Beach Twilight 3, timed exposure, Venice Beach, California, early ‘80s

I was once a prodigious photographer. For about 20 years back in the mid-70s to mid-90s I never went anywhere without my camera. First a Minox 35 GL then a Canon AE-1. I loved the little Minox, but it was automatic focus, you see, and I wanted more control. So I got the Canon. I couldn’t afford a Nikon at the time, but the Canon was highly rated and I was happy with it. I experimented with a lot of things—infrared film, timed exposures, B&W portraits, etc., etc. I used film, I used slide film. Back then I could talk the talk, but like any skill long out of practice, I’ve forgotten much of it. But I was left with a mountain of film strips and slide boxes.

Once I switched to digital, first with a baby Nikon, then the lazy way with my cell phones, I became a snapper rather than a photographer. This may have been because with my old manual camera I had to stop and consider each shot. Frame it, decide what f-stop to try, experiment with focus, etc. This was true even of the Minox. The focus was automatic, but I was still responsible for the light settings, et al.

Or maybe I always took a bunch of crappy photos and once a roll or so got lucky. Maybe I was just pretending to be a photographer and was nothing but a delusion dilettante, a snapper, a poseur. (You know the Imposter Syndrome drill.)

But at least with digital I didn’t have to worry about mountains of film strips and slides. And I had ceased being a serious photographic aficionado at some point, mainly (maybe) due to the cost of buying and developing film, maybe for other reasons I no longer remember or want to admit. Photography back in the olden days was not an egalitarian pursuit. It cost money, and not just the initial expense for nice cameras. It was a money pit of film and developing and dark room supplies. (I did get marginally smarter at a certain point and started getting proof sheets rather than paying for everything to be developed, but still.) At least with good digital and good camera phones available many more people can pursue this art form.

I got an expensive high-quality flatbed scanner back in ’06 or thereabouts and started digitizing things. But scanning is a laborious process and I was not dedicated to getting through that mountain of film stuffs quickly. After a while, the scanner went belly up. I tried reloading the software and doing a bunch of other things but alas. It may have been a victim of a power surge, but I didn’t have the ambition to send it to the dealer so I’ll never know. The warranty had run out and I didn’t want to spend the money, frankly. Recently, I thought I really should do something about that film mountain so back in April I acquired a cheaper but still well-rated mini scanner and began the process again.

At first it was a giant surprise seeing what came up on the screen, a half-remembered country that had once been so important to me. But I quickly discovered (actually, I knew this but didn’t want to acknowledge the fact) that the quality of both film and slides degrade badly over time. I also discovered what an awful lot of really bad photos I had taken. True, I started scanning with a set of vacation slides I’d taken in the early 80s in Seattle and they may not have been representative of my overall skill. In my mind, though, I remembered getting some great stuff. And if I can ever find the prints I had made of those slides back then, maybe I did or maybe I didn’t. Particularly disappointing were the pix I took of Puget Sound with its heart-stopping green beauty. I remember being pleased with how they came out—even though no photo could really capture the totality of that beauty. But when the scans came up on the screen, everything was washed out or too dark and even photoshopping couldn’t redeem them. It was so discouraging I quit scanning in despair, feeling like an entire portion of my life had been nothing but a sham.

Yesterday, I chided myself into doing more scanning. “Either scan this stuff or throw it out.”* There was one picture in particular I wanted to find but who knew where the hell it was, which box or envelope. I had labeled many of them, but not all. I picked some unlabeled slide boxes at random, opened the first one, and there it was, right on top. And it hadn’t degraded!

Shadow Dragon, Santa Monica, California, early ‘80s (?)

Not a startlingly great shot but one I remembered fondly. One of those once in a roll lucky shots. One that let me know that I may have been mostly crap, but every once in a while I was slightly less crap. (Kind of like the old proverb, “Even a blind squirrel gets a nut once in a while.”)

I’m still looking for other remembered pictures, that lost horde of imagined gold, hoping the slides haven’t degraded too badly. Certain signature shots that loom large in my mind. They may turn out to be just as disappointing as those Seattle snaps, but one lives in hope.

*Please note: I have thrown away some of the crappy stuff, but find myself completely incapable of throwing out even the crappiest shots of any animal I have ever known and loved.

This is a corner of my writing desk. Show me yours?

I’ve been working on editing my mother’s memoirs for a while now, and I’m in the final stages, I do believe. Which means it’s time to replace my bracketed placeholders [insert that picture when you find it] with actual photos. My mother had a huge collection of snapshots and in her later years we’d sometimes go through them and I’d ask who everyone was and pencil in the description on the back. Then Mom “put the boxes away in a safe place” one day and subsequently couldn’t remember where. I’d made a half-hearted attempt to find them—and did find one small collection—but there were tons of photos I could remember but couldn’t find.

