This weekend the Kobuk 440 sled dog race is taking place in arctic Alaska. The start and finish is in Kotzebue and the trail takes the teams 440 miles through the Kobuk Valley. It is April, which means the days are blindingly long, over 14 hours of daylight now, and though the temperatures are considerably more mild there are still all the dangers of winter travel in the arctic--the challenges of river ice, the isolation of the wilderness that deftly punishes the incapable and the unprepared.Read More
When I collected medicinal tundra plants for a cyanotype series during the summer of 2013 it never occurred to me that I would ever rely on those plants to heal myself. I had attended a wonderful workshop on how to prepare medicinal salves and tinctures using arctic tundra plants at the National Park Service office serving the Western Arctic National Parklands in Kotzebue, Alaska. As much as I had enjoyed collecting those plants and learning the processes of making tinctures and salves, I mostly intended to add those botanical images to a much larger compendium of arctic sun prints consisting of found objects--bits of net, bones, gloves, trash on the beach--my attempt to be a visual gatherer I suppose.Read More
The Pine Effect is a wonderful new full-length collection of poems by my Aldo Leonardo collaborator Andrea Spofford. It's a thrill too to see one of my photographs serving as the cover, this lonely shot from the December Meditation series. Congratulations Andrea on the publication of your book. Those of you on my list who love exquisitely well-made poems will truly appreciate Andrea's work which rewards one fully as only the best writing can. The interweaving of personal and natural history from poem to poem leaves you feeling at times that you have read a field guide to a specific heart--a heart that celebrates all the things of the world, from the mundane to the grand, the broken to the wholly new. Preorders for Spofford's book can be placed here: The Pine Effect.
Meanwhile, I am hunkered down in Kotzebue, Alaska, dozing through one wind and cold-shocked winter storm after another, nursing a cold with an Inupiaq antiviral elixir, a shot glass full of stinkweed steeped in vinegar given to my by my tirelessly gracious host Norma. Photos to follow soon. . . . if I ever again see the out of doors that I trust is out there beyond the foot thick walls of this house and the blur of snow flying past the impossibly small high windows. . . .
We followed through with a promise to ourselves to pursue warmer weather in January to break the spell of winter. It was good to drive to the south, through the south, to feel the physical reality of states that have become too abstract in the political dumbshow of recent years. In the foggy mountains of Tennessee, we discussed important battles fought along the Cumberland and the Tennessee Rivers and Wallace Stevens' poem "Anecdote of the Jar." This postcard series is a meditation upon that poem and "the slovenly wilderness" surrounding us everywhere.
Late December + moutains + fog + 1000 mile journey + friends + camera = these postcards--quick gratification after the tedium of setting up a series of year-long, solstice-to-solstice exposures. I have decided that 2015 will be a year of such diverse approaches to image making--from extreme long exposures to a monthly postcard series.
It could be said I wasted an entire day of my shooting time in Ontario this July teaching myself how to photograph dragonflies. If you haven't tried to do it you really should, and you should do so while perched on a rock in a boggy, buggy corner of a beautiful river that also happens to be the nesting ground for a large family of extremely territorial watersnakes who are quite fond of the rock you are standing on for their all-day sunbathing. All morning I tried and failed. At lunch I unloaded my cards full of bad shots and recalculated what I would try next. And back to the Rock I went with a new card and a fresh battery and found the snakes had retaken their position--they would only be defeated by being mock-beaten with a swim noodle ( a task undertaken by someone not myself). Things improved. I have a lot of shots of dragonflies too, thank you, but the real gain was this: the settings I used for the dragonflies opened up a world of possibilities for seeing the river anew. Once again I am reminded of the magnificence of Samuel Beckett: "Ever Tried? Ever Failed? No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail Better!"
The dew point is in the 70s this fine Iowa morning after a night of sirens and what seemed like near misses for Iowa City. Route One north of town washed out after five inches of rain fell. Tornados are due this afternoon. I went outside into the tropical rainforest that used to be my garden to try and catch up on last month's weeding and nature just laughed a big fat nature laugh and let a little more rain pour down on us, and so I hightailed it inside to finish some seriously backlogged editing that harkens back to my favorite time of year in my favorite place. I don't think there could be a landscape any more beautiful than a frozen sea in the light of the long slow dawn like that off the coast of Kotzebue. I love that winter moon that scuds along the horizon. I love that it takes almost six hours for the light to shift from the lavender of twilight to the true sunrise which occurs a little before noon. I will send a crisp ten dollar bill to anyone who can find the polar bear lurking in these pictures! A wildlife photographer I will never be--except by most unfortunate accident! Stay cool Iowa friends.
The last three weeks have been all about water--or sky--or possibly both. Good thing I have good chest waders! Moving between the still icy shores of Lake Superior and a lovely river in Ontario I find myself once again becoming hopelessly lyrical, as in these little delicacies shot when the light in Canada kept turning into an homage to Turner. This is apparently what happens when I swear off the poetical. Next time I'll renounce the prosaic and see what happens!
I've been home a week and I'm still not entirely sure what it was I experienced out there in that last little whiff of wilderness Iowa can claim. It was dark. I know that. The dark of a new moon deep in the forest. I've been sworn to secrecy on where we went and with whom and why, which is a little strange I know, but it was very much worth my time whether we ever find this mythical creature or not. It's not every day you can meet up with a group of sober strangers and go for a very long walk in total darkness. It was kind of amazing really. I liked everyone I traveled with, but because we met in darkness and worked in darkness I failed to recognize them when we met again in daylight. I set about making portraits of my travel companions as I experienced them--in darkness--a few of which are included in my janky little photo essay, the first of several on this subject: The Believers.
I spent a lot of time last summer wandering the streets of Kotzebue and I found myself meeting a new dog at almost every turn. They are central to the culture of the arctic--just as they always have been--though the role they play in most households is different now. Snow machines have replaced the dog team. Mail is now delivered by plane. Mushing has become a luxury sport. Even some of the people who keep teams to race fail to feed their dogs adequately in the summer--it's cheaper that way--or maybe they are failing to feed themselves as well. I wouldn't claim to fully know or understand what I was seeing. I do know there is no resident veterinarian in Kotzebue. Anything a dog might need beyond water and salmon will cost a small fortune over time. And still there were dogs chained in front of almost every house. They are guardians. They are scapegoats. They areicons of a lost past. They are, less often, companions, familiars, pets.