[pullquote align='left']"The fact that we lack the language skills to communicate with nature does not impune the concept that nature is intelligent." - Paul Stamets[/pullquote]
I have been thinking lately about how I want my artistic practice to connect humans to nature. I've been experimenting with time lapse as a way to capture the wonder that happens all around us that our "naked" eye can't see. This led me to this TedTalk by Louie Schwartberg, which I highly recommend watching!
When photographing men together I usually have to say, "Move closer, move closer" over and over. In my experience men are far less likely than women to stand close without instruction. Most (but certainly not all) men are also less likely to touch each other even with instruction. It is a challenge for a photographer who wants to communicate connection and friendship if there is physical distance between the subjects. When I first started photographing gay couples, I was surprised to see this same dynamic playing out. I thought that gay men would be immune to this cultural precondition, but I've learned that is not always the case. At my first few same-sex weddings I found myself struggling to make photos that communicated intimacy in part because I didn't know what that photo would look like for a same-sex couple. I know what images of love look like because of the wealth of media out there that has informed me. For instance, I've never seen anyone spontaneously dip their beloved, but I know "the dip" communicates love in a picture because I've seen that concept in the context of love in still photos, TV, movies, etc and so I accept "the dip" as a representation of love. When it comes to same-sex couples there are far less images of what their love looks like. In fact, when I first was struggling with this, I googled every search term I could think of and I did not find a single wedding photo, instead I got links to pornography. Of course, love is love so why would the visual representation be any different? Well, in my experience it is for the same reason that photographing two straight men is different than photographing a straight couple: social, cultural and physical preconditions.
In my research to better understand my same-sex clientele I've begun reading gay history books. I was unbelievably excited to discover a book called Dear Friends: American Photographs of Men Together 1840-1918 by David Deithcher. Would you believe there is a visual history of men in the late 1800s together, touching! Thousands antique photos were discovered in places like flea markets and yard sales and are now in private collections. Most of the subjects, photographers and circumstances are unknown. But to me, these images speak volumes. They speak of a time when men posed for their portrait touching. Yes, it is likely the photographer told these couples how to hold themselves or each other, but I can say with experience I've struggled to capture photos of men looking this caring and relaxed together in a perceived more "progressive" time.
Deitcher describes being drawn to these photos in part because the LGBT community is “image-starved." He admits that there is no way of knowing if these men were couples, but regardless it provides us with an image of what intimacy (be it romantic or friendship) looks like between two men. In studying gay history, I have further learned that the word "homosexuality" was not introduced until the late 1800s and the word "lesbian" did not become common until the 1930s or later. Furthermore the liberal New York Times did not print the word "homosexuality" until 1926 (Alsenas, Linda. Gay America, 2008).
This reminds me of a linguistic assertion that language influences what people can think about. So if you don't have a word for something it doesn't mean you can't have a concept of it, but you are less likely to think about and conceptualize it. Perhaps this is why men could freely express physical affection in a time when many did not have a linguistic concept of homosexuality. This also makes me think of one of my bone's-to-pick with the wedding industry at large which purports that our client is "the bride." I admit to feeling unprepared to photograph a wedding without a bride since my language, let alone my experience did not prepare me for such an event.
For me as a wedding photographer, Dear Friends, offers me a visual reference for a group of people which are still (although less so) "image starved." I am excited and honored to be making photographs of two men or two women which will forever be seen as, not just Dear Friends, but as Dear Lovers.
Once a year the worlds most prestigious photography art galleries gather in New York City and display their prized artwork. The event is called AIPAD. The primary function of this show is for collectors to purchase artwork. But for a student, or any lover of photography, it is a dream of a photography show. I walked the halls of AIPAD for hours. I saw original prints of some of the greats, like Robert Frank, Dorothea Lange and Edward Weston. I'd never seen any of these prints outside of a book and I didn't anticipate the greater impact that the physical print holds. I was emotionally moved just to be close to these photos. I saw some historic photos that I wish I hadn't seen. Photos of tragic events. Photos of war and execution. These are images I believe serve an important role in our society, but goodness they make me feel devastated and powerless to look at.
The first recent work that caught my eye was Sze Tsung Leong horizons. It was these two images of water and desert paired next to each other that stopped my in my tracks. After that Angela Strassheim image titled "Horses" gave me pause because it is highly intentional and yet somehow feels very real. After looking through more of her work, I see this is very much her style! In a very similar vain, Julie Blackman's "Thin Mints" made me first think of Abbie Road, but then when I got closer it made me laugh out loud. Again, clearly every bit is intentional but it looks and feels like a real moment. I feel like these must be images that these artist saw in real life or in memories and then embellishes, manipulates and recreates the feeling in an image. One step farther in the dream (or nightmare) world in Maggie Taylor. Although I am hard pressed to see these as photographs, I love the way they make me believe in the unbelievable. Continuing down the road of alter-reality, I saw Caltherine Nelson's work "Future Memories."