Then one day last week I realized there was a gigantic plastic tub—maybe 18 in. tall and wide and about 2 ft long—buried beneath a bunch of bags with books in them waiting to be recycled. I cleared off the bags and looked inside. The pictures my mother and I had both been looking for had been hiding in plain sight all along. So, I started going through them and scanning ones I needed for the memoir. And for other reasons. I’ve only made a small dent in this enormous collection. Many have the penciled information on them, many do not. And Mom kept everything, even the inside-your-purse-mistake photos, the thumb-enhanced photos, the so-blurry-you-can’t-tell-what-you’re-looking-at photos. (Back in the day when you took your film to One Hour Photo and the like they’d print everything, even the crap ones.) I have managed to throw away those, but the others? What to do with old photographs of people you don’t know?

I know what Cleaning Nazi Marie would say, but I just can’t throw them away. It’s like throwing the lives of those people away. I tell myself the old ones at least might have some historic value. And if that self-con doesn’t work, I remind myself that there is something of a market for these things at antique stores and flea markets. I don’t plan on selling them, but maybe the poor unfortunate who comes after me and cleans this place out can make a few bucks. Or finally get around to throwing them out. Either way, I won’t be involved.

My mother was not a particularly talented photographer. Too impatient to wait, frame, focus, get those thumbs out of the way. Just point, snap, and move on. Which is odd because she was a good and patient painter and crafter. There are a number of vacation snaps she never got into albums of places I can’t identify. I may get around to chucking those. Most don’t have people in them and they’re the kind of thing that is only precious to the one taking the picture because it evokes a memory of time, place, feeling. A memory I don’t have.

She also kept every note from baby gifts when I was born, every congratulations message, early birthday cards from her to me, and an entire keepsake book of Pamela paraphernalia. All the things to let me know I was once held precious by someone. I don’t say that in a pathetic way because it makes me feel warm inside. And miss her. The mother she was then, the mother she became again in her later years, not the mother in-between who tried to make me who I am not and who I fought with and hid from so much.

Memory is a double-edged sword, but I’m keeping all the memories, even the bittersweet, because they made me who I am today—as much as my mother did.



Random quote of the day:

“We photograph things in order to drive them out of our minds. My stories are a way of shutting my eyes.”

—Franz Kafka, as reported by Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Key and Peele, Celine Dion, or Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

Random quote of the day:

“A photograph is a secret about a secret. The more it tells you the less you know.”

—Diane Arbus, “Five Photographs by Diane Arbus,” ArtForum, May 1971

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Key and Peele, Celine Dion, or Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

Random quote of the day:

“I photograph because I must elude the part of myself that thinks there are words for everything.”

—Teju Cole, Twitterfeed, June 20, 2013

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Lucy and Ethel, Justin Bieber, or the Kardashian Klan. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.



Random quote of the day:

“If reality fails to fill us with wonder, it is because we have fallen into the habit of seeing it as ordinary.”

—Brassaï (Gyula Halász), quoted in Brassaï: Paris by Jean-Claude Gautrand

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Lucy and Ethel, Justin Bieber, or the Kardashian Klan. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

The Destruction of Leviathan by Gustave Doré

“Although we human beings have our own personal life, we are yet in large measure the representatives, the victims and promoters of a collective spirit whose years are counted in centuries. We can well think all our lives long that we are following our own noses, and may never discover that we are, for the most part, supernumeraries on the stage of the world theater. There are factors which, although we do not know them, nevertheless influence our lives, and more so if they are unconscious.”

—Carl Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, tr. Richard and Clara Winston

There are two images for this post, besides the one above, both behind a cut at the end of this post. One is called the falling man, a photograph by Richard Drew, the other is called the hanged man. I’ve put them behind a cut because even now some people don’t like looking at images from 9/11, and this image caused some controversy when first published. There’s nothing gory about it, but it does represent the last moments of a man’s life. Some feel that’s a private moment and should never be seen. I don’t discount their feelings, but I also believe it’s something more: a testament of the horrors of that day, of terrible decisions forced on ordinary people, of their courage and grace in making those choices, no matter how desperate.

All I know is that the first time I saw the image of the falling man it resonated inside me like a struck bell—beautiful, horrible, incomprehensible. Yet deeply known. In the amazing and moving documentary, 9/11: The Falling Man, made about this picture, it’s revealed that the editors of The New York Times had a series of pictures in this sequence to choose from, but found this one most compelling. I don’t think that’s a coincidence.

Of course, there’s a personal horror of recognition here. One morning you go to work and something unthinkable happens to rip everything away. This picture represents the ultimate “there but for the grace of God go I” moment. But that’s not what my deeper cord of recognition was about. This man’s death was not a symbol, but there was a potent symbol in that sky. It took me a couple of days to understand it. An image from tarot came to me: the hanged man. Not in the sense of portents in the sky or any other such bull, not to minimize the power of the falling man by reducing the image to a formula. The image is its ownself, vast and powerful, but there’s also this other thing falling beside it: archetypes working themselves through the real world and through our psyches.

