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The Tetons & the Snake River, Grand Tetons National Park, 1942 c, Ansel Adams

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Mobile Homes. Jefferson County, Colorado, 1973, Robert Adams

The desire to go home that is a desire to be whole, to know where you are, to be the point of intersection of all the lines drawn through all the stars, to be the constellation-maker and the center of the world, that center called love. To awaken from sleep, to rest from awakening, to tame the animal, to let the soul go wild, to shelter in darkness and blaze with light, to cease to speak and be perfectly understood.

Rebecca Solnit, Storming the Gates of Paradise: Landscapes for Politics

PHOTOS

Social landscape photography portrays the effects of human beings on the earth; it is photography of the human-built or human-altered landscape. It may incorporate the natural landscape, the usual domain of landscape or nature photography—but it is most distinctly not about the natural world. In the more traditional approach human beings, any sign of human beings like roads and cabins, and any human effects on earth are notably absent. I believe this general attitude is a deliberate absence.

Consider the work of the exceptionally talented—and exceptionally limited—photographer, an American icon producing iconic photographs of the American landscape, Ansel Adams. Despite my love of his photos, Adams rarely shows people (and when he does, as in his Manzanar Japanese-American internment camps series, they look like rocks).

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Dust Bowl, Dallas, South Dakota, 1936, uncredited

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Yakima Washington, 1939, Dorothea Lange

Sharply contrasting with Adam’s photos are those from the Farm Security Administration during the Great Depression. These vividly and intentionally portray the effects of human beings on the earth—sand storms, fleeing farmers, destroyed farms. This is the crux of social landscape photography—how we human beings interact with the earth. This expanding awareness reflects our larger concerns with global climate change.

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Point de vue du Gras, France, 1826 or 1827, Joseph-Nicephore Niepce

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Boulevard du Temple, Paris, 1838. Louis-Jacques-Mande Daguerre

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Nelson’s Column under construction, Trafalgar Square, England, 1844, William Henry Fox Talbot

Social landscape photography has been around since the first photographs—or heliographs as they were first called. Consider the first photographs by Niépce, Daguerre, and Talbot. All involved buildings and people, implicitly the interaction between human beings and the earth.

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Quai d’Anjou du Matin, Paris, 1924, Eugène Atget

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New York City, 1888 c, Jacob Riis, from How the Other Half Lives

Consider Eugene Atget at the turn of the last century. Recognizing the massive changes on Paris and environs created by the industrial era—and for other reasons, financial in particular—he assiduously photographed “The City of Light.” Likewise, his contemporary, Jacob Riis, newly emigrated from Denmark to the United States, photographed tenements in New York City which resulted in major changes in housing laws and the end of the most dangerous housing.

For contemporary examples, look at the aerial photos of numerous photographers like Alex McLean; Marilyn Bridges with her book, Markings: Aerial Views of Sacred Landscapes, and the highly popular series called The Earth From Above by Yann Arthus-Bertrand.

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Fleet of B-52 Bombers at the “Bone Yard,” Tucson, Arizona, 1991, Alex MacLean

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Mesoamerica, 1986 c, from Markings: Aerial Views of Sacred Landscapes by Marilyn Bridges

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Icebergs & Adelie penguin, Adelie Land, Antarctica, date unknown, Yann Arthus-Bertrand

In 1975, confirming the need for an expanded sense of landscape photography, the prestigious photographic venue, The George Eastman House, in Rochester NY, presented the startling exhibit, New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape. Oddly enough, given last names, one of the featured photographers was Robert Adams, no relation to Ansel—a dramatic contrast. Attesting to the importance of this genre, since 1981 various adaptations of the original exhibit have been circulating worldwide. In 2013 Greg Foster-Rice and John Rohrbach edited and published Reframing the New Topographics, which brings the genre up to date.

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In my own work and teaching, motivated primarily by the global climate crisis, I detect a clue to my new direction, long nascent, but now more clearly evident: Social Landscape Photography.

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Downtown development in Detroit, 2016, photo by Skip Schiel

LINKS

The New Topographics, on artsy.net

New Topographics: “Landscape and the West – Irony and Critique in New Topographic Photography” by Kelly Dennis

Deadpan Geometries: Mapping, Aerial Photography, and the American Landscape” by Kim Sichel

Photos of Boston’s new Seaport district

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Dearborn, Michigan, along Schaefer Highway, photo by Skip Schiel

Accounts from my journal, written while I photographed Detroit for three weeks during the end of summer 2016.

PHOTOS

September 10, 2016, Saturday, Detroit

Biking in to Dearborn yesterday [September 9, 2016] I stopped at the bicycle shop on Schaefer that I’ve frequented earlier, to pump air in my tires. A voluble employee (at first, from the way he acted, so forthright, I assumed he was the owner), short and curt, felt the tires and declared, your tires are full, pumping more air into them might make them burst. Then he spotted my camera, which I always carry around my neck, fully exposed. Wanna take some pictures here? he asked. Sure thing, what would you like?

Is this gonna cost something? he asked. No, is this gonna cost me anything? I replied. Everyone in the store chuckled.

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Eddie’s Bike Shop, photo by Skip Schiel

That led to portraits of him outside the store, inside the store, the storefront itself from outside, and then the owner, Mr. Eddie Merhi, and two customers, Black women, mother and daughter, who were having their tricycles adjusted.

