Filed under: Pennsylvania | Tags: impossible project, instant film, neville island, polaroid week 2015
People around the Pittsburgh region have their theories about Neville Island, the largest inhabited island in the Ohio River: it’s off-limits to outsiders, a thruway for truckers, crowded with factories – nobody really lives there. In the 80s, crossing the Coraopolis Bridge to the island, you’d be warned: Poison! Do Not Enter! (I remember a skull and crossbones painted on that sign, but maybe I watched too many cartoons as a kid.) Chemical companies treated a corner of the former farmland turned shipyard as a dumping ground. It took years, but they finally cleaned up their act. Now an ice rink inhabits the area once dubbed “poison park,” and across the street is a tropical island-themed bar complete with fake palms and sand (island – get it?). My sister lives on the Island, so Jeff and I explore it often. I tell him stories about Wind Chimes truck stop and the amazing Chinese-American neon sign that made me want to go there because I imagined it would be like stepping into 1955. All those afternoons at the Rollerdrome next door, learning to skate backwards, and playing Pac-Man in its seedy little café that hasn’t changed decor since the Carter era. Grid-patterned streets dotted with tiny cottages boasting pink flamingos and the American flag on lawns cut clean and bright.
Filed under: Pennsylvania | Tags: mirror, neville island, polaroid slr680, self portrait, story, umbrella
Before I took up photography, I wrote fiction. I finished my MFA and went to do volunteer work in Croatia. I spent time there writing in my journals, and emails (letters, really) to friends back home and I took a lot of photos. I carried my camera everywhere with me. This was before I did anything artistic or conceptual. I didn’t think of photography then in terms of story; I documented my days there, and when I tired of finding the ‘right words’ to describe what I wanted people to see, I took pictures. When I came home, I started working in the darkroom and saw how I could tell stories with photos. I’d spend hours in that room, secure under the red light, lost to the outside world – feeling guilty that I was moving away from fiction. Because for years I identified as a writer. Was I betraying this part of me? Why didn’t I know I was a photographer before I turned 30? I felt like I had some catching up to do. In grad school, my writing peers would comment how ‘visual’ my fragmented stories were, like snapshots, and now people tell me that my photos are stories. When Jeff and I walked around Neville Island at the beginning of the month, I took these photos to use up expired film. It wasn’t until later, after I had scanned and cropped the borders, then arranged them side by side that I saw a story – telling what, I’m not quite sure yet, but the blue cast over the film, and the shifting sunlight tied the five frames together.
Filed under: Pennsylvania | Tags: family, grief, love, neville island, polaroid, slr680
October began with a dream about my mother: my sister braids my hair, a tightly knitted plait coiled around my head. Our mother reaches out to touch it, the braid unravels. You ruin everything, I say, and I wake feeling guilty. I look up the meaning of ‘braids’ in dreams and it means ‘organization,’ ‘to plan,’ something that I’m often teased about by those who know me – I like to have things in their places. In grief, this isn’t possible. The first year, I realize, was like slipping into a fog, and now I’m slowly drifting out of it. I remember things. I can focus. I am more conscientious of those around me, listening to their pain. There are times I cry for no reason, and then accept that this is just how it is, for now. A few weekends ago, we celebrated my youngest nephew’s ninth birthday. I was in the delivery room the day he was born, a big healthy pink baby sliding into the world; years later, he takes Jeff, his uncle Mike and me into the woods to show us his clubhouse by the river. It’s a warm October night; there are twigs snapping underfoot, the smell of damp leaves, a house that could be haunted. I laugh when they tell me about river rats as large as cats. I forget I am afraid of the dark.
Filed under: Pennsylvania | Tags: beginnings, bridges, endings, neville island, windows
I don’t know what to do with my Sundays now that my mother is gone. Last weekend when I drove out to visit my sister, I took a different route to get to her place — instead of the long way down West Carson through McKees Rocks and over a long twisting road that I don’t even know the name, I took 65 and over the McKees Rocks bridge. I liked taking the long way so I could listen to music, or pull over the car so I could take photos. But now it’s as if I just want to hurry to my destination. The drive, the music, the long winding road – it was all part of the ritual that led up to the visits with my mother. Last Sunday was super windy and cold, like the tail end of a winter that just won’t quit. I think: turn of season, a change of scenery, a light up ahead.
Filed under: Pennsylvania | Tags: laughter, mourning, neville island, rapunzel, sister
At the beginning of this month, I met up with friends for dinners and brunches, worked on some photos. Caught up writing thank-you’s for the funeral, writing in my journal. Now it’s quiet. Friends who have also lost loved ones warned me this would happen – a flood of condolences. Then life goes on — the part that’s hard for me. I don’t feel depressed. It’s just hard for me to listen to others’ problems with this heavy weight in my mind. It’s difficult being fully ‘Lisa’ right now. This period in my life is the most surreal I have ever known. Even with all the tears, there has been a lot of laughter too. How is this possible. But it is – side-splitting laughter over the dumbest things. Jeff and I singing our own lyrics to familiar songs. My sister making “ugly face.” Life is absurd, sometimes in beautiful,unexpected ways. Nobody makes me laugh like those two and I need the small things now more than ever.
Neville Rollerdrome is like walking into a ’70s time capsule. It’s been around since 1948, but it looks and smells exactly the same as when I skated there in junior high — wood paneling and floor polish, minus the smoking in the bathrooms. Wind Chimes truck stop was next door, which became a series of restaurants that could not survive the Reagan era. But the rink rolls on through the decades, and now you can skate to Justin Beiber and Katie Perry instead of Bon Jovi and ELO.