The Hug; Eyes Closed and Smile, 1982 ©Harvey Stein 2011

The Hug; Eyes Closed and Smile, 1982 ©Harvey Stein 2011

Coney Island is a world unto itself. It is a time and place that exists independent of everything else. Situated where South Brooklyn meets the Atlantic Ocean, it is an urban fantasy of beachfront life. It is equal parts escapism and entertainment, strange and seedy and strikingly American at its core. It is a fantasy world of populist delight: rides, games, and half-naked girls.

Harvey Stein has been photographing life in this inimitable stretch of land since 1970 and the result is Coney Island: 40 Years 1970–2010 (Schiffer), and it features a carefully curated selection of images that take us there. From the boardwalk and the pier to the amusements and the Mermaid Parade to the workers and the beach, Stein’s photographs take all that is original and iconoclastic about Coney Island and puts them in arm’s reach.

While Coney Island is available to all, it is home to Brooklynites. It is a place that breeds its own kind of people and attracts them in kind. It has a “you tawkin to me?” kinda vibe that allows its denizens to live in the public eye with a kind of shameless nakedness of spirit that makes its inhabitants unlike any other. It attracts exhibitionists and voyeurs, the people themselves being the greatest part of the show. And whether they are participating or simply kicking back, they make for what, in Stein’s eye, is undoubtedly, a memorable photo opp.

There is a spirit of love and acceptance that surrounds this neighborhood, and part of that comes from being a place for escape—what goes on in Coney Island stays there. There is an urban edge to this slice of paradise, a way in which the bright sun casts a long shadow and there is a sense of something else lurking within this distinctive world. It is that the stress of New York is not quite forgotten but simply put aside, and it lingers and it floats and it makes one wonder just who these people are. How did they get here and how did they get this way? Stein’s photographs do not provide answers so much as they provoke question after question with each turn of the page.

Mr. Stein observes, “Coney Island is about people, it’s the people that intrigue me and what I am always drawn to photograph. All sizes, shapes, races, ages, religions, behaviors. The amusements, the sea, the open air, the sun and the sand all impart a kind of freedom of behavior that I don’t see anywhere else. And I am interested in the contradictions and ironies present in its social world. I am always impressed with how we all get along at Coney Island.”

Read the full story at THE CLICK.

Cover

sleepinglion

We have a disturbing relationship with animals, perhaps founded in the idea that we are not one of them. As humans, we enjoy creating hierarchies where there may be done, consistently creating artificial tests of intelligence that elevate us above the animal kingdom. Does anyone think it strange that we would suggest a hypothesis like “A dog has the IQ of a three year old child”? What does that really prove except mankind is arrogant to a fault?

By presenting and reinforcing false walls between ourselves and the natural world, we forever doom ourselves to an arrogance born of ignorance, one that does more harm than good for both ourselves and all those inhabiting the planet today. We live at a time when we have altered the environment in such a powerful way that it is not just mankind who suffers from our hubris. Animals are the creatures Nature put forth to create balance in the cycle of life. Yet we have upset this balance in a myriad of disturbing ways.

Colleen Plumb’s new monograph, Animals Are Outside Today (Radius) is a powerful look at the way in which we have fetishized, capitalized, ostracized, appropriated, incarcerated, ignored, and observed the Others of the animal world in which we live. As Lisa Hostetler writes in the introduction, “Plumb’s photographs are not those of an animal-rights activist, wildlife photographer, or social documentarian…. If art is a form of philosophy, Animals Are Outside Today is less a manifesto and more a thought poem.”

Indeed, taken individually or as a group, Plumb’s photographs are a meditation on the way in which we have so consumed animals that, if not for her questioning eye, we might not notice at all. Most provocatively, the way in which animals have become a source of food is a questionable subject, for we know now full well that the cause of so many degenerative diseases is their regular consumption. Yet we choose to ignore this, placing pleasure over respect for both bodies—theirs and ours. Plumb’s image of the pigs hanging from meat hooks is incredibly powerful, perhaps because they look more like corpses than anything else. In a later image one such carcass is roasted up for the enjoyment of a group at the barbecue.

Another way in which our relationship appears as questionable is in the images taken at zoos, the cruelest prisons on earth. As animals are not afforded the same rights to which we give our prisoners, which is to say, no inhumane treatment, they are kept in false environments forever on public display. Do we think animals are unaware of their captivity and the way in which they are being treated as circus freaks for our amusement? Maybe the polar bear in Central Park has limited intelligence on the human scale, but it seems highly likely that it understand who the real fools are.

