Saturday, April 23, 2011

women with (and currently without) cameras

I love this camera.  For the past three or four years it has been one of the primary tools through which (or maybe I should say with which) I've been able to think through or otherwise process things--whether this had to do with working through ideas for articles, course plans, book covers, or for coming up with ways of dealing with more complex and time-intensive (analog) photo shoots.  What's more, this camera (and photography, more generally) has provided me with a way of dealing with sadness, anger, confusion, even joy.  In short, it has helped me to make sense of texts, images, plans, thought-processes as well as emotions. Quite literally, it often feels true to me that I am not able to really see or understand something until I see it played back on this camera's screen.  Put otherwise, I think I think best when the camera is connected to my fingers.  Oh yeah.  And this:  It was a gift from my mother  You never mess with gifts from mothers.

But alas, someone did.  This camera was one of four cameras recently (read:  this all happened yesterday) "taken from me" in what I will say simply for now was an incredible unfair and messed-up circumstance.  (read:  case pending.)  So until the property is returned or (given the worst case scenario) until I come up with funds for a replacement, I'm trying to adapt to this new (for me) process of working, thinking, and feeling without the help of this particular camera.  Blah.  Some days are just not so good.  For what it's worth, this one was taken too. And two of these.  Seriously.  When I'm not raging, I'm crying. And vice versa.  Again, some days are definitely not so good.   

And so I turn to the one other thing I know--something that has also come in handy when it comes to dealing with anger, sadness, loss, frustration:  Scholarship--writing something, reading something, thinking new things, arranging these thoughts in new ways.  Kinda like photography, but with a different type, use and outcome for paper.

As an aside:  Years and years ago I saw this wonderfully captivating piece of art.  I think it was made of the same kind of recycled, nubby, compressed material that they make carry-out drink trays from.  I think the image embossed on the material might have been a dolphin.  Who knows?  At the time, I clearly thought of myself more as a word-person, less of an image-person.  Anyhoot.  At the bottom of the piece the following words were cut out of the nubby compressed material: "How will I survive the day?  I think I will write a poem."  Or something to that effect.  Again, it's been years.  My point here is that for the past 3-4 years (since acquiring the camera pictured above--the one that has recently been re-acquired by another and unjustly so), my answer to the question "How will I survive the day?" has been to take a photograph.  Or three.  Or, if I'm shooting digital, maybe 500 hundred.  My response to the bigger question of "How can I not only survive the day but feel like I can actually escape, even for a brief time, from really shitty and frustrating circumstances?" has been--at least for the past six years or so--to start a new project, to write another article, to finish a book, etc.  Perhaps my level of productivity (or lack thereof) really is based on how much I need, at any point in time, to not really think about the things that most piss me off, that make me sad or that I feel I'm pretty much powerless to change. But I've digressed.

In a bizarre turn of events, I woke this morning thinking that maybe the best way of coping with the problem of the the four missing cameras (or, perhaps I was only interested in finding a way to escape from the incredible amount of anger and sadness and feelings of powerlessness I'm currently experiencing over this unsettled matter), would be to begin tracing the way that Dorothy's scrapbooks and photo albums have represented women (herself included) working with cameras.  While my larger project--at least as I am envisioning it now, without my camera's help--will examine the way material (human) bodies are represented in Dorothy's (equally fragile) body of work (i.e., through text and photos that she created, as well as through her selection, appropriation, annotation and/or redistribution of already-existing [not self-authored] media), a portion of that project, I'm sure, will have to do with these representations of ladies with cool tools.  Or maybe it won't.  Like I said, I can't think well without my camera and maybe I'm just a glutton for punishment, focusing so much of my attention on women who are captured on film doing something that I'm currently unable to enjoy.

One of my favorite images of Dorothy is this one. A self-portrait taken with what appears to be a small, box camera.  The image was taken in 1950 while she and Fred were living in Germany, and it is part of a series of photos Dorothy took with the apparent aim or goal of providing those (family members and friends, I'm assuming) who were unable to visit the couple in Germany with a better sense of what their new digs looked like.  To this end, the collection is filled with pictures of views from various windows of the apartment and views of the various rooms in the apartment.  Two of my other favorite photos from this series (they are not depicted here as they don't feature women with cameras) are pictures of Dorothy and Fred next to one another on the couch.  How these photos were taken or by whom is a mystery to me.  Long cable release?  Soliciting someone else's help?  In one of the photos the couple is looking at one another and laughing, in the other they are sitting side by side and reading.  Of this pair of images, Dorothy explains:  "These are two very usual poses for us.  We look like this many evenings or right after lunch on weekdays."                             

But back to images of women enjoying something I cannot currently enjoy.  An old, worn black photo album marked "Alaska--Date 1941 to June 1960" contains a two page spread featuring women with cameras.  Unfortunately, these pages do not bear annotations but some of the pages before and after this spread are marked June 1941, so my assumption is that these images too are from June 1941.  There are four photos on each page of the spread; of those eight images, six are of women with cameras.  A sampling:   

While all six of the photos construct the women both as image makers/takers as well as part of the image made/taken, the first three photos are framed in ways that make it appear that the women with cameras are unaware (or less aware) of that dual positioning.  By contrast, the last three images seem, if not more posed or less candid, to be framed in ways that suggest a willingness on the part of the women to take a break from their own work as image makers to become part of another image made.

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