Grandpa Richard - Picture Tells A Story

I used to write a weekly column for Bil Browning's The Bilerico Project called Picture Tells A Story. My grandfather died suddenly this afternoon, and for whatever twist of how I manage grief, I knew that the best thing I could do for myself was go shoot the sunset and write a PTAS about grandpa, so here it is.

Sunset at Camp Ellis Maine - May 8th 2018
Sony A7ii w/Minolta MD 35-70mm f3.5 Macro

Grandpa Richard - Picture Tells A Story

When the sun rose on May 8th, my grandfather was alive, for all I know he even watched it. But by the time the sun set, he was gone. I took this photo standing on the dock at Camp Ellis, watching as for the first time in over ninety-four years, the sun set on a world without him in it. Everyone reacts to grief differently, and I knew that what I needed this evening was to watch and capture this sunset.

I'm fond of saying that grandpa was a rock for his family, and for so many other people. He was a point of stability, doing what he could to support, ground, and shore up the people he cared about. But at the same time, as is common with rock, flexibility wasn't often his virtue. Those he cared about too often found themselves dashed against him by the waves of life, and he could leave figurative scrapes and bruises on our spirits without ever being aware of it.

The last few years had been especially hard on my grandfather. For a man who grew up in Brooklyn having his milk delivered by horse and buggy, life in the internet age was often frustrating and alienating. To his last day, he remained sharp, independent, and engaged in life, which he first had shared with his childhood sweetheart, my grandmother, for well over fifty years, and then with his beloved companion Barbra for more than another decade.

But that sharpness came with a cost of its own. As a man who believed strongly in the American Dream and the potential for business and capitalism to be a force for social good, the Great Recession and corporate shift to seeing seeing employees as disposable, with businesses having no sense of loyalty other than to their shareholders, frustrated him to no end. Having grown up before the Second World War, in which he served in the Army, he had experienced no small amount of anti-semitism in his life. The rise of the Alt Right and the accession of Donald Trump to the presidency worried and disgusted him as an American, a Jew, and a businessman from NYC.

Beyond that though, grandpa often saw himself as the last man standing of the people who had made up so much of his life. All his childhood, and even most of his long-time adulthood friends are gone, as are his brothers, and the sister he never got to meet. My uncle was probably the person left on earth who had known my grandfather the longest. It's a strange and difficult thing to outlive one's past.

There is not enough room on the page to delve into the ways my grandfather shaped who I am today, in ways both good and not-so-good. But what I will say is that throughout my whole life, I never once doubted that he loved me. And for all his inflexibility in much of his life, he worked hard to roll with myriad challenges of loving me as his grandson. Through the development of my severe Tourette, to my coming out as queer, my polyamorous relationships, even my... less than conventional career paths, grandpa was often puzzled and dubious, but always loving.

So while the sun set on a world without him in it anymore, I take solace in knowing that I carry his love, and as long as the sun rises on I, and so many others he cared about, he continues to be part of our world.

Through the 2017 Long Night in Three Photos of Southern Maine

 

I love the Winter Solstice. The Long Night, at once glorious and terrifying, marks the death of the year gone by and the birth of a new year with the return of the waxing sun.. For me it is time for reflection, as I stay up through the darkness to greet the newborn sun. One way I experience my own inner spiritual life is through art, and for the second year in a row, I decided to mark the three key milestones of the Long Night, sunset, deep of the night, and sunrise, by taking photographs.

I gave a great deal of thought to where I would experience each stage of the Solstice, venturing much farther from home that last year to be at the places that fit how the different aspects of the Solstice resonated for me.

Sundown at Timber Point

The odd wooden structures are as eerie as ever when I arrive at my sundown shooting location. I am sore, and a bit out of breath as I am getting set up, having had to rush my walk to the site after getting stuck at a train crossing on the drive over. I don't honestly know what these things are. Are they crosses commemorating a person or event, decrepit navigational markers, or something else entirely?

A short distance behind where this photo was taken is the disintegrating remains of a turn of the century lifeboat that was being restored by a young man who was called off to WWII in the middle of the project. When he didn't return, his family left the boat exactly as he had, and more than seventy years later it isn't long for this world. Combine that with the maybe-cross, and the whole area feels like a memorial.

Altogether an appropriate place to witness the unlamented dying of a brutal year.

Fuji X-T1 w/Fuji 23mm f1.4
3-exposure blend
ISO200, varied shutter speeds, f8
Processed in Capture One & Photoshop

 

Deep of the Night in the Cave at Dyer Cove

The true midpoint of the Long Night here in Southern Maine was eleven-thirty-nine, a time that is well past when I arrive at Dyer Cove. I prioritized a late dinner with my husband, who works second shift, over astronomical precision.

I am not where I originally planned to be for this stage of my Solstice observation. I had planned to shoot a lighthouse, with its beams of light providing a bulwark against the dangers in the dark, and did a highly successful test shot nearby the night before.

