I am grateful for photography and the lesson of seeing differently, of transcendent awareness, more significant presence, of looking up and around to find wonder and joy.
May your days be merry and bright, and may all your Christmases be white.
I remember well the first day of the workshop, Anne’s first pieces, and her words, the desire to illustrate them, lyrically spoken from her place at the end of the semi-circle, ambitious writing journal in her lap. I recall Chris’ pieces that reflected transcendent experiences and his gift for capturing the soul of a person. I think of Arnie and Virginia’s gardens and the beauty that enfolds there daily and their love for each other. The people in that room contributed significantly to my growth as a photographer and my idea of who I am in this, my photographic life.
As you recount your professional glories, my pulse begins to race, and the ease that took me from Bradford to Franklin slips away as recollections of phone calls started while making dinner that lasts well after dessert. This routine I know. Correction knew. And when you share the sense of accomplishment that comes from enjoying the simple things in life, the relief to both of us is palpable. When I ask you what makes you feel accomplished now in this life of earned pause after years of relentless rigor, I can't help but smile. Painting of your front porch chairs, building your potting shed and planting your tomatoes pale in pride against, of all the things, stringing your clothesline.
I had a catalog comprised of digital images. I had not made a print. I had not smelled it as it came off the printer. I had not witnessed the depth and richness of the inks as they seeped into the paper. I had not touched it. Nothing haptic. Nothing tactile. That first print and the experience resounds deeply still and affected how I consider photography. Photography had been an abstraction - this was something concrete.
I have traveled far enough to reach the quiet street beyond the town, the restaurants, and nightlife. It is dark here, a blackness that hangs over me like the chill of the cape on this, my last night in this place I have come to love. As I round the corner I see the reflection of the porch light in the Volkswagen abyss, and I think of my first car, same year and model, only sky blue like the color of the afternoon in this part of the world, and the expansion and freedom it gave me, and I smile at the memory.
The aroma of pad thai and the sweet velvet smell of curries fill the darkened room. Only the smallest slivers of light from the setting sun slip between the latticed gridwork of the window and as I turn to catch the remnants of the day I see the family gathered in the small patio collaged in light.
I had said the trip up was harder on my lungs, struggling to adjust to the altitude, the pack, the ten or so extra pounds that I disparagingly refer to as the Turpin Ten, and the trip down was harder on my body, and my knees ached from the constant constraint. Before me, I could see the serpentine trail of switchbacks, first right to left and then the reverse until they disappeared somewhere in the distance farther down the mountain. The sun was three hours past crossing the meridian, three hours past high noon, what they used to call the ninth hour, 3 p.m., the hour of Mercy. The shadows, where there were shadows, were beginning to lengthen. Gone was the shade of the early morning eastern path where we could hide from the sun behind sandstone cliffs as we ascended the 2100 feet to the lookout. On our return, the unrelenting sun, still not far enough across the sky, had not paled in its intensity, the clear cloudless blue announcing there would be no unexpected shower today, no break from the heat that emanated from the smooth rock surrounding us.
Conversely, there would be no flash flood waters rushing past us like the pounding torrents we experienced yesterday as we made our way to this valley. I pull the waist belt on my pack tighter, asking my hips to bear more of the burden than my shoulders, weary of the load at this late hour, and while I have pulled long and often on the water bladder, the pack still seems as heavy as when I enthusiastically strapped it on at dawn. It is, mercifully, time for rest, for sitting in the shade of a tree, away from the radiating heat of the merciless sun.
Exiting the apex of the switchback, I zig along the straightaway before the next turn, where I zag, taking in the sculptural stone walls that surround me. Midway, down on the right, a tree clings to the side of the mountain, and a breeze is blowing up through the canyon, the leaves fluttering invitingly. The shade from the tree crosses the path on the eastern side, and there are just enough branches for me to hang my two cameras, my walking stick and my hat. Beneath it, just off the path, is a flat rock. It begs my pack to lean against it in a manner that creates the perfect backrest. The very lowest accessible branches are like a footstool, elevated just enough to provide comfort to my tired and swollen feet.
Purposefully, I approach and begin the arduous process of unraveling pole, camera, and pack straps, hanging them safely in plain view, away from the trail action and safe from oncoming disturbances like the coterie of officemates, who can't help but take up space, to quietly reveal the mundane details of their office step competitions. Slowly, I lower myself in the loamy soil and lean back against my pack, marveling at the near perfection of it all. It is then that I realize that placing the hat over my face would shield me from the sun's rays that flicker between the leaves that rustle on this gentle slope. It is the one missing ingredient, and so I pull it from its branch on the tree and settle back into place. My weary bones seem to exhale synchronously with the breath that leaves my lungs, and my heavy lids slowly slide shut. I drift from this spot in the shade, under the tree, into contentedness, happy in the company of friends, satisfied by the toil of a good day's climb, rewarded by the majestic beauty and wonder the universe has delivered on this day and comforted by the peace of the valley. Instants become seconds that become minutes, and before too long, reality sets in, and I acknowledge that without care, I could lose the last of the afternoon sun that illuminates the path and my way home, and I am inspired to rise and dress for the final push to the valley floor.
