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Archive for the ‘Love’ Category

[The meeting ] has been about much more than naming oppressions. We danced (some of us), sang, laughed, wept, mourned, strategized, debated and disagreed and most importantly we dreamed. We dreamed of a beloved community.—Nyle Fort [one of the presenters]

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This description is not hyperbole. My 3 days in Chicago (my hometown) were extraordinary, often brought me to tears. In large measure this was the perfect storm of mystery, political action, and soulfulness, ritually enlivened by the best practises of Judaism. It is all and more what I’ve long desired for Quakers–no split between holiness, love, and political action.

Love, joy, outrage, smart thinking, argumentation, energy, cooperation, innovation, singing, dancing flooded the meeting of over 1000 participants—and of course the stuff of conferences, meeting and learning. I was in tears twice on the last day, first during the morning plenary which was meditative, based on the power of rocks. I wept because I felt I was so perfectly in the right place, with a community that melds spirituality and political action. We sang Jewish, prayed Jewish, danced Jewish, lit candles Jewish, and tried to fully embody Jewish justice traditions. In some weird way, I may be more Jewish than some of my Jewish buddies. Without the pedigree probably.

Secondly, our closing included words from the Palestinian activist, Rasmea Odeh, whose trial I attended in Detroit two years ago and who has now offered a plea bargain–voluntary deportation, no prison, no fine. A Black activist from the baptist preacher tradition, Nyle Fort, and Linda Sarsour, one of the main organizers of the DC Women’s March, Brooklyn born, Muslim, wears the hijab, and has been wildly targeted, joined her, all three pushing us up on our feet.

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

Quakers to Refineries (photos)
Added November 23, 2016

Johnny’s Neighborhood (movie)

I find myself at a crossroads with this project, nearly 7 years since I began it. Now I cannot decide what to do next—consider the active photography ended, make small changes in my direction, or make major changes like devise a new strategy. Do I have too much brick and mortar, i.e., buildings, and not enough blood and guts, i.e., people? I wonder, for you the viewer, of the dynamic I have studied and tried to photograph, what comes thru?

To gain some clarity I’ve joined a group exhibition at my Quaker meeting in Cambridge Massachusetts. In my portion of the exhibit, referencing the exhibit theme “Hope Springs Eternal,” rather than show only finished exhibition size prints  I chose to show a set of thumbnail prints, each about 1.5 by 2 inches on 13 by 19 paper.  I ask you, the viewer, to vote by noting file names of photos that interest you, and sending me the names. My late mentor, Andy Towl, once asked me, when you view an exhibit, Skip, what stops you?

What if anything in my array of these small photos from one of my six sessions at Motor City (rapidly becoming Bicycle City) stops you? Please let your eye dance across the images, with as little conscious thought as possible. What strikes you?

If you click on the array below, you’ll see a matrix or grid. You can then click on the array, individual grids will pop up, and you can use the arrow keys to run thru the set. To enlarge the image so you can read the file names of individual thumbnail sets, please click on “view full size.” You can easily comment in the space on the lower left of the unenlarged grid. (A little complicated, I realize.)

Feel free to comment to this blog, write me at skipschiel@gmail.com or phone me at 617-441-7756.

I plan to return to Detroit in June, mainly for urban agriculture and events commemorating the 50th anniversary of the uprising.

Here’s my general statement:

Searching for the Seeds of the New Detroit Miracle

An examination of the shifting dynamics in the country’s iconic post-industrial city

I have been photographing, making movies, and writing about Detroit since 2010, when I attended the U.S. Social Forum that summer, initially awed by the abandoned and scrapped buildings and the enormous swaths of vacant land. Later I learned about burgeoning urban agriculture, the arts movement, numerous civic projects, innovative reuse of buildings, the rise of bicycling, Big Money pouring in to build sports stadiums and commercial and residential housing, etc.

The inner core, some 20% of the land thrives with the injection of Big Money, largely from local billionaire entrepreneurs. Paramount among them, Dan Gilbert, the founder and chief of Quicken Loans, and the late (died Feb. 2017 at 87) Mike Ilitch, founder and owner of Little Caesars Pizza. Together they might own more than three-quarters of the newly developed property such as sports stadiums, office buildings, and luxury housing. Black and largely economically suffering people, many suffering from the recent bankruptcy of the city, inhabit the remaining 80% of the area.

