i’ve a lot of photographs that not many folks have ever seen. they don’t fit anywhere or i’m not sure what they’re all about or it might just be something i never got around to finishing. more often than not i think the photograph, for whatever the reason, isn’t good enough. i’m not very kind to myself in that regard.

this window is from my apartment in Chicago from around 1999 or so. i had a job printing color photographs all day [well actually it was all night – i printed the rush images that came in the afternoon before and needed to be delivered the next morning] and, while i learned to print really good at that job, it also burned me out on photography. i didn’t do many pictures for myself during those days. this was a rare moment and shot on a roll of film i didn’t develop or print until 2007. in the intervening years i got married, lived in tokyo for five years where i learned to cook like a japanese mother and traversed the city on train and foot wearing bespoke suits to tutor executives in the many nuances of cross-cultural small talk; eventually i returned to the states, to ann arbor, michigan, got divorced and got a job pushing book in the university graduate library, keeping the four million volumes in the open stacks in order. and too i put together a darkroom in a crumbling basement riddled with bats [i named them all Jack] and began to make prints again.

one of my great frustrations with photography is that none of the above ever accumulated in this photograph of the window. it might all be there for me, but not for anyone else. what i see isn’t anything that you see. which leads us to one the great strengths of the medium. i could’ve written any story here to go with this photograph and you probably would’ve believed it.

this may very well be my first window picture. i’ve been photographing the light as it makes it’s way inside ever since.



failure of romance #1

time was the photographs were my problem. the taking was fine: seeing the thing, camera eye framed and squeezing the shutter blind a moment, reflected light impacting silver. it was all that came after that i despised: slips of paper, bromides clumped and crumpled in gelatin — evidence floating the gap between what i wanted and the pith i got. taking pictures wasn’t my problem. it was the conduct of the product that left me cold. i preferred it latent.

if failure is inevitable with development, then a calculated cultivation of suspension i’d make my intent. it’s not uncommon for photographers to scrabble notes about exposure settings or light conditions for future reference and i figured to do the same. narrate the act, transcribe the conditions of transaction:
jess, kate and blackberry bushes we found after picking full hat full, forearms thorn scratched, fingers blue black. will bake pie if not sun tired.

afternoon and alone on the bainbridge ferry. storm grey light across the water. don’t remember anything so beautiful as this.

last shot of grandma before leaving the hospital. doesn’t have much nice to say.

trail along the outer rim. cool air, monsoon clouds forming north.

kitty bird and her boyfriend[?] in the back of dale’s truck.

those plastic smoking chairs out around behind work.

baily’s blue couch. slept here. a lot.

mitch is a motherfucker.


at the end of a roll i’d fold up the litany, rubber band it to the canister and toss it in the box with all the others. i’d make photography all a motion: endless and deferred, eternally inferred. like how i remembered. make the pictures. not matter.



the means

It shouldn’t matter which camera you use, but the truth is the make and maker make us swoon. For years my self was satisfied to possess a Hasselblad — a contrivance so reputable I could never afford the lenses, so revered that, at least until the collapse of the analog market, I could trade it for a used car. Mercifully my ’blad no longer lords its value over me. I needn’t care for what it wants.

My suggestion for any new camera you might acquire — whether factory fresh or just fresh to you — is to forget about it. Shirk it off to a shelf to gather dust, or if it’ll fit toss it in a jumble drawer, if not then gambol it to the garage. Doesn’t matter really, box it up and bury it in the ground if that’s what’ll get it out of sight. If you can’t keep it out of mind then best lend it indefinitely to an untrusted friend.

Should your photographic needs be more immediate then drop it, more then once, hard, to the ground. Bang it against a door jam, leave it out in the rain, drown it in the lake. Resist the feel of the sleek lines in your hand, the possibilities of its capabilities, the rigor mortis of its engineering. What you wanna do is make it known who’s in charge.

Some day I hope to own an Ebony view camera. Likely never make a picture with it.




