Art as Evidence

Scenes from Dad's photo box

Scenes from Dad's photo box

Sunday night. Sleep beckons and yet in the dark... a call to the page one last time. A final dump before the sleepy hormones agree to be released. So. What do you have to say for yourself, thoughts?

 

"I love being alive. The art is the evidence of that."

 

This is the quote percolating in the dark, said by Jim Carrey in the six-minute documentary I Needed Color. Tapping my shoulder like a tiny toddler hand at the side of my bed. My working definition of the artist's ambition over the years has been from Chaim Potok's novel and play My Name is Asher Lev: “Millions of people can draw. Art is whether there is a scream in you wanting to get out in a special way.”

A special scream. Lovely ain't it? But I have experienced a change since becoming a mother. Carrying and birthing two live, infinite souls. Since fighting for my marriage and losing my house and standing in front of the closed door of a relationship that will never open again. And banging on that door with the force of hell. Growing with a God who is both clearer and more obscure than when we met 10 years ago.

Art as evidence.

I am reminded of Psalm 19:

The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech,
and night to night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words,
whose voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.

Evidence. Indications. Words inscribed on every raindrop. Speaking, speaking, making God known. And us down here, Jim Carrey with a paint brush and canvas also taking mind to form - his voice going out. Showing forth the evidence. Opening his hands and giving what he has.

Matt has been singing Little Drummer Boy with Vivian every night, and because we are broken, failures of a man and wife with little to give we tear up every single time. 

Little Baby, pa rum pum pum pum
I am a poor boy too, pa rum pum pum pum
I have no gift to bring, pa rum pum pum pum
That's fit to give the King, pa rum pum pum pum, 
rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum, 
Shall I play for you, pa rum pum pum pum, 
On my drum? 

No gift to bring, so he brings his art, his word, his song. The thing that flows from his being. Should I tell you how hard I am crying as I write these words? I guess this is the thought that wanted to get out before going to bed (and I have to borrow from Rumi to even get it out):

God is working everywhere his massive resurrection, and the art is the evidence of that.

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God is working everywhere his massive Resurrection:

How can we pretend to act on our own?

In the hand of Love I am like a cat in a sack;

Sometimes love hoists me into the air,

Sometimes Love flings me to the ground.

Love swings me round and round his head;

I have no peace in this world or any other.

The Lovers of God have failed in a furious river;

They have surrendered themselves to Love’s commands.

Like mill wheels they turn, day and night, day and night,

Constantly turning and turning, and crying out. 

— Rumi

Make The Song Cry | Thoughts on the Artist's Calling

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What drives me to create? One theory: it's an addiction. Not to the art-making process but to a specific feeling, a core theme (discussed in Sometimes Pure Light episode 1). While my substance is the feeling the fix is putting it into form. When I capture it in a photograph I get high. It! It! Elusive it! In the time it takes for a polaroid to develop, the high fades and I must pick up my camera again. Put me into form, put me in form says the feeling. 

When I don't, withdrawal looms. The feeling scratches at the door. I hear it while I'm making scrambled eggs and before I go to sleep. "Coming, coming..." I say. The scratch turns into a knock then a pound that breaks down the door. Sheesh. Many artists have described an adversarial relationship with their craft. Not the feeling itself (never) but the tension of the relationship. The demands. 

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Put me into form. Put me into form perfectly. Put me into form now. Put me into form and you will be satisfied. You will fly. Put me into form in a new way. Put me into form 1,000,000 wrong ways first and the right way will appear. Put me into form for the right reasons; for me and me alone. I am your audience, your client, your highest end. Don't put me into form until you have traveled and listened and received. Put me into form for no worldly benefit - money, recognition, praise. Put me into form even though you will be looked at by someone as a bad mom, a victim, self-obsessed, doing something unimportant and those thoughts will hurt you deeply. Put me into form instead of mopping the floors. 

Does this sound dramatic? Many have asked why artists and darkness almost always go together. Most recently I loved Yan Palmer's thoughtful post on the subject. Are depression and creativity necessarily connected? I'm not sure. What matters to me is the acknowledgement that the process necessarily beats your psyche like the ballerina's feet. At the end of the day, addiction is maladaptive. It is inconsistent with practical life, obligations, conventional behavior, linear thought. If I become a healthier person will I still create? Yes. But the process cuts, I bleed, and it leaves a scar. I strive for health, but the work itself is like the mortician's: it touches death and it affects me. 