That's when I see it. Close to the rock, where my pack rests, lies a penny in the dusty sandstone soil of the path, face up. This cent, this copper currency, monetarily insignificant, an unlikely sight on this dusty trail. I never fail to pick up a penny if I happen to see one. My mother tucked lucky pennies like she did Kleenex, in lunchboxes and pockets, to be found later like armor safeguarding me against the unimaginable. The gleaming copper coin conjuring memories of penny loafers and days in that small southern women's college where ponytails, polo shirts, and add-a-bead necklaces were the uniform of choice. Boys in pink colored oxford cloth shirts and khaki pants tailored to the perfect length, wearing belts decorated with frogs and turtles, skipped classes and shuffled to and from parties where they served grain alcohol punch. A penny was first in what became a collection of lucky talismans collected from travels and friends through the years, which now resides in a small linen bag that is never far from me. These amulets imbued with belief, inanimate and influential, of protection, fortune, and safe passage on this human journey.
Before slipping it into the zippered compartment of my hiking shorts, I look for the year of its minting. Two thousand. Y2k. The new millennium. The turn of the century, and the year I moved west to California, a move of providence and luck that set in motion all the future eventualities that made me the woman I am in this place that I love, made my life.
Slowly, I descend the treacherous zigzags of the steep terrain, step after step, navigating the sharp turns and loose gravel of the path. I have only recently discovered that switchbacks are indigenous to the west, deeply rooted in the mountains and valleys of this part of the world. The switchback is an ascent of pace, patterning as it does the steep inclines of the titanic west, so different from the east, where the horizontal hand over hand climes affect the discipline and efficiency of my Puritan ancestors. This ethic, this frugality, reverberated deeply within me, rewarding speed and destination over the journey. I no longer feel this way; my beloved California broke me of this type of productivity. Like I said, Providence and luck.
Switchbacks have taught me much about conquering the peaks and hollows of my own life. I prefer steady steps at a comfortable pace with companions of similar sensibility, taking frequent breaks along the way when the path is straightforward and shaded, reveling in the natural beauty borne of some more magnificent design. I am meant to wander these canyons and narrows and relish the majestic grandeur of each moment along the trail, rather than merely see it as a means to an end.
Today is the culmination of a year of adventure, reflection, joy and I am immensely grateful for it and all the ones that have come before. As part of the celebration, another dear friend, who has been a North Star these last years, sent me this piece written by David Whyte. in the last paragraph he beautifully articulates how I have come to think of friendship, and of the people whose images are included below.
The first photo of me in the gallery was taken by Sam Abell, a friend, an inspiration, and one of the photographic standards to which I aspire. It is a photo of me taken this year, as I am today. The second photo is how I was then, a long way back before I made my life. It was Patrick that noticed I was holding a brownie camera in the photo. Perhaps photography was always a calling but one I found later in life. With that gift of that first Olympus Camera 8 years ago, came a greater peace with the universe and my place within it. I am so thankful photography found me, and I it, by way of my witness in life, Chuck.
I have no anxiety about this threshold birthday for I grew more as a human in my 50's than any of the decades preceding it, fully expect to do the same in the next one and I am excited to experience what that is going to be. Thank you to all who have made this journey such a blessed and spectacular one.
Friendship is a mirror to presence and a testament to forgiveness. Friendship not only helps us see ourselves through another’s eyes, but can be sustained over the years only with someone who has repeatedly forgiven us for our trespasses as we must find it in ourselves to forgive them in turn. A friend knows our difficulties and shadows and remains in sight, a companion to our vulnerabilities more than our triumphs, when we are under the strange illusion we do not need them. An undercurrent of real friendship is a blessing exactly because its elemental form is rediscovered again and again through understanding and mercy. All friendships of any length are based on a continued, mutual forgiveness. Without tolerance and mercy all friendships die…
Friendship is the great hidden transmuter of all relationship: it can transform a troubled marriage, make honorable a professional rivalry, make sense of heartbreak and unrequited love and become the newly discovered ground for a mature parent-child relationship.
The dynamic of friendship is almost always underestimated as a constant force in human life: a diminishing circle of friends is the first terrible diagnostic of a life in deep trouble: of overwork, of too much emphasis on a professional identity of forgetting who will be there when our armored personalities run into the inevitable natural disasters and vulnerabilities found in even the most average existence…
Friendship transcends disappearance: an enduring friendship goes on after death, the exchange only transmuted by absence, the relationship advancing and maturing in a silent internal conversational way even after one half of the bond has passed on.
But no matter the medicinal virtues of being a true friend or sustaining a long close relationship with another, the ultimate touchstone of friendship is not improvement, neither of the self nor of the other, the ultimate touchstone is witness, the privilege of having been seen by someone and the equal privilege of being granted the sight of the essence of another, to have walked with them and to have believed in them, and sometimes just to have accompanied them for however brief a span, on a journey impossible to accomplish alone.
Excerpt from a piece written for the Dallas Center of Photography
I now think about my photos differently. I appreciate my catalog - mind you, not every picture is a gem. They do, however, represent my chronology in growth and purpose with each photograph a memory of moments passed, lessons learned, emotions expressed. Through them, I honor the people who have crossed my photographic path and enlightened my life. I have spent nearly a decade learning from Peter Poulides of the Dallas Center for Photography, and I can no longer flippantly disregard the importance of this achievement and my long-standing relationship with the photographs he taught me to make.