It definitely feels like we are at a defining point in our nation, in our political life. The political is absolutely personal, and it reaches into every home and psyche. As an artist and as an academic, I ask myself how my own resistance will continue to manifest. There’s power in images and in words, which we’re finding out in ways we’d never imagined before.
Recently, Joe and I visited the Salton Sea in southern CA. It’s a place I’ve been wanting to see and photograph, having seen others’ photos and having read about the place. While it’s true that the Salton Sea in July with 115 degree temps making the annual fish kill stench even more potent (it took several margaritas to get the smell out of my nose, my mouth, my lungs), may not be the optimal time to visit that place, but I still found many of the abandoned houses and structures in small villages around the lake provided compelling images. The door to one of these houses sported this sign, making me wonder about the story surrounding this particular structure.
I took this photo from my vehicle a while ago when I was stopped in traffic on Sunset Blvd. in Hollywood, CA. There’s a skyscraper there that often posts enormous advertisements for various TV shows and movies, and this one was promoting the TV series “The Crazy Ones” featuring Robin Williams. Williams has always been one of my favorite actors and comedians. I probably know the script of “Mrs. Doubtfire” by heart now. “Dead Poet’s Society” is also a favorite movie, although there are few movies that he’s been in that I didn’t enjoy. That man had a gift and a big, big heart.
The news of his death has saddened me in a way that surprises me, and I can only imagine what his family is going through right now. Anne Lamott, one of my favorite writers, grew up in Tiburon not far from where WIlliams lived as a kid also. She wrote a poignant piece that she posted on Facebook that addresses his death, making sense of seemingly senseless tragedy, mental illness, and addiction. One of the things she said about Williams remains with me, put as only she can put things: “You know how I always say that laughter is carbonated holiness? Well, Robin was the ultimate proof of that, and bubbles are spirit made visible.” On the marquee of The Laugh Factory in West Hollywood, it says, “Robin Williams rest in peace. Make God laugh.” If anyone could do that, it would be him.
As much as his passing has produced a sense of heaviness and sadness in many people, there’s also a lighter, positive impulse emerging in the wake of his death. I know he struggled with depression and addiction, a double whammy that is hard to shake. But, along with the sadness there’s also an appreciation for his little spark of madness that produced such a life-affirming light for so many. It’s evident in every clip of a movie or interview they’re now showing in the media. He lived the “carpe diem” his character extolled in “Dead Poet’s Society.” And even though these aren’t his words, but words spoken by Mr. Keating (the character he played in “Dead Poet’s Society”), as a photographer, they also inform the philosophy at the core of my work:
“We must constantly look at things in a different way.”
Robin WIlliams certainly did and he shared that with everyone with his unique, infectious hilarity. Thank you, Oh Captain, My Captain.