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Should I enter rehab? Therapy? Start a yoga practice? But I have beaten you there. Making art is my healing - but if and only if I am devoted. Putting feeling in form. Taking in, putting out. Making the unfelt felt, the unsaid said, the unknown known, the unstretched stretched. Like sweating out toxins and receiving the due endorphins as a prize. But unlike those methods (which artists should probably do in addition to their art, we need all the help we can get) we don't choose to make art. It is given, like the nurse's practicality and the philosopher's probing mind.

I recently watched an interview with Jay-Z by the New York Times where he discussed a song on his new album. The hook describes the artist's reality: I can't see 'em coming down my eyes, so I gotta make the song cry. Although he's describing his inability to cry (typically not a problem for artists - ha) the line was extraordinarily beautiful to me. I gotta. It's a necessity. The best description of talent I've heard is not the thing you love to do but the thing you can't not do. I gotta make the song cry.

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In an attempt to truly show up for my marriage and kids, I have tried to put art to the side. Makes sense, right? Any way you slice it, my family is more important to me than my non-monetized, half-realized art. But the subjective reality cannot be turned off: put me into form, put me into form. It's not that I want to create more than function in my family, but rather making space for creating is what allows me to do so. Part of me believes that art and depression so often go together because the artist can't get there for various reasons. Can't get the caged bird to sing, can't get the song to cry. 

In a dark corner I have puzzled over the incompatibility of the artist's calling with motherhood. Asking the question already puts me outside the camp. Oh, no one else has a lifelong, interloping obsession that disrupts all relationships? Me either... asking for a friend! I had a conversation once with a mom I admire (hi Becky) whose talent is teaching. As a homeschooling educator she doesn't grapple with the question. Her callings are seamless. I guess my kids will have to deal with Mom Divided. But I learned something this year that is helping: devotion means consistency, passion, presence. Not exclusivity. Being 100% entranced 100% of the time isn't good for any area: children, marriage or calling.

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When I was converting to Christianity in 2007, I heard two things that changed my life. First, that the identity of a woman is not primarily in her gender but in her capacity to use reason. In her being an image-bearer of God. And that each human life has a totally unique ability to make God known. I am first human, and I have a contribution to the human story that is mine alone to give. I'm more than a sexual object and my talents matter. Had my church not been so strong in these doctrines I likely would have continued on my path of scoffing at Jesus. I connected strongly with those ideas then, but they have faded as love, marriage, pregnancies, babies, suffering and the status quo have taken residence in my mind.

How did I manage to write this blog today? Because I have dutifully woken up at 5:00 a.m. every morning this week before the kids? No. Because I had an infected wisdom tooth extracted and am locked in my workspace with jello and prescriptions. I have been writing for five hours, finally putting into words these ideas that have been percolating for ten years. But morning devotion to my craft is my path forward. To approach the feeling that seeks me and invite it in for a (timed) visit. It doesn't stop it from sitting on my doorstep like a fed stray cat, but instead of scratching she lays in the sun, cleans her paws and purrs.

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Photographs taken on a motherhood shoot with my dear friend Sarah and her daughters. 

Simple & Meaningful Photo Gift in Three Steps

The idea for these simple & meaningful photo gifts began when I saw the way @amandajanejones used family photos at her Thanksgiving table this year. I printed a few for that purpose, but then a few turned into several, and what started as table settings became collections for both grandparents and the three aunts as a way to thank them for their huge love this year. I enjoyed watching their faces as they unwrapped the string and discovered the contents within — their beloved babies, my kids.

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My process here used both Photoshop and a paper trimmer, but a straightforward method is printing through Artifact Uprising instead, who offers both a standard border and the 3x25.4x25 size. The reason I opted for typical photo paper here was because my local Walmart just installed Fujifilm instant print kiosks whose quality is surprisingly stellar! I wanted these photos to have a specific look (some are 35mm, some digital) reminiscent of the tones found in my Dad's photo box. I thought family members could hang some at work, some on the fridge, put some in frames or like Grammy said: carry them around with her wherever she goes. 

Simple & meaningful photo gift in three steps:

Step 1. Print photos in monochrome with white border

Step 2. Stuff into string enclosure envelope with a note

Step 3. Date stamp front + gift 

These envelopes are made by American Crafts and can be purchased on Amazon, Hobby Lobby or similar stores.

I got my date stamp from Amazon and really, if you don't have one -- now is the time. It's just a thrill everyone needs in their life: date-stamping envelopes, letters, photographs, the kids' art, etc.! If you decide to make a gift like this, I would love to see! Shoot me an e-mail or DM. Check out the video below to see the photos I used.

Happy memory-making, picture-taking and photograph-making, my friends.

