scribbling in the dark - photographer's talks: scribbling in the dark - Fusco & Sanguinetti 2008
The scribbing in the dark series is a group of personal reflection writings on photography gatherings and slideshows. My notes are scribbled quickly in a tiny notebook, usually in a darkened room, so I ask in advance that you read the words below as my own recollections.
scribbling in the dark - Paul Fusco & Allesandra Sanguinetti at David Alan Harvey's Loft
OCT 3 2008 Workshop Fiesta
BOB and MARINA arrived by overnight bus and had spent the day in the city, I hear they met with MIKE and SPENCER and then went to the MOMA before arriving on my doorstep beautiful, exhausted and a bit late as someone had pulled the emergency break on the subway over, a true NYC experience...Because we were running short on time, introductions between us were a little rushed and I left them to rest and went to the Japanese restaurant to meet with..PATRICIA and her co-pilot and dear friend PAT, shining GINA and old friend and photographer KIM, LEE, exactly as I imagined, ANDREW S in recovery mode from helping out with the workshop all week, compadre PRESTON and ED L. (of LS fame) and my good friend / photographer NANCY S as well as the ever wonderful SANA. I think that was everyone..god forgive me if I am forgetting anyone..Sushi was fantastic, I'll spare you the menu..BOB and MARINA met us after their rest and we headed off to the KIBBUTZ.
Here I will omit the intricacies of an hour of harried back and forth phone conversations between cars traveling separately toward one destination, in very separate directions..the good news is that we all eventually arrived before the show began.
When we all had arrived, the loft was really overflowing with bodies and conversation, and it felt great..we all moved downstairs to the projection room, navigated for seats on the floor or in the few chairs, and i realized though I had smartly remembered to tote along a bottle of Prosecco I had dimly forgotten to bring a notepad and pen, so ANNA B ever ready loaned me hers for the dark room scribbling session.
Room was too loud, DAH trying to get everyone's attention..finally finally there was a hush..
(had my pancakes, with fresh raspberries and maple syrup, again, all my apologies for any errors in words actually said by anyone being represented here.)
DAVID opens with..
"This may be my last workshop at home here in my loft.."
"I'd like to introduce PAUL FUSCO, a gentleman and a great photographer, and I don't know in which order to say that. I can describe him in one word..he's a humanist."
DAH gives PAUL a big deep hug..
"My voice is leaving me.."
(and indeed he spoke in a whisper)
I want to explain a little to put in to context what I am showing you..what is important is the photographs, what is REALLY important is the people in the photographs, because they are living their lives affected by the 1986 fallout from the nuclear reactor in Chernobyl. The experts say this problem will remain for 2,400 years. Chernobyl had LOTS of victims, people who were living peacefully when tons of radiation, caught up in by a storm system over Europe that picked up all this stuff, was moving toward Moscow..The higher ups chose to seed (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cloud_seeding) the cloud system and 90% of the radioactive particles fell on Belarus, though they had ZERO to do with it.
The effects didn't go away..everyone eats it in their food, drinks it in their water..The areas were condemned but the people didn't trust their country, they thought the government was trying to steal their land, and they were happy to move back, to grow their own food.
I photographed one man who told me "You get strong, it doesn't affect us.." (And you could see the pain that this man's naive and hopeful thought caused Paul, just remembering it..)
(The photos start..we see a building in black and white, It's Reactor number 4 of the Lenin station, I think)
It's covered in a shield of lead and steel, the building filled with leaking radioactive material, in a rotting abandoned city filled with poisonous radiation.
(we see heart ripping stunning grainy grays of imagery, bathed in telling light, the slight framed man wit his tired compassionate eyes and weak voice doing his best to make us understand..we see a photo of a man..)
The man told me "I fell unconscious when a cloud of black smoke covered the moon. I woke up the next day in a hospital."