I was raised on Chicago’s Southside from 1940 to 1955 when my family ignobly was the first to flee African-Americans searching for new housing. I have always been ashamed of this part of my family history and recently realized that by returning regularly to Detroit, living in a Black neighborhood, part of the 80% land mass, I have returned. I’ve made friends among my neighbors, developed a portrait series about them, and I’ve interviewed some about changes in their neighborhood.

Influenced by mentors Robert Frank and his book, The Americans, and W. Eugene Smith with his Pittsburgh Project, I hope to reveal aspects of Detroit beyond what’s now termed “Ruin Porn” and ultra beautiful and expensive development. I hope to portray the dynamic between Big and Little Money, development and gentrification of the urban core fed by Big Money, and the effects on housing, education, water access, urban agriculture, and economic development in the periphery, resulting from Little Money. This includes reduced pensions and health benefits of civil retirees and, to a lesser extent, police and firefighters.

2017 marks the 50th anniversary of what some call “The Uprising,” others “The Riots,” marking a new phase in Detroit’s demotion from what had been named “The Paris of the West.” And now? I intend to continue my photographic exploration. As W. Eugene Smith has stated, “Truth is my prejudice.”

I ponder: will Detroit become the model for post-industrial urban resurrection or self implode?

TO BE CONTINUED

LINKS

Anniversary of Uprising

Turning Derelict Buildings into an Urban Farm in Detroit

Riverwise magazine

James and Grace Lee Boggs Center for Community Leadership

 

 

 

 

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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

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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)

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The universal door manifests itself
in the voice of the rolling tide.
Hearing and practicing it, we become a child,
born from the heart of a lotus,
fresh, pure, and happy,
capable of speaking and listening
in accord with the universal door.
With only one drop of the water
of compassion
from the branch of the willow,
spring returns to the great Earth.

—Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva (as quoted by Thich Nhat Hanh)

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Courtesy of Bread & Puppet Theater

I suffer the perpetual difficulty of pure listening. No distractions, no meanders, no questions or reflections of any sort, the purest form of listening possible. Deep listening as taught by the venerable Zen Buddhist monk, poet, and activist, Thich Nhat Hanh. No visual observations or any other sensory input. Is this even possible? Is listening ever pure? Is the mind ever truly empty? Could the Buddha do it, when in his prime? Could Thich Nhat Hanh himself when healthy? Can anyone teach pure listening? What might be some techniques?

Shifting to my usual tool, photography, I might ask the same questions. Photography without distractions—or are distractions important to expand vision? Photography without…without what? What is the essence of pure mind photography, expanded vision, seeing as if the other senses were detached, the mind itself dormant so that the connection between scene observed and camera is clear, only the retina and camera sensor involved, a direct channel?

Have I ever achieved pure or deep listening? Possibly I do it best when in conversation, not in simply listening. And photography, pure and deep photography, maybe when most attentive to the larger world—including my inner world—I make the purest photos, the most powerful. Where was my mind’s concentration when I met the young men in the Gaza city park and chose one (or did he choose me?) to photograph?

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Gaza City, 2012 c.

What was my thinking? Did I see his eyes thru my viewfinder, my frame, via the inner mechanism of my camera? Did I concentrate better because I was distracted by thoughts about the camera’s settings, position, the scene’s lighting? How pure was this seemingly impure process that may have resulted in what some say is a beautiful, moving, extraordinary photograph?

Then, shifting again, to my life. How can I live a pure life? How does pure listening help, if it does, pure photography, if it does, pure eating, pure sleeping, pure fucking, if any of these are possible?

I pray. That seems to help. I call on and regularly thank my muses, maybe surrogates for what others might name god or higher power or inner light or the divine or spirit.

