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My downtown studio is a separate small building behind our house on South Main Avenue. It was originally an old garage, with gravel floors and rusty garden tools hanging from hooks. Are the stories discovered or do they come to light over time?
My wife Naomi and I bought our house in Opal Haley 40 years ago. Haley and her two husbands (one at a time) have lived here for 50 years. They were careful and deliberate. In the old garage, we found 42 glass jars with labels including screws, bolts and fasteners. The cigar boxes were neatly stacked, full of unfinished ideas and projects. I converted the garage into a studio 25 years ago with six large skylights above, my connection to the sky.
I work as a photographer but also as an audio / photographic documentary maker. All of my projects are about the desire to know more – a desire to understand communities, places and ideas that are different from mine. From an early age, we thirst to have lives greater than those given to us. In the middle of the night, in the darkroom with a soft orange glow of inactinic light, the photographs resting in running water own their own light. I fell in love with the medium and all its possibilities.
In my workshop I have a solid oak Lehigh-Leopold desk that I bought at an auction at the Bexar County Courthouse. It has several initials engraved on one corner. In front of my office are two windows with views of our pecan trees, our garden and the dramatic changing sky perfect for daydreaming. In the second year, I was sent to the principal’s office to daydream. I continue this practice today.
Most of my work has been done using an 8×10 inch Deardorff View camera, an accordion bellows camera for focusing very similar to the type of camera Mathew Brady used during the civil war. I was lucky enough to be a photographer during the film period. I could only carry 14 sheets of film due to the weight of the camera and the film plates, which meant extra attention and a wise choice. How to use these 14 sheets of film in one day?
I have a back room in my studio which is perfect for conversations. Half of my job involves interviews and audio editing. Train whistles, dog barks, birdsong, and the occasional lawnmower float through my studio during these interviews. It has been an incredible privilege to listen to and learn from others.
My last project, My heart is not blind – On blindness and perception, is on the nature of the mystery of perception and adaptation. The brain has the ability to rewire itself to promote non-visual orientation. It is about our shared humanity and our shared fragility. I met and interviewed Michael Hingson. On September 11, 2001, Hingson was on the 78th floor of 1 World Trade Center when the first plane struck. He said he felt the building sway back and forth. Hingson was blind and was with his guide dog, Roselle. He knew exactly how many steps it took to walk from the 78th floor to the lobby. Hingson was able to help the others descend the 78 floors to safety because he paid attention to detail. He told me, â€œThe biggest problem blind people face is not blindness, but rather what sighted people think about blindness.
On the walls of my studio are visual images. I have a small picture of a snowy landscape painted by my great-grandmother Esther Nye. I have a wedding photo of my parents taken in 1943. My father wears his official Navy uniform. I have a double decker bus gallery that our 5 year old grandson Connor and I stuck to my studio wall. I have two photographs by the remarkable photographer Manuel Alvarez Bravo. I also have a photo above my desk of our son Madison when we lived in Hawaii, and he was in kindergarten. I asked him what he wanted to be for Halloween. He said, “I want to be a silent one.”
The photographs are not still or still or still. There is so much missing from a still photograph. It could be the smell of smoke, dried leaves, or the memory of rain. Emotions and desires, temperament and inclined propensities are hidden. How to photograph the serious remoteness of landscapes or the emotional desire that many feel and share? I realized that the indeterminacy of a photograph is its strength. It is not just the content but the light that lights up the imagination.