Excerpts from my journal while on the road for 3 weeks to the hinterland of the USA, with photos to show and photos to make.
I’ve had enough of someone else’s propaganda. I’m for truth, no matter who tells it. I’m for justice, no matter who it is for or against. I’m a human being first and foremost, and as such I’m for whoever and whatever benefits humanity as a whole.
June 29, 2011, Wednesday, Detroit, K’s house
Chilly, upper 50s, clear, slight breeze, after a very windy day and evening, wind from the west.
Yesterday morning while I worked across the street from my home at Gloria’s—trying out a new Internet access method—M phoned to ask if I’d be home so he could drop off some things for a friend. He arrived around 1 pm with a large load of food, drawings, frames, bike, and sundry. I invited him to stay for coffee. He accepted, seemed surprised by my cordiality. We discussed my photography, life after death, healing, the role of thought on health, my experience at this house, the neighborhood, and other matters. Such as Israel-Palestine. He asked me if I took sides. Yes, the side of international law. Was I partisan? Yes, for justice, peace, equality, and security for all parties. (I thought I handled that well, in the style of Christ, answering but not falling into a trap.)
What is your take on that situation? I asked. I have no take.
I mentioned how safe I feel knowing some of my neighbors. I used the example of suppose I experience a kidney stone and can’t pee and need to reach the emergency room rapidly. I could probably call on Johnny, even during the middle of the night, to request a ride.
He interrupted. Do you have kidney stones? No, this is merely an example. I visit Gaza regularly and because of the saline water many residents have kidney stones.
Well, you know that people there are pissed off (he didn’t acknowledge the pun) and stress causes health problems. After a goodbye to me he left to say goodbye to a Gloria across the street.
Surprising me, he returned and said, want to go for a tour of Detroit? I suggested the refinery district, one of my main Detroit themes. We explored by cruising rapidly thru the district, he didn’t want to risk being stopped and questioned. I doubt any of these photos made from the car will amount to anything. For a change, I was more interested in building relationships than making photos.
Last night I dreamt I was home in my second floor apartment looking out on the parking lot. Workers had removed a large tank which exposed a set of rusting pipes oozing water and oil. I was frightened that my basement would flood, all my photos destroyed. I considered what I might do to protect them. In addition, workers were repairing the elevator shaft. It was partially open. I accidentally kicked a broom into the shaft and listened and watched as it plummeted down. I thought, this could be me if I’m not careful.
June 30 2011, Thursday, Detroit, K’s house
Chilly, upper 50s, partly cloudy with cirrus and vapor trails, still.
Patricia Watson appeared to me last night in a dream. She and a man, identity unknown, looked grimly at me as I sorted thru small boxes. I asked, did I do something wrong, am I guilty of anything, am I hiding something or are you about me, is my photography off? Please tell me, why are you looking at me like that.
No answer. I continued sorting thru my boxes, finding treasures. We also discussed money.
So much for my dream life. I am currently reading a fascinating master’s thesis from a former MIT student, The Construction of Photojournalism: Visual Style and Branding in the Magnum Photos Agency by Michelle L. Woodward. It returns me to an earlier era of my career when I put together a slide tray of my photos to submit to Magnum for acceptance. I reached the finalist stage, which is some accomplishment. It also drags me to a gnawing worry that I’m not as good a photographer as I’d like to think. Have I not found an opening, a niche, but might later? Are my photos inferior when put against world standards, generic, that term I despise which was applied to my earlier work by Karl Baden. As the quotidian factor is the curse of much of my life, the generic factor is the curse of my photographic life.
Yesterday is a case in point. I scoured the refinery area by bike, as I’ve done earlier, and as I did by car the day before. I photographed. Reviewing them later, I find not a single one stands out. A pile of crap. What to do? Go again? Find another angle? Wait for better access? Show them to someone for some sort of response? Ditch these photos and drop the idea for this larger Detroit project until I can devise a better strategy?
Neighborhood next to the refinery district, area code 48217, known as the most polluted neighborhood in Michigan
Garth Lenz (curious last name for a photographer), the first price winner at Social Documentary Net, made aerial photos of the tar sands oil region in Alberta Canada. Simply by going into the air he made his stunning photos. Suppose I were to beg, borrow, or steal a helicopter and lift off over the refineries? Or devise the equivalent?
Alberta tar sands oil field, Canada, photo by Garth Lenz via Social Documentary Net
Tar sands oil (euphemistically named “Heavy Oil”) is coming to Detroit, which is one of the main reasons I’m here. Growing up in Chicago, the Great Lakes is imprinted in my heart. After the Gulf oil rig explosion in 2010 and the Kalamazoo River spill of tar sands oil that same summer, I visualized a pipe rupture flooding my beloved Great Lakes. Poof. Goodbye clean water, goodbye birds and fish, goodbye a major portion of the earth. [Recent news: major oil spill under the Yellowstone River, July 2011]
To reach the refinery district for my second foray I made a long bike ride south to southwest Detroit, thru Dearborn, stopping on the way home for chicken shuwarma at the New Yazmeen bakery and café, wind from the west, mild, not a problem. I dropped by Ford’s sewage treatment plant, stood at the gate reading signs when suddenly the gate slowly creaked open. I walked over to a black man peering at his phone who I assumed was security and had opened the gate. For permission he told me, Go to gate 10, turn left, ask there. I neglected to do it, not especially interested in sewage pools today. Shortly after that I crossed a bridge and spotted a Great Blue Heron on the River Rouge banks waiting to snare and eat fish. The river passes near the Ford plant and the refinery district. The stench from the water was nearly unbearable. I choked. What will happen to that bird after eating fish from that water?
Near the end of my romp, as I photographed from my moving camera platform, I noticed a small truck marked Security that seemed to be following me. I stayed on the sidewalk and even when the truck pulled into a parking lot blocking my path, I did not veer but went straight to the truck and said brazenly to the driver, are you looking for me? Oh no, not at all, the driver answered, smiling.
Relieved and slightly disappointed that I couldn’t put into practice the routine I’d rehearsed as I biked—Isn’t this sidewalk public property? Yes. Then I have a right to photograph anything from it. No confrontation for me today. Little access either.
TO BE CONTINUED
The Construction of Photojournalism: Visual Style and Branding in the Magnum Photos Agency by Michelle L. Woodward
“Detroit: Benzene in the Sewers…. Really?!?” by Air Hugger
“48217: Life in Michigan’s most polluted ZIP code” (with photos)
“Canada’s Tar Sands and the True Cost of Oil”
Photographs by Garth Lenz via Social Documentary Net