(Asked of Thich Nhat Hanh in 2001 shortly after the attacks on the World Trade Towers and Pentagon) If you could speak to Osama bin Laden, what would you say to him?…

If I were given the opportunity to be face to face with Osama bin Laden, the first thing I would do is listen. I would try to understand why he had acted in that cruel way. I would try to understand all of the suffering that had led him to violence. It might not be easy to listen in that way, so I would have to remain calm and lucid. I would need several friends with me, who are strong in the practice of deep listening, listening without reacting, without judging and blaming. In this way, an atmosphere of support would be created for this person and those connected so that they could share completely, trust that they are really being heard.

After listening for some time, we might need to take a break to allow what has been said to enter into our consciousness. Only when we felt calm and lucid would we respond. We would respond point by point to what had been said. We would respond gently but firmly in such a way to help them to discover their own misunderstandings so that they will stop violent acts from their own will….

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Deep Listening Hut, constructed in homage to Thich Nhat Hanh, in his root (first) temple, Tu Hieu, Hue, Vietnam, photo by Skip Schiel (copyright), 1995

(Thanks to Louise Dunlap, Aravinda Ananda, and Joseph Rotella whose workshop on writing and The Work That Reconnects inspired this writing and several more possible blogs to follow.)

LINKS:

Thich Nhat Hanh on Compassionate Listening | Super Soul Sunday | Oprah Winfrey Network (short video)

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Photojournalist, Advocate for the Undocumented : 1940 – 2008

“I could hear the five hundred pound bombs going off, and see A-37 jets that my country had sent down to El Salvador, and we were in a dirt floor hut and those who could read shared some scripture …, and one of them a mother breast feeding her baby, and the A-37 jets came in … And then the woman brought me out of the hut, and as the bombs were going off in the valley she pointed to the planes coming in and she said they come from a part of the world where people believe in a God of death. We believe in a God of the living, and when you believe in the God of the living, she said you end up doing things that you never dreamt yourself capable of doing. ” (Jim Harney)

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Courtesy of Jessica Bloch and Bangor Daily News

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Courtesy of Jessica Bloch and Bangor Daily News

Sages are benevolent without trying,
trusted without speaking.
They gain without seeking,
succeed without striving.
They take naturalness to heart,
preserve ultimate reality,
embrace the Way,
and promote sincerity,
so the whole world follows them as echoes
respond to sounds;
as shadows imitate forms.
What they work on is the root.

—Wen-Tzu

Jim shared his apartment with me, “temporarily,” until I found a new home to buy. My home deal fell thru. That was in 1989. It is now 2015, 25 years since I moved in with Jim. He moved out around 1995 to live with Nancy, his life partner, in Bangor Maine. Jim influenced me greatly, not so much by the quality of his photography, but thru his dedication to the suffering caused by political ignorance and greed and the resistance this often engendered—and his use of photography.  Happily I remain where we once lived together, beholden to his example.

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With Nancy Minott, photo by Skip Schiel, 2008

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With Louise Dunlap, photo by Skip Schiel, 2008

Meeting a woman selling organic blueberries at her roadside stand

Walking in Solidarity with the Undocumented, photo by Skip Schiel, 2008

Here’s an obit from 2008 in the Bangor Daily News. And from the Nation.

My good friend Louise and I walked with him for a few days on his last journey in August 2008. She introduced Jim and me, I will always be grateful to her for that connection. Curiously, I’ve found no online source for his photographic (or written) archive, a distinct loss. Vanished!

Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to gird yourself and walk wherever you wished; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will gird you, and bring you where you do not wish to go. (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he [Peter] would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.”

—John, 21:18

LINKS:

Jim Harney’s Final Journal
Nancy Minott, Jim’s companion in life, discovered this journal that Jim kept the last summer of his life. Here are the first three segments shared. Pictures are from Possibilidad.

Jim Harney’s Walk in Solidarity with the Undocumented (Video)

Milwaukee 14 Today »James Harney

“The Long Walk,” written and sung by Chris Nauman

Some of my photos of Jim

My earlier blog (2008): Jim Harney Walks

 

 

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Our ultimate end must be the creation of the beloved community.

—Martin Luther King, Jr.