In that same way we may wish to consider house pets, animals confined to our domestic arrangements. Plumb includes an image of four birds in a cage hung beside a clothes dryer, creating an image of nightmarish possibility. The birds, no longer able to fly must now also contend with living besides a monstrous machine that reinforces a lack of concern about their welfare.

On the other side of this equation are the images of animals appropriated into our visual landscape. From posters and paintings to rugs and sculptures, from museum fossils and taxidermied examples to feather hats and lawn flamingos, Plumb offers a gentle look at the way in which we have appropriated animals into our landscape, making them objects of contemplation, enjoyment, and mystical beings. No longer are animals real but rather they are symbolic, standing for what we want them to mean rather than what we are. Compare the photograph of the sculpture of an elephant to the photograph of the elephant working in the circus tent—which one has it better? Perhaps the one that never lived.

Lastly, Plumb provides us with the most distressing of all images: the animal who have died free and independent. Their decomposing bodies, shot at the site of their death, are humbling images of the way in which life is never ever sentimental. Taken as a whole, this best represents the lack of romanticism of these images, yet something sacred remains, powerful and emotional, in each of these pictures. In Animals Are Outside Today, Plumbs images suggest (to me) that we question our assumptions and our position out of respect to all creatures on earth.

Original published October 2011 in
Le Journal de la Photographie

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Ernst Haeckel illustration from Art Forms of Nature, 1904

Ernst Haeckel illustration from Art Forms of Nature, 1904

Claude Monet, The Boat Studio on the Seine, 1875

Claude Monet, The Boat Studio on the Seine, 1875

I am not afraid of storms,
for I am learning to sail my ship.

~ Aeschylus

Nick Knight: Flora

July 2, 2014

LILIACEAE Gloriosa verschuurii

LILIACEAE
Gloriosa verschuurii

PASSIFLORACEAE Passiflora alato-caerulea

PASSIFLORACEAE
Passiflora alato-caerulea

Passion is a flower, a strange and exotic thing, an energy that burns deep within and underneath and through it all, the candle that lights the dark, the darkness forevermore vanquished, vanished, or at least it seems to be, for once we can see, we believe we know.

The photograph does this, reminds us time and again. The more passionate the photograph the more we return to it. And so it is that a specimen arrived the other day, between two long slips of hardboard were pages sewn together at the spine, and between these two large slips of board the pages turned. Long white layers upon which a flower appeared, not just any flower but dozens I had never seen until I laid my eyes upon Flora by Nick Knight (Schirmer/Mosel).

Flora is a garden of earthly delights, an archive of pressed flowers, each photographed like a portrait. Each plant is from the herbarium of the Natural History Museum in London, a collection which contains more than six million plants from all corners of the world. The book, first published in 1997. is being reissued on the occasion of the publisher’s 40 anniversary. And rightfully so, for Flora is a treasure trove, a magical portal, a veritable repository of soul.

In the book’s preface Mr. Knight observes, “I was struck by the fact that these plants didn’t look dead. Life was very apparent. I could see the movement of the wind blowing through their leaves ad petals. Sense the water flowing through their vessels and their flowers straining to turn and open into the suns’ rays. But these plants had one important difference—the fragility, the tragic urgency that had gone and they had taken on a new certainty of being; a statement like boldness. They have escaped their fate.

“There are few things that make me happier than discovering a new way of seeing the familiar. Seeing in a way I could not have imagined. It is a very liberating seeing and one that makes me feel very optimistic.”

Indeed, for a photographer, the act of seeing is the act itself. To be able to see anew, again and again, to take it all in, to set it down, on paper slipped between boards, to edit from a collection of hundreds until the final 46 came forth. Forty-fix flora taken at full size, collected in this bouquet unlike any other. To see is to believe is to know that we need to feed our eyes to serve the soul. We consume, effortlessly, endlessly in all that exists, but to charge one’s self with looking—that is the next level. Mr. Knight knows life, and now he knows death. The flora here are eternal, preserved forever more as we peruse the pages of Flora.

SCHIZAEACEAE Lygodium palmatum

SCHIZAEACEAE
Lygodium palmatum

Knight_Flora_2014_Cover_full

Kenton Nelson, Saving Grace

Kenton Nelson, Saving Grace

Do you always watch for the longest day of the year and then miss it?
I always watch for the longest day in the year and then miss it.

