“A Strange and Emotional Installation”

If you know me, you know I love Vermont, and when I first drove around Rutland this past summer–with my mentor, Stephen Schaub and fellow photographer Susan Weiss, I had no idea what might interest me. But, then I began to notice the many statues of the Madonna—looking as she had always been depicted over the years from my parochial school experiences in Bayside, Queens.

It raised questions for me as to the depiction of womanhood, maternity, and autonomy—questions I wouldn’t have asked, necessarily, in those early school years—and served as a catalyst for this project.

It was a journey for me—to explore where I was then and what I wonder or ask about now. I photographed select images in Rutland, but then when I returned home to Long Island, NY, I began to think about the history and religious ideals that I had taken in so many years ago and began to recall and reminisce about the meanings associated.

Once I photographed and printed the select images at Indian Hill Image Works, I moved to my writing space—working from memory and seeing the trajectory of my feelings and ideas around the iconography. I first wrote some brief prose poems, recalling early experiences in Catholic grade school—the ones that cocooned me—and then moved into more difficult questions about the embodiment of womanhood—my mother’s story of her motherloss and the loss of a baby brother living just a few hours after birth. This was all in contrast to the more ideal story of Christ’s birth and Mary’s Immaculate Conception and Virgin Birth.

Tossing through shoeboxes of previous writings, I came across a high school class writing titled: “Religion,” dated May, 1966. I was curious and surprised to read my own words then—words that reinforced a supplicant role for a woman in a marriage to a man. I was surprised. While I was taken by the challenge, at the time in high school to translate portions of the Ecumenical Council report from Latin to English, I apparently didn’t think deeply about the ideas I was professing.

That’s when it became clear to me that the work in The Alley Gallery should be displayed as a collage—the only way to execute the complex ideas and feelings without telling a viewer what to deduce or conclude.

I am left with more questions than answers. But, as I neared the completion for exhibition, I was deeply saddened by the death of poet Mary Oliver in January. I turned to her works and reread, and was struck by the first lines in her poem, Wild Geese, a counterpoint to the mid-60s admonition to fall into an auxiliary role:

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles in the desert repenting
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.

This excerpt became the final piece in the overall installation. A review at the Rutland Herald described it as “a strange and emotional installation.” It was right on.


I Choose Film


So excited to be featuring my accordion-pleated artist’s book at the Southern Vermont Arts Center’s group show, I Choose Film. I am looking forward to seeing the art book on display after the years of photographing and interviewing in Rwanda and the many hours of post-production. It’s printed on a luminous, white Japanese Washi, at Indian Hill Image Works, and will be displayed on 12-feet of floating glass so that the light enhances the texture.

The show opening, less than two weeks away, is July 8th from 4 to 6 PM, and is going to be a delight! There will be the opportunity to meet with the many other featured artists and the possibility of having a wet-plate tintype portrait created by the Penumbra Foundation, NYC, (on both Saturday and Sunday). For the young: a “Take Your Best Shot” instant photography contest.

Hope you can make the opening!

Admission is free.

The show is hosted through August 27.



Site-Responsive Collaborations in Rwanda

It’s time to go back to Rwanda. This time, it’s all about International Creative Collaboration…fiber, creative writing, photography, painting.  Again I am going with Master Weaver Melissa Johnson so, of course, we will be working with CHAHBA: INEZA PUTNEY Weaving Cooperative Project. And, with Claudine Uwamahoro, our friend from Kigali who visited us in the US over the winter, we will be working to develop a community project around writing and visual art.

New this journey, after researching artists in Rwanda and coming across this recent NY Times article, I contacted Uburanga Art Studio. We are excited to collaborate with them in various media. One such way is through a new self-funded project, The Dreamers, by New York City-based portrait and documentary photographer, Abby Kraftowitz. “Here’s how it works,” she says. “I provide a printed photograph of a portrait or a scene.  The print becomes a canvas for the artist to create in his or her voice, directly on the photograph with any medium reacting to this image of a perfect stranger.” These photographs are coming with us on the plane tomorrow!

Creative Writing will be a new collaboration this year as well. I discussed with the Uburanga Art Studio my intentions, and instead of formulating a plan before I leave, I will be doing a site-responsive creative writing session with the artists at the studio. My plan is to join with the artists as we individually respond in our own writing to either a Kinyarwanda word or local imagery that I’ve photographed all within a cooperative working space. Kigali is no stranger to cooperative working sessions. According to the NY Times article mentioned earlier: “The lively art scene has turned this once-quiet and traumatized city into a place where not just art openings but also literary readings, dance performances and concerts take place regularly in the courtyards of galleries, and artists give lunchtime lectures at cooperative working spaces.”

Looking forward to keeping you all posted on the collaborations while in the field.

