Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Hanging Out the Wash

Last night I went out to deliver the last of hte pictures of the Burmese kids. One of them who was no taller than Calvin despite being years older walked us the six blocks to deliver the pictures to his friend. On the way Calvin walked barefoot. I had my camera along and took a couple of shots on the way. It was another neighborhood with lots of people out on the street. In the evening when the heat of the day begins to wane and the houses are still hotter than proverbial hell, it's a riot of activity on the street. One woman was giving her dog a Popsicle.  I liked the harsh shadows on the was cast by this line of laundry as the sun began to settle down.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

On Community

Bill McKibben writes about community in his book EAARTH pp 132-133:

Community may suffer from overuse more sorely than any word in the dictionary.  Politicians left and right sprinkle it through their remarks the way a bad Chinese restaurant uses MSG, to mask the lack of wholesome ingredients.  But we need to rescue it; we need to make sure that community will become, on this tougher planet, one of the most prosaic terms in the lexicon, like hoe or bicycle or computer.  Access to endless amounts of cheap energy has made us rich, and wrecked our climate, and it also made us the first people on earth who had no practical need of our neighbors.  In the halcyon days of the final economic booms, everyone on your cul de sac could have died overnight from some mysterious plague, and while you might have been sad, you wouldn't have been inconvenienced.  Our economy, unlike any that came before it, is designed to work without the input of your neighbors. Borne on cheap oil, our food arrives as if by magic from a great distance (typically, two thousand miles).  If you have a credit card and an Internet connection, you can order most of what you need and have it left anonymously at your door.  We've evolved a neighborless lifestyle; on average an American eats half as many meals with family and friends as she did fifty years ago.  On average, we have half as many close friends.

I've written extensively, in a book called Deep Economy, about the psychological implications of our hyperindividualism.  In short, we're less happy than we used to be, and no wonder -- we are, after all, highly evolved social animals.  There aren't enough iPods on earth to compensate for those missing friendships.
SO WHAT DO WE DO ABOUT IT?  I keep thinking all this running around that I'm doing--delivering bread to the somali family, soup to the man under the bridge, photos to the Burmese kids-- is my personal response to the lack sociopolitical integration in my immediate damnably small circle of connections in this here world. Can making social connections be an art form? --If you look at the history of art it's full of materials and methods that are going out of style, so maybe building a network through the community with face to face interactio-- so 90's,  (1890's)-- so passe-- could be a new art form. My art is networking--not on facebook, but on foot. 

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Rabbits and Bird Cages

In clinic we frown on using kids to translate for medical problems of their parents. I'm still working out if it's o.k. to use them to translate about the use of the photographs. I left my card including my  phone number and promised to come back with one more picture of one of the kids who felt left. In the meantime, here is a sample of the northside Burmese contingent and their rabbits. When I tried to ask if they ate the rabbits, it seems they denied it, but I'm still not sure. Rabbits make for good eating and they aren't too expensive to raise. The kids obviously adore them, so I hope they don't have to eat them too.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Back on the Southside

For the first time in weeks I went back to the south side and returned some pictures to families there that I took earlier in the summer. I'm working out how to have an exhibition in non-gallery space where everyone in the neighborhood is likely to show up one time or another, like a neighborhood store or laundry where the walls are available for display. In the meantime I've gotten permission to post the following picture. It's one of my favorite ones from the day I spent there. The kids were in constant motion, except when they were not. I love the way these neighborhood streets fill up with people coming and going. There's eyes and ears on the street and kids are out in great gaggles playing. 

Monday, July 19, 2010

Who are you? You can take my picture.

As I was biking home I passed under the highway and out of the corner of my eye saw some people gathering. I turned around and went along  underneath to see what was going on. I met  a man who was living there. He lives there all winter. When I asked him how he stayed warm, he just said it was hard, but he didn't go to the library or places like that to get warm. He said he sticks his ground.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Butterfly Tatoo

Standing in front of the American Vietnamese Center attempting an impossible picture with the light shining on half the house and the sun setting, I met a woman with a butterfly tattoo and her mother and her mother's Native American friend. The mother likes taking pictures of flowers and we've made a plan to go out together and take pictures of flowers and hair, which she loves too, especially jet black hair like the Vietnamese have.  She didn't like the pictures I took because she thought she looked old despite her blue eyes, like her daughters, but she wanted the picture of the tattoo on her daughter's pregnant belly. Do I look fat? her daughter asked. No, pregnant, I said. Then she put her nose into her mother's hair and I remembered how Calvin's hair smells like sunshine. She said her daughter's smelled like honey.