/ there are no final prints

/ an arm, a leg, maybe a spleen, but always a corpse of work

/ your audience is, will be, and always were other photographers

/ experiencing time forward doesn’t make the new by necessity better

/ mediations on quality are opinion, fashion, trend, blessing, and canonization

/ it’s quotations all the way down



I dreamed I gave a lecture

Barthes is often misquoted, erroneously, as having stated that from one to as much as four percent of the weight of the world’s material possessions are photographs. An absurd number, for what is a photograph — a slip of paper, an amalgram of pixels — when compared to a coat, a horse, a house, or a gun? Yet practically this calculation is far too modest a model, for what holds down our walls, stiffens our wallets, and fattens our resolve? Not to mention all those photographs we’ve born before, lost, and can conjure now, stark and embellished by our machinations. The staggering toil of augmentation is merciless. The persistent entitlement to abduct time and appropriate likeness serves best to condense our dreams, compound our memories, and sentimentalize our fears. Trapped in this way, portentous and latent, aleatoric and discriminate, mutinous and inimical, light lies, always in wait. It’s not the seeing that we care so very much about, but the beings seen and the gravity of being seen again.



alternating current

hey, is your power out?

yeah. my power’s out.

mine too. i’m just down the street.
i was in the base­ment when every­thing
went dark, thought it was a fuse.

yeah. i got no air con­di­tion­ing. no fan. no tv.

porch lights are on across the street,
so they’re alright.

yeah. all we got’s daylight.

i hope it doesn’t last long.
maybe i should call the elec­tric company.

at least it’s not like that one time.

this hap­pened before?

oh yeah. the whole thing was out.
from New York to California.

the whole country?

yeah every­thing.
coast to coast. out.

for four weeks.



defenestration copy


i’ve a lot of photographs that not many folks have ever seen. they don’t fit anywhere or i’m not sure what they’re all about or it might just be something i never got around to finishing. more often than not i think the photograph, for whatever the reason, isn’t good enough. i’m not very kind to myself in that regard. here’s one.

it’s another photograph of another window. this one is from 2006, ann arbor, michigan. i was in the midst of a divorce from my first wife. over ten years we’d grown up together and over those ten years we’d also grown into people that came to believe and to desire quite different things. our separation was both necessary and inevitable and yet, despite the myriad of warning signs, it still came as a shock. and it hurt too. a lot. during that time, to keep my head out of a bottle while i processed paperwork, waited for a court date, and looked for a job, i’d taken to long ponderous directionless walks and it was while out on one of these hauntings that i found this window.

i imagined the defenestration of a bird. flying low, minding it’s own business, enjoying the day, and then smack and down. it seemed to me as tragic and as inevitable as my own predicament. so much so that finding this window, coming upon this site, laying my eyes upon the evidence of a sudden and violent end felt revelatory. this window was a message, a sign, a vision. it was what i needed in those dark days to move forward.

i’d never say i was a spiritual person and yet i’ve had experiences. like in the late 90’s, in a flash of mystical insight, i came to understand the total oneness of space and time and not too long ago, a year and a half ago in fact, i was completely convinced i was an angel. and not just me: i believed all artists were angels, sent by god to shepherd humanity. so this happens to me — from time to time i’m granted insight. and while i know full well that these delusions are imbalances of brain chemistry, that knowledge in no way diminishes the very corporeal reality processed by my misfiring neurons and felt straight through from nose to toes through my entire nervous system. i know i’m not an angel, except, you know, for that one time when i was an angel. it’s a hard thing to shake.

i’m pretty certain life on this planet is an accident, and that my life has no meaning or purpose and that when i die nothing of any consequence will happen. still, there are these parts of me that would seem to know better, that have other ideas. like i know this window was likely broken by a misguided rock or an errant broom handle and yet all i see, all i can feel, even all these years later, is a hapless bird crashing through.

i probably expect too much from photography. as if it had the capacity to transform this into that. that it could make what things are into what i need them to be. sometimes something does happen: the intertwining dance of events and subjects and processes conspire to make something greater than the parts. and while that might look like transubstantiation, it’s not. it’s just a confluence of light, and chemicals and a melancholy predisposition. still, that don’t make it any less. that don’t make it any less at all.



with the army you have

There was foot bridge near my work in Shinagawa that spanned an industrial canal flowing off from Tokyo bay. I’d wait there if I was early, nursing a can of Kirin from the convenience store and peering into the deep black water, soothed by the silver spines skipping across cresting waves of current.

