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Dedicated to Fadia Daibes Murad, award-winning Palestinian hydrologist, activist, personal friend and colleague. In 2009 she died when her car crashed during a heavy rain storm as she returned from an international water conference in Turkey.

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And to Monica Lewis-Patrick, Detroit Water Warrior, co-founder and co-director of We the People of Detroit who fortunately and providentially I now work with.

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Wade in the water
Wade in the water
Children, wade in the water
God’s gonna trouble the water
Who’s that young girl dressed in red
Wade in the water
Must be the children that Moses led
God’s gonna trouble the water

What precisely are the links, and how can I portray them?

water-justice-pal-mich-page-1-sm.jpgClick here for an enlarged version, easier to read.

The sources of these claims:Water Justice-Pal-Mich-page 2

Click here for an enlargement.

How did this theme evolve for me, comparing water rights in the two regions?

Probably while in the West Bank of occupied Palestine on one of my many journeys there since 2003. On that first visit I observed a luxurious swimming pool in the huge Israeli settlement of Ma’ale Adummin, near Jerusalem. I visited Palestinian villages in the West Bank, some within a stone’s throw of Ma’ale Adummin, such as Bil’in, and Palestinian cities like Ramallah, and heard stories and observed details about water deprivation. A hydrologist with the Palestinian Hydrology Group showed and explained limits on well depths, cistern construction, and water harvesting from green houses in the West Bank. He introduced me to Palestinians who needed to buy water from Israel at four times the rate Israelis pay, consuming on average about one-quarter what Israelis consume. The clincher in the West Bank: Israel exploits 80% of the water in the mountain aquifer which is mostly under the West Bank.

Swimming pool, Ma'ale Adummim, Israeli settlement, Oct 03

Swimming Pool, Ma’ale Adummim, 2003, photo by Skip Schiel

In Gaza where I also visit regularly (when I can enter, which is more and more difficult because of Israeli restrictions), I photographed for a UN study about the hydrology, touring the small region with experts and interviewing officials. We visited fragile sewage storage ponds in the northern section of Gaza. Designed to be temporary until Israel granted permission to expand the sewage ponds, one later broke and flooded a nearby village.

Sewage pond, Rafah, Gaza, 2006

Sewage pond, Rafah, Gaza, 2005 c, photo by Skip Schiel

Over my nine explorations to Palestine-Israel I traced the entire Jordan River system from headwaters on Mt Hermon to its miserable terminus in the dying Dead Sea, much of it thru the West Bank. Here the lower Jordan (shrinking and filled with sewage) is inaccessible to Palestinians. Some 50% of the western shore of the Dead Sea is in the West Bank but controlled entirely by Israel.

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Dead Sea, stranded pier because of rapidly decreasing sea level—this section of the Sea is in the West Bank and most Palestinians are not allowed on this beach.

Wade in the water
Wade in the water
Children, wade in the water
God’s gonna trouble the water
Who’s that young girl dressed in red
Wade in the water
Must be the children that Moses led
God’s gonna trouble the water

Detroit drew me for many reasons—the presence of the Great Lakes with their abundant water, refineries that pollute air and possibly water, the Detroit River, and declining access to water by people struggling with high water rates while water bills of corporations are endlessly disputed or are ignored. There are health risks to water shut-offs, including sickening bacteria that linger after water restoration. On my most recent trip in June 2017 I discovered that more than 100,000 Detroit households had suffered water deprivation. Shut-offs often meant families lost custody of their children because lack of water affected sanitation, cooking, and drinking.

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United State Steel Corporation in Detroit from Windsor Ontario Canada, 2017, photo by Skip Schiel

In 2014 Flint generated international attention when, because of emergency managers attempting to save money, the city switched to Flint River water, leading to lead poisoning. As of early 2016 Flint has the highest water rates in the nation. Because of the widespread attention on Detroit and Flint, the Detroit city government has finally instituted an installment plan for avoiding cutoffs, easing the burden on low-income households. Many activists criticize this plan as being inadequate. Flint has returned to the comparatively cleaner Detroit water system.

