Small things matter

Old Main

Here is a photograph I made some time ago. I liked it for a number of reasons. It was iconic. It was probably unique, because those foreground trees are gone now. I liked the clouds, and I liked the black and white  treatment of the Bronica medium format negative. But over time I became less happy with it.

It is still iconic, but has a different meaning to me in its iconicism. And that meaning is because of its name and all that goes with it.

I have observed and listened over the past few years, and considered the points on the many sides. The idea that a name or other symbol can be significant to people is very much at the heart of recent events, in Charlottesville for example. Symbols do matter, because they engage us at an emotional as well as rational level.

Another symbol on campus is the area found by researchers where slaves were buried. An historical marker at the entrance to Woodland Cemetery on the campus says “African Americans enslaved at Fort Hill were buried along the hillside below the Calhoun family plot in graves marked only by field stones.” From 1890 to 1915, deceased convict laborers, most of whom were African American, were buried here as well. My cemetery plot, on a steep slope and suited only for cremains, lies between these two burial areas. Calhouns on the up-hill side, slaves and convicts down the slope.

This is new to many of us who worked or studied at Clemson. Associate Professor Rhondda Thomas, of the Clemson Department of English, has been engaged in some fascinating research on our cultural history, going back to when it was all Cherokee land. It was through her research that we learned these new aspects of our history, and I commend her to you. There is much more to this than a slave and convict burial ground.

But that burial ground is my personal connection to Clemson’s history and, by association, that of Ben Tillman, one of Clemson’s founders who was also a politician and avowed racist. So when I began to consider making some new prints, I balked at putting Tillman’s name on them. So they are going into the gallery named Old Main, the name of the building until 1946. While there is some sentiment on campus to change the name, that would need to be approved by a legislative super-majority, due to an interesting law passed when people began getting serious about taking the Confederate battle flag off the state house.

All this is leading up to my recognition that my late wife’s cremains are interred between Calhouns and slave families, and mine will be, too. It is not just that I think about this when I go near the cemetery. I think about it when race comes up in conversation or social demonstration. I don’t like what is going on in so many ways, but I feel helpless to change it. But I want to do something, even if it is something small.

If you like this photograph, you can buy a copy of it, but if you want the official name of the building on it, you will have to write it yourself. I am calling this photograph “Old Main”. It’s a small thing, but it matters to me.

Remembering 75 Years Later

Seventy five years ago, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, authorizing the internment and resettlement of over 100,000 Japanese -Americans to internment camps in remote locations in the western states. It was war time, and these people were suspected, based primarily on ethnicity, of collaborating with the enemy. The debate, process of resettlement, reaction, and apology by President Ronald Reagan are well documented. My aim here is to comment on photography.

Oakland, California. Kimiko Kitagaki, young evacuee guarding the family baggage prior to departure by bus in one half hour to Tanforan Assembly center. Her father was, until evacuation, in the cleaning and dyeing business.

Dorothea Lange and other photographers were commissioned by the War Relocation Authority (WRA) to document the resettlement process. (You can find more details of the resettlement and her photography here and here. Anchor Editions still has some of these prints available (as of this date; many are sold out).

The photographers  of the Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information were employed by the US government to make photographs that could be used to explain to the American public (and to Congress) what its programs were trying to do. While not all well known, these were accomplished photographers who made some outstanding works. Some of them, such as Lange’s ‘Migrant Mother’, were iconic views of the Great Depression.

The photograph above is the one I chose to purchase, not just for its overall quality but for its emotional content. I can almost feel her tiredness, and the background of family luggage tells its own story of relocation. I find this photograph at least as emotive as ‘Migrant Mother’. Here, Lange found a decisive moment, with this eyes-closed expression. In ‘Migrant Mother’, the lined face has its story of toil; young Kimiko projects through her expression, posture, clothing and surroundings, in a much more complex composition. For those photographic rule breakers viewing this, I note that this work is almost square, slightly taller than wide, with the subject centered. Still a great photograph.