The daughter, Woody, and I chatted awhile about the pleasures of biking. She, like many here, admired my folding bike, inquired about it, and said, I’d like to eventually ride one like that. She invited me to visit them at their home near me—she was ecstatic when she learned where I live (as if to think, wow, this is some kind of White guy, living where he is, probably the only White guy in milespretty fuckin brave, or insane.) I find living where I do builds credibility.

She asked me to photograph her on her bike, which I did. She lacks email and we couldn’t figure out how to transfer the file from my camera to her phone with Bluetooth. So she snapped a photo with her phone from my camera screen, decidedly inferior.

Mother and daughter, Detroit residents, buy tricycles

Woody and her mother, Detroit residents, have their tricycles adjusted, photo by Skip Schiel

I had a thought about a daring next step for my Detroit project: photograph on public buses, compare city bus riders with suburban bus riders, and photograph at different times of the day. I’ve long felt that one can gain a quick impression of one aspect of Detroit by riding the city bus at night. Riding the same bus during the day might create a different impression. And riding the suburban buses yet another.

The big question is how to do this? Sneak photography (aka, hip pocket), ask permission, carry a big sign announcing the project? It may involve some risk, especially at night, me alone. I’ll consider this. Maybe I can find a colleague, preferably Black and from Detroit. (Like George a few years ago who toured me to different neighborhoods.)

A sequel to A Summer Bus Ride in Detroit. A movie by Skip Schiel & Teeksa
Photography, October 2010

A precedent is the photo series of South African workers riding at night to reach their work sites on time. David Goldblatt did this with his series, The Transported of KwaNdebele. I recall phoning him in the 1990’s while setting up one of my South African trips. I heard a dog barking in the background, rendering the call very personal even tho at such a great physical and cultural distance.

25 After a day’s work they take the bus from Pretoria to KwaN

9:00 p.m. Going home: Marabastad-Waterval bus: For most of the people in this bus the cycle will start again tomorrow at between 2:00 and 3:00 a.m., 1983 from David Goldblatt’s, “The Transported of KwaNdebele: A South African Odyssey (1983–84)”

Maybe I’m getting too old to pursue all my dream projects, like Detroit metro busing. How many more years remain for me and my work?

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Biking home to Detroit from Dearborn, photo by Skip Schiel

To be continued

LINKS

Bike Detroit

A bike ride thru Dearborn by Skip Schiel, 2010

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“The Feeling of Being Watched: A Town Hall Discussion on Profiling and Surveillance” at the Arab American National Museum, Dearborn

The gravest responsibility of the photo historian or journalist is the search through the maze of conflictions to the island of intimate understanding, of the mind, of the soul, amid circumstances that both create, and are created by—and then to render with intelligence, with artistic eloquence, a correct and breathing account of what is found; and popular fancy, myth can be damned. Meaning: get to the guts of the matter and show the bastards as they are.

—W. Eugene Smith (Let Truth be the Prejudice about Smith by Ben Maddow)

Accounts from my journal, written while I photographed Detroit for three weeks during the end of summer 2016.

PHOTOS

September 10, 2016, Saturday, Detroit

At the Arab American Museum last night [September 9, 2016] I attended the program about governmental spying on people in the United States, especially human beings thought to be The Other. It was titled, “The Feeling of Being Watched,” and was a co-production of the museum and an organization called Take on Hate. All four participants were eloquent, knowledgeable, personally experienced with the topic, and had much to offer. I learned mainly about a Homeland Security program called CVE, Countering Violent Extremism, that enlists community members in surveiling their own community. It could be regarded as insidious collaboration, turning students, health professionals, teachers, clergy, anyone in frequent contact with others, into implanted cameras and audio recorders, passing information to the government about suspected terrorists. Pilot programs exist in St Paul, Los Angeles, and my city, Boston.

I could be enlisted—or I could be targeted. Maybe I could report suspicious behavior in my photographic workshops, or I could be reported on the basis of my Palestine-Israel work.

Because of the host site, not only the Arab American museum but the city of Dearborn, Muslim Americans were the focus. But other groups could be targeted as well, notably people of color and immigrants. As several panelists observed, marginalized communities, those living in poverty or extreme racism for instance, are often the most seriously watched.

How effective is such surveillance? was a question raised by several panelists. One panelist claimed that a similar program in New York City has resulted in no arrests of actual terrorists. I’m sure some would argue that this claim is false or irrelevant, but the question remains: given the work and expense involved surveiling, how often do the programs have demonstrable effects? Result in so-called “actionable intelligence”?

Cameras, for instance, may be effective as a deterrent even if they are not hooked up; the idea of being watched may curtail violence. I experienced this yesterday when eating at the New Yazmeen bakery. Some patrons had left food, the space was empty, I helped myself to some delicious-looking flat bread, and considered taking more uneaten food. Then I noticed the cameras, I stopped eating the bread, I smiled at the camera.

History was another sub topic. An immediate precursor of terrorist watch programs was COINTELPRO, the Counter Intelligence Program of the FBI under Hoover, targeting radical Black movements like the Black Panthers. Before that, anti communism programs, most notably the infamous HUAC, House Un-American Activities Committee, hearings and the hero of some, Joe McCarthy. Programs existed before that targeting union organizers, Black leaders, “Bolshevism,” the Irish, other immigrant groups, etc. Surveillance has a long history in this country, as it might in many. Fear seeds suspicion. What precisely is the psychology of surveillance? Not a topic mentioned, except in passing when an audience member asked about the role of psychologists in these surveillance projects.