Anastasia

 

 

Goodrich Family on Super 8

Will you be the one to unravel me
Put me back together again?
All I got is this tangled heart,
Oh my God where do we begin?
We've come such a long, long way
I am not gonna stop what we started
But I saw it in your eyes today
A little tired and a little discarded
But honey, honey, honey
Hold me, hold me, hold me tight
Till the morning, morning, morning
And it's fine
I think that we'll be fine
I think that we'll be fine
We're not getting younger
I can count the years on your skin
Trailing the lines of the tears you cried
Look who we are still smiling
If we wish things were different now
We all know that we'd be lying
But honey, honey, honey
Hold me tight till the morning, morning, morning
And it's fine
I think that we'll be fine
I think that we'll be fine
Oh Honey, honey, honey hold me tight
Till the morning, morning, morning
And it's fine
Oh Honey, honey, honey hold me tight
Till the morning, morning, morning
And it's fine
I think that we'll be fine
I think that we'll be fine
I think that we'll be fine

October Memories

Picture a TV. On that screen place an image from a scene in your life where you felt your highest level of rage. Now pixelate that image. And destroy the TV. Take a baseball bat to it. Drop it off the Grand Canyon. Immediately I see my childhood set. A retro, Jetson’s-looking thing with bulbous front and antenna. I ask the image angrily: Why won’t you love me? I don’t want to pixelate you. I want to yell while I have you trapped here. But seeing the scene this way makes the face a stranger. I squint and look closer; it's in pain. 

A bat? That doesn’t seem right. The Grand Canyon? I launch it but it dissolves mid-throw. I am scared of the height, nauseas. I shake my head. I would never launch you pixelated and disarmed into a cavernous hole. I pick you up tenderly like Gollum and march you home. It’s spring, pleasant. I hear the hose deep watering the orange trees. Standing at the door, I know what I will do. I don’t linger; I pick you up and place you on the curb for the trash to collect. You must go, but my instinct to hurt you is gone, gone, gone. 

The most important thing I read this year was a post from @amanda_booth: 

"Being in a relationship with any person, married or not, for many years, isn’t easy. Don’t let the embellishment of other people in their perfectly posed instagram stories make you feel like anything from a rough patch, to pure devastation isn’t normal. Love is a choice so much of the time, and you gotta fight for it. "

I’ve started making capsule envelopes to put into my photo boxes. This one holds our trip to Mortimer Farms, a poem by my husband and some pressed carnation petals. Date-stamped to remember this day and  our season of learning to fight for love. The exercise described above taught me an important lesson about grief: it is tactile. It craves the structure of physicality like laying flowers on a grave or getting a tattoo or hearing the ground crunch beneath two hiking feet. I take photographs and memory-keep as a container; to put boundaries on the lessons I learn, to stamp them with a date. The click-click brings a small closure; wrapping string around this envelope and tucking it warmly, safely away. 

Dad's Photo Box

As a girl I discovered these photographs in a box. Because I was born when my dad was 45, he had lived an entire life before my sister and I came along. Dad on a cruise, Dad at a wedding, Dad in front of the White House. Dancing! Playing the guitar! Pointing a gun! Standing in front of house number 18. Holding them in my hands, I had access to the thing I had always wanted: his story. It was at that point that two things became inseparably wed in my psyche: the tactile, papery sensation of a photograph and the thrill of knowing another. 

He was born in 1940's Greece in a village that culturally operated more like 1840 according to my mom. My Dad is not macho per se but rather is full of machismo: excessive masculine pride. The male connection is the only legitimate connection. When I asked him a few years ago whether he would ever get married again he said, "Woman? Pain ass!" Pretty much sums it up.

His connection to my sister and I is strong and deep but non-verbal. He knows the concrete details of our lives (where we work, how much we make) and has faithfully, generously thrown money in our direction for our entire lives. He yell-demands that we take his entire plate if we ask for a bite of what he's eating and will. not. back. down. He came to my soccer games as a girl and stood with hands behind his back. We used to sit on his couch (my parents divorced when I was 2) and watch Greek soccer and Maury. He would take us to Sports World, an indoor arcade and fall asleep behind reading the Greek newspaper. We would wake him up by going on either side of his ears, counting to 3 and yelling, "DADDY!!!" and laugh until we cried. 

My attempts to know his history are always, without doubt, waved away in signature form: an angry face but a gentle heart. When my husband sits with him in the front seat, he gets stories about escapades in Australia, military formation, his first job. I am allowed to listen but asking questions of my own is a dead end. Sometimes I can catch him in a mood, usually when I lay out the photographs. He'll pick one up and point at it and with a twinkle in his eye say something like, "These ones! This was a good dog!" like I deeply disagree and he's convincing me. 