(Paul tells us of a man photographed who chose to return to the contaminated areas who is a strong man, someone who thinks of himself as someone beat the system. He is self-sufficient, grows his own food, so everything is radiated. We see a photo of a fisherman among his polluted fish, head down. We see another image of a man who worked to clean up "the mess" who has lost his leg because of it.")
They saw their houses being taken by by trucks down to the Black Sea, being resold..they thought this must be a lie that they were all radiated if the houses were being resold, everything must be okay, it must be safe to go back. Nothing works in these villages. The river is loaded with radiation. (We see a photo of two men poetically dipping into the river, with other worldly light falling on their car parked on the bank.)
(must take a break..more to come..)
The government is small, the government is poor, but they do take care of their people. The poor parents give their kids to the state. (we see children drastically and permanently affected by the disaster, living in an institution)
Now, for the kids who ARE very...(Paul seems at a loss for the right way to say this)..who LIVE very difficult lives because of the radiation..these kids are helpless. They are kept clean, they are fed, but they are just breathing little robots. They crawl, they slither, they roll, but they don't walk..At the age of 20 they go to the insane asylum .
There is an incredible commitment of the nurses working very .. to me, it seems hopeless..
(and we see an absolutely unbelievable image of 2 children..and then we see gorgeous emotional tearful light falling on the head of a 10 year old victim, who Paul said was devastated when she first came to the institution, that she cried all the time, who now welcomes the new children, telling them it's going to be better..We see a 3 year old with a tumor as large as the child himself growing from his lower back, the child is sitting on a table, completely encumbered by this behemoth..Paul starts to explain the photo, stops, and then looks back at the image of the boy as if he is looking for an answer of how to do this..)
The doctors had no plan to operate. They didn't know what to do. They thought his kidneys were in there, in the tumor. The nurse said that she sometimes thinks she loves these children more than her own children.
(We see an image of a woman with a child, a single strong tear running down her face. Paul said this was the first time he saw a parent at an institution.)
There is no evidence that the daughter is aware of who the mother is. Everyday she comes and everyday she leaves knowing she doesn't really have a daughter.
(We see a boy he had photographed earlier, now in worse condition.)
That's him, again. While I was photographing the interpreter told me a story about a friend of this boy. The friend had asked, "Why am I dying?" (The answer to the child from a nurse?, which Paul now yells, his whisper gone for one moment) "Because of Chernobyl, what else could it be?" (And this story was told in front of the boy we see on the screen now..) I think she's telling this boy he's going to die, and I think he already knows..
(We see a photo of a child from a more affluent background who had played in the black rain all day..then the girl is in the hospital..)
This girl has had care all over the world. She said, I don't want to be photographed in my hospital clothes. Fine, I don't do anything people don't want, so I arranged to photograph her the next day in her own clothing. During the night, she got very sick, she was in a coma, she was dying.
(We see the photo of the girl in the coma..Paul had asked the mother if he could photograph, and the answer was "Yes, I want everyone to see what they've done.")
It was a terrible day. The mother cried over and over "Daughter, daughter, don't die, don't leave..daughter, daughter, don't die, my love, my light.."
(We see sequential shots of a mother's abject anguish, undesirable except for the photos and images themselves..)
(The slideshow from Paul is over now, DAH salutes Paul with big wide applause, starring the man in the eyes..)
You've probably already figured out it is going to be a very special night.
(And a man who I believe is Ruckus from DAH's Hip Hop work Living Proof, gives up his seat to Paul, and says "You put a lot of work into that, and touched my heart."
(Taking a break..)
In my workshops I try to impart (access to one's own) authorship, and caring about something or THINKING about something, or at least looking in the mirror. Tonite there are 2 photographers speaking, both are in Magnum, one for a long time, one new, and they represent diversity.
I'll tell you this Alessandra, On the Sixth Day is my favorite new book.