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Free Water Distribution, Flint Michigan, 2017, photo by Skip Schiel

Most importantly, Detroit and Flint are on the cutting edge of “Water Warriors,” citizens fighting for water justice, similar to activist groups in Palestine and elsewhere, such as the Boston-based Alliance for Water Justice in Palestine. I visited Flint for the first time in June 2017, after learning in detail the conditions, consequences, and struggles of lead-poisoned water at the Second International Gathering on Social Movements on Water. I photographed the contaminated Flint River and, additionally, staff providing free bottled water to residents.

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Free Water Distribution by We the People of Detroit, 2017, photo by Skip Schiel

Who’s that young girl dressed in white
Wade in the water
Must be the children of the Israelite
Oh, God’s gonna trouble the water

Wade in the water, wade in the water children
Wade in the water,
God’s gonna trouble the water

Flint River

Flint River, 2017, photo by Skip Schiel

What’s to be done?

In 2014 activists invited two of the United Nation’s Special Rapporteurs to visit. Catarina de Albuquerque, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation, declared: “I’ve been to rich countries like Japan and Slovenia where basically 99 percent of population have access to water, and I’ve been to poor countries where half the population doesn’t have access to water … but this large-scale retrogression or backwards steps [in Detroit and Flint] is new for me. From a human rights perspective, any retrogression should be seen as a human right violation.”

In advance of their arrival, U.N. Rapporteurs de Albuquerque and Leilani Farha wrote, “Disconnection of water services because of failure to pay due to lack of means constitutes a violation of the human right to water and other international human rights.”

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UN Special Rapporteur, Leo Heller, by video feed (on the screen in upper right) at the Second International Gathering on Social Movements on Water, 2017, photo by Skip Schiel

In 2010 the UN’s General Assembly declared it “Recognizes the right to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation as a human right that is essential for the full enjoyment of life and all human rights.”

Passed by the General Assembly in 1948, the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, stated that “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care.”

Notably missing: the fundamental human (and other creaturely) right to clean, safe, affordable, accessible water.

On the 60th anniversary of this landmark declaration, Steven Starr, producer of the extraordinary movie, Flow, presented at the United Nations a petition to add Article 31 to the Universal Declaration:

“Everyone has the right to clean and accessible water, adequate for the health and well-being of the individual and family, and no one shall be deprived of such access or quality of water due to individual economic circumstance.”

Maude Barlow, in 2008-2009 the UN’s first senior adviser on water issues to the president of the United Nations General Assembly, stated “Water must be seen as a commons that belongs to the Earth and all species alike. It must be declared a public trust that belongs to the people, the ecosystem and the future and preserved for all time and practice in law. Clean water must be delivered as a public service, not a profitable commodity. We need to assert once and for all that access to clean, affordable water is a fundamental human right that must be codified in nation-state law and as a full covenant at the United Nations.”

Maude_Barlow_photo SM

Maude Barlow

Who’s that young girl dressed in blue
Wade in the water
Must be the children that’s coming through,
God’s gonna trouble the water, yeah

Wade in the water, wade in the water children
Wade in the water,
God’s gonna trouble the water

What’s next?

Fight to make and implement law, while continuing to expose conditions. In Fadia Daibes Murad’s personal words to me, “I’m beyond writing about the conditions. I want solutions, and I feel the main route to solutions is thru adjudication by international bodies.”

