Have you ever had a dream? A dream of achieving a goal in your personal life or career, and then found that you accomplished it. Or perhaps you realized the dream was more about the journey and not the destination, and now the journey is over. But for what ever the reason, you come to that never-ending question, “Now what?”
Well, six months into my 22nd year of life, my first adult dream, one that was a childhood dream of living in the Rocky Mountains, had surprisingly come to an end. It began in September, a couple months before my 21st birthday. My attendance at Ashland College abruptly ended earlier that year when they limited the courses I could take and so I left. I was now working the broiler at a local restaurant cooking steaks and fish when it dawned on me, “this was my life and I could do anything I wanted”. Many would say “I took a leap of faith”, but what I did was more about listening to my heart and doing what I felt inside than some popular truism that happened to be in vogue.
I did not know exactly where I was headed, but I knew I could not stay where I was. I packed up all my belongings into a small ten year old 1968 VW fastback and blindly headed for the Rocky Mountains at the end of October. A week or so later, and about a week or so before my 21st birthday, my car broke down in Steamboat Springs, a ski resort. I only had $15 left and no job. From there, my life prospered during that winter to the point that I could not have been happier. In fact, I told myself I was ready to die, and I almost did, but that’s another story to be told.
Spring came and winter ended. The ski resort shrunk in population back to its normal small western town size. Once again I was at “now what?” Sure, I could have stayed in Steamboat, but I felt there was more in life then what the small western town could offer. I packed my VW and headed back to my birth-town of Cleveland, Ohio.
By summer I had moved in with my father, who was now living in his mother’s apartment after she died that winter. It was a little odd living there with many of my grandmother things still in the apartment. It was very odd to be back in the confines of Cleveland after working outside all winter long looking at the wonderful wide open spaces of the Yampa Valley home of Steamboat Springs. The city’s man-made tree-lined roads and tall buildings were claustrophobic and yet they had the childhood suffocating comfort of an aunt’s lovingly tight hug as she welcomes you. And like the tight feel of dress shoes it became restrictive. By fall I kept asking myself, why was I in Cleveland when Steamboat was so freeing? The answer was photography.
I looked back through the photographs I took while living with my father in his mother’s apartment. I saw confined spaces in that apartment. Gram, which is what we called my father’s mother, had built a lush plant filled space. Beautiful in its own way, yet perversely showing the confinement we had constructed to live in.
The bird cage that had long ago let the bird free was now home to a plant. A tin butterfly sat on top of it. How unnatural it all was but then again how natural it was for plants to creep in and take over what man has made.
This photograph blurs the line between man and nature. Gram had hung two wooden carved birds in this window. Were they longing to be outside? Did she long for a simpler life? Or was this yet another view from the window?
On a typical dreary rainy Cleveland day you can certainly see how the plants stretched towards the light. What a contrast.
She had plants in almost every window and they provided organic shapes against the factory made appliances.
I had to maintain my focus. I was back in Cleveland to do photography so I got a retail job at the local camera store. It provided me with access to all sorts of photographic gear. I attended another summer photography class at The Cleveland Institute of Art.
I began to see more artistically. The mirror in my bedroom turned into the reflection of the room removing the viewer from the space and yet leaving the viewer very much in the space. The image is not of the room but what the mirror reflects. A 2D image of a 2D mirror reflecting a 3D environment.
Being annoyed with my perception of how many at the art school were forcefully trying to be artistic with complex statements of their work to justify its artistic value, I set my camera low, framed the shot, set the self-timer, and laid on the floor trying to be “artistic”. No, that’s not who I am, but I thought I’d give it a try. (In hindsight, I do see this image as interesting and provocative) I am more in-line with Robert Frost who said “A poem begins in delight and ends in wisdom.” My photographs begin with exploration and end with the viewers interpretation. That would also include me as a viewer.
I began taking more typical photographs but always of places I was exploring. I borrowed the art school’s 4×5 view camera. I really liked how it slowed down the process of composing the image. I physically handled each 4×5 sheet of film while I developed them. There was something very richly tactile about the process.
I greatly liked Joel Meyerowitz’s book, Cape Light and had to do a similar self-portrait he had in his book. Mirrors were often in my photographs. They seem to hold a very different perspective for a photograph. (See Mirror, Mirror 1978 post)
Eventually I began to notice that many of my exploratory photographs were about looking out from inside. It was where I found myself. I was looking out the windows from inside the apartment. I was looking out the windows from inside the car. As an Aspie being on the Autistic Spectrum, I was looking out from inside my mind watching the world.
With the concept of “inside looking out,” I thought I would consciously explore that further. What does it look like if I was a carton of milk? What does it look like from inside a trash can?
And back-in-the-day, how many times have we been in a phone booth looking out as the world passes by and we were tethered by a 2 foot cord to a stationary phone communicating with our friend, family or business?
The first summer back from the mountain, Steamboat, was ok, but the urge to move was creeping in. Maybe it was the four years at a boarding school that had me in a perpetual mode of moving every few months. In the fall I leave for school, come back for the two week winter break, then back at school, then spring break, then back to school, then summer break. Constantly moving from dorm to home to dorm and back again. So it was no wonder that by winter I was ready for something new. Now what? College? Again?
To be continued . . .
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