(Alessandra stays in the middle of the room, by the projector, instead of coming up front..her voice is small and laced with an Argentinean accent)
I am going to show some videos I took while doing a story on farm animals, when I met Guille and Beli. I met the girls when they were very little, but they were 9 and 10 when I paid attention to them. It was their voices that attracted me to them, it wasn't visual, it wasn't an idea of a project. I just enjoyed being with them. Since I was 9, whenever I enjoyed something or was afraid of something, I photographed it.
(We see a homemade video, the quality of which Alessandra is apologizing for, saying she never meant for these to be used for anything..)
The girls at 10 are talking in Spanish, I asked them to imagine what your life would be like at my age, at the time that was 30 years.
I filmed many many hours, not to make a video or a documentary, but because I needed to. It made me think and it also set them (the girls) free a lot. They had a privileged childhood; they were healthy, they were free, and they were loved.
(Guille and Beli at this age are unabashedly genuine, they reveal to Alessandra's lens a range of best friends forever type of intimacies and glimpses of the adults they will become, encapsulated in their magical but transient childhoods. We see them role playing, dressing up, acting in dramatized ways that show this transition into women, we see intimacy and play, we see the girls own pleasure with themselves and their performances.
I dreamed I was a princess, and I married a prince, and I had a lot of jewels..
It scares me to have a boyfriend..that he leaves me. I am abandoned..nothing more.
(Guille is in her underwear, comfortable in her flesh despite her fullness, and is singing a wonderful full throated song. Beli is wearing just her underwear bottoms which reveal her tiny frame; she is sporting a painted moustache, and she is dancing some sort of flamencoesque gyrations..the footage is TOO GOOD, too amazing in the sense that it could not be conceived, it has been realized because Alessandra had followed her heart and her life into this rich reality, and it made me think about how DAH is talking always of making your life and your photos ONE...the girls are dancing now a coupled dance, and are staring intensely into Alessandra's camera..this is a good image, but more so a powerful acknowledgement of the connection between Alessandra and the girls, I look behind me to see if I can see this recognition of the moment now in Alessandra's eyes..and i see patricia, beaming in the the lamp light of the projector..)
(MUST go enjoy the day for a bit..more to come..)
The work is only staged in the way that children stage their play; I'd give them an idea, and they'd have the freedom to create. I'd direct so it didn't fall into chaos..I wouldn't do this with other photo work; for them it worked because it gave them greater freedom.
(We are watching video of the grandmother of the girls, it's shot low from the ground, there are chickens running around in the field, the grandmother is tossing feed around in her old world dress; it is a bucolic scene, almost idyllic or idealized..and then she looks knowingly at Alessandra and says "Look at the photo you'll take..you'll get a "10" "
(Exit camera right, running rooster.)
(The audio is crap, the wind is blowing..the recording is non-professional, and Alessandra has made it abundantly clear that she is aware of this. Despite all this and also perhaps in part because of this, the videos are incredibly personal, intimate, connected, engaging, and a fascinating look at another reality. Now the girls are performing a mock funeral, they can hardly keep straight faces, Beli raises the book she is 'reading' the sermon from to cover her wide smile that moves into laughter..I think we are looking at video now from 5 years later, and the girls are dancing again, this time in a more self conscious unison, no more of the free hip swaying but instead an anticipated step by step that leads to an "I'm tired" and a quick end to the dance. I see myself in Beli, the one who tries to keep going for Alessandra, but suddenly realizes she is carrying on conspicuously alone, and steps abruptly out of frame..and that is the end of Alessandra's slideshow)
As photographers, we need to have something to say, and if you can look in the mirror, so much the better. And you, Alessandra, definitely look in the mirror..
I'm going to do something no one in their right mind would do - I am going to show you a four minute piece of something I am working on. I had a strong desire to do something on the family. When I was ?(did he say) 14 I made handmade books with silly captions..my world was my family..
(We are seeing these absolutely incredible snapshots that David took of his family back on Lover's Lane and Market Street in Warren Ohio, in black and white, small, perfect and revealing his genius 100% into full view in the way that a seed contains all the information for the great Oak that will grow..)