This phrase about the hanging man card from in particular struck me: “It is as if he’s hanging between the mundane world and the spiritual world, able to see both. It is a dazzling moment, dreamlike yet crystal clear. Connections he never understood before are made, mysteries are revealed.”

Not him, you understand, but us…suspended between life and death, the sacrifice to gain knowledge, a time of trial or meditation, the moment of clarity, of not being able to see things the same again. It’s not just this man’s life, and the ending of it, but that moment of suspension and terrible clarity for the United States and the world.

That subconscious strata of images and ideas is always at play inside each of us. I’m not in any way saying those archetypes are the only reason we respond so powerfully to the image of the falling man, but I do believe they are part of the mix. Whether or not you have ever seen a tarot deck, or this particular tarot deck, this image doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It appeared in the tarot because it was part of our culture’s archetypal and intuitive heritage. Perhaps it’s an image that would resonate only in Western culture—I don’t know enough to say otherwise—but it is part of the unconscious lives of everyone who has ever lived in the West for any length of time.

And what does it ultimately say about 9/11? Maybe that archetypes are cultural snapshots—or roadmaps—of the great moments in human existence, both specific and nonspecific, grandly sweeping and intimately personal.

Each of us is composed of both conscious and unconscious associations. We need to examine ourselves closely before leaping on any bandwagon or cause or demagoguery, committing ourselves to actions and movements that rob us of our individual and essential humanity and turn us into impulsive mobs, spurred to commit atrocities in the name of some deep, unthinking leviathan swimming just beneath the waters of consciousness. (more…)

Here are the pictures associated with my post, I Know Not Where She Came From.


Here she is in situ beside the depression left by the brick.


Here she is just after I’d pulled her out of the ground and dusted her off.

girl on mantel_crop

















Here she is on the mantel showing her relative size. She’s 2-3/4 inches high.

girl on mantel close



















And here she is up close and cleaned up.


Returning once again to my old favorite, Meeting the Other Crowd: The Fairy Stories of Hidden Ireland by Eddie Lenihan and Carolyn Eve Green, to speak of fairy horses, the fíor-làr. There are many, many stories in Celtic lore about horse spirits, but Mr. Lenihan’s informants say that they are generally born to regular mares. There’s some debate what makes a horse fairy instead of ordinary, because to outward appearances they look like any other horse. One story goes that you know you’ve got one of those “funny fish” when the gestation of the foal takes 366 days—the old, magical formula of a year and a day. Most foals gestate in ten or eleven months (according to the old timer telling this story).

Like as not when you have a fairy horse they will be a good horse, but given to disappearing for short spells of time when the fairies require its services. But never fear, the fairies play fair in this regard. If you’re depending on that horse, they’ll substitute another until it’s time for the fíor-làr to be returned to you.

And then there’s this, a more spirit-horse version of fairy horses, taken from The Paranormalist.

He recounts the story told him by author, Herbie Brennan:

Shortly thereafter, as Herbie and Jim turned to leave the rath, along the top of the earthen ring, there suddenly appeared a herd of approximately twenty to twenty-five tiny, white horses “no bigger than cocker spaniels”, in the words of Mr. Brennan. The tiny horses galloped along the top of the earthwork, disappearing down the opposite side. Herbie and Jim ran out of the rath andto the other side to see what had happened to to the tiny horses, but they had vanished. Neither man had any explanation for what they had just seen.

Some years later, Herbie told the story of the white horses to his good friend, the late author Desmond Leslie. Leslie had a fascination with mythology and was quite knowledgeable about the subject. Upon hearing Herbie’s account of the tiny horses, Leslie replied, “Dear boy, don’t you know what those were?”. Herbie replied that he had no idea whatsoever what they were, only that he’d seen them. “Those were faerie horses,” Mr. Leslie continued. “They’re associated with the megaliths of Ireland, and there are also reports of them in Japan.”

You can watch Mr. Brennan himself tell the tale below, the first of three stories that explain how he was very reluctantly convinced in the reality of fairies through personal experience:

I’ll have more to say about “fairy photography” one of these days, but let me conclude by saying that I think anyone who’s been around horses much—and I used to be, although sadly not so much anymore—knows that some horses just are special. Even if they don’t have unexplained disappearances to their credit, are not miniature white glowing spirits, sinister kelpies or what all, some of them do seem to have a touch of the fey. Great, dreamy-eyed beasts that they are, they often have their heads in two worlds at once and seem to know much more than the two-leggers astride them. Old souls or fairy-led, I cannot say. Just that they are special.

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