musings on shadow selves

Saturday, September 27, 2014

I used to be obsessed with knowing myself. With digging deep. Pulling off the outer layers as often as I could. My life was a treasure hunt and days were spent following clues, picking up pieces, analyzing symbols and making connections. I would stand in the mirror outside my bedroom and look at myself. I would play the game of pretending it wasn't my reflection. I would pull myself out, and put myself back in. 

When I think back to the past few years, that feeling, that longing to know myself, is the thread that runs through everything. Through my projects at school, through the writing on this blog, through my relationships, and above all, through my identity as a photographer. 

Now I find myself sitting at a table, outside a house painted a dark green, a glass of white wine at my side and the sound of familiar and unfamiliar voices through the kitchen door. And I find myself feeling a little empty. A little empty perhaps, without this obsession running through my days. Somehow, this past year, that longing to know myself was put out of sight. 

Maybe it's because, for the first time in my life, I just had to survive. I had a find a job, pay my bills, hold my life together, grow up. For the first time in my life I didn't have a summer to lay on my bed, staring at the sky and peeling apart the emotions running through me. It's like I had to build up this protective layer. Not something permanent. A wax casing, so that none of my former poetics had a chance to sink in before I wound up starving, unemployed, wasting away. It's like the past year has washed over me. And it's been beautiful, there have been tender moments, difficult decisions, anxiety, wonder. And I've felt all of it. But none of it ever really got the chance to sink in. That layer of protective wax has kept me safe, realistic, but maybe–a little empty. 

I  don't think it's surprising that I've been photographing my empty reflection, and my shadow. I call them shadow selves. They're silhouettes, the literal definition of which is: the dark shape and outline of someone or something.  

And there it is. Someone or something. Unspecific. They're self portraits with no information, a person without an identity. 

These shadow selves have been the thread that's run through the last year. And it wasn't digging deep. And it wasn't me staring directly into the mirror, or into the lens, but I find myself pleased that even while feeling like my identity as a photographer was lost, I have ended up with this serious of images that are very specific. I guess in a sense, I'm never all the way lost. 

the book heart: no. 10 (non-fiction photo texts)

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

In order to commemorate the 10th installment of The Book Heart, I give you: non-fiction books! What!? I do read them, from time to time. These ones in particular are photography related–go figure. (That's pretty much the only nonfiction subject I consistently read about. That and the Titanic, for obvious reasons.)

All photographs are memento mori. To take a photograph is to participate in another person's (or thing's) mortality, vulnerability, mutability. Precisely by slicing out this moment and greeting it, all photographs testify to time's relentless melt. 

Of course we've got the classic On Photography by Susan Sontag. I mean, just read that again: time's relentless melt. Holy crap. This one's got a lot of good nuggets buried in it. At times you're kind of digging to get them, or maybe that's just me. (You can probably tell from the past 9 posts, I'm kind of a novel person.) It's a good one. And once you get into it, it builds up a good Sontag rhythm. 

A photograph can be viewed on several levels. To being with, it is a physical object, a print. On this print is an image, an illusion of a window on to the world. It is on this level that we usually read a picture and discover its content: a souvenir of an exotic land, the face of a lover, a wet rock, a landscape at night. Embedded in this level is mother that contains signals to our mind's perceptual apparatus. It gives 'spin' to what the image depicts and how it is organized. 

Then there's The Nature of Photographs by Stephan Shore. A book that must be owned as an object, to be flipped through. It's a good one to give to someone who wants to learn about photography. Not in the technical sense, but in the understanding of how a photograph works at its most basic level. It's full of plain straightforward language that reads, to me, tenderly. It's also a good reference for loads of relevant images. 

Sometimes, photographs live in our hearts as unborn ghosts and we survive not because their shadows find a permanence there, but because that thing that is larger than us, larger than the things we can point to, remember, and claim, escorts us from dark into light, we emerge from the flames with no one in our arms, and we never unpack the camera. (Laurel Nakadate) 

The wonderful Photographs Not Taken, is a collection of essays from various photographers, which I'm endlessly fond of. The stories range but the prompt is the same: a moment that went unphotographed. I love this book because it speaks to much about the ties between photography and memory. The things we remember more clearly without images. The moments that are impossible to capture. (Or the opposite.) Plus it's full of funny, haunting, interesting stories. (I wish I could type out the entirety of the one above.) Out of all four of these books, this is the one that everyone (you, anonymous reader!) should read. You don't need to be a photographer, I promise. can serve as a mirror, in this case a hint of the future. What the camera captures, then and now, is an extraordinary moment–rare and never to be repeated. In fact, history hovers over these beaches as a coiled spring, ready to transform a serene stretch of beach into a crucible of battle. (Von Hardesty, from the essay Photography Changes How Wars Are Fought)

The newest in my collection of non-fiction photography books is Photography Changes Everything, edited by Marvin Heiferman. It's a collection of essays by various people in various fields, with each one centering on how photography has affected their respective fields. Some of them are directly related to the reasons I'm drawn to photography–Photography Changes how Memory Functions in Daily Life, by Jeff Sandoz. Some explore photography in ways that I haven't given much thought to–Photography Changes Our Knowledge of Species, by Jeffrey T. Williams; or Photography Changes the Foods We Crave, by Lauren Shakely. 

