American nightmare / American dream
Before I left the US for Germany, I started work on a series of cliché verre c-prints of lace. I set them aside, not knowing what they were for. They were layered, intricate, feminine, and at times strangely bloody looking.
As I settled into my life in Germany, I started playing with the prints. I cut them up, collaging them together into abstract yet somewhat representational shapes. As I worked with them, one shape became prominent: that of a gun.
While living in the US, I had become inured to the daily reports of gun violence on the news. Now, with the privilege that comes with looking in from the outside, I became more and more horrified at how saturated with gun violence American culture is. This isn't to say that I hadn't noticed it while living there; I rallied after Oscar Grant's death in San Francisco and remember crying on a bus when reading as the reports of the Newtown massacre came in.
However, here, I stand as a representative of the United States, and our gun culture is one of the things I am asked about most regularly by people I meet. I regularly encounter people who are too afraid of our violent culture to visit. This is supported by the fact that multiple countries have now issued official warnings to tourists about our gun violence.
I open the news and every week I see reports of police shooting innocent people. The risk of getting shot by a toddler is greater than of being a victim of a terrorist attack. Mass shootings happen every week. Women are routinely gunned down by their partners because they tried to leave, or by strangers because they spurned their advances. This is America. While I know that overall the US is safer than it has ever been, it's still killing 13,000 people a year with guns.
And so I sit in my studio, thousands of miles away, raging at my culture that can't seem to do anything, and make gun after lacy gun, exploding with blood drips and anger and sadness.
Where are you going, where have you been?
I have always been a photographer’s photographer. I love the literalness of the analog, the meditation of waiting for something to develop. Photograms are one of the oldest forms of photography, and one I always return to.
I think of Anna Atkins sitting in the sun with her flowers and ferns as I sit in my color darkroom with my hothouse flowers.
I tear the flowers apart: petals, leaves, stamen, pistil. I arrange them, in the dark, on photographic paper. I shine light on them, or rather through them, and record their shadows, their memory, on the paper.
The photograms are again ripped apart: pieces of pieces, segregated by color and transformed into new shapes. I put these pieces together as collages, creating new forms.
Each type of flower has its own distinct pattern in shadow, morphing into new and different bodies. What was floral becomes fire, cells, galaxies, water, sky. Ripped apart into component pieces, deconstructed further still into only their shadows and color, the flowers transform into stellar, liquid, fiery new formations, some in the form of large installation pieces, some small intimate pieces.
Anna Atkins used photograms of flowers from nature to examine and document the botanical world. I use color photograms of flowers as a means to explore form, creation, destruction, beauty and the sublime.
In my work, one form gives way to the next, like a fire burning out of control one day the next allows for growth the next season. Destroying and creating and destroying and creating anew, the past becoming the future.
My Days of Losing Words
I have had chronic migraine since June 2008. Without medication, the pain makes me lose the ability to speak; with medication, I have side effects that cause me to forget words. For My Days of Losing Words, I created color photographs that act as synthetic memories of my lost words and this time of being inarticulate and in pain. The one-word titles refer to words that got lost in a netherworld between pain and sanity. The self-portraits remain (inarticulately) untitled.
I never stop shooting. I carried a list of words that I've lost over time, and when I saw something that jogged my memory of a word, I shot it and crossed the word off. Early on in the illness, I was stuck either in my house or in medical spaces for months on end, so I started shooting words there. This early work consists mainly of three types of images: domestic still lifes; documentary images of medical spaces; and self-portraits at home and in medical spaces.
For a long time, I thought my headache was as good as it was going to get - constant, low-grade pain. Thanks to a medical breakthrough, I now finally have days without pain. This has meant the inclusion of new work that shows how my life has improved. Natural light, once rare in my photos, began to creep in and take over the images at the end of the series. The tunnel vision of my earlier photographs gave way to space, light, and, eventually, the vast expanse of a new horizon.
San Francisco is a city full of old money, new millionaires, and people losing their homes. Some of the wealthiest neighborhoods are blocks away from areas barely getting by on minimum wage. The Neighbors explores the plant life in both kinds of habitats in a series of analog color diptychs.
When I decided to leave for Berlin, I started documenting my San Francisco neighborhood of many years. I began wandering, and what struck me was the diversity of plant life right around my house: mostly potted plants in the communal space that is the stoops and sidewalks. Most plants are succulents or cacti, practical thinking when rain is rare. Other plants have been left to fend for themselves in the drought. Weeds grow up in the cracks in the sidewalks and in any open space.
As I wandered and took pictures, people would notice what I was doing, engage with me to learn more or simply chat for a while, and point me to other interesting plants and gardens nearby. It made me sad to be leaving soon.
It also made me wonder about other parts of San Francisco. So I headed to some of its wealthiest areas, not too far from my area. The difference was spectacular. Impenetrable privacy hedges protecting the houses from, well, me and everybody else. Artificially shaped topiaries. Bright green lawns and fruit trees flourishing despite the years' long drought.
As I wandered and took pictures, I met people there, too. Mostly, because I seemed suspicious to them, they inquired what I was doing and why. It was as unfriendly as our neighborhood was welcoming.
Some people live with each other. Other people just live next to each other.
Everywhere, Anywhere, Nowhere
Looking out the window from 35,000 feet up, so much of what you see could be anywhere: above the clouds, the world is identical. I travel a lot, and so spend a lot of time in these in-between spaces. I am everywhere, anywhere, nowhere.
Flying, for me, is a fantastic way to be away from everything. Without my phone or computer, I am able to observe the skies passing by me as a pure form of entertainment and beauty. The sky changes by the minute. I photograph the passing skyscape, sometimes catching the reflection of my camera or myself in the images.
I present the resulting images in grids of different sized archival pigment prints mixed together, a field of shades of blue, gray, pink, and white.
Under a Circus Sky
The circus is a tiny closed off arena of forgetfulness. For a space it enables us to lose ourselves, to dissolve in wonder and bliss, to be transported by mystery.
—Henry Miller, The Smile at the Foot of the Ladder
I photograph spaces normally restricted to the public in some way. I create voyeuristic experiences that result in the feeling of peering into a world where one is not supposed to be. These photographs are rarely about a particular object; rather, they focus on the absence of people in the space. It is this relationship that creates the subject matter.
Under a Circus Sky is a series of large scale intensely colored traditional c-prints shot in the quiet moments in and around old-fashioned one-ring circus tents. Between performances, I go inside the big top, photographing the glittery detritus and empty seats after the circus. As the lights come up, I disappear backstage, behind the tent, into the performers' shadows, amongst their props and homes. I use long exposures to capture what is eclipsed by the spectacle - performers' trailers, the machinery and heavy cables needed to erect and support the tent, the ropes and rigging gear for each apparatus - the stillness and anticipation behind the spectacle.
In shooting the circus tent without the performance, I emphasize the illusion that the tent adds to the experience. Each aspect of the edifice seems designed to throw off your sense of normalcy. Entering a temporary fabric building thrown up on an empty lot, you are protected from the elements but still feel surrounded by them. The floor is asphalt or dirt, and the deep blue ceiling mimics the night sky. The ephemeral, illusory essence of the circus itself emanates from the building that houses it. Devoid of the performers and spectators who give the circus its usual energy, my images evoke an unnatural sense of silence, like a nomadic ghost town.