by Joy Paley
Nevada Desert Temple with Labyrinth
We had just graduated college, and my good friend Rebecca and I decided to take a camping trip, to clear school out of our head and veins. I was depressed and trying to shake persistent thoughts of my first boyfriend and love, who had accepted a career opportunity in the east. We packed my car, a beat-up ’84 Volkswagen Jetta, with milk crates full of food, firewood, and wine. All my stuff was in storage, school was behind us, and we set out across the vast expanse of the American Southwest.“Don’t be so friggin’ pensive,” Becca said to me, as I guided the car on the Interstate. “You’re giving yourself wrinkles, which you will then feel the need to medicate with some corporate-created wrinkle cream that they test by rubbing in the eyes of rabbits.”
Becca had recently shaved her head as a feminist statement, and she liked to kid me about not rebelling enough. She knew I had turned into a blubbering mess after Travis left, and was trying to distract me by being ridiculous.
Our first night, we ran out of gas while Becca was driving, and ended up camping by the side of the highway in a Sierra Nevada mountain town. I made a fire, and we realized that we’d forgotten a wine bottle opener. I pushed the cork down into the bottle with a long stick.
“To freedom” I said, raising my metal camping cup of $3 wine in the air, not believing myself, but making the gesture anyway.
We made our way through Arizona. I couldn’t keep my awe concealed at the grand vistas, which Becca was already sick of. She had grown up in southern California, with the desert stretching out beyond her backyard. My hometown was in the swamps of rural Florida, where alligators climbed into people’s swimming pools to cool off. I had never seen anything so alien, yet so majestic.
“Goddamn, that’s amazing. It’s like Mars,” I said, over and over, in various permutations.
“You’d think you were seeing something better than a desiccated, lifeless heat-tundra.” Becca laughed, holding her hand out of the car window against the rushing air.
We spent the night outside of Las Vegas, at a pagan temple that Becca had somehow heard about. The only person within miles was a middle-aged woman who took care of the place, who lived in a single-wide trailer on the grounds. She welcomed us, invited us to camp and make a fire in the temple.
“Make sure you walk the labyrinth before you leave.”
Being an uncultured, non-religious person, I had to ask Becca what a labyrinth even was.
“It’s a maze, where you contemplate your problems. You consider how roundabout your life path is.”
I woke up the next day, to the amazingly clear desert sun. I walked the grounds before Becca even stirred, snuggled with her sleeping bag pulled over her head. I looked at the sky criss-crossed with the trails of jets, amazingly blue. Three days before I had never even considered something so big and grand and different from anything I had ever known. I kicked a few pebbles lining the labyrinth, not really feeling better, but realizing how many things I still had to see and do.
Joy Paley is a guest blogger for Pounding the Pavement and a writer on the subject of vocational schools for the Guide to Career Education.
Interview with Michael A Shapiro-
I recently interviewed photographer Michael A Shapiro. He was kind enough to share some of his thoughts with me- please see our interview, below. I've also selected several of his photographs to inspire and delight you. If it sparks a story or a poem, please get in touch and share your work. You can see more of Michael's photographs, and get updates on current projects at http://www.michaelashapiro.com/.
Connorsville, Indiana, 2002
Bull Rider Before Ride
Photograph by Michael A Shapiro
Photograph by Michael A Shapiro
An Interview with Photographer Michael A Shapiro
Q: What is your greatest source of inspiration?
A: Elements inspire me – shape, light, color, attitude (by which I mean stance and gesture), and juxtaposition - and personal and social conditions. I care a great deal about social justice, and digging into that realm with a camera to expose the continuing prevalence of neglect and disenfranchisement in our culture remains a considerable source of inspiration.
Q: Please tell our readers what intrigues you most about each photo, or why you decided to photograph these particular subjects.
A: I guess the reasons are different in each case. Both the Inuit and the Rodeo series are about fringe cultures, and I seem to be attracted to fringe cultures. They are smaller and easier for me to handle than the vast mainstream with its myriad vague and confusing rules. Paris, though, is a different story. Paris is so full of photographic history, it was like a magnet – come shoot with Atget, Kertesz, and Bresson. In fact, I have since seen Atget photographs from some of the exact same spots. I think it is part of the history that you work yourself through to get to the next step.
Q: Which photographers/artists inform your work?
A: So many, and not necessarily for their photographs but for their attitudes and what they say about photography. I respond to their ideas and motivation more than to the work itself, though I certainly learn from the work. Also, keep in mind that I am quite eclectic in both my work and my taste, so in no particular order: Eugene Smith made a photograph on a fishing boat in Minamata that I love. I remember the quality of the photo more than the details, but the composition and contrast are incredible. I hope someday to make a photograph with that same degree of strength. I like to listen to or read Jay Maisel talking about his outlook on photography. I am taken with Friedlander’s perseverance and find him to be a source of motivation and inspiration.
