Bon voyage, bonne chance

Une étape sur une route que je lui souhaite longue, très longue et très riche.
Bon voyage et bonne chance !
Je perfore les couvertures de mes livres d’un trèfle à 4 feuilles. Quand je les prête, ils sont chargés d’un bon voyage, bonne lecture.

Après le moment de réception passé avec son colis magique chargé d’odeurs et de paysages, la photo d’Emily est restée à me questionner. J’ai voulu lui restituer mon paysage bruxellois, mon paysage enfantin

Merci à Emily de m’avoir permis de participer à cette aventure !

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Be faithful Go

The Photograph greeted me as a neatly packaged risk.

Unlike the poets and artists of different times and geographies whose work could bring about imprisonment or worse, my work takes very little risk. And yet art reminds me relentlessly that faith is rudiment to creation, even at the level of imaginary stakes, the mostly self-imposed type. What is at stake?

The Photograph’s owner has released this fragile art piece into several unknown hands. One of the writers who held it before me is someone I have not met in person, but whose writings I have read for over a year now, who faithfully reads my writings and offers me resonant references to literature and theory. We have a textual connection in virtual space, but the shared physicality of the Photograph closes our geographical impossibility into a more intimate interstice. As such, the more hands the Photograph passes through, the more beauty, the more meaning it seems to accumulate. An intermediary to creation and inspiration, the Photograph is becoming ever more sanctified. Far from Walter Benjamin’s mechanical reproduction whereby a photograph loses its aura, this Photograph is gathering preciousness.

The more precious it feels in my hands, the more devastating it is to imagine its loss or destruction. And still, the more artists and writers like me who create from it, the more it is open to chance, to misfortune, and easily could slip away.

I know artists must gamble on welcome, as George Steiner says. Yes, those who arrive at the boardinghouse of life may bring loss or death — “but without a gamble on welcome, no door can be opened when freedom knocks.”

These words grow truer as I move into my middle years. I have come to know deeply the amazing array of possibility spanning all colorful forms of tragedy and fortune. At the same time, life seems to have fastened to itself more attachments (my family and friends, my nest, my belongings which need more belongings) so as to stir up an existential quandary for even the most mundane of choices. What happens to my body/career/relationships if I have another child? What if a stroke of orange ruins that entire painting? What if my idea turns out wrong, if nobody understands it? The door is getting heavier, and I find myself turning into that old, lonesome woman who cracks it open just enough to turn away the unknown.

Photography I, by Summer Lee and Karen and Adam Hathaway

Tonight in my studio in San Francisco, my collaborators, Karen and Adam Hathaway and I used the Photograph to question with a hopeful openness, to ask what-if’s along an artistic exploration: What if we do this with the Photograph? What if we do that? The more possibilities we supported each other in trying, the more we stood guard over each other’s freedom.

Here are a few of our images, and a few I made myself — all taken before I send the Photograph into the next unknown pair of hands. And from there, who knows.

Journey Photograph by Summer Lee, Karen and Adam Hathaway, 2013

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(The Photograph projected into the fog over the Pacific Ocean.)

The Photograph has stood guard over me and my freedom to creatively fumble or fly. It echoes the same sentiment found in Zbigniew Herbert’s poetry, a man who knew great loss was sometimes the price of great work, that one must strive for justice and beauty even when the sacred collapses. They both utter:

Be faithful Go.

Journey Photograph, by Summer Lee 2013.

(Photograph projected over a Willa Cather quotation from a page torn out of a book on happiness.)

Zbiegniew Herbert’s full poem is here:

The Envoy of Mr. Cogito
BY ZBIGNIEW HERBERT
TRANSLATED BY BOGDANA CARPENTER AND JOHN CARPENTER

Go where those others went to the dark boundary
for the golden fleece of nothingness your last prize

go upright among those who are on their knees
among those with their backs turned and those toppled in the dust

you were saved not in order to live
you have little time you must give testimony

be courageous when the mind deceives you be courageous
in the final account only this is important

and let your helpless Anger be like the sea
whenever you hear the voice of the insulted and beaten

let your sister Scorn not leave you
for the informers executioners cowards—they will win
they will go to your funeral and with relief will throw a lump of earth
the woodborer will write your smoothed-over biography

and do not forgive truly it is not in your power
to forgive in the name of those betrayed at dawn

beware however of unnecessary pride
keep looking at your clown’s face in the mirror
repeat: I was called—weren’t there better ones than I

beware of dryness of heart love the morning spring
the bird with an unknown name the winter oak

light on a wall the splendour of the sky
they don’t need your warm breath
they are there to say: no one will console you

be vigilant—when the light on the mountains gives the sign—arise and go
as long as blood turns in the breast your dark star

repeat old incantations of humanity fables and legends
because this is how you will attain the good you will not attain
repeat great words repeat them stubbornly
like those crossing the desert who perished in the sand

and they will reward you with what they have at hand
with the whip of laughter with murder on a garbage heap

go because only in this way will you be admitted to the company of cold skulls
to the company of your ancestors: Gilgamesh Hector Roland
the defenders of the kingdom without limit and the city of ashes