~Daisy Buchanan in The Great Gatsby

A quiet and somber evening in West Africa. (at Monrovia, Liberia)

A quiet and somber evening in West Africa. (at Monrovia, Liberia)

L I B E R I A (at Liberia West Africa)

L I B E R I A (at Liberia West Africa)

What lies behind you and what lies in front of you,
pales in comparison to what lies inside of you.

~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Photographs by Jeremy Snell

Ted Spagna :: Sleep

September 17, 2013

"Ann" 1980 by Ted Spagna. Images courtesy of George Eastman House and © The Ted Spagna Project 2013

“Ann” 1980 by Ted Spagna. Images courtesy of George Eastman House and © The Ted Spagna Project 2013

"Ann" 1980 by Ted Spagna. Images courtesy of George Eastman House and © The Ted Spagna Project 2013

“Ann” 1980 by Ted Spagna. Images courtesy of George Eastman House and © The Ted Spagna Project 2013

"Ann" 1980 by Ted Spagna. Images courtesy of George Eastman House and © The Ted Spagna Project 2013

“Ann” 1980 by Ted Spagna. Images courtesy of George Eastman House and © The Ted Spagna Project 2013

Sleep. It is the portal into another world, a shadow self, a space that exists inside the mind, so far beyond any dimension we’ve known before or may known since, for it is in this way that we take flight inside out bodies, leaving them aside as we explore new and fertile earth. And here upon this plane they lay, not simply inert, but in their own passages through time and space, telling their very own story.

And because we are inside, we cannot see, sleep is like our face, our visage for all to see but we to whom it belongs. We never quite know until we stand before the evidence of who we are when we are both in and outside of this world. It is then that a work like Sleep by Ted Spagna, Edited by Delia Bonfilio and Ron Eldridge with Martynka Wawrzyniak (Rizzoli New York) comes to the fore, to show us how it is, how we live, how similar and dissimilar, how familiar and foreign.

Here we see sleep through stop motion photography, which reminds me of how I light I sleep, awakening to every change in my space. The other night I lay in bed frequently awoken by a snore that was not my own and when I opened my eyes, we had both moved. New positions, over and over again. The choreography of the unconscious in continuous motion, and me, I’m taking note and smiling at how right before the sun arises, he has the covers gathered up under his chin.

And in these positions, he tells stories, stories I don’t know, in the very same way Spagna photographs capture a plot as it unfolds. It is said that gesture does not lie, and so when we look at each and every frame we find the mind in body as it responds to the travels of the mind and wherefore it goes, we can only imagine for the land of the unconscious is more a poem than an essay or a speech. It is both linear and not in that rhythm follows measure and time, just like music and dance.

Sleep then becomes a performance of sorts, private dancer to no one and nothing except the Lord up above. Or not. Hard to know, until gazing upon these grids, frame after frame after frame, each one a slight variation on a theme, a gesture that is created out of biological necessity. When looking at the body in this way, we see a kind if floating, a swimming, a movement through space that has nothing whatsoever to do with our upright nature.

As Dr. Allan Hobson writes in “The Influence of Science,” an essay which appears in the book, “Ted Spagna’s photographs have done more than any other medium to make sleep science visible and, hence, directly understandable to the general public…. Whether or not Spagna’s sleep portraits capture a hidden self, they are unquestionably surprising in their revelations of sleep as behavior—especially the tenderness of sleeping couples—and they are unquestionably visually rich, owing to Spagna’s meticulous concern with photographic technique.”

Spagna’s photographs reveal sleep as nothing so much as an adventure we barely fathom, as memories of out time in the shadow world fade int the light of day. Yet we engage, night after night after night, and for some, it is never not enough. And for others, it has become far too much. But there it is.

Sleep is that which we do in ways we do not know, until we reflect and study ourselves, investigate a world we all go, a world we all know, a world we can but barely begin to describe and it is in this way that Spagna’s photographs contribute to the vocabulary of sleep and build a dialogue, giving us a new means upon which to reflect and consider this world in which we live.

Sleep evite_Bookstore[1]

Screen shot 2013-08-25 at 12.36.52 PM

It was a dark and stormy night. The rain came tumbling down and from where I sat before the open door and the windows ajar, I could feel a gust of calm, cool, and collected air steal across my skin. Maybe it was the weed or maybe it was the wine or maybe it was that I did not eat, but whatever it was, it invited the heavens through my crown chakra and my eyes lit up in flame as a light flickered in the candle of my brain.

