Self portraits of Ruby for her book of Poetry.
You walk along a crumbling cement dock at sunrise. The water ripples. And the blue and orange color of the boats almost prevents you from noticing the slender body of a boy climbing between them.
Or you walk along a bay and food wrappers blanket the ground in a layer of red, blue, yellow, and green plastic. You look up to see a fifteen-foot pile of gravel and two young children skating down the side similar to how you slid down the gravel banks of logging roads in your childhood.
There is a wild beauty in life that can catch in your throat with its strength before exploding to awe.
And there is something so glorious about these moments. All you can do is blindly photograph and write, praying that in some way you can freeze that moment, not only on paper or computer, but in your life so that others can at least glimpse that wild beauty for a moment.
I wake up groggily each morning and pull on jeans and a t-shirt. Sometimes I brush my teeth. I try to anyway. I grab my jacket, my keys, and a book and rush out the door to catch bus number 9. I can see my breath as it briefly catches, suspended, yet mobile, in the light from a passing car. Breathe in. Breathe out.
I know when I travel, people expect to hear about the variety of cultures, peoples, and landscapes, and the claim “I see life differently now” upon my return. Despite the reality of variety and changed perspective, I do not desire to deny their existence. I have found the similarities I see in others and myself as I travel the most striking.
In Iceland, I realized that grass is still grass, skin is still skin, and sheep are still sheep. In the Philippines, I came to the similar discovery that breath is still breath, shadows are still shadows, and people are still people. I find myself photographing the same things in the Philippines that I would anywhere. Yes, more people are impoverished and that is a hardship that should not be ignored, but people smiled, men got hair-cuts, and high-schoolers played pick-up basketball. I found myself photographing the off-guard moments of children and adults at work and at play, suspending them, like my breath, into a moment of focus.
When we look at an image, the image is not the subject it depicts, just as surrealist artist Rene Magritte’s “pipe” is not a pipe. What we see creates an entirely new sensation. Examining an image can be like tracing dragons and ships in the clouds. The experience of climbing a mountain can be like studying a picture. From up there, we read the world as visual poetry created by the lines and shapes of unidentified objects. Our focus is redirected. As we face significant altitude, we also rediscover our acquaintance with the earth and air that feeds us. The heightened perspective awakens a grounding humbleness we rarely feel elsewhere.
A few months ago, I visited the Banaue Rice Terraces in the Philippines with a group of other photographers. Rain clouds hugged the mountains as sweat clung to our faces. We lingered to snap images and paused to gaze toward the miles of green, before our guide ushered us on until we reached Tappiya Falls.
The mountains that stretched before us were make-believe. We were in a children’s adventure story. We were like birds, looking down at our prey, watching our young, and searching for food. The mountains, the gleaners, and the specks of rooftops were splashes of yellow, green, and red. The land became geometry and color. Rocks transformed into fascinating objects as we saw them in the grander scheme of a mountainside, and distant gleaners became silent mobile shapes that we observed without hindrance.
Though the mountains visually distanced our perceptions, our intimacy with the world deepened. We grew aware of the land and air as living presences. The sun snatched away the water from our damp clothes. From a distance, the gleaners’ smiles and henley t-shirts looked the same as the ones we wore. The patterns within a single leaf and the layers composing a hillside melded together in tangible green. The intricacy of the details within the magnitude of the mountains held significance. Our bodies were a part of the Banaue Rice Terraces, just as the Banaue Rice Terraces are part of the Philippines, just as the Philippines are part of the same Earth as our home, thousands of miles away.
Susan Sontag noted, “In teaching us a new visual code, photographs alter and enlarge our notions of what is worth looking at and what we have the right to observe.” As with photographs, mountains shift our assumed perspectives by giving us an aerial view of the world. We look upon the world with new eyes; eyes that observe what we commonly miss. Our souls are fed by its magnitude and our part in it.
Skaters at Skatechurch in Portland, OR.
Bodies are often categorized by their sexuality.
Though bodies are sexual, they are also composed of limbs used to move from one place to the next, of skin that guards internal organs from infection, of organs that digest nutrients and dispose of waste.