While this blog is primarily intended as a commentary on photography, I cannot help noting a few facts, of the ordinary kind.  Seventy five years ago a US President signed an executive order leading to the forced resettlement of over 100,000 people selected for their ethnicity, many of them US citizens and many of them eventual war heroes. Forty six years later President Ronald Reagan signed an Act of Congress authorizing payment of redress to those interned. In the following administration, President George H. W. Bush presided over the formal apology and distribution of funds to over 80,000 survivors. Year before last one of those survivors starred in a Broadway play whose subject was the order and internment. And all this happened because politicians listened to fear without reason.

If there had been more photographs published as this event unfolded, it might have had a different outcome.


Fate Intervenes

Well, here I am a day past my target for a blog post, and it is not only late, but it is not a POTW!  Picture of the Week was my intent, and Monday was my goal, but fate intervened.  In a big way, and in the form of  an errant SUV which impaled the west side of the Art Gallery on Pendleton Square with its nose at about 2:00am last Tuesday.  Doing enough damage to close the gallery and spur its members to remove their art.

One story is about the event, who did what, how bad it was/is.  But the story I want to tell is about the people.  First, our president, Pam, informed the members of the co-op of what happened and its near-term impact.  The next morning, the members turned out to get their art out of harm’s way, and did it in style.  One brought in donuts and coffee, another empty boxes, and all brought a cheerfulness that belied the fact that we were temporarily out of business.  We de-hung that gallery in about four hours, smiling and laughing as we did it.

Then we let our customers know of the event and its impact.  One of the people who learned of our misfortune that day was Tommye Hurst, direct of The Arts Center of Clemson.  Her reaction was to ask, do you want to display some art in a new show about to open?  Well, of course we did.  A few days passed, plans were made and discussed, and details developed for what to do next.

Next turned out to be our co-op given the opportunity to configure the Arts Center exhibit room for Interconnections: 2017, a show that needed to be ready to open Thursday.  Details developed over the weekend, and yesterday we began to configure the Arts Center’s exhibit gallery — choosing cornerstone works and placing portable walls to set the show stylistically, then following up to fill in with smaller 2D things, jewelry and pottery.  Along the way, we got word to our glass artist and our wood turner.  The result is everyone in our co-op is now represented in a show we had not expected to be part of, and the room is almost finished.



So, here I am, doing something other than what I planned ten days ago.  I am sitting in my studio, Muddy Waters playing in the background, telling you about it.  And the primary ‘it’ is that artists are wonderful people.  Further, when you combine artists with friendship and add unexpected stress, something wonderful happens.  Yes, I am doing something I did not expect to do.  But I got it done sooner that I thought I might, and the overall effect is better than we could have hoped.

We will be ready to open at 5:30pm January19 at 212 Butler Street, Clemson, SC, home of The Arts Center.  To the Arts Center staff, thank you very much.  And to my fellow artists in the Pendleton Square Artist Cooperative, thank you, too.  You make stress bearable, and put the fun in adversity.

(and Muddy sings ‘Got my mojo workin…’)


Fresh start!

Welcome to my photography world. This incarnation of my web presence replaces an old and dated site that became difficult to maintain and to an extent irrelevant to what I am doing. In an unusual piece of luck, a hosting upgrade blew away the old site; fortunately I had a backup of the pieces I wanted to keep. So, all my spare time this weekend has gone into what you see here. I realize you don’t notice that if you had not visited my site before, and maybe even if you had.
What is here now is what I want to be here, at least for the present. Coupled with two pages of galleries (one presently being exhibited and four older collections) will be blog posts appearing roughly on a weekly basis. Initially, these will be picture-of-the-week, either my work or someone else’s that I want to use as a starting point for commentary. So, after this long weekend, don’t expect one tomorrow! I am aiming at January 16 for my second post. In the interim, I will be fine-tuning this place, hoping to make it attractive to potential visitors.
In a nod to the reality of social communication, these posts will route themselves through my Facebook page. We shall see how that works out. If you are curious, just click on the Facebook entry, or navigate the old-fashioned way to my site