We were speaking of spirits and ghosts, I mean, mostly it was me speaking, most people don’t speak on it so much. So it’s just me adrift in the ether, trying to find the words for the ineffable. And that’s when I understood, it was so much bigger than this. I thought about humans, about how we are the only creatures with two hemispheres to the brain, how evolution has produced this left hemisphere that goes against Nature itself. Ahh, the left brain, home to sequential thinking and language and meaning. The left brain, the thing upon which all of civilization was founded. All thought, all interpretation, all rules, all punishment, all ways in which we structure our very lives are created by, umm, well, some freak mutation in evolution.

The left brain, the thing that allows us to conceptualize Armageddon, is the thing which makes it possible for us to live into the actualization of total annihilation. But annihilation of ourselves and our world and our dreams, for how else will Nature regulate the species that has climbed its way to the top of the food chain except to program it to finish itself off, because that is poetic justice for all we have wrought? But that’s not my point. My point is this: all the Universe is right brain, because everywhere else the left does not exist.

Everything is space and time in its purest sense, and not an interpretation of things. It is shapes, colors, sounds, vibrations, energies, frequencies, things we are attuned to, so more that most, some taking things to the next level. To hear symphonies clear and take note, to transcribe them onto a scale so that when hands play and splay the piano, your energy is felt as though you never died but are alive each and every time your song is played. That it is in these energies that we become eternal, and this is why we seek legacy. To exist long after life is gone and be one with the Universe through its continuity of form. To understand the greatest questions of all: What is the meaning of life? What is life itself?

I never bothered to ask, until I did not know. I just went on autopilot until the engines blew. And then I had to start again. Because I never asked myself the question: What’s it all about?

So many possibilities occurred but the first one was not reality. I had hit the age where my body overrides, and neon signs started flashing. Last. Chance. Motel. (ohh myy). There was a moment that fluttered haplessly by, a moment where I considered the possibility of a child but yea. No. Lies. But! I figured, Children. That’s what Nature wants. Couldn’t be more clear about it, only me…

I’m more Mannered than Natural, which might explain why I think of Freud’s theory of sublimation, explaining the male impulse to create, to make something out of nothing using only his mind, his mouth, and his hands. It’s like Zeus giving birth to Athena. It’s clean, uncomplicated. It has it’s own complexities but all told, it’s a narcissistic impulse. Life, like art, requires balance, and it requires intention, otherwise it’s for its own sake. Art, like life, requires activism to be a force of transformation in the world.

“Everything is art. Everything is politics,” said Ai Weiwei, the Chinese artist imprisoned by authorities for speaking freely. Let’s bring it back to this. The freedom of speech is the freedom of thought, the freedom of the individual to fully assert his and her view upon the world (cause it’s all interpretative left brain thinking, in the end). The simple act of blogging, so banal in its ubiquity yet so entrancing in its success, is an act of declaration, an intention set upon the world. In our every word, act, and thought we are forever answering the question: What’s it all about?

For me, it is communication. It is the image and the word. It is the force of personality that allows their creation to change our perception of reality. It is to collaborate, contribute, and to tell the untold. It is to shine the brightest light in the darkest corners, or to take that light and diffuse it with a veil and to cast a muted shadow across a sparkling netherworld. It is feeling, it is a current to sweep away, not only myself but everyone who reads my words and fill them with the spirit that holds me captive in its ethereal embrace and whispers secrets in my ear it knows that I will tell, ohh yess ..

I believe Life Is Predetermined in Retrospect. The illusion of choice is a psychological necessity, but it was only ever going to be exactly what it was. Enlightenment is seeing where we are going years, decades, centuries ahead of the world. Enlightenment is finding the light inside the shines bright, intense, the flame that flickers and burns through and beyond day. It is knowing that meaning is an illusion cast by the machinations of the left brain. Nature gave us this blessing, this curse, this Pandora’s box of words, words, more words to be spoken, told, written and read. Words, we think and speak and breathe in words, symbols, copies of the original idea we can never fully create.

But we strive, we desire, we admire, we pursue, because we are creatures of mind, heart, body, and soul, and it is with out full being that we evolve and grow. We live into the very possibility we imagine in the deepest, darkest aspects of existence we can barely name, and from this nothing comes everything because they are one and the same.