Water must be:
  • Sufficient. The water supply for each person must be sufficient and continuous for personal and domestic uses. These uses ordinarily include drinking, personal sanitation, washing of clothes, food preparation, personal and household hygiene. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), between 50 and 100 litres of water per person per day are needed to ensure that most basic needs are met and few health concerns arise.
  • Safe. The water required for each personal or domestic use must be safe, therefore free from micro-organisms, chemical substances and radiological hazards that constitute a threat to a person’s health. Measures of drinking-water safety are usually defined by national and/or local standards for drinking-water quality. The World Health Organization (WHO) Guidelines for drinking-water quality provide a basis for the development of national standards that, if properly implemented, will ensure the safety of drinking-water.
  • Acceptable. Water should be of an acceptable colour, odour and taste for each personal or domestic use. […] All water facilities and services must be culturally appropriate and sensitive to gender, life cycle and privacy requirements.
  • Physically accessible. Everyone has the right to a water and sanitation service that is physically accessible within, or in the immediate vicinity of the household, educational institution, workplace or health institution. According to WHO, the water source has to be within 1,000 metres of the home and collection time should not exceed 30 minutes.
  • Affordable. Water, and water facilities and services, must be affordable for all. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) suggests that water costs should not exceed 3 per cent of household income.
 —UN’s Water for Life Decade

You don’t believe I’ve been redeemed,
Wade in the water
Just so the whole lake goes looking for me
God’s gonna trouble the water

Wade in the water, wade in the water children
Wade in the water,
God’s gonna trouble the water

By Willie Mae Thornton

LINKS:

Detroit & Flint

Detroit water board approves 1.7% rate hike” by Christine Ferretti, The Detroit News, June 21, 2017

“Nearly 18K at risk as Detroit water shutoffs begin” by Christine Ferretti, The Detroit News, April 2017

“UN officials ‘shocked’ by Detroit’s mass water shutoffs,” by Laura Gottesdiener (2014)

UN: Detroit: Disconnecting water from people who cannot pay – an affront to human rights, say UN experts (2014)

Flint Water Crisis Fast Facts

Palestine-Israel

“Water apartheid in Gaza and Flint,” by David Cronin (2016)

From the women of Gaza to the women of Flint

World Bank: Water Situation Alarming in Gaza (2016) 

“UNICEF seawater desalination plant helps head off Gaza water crisis,” by Catherine Weibel

Alliance for Water Justice in Palestine

Palestinian Hydrology Group

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Accounts from my journal, written while I photographed Detroit in June 2017—or writing later.

I come from Detroit where it’s rough and I’m not a smooth talker.

—Eminem

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Youth activist on water rights

PHOTOS

June 7, 2017, Wednesday, Detroit

Letter to S:

i’m in detroit, settling into my home away from home. the water man turned on our water this afternoon. G [my neighbor across the street] finally returned my phone call (as i stood yesterday afternoon in boston awaiting the boarding of a late train—believe it or not, the train originates in boston—and showed up this morning with the key just as w dropped me at the house. w picked me up at the dearborn train station, i treated her to a mideast breakfast at my favorite local mideast bakery, the new yasmeen, in dearborn. i also picked up a load of treats, stuffed grape leaves, stuffed cabbage leaves, humus, and a variety of arab sweets.

my iphone problems continue vexing me. phone and messaging work well and add much to my work here, as does the internet. but linking to my laptop for internet, the hotspot routine—if it connects and it’s spotty—is extremely show. i always have the local mcdonalds.

i perused my list of contacts to further photograph my two main themes for this trip, water justice and public schools. the water conference begins thurs, runs thru sun, and at the very least i’ll learn much more about water justice-injustice here and make some valuable connections. the principal of the local public k-8 school seems to be avoiding me. no time for an appointment tomorrow “but she’ll get back to you.” unlikely. 

two new contacts have materialized, a man (i might have mentioned him), mb, who’s part of a pro bono team bringing a suit against the state of michigan about literacy rights in the public schools, and his daughter, s, who just graduated from harvard ed and has been filming related to the suit. i spoke with her a few hrs ago and i might photograph and possibly film a major event occurring next week about struggles over public ed.

k, the owner of the house i stay in, is due here any minute. we may put the furniture back after she had wood flooring installed. and then, early to bed. 

