comfortable with it by now. Just wish I had been as comfortable with it forty or fifty years ago.

What has that to do with photography? Probably not much. But it has allowed me to photograph crucifix with price tags, discarded underwear and even dead fish and tire squashed frogs as if they had some greater meaning in the scheme of things. It has allowed me to write photographic scenarios that I will probably never accomplish or even share with others.

When I was young I wandered through many, many vacant farmhouses--many in Oklahoma that probably date back to the Dustbowl. Back then it was possible to trespass with impunity and no one thought much about it. I love abandoned homes. I love envisioning life there and wondering why it is no longer. I would write stores in my head of what had gone on when families lived there—from the daily life, the sorrowing and the love making. I wanted to bring in a white painted kitchen table, some chairs, some white pottery dishes and a few other items along with some people willing to accept the role of a ‘farm family.’ But most importantly there had to be a red and white checked oil cloth on the table. If you do not know what an oil cloth was then you will probably miss the concept of the story. And gingham curtains, red and white of course, and they had to blow in the breeze from the open window.  In the bedroom an iron bedstead (again, knowledge of what a bedstead is integral to the story). Like in the kitchen there was an element that could not be substituted—coiled springs—the open kind, not the innerspring mattress kind. Coiled springs squeak when you make love proclaiming the deed throughout the entire structure so that the kids covered their heads with quilts (no electric blankets or duvets here).  And on the window lace curtains that had to blow caressingly over entwined bodies.

The scenario could be expanded exponentially: a pine coffin set out in the parlor, a pump organ with a young girl in white ruffled pinafore, oil lamps, morners in button down collars… Almost any previous memory of home or homes could be re-envisioned.

Joyce Kilmar, remember, ”I think that I shall never see a poem as lovely as a tree” wrote a poem that I like much better, in all due respect to trees. It was “The House With Nobody In It”.

"But a house that has done what a house should do, a house that has sheltered life,
That has put its loving wooden arms around a man and his wife,
A house that has echoed a baby's laugh and held up his stumbling feet,
Is the saddest sight, when it's left alone, that ever your eyes could meet.”

I never did the photographs. The logistics were insurmountable from getting permission to use the property, to collecting and moving in all the props, to getting someone willing to be the family. And each shot had to be done with all the props and people in place and then over laid with a shot with all the props removed. I think it would have been an interesting project but well beyond my means to carry off.

That doesn’t mean that I don’t still think of the project almost every time I see an abandoned farm house.

1 comment:

  1. If you look at a very small version of this photograph, or squint, there is a very distinct face in the background. But I guess you know that. I didn't see it the first time I looked at it.