1=0

This is my math. But first we must be whole, fully realized, integrated from the fragments that have accrued throughout our lives. Broken, shattered, scattered shards, slivers, and splinters, held together, falling apart, forever moving forward and looking backward. We are ten thousand things, and then we are one, and when we are whole again, we go through the looking glass to where nothingness is everything it is—

The ether. Michael Jackson said, “People ask me how I make music. I tell them I just step into it. It’s like stepping into a river and joining the flow. Every moment in the river has its song.” And I think about that a lot, how when I stop my mind from chattering I can hear the words. Like, Take this down, on some dictation ishh, and then I realize the cosmic joke of saying, I am a writer, because I ain’t writing ishh.

I’m listening. It’s always being told. We are like dogs—or like Beethoven, if you prefer—we can hear things other creatures don’t. We are given messages, and they are always coming. When resistance ends acceptance begins and the feeling of everything shifts. It’s quite simple to understand, but difficult to master. That’s part of the path, it seems, learning how to walk with grace. But it is to each their own that the answers come, and sometimes it is not the answer so much as the questioning of it. Because it isn’t ever what we think it is. That’s why the question is never answered.

Meaning is but a dream, but meaning is what we love, what we create, intentionally or not, we are forever creatures of the Word. The left brain, the groundskeeper, creating a fine garden of organized chaos, a Dadaist score, a dalliance in a mid-day dream, a Shakespearean sonnet gone wrong. Because…What’s it all about? How does it go down for you? What is the meaning of life? Does it need a meaning or can we say Fuck The Word? Are we called to a higher purpose? What are we doing this for? Do we really need a reason? What is your heart’s true dream for you, the stardust of ten thousand things blown up billions of years ago…

(Originally published on All The Right Questions, March 15, 2013. Much love to T.Q. Fuego and Witty Pseudonym)

 IC-1396 by Andre van Zegveld

IC-1396 by Andre van Zegveld

Dwell on the beauty of life.
Watch the stars, and see yourself running with them.
—Marcus Aurelius

August Day

August 10, 2013

lions-back-amaribis-arnesen

press PLAY

René Gruau

René Gruau

Chemistry is you touching my arm and it setting fire to my mind.
—nayyirah waheed, flood

(( awaiting release ))

August 3, 2013

Presented here is a new color image of the southwest region of the Andromeda Galaxy taken with Subaru’s prime focus camera “Suprime-Cam".

Presented here is a new color image of the southwest region of the Andromeda Galaxy taken with Subaru’s prime focus camera “Suprime-Cam”.

Life is energy, and energy is creativity.
And even when we as individuals pass on,
the energy is retained in the work of art,
locked in it and awaiting release
if only someone will take the time and the care to unlock it.
—Joyce Carol Oates

gphome1

gphome5
Bubbele
. A Yiddish word I hear in my ear, my grandmothers and their words of love for me, children just lavish in the energies, imprinted like birthday cake in my memory bank, all these great loving vibes that grandmothers bring everywhere they go. And I am reminded of this every time I connect with the inimitable Paola Gianturco. Her book, Grandmother Power: A Global Phenomenon, has touched hearts around the world, won awards, and introduced the world to an incredible array of powerful women who have single-handedly made the world a better place.

Miss Gianturco is not only a colleague and a friend, she is an inspiration. A source of light and love, of warmth that flows through vibrations. She brings a dynamic mix of verve and intellect to all she encounters with a full and open heart, and she is granted access into countless worlds to share stories of tragedy and triumph, of courage against the odds, of a path to truth and justice, a woman who lights the way.

(smile)

I am pleased to have had the opportunity to speak at length with Miss Gianturco, to reflect on her path, and to share of herself once more. It is, it was, and it shall always be that the Universe has graced us with a presence spiritual, uplifting, and enlivening. Cheers to Paola, my comrade in photography books ~*~

Please talk about the grandmother as archetype, as what she represents and carries forth as the matriarch of her tribe.

The loving, beloved, respected, matriarch grandmother still exists in some cultures. In Dubai, every family, every Friday, shares a meal at grandmother’s house. In Peru’s Altiplano, grandmothers are the keepers of weaving traditions, revered I was told, as “the only ones who understand the vocabulary, the patterns, processes and meaning. They are the book.

But worldwide, grandmothers’ roles are changing. There are more grandmothers alive today than at any other time in the history of the planet. They are living longer, healthier lives. In the Global North, they are better educated and many are professionally experienced.