As a girl he took polaroids of Mia and I, usually standing in front of his car and always at a diner. I loved that camera and have been entranced with the instant medium since. But the attention! A picture of us, his girls! It made me feel cherished. I would hold my hands nervously and eak out a small smile while my sister would beam and dance and stick out her tongue and act like a monkey until I smiled a real smile. And he would pull the trigger. 

I have heard it said that talent is irrepressible; at the intersection of interest and ability is the thing you can't not do. I can't stop making photographs because of my interest in what they represent: identity, persona, family, place, time, style, nostalgia, memories made and intentionally remembered. The personal story. And because of my history with the photographs below. The feeling I got to know something about him, to see his joy, to be allowed in the narrative just a little bit. 

We Dream in Film

I shot these polaroids of my dear friends and their five children tonight. Holding them in my hands I realize something:

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Our minds see in film.

Shoot after shoot, digital feels more like an advertisement. A commercial for the life we want to be living, meant to convince and persuade. The tones and grain of film are a language our hearts already know: a poetry that hits in the gut. 

Have you seen photographs of Giverny, Monet's garden? Beautiful, but not more impressive than every stunning garden on earth. But Monet's garden painted. A glory greater than the garden itself, electric in it's depth. A veil that conceals and reveals.

Are our fantasies in film too? Our hopes and dreams and childhoods? Going with this metaphor, what of the subjective is seen in digital form? Our reflection in the mirror? The face of a tormentor as the words escaped their mouths? What we wish our bodies looked like? The searing detail of digital.

Photographing the family narrative has sometimes made me feel uncomfortable. I don't want to add to the violating onslaught of imagery in this world. Perfection and it's powerful chatter. Instead my desire is to add words to another conversation. Making images unto ends like these: self-reflection, praise, pause, humility, gratitude, wonder, covenant love.

Film, let's run away together and never come back. I'm ready.

(Last shot taken by Guinevere, the second-born of this family and my photo assistant for the evening)

 

From Mind to Form: Making Memories Tangible

This year we took our first vacation as a family of four to California. An overall success! Despite a few serious hiccups. I find travel with kids to be like everything with kids: infinitely harder and infinitely better. Can you relate? I grew up going to the beaches of New Jersey, so giving my girls some memories in the sand each year is a definite goal. Faithful Matt lugged my backpack around... five cameras and a bunch of silvery, wonderful polaroid packs later... I happily present the results. I purchased this box at the gift shop of The Huntington, which is one of my easy travel traditions. Buy box, put trip stuff in box. It keeps the spirit of memory-keeping on my heart as we travel and inspires me to keep creating even if inconvenient.

Thoughts on Form

My creative process usually begins with a discontent with form. Something about the medium I'm using doesn't allow the voice of The Thing to emerge. I felt this way about painting with acrylic until I discovered oils. Messy! Movable! Thick dollops of black, mistake-proof. Freedom. 

With photography I became disenchanted with digital a few years deep into a business that I hated. Is this a service merely? Am I being hired to achieve a result or tell a story? That was almost ten years ago. Now-a-days I joyfully admit to being center-wave in this tide of creatives returning to antiquated mediums. The physicality and irreversability of instant film was a breakthrough. YES. 

My paper prints allow me to use the best about digital - the ability to take a bajillion photos during a shoot - and keep the romance of film. I like to insist on this designation of myself: photograph maker. Meaning my aim for all images is that their eventual end would be in print. As a writer I likewise favor the physical - taking field notes and reporting back vs. creating fictional worlds.

My desire with Instagram-as-microblog is to document that process - the process of physical art-making. Sharing perfected (nothing wrong with perfect, you know I love you, perfect, you're my friend) IMAGES of humans without story feels exploitive for me. Another beeeeautiful family or couple or wedding. Eye roll. I realize this is revelatory of my general cynicism and creative superiority but there it is. Images feel like commercials to me; selling the same old lie I fall for every single day when I scroll Instagram and feel inferior. The lie that says when I have ______ like this person, I will be whole. I feel conflicted about contributing fodder to this aptly-named "feed", even if they're good. 

So! One solution? Story + embodiment. The paper trail of our lives that explains our values and choices. The shaping forces. The trauma, the legitimate triumphs, the things-still-in-progress that should be more established but just aren't yet. Not that physical photographs tell this story always, but in a way distinct from digital I feel they testify to it's presence. That we are time-bound human lives in process. And that is the master I seek to serve creatively: all hail process. 

I've been thinking about ways to share my photos that are not an infinite scroll of digital images. How to incorporate polaroids? How to show the texture of these living rectangular memories? I've landed on stop motion for prints and I think it suits it well. Enjoy!