Be faithful Go

Missing

Emily’s photograph arrived while I was away. I was on a road trip with my wife and son down to San Diego and back. We’d spent the better part of two weeks covering the West Coast, and the date stamped on the notice from the post office tells me her picture arrived while I was somewhere in the Sacramento Valley. As the mail carrier knocked on my door, I was likely speeding through sere grasslands toward the foothills, where our little hatchback would grumble as the elevation gained and the big rigs hauling fruit and spools of cable toward the border would groan even louder.

Or maybe we hadn’t made it that far yet. The miles, as they multiplied, also subdivided, erased in the haze of the wide, torrid valleys. For all our speed we were moving slowly, and all our distance had taken us, it seemed, nowhere. And this is just what we had needed after a few hard years, to unravel in this slowness and be washed by the land rushing past. To not be, as on a plane, exempt from the unprivileged points between beginnings and ends. Yet not entirely subject to the frictions of distance either.

The interstate we travelled for miles and days through California and Oregon passes near where we live, where Emily’s photograph has arrived on this stop of its journey. Under the overpass where the interstate crosses the ship canal there is a small homeless camp, one of countless camps under bridges and unclaimed spaces inside and around the city. Regularly, tents appear in that dark trapezoid like mushrooms that some invisible hand later culls so that one day, I see on a walk to the park with my son, they are gone—at least until they spring up again.

Missing (I)

A guy once told me on a city bus, when the buses were still free downtown, that he and his wife, who was napping beside him, wouldn’t go to the shelters anymore. He said it was better to camp out, even during the rain, and bet the police that would eventually come and kick them out would do so without hauling them to jail. “The shelters aren’t safe,” he said, “too many things happen there. And we can cook outside. We just went to the camping store and got a bunch of propane. Anything you bring to the shelter just gets taken by somebody. Outside, we at least can take our chances.”

Missing (II)

A wall can be a barrier and a shelter. I realize more and more the ways we can connect and go missing. This photograph found me, away, almost as easily as it might have found someone down the street in the building with my street number’s middle digits reversed—3621 instead of 3261, the error of a mail carrier daydreaming. But it was a hot summer’s day, we would have said, and his thoughts were climbing over a wall, taking their chances. Maybe they were and maybe we would have, having seen them before ourselves, inching upward, into the foothills of their own belief.

Missing (III)

A Journey Nowhere and Everywhere

The Photograph Arrives….

When I first heard the Journey of a Photograph concept I was keen to take part. As a  travel and humanitarian photographer I wanted to take the photograph with me on a trip  overseas and capture images of people’s reactions to the project. The photograph should be with me in Ethiopia right now. I am not there though and nor is the photograph. Instead we are both sat on my bed in the seaside town of Southend-on-Sea in Essex (UK).

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Three short weeks ago I found out that a niggling back pain is in reality a growth in my pancreas. Since that discovery all immediate travel plans have been shelved and I am becoming a familiar face at the hospital. A week ago I received an email from Richard, who guest blogged the last section of the photograph’s journey, informing me that it was my turn to take part.

At first I felt like passing on the opportunity as my plan for my section of the project was impossible to complete.  I then took time to reflect on the image and the meaning of a journey and felt that perhaps I could use this as a chance to reflect on what it means to be a traveller grounded. I am a collector of stories; I delight in sitting down with strangers and hearing their voice, their hopes, their history and their dreams. Now my own story is brought sharply into focus and instead I am looking at my own tale and praying this is not a final chapter as I am not yet ready to end the journey. I am used to using images to express myself but decided to take a hesitant step into the world of writing to respond to Emily’s photograph:

My Response…

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Dreams That Soar…

I wanted to end this post positively. I found the photograph arriving with me at a very poignant juncture in my own journey. When we are children we all travel in our play and in our dreams. I may be confined and restricted at the moment physically, but any journey that moves us deeply is about far more than the physical. I have added an image to the envelope that acts as the vessel for this project. I took the photo in Nepal last year, it shows a little boy playing with a simple paper aeroplane outside his mountain top school.  His poverty, his geography and his age do not stop him being able to soar above his circumstances with his imagination. My tumour grounds me physically but also gives me cause to offer up thanks for my life and the dreams I have already had the chance to live out. Like the small boy in Nepal I am also able to look out at the world and dream of where I will travel next.