i slept very little on the crowded train, joined during the middle of the night by a young woman heading to chicago so i scrunched into one seat. as the conductor informed us, monday kicked off school vacation summer. (not quite for massachusetts but elsewhere apparently). as the sun set last night, we were in iroquois confederacy territory, along the mohawk river, the clouds black outlined and looming. then rain fell, continuing thru the night. clear this morning in detroit, followed by more bulbous threatening clouds which teamed up to alternately block and allow the sunlight. 

it’s cool here in detroit, mid 60s, and windy. not much to stop the winds from blowing in from the plains. temps may hit near 90 here later this week. i guess you had more murky chilly weather today and maybe tomorrow.

IS THE WATER TURNED ON IN MY HOUSE?

Fulfilling my duties as house husband I happened to be home yesterday when the Detroit water man returned to turn on the water. I accompanied him downstairs, thinking I might learn how to turn on water myself, if needed, but he only checked the meter’s condition. Outside, I watched him from the porch as he found the water valve buried about 3 ft under the front yard, pulled up the covering, and with a tool on a long rod restored our water. Too late I thought to grab my camera and photograph him. He was amiable and chatty, working for Homrich, a company that also does demolitions. He explained the large machine on the truck’s back was an air compressor. They use it to clear holes stuffed with dirt by house owners trying to prevent shut offs. I didn’t tell him we might meet again—with my camera.

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Rev. Edwin Rowe, member of People’s Water Board Coalition, Public Health Committee

June 8, 2017, Thursday

MY LEADS SEEM MOSTLY FEMALE

I notice that nearly all my leads and contacts have been female: first AR who I met at Friends General Gathering in Johnstown Penn in the late 1990s; leading to K who offered her house in summer 2010 so Rick, Grove, I and others would have a home while we attended the US Social Forum; reconnecting with W who I’d met at another FGC gathering in maybe the early 1990s (who introduced me to the Swords Into Plowshares Peace Gallery where I had my first Detroit show, the 1995 Auschwitz to Hiroshima pilgrimage with Billy Ledger); and then more recently, KS, KR, G, and a few other women. RF and Johnny are gender exceptions.

Is this because women find me attractive? Hardly. Is it because women are more likely than men to help others? I believe so.

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Melissa Mays, coordinator of Water You Fighting For ?, Flint Michigan

At any rate, I’d like to highlight the roles of two other women in my Detroit project, W and SR. SR drove me to the Boston train station, helping me over a large hurdle because of all my gear, especially my bike. She’s done this repeatedly. In addition she tends my house when I’m gone, mail, plants, oversight, etc.

W has fed me innumerable leads, including the most recent one at the Swords Gallery where she once was on the board. She’s lent me her car, and might again for this trip; she’s hosted home shows; she’s sent me info; and with husband G has proven steadfast as friend. Minus AR, minus K, and minus W I might not be able to do this project, especially if I had to rely on men.

Besides providing housing, K is a confidant. Yesterday during our long phone conversation I told her how living here in Detroit is like returning to live to Chicago’s South Side, my boyhood home that my parents forced me to abandon for our move to the suburbs. Previously I’d told her about my life with S, its ups and downs, once at length confiding to her our problems over art, how critical I am of hers and perhaps she of mine. K tells me about her old boy friend M—the odd one—and other men, and about her health problems, and perhaps most importantly about this house. I am a silent partner in her house, helping her, possibly knowing her house better than she herself does in its present condition. This is crucial to both of us.

Maureen Taylor, conference co organizer

Maureen Taylor, water conference co-organizer

TEMPORARILY NO HOME, NO WATER, AND NO ELECTRICITY

Being an honorary Detroiter I reluctantly experience what other Detroiters might experience: no home when I worried about getting in, meeting G with a key. No water when I lived in this home for about 24 hours without water. And yesterday no electricity for about 6 hours.