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Dawud Walid, executive director of the Michigan chapter of the Council on American­-Islamic Relations

When asked about the future of this program and surveillance generally, a panelist mentioned the need for privacy factor, whether people value their privacy enough to oppose programs like CVE. Because of the proliferation of on-line self disclosure—Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, etc—often encouraging opening lives to public view (I myself exemplify this, my blog in particular, and how much I might potentially disclose about myself if these journals that I adapt for the blogs ever become public), one might guess that many folks do not highly value their own privacy. Thus they may not be too eager to fight for limits to surveillance.

Assia Boundaoui, the director of the film we watched a clip from, The Feeling of Being Watched, summed up the evening well when she built on the idea presented by another panelist, a Wayne State—the panopticon. This is a prison design that places guards at the center of the building, able to observe the prisoners existing in cells isolated from each other. She called for two approaches to surveillance, analogous to prison reform: open the cells to each other so the prisoners can communicate and organize, and reverse the line of sight so the prisoners can observe the guards. That is, all communities affected by surveillance need to coordinate and form coalitions to resist unreasonable surveillance. And those watched need to watch the watchers.

Freelance journalist and former Al Jazeera America producer. Assia Bounadoui

Assia Bounadoui, freelance journalist and former Al Jazeera America producer

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Panopticon

After noticing others making photos with their phones I felt emboldened to bring out my camera and from more than half way back in the hall make a few photos. I began with the moderator, a striking Black woman. I pushed the camera to determine just how much I can do in low light. Given the topic, I wondered if I’d be viewed as a watcher.

Asha Noor, TAKE ON HATE Advocacy and Civic Engagement Specialist

Asha Noor, Take On Hate Advocacy and Civic Engagement Specialist

Later I spoke with a museum staff person, David Serio, who’d introduced the program. He wore a keffiyeh, now known as identifying the wearer as a supporter of Palestinian rights. I offered him two observations: your keffiyeh resembles a Jewish prayer shawl, and have you ever noticed that the keffiyeh design suggests barbed wire? He’d not noticed either but said he enjoys the ambiguity. Talking further, I promised to suggest to Jewish Voice for Peace-Detroit that they link with the museum and the Take on Hate program. And I’d suggest to JVP-Boston which has an ongoing campaign about Islamophobia that they also connect with Take on Hate. I picked up two Take on Hate lapel buttons but they escaped my plastic bag when it ripped open as I crossed Grand River coming home by bike.

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Keffiyeh, courtesy of the Internet

While awaiting the start of the program, after eating Arab nummies, I examined the photographic exhibit, “What We Carried: Fragments from the Cradle of Civilization.” When I initially learned about this I discounted it, thinking, what a weak way to use photography. But examining it more closely I felt it was tremendously moving and brilliantly and simply conceived. I wrote those remarks in the guest book.

The photographer had invited immigrants from Muslim and Arab countries, Iraq and Syria mostly, to choose one thing they brought with them. The artist, Jim Lommasson, then photographed the object and asked for a written comment from the immigrant. So many were touching, like photos of family; in fact, family was a central theme—missing them collectively or missing individuals like grandparents.

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From “What We Carried” by Jim Lommasson

At the end of the exhibit the photographer installed a wall panel asking viewers to write what they would bring with them. I demurred. What would I bring? First thought: a family album in digital form, or all my journals in digital form, or one camera, or something my dear friend S had given me, or one of my kids had given me, or Louise had given me, or something from my mother or father. So difficult to decide. I was reminded of Linda Hass’ photographic project about the stuff her mother’s had accumulated and might send her notification of this show. Linda’s was a different case entirely. She photographed what her mother had accumulated in the United States after she’d lost everything escaping the holocaust.

To be continued

LINKS

The Feeling of Being Watched (movie)

Take on Hate (campaign)

Countering Violent Extremism (CVE)

What We Carried (exhibition)

Arab American Museum, Dearborn Michigan

“FBI: Hate crimes against Muslims in US surge 67 percent” (2015)

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The Open Road

Live, travel, adventure, bless, and don’t be sorry.

― Jack Kerouac

Inspired by a photo exhibition I recently viewed called The Open Road: Photography and the American Road Trip at the Detroit Institute of Arts (based on a book by Aperture with a fuller array of photos on the same theme) I will now sketch my Open Road experiences, hoping later to flesh this out more fully as perhaps a photographic memoir.

First however, I should nod a thanks to Jack Kerouac and his revolutionary, and for me highly affecting book, On the Road. I read it when well into my 30s, with family in Maine, camping for much of the summer. I recall reading it while riding in our car to Branch Lake. The book was old and decrepit. So as I finished a page I tossed it out the window, heedless of environmental consequences, but I thought then, as pages flew like autumn leaves, a fitting reflection on the ephemerality I detected as a subtheme of the novel.

When a youth during the depression unable to find work in his hometown of Dubuque Iowa, Fran, my dad, hopped a freight train and landed in Chicago. No doubt he influenced me to, as soon as possible, join the Open Road, even tho at that moment I was yet unborn.