Excerpts from my journal

PHOTOS (in two parts)

November 25, 2014, Tuesday, on the train east of Cleveland heading home to Cambridge

The main event of yesterday [November 24, 2014], other than my departure from Detroit after 3 weeks (which on the universal scale counts for very little) was photographing the Boggs School, a publicly-funded charter school. Initially the head, Amanda Rosman, seemed nervous about my presence and asked me to estimate how long I’d be in the school. She also cautioned me against photographing the kids of one family whose mother refused blanket permission for photography, a prohibition that baffles me, especially at such a renowned school as the Boggs.

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I was deeply impressed with the quality of education. The teachers seemed skilled in handling their subjects and discipline problems (the latter were frequent in one art class I observed, not in others). A main pedagogical principle is place-based education, meaning the students are to learn about where they live and go to school. One group, with the theme of orienteering, went for a walk around the block. When they stepped outside, the teacher, a burly fellow with thick arms teaching gym or physical education, asked them which directions were north, east, etc. I added and he agreed, what direction are the clouds coming from? and he added, and that means the direction of the storm—all central to moment and place.

[Place-based education is] local, and it’s connected to students in a way that they can identify with. It’s either a problem in their community or an event that’s happening, or it could be a geological phenomenon. But it’s something that they’re familiar with….so it means something to them. And then we ask questions about it.

—Cay Graig, Vermont teacher

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After the walk —perfect for me because it shows the East-side neighborhood, typically deteriorated—they built something inside that I failed to locate and photograph.

Another teacher dealt with garbage, putting on the board 3 key questions: what happens to our garbage, where does it go, and what does it mean to throw it away? She had them write in their notebooks, and then read from them. Later she showed them an effecting movie about garbage.

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The school runs kindergarten thru 5th, in 3 groups, something like kindergarten, 1-2-3, and 4-5. One teacher wears a hijab, about 1/3 the other teachers are black. Amanda, now softened toward me, not overseeing me as she did at our first location, the playground, and apparently assured I will do the school well, is a cofounder. I promised to send her a selection before I post, to make sure no kids whose parents refused permission are included.

Upon entering I noticed immediately two things: pizza for lunch and the policy of choices rather than self-control. The latter came up when a teacher in a contentious situation, rather than preaching self-control, reminded the student that he had choices. This reflected a conversation with my dear friends, Anne and Fred, when Anne advocated the choices approach. A good principle to keep in mind—with one’s self as well as others.

Because Thanksgiving was later in the week, let us think about Native Americans

Other observations: the art teacher showed them drawings of Indian language symbols in the context of the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday. (I wonder what spin they’d put on the traditional Thanksgiving story, probably a more accurate one.) Water bottles with names were in many rooms, presumably an effort to teach conservation. On my second pass at the bottles I photographed them with neighboring houses in the background. Often I used my Canon camera’s pullout viewfinder so I could hold the camera at my waist level, thereby distracting the children so they noticed me less.

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Our challenge, as we enter the new millennium, is to deepen the commonalities and the bonds between these tens of millions, while at the same time continuing to address the issues within our local communities by two-sided struggles that not only say ‘no’ to the existing power structure but also empower our constituencies to embrace the power within each of us to crease the world anew.

—Grace Lee Boggs, The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activism for the Twenty-First Century

Now the big story of that event, altho minor in the grand picture (too bad that I have no photos), this meant a great deal to me: wind. Gusting to more than 50 mph, swiveling between south and north, it blew me to the school, but ferociously resisted me on my little pedal machine (my folding bicycle) later when I tried to return home from the school. It nearly blew me over when I left the protection of a building and entered an intersection. I shifted down to the lowest gear to make headway against the tumultuous wind. Crackling, snapping, flaring, ripped-by-the-wind power lines forced a detour. I thought I might not make it without the intercession of either a divine being or someone like my neighbor Johnny with his huge truck. One block from the school, it blew over my bike when I stopped to photograph a recently burned house, stepping thru bags of what turned out to be shit to get a position. The wind-induced fall damaged my bike light needed in the dim, dank, afternoon darkness. Riding on the leeward side of buildings, on sidewalks, I achieved my objective: home. Thank god, humdilila. Outside my home I washed the shit off my boots and bike pedals and brought my bike inside.