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The Journey Goes On…

The Journey of the Photograph has only just begun. If you would like to participate in the project take a look here. If you want to know more about how the project started visit Emily’s blog. To visit my own blog take a look here.

Meanwhile…

Original photograph by Emily Hughes

Original photograph by Emily Hughes

Emily’s photograph currently resides in Beckenham (a London suburb, or a town on the fringes of Kent depending on your point of view), on our dining table. The photograph is a delicate thing and handling it makes me worry protectively at its ephemeral nature and about its onward journey, but hey it made it from Canada to here (thanks, Karen!).

It’s been both fascinating and daunting to see artworks accumulate around the project’s central image. For my own contribution I wanted to make a work that could not exist without Emily’s photograph; I deliberately set out to make an adjunct to it.

My immediate question on receiving the package was what was going on on the train when Emily took her shot. So, I got on the train to find out.

Meanwhile (inside spread), 2013

Once I started photographing people in the carriage, I realised it was their hands that would tell my story. And a book seemed like an appropriate way to go form-wise. Over several days, I took a lot of surreptitious photographs of hands. These I narrowed down to a “top ten”, which became the recto pages of the book. Aside from the title page and a basic colophon there is no text in the book. It’s constructed from inkjet card, double-sided coated paper and a couple of staples.

Here are a few of the original shots:

Page 8

Page 5

Page 10

* * *

I wonder where this photograph will travel to next. The journey hasn’t been completely mapped out yet. If you would like to participate in the project take a look here.
If you want to know more about how Journey of a Photograph started visit Emily’s blog. To visit my blog go here.

It has been a pleasure to guest edit as part of this project. Thank you very much, Emily!

Images 2-6 © Richard Guest, 2013

Whistle Stop #2

original photograph by Emily Hughes

original photograph by Emily Hughes

The journey of this photograph continues. It sits in physical form, almost pristine, on the desk in front of me as I write this. It is traveling from one set of hands to another, picking up fingerprints, bits of dust, and when it arrived to me so carefully wrapped, I found upon close inspection, that this printed photograph had picked up tiny smudges of red pigment, or wax (please read the previous post to discover how this might have happened).
Traces from the journeying.

This is precisely why the photograph is traveling. It wants a history. It wants to be handled and those little smudges are so much a part of it now.

The photograph is also meant to inspire. To become part of a visual conversation. When it arrived on my doorstep a few days before I was going on a short journey myself, I took it as a sign that the photograph was meant to travel with me. The fact that I was to travel by train seemed as old-fashioned as a printed black and white photograph.
It was meant to be.

These are the images I offer in response to Emily’s photograph. They are also about journeying. About those fast-passing moments that somehow etch themselves in our minds. Fleeting moments of fleeting seasons viewed through a train window.

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SpringBlossoms7

When I think about all the journeying I have done over the years, the images that flicker through my mind are often about the getting there rather than the being there. Momentary observations along the way and impressions of the places I’ve glimpsed.

The gentle rattle and hum of being. Watching the world as it awakens from winter; trees blossoming, earth greening, sun shining. Moments of bliss.

At the time of writing, I have no idea where this photograph will be traveling next. It could be to you. If you would like to participate in the journey of this photograph take a look here.
To find out more about how this project started visit Emily’s blog.
To visit my blog go here.

I am honoured to be guest posting as part of this project. Thank you, Emily!

Colour images © Karen McRae, 2013

Journeyings

The photograph’s first stop on its journey occurs in the middle of America, in Wichita KS at the home/work spaces of Holly Suzanne and Nathan FilbertEkphrastix Arts.  We were happy to welcome the photograph from its creator, Emily Hughes,  as it begins its journey throughout the world as an ekphrastic object – traveling from artist to artist to inspire work and alter as a work in itself through posting, handling, and use (follow its life or join in its progress at Journey of a Photograph).

Here is what our hands and minds have made with/of it…Holly worked with encaustic and mixed media to create the collaged pieces, and I worked with paper and pen and then personal computer to create the texts that accompany.  The first image is a copy of the photograph from Emily.

Journeying

photograph by Emily Hughes

text by Nathan Filbert

8x10 mixed media/encaustic by Holly Suzanne

text by Nathan Filbert

11x14 encaustic / mixed media by Holly Suzanne

text by Nathan Filbert

texts were composed with the visual works and this audio from Ludovico Einaudi:

Again, to follow the travels and creations of this photograph visit Journey of a Photograph

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to see more work by Emily Hughes, please visit searchingtosee.com

for more of Holly Suzanne’s work, browse here, as well as Life in Relation to Art and her Gallery of Creative Artistry

for more by Nathan Filbert, visit The Whole Hurly Burly