Super 8: the medium of memory
 

It all started one Thanksgiving when my mom popped in a VHS tape saying, "I got these old home movies from my Dad!" Her father had digitized their super 8 home movies from the 60s. Watching it, I could see the thread of intention and love that connected their family before the waves of brokenness came in... before the divorce, the Vietnam war, the unspoken trauma that characterized their later years. Working in the medium of the family story my intention is to specifically not idealize relationships ie. make commercials for perfect happiness.

In my experience film testifies to this: despite the darkness of life there is light undeniable. There is love and connection. They did visit the Grand Canyon as a young family of six, the girls in bob-haircuts and the boys in shorter than short shorts. They had Christmases and they were good. There were presents hard-won and unwrapped with joy. There was a kiss between my mother's parents, at that time high school sweethearts who were trying. I find that inspiring.

So when we decided to take our trip I knew I wanted to revisit the medium I had come to associate with family memories. Super 8 film. Film in general hits me in the gut every single time and I typically observe the same reaction in others. It's permanence, tangibility, nostalgia all allow it to capture the visceral nature of memory. It looks like how we feel when we remember: sun-drenched and hazy; clips instead of long, hard days. Joy.

I am please to now offer super 8 films with my family archival packages and look forward to building up my portfolio and sharing in the furtherance of this charming, romantic medium that speaks so deeply to me.

Polaroids: Reflections

I took two polaroid cameras with us, the Instax Mini and Instax Wide. I'm in the process of purchasing an SX-70 and wasn't going to lug the land camera around in addition to the excessively heavy metal-body super 8. I favor the mini absolutely, in color quality, ease-of-use and because you have the only necessary function (in my opinion, but I'm right) on a point-and-shoot: flash control. I love these babies for what they give me: they capture the loveliness of the scene. But I long for the control a 600SE or 195 land camera would give me. Alas, funds. In time! 

Photo Notes: The Original Caption

One of my favorite things about old photographs is the notes on the back: Mary, age 4. Jack at the lake. Santa Monica, 1974. My mom the optimist and general happy-person used to include lots of exclamations and proclamations which I see emerging when I took up the mantle with these. Vivian, lover of strawberry ice cream cones! Whenever I find a note or photo from my Oma who is now passed, seeing her 40's-style cursive with it's sharp peaks brings me back to her in a way that nothing else can. Hopefully these prints will be the same for my girls one day.

Duplexity: Creativity and Mothering

Duplexity: (of a machine) having two identical working units, operating together or independently, in a single framework or assembly.

I feel this in myself. Though the units are identical, they produce different ends. Both require my whole being: mind, heart and hands. Creativity and mothering. Perceiving: a quiet and receptive act. Nurturing: a communicative process in the form of output. I fought laziness and idealism this trip when I wanted the creative process and mothering to co-exist peacefully and in complete obedience, thankyouverymuch. They don't. They can't. There is no philosophical tension whatsoever, but practical. I am one woman with one lens with which to focus. As much as I would like to shoot wide open (photo lingo) and zoom fully into the subjects that interest me, in this season of mothering wee ones I am forced to pan out and keep it all in sharp detail. Exhausting, new and therefore uncomfortable, but worth the discomfort in both arenas. Often I feel I am doing both areas in mediocre-ly by not devoting myself whole-heartedly to either. But my conviction that doing so would annihilate me keeps me from diving all in to the exclusion of the other. 

And so this is me right now: a mother cutting grapes in two while rationally explaining why we can't sing Jingle Bells at the top of our longs over and over and over in June; also while unconsciously and irresistibly writing in mind about covenant and essence and place and other things that call me to them like a whispering adulterer. Does this sound grim? It's not yet settled. Take heart, dear soul. Process, right?

 

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Digital images taken on 5D Mark II and printed by Artifact Uprising on 5 x 3.5 paper
Polaroids on Instax Wide and Instax Mini film
Super 8 shot on a Canon 518 with Pro 08-13 film, processed and digitized by Pro8mm
Super 8 song: We Will Say in That Day (Isaiah 12) by Wendell Kimbrough
Paper prints song: Sewee Sewee by Mountain Man

 

California Memories on Super 8

Our first vacation as a family of four! I found it to be like most things with kids: harder and better. In addition to their required gear I also lugged around four cameras (read: Matt lugged) including my new Canon 518 Auto Zoom super 8. I used Pro8-03 200T film with process + scan also by Pro8mm.

Song: We Will Say In That Day (Isaiah 12) by Wendell Kimbrough