One day as I approached the bridge I saw a young salaryman intently watching the water lost to his thoughts. The weird thing was that he was leaning against the opposite rail of the bridge from where I always stood. I remember thinking, why would he do that? It wasn’t as beautiful that direction, just a view of the factories, of the docks.

The moment I settled into my familiar place facing the bay, the light and space spread vista before me, I immediately realized what I previously never cared to noticed. I always looked to where the water was coming from, to where it had been, just as my thoughts are often on the things that have gone before, on what had already happened, on all that I’d done.

So I turned toward the other side, walked over to see how things might look from a perspective focused on the future, to place my weight on the far railing and gaze upon a current that was going somewhere, to imagine all that might still be done.

I couldn’t take it for more than a few seconds. Honestly, watching all that water flow out from me made me nauseous.




I read that we’re all made of the same stuff: atoms, molecules and chemical compounds. That literally this could be that and that will become this. When they say all is one, they aren’t being kind. I know dead birds are a cliche, but figuratively it was on my doorstep and not many come knocking. When fitting energy to fate, and fate to phenomena, constellations are our only consolation.




your feelings, your experiences, your ideas are an auspicious, even admirable place to begin, just know when you’ve finally reached an end none of that should matter anymore. what there will be is something you’ve never seen before and what that will be is the very thing you did not even know you most needed.



failure of romance #2 (google maps street view)

to plot those places
where i last remember you
time and time again



failure of romance #3

i quit every other day and the other days i don’t even bother. i should’ve been a poet or a painter, or even smarter, taken those automotive repair classes in high school or got a good job at the shipyard like everyone else. maybe i should’ve went to a vocational cooking school, or better pestered my mother into buying me an electric guitar when i was twelve so i could’ve run away at fifteen to a southern california suburb to star in an angry punk rock band. instead what i’ve got are cameras, film, a darkroom i can’t afford, chemicals and paper. yet even with these riches i scarcely manage to fit any one thing worth your whiles to the confines of the material, never mind the unending erosion, for better or worse, of my very own wiles. it’s a feeble medium and it’s not keen to forgive. on my best days i think to tell the world important things, but let’s be honest, i cannot. it doesn’t work that way. it’s the cameras that do the telling and the most they ever tell me is what i’m in need of knowing. i scratch out the bits and pieces i remember and do what i can to smuggle them out to you. i try my best. i try to guess where you’ll be. i try to pronounce the languages you might speak. i try to carry on the mannerisms that might make your mind. i don’t know. the cameras don’t care what they do. the cameras don’t need to be used. there are long lonely days when i think the cameras are just fine by themselves as if maybe i should’ve been somebody else. like what i should’ve been is a clerk, a conductor, an electrician. some kind of catalyst. pure and invisible.



on Instagram

with mustered musement and merriment, a dispensation: at its most elemental, photography serves to reify that which the photographer deems worthy. to make a photograph is to assert value, and it is this assertion of value, in the form of a representation, that is, first and foremost, (re)iterated through dissemination. Instagram facilitates both acts: the taking and the trajectory, framing both as, as simple and as swift and as seamless as swiping a few onscreen buttons. and, unlike other models of making [a pro camera, being an artist, etc] and shaking [a book, the newspaper, a gallery or museum for example] that may by convention be bound by cost, time, purpose, profession, skill, education, social standing and/or experience, Instagram offers a relatively unencumbered mechanism to readily participate in a radically differing vista: the quotidian. to peruse a nexus of Instagram connections and to contribute your own photographs to that well, is to play a part in the real time accumulation, a steadying (re)valuation, of some of what gets us, singularly and together, through each day: friends, family, pets, places and food; something beautiful, something funny, something seen, and something done. it is in this way that the common practice of judging the relative merit of an individual photograph falls flat in the face of the Instagram interface. for the import of Instagram is in the very fact of each photograph having been produced and of the near-instantaneous shared profusion of countless such photographs across a network of exchange in which the legal tender is ♥ and minds [ie comments] and the reward, irregardless of the likes, is a reinforced sense of identification. every photograph a shiver not unlike your own.



