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Sensi Magazine

Tales from the Cenozoic

Aug 29, 2019 08:18PM ● By Marketing SENSI MAG
The last time i saw my grandmother, she didn’t know my name. She was sitting in a wheelchair at the foot of her bed with a soft pink blanket wrapped around her legs. I must have been 15, she was 85.

I hung back in the doorway as my aunt and uncles gathered around her. A family photo album was spread across her lap, and although my aunt turned the yellowing pages for my grandmother, there was no indication, other than a vague, benign smile, that she knew who we were.

My grandfather once said, “When time passes into memory, its rhythm goes to pieces. Memory is good at playing tricks and reshuffling itself, like a deck of cards.” Watching as my grandmother looked through the photographs, I imagined her memory as an island in a bank of fog, continually shifting in and out of sight. She was no longer certain if the land was solid or if she was seeing shadows.

Eventually, I escaped into the hallway and stared at a painting on the wall without really seeing it. At some point, my father came out to bring me back; he said my grandmother had noticed I was missing. When I appeared in the door frame, she looked up and smiled, as if she could sense me there, just on the other side of a veil. Sometimes I think that somewhere, on a level deeper than she could communicate, she still knew me, even if this hint of recognition stemmed from a place too far away to break the surface. She could feel it; she just couldn’t speak to it.

When I take a photograph, it is always informed by this sense of absence or loss. Like a memory, a photograph is defined as much by what appears inside the frame as what exists out of sight. It is selective a snapshot inviting more questions than answers. When I look at photographs of my grandparents now, I am reminded of all the gaps that exist between them. Everything I know about their lives is based on what others have told me, and from what I’ve discovered through their collections of letters and photos. The story I string together from what they left behind will always feel incomplete.

Time, absence, and memory are all themes that influence my approach to photography and film. I see them as media through which I can work to establish a sense of the rhythm my grandfather described as so easily bro-ken. When I look through the lens of a camera, I am often trying to capture an idea or feeling. Sometimes, the silence of communicating through the aperture, shutter speed, focus, and composition can be a relief from words.

I tend to focus on small things: details in nature or everyday life that strike me in some way, even if I can’t explain it at the time. Between January and April of this year, I walked to a stream along the side of a field in my hometown with the intention of photographing the motion of the thawing water. Then something changed. I noticed the patches of sunlight on the surface left strange markings on the images, as if someone had scratched or etched them there. My focus shifted. I kept returning to the stream and observed that, depending on the time of day, temperature, and the nature of the current, the color and patterns of movement and light would change.

The camera was capturing something I otherwise wouldn’t have known. The images that appeared in the photographs seemed to echo many things all at once weather systems, the cosmos, sparks, figures, and a spine. In real-time, what I saw was sunlight flickering on the surface of the stream. I felt like a biologist with a micro-scope. When encountered through the camera, the water and light transformed in unison. The world became more layered and fluid, even rhythmic, and I felt closer to it.

When I sent these photos to one of my uncles, he wrote back wishing my grandfather could have seen them. Apparently, he had been fascinated by water and used to try to find the hidden patterns in deep water surfaces. He felt there had to be some kind of rhythm or pattern, and he conducted little studies of his own in search of either.

For me, photography and film are studies in rhythm. One stops time; the other puts it on a loop. When I’m watching a film, the director’s sense of pacing is the undercurrent that drives my emotional response. Sometimes there is no dialogue in the scene. What makes it powerful is how the images have been welded into sequence, and how, even when there are no words, there is still something a thought, idea, or feeling being communicated.

Like geology, photography and film are studies of change across a span of time. They are tools we can use to take a closer look at our world: the materials and structures that compose it, the forces acting upon it, the people who inhabit it, the influence of the past on the future. A photograph can be a doorway into memory, but it’s never certain how far back the passage will lead. Sometimes, it is just a window, and I wonder if, when I look back at them, I’ll remember them as they were and what will be lost in my version of remembering.