After being in South Dakota with all its open, open space and shooting a lot, I simply can't bring myself to lift my camera and make any new photographs now that I am back in New Jersey. The images I shot recently of the moon are still in the camera. Even the the idea of a quick trip across the bridge to Manhattan, a normal haunt for me, has me uninspired and unmoving.
Has not having the desire to make photographs happened to anyone? And if so, is there a cure? I post that on Facebook and Gail from Vegas, a friend I have never met, but have shared art with for 2 years online, tells me that there's something here I need to learn. Okay, but what?
I wait all day for God or something to show up and explain. I'm big on explanation. Nothing happens that I can see but I know there is a story here. Is God a story? Is South Dakota a story? Or perhaps the man in Winner, the one who cut through the alley, is a story. I can't seem to forget him.
What felled you is important, I think as I watch him cut through that alley. The hard sun. The hard ground. The long shadows, the bleached white walls, and the absolute certainty that he will not live long follows him like a dog at his heels.
|What Felled You Is Important. Winner, South Dakota, July 2010|
The day I see him. The day I point my camera and really see him, Rob and Dev and I are traveling west and we stop late-day at a gas station in Winner, South Dakota: 98 degrees, full sun, and long shadows. There's a hardness here that wealth and privilege back home in the East seems to camouflage with its fancy cars and gourmet shops and busy busy busy. Like the Native American man who stops in at the Gus Stop II where we are gassing up, the one I see through the lens of my camera and shoot. He walks into the shop through to the 10' x 12' room with slot machines hanging on the walls. Goes in for a quick one and comes out empty handed. Even the ground is hard, I think, kicking a stone as I watch him slip out and up the alley.
"All photographs are memento mori," writes Susan Sontag. "To take a photograph is to participate in another person's (or thing's) mortality, vulnerability, mutability" (1977,p.15). What responsibility runs alongside participation, I wonder.
|Calvary. South Dakota, July 2010.|
"I'm going to call it grasshopper genocide," Rob says aloud, thinking about a possible book as we drive out of town back to a route that winds through Indian reservations. The grasshoppers are no longer flying as they had been back by the Missouri River. Now they are dying and dead. Literally thousands of them on the road. Not moving. On the hill out of Winner, a man stands alone, bottle in hand. There alongside, three crosses. Calvary again. I raise my camera and shoot. The noise of the shutter opening and closing is loud. We are nearing the Badlands.
|Shadow and Light. Badlands, South Dakota. July 2010.|
I hear that the Badlands look like some type of moonscape and have not dulled my sight by trying to see images before going. When I get there, I don't think, as it is simply so dramatic. Later, I try to categorize it and think: No not a moonscape. It's the absence that is most profound, that I want to capture. All that was there that is now gone: the volcanic rock, the sea, the wind, the ghosts.
Later the car breaks down, we get a jump, and just make it to Rapid City before it dies a certain death, where Amber, the waitress at the Holiday Inn, the one who easily asks me for help spelling Pinot Grigio so she can write it just right on her pad, tell us, "Someday, I want to leave South Dakota. You know, go somewhere else and maybe find a job and stuff."
|Rising. South Dakota. July 2010.|