failure of romance #4

i want a
of you
i said

just a thing
she said

have no meaning



Sturnus vulgaris

sturnis vulgaris

Whatness is concerned with content.
In the solemnity of every hour life returns.
– Frederick Sommer

I know dead birds are a cliche but I was late and I’d forgotten something, turned around and there he was. What was I to do? I quickly wrapped it up and carried him with me.

My therapist isn’t concerned with meaning or interpretations or possabilities. She never asks why. She says, what does the bird want? She says, what do you need?

I don’t have a lot of words this summer; trouble enough to put down this much. The studio is a mess and I no longer know what I’m working towards. I unfolded the paper and it looked like this. I made the exposure; I buried him with the irises.

Between teaching and working and everything else there isn’t always a lot left for consideration. Just, I don’t think it wanted to be left there on the sidewalk. I mean, I don’t think he wanted to be left there like that.



Even Dogs Get Neurotic

It doesn’t help. Something’s got to be done. His jaw dropped, his forehead wrinkled, he gasped, and then went into a paroxysm of coughing. He coughed and weezed in a manner almost sickening to behold. You know how sensitive I am — there is no limit to the number of symptoms that can be called forth under those circumstances — even to satisfy a doctor’s curiosity. Secrete, secrete: saliva gushes, your mouth waters, salivary glands go to work. Your brain is only aware of printed words — that is your conditioned reflex — traces of printer’s ink. He got that way in childhood. From learning to spit whenever he was angry or crossed or worried. He decided to forget entirely. In fact he had completely forgotten what makes you go to work, punch the clock, lunch at noon, dine heavily at night, and wish you hadn’t by bedtime. He did not like to admit these things, even to himself. He knew it was silly to feel as he does, but he cannot help it. His intestines, his glands, his heart — you could see this for yourself if you had an x-ray machine — the salivary responses, the fear responses, including spams of the stomach, cowering, tension of the muscles, the cramping of his intestines, and the dryness of his mouth. His whole body substituted. He was no longer human. He was highly irritable, snapped at everyone.

It shouldn’t happen, he never knows where he stands. We feel our glands, our stomachs, intestines, blood vessels. All we know is that in a chance encounter predestination wins this external conflict between fear, love and hate — and he hasn’t looked far beneath the surface of things. This too is being overdone. All this is common knowledge. Whether he is accepted or rejected, each determined by the angle of approach, each of which is appropriate, that it’s often difficult to reconcile one with another. But he knows he isn’t a martyr. Emotional habit is at once so complex, so diverse, and so closely knitted together; coaxing the sleep that does not come there arises a sense of strain, a lack of fulfillment.

Perhaps you had a trade skill that has been replaced by an automatic machine. This lopping off of an activity is a common thing in life. You haven’t anything else to do, nothing to do except to plan another futile, empty day. They gave him a farewell dinner and a gold watch. You can instruct the blood vessels of your face to dilate, but they won’t listen.

skip reading of the first chapter of Release from Nervous Tension by Dr. Fink, published 1943



In defense of photography

Art should disturb the comfortable and comfort the disturbed

I don’t remember where or when I first read that aphorism – a search on the internet reveals a multitude of sources and derivations – yet it’s a sentiment that continues to compel me. My upbringing, my childhood, was not the most ideal. My family is more insular, strange, and mad than most. Even today I’ve a keen access to feelings of loneliness, failure, fear, deprivation, and heartache. Our life then, my life then, was guarded and secret, the timbre was depressed, and what’s more we were poor. There wasn’t a lot except what could be found, held onto, and kept from others.