Lately, I’ve been looking a lot at other portrait photographers, Richard Avedon, Steve McCurry, and Diane Arbus. People will think that’s a strange combination, and maybe it is, but as a photographer or painter or songwriter, you want ideas, information, and inspiration, not influence.
Q: What's the best professional advice you've ever received? Care to pass on some of your own words of wisdom?
A: The two best pieces of advice have been, “Keep at it,” and “Be an Heir.”
Q: What's next for you, Mr. Shapiro? Any exciting new projects you’d like to share?
A: I have a new book coming out, American Fair. It’s finished and has gone through several edits, and I’m currently waiting for another photographer to do an edit. I’m working on a series called, Windows. You can find it on my website. That’s the series I’ll be concentrating on for awhile. In addition, I’ve stepped up the number of portraits of people sleeping in homeless shelters and on the street.
Inuit Woman Playing Traditional Dice Game
Photograph by Michael A Shapiro
Michael A Shapiro is a documentary photographer, based in Minneapolis. He has been a working artist since 1972 and has been engaged exclusively with photography for the last ten years.
He got his first camera, an Argus C3 for his eighth birthday and began shooting industrial and event work four years later, often with a twin lens reflex or 4x4 view camera. After a small weekly newspaper for which he worked folded in 1973, he sold his cameras and, until 1999, pursued careers in music and higher education.
Since l999, Michael A Shapiro has been a full time photographer concentrating on documentary and fine art work. He worked on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota over a six-year period, intermixed with three trips to the Arctic to photograph in two Inuit villages and a short relocation to Paris.
In 2003, he rented an apartment in Paris and photographed people on the streets and in cafés. Several of his ongoing projects, Cafes and Juxtaposed, were started during this period. The same year, Shapiro completed a project on rodeo cowboys, behind the chutes. His Paris photographs have been published in a limited edition book, Paris: Photographs by Michael A Shapiro. His current projects include Windows, Eyes to the World; Skylight of Man; and Musicians.
Shapiro exhibits in galleries and museums. His work can be seen online at www.michaelashapiro.com. Prints and books can be ordered directly from the artist.
At La Palette
Photograph by Michael A Shapiro
New Work by Hank Kellner
Hank Kellner, who features my work on his blog, English Education, is doing a ten-part article series for my blogs. Previously published at Creativity Portal, the following articles on using photos to inspire writing are designed to get your pen moving.
Using Photography To Inspire Writing
by Hank Kellner
If you Google the phrase “photographs and writing,” you’ll discover an astounding 23,400,000 entries for that topic. That’s enough to keep you busy for the rest of your life and beyond—if that were possible.
But 23,400,000 entries are just a few drops in a teacup when they’re compared to the mind-boggling 77,100,000 entries Google cites when you enter “photography and writing” instead of “photographs and writing.”
Obviously, I couldn’t sample more than just a few of the websites cited in Google, but I did find one, The Library of Congress Learning Page, that’s especially helpful to anyone who’s interested in using photographs to inspire writing.
According to the unnamed author of this “Learning Page” from the Library of Congress, some photographs can help to launch “projects that will develop visual literacy and creative writing skills,” while others “lend themselves to expository writing.”
In the section of the article that deals with creative writing, the author presents a photograph of five students who are on a field trip, directs the reader to select one of the students shown in the photographs, and then asks such questions as: (1) How old is the student? (2) Has the person you chose been on an adventure like this before? (3) What unexpected events occur on the trip? (4) Are friends along on the trip? (5) Is there someone in the group the student dislikes?
In the expository section of the article, the author presents a simple, uncluttered photograph of a sand dune and points out that “…in writing about a sand dune, an essay might include the definition of a dune, an account of where dunes exist in the world, the kinds of animals and plants that live among the dunes, and an assessment of the human impact on sand dunes.”
Every Photograph Tells a Story
Today, almost everyone owns a digital camera. Except for a few diehards, gone are the days when people waited anxiously for rolls of film to be developed and prints to be made. Now, as if by magic, images appear instantly to be downloaded, stored on hard discs, and printed at the drop of a sombrero.
This means that many people probably have collections of hundreds, if not thousands, of digital images that can trigger writing. Consider these two photos, for example. They could easily trigger any number of questions designed to inspire writing. For example: (1) What were the conditions under which the photographer created the photos? (2) What were the reasons for creating the photos? (3) What was happening while the photographer snapped the photos? (4) In what way are the people in the photographs related? Indeed, the number of questions you can ask is limited only by your imagination.