I attempted a similar vagabond trip—my first real road trip— when, at the age of about 4, I decided to run away from my pleasant, safe, comfortable, relatively loving Southside home in Chicago. I gathered a few things, probably candy bars and pop (and toilet paper), into a large hankie or bandana, and tied it to a stick. I threw the contraption over my shoulder and set out. I made it to the local school, Caldwell Elementary, about two blocks from my home, and quickly returned.

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Skip Schiel, age 4, 1945

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Skip Schiel in his First Communion suit, age 7, 1946

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Skip Schiel with Tom Rinkach (L), age 11, 1952 c.

While at Boy Scout camp in Michigan, my buddy, Kruli, and I ditched the program to make an all day hike. Without permission we left before breakfast, returned after dinner, and carried with us only brownies that my mom had sent me—and that crucial toilet paper.

Between my junior and senior high school years, my dad and I canoed Boundary Waters along the Minnesota-Canada border. I felt responsible for him, even tho I was only 17 years old. Until that trip I’d resisted the idea of attending college. Since my father was a salesman (a traveling salesman at that, eventually in charge of a large Midwest region, warranting many road trips for him) and sometimes very persuasive, I expected he would urge me—incessantly as he’d done before—to attend college, make something of myself, utilize my interests and possible gifts in engineering to become an electronic engineer. During that entire ten-day journey, he never raised the topic.

I decided to attend college. Long bouts of paddling, lugging our canoe over portages, making camp, and cooking together might have softened his outlook about me, developing his trust that I’d make the correct decision.

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Frank (Fran) J. Schiel, 1958, Boundary Waters, Minnesota-Canada, photo by Skip Schiel

Fran and my mother, Pearl, with my sister Elaine when she was old enough, every summer drove long distances for vacations—West Coast to San Francisco, East Coast to Maine. Dad photographed; eventually I took over, probably reluctantly. Mainly he (because I refuse such setups) created endless images of Pearl in front of some scene or historic marker.

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Frank Schiel, Elaine (sister), Pearl, Chicago’s Southside, 1954 c. photo by Skip Schiel (probably)

My big road trip break was in the summer of 1959. I’d just graduated Arlington Heights High School in a Chicago suburb, felt a strong urge to “go west, young man, go west,” and boarded the Union Pacific train to Utah where I thought I might find summer work, possibly on a ranch. Shortening that story (which could constitute one chapter—or even the entire memoir) I ended up working the balloon dart and bingo games with a carnival that paired with rodeos traveling thru Colorado and Wyoming—the summer of my big rupture from family.

During term breaks at Iowa State University I would often not return home (long distance, 300 miles) but instead hitchhike around the Midwest, with camera, with curiosity, producing numerous slide shows that predictably bored all the neighbors and family I could persuade to watch.

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Skip Schiel in Cimarron, Arlington Heights, IL, 1960 c.

Still at Iowa State, I bought my first vehicle, a Ford pickup truck that I named Cimarron (after a western movie), and let it cart me around to places distant and exotic, like the Black Hills. Amidst wandering defecating, fornicating buffalo, sacred to the Lakota Sioux, I camped, I photographed.

My first international road trip was to Romania in 1977, the year my father died. As an instructor of filmmaking at Boston College, I’d received a scholarship to attend a program in Cluj Romania, in the heart of the Transylvanian Alps, as an introduction to Romania. It was skilled propaganda during the era of the tyrant, Nicolae Ceaușescu, designed to generate positive impressions of this then communist and iconoclastic country. Altho by now I’d identified as a photographer and movie maker I decided not to bring equipment for this first, for me monumental, road trip. Instead, I’d observe, observe as purely and contemplatively as I could. For this decision I am forever grateful. When to not photograph is a skill difficult to develop.

With my wife Lynn and our two daughters, we bought a black VW bug and drove it each summer, Katy and Joey stuffed in the back seat, luggage hurtling from the roof top carrier, back to Chicago and Racine Wisconsin to visit grandparents. I photographed along the way.

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Joey, Skip, Katy (left to right), Watertown Massachusetts, 2009

For three months in 1979, one year after Pearl’s death, two years after Fran’s, I visited Nepal and my sister Elaine and her husband Bob, studying Buddhism with a lama at the Swayambhu monastery. I made numerous road journeys, including one with a guide to Helambu, the foothills of the Himalayas. Lots of mountain walking then.

I should add the many mountain hikes with family and my former partner Louise over a long period of time—White Mountains, Green Mountains, Sierra Nevada, etc. Don’t they constitute travel along the open road, a very open and winding road?

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Skip & Louise, White Mountains, 2002 c.

In 1982, a pivotal year for me, I drove across the Great Plains alone and discovered American Indians.

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Rosebud Reservation, 1983

Which led to 1983 when I bused the same route at the end of winter, and took up residence on the Rosebud Indian reservation, hosted by Jesuits. I lived and photographed there for one month.

(In this report I do not constrain myself to car-based road trips only, but include other modes of transport, soon to be foot and plane, never boat or ship, surprising because of my love of water-borne transport.)

In 1988, the first of my many Alaskan journeys (roughly every 3 years) I walked solo the Chilkoot Gold Rush Trail. Since then I’ve made other Alaskan exploits, alone and with my Juneau family.