But that is not where I am meant to be in this moment. Many years ago, in the midst of another dark and scary time, the Norse god Frey told me that I had to carry my own light into darkness. After the year gone by, both personally and in the broader world, I need this light to be of my own making. Here in the cave, I know that light will be reflected back and amplified, as well as that the cave will provide a safe and sheltered space for the shot.

Fuji X-T1 w/Rokinon 12mm f2
ISO400, 15 seconds, f11
Processed in Capture One & Photoshop

 

Dawn of the Returning Sun at Fort Preble

The roads are already crowded as I get on the highway heading to Fort Preble for the first dawn of the returning sun, though I am all alone when I reach my destination. The sky is not promising, with heavy leaden clouds obscuring all but a small band of hazy sky on the horizon. The radio on my drive has been full of warnings that a significant storm is incoming.

This is not news to me.

Nonetheless, the sun makes an appearance, if only for a few scant minutes before disappearing into the clouds. Blazing a path through the gap of clouds at the horizon and the canon port in the fort wall, the rays of the new sun briefly warms my skin before the world is once again painted in cool shades of blue and gray.

The year once again has transitioned from waning to waxing, the eternal dance of the sun and planets a reassuring moment of continuity in an increasingly uncertain time.

Fuji X-T1 w/Fuji 18-55 f2.8-4 @36mm
ISO800, 1/80, f8
Processed in Capture One & Photoshop

Through the Long Night in Three Photos

Of all the celestial holidays, none resonate as strongly for me as the Long Night of the Winter Solstice. Poised at the cusp between the waning and waxing year, the Long Night is a pause in the flow of time. That moment between birth and a baby's first breath when all things horrifying and glorious feel equally possible, when the world holds its breath, waiting for an answer to the eternal question of “what's next?”

For several years, photographing the sunrise that ends the Long Night has been a tradition of mine. It is my way of acknowledging the return of hope and light in a dark world. This year however, I decided to incorporate my art into the fullness of my Long Night vigil. 


Part I – Into the Dark

The sun is already near to kissing the horizon when I arrive at the Camp Ellis pier for the first of my three shoots of the Solstice. The night's cold fingers are already caressing the dock when I get down to the place I've chosen for the first of my photos. Against an almost painfully empty sky, save for a few flaming clouds in the west, the dying sun's warm rays fight a loosing battle with the cool blue of fast encroaching shadows. 

Then, so fast one could blink and miss it, the sun is gone from the world; the Long Night has gripped my little corner of the world. 

Fuji X-T1 w/Rokinon 21mm f1.4
ISO 200, 1/350s, f11
Processed in Capture One & Photoshop

Part II – Heart of the Night

The midpoint between dusk and dawn sees me back at the pier, but this time I haven't come alone. Despite being unwell, my husband has elected to join me for this part of my photography-vigil. Neither of us wanted the other to be alone in the deep of the Long Night, when tradition holds that we gather with friends and loved ones to shelter against the darkness. 

The sight that greets us on arrival is part of the reason why I choose the location I did. Throughout history people have sought to beat back the night, and this night perhaps more than any other. The icy white of the pier's high-output lamps create a welcoming oasis of light, even in the Solstice's darkest hour.

As untold generations have before us, we draw comfort from that light, and from the knowledge that we are together, and not completely alone in the night. 

Fuji X-T1 w/Rokinon 21mm f1.4
ISO 250, 1/20s, f2.8
Processed in Capture One & Photoshop w/Topaz B&W

Part III – Daybreak

The sky is already lightening by the third and final time I return to the pier. The pale blue sky speaks of low clouds, though when I arrive there is a cloud break to the north that is beginning to turn pink with the coming dawn. 

Ten minutes later, as I am scanning the sky for any sign of the sun, just as my five-minute-until-sunrise alarm goes off, I notice that the promising patch of clear sky has been swallowed by clouds. Almost simultaneously, I become aware of a hissing sound familiar to those of us in the northern latitudes: fine particles of ice and snow skittering against the outer-shell of one's hood. 

By 7:11am, my first sunrise of the waxing year, the pier and I have been engulfed in a driving snow squall. I hold out as long as I can, but eventually the freezing wind forces a retreat. The sky beyond my windshield has warmed to a slate gray, heralding the return of the as-yet invisible waxing sun as I pull out of the parking lot. 

The Long Night is over, and I end my vigil having hailed the returning sun in absentia. This year of all years, when hope is a scarcity, it is tough not to see it as a troubling omen. 

Fuji X-T1 w/Fuji 35mm f2 WR
ISO 1250, 1/60s, f3.2
Processed in Capture One & Photoshop

Note - These photos, as with a ton of my landscape, astrophotography, and sunrise/sunset photos would not be possible without the amazing resource that is The Photographer’s Ephemeris