Around 2 pm yesterday while listening to the radio and doing computer work, suddenly the radio cut out and seemed to produce a high-pitched, screeching noise. Oh, probably just an emergency test alert on the radio, I thought. It continued. Searching, I discovered the radio was not the audio source; but a wall device, either smoke detector or burglar alarm, was wailing, signaling power outage.

Just my home? Looking out front I saw a neighbor across the street, maybe Anthony’s father, in front of his house looking puzzled. Is this a neighborhood phenomenon? So I crossed the street, found Antony and his dad sitting on their front porch. Their first question to me was, do you have electricity? That clinched the question: neighborhood power outage. Earlier I’d heard a siren. Looking around I detected nothing unusual.

My Internet still worked so, searching for Detroit power outages, I found on DTE’s website, the power provider, a map that showed numerous outages around the city, a big one affecting some 500 houses in my neighborhood. I decided to go for the afternoon bike ride I’d promised myself, as much to bike as to buy booze and a few other items I didn’t remember on my first shopping trip. Starting out down Buena Vista I saw DTE utility trucks and about 1/2 mile from here a fire truck. Biking over, blocked by emergency tape, I inquired: live wires down, maybe wind, stay back!

All 3 of these problems—no home, no water, no electricity—were short-lived and minor, easily corrected. I have privilege, I have community, I have skills, and I am not worried, not too worried. Worried just enough to activate and to appreciate what others go thru.

In a few days I’ll attend the four day long water conference, expecting to gain insights, leads, and portraits of key participants in the local and international struggles for water justice. Regarding water rights, I will keep an eye out for links between Palestine and the rest of the world, notably Michigan.

DetroitFromWindsor_6693-Pano

Detroit from Windsor Ontario

LINKS

We The People of Detroit

Water Justice Journey Resource Packet

TO BE CONTINUED

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[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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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.

reframing-new-topo

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.

Downtown development

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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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.

fran58

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.

Easter, 1953, Chicago

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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Some are guilty, while all are responsible.

—Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

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 an ancestor speaking to us.

I speak with you now, dear descendant, hopefully to motivate you in your work about Palestine-Israel. I will admit that, altho long dead, I once killed my Jewish neighbors. This began during a period of pogroms initiated by other gentiles in my German village. At first I did nothing. I did not intervene physically, I did not speak out either during or after the attacks, and I now realize—maybe it’s too late, I am beyond punishment, except for my own guilt feelings—I was wrong in my silence. I was ignorant, I was misguided, and I allowed my family and friends who often were perpetrators as well to overly influence me.

My silence, my acquiescence, developed my attitude, and I grew arms, the arms of a killer. With my neighbors I slaughtered my other neighbors, simply because they were Jews and thus more and more hated. For generations we’d lived together. Then a pestilence struck us, a pestilence of the mind and the mob, and I found myself swinging the axe. I murdered.

Several generations later one of my family joined the Nazi party and the SS and accepted an assignment to Auschwitz which I know you have visited. Had you been him what would you have done if given that assignment? Like this young man, would you have relished the privilege of killing Jews, removing them from the earth, thereby protecting—or so we believed—our sacred nation? Would you also have felt safe from the war by your assignment far from the active fighting, oblivious to the suffering you caused?

Can I convince you, dear descendent, speaking from so far in the past but related by blood to you, that you must now avoid the trap that destroyed me and many of my ancestors and our descendants—right the wrongs your ancestors have done! Can I convince you to act boldly and deeply now that you’ve received one more teaching from an ancestor, perhaps take a more active role in ending not only the oppression of Jews but the oppression caused by Jews in the name of the holocaust? Will you be courageous enough to speak out, act out, photograph and write about the wars on the Palestinians, who like the Israeli Jews, have rights to that land?

LINKS

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The Work That Reconnects

My most recent photos about Palestine-Israel (2015)

My Auschwitz to Hiroshima pilgrimage photos (1995) 

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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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