Perhaps the most intriguing work to me was that of Cig Harvey. I first flipped through her book, You Look at me like an Emergency and then I was mesmerized by her "motion" images. I think the work I saw by Harvey is some of the most moving work I've ever seen. Her ability to enhance a still image with words and simple motion is nothing short of remarkable.
Toward the end of my day at AIPAD, I took one last walk through the entire show counting nudes. I was struck that of 43 nudes or collections of nudes I saw, only 3 were of nude men. Does anyone else find that curious?
The warm temps and beautiful days of true Spring also mark the end of maple sugar season here in New Hampshire. As much as I enjoy the sweet smell of evaporating sap, I am also happy to see the season end. The long days and late nights by the evaporator can be exhausting. This year, we made a little bit more than 1 gallon of syrup. Our smallest take in four years. This is mostly due to tapping a fraction of our sugar bush. Given all of the projects my family has in the works, this was one thing we could downsize. In addition to that, this was not a good year for maple syrup. The season began late, was inconsistent and the weather was unforgiving. For the first time, New Hampshire Maple Weekend came before we even tapped our trees.
The bulk of the work making maple syrup is in evaporating all the water. Sap is only 1.5 to 2.5% sugar. Syrup is 66% sugar. So it takes about 40 parts sap to make just 1 part syrup. To get the evaporator going we really need at least 25 gallons of sap and more is better. Without ample sap to keep replenishing what is evaporated we run the risk of damaging the pan and worst yet burning the syrup. There is not bigger mess than an evaporator pan with burnt syrup, it is a truly awful thing to clean.
This Spring began with a false start, a warm day followed by many cold days. Because of this, by the time we had enough sap to run the evaporator the sap had already gone bad. Sap is perishable, unfortunately.
The first time we tapped trees I was surprised to see the hole where the sap enters the tap is on the bottom of the tap. I always thought sap dripped down, with gravity. Sap is actually pulled up from the roots of the tree, through the trunk about a 100 feet into the air and out to the branches. How does a plant with no muscles and no brain achieve such a feat? The answer is pressure. Overnight temperatures below freezing and daytime temperatures creates negative pressure and temps. above freezing creates positive pressure. In addition the sapwood contains carbon dioxide which contracts when it's cold and expands when it's warm, creating pressure. Finally the presence of sugar in the sap creates osmotic pressure. All three of these natural forces work in tandem to delivery the sap (created from photosynthesis in the previous summer) to the branches to make leaves to again make sap. Truly an amazing process for a hunk of a wood.
I have spent much of this month noticing, reading and photographing sugar in various forms. Spring has been very late this year and we still haven’t really seen the maple sap begin to flow, although our trees have been tapped for 3 weeks. On March 11, we had a seasonable warm day where it hit about 50 degrees, the minimum honeybees need to fly, I looked out the window and saw bees flying around their hive. I was thrilled!
On a warm Spring day honey bees will emerge from their hive for a “cleansing flight” which is a polite way of saying they need to defecate. Like most of the natural world, bees don’t poop where they live. In New Hampshire where it has not hit 50 degrees since October, these bees have actually waited 6 months for a bathroom break. How do they do that? I’m guessing when you expend so much energy shivering to heat an uninsulated hive, there isn’t a lot of waste product. Nevertheless, the line between survival and death for a New Hampshire honeybee hive is very thin. So thin that between the two hives we went into winter with, only one survived.
When the bees are flying it also means they are burning calories, which means it’s a beekeepers job to make sure they have enough food. Beekeeping is a form of “insect husbandry” we are stewards to the bees but we are also cultivators. In any kind of cultivation there is a form of manipulation. We manipulate the bees to live in a man-made, wooden hive, that is easy for us to manage, inspect and collect their honey. We manipulate the bees to live off of the least amount of their own honey as possible, by feeding them sugar water, fondant (essential frosting for bees) and pollen patties (frosting with imitation pollen). We trick the bees into staying in their hive by managing their “swarm cells” (the hive can make a new queen when the population is thriving to split themselves to propagate). We care for the bees by managing and often treating for diseases and pests. Inevitably, we like our bees, although they don’t show affection like other livestock.
The worker bees life span is only 6 weeks during the summer season. Over winter they actually live longer, because they are not working as hard. During the summer months the worker bee will fly miles/day gathering pollen and nectar that eventually their wings begin to tear. I am reminded of Michael Pollan's Botany of Desire. “Design in nature is but a concatenation of accidents, culled by natural selection until the result is so beautiful or effective as to seem a miracle of purpose.” Is it purely coincidence that sugar has driven both bees (and humans) to such lengths? Or is it a “miracle of purpose.” During our current obesity and diabetes epidemic, the world's richest and most powerful nations are being killed by sugar - just like those worker bees. And yet our government subsidizes its production. And we consume it.
I plan on spending the next month trying different angles of photographing my relationship to sugar.