The joy of research means discovering new things, like a Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist who seems virtually unknown today. Julia Peterkin’s Scarlet Sister Mary, the fictionalized story of the Gullah community on Peterkin’s plantation in South Carolina, won the Pulitzer for fiction in 1929. A Devil and a Good Woman, Too by Susan Millar Williams, is the only biography written about her. Thomas Landess’s book, pictured here, offers some biographical information, but it concentrates mainly on Peterkin’s oeuvre, including Roll, Jordan, Roll, the collaboration between Peterkin and photographer, Doris Ulmann. This is the first, published collaboration between a woman photographer and a woman writer. Appearing in 1933, it predates similar, collaborations, like Cabins in the Laurel, featuring a collage-like memoir by Muriel Earley Sheppard and the photographs of Bayard Wooten. Roll, Jordan, Roll also predates more famous collaborations like Walker Evans’s and James Agee’s Let Us Now Praise Famous Men.
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.
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.
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.
Aside from posting my work here, I also have a Tumblr blog, Redzenradish Photography. Tumblr is one of those sprawling, digital media sites similar to Facebook, where artists can post their work, and others can repost the work of those artists. There are some Tumblr blogs that are considered curated sites where images are carefully chosen to be reblogged to a broader audience so that others can discover the work of photographers and artists whose work they might otherwise miss. For me, it’s been wonderful, not just to have my own work reblogged by some of these curated sites (Lensblr, Luxlit), but because it has also introduced me to photographers whose work continues to inspire me and with whom I’ve formed friendships both in the digital and in the real world. I’m grateful to have found a community of artists there who, for the most part, are very supportive of each other.
However, as it happens in the digital world, it’s easy to strip the metadata or marks of ownership of an image that then gets reblogged throughout the maze of rabbit holes inside the Tumblrverse. Sometimes, the only way to find the original creator of an image is to look for the word “source” under the image near the tags line. Hopefully, that will contain a link that will take you to wherever the person who posted or reblogged the image originally found that image, even if it doesn’t tell you the name of the original artist. Leaving out the artist’s name, but maintaining a generic “source” is considered enough “attribution” to prove someone isn’t taking credit for another’s work, which is good……except for one small thing–the name of the artist. It’s like going into a museum to see the Mona Lisa and finding beneath the painting only a plaque that says “source,” and you are then expected to go elsewhere to find the identity of the artist. On Tumblr, it’s not uncommon to find someone who obviously likes an image enough to reblog it, but not enough to provide the name of the artist. They provide only a small link (if that) that many viewers may gloss over, which creates more of an association between the image and the person who posted or reblogged it than between the image and the original artist because there’s no visual cue that identifies the artist. It’s a small thing, until you find someone whose work is truly inspiring.
In this example, copied from Tumblr, a blogger reblogs this image from someone who reblogged it from someone else, and the “source” is identified as “thejoyofweird,” only “thejoyofweird” isn’t the original artist. You wouldn’t know that until you click on the link that takes you to “thejoyofweird”‘s Tumblr site where you’d then find only the word “source” listed below the image, but with no name. Click on that and it takes you to a website entry from 2012 of artist and photographer, Diana Hobson. Further, the original image is in color and not in black and white. Did “thejoyofweird” convert this image from color to black and white when he or she posted it from Hobson’s website? While the image is also beautiful in black and white, it’s not how the original photographer created and posted the image.
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.
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.
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.