Memorial

072915

Dangerous driving, illustrated by this roadside memorial.

For many years, I photographed roadside memorials (like this one) as part of an ongoing project,* but it had been almost a decade since I’d stopped at one. I don’t know why this one captured my attention enough to make two u-turns to get to it, but it did. And so it was that there, in the heat and the prickly weeds and serenaded by locusts, I examined the relics of a life that ended where I stood.

Ward County, Texas
photographed 7.12.2015

* I think “ongoing project” sounds a lot better than “unfinished project.”

Posted on July 29, 2015, in Photography and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. Seems the shirts add added sadness,yet love, to this scene.

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  2. I agree that ongoing project is the better name….

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  3. I, too, have a number of photographs of roadside memorials. I had some vague notion of a “project”, but realized I couldn’t imagine a way to develope that project into some logical end product. Was I going to print and then display? If so, who was my intended audience? What sort of statement was I trying to make?

    On my recent cross country drive I lost count of the memorial sites I passed (driving the rv meant I couldn’t stop), and yet the instances I was able to read names stays with me. All the names were familiar to me, as though I might have known these people. Many of the memorials left me with the impression that those who died were young people, teenagers, just out for a good time.

    Ultimately, I gave the “project” up. I just couldn’t think of a way to move it forward that didn’t seem as though I was using someone else’s pain for my own agenda, and an unclear agenda at that. I have a similar feeling about photographs of the poor, the homeless street dwellers, winos and beggars. Why do we tthink it’s okay to use their plight for our “art”? It has the same effect on me as trphoy hunters who are out to bag the big ones, only in this case, it’s photographs of the most disadvantaged, the worse off the person appears the “better” the image.

    There was a time when photographers like Lewis Hine, and Jacob Riis used the new medium of photography to reveal something that had gone unnoticed, as a vehicle of social reform. It worked, then, because it was novel, but how many photographers today can claim they are trying to call attention to a societal situation that no one knows about? (There are exceptions of course, Sebastian Saldago, comes to mind).

    Foregive me if this comes across as a criticism of your motives. I’ve read enough of your posts to know better of you than that. It’s just that the topic was fresh on my mind, and one thing leads to another.

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    • Steven – thank you for such a thoughtful comment; it deserves an equally thoughtful response but I’m on the road just now, and thoughtful responses are hard to manage. But I will respond when I’m back home.

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    • I’m back from traveling, and here’s my promised response:

      I completely agree with what you said about photos of street people and etc. Using someone’s plight seems exploitative, to me: other photographers make different decisions. I don’t even photograph run-down houses if it looks like someone still lives there, because it just doesn’t seem right to me and I don’t want to ever give the impression that I am amused by other people’s living situations or arrangements. One of my various artistic struggles is that a lot of what I do (driving around with a nice camera, taking photos of old stuff, then posting them on a blog) seems pretty self-indulgent – I fight that particular demon often.

      My attraction to roadside crosses goes back to a very elaborate roadside memorial I saw as an adolescent on a family trip to Mexico. I was a sheltered, Methodist kid, and the memorial was mysterious and exotic to me. It was a grotto, with candles and crucifixes and candle smoke. Decades later, the idea of photographing roadside crosses was an idea that just WOULDN’T go away; and I gave it many opportunities to leave! So when I decided that the only thing to do was to get busy making photos, I made rules for myself. I never touched anything, or moved anything (even if the photo’s composition suffered as a result). I was always quiet and reflective while I was on the site, like I would be in a church. I hoped that my images would convey the respectful nature of my visits to the sites.

      I didn’t have any idea where the photos would lead me; they were just something I HAD to do. After a few years, a priest friend of mine said he always felt that the crosses/memorials marked the place where someone’s spirit had left, and then he was gracious enough to let me use “Where the Spirit Left” as the title of my project. At one time, it was a photography-only project, then it was going to be a photograph paired with a poem. And then, it changed again, into an even more convoluted essay/poetry/photography project. (Because any one of those things alone was hard to pitch to a publisher, so why not go all in and make it even more impossible.) I’ve had a couple of shows of the images, but the other part has languished for several years.

      I completely understand your hesitation about using someone else’s pain for your own agenda, and gave that a lot of thought, too. But what helped me through that part of the process was having people tell me they never noticed the crosses beside the road before they saw my images, or having people contact me to tell me about ones they’d seen. The images seemed to strike an emotional cord in a way that I had hoped they would, but was afraid to count on.

      Once, when I was in the poem/photograph part of the project, I went to a lodge at a remote state park in far West Texas. As I worked, I’d tape the photo and its poem on my wall. One day, a member of housekeeping staff knocked on my door, and said, “Uh…we were wondering…what are you working on?” She and I and several other housekeepers had a nice chat about it; they were familiar with some of the crosses I’d photographed, and told me about others in the area. It doesn’t sound like much when I write it down, but it was quite profound.

      Because I’m sort of stuck out here in Texas on my own, trying to figure out how to be a photographer, I don’t know a lot about other photographers. So, thanks for the introduction to Sebastian Saldago’s work. He does some startling things with light, and his photos of people are very emotional.

      Thanks, too, for saying “I’ve read enough of your posts to know better of you than that.”

      (Here’s the only poem/photo combination that I am happy with – and the poem is actually almost a word-for-word version of what a woman who lived near the cross told me – https://miscandsoforth.wordpress.com/2012/03/03/the-apparition-speaks/.)

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