My bike ride thru the wind might represent the school’s course thru the perils and challenges of troubled but perhaps recovering Detroit.

Down the street

Burnt house

TO BE CONTINUED

LINKS

Boggs School website

Boggs School Facebook page

A story about the founding of the school

Place-based education

“The Boggs School Oral History Project: Linking Youth and Elders to the Past, Present and Future,” by Laura de Palma, December 2014

Children’s Voices, Dave Eggers Illustrates Stories by Elementary Schoolers,” by Maria Russo, December 2014

Detroit Walk-In Portrait Studio, a video about a photographic project at the school conducted by Corine Vermeulen, December 2014

New coalition on Detroit schools unveils its membership,” by Ann Zaniewski, December 2014

Activist Boggs honored for work toward social justice,” by Amy He, December 2014

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Homes in Palmer Woods, a district of Detroit

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Excerpts from my journal

PHOTOS

November 19, 2014, Wednesday, Detroit, Karen’s house

Extremely cold, upper 10s, overcast, calm—light snow expected over the next several days.

 A big day with Colin Connair (formerly of the Detroit police department, now a sergeant with the Grosse Pointe Park police department). First the absences. We did not manage to visit the functioning Detroit police station as I’d hoped—they never responded to Colin’s requests. We did not get permission to photograph the private security company in Palmer Woods that he told me about—altho I do have a tentative visit lined up for this early afternoon but I think I’ll cancel for several reasons: 1. Colin is not available to accompany me and he is a central feature in the photos and he presents himself as a police officer which might sweeten the conversation. 2. It is frigid and snow is expected, making biking difficult. And 3. I have a date with Kim at 3:30 pm for the New Work events of the afternoon and evening. So I might request a postponement.

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Home of a Grosse Pointe Park woman murdered in this garage by a killer allegedly hired by the woman’s husband

Despite those setbacks we did photograph in Grosse Pointe Park, his home city, two sites of crimes—the murder of a woman allegedly by her husband and a robbery in an alley. Plus a barrier erected by the city to block easy access from Detroit [since partially removed]. Maybe not the most dramatic photos but they can offer a taste of life in Detroit and environs.

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Detroit side

Barrier between Grosse Pointe Park and Detroit, from the Detroit side

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Looking into Detroit from the other side of the barrier

Colin showed me the gas station that was the site of a shooting, the victim badly injured and bleeding, customers stepping over him as he lay there—as a Detroit police officer Colin came upon this scene later. And another site, a vacant lot, was the scene of a raging fire during a frigid time—Colin doubles as firefighter, common in small towns to conserve resources.)

Scene of a crime in Detroit that Colin responded to when on the force

The gas station where a man lay bleeding

We explored a rehabilitated housing complex which appears to house mixed income people. And the Roosevelt Hotel, the squat I thought the two guys at Manna’s kitchen told me about. But it is being renovated and seemed tightly secured. Other buildings near the intersection they’d named, roughly 14th and Vernon, did not look like squats. That Colin was willing to explore with me heightens my love and respect for him.

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Roosevelt Place Hotel, under renovation, across from the abandoned Michigan Central Train Station

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The hotel next to what remains of two buildings named Imagination Station, both burned and gutted, one ripped down

We cruised thru Palmer Woods, hoping to bump into private security in their Hummers. No luck. I made a series of photos of the houses, each distinctive, most of them exceedingly elegant. We found the so-called Bishop’s House, once occupied by the city’s bishop, now sold to private interests. In preparation for this, it was made “profane,” i.e., all religious articles removed including the Stations of the Cross and the papal throne, whatever that might be. We never found the Fisher Mansion that Spenser, Barbara’s husband, told us about.

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Catholic bishop's former residence

Catholic bishop’s former residence

We joked about the church and its wealth. I told him about the day before meeting Father Tom who runs a women’s shelter, much like that of Shelly Douglass in Birmingham Alabama (Tom and Shelly know each other). The two residences represent the two poles of the Catholic Church—“royal splendor” and “catholic worker grit.” Similar to the gap between Palmer Woods and a somewhat less affluent Grosse Pointe Park, and most of Detroit.