It wasn’t until high school, when I discovered photography, that I reckoned a way out, if not physically, then at least emotionally. I used the camera to reconnoiter my landscape and I used the darkroom to remake it. In that way I could control it, analyze it’s angles, and make plain the consequences. I’ve always done what I could to make the prints as beautiful as I can, a pleasure I’m reticent to resist, and yet the images, the subjects, the things my photographs show, are not always our best. They are small moments: forgotten, misplaced, unnoticed, rejected, repressed, and haunted. Poetic perhaps, but minor for sure.

Thankfully, I no longer live in that world and yet my art does. Photography is the practice of transmutation; a simple act to make myself better, to recreate a whole. Where I’ve been and what I’ve seen hasn’t always been pretty. To deflect it’s full impact requires constant contemplation, replication, and representation. Too, I’ve learned that secrets don’t help anybody. Indeed, there are those comforted by the pictures I make. These days I share whatever I find with whomever I can.



A Territory Is No Kind of Map

a territory is no kind of map

The map is not the territory. – Alfred Korzybski

I grew up with this picture above the television. It’s safe to say I’ve looked at this painting more than any other image. My mother bought it in Stuttgart the year I was born in the city I was born. Whenever I’ve asked her what she sees in it she’d square her eyes, furrow her brow and shake her head. I don’t know is what she says.

This past year helping her sort the house I was surprised when she no longer wanted it. I don’t know why was all she’d say. I hate to let it go, but I have to, I can’t do it any longer. Lips pursed, she said I just can’t. Head shaking she said I won’t.

Forty-one years and it felt fine to pull it free from the frame, it felt good to crumple it into my carry-on. It’s uncanny how quickly things can change. It’s mine now and I can do with it what I like. I can make this beautiful print for example. And then I can give it to you. And then I can just give that to you.



The graces of traces
There were times when I was a ghost, a shambling shell of remorse and regret, a shirking shadow of recitation and recrimination, a shabby shrouded shoeless shrimp of resignation and reparation. Times when I spurned my yearnings and turned on my earnings. Times when playing forlorn was no act and times when scorn was a pimply pleasurable fact. There were times when all small things became big things and all those big things were courted and counted and coddled. There were times so bad not even the near and dear would notice me. Indeed, there have been times, grim and dim times, when I was nothing, when I was nothing much at all.

There are other times too, good times, when the temperature is right, when money isn’t tight or when the light isn’t too bright. Times when every one is a friend and when every friend stays to the very end. Times when deeds have nothing to do with needs and when everything as far as the eye can see looks fine from the top of every steep incline. There are times when the air tastes sweet and the clothes are always folded neat. Times when time is short and times when every second counts. It’s true, there have been better times, happier times, when I don’t remember much of anything, when I needn’t remember anything at all.





i’ve a lot of photographs that not many folks have ever seen. they don’t fit anywhere or i’m not sure what they’re all about or it might just be something i never got around to finishing. more often than not i think the photograph, for whatever the reason, isn’t good enough. i’m not very kind to myself in that regard. here’s one.

it’s about the end of things. over the years i’ve photographed a lot of dead birds. i see other dead animals too, all the time, we all do: cats and dogs, raccoons and possums, squirrels and rabbits. deer. casualties of our need to get from here to there in a hurry. birds though, at least for me, are different. the birds are always at my feet. and not just anywhere, but placed as if there just for me: on the front porch, outside my studio window, on the path to class, in the parking lot next to my car. i don’t find them, the birds find me.

