I love all films that start with rain: rain, braiding a windowpane or darkening a hung-out dress or streaming down her upturned face;
one long thundering downpour right through the empty script and score before the act, before the blame, before the lens pulls through the frame
to where the woman sits alone beside a silent telephone or the dress lies ruined on the grass or the girl walks off the overpass,
and all things flow out from that source along their fatal watercourse. However bad or overlong such a film can do no wrong,
so when his native twang shows through or when the boom dips into view or when her speech starts to betray its adaptation from the play,
I think to when we opened cold on a rain-dark gutter, running gold with the neon of a drugstore sign, and I’d read into its blazing line:
forget the ink, the milk, the blood— all was washed clean with the flood we rose up from the falling waters the fallen rain’s own sons and daughters
and none of this, none of this matters.
Lately I've found myself drawn to poetry. The rain these last two days led me to this poem by the Scottish poet Don Paterson. The evocative imagery of the first part of the poem leaves you somewhat unprepared for the shattering last line, "and none of this, none of this matters." It is certainly true in the face of the immeasurable loss of someone you love. My sisters and I are still bereaved over the death of our father. My younger sister broke down and wept during our last telephone conversation. Our grief is unconsolable, and at my darkest moment, I rage wordlessly against the order of the universe. Everything is useless because nothing will restore him. So why poetry? Because only through words and music can I come close to any semblance of understanding the situation. Or failing that, poetry at least lends me the words to express my grief. I cling to the line in Shakespeare's King Lear where the old king raged at the death of his daughter Cordelia, Why should a dog, a horse, a rat, have life, And thou no breath at all? Thou'll come no more, Never, never, never, never, never! The writer Jeanette Winterson once wrote that she was not sure "death could be done without poetry," meaning that "an intense experience need an intense language." Yet even Winterson concedes that death is "lost to language. When death approaches, when death happens, that event falls outside the scope of what can be said. To write about it is a kind of magic – an evocation, an invocation, a re-membering of what has been dis-membered. The scattered life, now returned to so many atoms, becomes what atoms are – empty space and points of light." I want to find a way into that empty space and points of light, to write an invocation to remember my father by. All I can do is remember.
Every once in a while, I get to do a shoot where everything comes together seamlessly. I spend a lovely day in the company of friends and we make something modest but beautiful together. I had such a shoot yesterday in Red Hook, where I took these photos for Layla.
Red Hook is an amazing, seemingly forgotten corner of New York. In the 1990s, Life magazine named it one of the worst neighborhoods in the United States and as the "crack capital of America." A friend of mine, Harriet, lived there at the time, and it was known as "Bloody Hook." Now there is a mix of artists and industries thriving in the neighborhood and the place has the feel of a frontier town. Red Hook still boasts one of the largest housing projects in the city, and the area is not served by any subway line. But it is on the water, with views of the Statue of Liberty, and it is home to the thriving Red Hook Community Farm, on the site of an old asphalt playing field. The farm operates all year round and employs local youths from the low-income neighborhood. Red Hook also has some of the best food trucks, serving the incomparable Salvadoran specialty pupusa in the summer months.
Flowers blooming in my garden this morning. It is bittersweet to see so many of my plants coming back after a long barren winter. At the same time, I am also reminded of the people who will never come back again and the void they've left in the landscape of my life.
Photographs by Richard Mosse, from the series "Breach"
"I'm interested in the idea that history is something in a constant state of being written and rewritten–and the way that we write history is often plain to see in how we affect the world around us, in the inscriptions we make on our landscape, and in what stays and what goes... I began to see architecture as something that can reveal the ways in which we alter the past in order to construct a new future, as a site in which past, present, and future come together to be reformed."
Richard Mosse is an Irish photographer whose wonderful and thoughtful work I just recently discovered. I like what he says about the "inscriptions we make on our landscape," and the link between architecture and history, something that occupies much of my thoughts these last two years. The series "Breach"–images of Saddam Hussein's palaces occupied by US troops–is a meditation on the decision by the US Army to occupy the very edifices that symbolize the tyranny of the regime they had deposed. As Mosse stated in an interview,"If you're trying to convince a population that you have liberated them from a terrible dictator, why would you then sit in his throne? A savvier place to station the garrison would have been a place free from associations with Saddam, and the terror and injustices that the occupying forces were convinced they'd done away with. Instead, they made the mistake of repeating history."
Mosse works with a large format 8x 10 camera, something that I often wish to do, for there is nothing comparable to its formal quality. The cumbersome nature of the camera, with its anachronistic dark cloth under which the photographer takes cover, demands a more deliberate and measured approach to the process of photographing. It is diametrically opposed to the quick digital snapshot that is the province of commercial photography.