A Loss For Words
I wrote this piece for my first photography exhibit which opened last night, October 17, at 202 Market in Roanoke, Virginia…
On October 16, 2008 I stepped off of a plane in Buenos Aires, Argentina, a city that I had never visited and in which I knew no one, to try to learn two things for which I have no talent: Tango and Spanish. I was attempting a life experiment to see what would happen if I took myself completely out of my comfort zone at mid-age and lived the adventure while others watched. I wrote a blog about my mishaps and adventures: JUST TANGO ON: A Midlife Solution Not A Midlife Crisis. I began to develop an audience and I started to live a crazy and wistful life in a city I didn’t quite understand .
I have been taking photographs since the age of 14. I was a camera geek, developing my own prints and studying photography magazines and books. When I got to college, I never thought about pursuing photography as a profession. Instead, I wanted to be a screenwriter. For more than twenty years I studied screenwriting and films and wrote (or started to write) loads of movie ideas and scripts, only to be frustrated by the very difficult task of writing and marketing a successful screenplay. However, all those years of thinking visually and writing “word pictures” developed my sense of the visual world.
I named my first post from Buenos Aires “The Astonishing Quality of Light.” I wandered around the streets with my little digital camera and I saw a spectrum and intensity in the city’s light I had never before encountered. I was entranced by the visual dramas that unfolded in front of me. I only understood the body language between people, not the words. Everything was upside down. Spring started in October, time moved forward for Daylight Savings Time and Mother’s Day was observed that month. The only way I could participate was by observing and I felt that I was in the middle of a constantly unfolding movie in which as I walked through the streets, an invisible director yelled “ACTION.” I was simultaneously a part of the scene and apart from the scene.
My Spanish was abysmal and I was scared to speak. I stuttered in English because of my anxiety surrounding language. I watched, I pointed, I grunted and I got by. I had become bi-inarticulate.
I received feedback about my blog from home. Many people liked the writing and they loved the pictures. I didn’t understand. I was spending all this time writing and all people wanted to talk about were the pictures? One commenter tried to reassure me about my language difficulties. She wrote: “You speak Spanish fluently with your eyes.”
When I came home in late December I took the files and had them printed. I started to realize that the photos had a certain style and in the new larger format I started to look at them differently. I went back to Buenos Aires twice more. I had a group of pictures of Tango, another group of pictures of cityscapes, and a group of pictures of people that captured in single frames a sense of story, a feeling of mood and motion, and that extraordinary Argentinian light.
This past summer I spent time in Maine attending a workshop that placed me in a group of accomplished peers led by the digital image artist and instructor, John Paul Caponigro. In Maine, I discovered that I could capture a sense of nature’s mystery and mood in my images. I became more open to other subjects and dug deeper into my creativity. I began to use anxiety and worry to enhance my work. In the past these emotions had blocked me creatively. Recently I traveled to Barcelona and Mallorca. There I took many of the cinematic and colorful elements from my Buenos Aires work and mixed them with the darkness and perspective shifting that I had explored in Maine.
In tonight’s exhibition I am showing representative images from my emerging body of work. This year I have made the transition from working as a writer illustrating his work with photographs to working as a photographer augmenting his images with words.
Tonight marks not only an inaugural exhibition, it also marks the first anniversary of this quixotic project, one that shows that sometimes the sanest thing you can do is to try something a little crazy. The adventure continues in Buenos Aires next week. Tango on!