19 May 2008

EL Camino Del La Vida...

June 7th upon reflection after crossing the border.

I drive in on the winds of a huge sandstorm that will eventually close the road from Demming to the Border.I'm just ahead of it. I am back In MEXICO!! I stop at the little shrine so happy to be back. I light a candle. Please show me what I must see. Show me what I need to reflect in my pictures. Help me make a difference in this world. As I blow down the road I notice all the lakes are dry beds; in Ascencion' the road is oddly blocked; I roll to a stop....trucks block every part of the way...I sense something in the air; hmmm; better get my camera and go find out. Que paso?? I ask; A man tells me it's a "manifestacion,"
A protest? I ask. Why? because the goverment has turned off all the power to the entire community. All the farmers are gathered leaning on their trucks; I am a photographer. May I make photos? Si como no. Yes but of course...I feel my hands almost shake; I feel my heartbeat stronger; I think of Susan Meisalas, the wars in Central America; the people, the people, the poorest of the poor protesting; Manifesting change. A truck bed of field workers is stopped; their faces brown,hidden in tshirts used to protect their faces from the wind; whole families....little ones look at me; I look back....the hoes on the raw wood truck bed...hmmm...soon it disipates and later I would hear esculate...then disappear into the other bad news of the frontera that overtakes the frontpage,but I don't know this yet....I wave goodbye, wish them luck; we exchange goodbyes...this is a different entry...the winds of change blowing me back...into something beyond my experience of knowing...I have only the photographs I've seen of others who dared to be courageous enough to show the truth...what is my truth to tell? I think of St Jude and Our Lady at the shrine; Show me what I must see...then not far down the road the fields; green.brown. the dots of colorful human beings bent down low harvesting. I make an aburpt stop; I'm compelled to ask; I hate shooting from the hip...I am directed to the foreman...may I make pictures here? The smiling face a beautiful girl, her little brother or sister just barely hanging out of her reboso follows me....we keep smiling at one another. I am in an onion field as big as my eyes can see. Picked by hand the people move down the line; they are shy and curious just like me...I love green onions and the smell intoxicates me; I watch the little hands,dark brown skin meeting dark brown earth. I think about Alfredo Vea Jr.'s book SILVER CLOUD CAFE about the asparagus pickers; how the plants bend in hands that know how to harvest them...whole families; little ones, husbands,wives;
they've come north too...who isn't an immigrant on this earth??? What do they know of plants I do not know, or people looking for the sweet deal at SAM's Club can't even imagine why the price is right....look at the labels on your food the next time you go shopping and imagine these faces....I give one of the mothers of the girls my Guadalupe bracelet; it's a small gesture to make up for all that she'll never know about the racism of my country and the efforts of those who work for humanitarian rights....one small gesture in a huge field crossing languages, cultures, dreams; hands protecting our eyes from the wind.
I bend down low to feel the dry dark earth...I only pick a few in comparison; nada...but I see how the dirt clumps, and gently with enough motion you shake most of it off and rubberband the bunch. next one, and another...and forever...Show me what I must see and do...I feel the land, the salt of tears in the wind as I begin to feel something bigger than me take form. Please give me courage to see and do; to make it possible so I may continue. The onion continues to peel. The wind continues to blow.
Help me do what I must do. Bienvenidos a Mexico.

Portraits from Walker Evans; Let Us Now Praise Famous Men:
The Farm Security Administration

Morning sun streaming into the open window. The air is different, warmer, balmier. I am packed for the most part. The Mariachi Mobile looks like the CasbaLounge with all the pillows packed high in the back. There's an extra create of books, and shuffled paperwork. I am bringing the classics my dad shared with me when I was still a teenager living with him. Who would have know then these men who wrote these books would become my spiritual grandfathers?? Nikos Kazantzakis,Greek writer of The Last Temptation of Christ, Buddha,Zorba the Greek, Serpent and Lily. Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, the classic collaboration between photographer Walker Evans and writer, James Agee. Perhaps if there would be anything to aspire to accomplish with a body of work this is definitely one of the highest bars to aspire towards. Remembering it this morning in the early light, the birds singing,the train down the block, I recall the voice of my father, reading and re-reading to me different passages through out my life, implanting in me the love for the simple grace of hard working people. The love Agee and Evans shared for their subjects, encapsulate a feeling of the deepest empathy,the compulsion to see, to record, to comment...phrases come to mind like this in the midst of my new found work in Mexico. There is struggle, there is grace. There are no easy answers. There is the border problem and above all there is a humanity. I found a note my dad had written me tucked in-between the pages; "...Stay in your boat, make good pictures,keep doing your work..." he wrote me and sent it in the book downstream when I was living and working at the bottom of Grand Canyon as a cook for science, making portraits of my fellow boatmen and passengers....I reflect on these men who have helped shape my life, my conscience and heart. They ride on my shoulder and within me, whispering at times, shouting at others, showing me the path. I feel them encouraging me ever onward. I find it interesting how books appear when you need to be opened,reminded of something, the words become alive again, as if comprehended for the first time. They appear when needed.