I pulled over today and talked to this woman who was dancing on a table in the park. She was dancing sitting down on top of the table. The music was from a small hand held tape player. She kept waving her arms, and bounced up and down on the table, completely ecstatic in what turned out to be a country music reverie. I like country too, I told her and she laughed, and then so did I. You happy? I asked the obvious. Yeah, she said, waving her arms up and down some more, and bounced  on her bottom so that the table seemed to jump up and down, along with the grocery bags. She agreed to the photo session with another peal of laughter. I sat with her for a while after I was done and we talked about how contageous happiness was and laughed together for five minutes. just sitting there in the city park the sun setting behind us her arms a blurr of Siva, her ears ringing like Hare Krishna.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Reflections on a Hot Day

It was hot. It was the kind  of hot where everyone goes to the pool. I was sweating, the windows were sweating, even the saints were sweating behind the dusty glass.  It was so hot people on the north side were coming out of their houses and napping in the shade on the sidewalks. By the time I got to the pool, it was too late to swim.  There were about eight cop cars closing the pool down because it was so crowded people were getting rowdy and out of control. I  rode home and consoled myself with ice cream.

Vulnerable Populations

Today a woman who works at a group home where I've taken pictures asked me who I was and what I was doing, asked if I had formal consent from the people whose lives I was documenting in pictures. When I started taking pictures of the residents I didn't know who they were or where they lived because I met them elsewhere. The residents have freedom to go places and do things outside the home. When, after some time, I realized where they lived and what that implied I stopped and talked to some of the staff to find out if they were considered competent to give consent for use of the pictures and was told they were legally independent, could make these sorts of decisions themselves. Even so, I wondered if putting up pictures, even with formal consent, was o.k.. With or without permission, a photographer has to consider how those pictures might be used and what the consequences to the person might be. I struggle with the ethics of photography where it intersects with voyeurism, exploitation, and what Doug Dubois calls "slumming." I'm not sure exactly what he means by that word, but something about how I was taking pictures of people of a lower socioeconomic class, people I'd likely never be able to help or do anything for, simply enjoying the social interaction across class and race, made him challenge me to consider what I meant to accomplish.

Here are two recent examples: Mr. L, who I met today at the cemetery/park on Lodi Street. 

Mr. L told me bits of his life story: that he came from the Carolinas, never finished 7th grade, knew not to take things that weren't his, how he believes in the importance of education, how he go this particular tattoo.  He was drinking beer in the shade of a tall tree in the park on Lodi. He said I could take his picture, no problem. His friend of 25/30 years was having an argument with him and wanted no part in picture taking. He took off on his bicycle to have lunch with his woman. Mr. L said when he drinks he goes off his insulin. I don't have any way to verify any of the story he's told me. It all seems plausible, but for all I know he's confabulating. Drink lots of water, I told him, lots. He promised me he would. Should I post his picture here?  He seemed to feel o.k. about it, but I may never know how he really feels. Perhaps the consent needs to be reconsidered in the absence of  Milwaukee's Best. Will his woman see this and get mad at him, at me? 

The other character I met is a musician. He came in to John's shop to sell a computer he didn't want anymore. At least he needed the cash more than the machine.  I met while hanging out with John. John bought it and told him that rather than buying his stuff when he was hard up he'd just let him use the stoop out front to play music. He offered ten dollars an hour any time the man wanted, but it wasn't clear whether he'd take John up on the offer.  Should I post his picture here?  I'm blogging on thin ice.

The woman from the group home wants to see the blog, and wants a formal consent agreement, which I will do to satisfy her concerns.  She says it will protect me. Ultimately, I have to have to exercise judgment  beyond the letter of the consent. I don't want to abuse anyone. I'm interested in taking pictures of ordinary people, the undocumented people of our world, not exploiting them.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Fernwood and Fage

I was looking for the artist from Jamaica who wanted me to take pictures of his paintings. I found him on Fernwood and met some of his friends. I took snapshots of the paintings and he shared his music with me. His son was playing with pictures on a device I didn't recognize, distorting them like circus mirrors can. I got what seemed was a Jamaican serenade in real time.

Then I went over to Fage St and met some kids who wanted me to take their pictures. It was a riot. I love how many kids are on the streets here. It reminds me of my childhood in Mexico. It's a mob of kids, their bikes, their waterguns, their porch dinners, their parents on cell phones. There's dogs and cousins and home-made pies going back and forth. There's a buzz on the street. I got asked who I was and waht I was doing. All the kids wanted my card. They all wanted their pictures taken. No one would get out of anyone's way.  I bargained hard with some to take turns. Some kids pushed. One kid cried.  In the end no one got hurt.