Entries in Great American Dream (2)


On Being 65

Those of you who know me have had to listen to me go on endlessly about how good my work has been to me this year. Most of that has been Precious Objects but the week at FotoFest in Houston and the installation of Every Place I Have Ever Lived at the Argus Museum in Ann Arbor all had their "Bright Moments". A handful of juried shows and even the occasional surprise pursuing new work and wrapping up one long term project (Costumes my collaboration with Cleveland Public Theater) also contributed. Ray Mc - The right image is the last in the project and the last of transparency film before switching to negatives What made the year so different was a maturing of my view of the place of these things. Was asked the other day whether I was going to do a sequel to Precious Objects. This is not a new question and my initial reaction is "been there, done that."  Part of being 65 is when someone hands you a question like that, you do not blurt out your initial reaction but are bit more respectful. Initially his follow up was about what he would pick which is what I like to call the "beginners" understanding of Precious Objects. The surprise came next as he went on to talk about the tragedy in Newtown, CT and what a great book I could make as a tribute to those kids.  This is no longer a "beginner". We are now talking about objects, photographs, exhibitions, books and art as political instruments. That is interesting to me. The fact that he now was able to see Precious Objects in that way was my reward for the day. More rewarding than anything I ever expected from my photography. That is pretty sweet.  Even better, he bought a book. 

There are a lot of issues with a project like that. First, as an artist, you have to be very aware of your role as an exploiter of tragedy. That is something you cannot escape. On fact, almost every photograph exploits at some level.  Newtown, because of its high profile also makes you vulnerable to others that might be exploiting the situation. It could get messy fast. In the end, the main reason I am not interested is that I am 65.  Certainly I care about kids being murdered in a school and have strong opinions about about violence and guns. As a hint, I do not think we should eliminate foreign aid to finance a machine gun nest in every middle school. That being said, it is not a core issue for me. At 65, my work has to be about things I really, really care about - community and neighborhood, the Great American Dream, music, people like my son who are different and a short list beyond that.

Being 65 means you don't have time to be cool any more. It also means you have been around long enough to understand that your sense of urgency may not be shared by those around you. Sucks to be them. Pretty sweet to be me right now.


The Great American Dream

Lustron home at Kansas City Kansas Community College from my current Lustron Stories project. Fabricated in 1948 in Columbus OH.While working on Every Place (I Have Ever Lived) - The Foreclosure Crisis in Twelve Neighborhoods, it was easy to see the problem as an attack on the "The Great American Dream."  We employ the term loosely, particularly during a political season.   It is useful to ask what that means. Some things certainly arguable.  Nevertheless, I would suggest that somewhere at its core is the idea of home ownership. It is impossible to overstate the damage that the foreclosure crisis has done to our belief that we all can, and should, aspire to owning our own home. It certainly shattered it for those that have lost their homes.  For those lucky enough to hold on, their homes worth perhaps 30% less than they were a few years ago, maybe less, may or may not have the equity they were counting on to cushion their retirement.  For those starting out, they no longer believe that it is safe to stretch your resources to buy that first home.  While we here a lot about the recession being driven by lack of housing starts, the actual damage is more spiritual than economic.  This will take a long time to fix. The good news might be the message in Precious Objects - that everything in life is cyclical and no matter how good or bad things appear, you are only a single event away from a very different path.
Speaking of Precious Objects, when the Maltz Museum picked their preliminary choices for the exhibit (that ended a week ago) tone was John K. John was a colleague from my first career. His piece talks about his career.  It represents work as more than a way to make money but a, rewarding, fulfilling aspect of a full life. Having that kind of work and career was another part of The Dream. Sadly, we put a stake in the heart of that idea many, many years ago.  John did spend his career at that company (I was gone after 25 years - they and I had had enough) and realized The Dream. His success is both a testament his talent, integrity and hard work and toThe Dream's value and truth. At least at the time. I felt John's portrait and statement did not make that clear and was pleasantly surprised when the people at the Museum chose it. When they later dropped the piece from their choices, I had them include it - the idea behind it is just too compelling to lose.