I am packing. My father, my dad, my colleague,my friend brings out a huge bouquet of macaw feathers of the deepest reds, royal and turquoise blues shimmer with golden yellow, and black. They look as if they have been dipped into irridescent paints.
He tells me he was inspired to find the perfect feather for me to photograph. There are now at least a hundred feathers. He lays them out on the table and tells me to take as many as I need and to make him a photograph....I try not to select all the most beautiful ones; he encourages me to take more....I lay them out and imagine the ancient cultures carrying these plumes across the desert region miles on end. From the Mesas and Valleys and back again. Walking with plumes of fire. The red blood of the sun. The head dresses of embodied Spirits moving in unison, feet dancing on the earth praying for rain. In June my friend who has invited me to the Katchina dances over the years, his family is hosting the Parrot Dance after five years. I hope to return in time to witness again and bring within myself the ancient songs and prayers that still connect us to this world. I am migrating, returning and leaving and returning again.

Ancient voices,songs, the voice of the poets and philosphers, my father, those faces of sharecroppers, the faces of my pueblo, the land in it's springing, images in black and white, color, the past, present, interweaving, all these stories in between the ages. What is my duty in the course of a lifetime?? again I hear my father's words reading to me; "To see, to record, to comment...."

The real meaning of enlightenment is to gaze with undimmed eyes on all darkness. Nikos Kazantzakis

18 May 2008

If you could save the greatest rain forest,would you?

The smell of the jungle.wet. green.rotting. growing. regenerating.heavy,thick. deep.rich. I remember the rain, the mornings on the water with bands of thin trunk trees stretching to the sky. the glassy river, a brown mirror,winding and bending. Everything so alive!! I did a series of images for ACA a couple years ago. It was an amazing experience to see Peru and learn about this most special place on earth. I hope we can make a diffference. As sientists, artists and people who love this most beautiful world. In the jungle everything has a relationship, and is precious. If you want to go on a journey and get involved please visit their sites and go visit your backyard. The image clip was just finished to help promote carbon offset efforts on the jack Johnson website. Even after a couple years the message is more important than ever. I hope it can make a difference.

ACA clip: Photos:Sam Abell & Raechel Running

11 May 2008


I think a photography class should be a requirement in all educational programs because it makes you see the world rather than just look at it. And by seeing we also begin to understand ourselves. - Anonymous

Life is like photography. You use the negatives to develop. - Anonymous

Mother's Day

When I walk around my little world I observe the oddities, the fun of life in the middle of harsh reality. I think one can laugh in pain. Maybe this is what we need to pull us out of the absurdity of it all. I always thought how strange it is that one can find beauty even in the most horrible images. I care for what I photograph. I make love with my eyes through the viewfinder. I caress the image on that piece of paper as it appears like magic, a ray of light emerging from total darkness. - Anonymous

Mother's Day. I go to yoga; I talk with my mom who the other day told me about when I was a baby and being taken care of by the Mayorga's and Ortiz familiies. I am going to try and find them to photograph them and learn where their families came from in Mexico before Flagstaff.

I went on a photo geek out to Wet Beaver Creek with Hason and Shane MacDermott who is teaching a photo workshop through the FPC in june. There's room so I go. The sun is warm. We drop down the mountain and meet the high desert. A bend in the canyon is the creek. Tranqul waterfalls beneath the bleached Cottonwoods, Nopales, spring green, hot pink catus flowers, the sweet smell of water and blackberry flowers; lie on a rock and feel the sun; listen to water and watch a 1000 shades of green shimmer against the blue sky.

There are so many reasons to feel despondent and yet SO many more reasons to remember why Life is a miracle.
Sitting next to a baby waterfall gurgling and rushing by in playful song reminds of this. I close my eyes and dip my toes into the ice cold water.

It's Mother's day. I am here to see and experience and remember. The miracle of birth. Creation. The calm in the storm.
Small acts of faith bloom in this desert land.

Lava cliffs.red earth. burnt trees and new soft green grasses. I see the similar plants from the region and think of Casas Grandes while looking at this canyon in Arizona. Gran Chichimeca captivates me more and more. I have just been invited to go down river tomarrow...bottom of Grand Canyon. Mama river. It's been two years since I was there.

I will decide in the morning.
I imagine sleeping under stars. The long narrow slice of sky. Dreaming of Mexico and nights of the Ante Pasados. Connected by points of light.

05 May 2008

What's going on??Senate Bill 1108

Is this my America??

AZ Senate Bill 1108

The bill specifically aims to disband African-American, Pan-Asian, Native American, and Mexican-American/Raza Studies programs at the high school, community college, and university levels in the state of Arizona. Senate Bill 1108 would also discourage teachers who “overtly encourage dissent” from Western values such as capitalism.
“This bill basically says, ‘You’re here. Adopt American values,’” State Rep. John Kavanagh, a Republican, told The Arizona Republic. “‘If you want a different culture, then fine, go back to that culture,’” he said.

