Sunday, July 26, 2009

The allure of drama

Now that I have some big blocks of time for myself, I am going through my photos from our recent trip, discarding all the obviously useless ones and getting to know the ones that have possibilities.

This is always an interesting process: it's fun to discover the winners, easy to discard the ones that are out of focus, and interesting to watch how my mood, or the cat on the keyboard, or the weather, or the music that's playing influences the choices I make for all the ones that fall somewhere between good and terrible.

And what I see most of all is that I am still -- despite the fact that I am the one member of my family who finds it easy to throw things away -- still very much a child of depression parents; i.e., a saver. I keep thinking there might be something salvageable about an image that doesn't have all that much to offer at first glance. And sometimes I think, well, I don't like this one but my husband might want it as a memento.

The tireder I get, the harder it is to make the choices. And the longer I spend at it, the tireder I get, so then I take a break, take the dog for a walk, grab a snack, or even take a nap: with no-one in the house, I can choose to do any of those things and not worry that I'll get pulled off-task, which is good, because this is a process that works better if I can keep holding the whole body of work in mind. That way I can begin to imagine combining images -- whether separately, as an exhibit, or together, pulling a tree here and a sheep there and adding them to a barn in a field to create a fantasy world of my own design.

Through it all I'm watching for stories, or for those evocative images that create a mood or feeling that lifts me out of my own sort of plodding malaise (this really is sort of like watching widgets come off an assembly line and picking off the flawed ones; it's definitely not the exciting part of being a photographer) into some other space. This one definitely falls into that category: it's almost like a stage set, with the lighting and those old cars (I did have to photoshop out a white minivan that was driving right through the middle of the image, but the rest is completely unretouched) and seeing it I am back in the world of O Brother Where Art Thou, or Grapes of Wrath, or maybe Bonnie and Clyde, all those great classic movies.

And looking at it I can't help but wonder: what is it like to live in this town? What are their lives like, the people who come to this bar on the weekends? Do they gamble away their life savings, or flirt with loose women, or just nurse a beer and talk about the tediousness of the assembly-line bits in their own lives? Are there barfights? Is there one of those swinging saloon doors, around the corner where we can't see it? Will a little boy burst through that door, calling for his father, because his mother has gone into labor?

Because this is a picture that just reeks of drama, something I do my best to avoid in my own life -- perhaps because I had more than enough drama in my first marriage, enough to last a lifetime, and I gradually came to learn that drama is really an inadequate substitute for love. Love -- at least at this point in my life -- is something quieter, and deeper; something that enriches my heart rather than just stimulating my head; something cool and peaceful, ever-replenished and enduring, more like standing under a waterfall than like going to Disneyland or watching fireworks... or the quick high you might find at this roadhouse, this bar, this casino.

So, though I love the quick hit of this image, and I'll keep it for its dramatic qualities, it probably won't make it into my collection of screensavers. Because that collection is reserved for the ones that, well, the ones that feel like love.


My friend Robin sent me the following poem in response to this image, and I love it:

Roadhouse Bar & Casino
is painted on the side for all to see
but for those who know
the inside is a whole different
thing one not imagined from
a quick glimpse of its outside

Jeni-Lee lives in one half of the building
and the other half is her yoga studio
don’t laugh she went to school in
Michigan, Ann Arbor, and came
back here to her first love
the long low skies and surprising
twists of weather.

She also came back for Johnnie
her first love the one who filled
up her heart like nothing or no one else
and then too there were the memories
of a simple and joyful childhood
when her mother was still alive
and laughing all the time.

She has a regular clientele of young people
curious and eager as well as several women
who refer to themselves as middle-aged hippies
and there are some men young and older who
for the easy hospitality of the music and tea
who talk about enlightenment at the end
of a day in the fields, in the truck, or down
the road in the mill.

Roadhouse Bar & Casino
is painted on the side for all to see
but for those who know
the inside is a whole different
thing one not imagined from
a quick glimpse of its outside

------- Isn't that just AMAZING?

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