Filed under: Art Gallery | Tags: 12x12 project, impossible project, pittsburgh, polaroid spectra
I’ve had this dream of taking photos before the city wakes, and this month’s 12×12 photo challenge gave me that opportunity: Take what you believe will be the final series of photographs before you die (Nick Brandt). I admit, the topic kind of scared the shit out of me, despite my fascination with death culture, and anything dark, strange, creepy, or curiously morbid. Taking the photos felt like jinxing myself, as if I’d summon our inevitable fate a littler sooner than anticipated. Also, it ups the ante to make the “last” photos really, really good photos. It made me want to go big, do something wild and out of the ordinary, which is most likely the point: I should do something different (no self-portraits!).
Instead of thinking about the photos, I thought about all the things I put off doing and finally decided to do. I came across notes I had written in my journal – lists, really, of places around the city where I’ve meant to take pictures. And on a cold, gloomy (then later, sunny) Sunday morning (in short: unpredictable), Polaroid Spectra in hand, Jeff and I drove to each point so I could capture those tiny corners of Pittsburgh. We went downtown to Liberty Avenue because all the times I sat waiting for him to get off work, I’d stare at the expanse of buildings on Liberty and think how they were so faded and crumbling and lovely, like a painting, that I had to get them on instant film; or on the Southside Slopes, a house I’ve seen hanging on the edge of S. 18th Street being swallowed by ivy, and I marveled over its survival through decades.
These aren’t statement photos, or conceptual, or typically Pittsburgh or anything different from what I’ve done before, but rather, a bookend to what I have done for years: sending love letters to my city – a dark, strange, and (sometimes) curiously morbid little town that defines me in ways that I find hard to put into words.
Filed under: Pennsylvania | Tags: garfield pittsburgh, home, impossible project, instant film, polaroid spectra
Garfield, Pittsburgh: The longest I’ve ever lived in one place. When I was a kid, we’d bounce from apartment to apartment so often it became spring routine to start looking through the classified ads for another place. The trick was to not get too attached. I made do with small spaces. What accumulated over a year was easily let go for convenience sake. Moving taught me how to let go. When I moved in with Jeff nine years ago, I remember loving this strange storefront-turned-living space, but the street behind it, Gem Way, was a total wreck. There was the abandoned building next door to us that attracted drug addicts and urban explorers, and the building next to it that caught fire, sending black plumes of smoke through the neighborhood. A lawyer rented out the garage beyond that to local bands, so there was the occasional loud dance party keeping me awake on work nights. I’ve documented Gem Way over the years, and have come to love its strange vegetation poking through the fences, its ivy-covered houses and broken pavement. The family of groundhogs nesting under our porch, and feral cats wailing at the moon. Its graffiti-covered brick the only shots of color on a gray Pittsburgh morning.
Filed under: Pennsylvania | Tags: installation museum, north side, polaroid spectra, self portrait
One of my dearest friends came all the way from Boston to visit me over my birthday weekend (Month? Usually it’s a 30-day celebration!), which gave me the opportunity to play tourist in my city. I took D to the Mattress Factory, an installation museum in the North Side. We mostly talked (and boy, can we talk a lot) and then allowed ourselves quiet when taking photos. It reminded me of my grad school days when I should have written stories, but instead, went out on photo shoots with Danny. I hold him responsible for giving me the camera bug (for which, Daniel, I am ever grateful).
Filed under: Florida | Tags: escape, key west, polaroid spectra, softtone film, time travel
It is exhilarating and terrifying to stand at water’s edge, wind kicking at your back, knowing that you are at the southernmost point of the States. This is where borders melt into the ocean, no land for miles, a definitive endpoint. Jeff and I spent a beautiful week in the Keys with Sheryl and Rebby and Sheryl’s sister, Amanda, and sister-in-law Allison. We celebrated Sheryl and Rebby’s 10 year anniversary and a birthday with many rum drinks, a drag show, waking to rooster calls, breakfasts of tropical fruits with sweet pink Florida shrimps, lazing in the hot tub, finding pirate-eyed kitties and marveling that the icy, snowy world we left for a week had turned to days filled with sunshine.
Filed under: Pennsylvania | Tags: polaroid spectra, river town, softtone film, time travel
Neville Island has always been something of a mystery to me. It’s the largest inhabited island in the Ohio River, and once a farmland hub for nearby cities. During World War II, it became a ship building center, with factories popping up at either end of it. Growing up, I remember “Poison Park,” a designated patch of unusable land that now has an ice skating rink. But the Island is more than its fabled industry. We still go roller skating at Neville Rollerdrome, which hasn’t changed its decor since the 70s. The houses along Front River Road are old, some dating back to the Civil-war era, with sprawling porches and giant green lawns. The old Neville school is for sale, and Jeff and I dreamed of ways to divide chunks of it to make into a living space. We stood facing the barges parked along the riverbank, listened for the whispering rustle of leaves.
Filed under: Art Gallery | Tags: conceptual, dream, instant film, polaroid spectra, sepia
The photos in this post are for an online art project based on a poem written by my friend, Kim Rullo. Certain lines shifted in and out of my mind throughout the week, and I used those lines to caption these shots.
Then in an act of photographic serendipity, my friend Juli sent me a most precious gift: a Polaroid Spectra and a pack of PZ600 film from the Impossible Project. For anyone who doesn’t know about the fate of Polaroid, they stopped making it forever, but Impossible Project sells Polaroid-compatible instant film in small runs. It’s not as easy to use as the original because the film is extremely sensitive to light. You have to master balance of shielding the shot from light, making sure the temperature is not colder than 60 degrees, while holding a camera, while pressing a button, while thinking of composition. The sun in those first 5 seconds is your enemy. The entire process appeals to my neurotic control issue tendencies, where I plan, where I am the director of my creative world, constructing shots ahead of time in my journal because I only get one chance. It also forces me to let go, because over time, the image will disappear from the frame. Like a dream that fades once we wake from it, these images challenge the idea that the photos we take to capture our daily lives will outlive us all.