my father was a military man, ten years in the united states army — led a platoon to the top of Hamburger Hill, a real hero and all that — and then later he recced the dark corners of the world as a soldier of fortune. i remember him as a no-nonsense presence. whether it be counting through the numbers, reciting the alphabet or gluing together a model man-of-war, the time we spent with each other was always fraught through with purpose. when i was three he tried to teach me to shoot a bb gun. needless to say i didn’t yet have the hand-eye coordination nor the sense of personal safety required to make much headway in the endeavor. in the basement i remember there was a sandbox with tiny soldiers. i always wanted to play there but was only allowed near it under my father’s supervision and then it wasn’t so much playing as it was an intense workshop in small unit tactics. i wanted to make a mess, feel the sand between my fingers, march the soldiers around, and bury them under handfuls of grit. my father, on the other hand, was wholly focused on revealing to me the level-headed decision making required under fire to outflank the enemy. our time spent together always began with the best intentions and always ended in frustration. eventually he disappeared. took a plane toward Atlanta and never came back. the police looked for him, the FBI looked for him, private investigators hired by third parties looked for him, and one day quite seriously scary men with guns came looking for him. that was in 1977. he’d found a way to escape the mundanity of civilian life and dedicate himself again to the front lines of the cold war, first in of South America and then Africa. the last time i saw him i was five.

in many ways i was lucky. it wasn’t just that i was too young to fathom the lessons my father tried to instill in me, i didn’t possess the requisite character either. even at that young age i didn’t take pleasure in physical exertion, have the stomach for competition, nor the strength of my convictions [did i even have convictions then?] to put everything on the line. even to this day, no matter the kind — emotional, verbal, or physical — when confronted with confrontation i do one of three things: ignore what is happening, run away, or fall to the ground in a protective ball. my father would probably call that cowardice, whereas i see sound tactics to defuse a dangerous situation. granted it hasn’t always worked out for the best, but if you’ve ever met me it’s pretty clear from the get go i’m not capable of punching anybody with any sort of success. i’d like to think my father leaving allowed me to follow my own path with the least resistance; to imagine alternative worlds, read books, write in journals, study art, make pictures, walk everywhere, keep my head down. i shudder to think the sort of life it would’ve been to grow up under his watch.

still, it marked me. he didn’t let my mother or i in on his plans and so the vanishing act was quite a shock to the senses. all i had where questions my mother couldn’t answer and they were her questions too: where did he go? when is he coming back? why doesn’t he come back? what are we going to do? why is this happening? all of which leads up to that great unanswerable: what’s so wrong with us? which, when left alone, at night, unable to sleep, transmogrifies into that eternal ghost we’ve all faced down one time or another: what’s so very wrong with me? it’s a lot to lay upon a little boy just about to begin the first grade. it shaped the very core of my being. my default setting is to think i’m not good enough, my assumption is that everyone is going to leave, and my modus operandi is to feel there’s nothing i can do about any of it. so much so is this wound a part of me that when i’m in that zone of utter helplessness i’m most at ease with myself and my place in the world. it’s what i know best.

photography has always been a way to demarcate and commemorate the important passages of our lives. birthdays and holidays, vacations and graduations, proms and weddings, career milestones and expensive purchases, births and anniversaries. these momentous moments fill out our albums and stream through our Facebook feeds. and when we look back upon these pictures from our lives, stories flow so easily that we don’t even realize just how effortlessly an image can unlock the past. which brings us to the other side of the coin — there are so many other life events that more often than not are left alone: fights and breakups, loss and getting lost, accidents and violence, injuries and deaths. and when we don’t have a photograph, or an image of some sort, we often lose track of the story too. in this way the hard times get left out of our narratives. the hard times, more often than not, are better left unspoken. i figure that’s what the birds are all about. they need me to make sense of their death as much as i need to see, again and again, my innocence gone. when a bird finds me, i gather him up, take him home, make the best i can for him, and then i take a photograph. i bury him among the irises. he’ll always have a home there and he’ll never be forgotten.

it’d be an understatement to say i was apprehensive when i found out i was going to be a parent; even more so when i discovered i was going to have a son. after all, what do i know about fathers and sons? then i realized, the bar for me is pretty low. all i need to do to be a better father than my own is to stick around and pay attention and that that can even be a kind of redemption. i mean, there are worse things one can do than to keep the birds away as long as possible and to even be around to see him through it when they eventually do, inevitably, arrive.