Some different kinds of contemporary grandmothers:

*Many American grandmothers don’t live near their grandchildren, which alone transforms their roles. Gaga Sisterhood and Conscious Grandmothering groups are redefining what long distance grandmothering can mean in the United States.

*Grandmothers are parenting. Throughout the African continent, grandmothers may each be raising as many as 10 or 15 grief-stricken grandchildren orphaned by Aids. In the US, grandmothers bringing up grandchildren are learning to be good parents in a time when technology, sex, drugs, alcohol and violence make the world a different place for raising children.

*In parts of Ghana and Mauritania, grandmothers are reviled as witches and forced to live in isolated compounds. When hundreds of grandmothers gathered in Swaziland in 2010, a crucial issue was violence against grandmothers all over the continent.

All over the world, contemporary grandmothers are making news by defining what it means to be a grandmother.

I like the description that the Canadian and African grandmothers wrote for the Stephen Lewis Foundation’s 2006 Toronto Statement:  “We have within us everything needed to surmount seemingly insurmountable obstacles.  We are strong, we are determined, we are resourceful, we are creative, we are resilient, and we have the wisdom that comes with age and experience.”

You are a grandmother. Please talk about how the birth of your grandchild transformed your relationship to family, and to your understanding of womanhood. (oo I love this question !)

I flew to my son’s house the morning he took his wife to the hospital. By evening, it was raining so hard that the freeways were closed, mud was sliding down the hillsides and my charge, the horse-sized family dog, was trembling at the thunder and lightening. Five inches of rain fell; it was the third wettest day in the city’s history. Finally the phone rang: my first grand girl had arrived!

The next day the December sky was still dark, drenching. Yet three times the indomitable sun blazed. Three times, luminous rainbows arched over the city. The baby’s mother’s family is Chinese and the rainbows seemed auspicious. We considered naming the baby with the Chinese word for rainbow. But ultimately we called her Alexandra.

By the time Alex was two, I was shocked to recognize myself as a little girl, mysteriously reflected in this beautiful AmerAsian child. I never expected to experience myself as a little girl again, much less in such a glorious disguise. Something was familiar about her shining eyes. I told no one what I saw, but secretly, I searched for old pictures of me as a toddler, wanting evidence, wondering if I were just wishing. I knew something linked us: something inexplicable and miraculous.

Until Alex was born, I had focused almost exclusively on the present. As a photojournalist, I documented “the moment,” always watching for news, for stories, for ways to show others what I saw. I reacted by clicking, quite literally, the very second something happened.

The birth of my first grandchild shifted my reality fast: a switch flipped. My exclusive preoccupation with the present was over. I began anticipating the future. Specifically, Alex’s future, and now my second grand girl, Avery’s, future.

Their world will be increasingly global, connected, borderless. I yearn for there to be hope and possibility but I fear there will be, instead, environmental degradation, disease, poverty, injustice, and violence.

I used to be a Mother Bear, but now I am a Grandmother Bear. I rage, “Not good enough! Our troubled world is not good enough for my grandchildren—and not good enough for yours!”

I am in good company. Grandmothers around the world are collaborating so their grandchildren can have more secure, healthy, happy lives. I documented those grandmothers in GRANDMOTHER POWER. And then I joined them.

What was the inspiration for Grandmother Power? Where did it begin, and what kinds of gifts has it revealed as you traveled this path through life?

Interviewing women in Kenya, Cameroun, Senegal, Swaziland and South Africa, I was shocked to meet so many African grandmothers who were raising their grandchildren because their adult children had died of Aids. It seemed that the future of the continent rested in the hands of the grandmothers! That insight compelled me to explore what grandmothers were doing other places.

Here are some gifts given by the grandmothers I interviewed and photographed:

1) Experience becomes wisdom. As a photojournalist, I had centered my attention on documenting experience. But experience is just the beginning, as I learned from the Jewish Israeli grandmothers of Machsom Watch, whose families experienced Hitler’s brutality. Those grandmothers are doing something courageous and controversial: monitoring Israeli checkpoints to protect Palestinian’s human rights. That is wisdom.

2) Long term work works. Americans are renowned for expecting instant gratification. For 30 years, the Argentine Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo have searched for their grandchildren who were abducted by the military dictatorship. Lolas (grandmothers) in the Philippines are still seeking compensation, apology and a place in the history books, having been forced into sex slavery during World War II. Both groups are demonstrating that patience and perseverance ultimately bring results, and that fighting for justice is worth doing for as long as it takes.