I thought I recognized the home of Barbara and her husband Spenser, but I was mistaken. A woman appeared in a second floor window, peering at me suspiciously. She called, what do you want?

Is this the home of Barbara H?

It is not!

Do you know where she lives?

I don’t!

All very curt, unneighborly and indicative of fear.

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Photo courtesy of internet

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Dale Brown of Threat Management Center checks in on an elderly woman in the Boston Edison neighborhood in Detroit, Mich., AP Photo | Detroit Free Press, 2011

Colin phoned the security company, Threat Management  Division/Century Security (TMD), formerly known as Recon, identified himself as a police officer, said he was with his friend, a photojournalist from Boston, explained we’d like to talk with them about how they work, said this is not an expose. I complimented him on his phone presence and asked again whether he’d consider moving into detective work. No, he likes what he does, street patrol in a car as a sergeant partly because of the hours.

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Colin and I discussed our work, how we both are drawn to danger and accept it. He asked me about danger when I photograph in Israel-Palestine, whether I’d ever been threatened with kidnapping. Yes, I have, and I told him about the time I and friends searched for the site of Rachel Corrie’s murder, when we encountered armed men, they looked inside the car and saw me, how I believed I was about to be kidnapped, but I was shockingly calm. He reminded me of the occasion when a man he was about to arrest leaned forward in the driver’s seat and could have pulled out a hidden gun. And the many times during a street chase that ended with capitulation of the suspect.

He works 2 back-to-back 12-hour shifts, 7 pm to 7 am, with 2 days off between. Which he finds ideal for his family life, 4 kids by 2 marriages, the youngest in pre-school. He calls this stage “the last days of my many-year nightmare with young kids.”

How do you deal with boredom, Colin? I asked. He replied, as a friend says, the Internet is a great boon for cops. Grosse Pointe Park cops know where all the open Wi-Fi hotspots are in the city. When I was doing street patrol in Detroit, I often read books during my down times.

We discovered that he was raised on Franklin Street in Cambridge. I told him where my younger daughter and her family live and he replied, I grew up next door! My mom built a trellis for the grape vine that is on the border fence. I remember looking over that fence at the set back house where your family now lives.

This coincidence is yet another element in what I call our “line up,” elements of our close friendship. On a lesser level, it’s like my friendship with Dan Turner—many eerie correspondences, seemingly incomprehensible. Colin is one of my Detroit treasures—a gateway to Detroit divergences and contradictions.

A stop for coffee and donuts

Donut and coffee stop

TO BE CONTINUED

LINKS

Palmer Woods

“Palmer Woods Historic District”

“The Other Detroit” by Ta-Nehisi Coates, February 2011
The city’s grandest enclave clings to the dream.

Threat Management Division Of Recon Security Palmer Woods
Palmer Woods channel 2 story demonstrates the efficacy of the Threat Management Center V.I.P.E.R.S. bodyguard training program. By creating non-violent outcomes through non-offensive, non- intrusive tactics, strategies and logistics preventing the conditions that lead to inappropriate societal conditions that are not conducive for a good quality of life.

“Homegrown Documentary Focuses on Paramilitary Security Force in Detroit” by Allan Lengel, December 2012
The movie “Detroit Threat Management” by Jacob Hurwitz-Goodman

“Fisher Mansion sells for $1.6 million in Detroit’s Palmer Woods,” September 2014

“Detroit’s Fisher Mansion to be retreat for addicts,” by Christine MacDonald and Joel Kurth, September 2014

“The Cities of Grosse Pointe Park and Detroit have reached an agreement regarding the construction of Piazza Square.  The following links contain an artist’s rendering and street plan for the new Piazza Square:  Artist Rendering & Approved Joint Plan.”

“Road barriers aim for safer streets in Detroit neighborhood”

“$10,000 reward offered in Grosse Pointe teen’s death,” by Mara MacDonald [recently increased to $100,000]
Local real estate developer offers reward for information

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