A New Lens

8\26…Monday in Rwanda. We arrive at the school, Groupe Scolaire Kicukiro, an otherwise primary school with a now dedicated room for adults wanting to learn the craft of weaving as part of the CHABHA program. Melissa Johnson and I find the women and Oscar weaving at the looms. With new loom in tow, it only needed assembly, not an easy task but with Melissa’s expertise, the local craftspeople and the Rwandan music and singing that went along with the weaving… it happened!

The students have only been weaving since late July, when Melissa and her students from the Putney School made their first trip to Kigali.









Later Monday. Color is already laid on the warp beam.  The students easily work together designing and hand making colorful scarves. While one student will select a range of colors and imagine a design, they often and instinctively collaborate to finish one piece.




The weaving project brought me to Rwanda, but once there, I met Claudine Uwamahoro, an administrator at the Gasabo School District in Kigali. Her story will move you — She is the sole genocide survivor of her family of 10.

Claudine generously took off from work that week and introduced me to intimate spaces in Rwanda — to schools, to churches, to the site where her family was killed. Below are snapshots of Claudine, wearing the purple dress, with Mary, the woman who hid her in her home and saved her life during the Rwandan Genocide.




October…The States.  These connections, unanticipated, are reverberating. This week, The Putney School in Vermont is hosting Claudine on her first US trip where she will both teach and learn. Next week, at Suffolk County Community College on Long Island, she will share her story and discuss the legacy of genocide in the lives of Rwandans today.

Eshaness Peninsula


Grind da Navir

When you walk out from Eshaness Lighthouse in the Shetland Islands onto a peninsula of once molten lava, the ground is spongy under your boot.  You step on low-growing wildflowers in the field; they bounce back.  You slip on moss spread over rock outcrops; some rocks lift.  This summer, on the day I walk out there with my son Alex, a rolling fog adds to this sense of the indefinite.

The fog or haar is common in early summer when warm air blows over the cool North Sea.  At the cliffs at Eshaness, 200 feet above sea level, it appears to come up from below, over the cliffs and into the walking fields.  We think to turn back but have an ordinance map to follow to the cut-in canyons and channels we’ve heard about.

The haar obscures the view as we walk.  We only get a sense of the first canyon when we see thousands of dive-bombing, grey and white Fumars scoot in and out of the fog, announcing the nearby 50-foot drop at Calder’s Geo.

We follow the contours of shallow lochs shaped like puzzle pieces, ellipses with sweeping arcs that curl back into the water.  Alex wanders off, inland, to the Loch of Houlland and a bronze-age broch; I stand alone on the open field.  The dampness in the air makes me cough; I’m lightheaded and wheeze but like the feeling of floating.

(These prints are made from digital scans of film negatives, first captured by overlapping frames within the camera and varying aperture.  They are each 11″ x 24.5″, made at Indian Hill Imageworks on Fabriano Artistico, 23″ x 31″.)

Meadow Croft

We were just a few hours into spring last Friday morning, and yet had snowflakes.  Crazy winter on Long Island.  Snowstorms.  Cold.

I’ve been working these past months, piloting a couple of film cameras to work with in Shetland this May.  I don’t think I would otherwise have tortured myself, photographing in the frigid air, and the snow is sometimes so uninspiring.  So I stayed near home and ended up photographing, again and again at Meadow Croft, John E.Roosevelt’s one-time summer home in Sayville.

I’ve passed this spot many times-less than a mile from my home-and never really walked in, but one Sunday, my friend Carol asked me to meet her there, to stop in at the wood shack at the far end of the estate where Barney offers tastes of the Loughlin wines grown there.  I left sooner than Carol, to walk around and try out my Olympus XA and LOMO 35mm cameras.  I bought the 1979 Olympus for just $75 at an online auction and the LOMO new and am trying to decide which effects I want.  They both have good lenses and work quickly, although the XA has a coupled rangefinder for precision focus, whereas the LOMO is a scale focus and I have to estimate the distance in feet and set the lens, a bit wacky, but maybe I want this.  (For more on these cameras, see thefigitalrevolution.com.)

Before Carol showed up, I walked around the open fields in front of the Dutch Revival house and then back toward the two-story garage.  I was photographing the garage from a predictable distance-more than 20 feet-easy, infinity on both cameras.  But then I noticed that one of the windows on the otherwise locked garage was open, less than an inch.  I pushed the window up a bit, just enough to prop the XA and LOMO on the ledge and shoot into a room where the light fell obliquely onto a back wall.  I guessed at the distance and shot a few frames, but, by the time Carol came up beside me, my fingers were burning from the cold, even with gloves on, and I could no longer advance the film levers.

We walked to Barney’s shack which is warmed by a  wood-burning stove and then took our wine in plastic cups back up to the house to sit in the rockers on the porch…feet up on the rail…no one in view.  I went back to Meadow Croft all winter; even though it was so often cold, because it was eerie and mysterious and silent.  And last week I borrowed an Olympus XA-4–a later XA model that like the LOMO is scale focused but it has a 28mm lens–more in the frame and more depth of field.

Further test shots to follow.