In the summer of 1989 my newly discovered mate, Louise, and I flew across the country to visit her family. Followed in the summer of 1990 by a car trip across that same continent to meet my family. With stops in Chicago for cousins Karen and Bob and aunt Anna Mae and uncle Spike, Rockport for cousin Ginger, Dubuque for uncle Eldon, Napa California for her mother and father, Elizabeth and David, and Juneau for Elaine and Bob. Returning, we stopped at Pine Ridge and Rosebud reservations and learned about the upcoming Big Foot Ride to Wounded Knee that winter. We decided to raise money for the Ride generally and to ourselves participate as support people.

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Elaine, sister (L), and Louise

In early 1990, with Frank Gatti and Tom Sander, I explored South Africa on behalf of Friends Meeting at Cambridge, mostly by car but also for short trips on foot. Circumventing restrictions from apartheid we had reasonably free range of the country.

In Dec 1990, Louise and I boarded the train for Denver, rented a 4-wheel drive SUV to help as support people and participated for 2 weeks on the frigid plains. We camped out some nights, stayed in school gymnasiums on others. Louise walked the final day with Buddhist walkers into the Wounded Knee Massacre site for our final ceremonies, Wiping the Tears and Mending the Sacred Hoop. Here she met Jun-San, a nun of the Japanese Buddhist order, Nipponzan Myohoji, that would lead inexorably to more road trips we shared—almost entirely by foot.

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Morning circle, Big Foot Ride to Wounded Knee, December 1990, photo by Skip Schiel

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Big Foot Ride to Wounded Knee, December 1990, photo by Skip Schiel

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Lakota lands, South Dakota, 1990, photo by Skip Schiel

In 1995 I joined the Auschwitz to Hiroshima pilgrimage to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the end of World War 2 from a Japanese perspective. We walked (mostly, also used bus, train, and plane) thru Poland, Austria, Czech Republic, Slovenia, Croatia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina. Running out of money in Hungary after about 4 months, I returned home to raise more money (with help from Louise and daughter Katy) and incidentally joined the Turtle Island pilgrimage that Jun-San, one of the Buddhist nuns, had organized to support native rights. We walked from Plymouth Massachusetts, around Lake Ontario, to New York City, to learn the story of Peacemaker (the founder of the Haudenosaunee or Iroquois Confederacy). Staying on reservations and reserves (in Canada), walking thru the Hudson River Valley in the spring, we finally arrived at a major conference in NYC about violence. We walked some 1000 miles in about 3 months.

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Auschwitz main gate, December 1998, photo by Skip Schiel

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Croatian women, Lipic Croatia, former Yugoslavia, 1995, photo by Skip Schiel

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Boy with peace crane, Cambodia, 1995, photo by Skip Schiel

At the end of that long walk I returned to the Auschwitz to Hiroshima pilgrimage and walked from Thailand to Japan, thru Cambodia, Vietnam, and the Philippines. The journey of a lifetime—until the next one.

Then in 1998 on the Interfaith Pilgrimage of the Middle Passage I and many others, mostly European Americans, African-Americans, and Japanese walked from Leverett Massachusetts, down the coast to Savannah Georgia, thru the deep south to New Orleans. I left that pilgrimage for one of my own, first driving thru the Mississippi Delta to Chicago and across to Leverett in Western Massachusetts, and then by train back south for 4 months of pro bono photography to groups we’d met during the Middle Passage Pilgrimage.

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From the book, The Middle Passage: White Ships/ Black Cargo, by Tom Feelings

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Interfaith Pilgrimage of the Middle Passage, Ingrid Askew, co-founder & co-director, 1998, photo by Skip Schiel

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Gulf Coast, Interfaith Pilgrimage of the Middle Passage, 1998, photo by Skip Schiel

In 1999 I rejoined the pilgrimage in South Africa and remained there for 4 months doing photography.

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Robben Island, South Africa, Interfaith Pilgrimage of the Middle Passage, 1999

Subsequently (and earlier), driven mainly by Louise’s enthusiasm, she and I joined Nipponzan Myohoji for various walks: to and around Walden Pond in Massachusetts; in 1992, commemorating the Columbian quincentenary in a counter cultural manner, Alcatraz Island in San Francisco to Reno Nevada; numerous Walk for a New Spring journeys thru Boston and environs; and the Hiroshima Flame Walk in DC (which was mostly Louise because by now my enthusiasm for such long walks had waned and Palestine-Israel had taken over).

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Louise, 1995 c., photo by Skip Schiel

And currently Palestine-Israel and Detroit. In Detroit I bike around the sprawling city. In Palestine-Israel for short periods I rent a car and have traveled the entire length and breadth of that small (by United States standards) region, mainly by bus and shared taxi—Negev Desert, Galilee, Golan Heights, and the Israeli coast, also Gaza, by foot and rides with friends.

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Skip Schiel in the Dheisheh Refugee Camp, Bethlehem, 2003, photo by Mark Daoud

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Pre-wedding party, Gaza, 2013, photo by Skip Schiel

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Johnny Price, Detroit, 2011 c., photo by Skip Schiel

Ghost Bike, with my folding bike in the background

Ghost Bike, marking a bicyclist’s death, Schiel’s folding bike in the background, Detroit, 2016, photo by Skip Schiel

Later I may add various other photographic tours I’ve made in the United States while touring with my Palestine-Israel presentations, especially south as far as Florida by train and bus, Chicago by train and car, and the West Coast, California to Alaska, by airplane, train and car. At each location I prod myself to walk, often to photograph.

When will I reach the end of my road? And how will the end manifest? Who if anyone might emerge as a solid travel partner or am I fated to walk this path alone (probably, most unlikely that current close friends will ever join me). In addition, my peers and I are aging.

