This photograph currently appears in “The Portrait 2022” issue of the online journal, F-Stop Magazine. Let me tell you its story.
On April 25, 2019, just before noon, I was walking in downtown Bridgeport, Connecticut with a Canon 5D Mark III and the old “nifty fifty” (50mm f/1.8) lens. At McLevy Green, next to the Bridgeport Town Hall, a couple of people were playing chess at one of the concrete tables on the edge of the Green. . . .
. . .In dejection from all the awful and discouraging news about reactionary political victories, rampant viral sub-variants, catastrophic droughts, and increasing violence (as well as, for me, unhappy views about my own self), I found myself doing something that I’ve done on occasion over the years, especially under stress: I was hand-writing, long past midnight, a list of my favorite artists and mystical writers. That exercise can calm and comfort me. not just as an obsessive-compulsive ritual, but as a reminder of real treasures that I’ve been given, for inspiration and illumination.
In certain of these posts, I’ve put together two stories or quotes that go at one thing from different directions, or whose common ground isn’t obvious on the surface, aiming to spark for you some realization that can’t just be given or explained. This time, the two sets of words that I’ve joined come from two seemingly-almost-comically-different sources. The first is a poem by Juan Ramon Jimenez, the Spanish poet who won the 1956 Nobel Prize for Literature and was a leading figure in what is sometimes called (with good reasons, like the writing of his kinsmen Antonio Machado and Lorca). The second set of words is from a speech by the American comic actor Jim Carrey. Jimenez may not have had the same kind of extremely zany humor that Carrey has shown in his movie and TV career, but Jimenez was anything but a stiff. One of his most wonderful books is a work of prose, Platero y Yo (Platero and I). Platero was his donkey.
. . . With some difficulty, that’s what I’ve been doing. Concentrating on healing, living in some ways like a mole. I’ll wait to see what the world looks like when I can poke my head out again and peer around. I’ll see what I seem like to myself after time in this underground burrow. I’ll see what guidance comes to me about what God wants me to do in the new spring.
In the meantime, though, I see no reason not to send out Springtime greetings to you. Here’s something that will probably seem a little different for me. . . .
The poet, essayist, translator, and magazine publisher and editor, Robert Bly, died toward the end of last year. I think it’s unfortunate that he became best-known as a father of the “men’s movement,” because in the public’s mind that overshadows his tremendous contributions to American literature. His literary work in all the capacities that I just listed had a tremendous and priceless effect on me and others, opening up the cloistered world of an American poetry controlled excessively by stiff-minded academics to the timeless and global world of a poetry of imagination and spirituality, of what Bly called “news of the universe.”
I’m writing to tell you that I’ve significantly redesigned my photography website, and I’m happy to say that I think the new rendition is much improved in terms of immediately showing you the qualities and variety of my work, and in making it much easier for you to see what’s available on the site and how to get to it.
I want to introduce you to a new portfolio of mine: “Towers and Devices of an Alien Race.” But I don’t, don’t want to squeeze it into an ill-fitting box of conceptions or drown it in chat about techniques or influence. Still, I want to tell you a few of the thoughts and feelings that I had in making these works.
. . . But now I’ve posted a new – well, almost completely new – portfolio on my photography website, called “At the Parking Lot on Center Street.”
Its previous incarnation, “A Brief Walk on Center Street,” has been largely replaced, and what hasn’t been replaced has been re-edited. When I took the original photos, mostly impromptu, I didn’t have with me the gear that I really needed for the “job.” From time to time in my pandemic confinement, I thought about getting back and doing the work better. And the confinement gave me the opportunity and the obsessive push (how many photography videos did I watch, sometimes more than once!) to explore new gear, new techniques, new software, all of which played roles in producing this portfolio.
Fire has often been not just a symbol of the holy Spirit, but its embodiment. . . Even fewer people will know what faith and fire lay behind the phrase “Chariot of fire.” It refers to certain events concerning the prophet Elisha, told in 2 Kings 6:8-17.
I wrote to you about the story of the cat at the heart of this photograph, but why is the cat wreathed in flames, and why don’t they consume him? I’ll respond to that now, not with pretended analysis or explanation, but with a kind of “Biography of Fire.” . . .
As I said I would, I’ll write to you soon about the Fire in “The Friend Who May Not Seem a Friend.” But I have to share with you first an exceptional, timely gift that came to me this week.
To understand why I show you this carved cat in flames, you need to know that my childhood was plagued by sweat-through-the-night terrors, terrors that could take hold even in daytime. . .
I miss the pleasures of meeting people in doing my street photography. Various factors have kept me from it almost completely for several years: a major change in the nature of my paying employment, a new office location, a much-needed surgery and long rehabilitation, the pandemic. But I have to say that my experience, mostly on the streets of downtown Hartford, Connecticut, wasn’t all warming and satisfying, though it did call to my mind aspects of the life presented in the Gospels just as much as did the better parts of my portrait-seeking experience.
One of the great dangers for each of us is that we let someone define us, even it’s ourselves, and then we let that definition dictate what we do and don’t do, what we believe is possible or right for us. At various times in my life, I’ve felt impelled to challenge some idea of myself, sometimes at the cost of tremendous anxiety and apprehension. I often think of (and have a couple of T-shirts that quote) the remark of one of the child “Candidates” in The Matrix, when Neo asks him how he is bending a spoon only by thinking about: “There is no spoon.” St. Paul has a similar, but farther-reaching saying: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13.)
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