This photo is a good example of a photo that reveals little but says a lot. Almost in silhouette, a uniformed police officer wearing a helmet stands near a display window. Part of a shadow appears behind the officer.
A headless mannequin clothed in white stands framed in the window to the officer’s left.
Perhaps a viewer will want to discuss the contrasts between the officer and the mannequin; the similarities between the positions in which the two are presented; and the helmeted officer as opposed to the headless mannequin. Or maybe he or she will want to create narratives featuring the two figures. For example, what would happen if the headless mannequin somehow morphed into a living person? How would the officer respond to such a startling event?
Photographs that feature people involved in some form of activity always elicit interesting responses that inspire writing. In this photograph, a woman leans forward at what appears to be the shore of a lake or river as she trains her camera on something or someone we cannot see. On each side of the frame, several canoes rest on the shore.
Why is she standing alone in this scene? What does it feel like to wait for someone who is late? What kind of a family does this woman have? What would you say to her if you saw her standing where she is? How would she respond? Why does she appear to be unhappy? Does she remind you of anyone you know? The list of possibilities is endless.
Your responses to these questions can easily inspire you to write short stories, longer works, memoirs, and even poems. Here’s one poem that was inspired by this photo.
What are you thinking of
As you stand, unsmiling,
Alone on a deserted street?
A moment when your world
Was bright and cheerful
And you didn’t have to stand
Alone on a deserted street.
Even before digital cameras and cell phones made capturing images of children easier than it’s ever been, almost everyone on the planet has at least a dozen kiddie photos. Without expending too much effort, you can use almost any photo of a youngster to give you ideas for writing.
One thing you can do is to think of key words associated with a photo. When you do, you’ll find that the words trigger a multitude of fresh ideas.
Almost any words will do. Here are several that could accompany this photo. (1) Happy (2) Boyhood (3) Striped Shirt (4) Sneaker. As long as you’re willing to use your creativity and imagination, any one or more of the words associated with the photo will initiate responses that will lead to others.
Some writers like to use the time-honored question/answer technique to spark their writing. A few examples are (1) Who is the child? (2) What is his/her name? (3) What is the subject’s family like? (4) How old is the subject? (5) What is he or she feeling? There’s no limit to either the questions you can ask or the responses you will generate.
Often maligned but never out of sight, visual images surround and captivate us without letup. Show a photograph to a child, and the youngster will point to it, trace its image, and respond with a variety of emotions. Show another to an adult, and you get a frown, a smile, or a gesture—rarely will you draw a blank. Show a photograph, or a series of photographs, to just about anyone, and you’ll generate more responses than you can handle.
Copyright © 2010 by Hank Kellner
Beyond the Window
I cannot see beyond the curtain
That cloaks my window.
But if I could, what would I see?
A field of wheat? A city street?
A cloudless sky? Cars rushing by?
I cannot see beyond the curtain
That cloaks my window
Unless I push aside the flimsy cloth
And look beyond the glass.
-by Elizabeth Guybo
Do you remember a book titled "Reflections on a Gift of Watermelon Pickle"? First published in 1966, it featured a collection of black and white photos accompanied by poems. Almost immediately, Reflections became popular with teachers of English who found that they could use the photos in the book as a source of inspiration for their high school and junior high school students. Incidentally, the book went through many printings and is still available on the Internet.
Today, many teachers still use photos to encourage not only teenagers, but also adults to create both poetry and prose. Shown here is a poem written by a senior citizen at a workshop I conducted at the Center for Creative Retirement, University of North Carolina, Asheville. Does the photo inspire you? What do you see in the combination of light and shadows? What is the mood of the photo? What might you discover if you could “…see beyond the curtain”?
If you find inspiration in this photo, and if it helps you write either a poem or a paragraph, I’d love to hear from you at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By the way, you’ll find more of my photos posted at Photobucket. Feel free to browse. And do visit my blog at English Education for even more photos and inspiration. Finally, go to the National Writing Project at National Writing Project to read more about using photographs to inspire writing.
Hank Kellner is a Korean War veteran and the author of Write What You See: 99 Photos to Inspire Writing. His series of articles on using photos to inspire writing was published previously by Creativity Portal.
Photographic Inspiration by Cynthia Staples, of Words and Images by Cynthia. I recently interviewed her for my exclusive Creativity Portal series, "Creating a Fun, Fabulous Career in the Arts." It was so much fun getting to know each other we've decided to stay in touch and swap guest blogs! I'll keep you posted...in the meantime, here is a photograph to inspire your pen!
Photograph by Molly Anderson - Childers