I conclude this little foray into my road trips with two quotes, one by the illustrious peripatetic poet, Walt Whitman, from Leaves of Grass, the other by what might have been a fellow walker but this was not to happen, my former wife (or simply my former as we call each other), Lynn.

I inhale great draughts of space,
The east and the west are mine, and the north and the south are mine.

I am large, better than I thought,
I did not know I held so much goodness.

All seems beautiful to me…

—Walt Whitman

And from Lynn, her inscription in Whitman’s, Leaves of Grass, that she gave me shortly after we’d met.

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2016

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LINKS:

The Open Road: Photography and the American Road Trip (at the Detroit Institute of Arts, summer 2016)

The book the exhibition is based on, by the same title

My photos

“And you will be carried where you do not wish to go” in 8 parts, part one

Auschwitz to Hiroshima: A Pilgrimage, 1995

On Turtle Island, A Pilgrimage, 1995

My account specifically about my Open Road experiences in the troubled lands of Palestine and Israel:

The Palestine-Israel Kaleidoscope, a memoir-part 1

The Palestine-Israel Kaleidoscope, a memoir-part 2

And my most recent writing and photography from Detroit (as of posting this blog)

Jazz Festival, claimed to be the largest free jazz festival in the world

Detroit Jazz Festival, claimed to be the largest free jazz festival in the world

Shrine marking a death

Shrine marking a murder

The city as a living entity with it being an environment for—and in turn, an environment being created by—the people who give it heart and pulse. I will observe, with intimate photographic scrutiny, these individuals as I encounter them during participation in the daily life of the city. (Yet, I will respect their ethical right of non-invasion of privacy.) Unlike other essays of mine, such as The Nurse-Midwife, I will not, this time, (photographically) know any individual as a complete person. For the individual, in my present essay, is a part of the teaming into the teeming whole that is the city, singular, and—Pittsburgh, the City of, is my project and is the individual to be known.

(From W. Eugene Smith’s 1956 application for a fellowship from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation for his Pittsburgh Project)

Accounts from my journal, written while I photographed Detroit for three weeks during the end of summer 2016.

PHOTOS

September 12, 2016, Monday

I wrote a long letter yesterday to S and will rely on that to bring my journal up to date:

this may be my last email to you until I’m home (or maybe one enroute on the train). i leave tues evening, arrive wednesday evening, inshalla, as they say, god willing (or the train and its staff willing and able).

weatherwise, i think you’ve been spared the hot weather that has afflicted detroit and southwest michigan. your region [in New England] apparently continues to suffer drought but here there’s been ample rain all summer. I’m mindful of this because 1. i love weather and once aspired to become a meteorologist, trained at mit, 2. I’m a gardener with paternal “roots” in iowa farming families, 3. food quality and prices and farmers in new england have suffered, and 4. i worry about climate generally….

my last days in detroit have been frustrating. today, for instance, i was to have photographed johnny, my next door neighbor, in his buffalo soldier uniform from the civil war on his horse (he’s a re-enactor). but at the last minute, after days of delay, he announced, a friend of mine, a vietnam brother (johnny is a vietnam vet) is in hospice and i need to visit him. plus, my neighbor across the street, anthony, known as “little anthony” to distinguish him from his father, never showed up for our appointed portrait-making session this afternoon. i’d photographed him and johnny on previous trips. there’s still tomorrow and tues.

 

johnny-my-next-door-neighbor-2011-detroit_portrait_9793

Johnny, my next door neighbor, 2011

counteracting these disappointments, S, this morning at a quaker meeting we commemorated the 15th anniversary of 9/11. movingly, simply, with personal reflections by two people. 

on my mind was faith, what it is, how to gain it, how to express it. for some individuals and for our society and perhaps the world, 9/11 was a pivot point. one might argue that it set off the catastrophe we now face with the mideast wars and the refugee crisis, perhaps the major debacle of our century (and we refuse to hold the perpetrators accountable, adding to the debacle). but out of this tragedy sprang large scale resistance, first noted in 2003 when millions flooded the streets thruout the world to say, stop the war, stop the violence, be civil, be human. i was among them in nyc, maybe you also made your stand. the climate march in nyc that you and i attended 2 years ago is another example of worldwide action. let’s not forget the arab spring and the occupy movement, and now black lives matter. [and locally in detroit, massive resistance to water shut offs and the pollution in flint]

where does faith come in? i believe we may be on an upward trajectory and that widespread, international resistance with a call for renewal can be effective. textron [manufacturer of cluster bombs and components of nuclear weapons in wilmington ma, near my quaker meeting in cambridge], which you remember our meeting vigils at monthly for going on 7 years, recently announced they will end the manufacture of cluster bombs (next march). i have faith that our little vigil series affected this decision, along with many other larger, louder groups protesting textron. ditto, for now at least, about the north dakota pipeline, resisted by thousands of native people and their supporters. i have faith; i believe that such actions can be productive.

well, S, enough from me. i wonder what you think about faith, in your life, and generally. see you soon i hope.

A mouthful, for sure. Perhaps I intimidate her or perhaps—my hope—I inspire her.

