Plant Kingdoms

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Not long ago, I discovered the work of a little-known photographer who never got recognition for his work during his lifetime, and his aesthetic speaks directly to mine in the kinds of subjects he chose and in the kinds of contexts in which he shot them. Charles Jones’s work makes me want to run out and buy produce. In fact, it has. An Englishman born in 1866, he was a lifelong gardener, a very private person according to surviving family members, and apparently, a gifted photographer who made, quite literally, the fruits of his labors his photographic subjects.

Plant Kingdoms

Beets, Charles Jones

Like Vivian Maier’s work, Jones’s work was discovered accidentally. Photograph collector, Sean Sexton, found a trunk for sale at a London antique market that was filled with hundreds of photos of fruits, vegetables, and flowers. Apparently, “they had been passed over and scored by dealers and collectors earlier in the day” but “Sexton instantly saw an originality and quality in the works.”  (I need to frequent large flea markets more often.) Sexton then published some of the images in his book Plant Kingdoms of Charles Jones in 1998, but the book was re-released in 2016 with an introduction by Alice Waters.

I can clearly see the love this photographer had for his subject matter. According to Sexton, there are no surviving negatives, so the prints are all that’s left of Mr. Jones’s legacy, in addition to a few stories by surviving relatives about the photographer himself. You can find a wonderful piece about the photographer on this site along with more of his images: http://spitalfieldslife.com/2012/03/09/charles-jones-gardener-photographer

Jones died on November 15, two days after I was born, but I’d like to think I carry forward the legacy of his work. Though I didn’t grow the plant matter I photograph, the fruits, vegetables, flowers, and other botanicals are as alive to me as they were to Jones. This one is for you, Mr. Jones, with gratitude.

Oyster Mushrooms

Solidarity and Safety

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Solidarity and Safety

Solidarity and Safety

Like many, I’ve been stunned by the outcome of the presidential election in my country. The pundits may speculate endlessly about how this happened, but it happened. There is no coming together, no healing a nation so divided by a presidential campaign based on racism and misogyny. The president the majority of us chose didn’t win, which points to an electoral system in dire need of reform. In the meantime, hate crimes are occurring increasingly all over the country. Citizens have taken to the streets from coast to coast to protest. And people like myself are trying to process deep grief and depression, let alone a sense of profound embarrassment on the international stage, in the wake of electing the most unqualified individual to the highest office of our nation.

I currently live in a very culturally diverse area of my country. On any given day, I can hear five or more differently languages spoken around me, smell the aromas of many, mouth-watering cuisines in the air, and see people of all hues, my neighbors, peacefully going about their daily lives. This is what I love about living where I do after having grown up in a very xenophobic, small, mainly white town in the northeast. And now, my neighbors live in fear that they will be targeted by the kind of racism and hate this recent presidential campaign seeks to normalize or even encourage. Indeed, some HAVE been targeted, which our news has reported. I will not stand for it. Not now. Not ever.

When hate crimes increased in the wake of Britain’s Brexit, an American woman living in London suggested wearing a simple symbol that would signify solidarity with those being targeted…..a safety pin. Now, I see people on social media suggesting we adopt this same symbol in the U.S. to show our solidarity, our willingness to stand up and support anyone we see targeted by hate. For myself, I dug out every safety pin I shoved into a drawer over the years and linked them into a bracelet, which I wear.

My country has come too far to surrender the better angels of our nature to racism, misogyny, and xenophobia. We can’t. We won’t.

Books and Bags

Old Spines

Old Spines

I was inspired by some of the work of photographer Kenneth Josephson after seeing one of his images in Harper’s Magazine. His book The Light of Coincidence is a terrific collection of his work, and while browsing through its pages, I find we have similar aesthetic sensibilities.

Paper Bags

Paper Bags

 

A Lily For Judy

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A Lily For Judy

A Lily For Judy

In memory of Judy McCabe, friend and photographer. Thank you for sharing your world through your lens, and for being the wonderful person you were. Your loss is deeply felt by many.

Judy loved shooting flowers, capturing their rich, vibrant colors. So today, I post this lily in color in honor of her.

The Ethics of Seeing

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Spoonbill

Spoonbill

I always have mixed feelings when visiting the zoo. On one hand, I get to see an array of amazing species, but on the other hand, they are locked behind bars. In the aviary of the L.A. Zoo, I spotted this Spoonbill in an enclosure with a couple Sacred Ibises. He (she) was hunkered over, emitting an occasional wheeze. I stood next to him for quite a long time and then snapped his picture, hoping to capture some of his dignity, his beauty, his misery. His eyes were rivetting. I’ve been taking a home study course in bird languages from the ravens, the blue jays, the mockingbirds, the mourning doves, the sparrows, and finches in my back yard. I’m still a novice, but I do notice how much they say with their eyes, speaking paragraphs through blinks and dilations. If I could, I would have told this magnificent bird, “You are beautiful,” and “I’m sorry.”

I lament the fraught relationship between humans and animals. We’re not so different from one another, and yet we humans act as if an opposable thumb grants us an oppressive dominion over everything, having the right to do what we will with other living beings. Heartbreaking stories abound resulting from abuses of that dominion.

Meerkat

Meerkat

In the research I’m doing for my doctoral dissertation on the influences between early twentieth-century women photographers and women writers, I’ve spent some time reading and thinking about the notion of an ethics of seeing, a topic Susan Sontag introduces at the beginning of her seminal book, On Photography. She writes: “In teaching us a new visual code, photographs alter and enlarge our notions of what is worth looking at and what we have a right to observe. They are a grammar and, even more importantly, an ethics of seeing.” I certainly believe that aside from the prurient, exploitative, commercial value some photographs contain, a photograph can also be a witness, find beauty that’s overlooked, and stir our compassion for beings other than ourselves.

My own animal photos are inspired by the work of Isa Leshko. I am humbled and moved by the haunting beauty of her images of animals. In particular, her images of elderly animals are incredibly poignant and compelling. If there was ever a photographer practicing the ethics of seeing, she is. She has certainly changed the way I view other beings through my lens.

Ash, Domestic White Turkey, Age 8 I

Isa Leshko’s Ash, Domestic White Turkey, Age 8 I