3) There is no time for lollygagging. Big problems can paralyze us, so I learned a good lesson from the International Council of 13 Indigenous Grandmothers. When they first met, they were appalled by the world’s dire condition: violence, war, hunger, poverty, spiritual disconnection, corruption, pollution, materialism and loss of human rights. Big issues. Many people might have given up before they began. But the 13 Grandmothers’ reactions? “We are in the 11th hour.” “We must move as quickly as the light.” “We better hurry up.”

4) Grandmothers have power.  Stereotypical grandmothers are powerless: disenfranchised by being women and doubly so, by being old. People assume they are incapable of agency: of disrupting, innovating, and having impact. That stereotype is just plain wrong. Discovering that fact was a gift for me but also for young women who read GRANDMOTHER POWER; they say, “Thank goodness. Now I have something to look forward to.”

5) Collaboration magnifies that power. When grandmothers from Canada and 11 African countries co-invented the Stephen Lewis Foundation’s Grandmothers to Grandmothers campaign—across borders, across oceans, across hemispheres—they decided to work in groups.  Today, 8000 Canadian grandmothers in 240 groups…and 300 grandmother groups in 15 African countries…are standing in solidarity on behalf of 15 million African children orphaned by Aids.

 The reception to the book has been magnificent. It is a beautiful thing, to see the power of the photography book touch so many lives. Please talk about the medium of the book itself and how you think it transfers these energies from one heart to the next.

First, I want to talk about photographs as a way to connect hearts. Today, virtually everyone takes pictures: check the sea of cell phones at Buckingham Palace yesterday, all raised to record the sign (!) that said the royal baby had arrived. Now ubiquitous, pictures could have been drastically devalued. But I am relieved that good images still communicate clearly, instantly, powerfully, seemingly skipping past the screen of the mind straight to the heart.

Books: I love the luminosity of seeing images on my computer screen; I revel in doing things never done before; I had long wished my books could be price-accessible everywhere in the world. So as soon as the iPad was announced (not yet introduced, and way before it had competitors that could display color images) I began lobbying powerHouse Books to release GRANDMOTHER POWER in electronic as well as hardcover format. I was wrong. Only a tiny fraction of my readers have bought e-books. They are glad to invest in a well printed, beautifully produced, color photography book that they can hold in their hands. Since I have loved doing exactly that ever since I was a child, their preference (which seems almost quaint, come to think of it) pleases me very much.

Perhaps you might share a memory of a moment, or words of wisdom, your grandmothers shared with you …

One New Years Eve I stayed at my grandparents’ house while my parents went to a “grown up party.” Granny and Pop, wanting to share the fun with me, created a ceremony around opening the New Year’s wall calendar.

I was two and had never heard of a New Year. It sounded so apocalyptic that at first I was frantic and very soon, hysterical. “I don’t want a new year. I like the old year! Stop the old year from leaving us!” I howled.

“The only difference between last year and the new year is one page,” said Granny pleasantly. “Otherwise, they are the same. You’ll see!” She opened up January and I prepared to die.

My grandmother taught me to welcome the future.  Other grandmothers taught me that I could—and should—help shape it.

Photographs by Paola Gianturco

:: see more at ::
GRANDMOTHER POWER

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nungessar-elephant
Like all explorers, we are drawn to discover what’s out there
without knowing yet if we have the courage to face it.

geese-with-lights
You are the sky. Everything else – it’s just the weather.

polarfloat1
We don’t set out to save the world;
we set out to wonder how other people are doing and
to reflect on how our actions affect other people’s hearts.

chalkgeese
When you open yourself to the continually changing, impermanent,
dynamic nature of your own being and of reality,
you increase your capacity to love and care about other people
and your capacity to not be afraid.
You’re able to keep your eyes open, your heart open, and your mind open.

sleepinglion
Life is glorious, but life is also wretched. It is both.

deadracoon
To live is to be willing to die over and over again.

amishhorses
Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded.
It’s a relationship between equals.Only when we know our own darkness well
can we be present with the darkness of others.
Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.

~*~
Photographs by Colleen Plumb
(from Animals Are Outside Today, Radius Books)

Quotes by Pema Chödrön

Jean-Michel Basquiat - Untitled (Black Skull), 1982

Jean-Michel Basquiat – Untitled (Black Skull), 1982

The trees stand without leaves, gathered close and deep. Their branches bare, shake, forsaken and angered. The wind whips through their spidery limbs like a lash coming down hard against the penitent’s back. The winds warn of the coming storm, howling in the night as they rush along. Hovering impossibly low, the clouds begin to mourn and a wail of torment sounds as the trees nod and groan. Small branches snap under pressure and are suddenly sailing free through the gales with no destination at hand, no thought or concern to where they may land.