Other than the disappointments yesterday and the grand Birmingham Quaker Meeting (in Berkeley—a strange confusion of place names, not Birmingham Alabama but Michigan, and not Berkeley California but Michigan) with the subsequent business meeting that I attended for the first hour only (to return home for the assignations that never occurred), I’m still uncertain about the quality of this trip, the photographic quality. Is Billy correct in writing, “safe,” meaning not too digging, not too provocative? I need to ponder this.

One example of safe might be my experience yesterday riding home. Al at the meeting, keeper of the gate, an old wizened limping black man, showed me the kits that Song and Spirit folks, a Franciscan Brothers’ facility rented by Birmingham Quakers for their Sundays, distributes to homeless persons. Consisting of cap (fleece or baseball, depending on the season), gloves (light or heavy depending on season), and toiletries, I took two, and later gave them to 2 black men who I thought might need them. The older of the two accepted the kit gratefully, extending his hand in thanksgiving, the younger said, I don’t need this but I will give it to someone who does. Both were very appreciative.

Why didn’t I photograph them? I might have, and they might have agreed, in part because of perceived obligation. But I didn’t. Was I too timid, or did I respect their humanhood and in the case of the older man did not want him to feel obligated nor chosen because of his condition. I carried the camera over my shoulder, in plain sight, and they might have noticed and asked to be photographed. Which happens periodically (as at the bike store recently, which led to what I hope are some decent photos).

I might have photographed Al. This case differs from the above. No obligation to say yes, and not picking him because of his dire condition. But I just never found him in the correct light or position or setting. Leaving I thought, a photograph of Al in front of the building?, but it never happened. Instead I photographed what may have been the safer choice, the large garden behind the building that he told me about. Was this a good choice? Too safe, in Billy’s estimation?

Such are the choices facing me regularly.

D-Town Farm, a cooperative farm in Rouge Park

D-Town Farm, a cooperative farm in Rouge Park

To be continued

LINKS

Birmingham (MI) Friends Meeting

Song and Spirit’s Outreach Care’avan

Downtown development

Downtown development

Ghost Bike, with my folding bike in the background

Ghost Bike, with my folding bike in the background

 

One should avoid picturing a land which can never be reached, and arousing hopes never to be fulfilled, for the indulgence only makes existence harder.

– Haniel Long, Notes for a New Mythology

Accounts from my journal, written while I photographed Detroit for three weeks during the end of summer 2016

PHOTOS

September 11, 2016, Sunday

Yesterday was another day off, either the first or second of this trip. The weather was windy and wet, my destinations such as the refineries and Capuchin farm were distant, I debated the risks of bicycling, and finally, reluctantly, decided to remain home and do: house work. (I biked only to the liquor store for a pint of Stout.)

Yesterday I did not attend or photograph the following:

A street fair in Midtown (AKA Cass Corridor)

An auction in Indian Village which would have provided entrance to homes

An exhibit of antique cars at Greenfield Village

The refineries

Eastern Market

A Greening of Detroit Farm

The Earthworks Farm of the Capuchin Franciscan Monastery

Did any of this significantly affect my project? What would I have photographed if I’d persisted? Would volunteers be working in the garden and farm? Would the street fair have been fun and exuberant? Would I have been drenched or driven back by strong winds?

I will never know. This is one of the minor mysteries of my project—the places, people, events, issues, things that I missed.

The days before my last in Detroit close in. What might surprise me today, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, what remains of this trip—and for the rest of my life? And which of these surprises will be important?

Here are a few surprises thus far on this journey, some or all I told Karen about yesterday as we sat on the front porch eating fish, stir fry veggies, and Basmati rice, while watching the sun descend:

Bike accident (she noticed the bright red glaring gash on my knee)

Visit with Latoyia, the principal at Noble School  (and with this a discussion of whether the blue shirt Karen lent me that I wore to the visit resembled a prisoner’s shirt)

Johnny inviting me to photograph him—and his horse, both in costume

The ghost bike (she’d asked to see recent photos, they included the bike, I did not tell her about my fears concerning bicycling)

Gloria’s aunt dying and Gloria going to Arkansas for the funeral (how Gloria is such a reliable neighbor)

And possibly a few others.

Are any of these significant?

I forgot to tell her about Kitty inviting me to give a forum about our Palestine-Israel process at my Quaker meeting in Cambridge Massachusetts. That the process represents a major surprise for our community, a form of unity around one limited aspect of that explosive situation.

Billy L wrote, in response to my short description of my Detroit project:

Sounds very “safe” skip. I understand your motivation on the ” radical” end by allowing folks who are not close to the Motor City happenings a look at what is going on but what about the entities on the other side of the line? The perspective of negativity  experienced by the working poor? I hope you are successful with your assignment and wish you the best.

Safe? Which aspect of my project did he refer to? The entire project? Safe? I must consider this.

As a general description of my Detroit project I’d written:

As most people now realize, Detroit has become an icon of the failed post-industrial city in the United States—suffering poverty, racism, corporate dominance, and corruption. However, as always, there is another side: resurgence through urban agriculture, grass-roots politics, arts activism, and the high-tech auto industry. With my photography I strive to expose the seeds of the new Detroit miracle. 

To be continued

Other than that, Icarus, how was the flight?

– W. Eugene Smith (about his Pittsburgh Project)

LINKS

“It’s boom time for developments in heart of Detroit,” by Louis Aguilar (January 2016)

“Detroit Resists fires back at Venice Biennale’s U.S. pavilion curators over community engagement”

Suspect arrested in gas station shooting caught on high-definition surveillance video

Detroit Street Watchers—”I’m doing what people think is crazy,” said Walter Gildersleeve (the founder). “I go through these abandoned houses, I go in the back of these yards.”