I've barely scratched the surface of this book, I have yet to read all the essays. The wonderful thing about them is that they're short (around 2 pages each) and direct. This book is so relevant right now, in a time when photography is everywhere and functions in such different ways. It steps back from the question of what makes a photograph good, and instead asks: How does a photograph work? And the answer is so varied. And so so interesting. 

a wedding weekend

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Just a few quick snaps from the trip Steele and I took back to Colorado this past weekend to watch our longtime friends Abbi & Nick get married. It felt like a very grown-up thing to do, taking a weekend trip for a wedding. But it was wonderful to have some time away from work and normal life, and to spend a few days with Steele's parents as well.

I did not take my camera out at the wedding, the last thing I would want to be is the person who sneaks into the aisle and ruins the shot for the professional photographer. Also, my digital camera and I are in a love/hate relationship right now, and I'm not sure this trip tipped it back to love, if you know what I mean.

There are a few snaps on my instagram if you're the kind of wedding fanatic who want to see that stuff, like I am. It was beautiful, Abbi made a gorgeous bride, and yes, I totally cried. 

blog talk!

Friday, September 19, 2014

This picture doesn't have anything to do with anything But it's sort of boring and straightforward, just like this post. 

Hey guys! Time for me to talk about this blog, in a blog post. Yes. Best post ever. 

So, some new things: 

I added a more in depth about page. You can find it by clicking on the little circle with the words "about me" (Go figure.) If you've been reading this blog since the olden days, you probably already know all the stuff in there. If not, you can go and learn some more things like: where I grew up, and what exactly my degree is in. Boring about me ahoy! If anyone wants to write me an about in third person, I will give you a cookie. 

I also added a little list on the side of some random/favorite old blog posts. Things tend to get lost in the archives, and while I'm not a craft or food blog, and have no need to fancy categorized archives, you might miss out on some things that are lost to the ages. So. I will be switching those out from time to time. They're good for a quick read.

The website button is gone because I will be rebuilding my website. I just need to do some thinking about what I actually want it to be. Truth be told, this blog is a more active space for me. The website feels kind of stagnant. I know ultimately I would want them connected, but I just can't fathom moving to a different platform when I've put so much work into this space. If anyone has thoughts about that, or about website/blog dynamics in general (especially for artists), share them below! Or send me an email! Or quietly think about it and don't tell me anything! (No, not that one.)


Ultimately, this blog is a place for me. But you guys read it too, and so I feel compelled to ask, is there anything you wish I wrote about more? Or posted more photos of? Or anything? Who knows, maybe the very thing I've been debating about posting is the very thing you've been wishing you were reading. 

good enough (a contradictory list of facts)

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

(This is Melina, looking gorgeous as HELL and staring straight into the camera.)

Lets have a moment to consider a very contradictory list of facts: 

No.1 You are good enough. (I am good enough.)
No.2 You can push yourself further. (I can push myself further.)

How do those things have any business being on a list of facts together? I don't know, but they do. They're both true, and balancing them, walking the tightrope between them, is a learning process. The sort of learning process I'm not quite sure I'll ever learn. 

In a letter to a friend, I talked about knowing I could work harder. Which is true. I know I could work harder. I know I could push myself further, be more passionate, make more time for my passions, build the life I want to have. I also know that I'm good enough. That me, just being here, in this ordinary life is enough. (At least, I know that on the days when Self-Doubt and I have broken up. Some days Self-Doubt and I are BFF's and then I start to doubt fact No.1. But that's another blog post entirely.) 

I have no idea how those two things fit together. 

Literally no idea. 

I hope you guys know what I'm talking about. And if you don't know how those things fit together either, it's okay. And if you do know how they fit together, please tell me. 


Tuesday, September 16, 2014

So I was looking through the archives, as per usual, and I just got this overwhelming feeling. And it was: Oh my gosh, I am so grateful to have all these years and thoughts and pictures and struggles and happinesses documented here. 

I am so grateful for that. 

And then I got to thinking, have I ever posted a blog with the word "gosh"? As per usual, I typed it into the trusty search box. (The search box is my most favorite of blog features. You have no idea how often I search for things using the search box on my very own blog.)

The results? 0 entries. Not once in five years have I typed the word gosh. 

Well. Now I have.


