Falling (Way) Behind

DSC07149CSMWalkerville, Montana

Boy, does time slip by.  Or perhaps I give myself more to do than life’s time allows.  I am behind on this.  So time for some catching up – it’s been 6 months since my last post here.  Which, as it happens, doesn’t mean I haven’t been (partially) working on this project.  Tick off some things:

+   Shot a 144 minute “segment” for Plain Songs Lake Bowman.

+   Bought a new vehicle for wandering the USA, a ’96 Ford Aerostar Van, with 118K on it; and have rigged it for  work/camping/living.

+   Applied, dice-roll #4, once again, for a Radcliffe Fellowship (find out in March 2015 if….)

+   Met Daniel Levine, over the summer, as he dropped by enroute back from the West Coast, following his travels with Brian Spellman shooting for (part of) their work on this.  Had a great time.  Curious to see their material (30+ hours they tell me).

+   And finally am on the road, starting two weeks ago, shooting for the film, slowly settling into a work-groove appropriate for it – the last days visiting Gene Youngblood, with whom shot a 60 minute sequence for one of the elements of Plain Songs.

DSC08221 crp smAt Gene and Jane Youngblood’s just outside Santa Fe

Foto: thnx Jane Youngblood

Those are the overt things.  Naturally my brain has been a stew of thoughts and feelings, tentative probes of figuring out how to articulate a mass of complex and often contradictory things, into some semblance of coherence.  The only thing clear to me now is that instead of the 12 or so hour length I thought this might become, it will clearly be far longer.  I suspect the landscape part(s) will be that long!

Travels so far:  Butte to Missoula, stop with Swain Wolfe; then on to Salt Lake, with a visit to Spiral Jetty, then through Navajo lands, Monument Valley, down to Phoenix/Tempe, and wanderingly to Santa Fe.  Coming up 10 days of wandering the New Mexico SW before heading up to Lincoln, NE., and to Chicago.

DSC07177CSMMonida Pass, MontanaDSC07183CSMSalmon River, IdahoDSC07221Clouds over Mt Borah, IdahoDSC07297jetty2smSpiral Jetty, nighttime, Salt LakeDSC07316 crp SMSpiral Jetty (Robert Smithson)DSC07361New tomato facility, southern UtahDSC07473 SMCanyon wall, Capitol Reef National ParkDSC07573 SMMonument Valley, UtahDSC07579 SM

DSC07776 SMPetrified Forest National Monument, ArizonaDSC07844 CSMCanyon du Chelly, ArizonaDSC07880

Observing myself – as occurred long ago, when out with Alenka Pavlin in 1985-7, shooting for Plain Talk & Common Sense (uncommon senses) – I find myself once again unwilling/unable/resistant to taking shots of the quotidian squalor of urban, suburban or strip-city America.  It is not a squalor of material poverty (though that exists as well), but a grotesque spiritual and cultural poverty expressed in the numbing “poetry” of Big Box corporate stores, a repetitious litany of brand names, looped it seems endlessly across and through the urban landscape:

McDonalds Wall-Mart Target Safeway Bed Bath & Beyond Staples Burger King Walgreens AutoZone Albertsons Menards Best Buy Cabelas Toys “r” Us Lowe’s Hobby Lobby Crate & Barrel Home Depot Office Max CostCo Fred Meyer Pier One Trader Joe’s Famous Footwear Kohl’s Fred Meyer Family Dollar La-Z-Boy Marshalls KMart PetCo JCPenney Taco Bell

Attached to these names are bloated vast warehouse spaces fronted with exploded facades hinting at “classical” architecture; within lies a vast array of things (largely made in China or SE Asia), the constant thrum of music, dancing lights, all intended to beguile the visitor and prompt partaking in the largest part of the Nation’s GDP: consumerism, otherwise known as “debt,” which is constantly sold to you by our banking business, ever ready to offer you a dazzling new credit card with perks and golden holograms, free deals and all…  for a little percentage to be compounded as you sink into the morass of debt.  Or, as in my case, to deny you “credit-worthiness” for not participating in this grand charade.  In the last year I was denied a rental car as inside the system information revealed I never run up debt, and hence the nimble pickpocket fingers of the financial industry fail to ram me for “interest,” ergo no rental car with my debit card. “Pay to Play.”

Naturally any sane view of an economy in which 70% of our glorious GDP (Gross Domestic Product) is consumerism would send up red alarm flags in a nano-second.  It means that we spend 70% and in some manner or another “make” something of the other 30%.  Obviously an unsustainable model, the realities of which we are only now realizing: the present “Great Recession” is essentially an expression of the fact that you can’t live on debt indefinitely.  The Piper is demanding to be Paid.   So jobs dematerialize, banks demand payment for mortgages, “interest” multiplies, and the system screws itself.   That is the landscape I see as the endless shopping malls, all virtually indistinguishable from one another, stamped with the same names, selling the same things, to a public largely pleased to turn themselves into billboards for “their” brands.  Writing from Santa Fe, a once lovely place now transformed into yet another American West strip-city, neon signs dancing to the horizon with that same litany of names, one sees that our “public” is exactly as the Sage of Baltimore (the likes of which has been long absent from our culture) said:

“Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.”  H.L. Mencken
DSC08187Downtown Santa Fe, window
DSC08196 sm.
And so, once again, I feel myself inwardly flummoxed, driven schizo by the contradictory impulses visible before my eyes:  the grandeur of the landscape, the frequent individual generosity and kindness of plain people, juxtaposed to the lethal construct of our society, and the invisible and visible demands that we participate in it.  Here in Santa Fe, with Gene and Jane Youngblood, we’ve had a good conversation about this, out on the rapidly suburbanizing flanks of the city where it is either silent, or given a wind-shift, one hears the vehicular rumble of I-25 a few miles to the south.
DSC08003By Window Rock, Arizona
DSC07898 CSMCanyon du Chelly
DSC07963Sandstone cliffs, Canyon du Chelly
DSC07977Near Navajo, NM
DSC07980Approaching Gallup, NM
DSC08010 SMRain, outside Window Rock, AZ
DSC08201 bwcc smGene & Jane

One of the driving forces and pleasures of this self-appointed “job” I have given myself is meeting good and interesting people, and re-seeing many I have not seen for some time.  Thanks Jane and Gene for the place to put my head, the conversation you filled it with, and the sometimes needed reminder that the world is full of kind people.  Thanks.

Below, images from Bowman Lake, which joins Canyon as one of the landscape films which will be a major part of Plain Songs.