Ghost Bikes

“Fatal bicyclist crashes surged 57% in Michigan last year”

 

You must make the injustice visible and be prepared to die like a soldier to do so.

—Mahatma Gandhi

From a workshop about writing in the context of The Work That Reconnects, (designed by Joanna Macy) and led by Louise Dunlap, Aravinda Ananda, and Joseph Rotella. We were asked to imagine a creature speaking to us from the future.

Thank you Skip for sitting down with me to hear my story, so many generations into the future. You and many of your colleagues who struggled for justice in the 21st century are some of the many steps for me and my people, a part of your future.

I’ve heard about you thru my ancestors, in particular a man named Rex who lived in your time. I realize that you, his grandfather, and he had a rocky relationship while he was young but I’m so pleased he decided to publish your story, which I’ve read. But we’re here to listen to my story, what I’ve learned living in the 28th century CE on the planet Mars, colonized first by your country, and then made into a center of interplanetary development.

Mars_atmosphere_2

Mars in the 21st century before human habitation

Your contemporary, Mahatma Gandhi, answered the question, Mr. Gandhi, what do you think of western civilization? with the words, I think it would be a good idea. Well, surprisingly and against most predictions, humans were able to evolve a form of civilization but it required 3 generations past your own, into the late 22nd century. The growth of international law and international institutions allowed for evolution. My ancestors, recognizing the futility of the United Nations as constituted shortly after World War Two, because it was overly dominated by the United States, was abandoned. Unfortunately this required war, a catastrophic war that included the massive use of nuclear weapons. This nearly wiped out the human population and many other species as well. By the way, Israel, a nation you had hoped would correct its self-destructive path, entered the war with its nuclear arsenal and was wiped out. (This might have happened without World War Three because of Israel’s previous suicidal path, refusing to end its occupation and siege of the West Bank and Gaza.)

Israeli forces bombarded Shujaieh district in Gaza. July 20, 2014  Thousands of Palestinians run for their lives in the deadliest assault on the Palestinian enclave in five years. Heidi Levine for The National  SM

Israeli forces bombarded Shujaieh district in Gaza. July 20, 2014  Thousands of Palestinians run for their lives in the deadliest assault on the Palestinian enclave in five years. Photo by Heidi Levine for The National

This war led to the first large-scale emigration from the earth to Mars, via the moon. The moon did not prove capable of housing the 10 billion people fleeing the nuclear catastrophe, and so technology moved rapidly to transport human beings first to protected colonies on Mars and then, by creating an Earthlike Martian atmosphere, people were finally able to live in open air settlements. An additional benefit of migration to Mars was the absence of indigenous life. The colonizers did not need to repeat their ancestors’ genocide of native people in North America and because of advanced technology (and ethics) did not need to enslave people as your country did to expedite its economy and demonstrate what it thought to be its implicit white right to rule others.

journey_to_mars

Because of your generation’s unwillingness to acknowledge and take decisive action about your global climate crisis, Earth became what Mars was then—barren, an atmosphere of mostly carbon dioxide with some water vapor. Another irony is water: access to safe and ample water became a major problem during your generation. As with climate change—water a major ingredient of that phenomenon—21st century humans refused to deal effectively with the problem. Not included in your various computer simulations, shockingly, this resulted in the end of water, except for traces beneath the Earth’s surface and during Earth winter when some water still flows above ground.

Mars water

Mars showing evidence of flowing water, Hale Crater, NASA false-color image,
September 2015 (more info below), 
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

We were gifted not only technologically, but more importantly, morally. After 5 centuries of debate, the United States instituted a truth and reconciliation process that returned considerable land to natives and compensated African-Americans for the ancestors’ slavery. But then World War Three finally catalyzed an entirely new form of civilization; Gandhi himself might have been pleased.

This is not to claim we have solved all societal problems. New ones developed, notably questions about governance, sovereignty, and use of power in the court system, but we are definitely pleased that the human race survived the catastrophic nuclear war and atmospheric collapse—a topic I know was of great concern during the short existence of humans on earth.

West_Roxbury_Pipeline_IMG_4183

West Roxbury (Boston) Lateral Fracked Gas Pipeline: Thru the heart of a residential neighborhood, property taken by eminent domain—in response: civil disobedience. 

During your brutal uncivilized period many strived to sustain—not merely to sustain but to further evolve—the human race. And with it the many new species of plants and animals created by nuclear war, now exported to Mars that help us further evolve. We, all creation, continue.

LINKS

Mars Facts

NASA’S Journey to Mars

“New Mars 2020 rover will be able to ‘hear’ the Red Planet,” By Ashley Strickland, CNN, July 2016

“NASA Confirms Evidence That Liquid Water Flows on Today’s Mars,” September 2015

Human Settlement on Mars: Mars One is a not for profit foundation with the goal of establishing a permanent human settlement on Mars. To prepare for this settlement the first unmanned mission is scheduled to depart in 2020. Crews will depart for their one-way journey to Mars starting in 2026; subsequent crews will depart every 26 months after the initial crew has left for Mars. Mars One is a global initiative aiming to make this everyone’s mission to Mars, including yours. Join Mars One’s efforts to enable the next giant leap for mankind.

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