(Also ps. this is a picture from my recent trip to Colorado. You'd think I would choose a better, more poetic time to unveil it. But whatever, I'm excited about it. So here it is.)  

lines and light and notebooks, and 'casual language'

Friday, September 12, 2014

Maybe this statement isn't true, but I think it's been a while since I made an image and enjoyed the pure act of making it and looking at it. I don't know why the two images above broke that illusion. They're just little scenes shot with my phone, but I realized I was spending a while just looking at them, and that I really liked them, and then I remembered. Oh yeah. I'm a photographer.

A lot of things are shifting around for me, some things clicking into place and other things tying into knots, and even more things making my stomach hurt.

Here's the thing. I've kept a lot of notebooks over the years. First, in school, they were for taking notes and making lists and ideation and project brainstorming. Also I mixed journaling in there. And doodling. Then afterwards they were for making lists and for writing short stories (like, really short you guys, like, under 500 words short) and for making blog plans and writing posts and things.

Every time a big change in my life was happening, I felt this need to start a new notebook. Like, starting a new notebook would be the thing. You know, the thing. But the thing was, I never actually needed a new notebook. I always had like, twenty pages left in my old one or whatever. Sometimes I bought a new one anyway. Sometimes I sucked it up and finished the old one.

Right now, my life feels like it's veering off into a new direction. It feels like a new start. It's partly the time of year, this fresh cool fall air and cloud cover every morning. It's partly because it's been two years since the beginning of my last year of school, and I'm finally feeling okay about that. It's partly because Steele and I signed a lease renewal and are staying put. It's partly because of some job things that I can't talk about yet but might be able to talk about later. (Don't get too excited, it's not fancy announcement times, it's just normal job shuffling things.) Okay, it's a lot because of that. Also Steele and I are attending a wedding next weekend. A wedding! On our own! It sounds so couple-y and grown up! It sounds so post-college.


My life is shifting. We covered that. And so, it's like, new notebook time. Metaphorically, of course. And then I realized. I realized I was on the last page of my old notebook. The last page. Seriously, my notebook-life and my real-life are lining up, for once.

And you guys, it feels magical.

Has anyone else experienced this phenomenon?

over & under

Monday, September 8, 2014

A few images from the last weekend Steele & I spent together before I started my weekend job. Just a few Portland!Now scenes for everyone's Monday night. (Or Tuesday morning, lets be real...) (And these are shot with the trusty Pentax. And everyone always likes to get all sophisticated and ask what type of film I use, and 99% of the time it's Kodak GOLD. Because, Ebay.) 

Right! Less talking, more photo-ing. 

Okay just a bit more talking. I just showed this to Steele and we had a little convo: 

Me: What should I title this blog post? Look! It has pictures of you!
Him: (Face of confusion.)
Me: Are you thinking of the title or looking at the pictures?
Him: Thinking of the title. How about "Over and under" 
Me: But there's nothing from under...
Him: Well we had to go under a bridge... 

(And yes, that last one does have an entire galaxy of dust on it. And yes, I do love it.) 

hi September

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Yesterday I went to target and walked out with (among other things) a pair of luxury pajama pants. I think there's something to be said for nice loungewear. Even thought it's 1 pm, and I technically never  got dressed, I feel pretty fancy

I know this space has been (really) quiet the past weeks. Sorry guys! My little brother was in town, which was so so nice. We kind of just hung around the house, I went to work, we ate out and cooked in and had dessert every night. And also went to the river. And watched How I Met Your Mother. (I've never watched any of it until now.) (That seems like a relevant note that needed to be noted.) 

So, now that he's back at school working really really hard, Steele and I are settling back into our routine. This is the second year the fall has come around and we haven't been heading to school. I feel so much more grounded and sane this time around. Even without school though, the changing of the seasons still makes it feel like a fresh start. We've been cleaning like crazy, forming better eating habits (We're going dairy free for the foreseeable future), I've been diving into a new job (in addition to Newspace, more on this later.) and working on writing more, and doing art. (More on that below!)

I'm ready for fall. I'm not ready for it to get dark at 5pm, but I'm ready to be at home and settle into winter. We signed a new lease on our apartment, so we're going to be here for sure for another year, which is a nice feeling. (And it means I get to continue obsessing over how to make our bathroom nicer.) 

So! Art! Writing! Life! Yes! I have fallen into a seriously bad habit of not journaling. At all. Writing makes me feel more like myself. Without it I fall into bad habits of obsessing over something totally meaningless and sort of forgetting what I want my life to be. So, I've been making it a habit to write a little bit at the end of each night and I already feel better. I also have some pen pals that I've been seriously neglecting even though they send me the best letters ever. (Hi Stephanie!) Here's to fall intentions and rituals. 

I also have a bunch of film to post and edit and work on. And I'm still (very slowly) working on a new body of work. (Two, really. Or maybe three. Who knows.) 

Anyways. This is all getting rather rambly. If you made it this far, yay! As a reward, more pictures!