In Western society, because of sexualization of the body and moral values in relation to that, many are uncomfortable by the exposed nipple of a nearby mother or by the butt-cheeks of a woman at the beach. My hope is that we would be able to re-train our minds to view nipples, butts, vaginas, and penises as organs detached from the sexuality associated with them, just as we dissociate lips from the passion of a kiss and hands from the intimacy of a touch.
An evening of leaves harvested, foraged foods, and tea steamed by Johnny, an artisan chef at the Shed Project.
“Riding a wave… What’s amazing about it is that when you paddle out, you can feel the power in the ocean. The water moves all around you. When a wave passes, you feel so much energy; it’s electrifying.
Then you paddle into a wave. The moment you catch it, you feel the power pushing you forward. You stand up and drop down the face of the wave and turn the bottom of the board and you look back at the wave and it’s just a wall of moving water, and you harness the energy of the ocean as you travel back up the face, make a turn and drop down again.
Ocean mist sprays around you. The water is clear and catches the light of the sun. You see the colors of the reef pass below (by you). All that power you can feel in the wave gives you an adrenaline rush as you travel down the line.
And if it’s the right wave, it begins to barrel, throwing the water over your head. You become encapsulated in the wave and lost in the moment. You come out of the tube and launch off the lip, diving over the wave into the water.
You are ready to paddle out for the next one.
No wave is exactly the same. It’s beautiful. Each one is different and each one will carry you differently. It’s a connection between ocean and human as you and the water express yourselves together in one ride.
That’s what’s so great about surfing” a good friend explains as we talk about his next project.
As you run your hands and eyes along the surface of a board, you notice subtle differences.
Just as my friend describes no wave as ever the same, no board is exactly the same: the curves of its body and tail, the angle of the nose, the feel of the rails, the length, the colors and patterns, the textures of varnish and wax.
You watch as Zach rhythmically sands and then caresses the edges of the board that he shapes by hand. He glances up, wide-eyed and alert as he exclaims that shaping the rails is his favorite part. “That’s when it looks like a fuckin’ surfboard. All smooth and sexy.” I see how surfing shapes his and his housemates’ lives.
As a board maker and surfer, he lives for the wave and he lives for his art.
“Once we have this baby, everything will be okay. Nothing but our love is holding us together. The financial struggle brings us closer together.” I heard these words as I drove Harry home from work three weeks before he and his wife Kay bore their first son Jaxx Oliver. I first met Harry when I started working at an organic cafe in Portland. I admit, I was intimidated by him. It was not his plethora of tattoos or his loud swearing, but his genuine talent at pretty much everything he set his mind to that intimidated me. My hesitancy vanished rapidly as I bore witness to his willingness to help everyone, his patience with customers and coworkers, and his constant use of “bro” and “dude” to the point of contagion. His occasional mess-ups were reassuring in that they proved to me that he was, in fact, human.
The first time I visited Harry and Kay at their home, Kay had just given birth to baby Jaxx Oliver and Harry was recovering from appendix surgery. I was privileged to be one of the first friends to see Jaxx-Oliver. Kay, still cozied up in bed after her home-birth, welcomed me into their home with a kindness matching Harry’s. Astrix, their cat wound his way around my legs, mimicking the graciousness of his owners. All were in a state of bliss.
Since then, they have both experienced the exhaustion that comes with a newborn child along with the added hardship that financial deficit can bring on people. Financial deficit seems to be the plague of us twenty-somethings. As I photographed them, weary but cheerful, we talked. We talked about our dreams, stories of people whom we would like to mold our lives after. As we talked, Kay caressed Harry’s hands. “There is something about hands. They say something about a person.” I couldn't help but think how fitting it was that she paints and is fluent in American Sign Language.
As I left, Kay’s words, “We need a change” echoed in my mind. Isn’t that what the twenties is about? Change, discovery, and the struggles that come with our age. I wonder if the need for change really goes away. That desire, and sometimes simple necessity, is what moves us forward to grow and mature, to discover purposes for our lives. It is what we strive for in whatever small or big ways. There is a deep sense of joy in forming goals, accomplishing them, and making new ones. Maybe we just become more focused in the ways that we change as we grow older.
As I looked at Harry, Kay, and baby Jaxx, I see hope in change.
We humans need a change.
In Oahu I decided to hike and swim without a phone. An attempt to reclaim the tangible.