It is wonderful how much time good people spend fighting the devil. If they would only expend the same amount of energy loving their fellow men, the devil would die in his own tracks of ennui. Helen Keller

I was introduced to this issue while in attendance at the NALAC Conference a week ago.
I sat in a room of artists,activists,educators,and amazing people who are working to expand awareness in these times. My jaw dropped as I comprehended the reality of this bill's overt racism. I feel this shock wave of disbelief. I study the image of State Rep. John Kavanagh and can hardly believe he is a voice representing my state. I think of all the Mexican, Navajo, Hopi elders I
have known through the portraits of my father and the faces and the teachers I have known who taught me of the diverse history of the world, my country and state. They allowed me to explore different views of history through the perspective of the Native Americans; They took us to see many of the ancient sites of the numerous tribes who lived here hundreds of years ago,
we grew up knowing about the Buffalo Soldiers; How would my perception of America be changed if I were not to hold the value of all the diversity of these peoples and who are intricately woven into this rich fabric called AMERICA? Where did State Rep. Joh Kavanagh come from to propose such a blatantly fascist bill????

But there is HOPE; I met Dosvatos.com film makers Eren McGinnis, and partner Director Ari Luis Palos, Mexican-American filmmakers at the NALAC conference. I have been inspired by the diversity of their film repertoire of American stories; The Southern spirituals of the African history and the story of Mexican immigrants.
So rich, so interconnected to the earth, spirit, the stories and legacies beyond borders, countries; Africa, Mexico; It all meets here. I love my America for all it's cultural diverse history. I love my tortillas and chile, I love eating sushi and fry bread and mutton stew. I love Kung Pao Chicken and Chinese paper lanterns. I love Elvis and the Dali Lama, and Guadalupe I am aware of the dream of Dr. Martin Luther King and I support Obama for representing a true America where diversity is our asset and the voices of the people represent many and sound as one.

Related sites and links: Things to think about.
Declaration of Policy: WGBH Lab; The DosVatos reel
Delete the Border.org

01 May 2008

May 1st. Remembering Bennett

FRESH BREAD BAKED DAILY: a story of signs

Saint Francis was in the forest, fasting and meditating on the state of the world. After a time he came through the woods when he spotted a small humble abode in a valley. In the distance he could make out a sign that
read, "FRESH BREAD BAKED DAILY". "Ah," he said to himself, " I am hungry after my stay in the forest." He walked
down the grassy path and went to go knock at the door. "Hello? Hello?" he called out. A woman came out wiping her
hands down her apron looking at him quizzically. "I am here for some fresh bread," he said hungrily. "I"m sorry sir,
but we have none." she replied to his questioning glance. He implored, "But there's a sign that says FRESH BREAD BAKED DAILY
right in front." Saint Francis said. She looked at the sign and tilted her head nodding she understood his inquiry. " Yes there is a sign but I'm sorry sir there is no bread here, you see my husband is a sign maker."
The lesson is we have to look beyond the signs.

Bennett was a sign maker. As artists, photographers, visual communicators that is our job. To make signs and leave
much of the interpretation up to our viewers. This little story was told at her funeral. It is a little story that I still
share as it meant so much to us who were there as we contemplated her death and her life. We looked through
boxes of her beautiful prints yesterday sharing memories and contemplating the hours she spent printing these
gorgeous black and white fiber prints. The darkness, the smell of the darkroom also has gone, the alchemy of what
was once a vital process to our work as photographers. Still her "signs' inspire us to look beyond and to engage
in this art of discovery and preservation of these little precious moments we have.

I remember the day she died so vividly as it changed all of our lives so drastically. This morning five years ago Bennett, my dad's partner of 25 years, my sister mama, a photographer, a merry prankster, lover of good scotch and fart machines, a woman whose 5'2' stature was overshadowed by largeness of heart and "presence" said with a french accent, flew off the road on her way to Palm Springs and left this sweet ol' world. I wish I could hear her laughter, or sit on a milk crate outside of her studio drink a coffee and share a cigarette with her. She taught me about love and death. She stood with me holding my
hand and soothing my head through some of the most difficult times of my life. She has helped to teach me to see. I love her and miss her in so many ways and yet still there are signs of her in the spring gold of the desert, in roadside shrines in Mexico,
in the poetic grace and strength of the portraits she made. She is still a shining and beautiful light.

We continue to share her work and legacy and love of photography through the Flagstaff Photo Center.

Sleeping in the Forest by Mary Oliver

I thought the earth remembered me
she took me back so tenderly
arranging her dark skirts, her pockets
full of lichens and seeds.
I selpt as never before, a stone on the river bed,
nothing between me and the white fire of the stars
but my thoughts, and they floated light as moths
among the branches of the perfect trees.
All night I heard the small kingdoms
breathing around me, the insects,
and the birds who do their work in the darkness.
All night I rose and fell, as if in water,
grappling with a luminous doom. By morning
I had vanished at least a dozen times
into something better.