We had each other..
(These images, into which David sometimes steps with the aid of the self timer,are looking to me like LIFE photographers, which of course they are, in the full sense of the word 'life'.)
LIFE, LOOK, Gene Smith, Fusco, Cartier-Bresson, Frank...these are the people that i was looking at. I knew 1/2 way through a pretty hedonistic lifestyle on the beach, I had to DO something.
(We are seeing images from David's early book "Tell it like it is", taken in a Norfolk slum, in black and white 35.)
I think it ended up that I shot 25 rolls of film for this, it was the first time I had an experience outside of my own culture. It changed everything for me, it has lead to everything. I'm going down to try to find this same family for a piece for magnum in Motion..I won't find them, but I am keying off of this experience and my own family, and seeing what comes. I am using a medium format film camera, because I want to make it hard, I want to get back to snapshots. It's hard, I can't quite get the picture, with my snaps it was the same, and i am mixing up black and white and color which you aren't supposed to do.
(The images of diverse and disparate families come one after the other, the unity, the tension, the love, the insecurity, the fragility, the strength..these somehow make me mournful, the sense of potential for loss is too great, in the hand's that are tightly clutching the pet hamster, or in the arms that hold the newborn child, in the promise in the day at the beach with your parents and in the man holding so tightly to his beer..)
I'm with friends, I'm finding life, and I'm just getting started..it's so much fun to meet all these people, like my good friend Patricia.
The most important event of the evening is my student's work..people think it's crazy to bring in these big names as the warm up, but we are no different, we are up against the same wall, we're no different..what I may have is a little more experience with authorship.
(DAH gives a very long list of thank yous for the people who spent time with the students..)
The best show tonight is the one that was just shot in the last few days. I'm really proud of them..I'm also really mad at them. :)
(We see Kristen Field's work, Down on Our Knees, showing what I believe is the look at the struggle and uncertainty experienced around Wall Street and Trinity Church? in this time of financial crisis..we see Kerry Payne's Where the Bands Are, looking at the music that flows from under the ground out of the subway system, we see Body Language by Andrea Gjestung, vibrant up close color work of ??a female impersonator / transgender individual I am not sure but lovely..moving into boxing beauties, GRIT without the gritty wow shots..We see If You Get There by the gentle and kind Doug MacLellan, work that plays with light and dark, moves through the subway using chiaroscuro. We see a continuation of the ongoing work Little Senegal by Judith Quax, emphasizing the movement and the rhythm of the people in the streets..NYCAB a zoomy series by Laredo Montoneri, checking out our yellow cab system. There is a portrait of the the face that is looking for Change in the hope of Obama by Jennifer Chase, The Crossing by Tim Ripley, a direct, interpretive and somewhat confrontational portrayal of the ferry service..America is Waiting by Allen Bryant, a beautiful crazy Hopperesque bad Norman Rockwellian dream..American Heroes, pitch perfect over the top editorial looking interpretation of heroism by Cliff Volpe..It's Hard being a Faggot by David Keenan..a see-saw of the straight and tragic, a personal, sad tension of inner and outer, public and private, a self exploration of desire, fixation loathing and confusion..and I Dreamt by sweet love Kyunghee Lee, who i finally had the pleasure to meet..her work is poetry in motion..in STILL MOTION if you can understand what I mean, they are fixed images but not..these are images you need time with, I don't think they are suited so well to the quick flip of the slideshow format, they are complex narratives organized in harmony..the slideshow ends)
Let me introduce you to the photographers..
(no one is moving, David is still standing alone up front, where are they?)
Can you JUST be on time this ONE TIME?? See, they don't even show up for their own introduction!
(David points out the photographers, who are peppered throughout the crowd, exhausted, exhilarated, shy, who knows what..but they stayed in their spots instead of coming up front, which Ruckus then announces is "What they should have did..")