Nino looks to the sky and sees nothing there as an eerie silence stills the air. His fists clench at his side, fingernails biting into his palms, as his jaw grinds forth, jutting out in determination. Taking one step forth, his boot casts upon a fallen limb and as his weight shifts, the twig splits angrily. He feels the earth give way under his foot as a bellow sounds. Slow. Low. Uncomfortable. His hands are damp and his throat begins to close.

It is cold, the kind of cold that is felt far below, deep inside the hollow of bone. It is the kind of cold that rattles and roars and sobs and moans. Nino begins to shiver until the shiver becomes a shake and then it is like the tremors of withdrawal. THe ait carries a woman’s laugh as the wind rumbles into a thunderous rage. Frozen in place, he is unable to escape as he feels something prickly brush against his face.

His hands tremble, agitated and afraid as he feels something within him start to break. It is deep in his chest, buried below the ribs, inside the center of his being that pumps life into his body. It is here in the seat of his heart that his body and soul finally split apart. He can feel the tearing of organ, the breaking of bone, the ripping of flesh as his spirit leaves his body, flees even.

A flash of white light strikes, illuminating a silhouette. Ling black hair sails through the air, spreading wide like a net. The net expands into a web, stick and sweet, and at the center of this trap is a woman he knows, the woman he hates. She is young and slim, almost starved, and her scarlet eyes feast upon Nino’s tremulous form. Ven aqui. Come to me, she calls softly, her voice as seductive as the sirens of The Odyssey.

A wave of desire sweeps through Nino’s spirit, suffusing him with warmth and where the sky was dark and foreboding, it becomes something succulent and soft, and he can taste this craving on his tongue and it tastes like a life that was never his. She calls to him again, this time silently, speaking the words he has longed to hear. He feels his spirit relax and release as she summons him forth, and he moves faster and faster now, flying to her side at once.

He lands in the web with deeply beating heart and he looks at her and she looks at him and he sees her eyes are voracious and dark. The sweet scent of innocence fills her with an excitement she can barely contain. Her mouth is wet, so wet that she can taste his flesh and as her pink lips spread slowly they reveal teeth of jagged edge.

She smiles in delight as Nino’s eyes widen in horror and she moves closer to him, closer and closer. She reaches for a little hand, a pale and delicate paw with sharp red talons on the end of each fingertip, talons sharp as claws as saws all the better to cut you in half and she carefully draws her nail across the side of his face.

A trickle of blood rises to the surface as a torrent of fear washes over him and in an instant it is over just as quickly as it began. His spirit is driven back into the body it had left behind, returning to the womb of his heart and crawling all the way inside. There is a pain, a kind of pain he knows too well and though he normally pushes it back down, this time, it is too much and he has lost control.

His mouth opens wide and a strangled gasp breaks from his lips and it is in this moment that a shadow rushes out of his chest. It is a small shadow, dark but not opaque, and it knows not except it must return to the universe from whence it first came. And as the shadow disappears in the darkness of light, Nino is empty and exhausted, wavering in the wind.

Stand! he commands, knees locking in place as his feet sink deeper into the earth. He feels himself sinking and looks down to discover his boots are submerged in a thick and viscous substance. The more he pulls against it, the tighter it hold until he realizes what is happening. He is standing in quicksand and it’s only a matter of time. If he could release himself from the boots that hold his feet… If he could just grab that branch over there and pull himself to safety… If there were someone, anyone, nearby who would hear his scream… But there is nothing, no one, not even She.

A panic rises in Nino’s chest as he realizes that not even he can help himself. He is now knee deep in the cold and clammy muck and he realizes that time, time is all he has left and time is running out. He looks to the sky and sees nothing there. The storm as passed and silence fills the air.

Nino feels himself sinking as the world rises up. Resolute, he knows the truth. He is trapped, held captive, abandoned and alone. Failure burns his flesh, his aching bones. His cheeks are aflame, ashamed, debased once more. Rage boils and bubbles and foams on his tongue. With the venom of the Furies, he cries out—

 ~*~

(this passage, since deleted, once began my novel)
The Kingdom of Eternal Night

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