Filed under: Art Gallery | Tags: coraopolis, impossible project, instant film, polaroid week 2015, roots
This is the place where I’d bike along the tree-lined street to escape our stifling hot apartment. This is the place where Sherry’s Drugs sold fountain malts, where I’d buy pantyhose at Nola’s to match my color guard uniform. This is the place that housed a café where my friends and I scraped together our first-job cash to order grilled cheeses. This is where I asked a hairdresser to make me look like Louise Brooks. Where I’d buy daisies for my mother, where I’d peek through the windows of revolving stores, each struggling to keep pace with a changing world. This is the place where I ate my first violet pastilles, tiny sugar-coated aniseed in a floral tin imported from France. They taste like sweet, cheap perfume, there isn’t any other way to describe it; I became hooked. They made me want to try the rose-flavored ones, then a candy flecked with hot pepper. They gave me a taste of life outside that small river town – one was never enough. This is the place where I sat on a bench planning my first train trip alone, where my life as an artist began.
Filed under: Art Gallery, Pennsylvania | Tags: east liberty, impossible project, instant film, polaroid week 2015
Pittsburgh is growing. It’s surreal to live here your entire life and watch outsiders’ faces over the years turn from disgust to wide-eyed enthusiasm – a rust-belt city darling gracing the Internet pages of social media. We have good food, pretty hilltop views, cheap real estate. We are proof that yes, you can take a pig from the mud and make it clean. And that’s always the dilemma of the growing city: happiness at improvement, confusion – anger – that with improvement, comes rising prices, communities being pushed out of their homes – becomes a place like every other place. So amidst the construction (which has happened since 1973, in what historians call the “reinvention” era), I look for traces of old Pittsburgh to make sure nobody forgets it: empty churches, lawns-turned-overgrown fields. Wooden mill homes that survived over a hundred winters.
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: Art Gallery | Tags: impossible project, polaroid week 2015, western pennsylvania
Lately, I’ve felt at ease with photography in ways I haven’t before. I’ve learned not only to trust myself – in operating cameras, finding subjects – but to trust the world around me, knowing it will offer something worth capturing. When the photo bug bites, Gem Way delivers – the dirty broken little alleyway behind our house. I’ve documented it for almost 10 years, and it never fails to show me something I overlooked: tiny berries climbing a chain link fence, wild daisies curling around wooden chair legs – the way the light shines through our living room window at sunrise and down. It is comforting and familiar. It is home. It gives me the courage to trek into unknown photographic territory and take risks. Themes emerge: city and country; woman and child; darkness and light; certainty and mystery.
Filed under: Art Gallery | Tags: coraopolis, impossible project, loss, memory, polaroid week 2015, slr680
During fall Polaroid week, I chose images that are personal to me, rooted in nostalgia that I’ve been – to move forward, it helps for me to look back, and somehow, through art, it comes full circle. After sharing stories with a childhood friend about our old neighborhood, I visited to capture it on film. It had been almost five years since I was back on Broadway [real street name], but my heart did a little leap when I spotted it: On the sidewalk by the porch, my mother had traced her name in the cement. I photographed it shortly after she died – I had forgotten it was there, and to find it was a great surprise. I’ve thought of it as a memorial, a place I could go when I felt the need to see her. I feared time took hold and it disappeared, but there it was, her name standing out among the cracks in the pavement. So Jeff and I sat on the sidewalk, leaning against the giant white house converted into apartments (my mum, sister and me on the first floor, an exotic dancer and her daughter, on the second), swapping memories. The tiny cottage owned by the couple with the Doberman that chased kids on their bikes, now bulldozed. My friend Amber’s backyard – in full bloom, and comforting to see the wooden shed still standing 30 years later. Across the street, our neighbor Julia’s house is converting to a storefront, its previous incarnation years before the ’80s when we were kids using t-shirts as makeshift baskets to carry tomatoes from her garden to my mother – gifts Julia offered when she couldn’t find the English words to tell us that if we needed anything, we knew where to find her.
Filed under: Florida | Tags: impossible project, instant film, polaroid week 2015, us441
Travel gives me a chance to tell stories. With a set amount of money to spend, a few items packed, a loose itinerary, I imagine that the life I’m living is the one opening before me while on the road. Time warps, days blur. Everything is a potential photograph.
Filed under: Georgia | Tags: impossible project, instant film, polaroid week 2015, tybee island
I confess: I cannot swim. Not in the real way, anyhow. I float on my back so I can look up at the sky and listen to the sea. The first time I saw an ocean was in Virginia. I was 11, and I took a raft into the water to ride the waves, only to be surrounded by jellyfish, translucent flowers swirling near my arm. Later, my sister got stung by one, her small thigh swelling up to almost twice its size. I learned the power of the water. Yet still, I have beach dreams. On Tybee, I wandered off saddled with cameras, shoes slung over my shoulder. Crashing waves, a bickering family. Broken, glistening shells. A tiny ship in the distance.