Medals for the Gladiator, (ii), Berriedale, Orkney, 1984. Platinum-palladium print on 100% cellulose paper (Van Gelder simili japon) from original 18x24cm inch negative.

This is the second (right-hand) part of a diptych. The first part was posted yesterday.

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 Medals for the Gladiator, (i), Berriedale, Orkney, 1984. Platinum-palladium print on 100% cellulose paper (Van Gelder simili japon) from original 18x24cm inch negative.

This is the first (left-hand) part of a diptych. I’ll post the right-hand part tomorrow.

These, along with the recently posted and early ‘Campsite for the Non-Citizen’ photographs, anticipated a later group of works by that same name. And all of these arose from a troubling (to me) sense of a kind of civil order that began to bud with the Reagan/Thatcher era. The West’s reaction to 9-11, the rise of fundamentalist and populist/nationalist  undertows, and this latest madness with the Trump administration, along with neoliberal interludes merrily danced to by centrist, so-called lefties leaves me feeling more in sync with images like the one above than ever before.

There was a time when I really thought this work was fanciful and mannered. Now, I am left scratching my head and wondering how could I have ever done this, and where did it come from. It speaks the kind of truth that only oracles are privileged with, and only occasionally singes the rest of us. I’m burning.

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 Campsite for the non-citizen: working detail, Berriedale, Orkney, 1984. Platinum-palladium print on 100% cellulose paper (Van Gelder simili japon) from original 18x24cm negative.

…and there are times when I think I am an intentionally bad printer… a punk.

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Campsite for the non-citizen, Berriedale, Orkney, 1984. Platinum-palladium print on 100% cellulose paper (Van Gelder simili japon) from original 18x24cm negative.

Continuing on this rather dystopic drone, here’s one of the strangest photographs I have made. It borders on ugly. But it came from near-brushes with being stateless and a refugee. Trying to rise above the tug of my personal experiences, I tried, and keep trying to understand, what pulls us to behave xenophobically. There is a Darwinian argument for this, but I am also interested in other ways of thinking about the matter. Xenophobia, hate, territory (terror), nationalism lean into the edges of our humanity. Either a one or a zero. These are states of mind and experience that are approach-paths to what we consider absolute values, but driven by a denial of the absolute.

A bit like Zeno’s turtle, where there never is an end-point, the consideration of any absolute value may in itself be an exercise in abstraction. But I think not. Before the end, there is a midway to the end, and before that point there is another midway, and so on. This is a constant, never ceasing pre-absolute. Approaching the ‘pre-absolute’ is welded to the poignancy of the human condition – I move towards the absolute but never get there. In this sense, we may be more fearful of darkness that is barely taking form, than we are of absolute darkness.

So, that is why so much of my work is shaped by the platinum-palladium print and large format negatives. These materials give a highly nuanced voice to the pre-absolute. Almost black, almost white. And this image is one of the most terrifying I have ever made. It is in between a lot of end points. How is that possible? Ask any refugee. Or immigrant.

Platinum and palladium are noble metals. Robust in its immutability. Paper is made of cellulose fibers. Fragile in its transparency.

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Imitation Krakatoa: for the armchair button-pusher, Orkney, 1982, Platinum-palladium print on 100% cellulose paper (Van Gelder simili japon) from original 18×24 cm negative.

This still life was made at a time when Ronald Reagan was still perceived by many of us in Europe as the person who would bring us into a nuclear confrontation with the USSR. I’ll never forget how a party with my friends in Scotland, which began as a celebration of Carter’s re-election, turned into a sombre wake as the results began to roll in on BBC. We could not understand how the most powerful nation could elect, what!, a Hollywood 2-bit actor?

Well, things changed, disaster, at least as we understood it, did not strike. Something more subtle was afoot. Then things got better, and we arrived on the doorstep of the Dream fulfilled. But now, this! Once more, we seem to be dealing with a fingernail on the chalkboard of democracy, politics and peace. And that stub is also resting on the button.

Krakatoa was big, but a bad Little Boy can do a lot of damage too.

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Slave Cells, Cuba, October 2016

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I visited Cuba last October. It was all I had imagined, less than I hoped, enough to make me fear for it.

The film, Before Night Falls, still haunts me, and Reinaldo Arenas poetry, which I still have to read more closely, scares me.

And the music… well, now there is a piece of gold.

Jean Baptiste Jean Joseph, Voudoun artist at his home, Croix des Bouquets, Haiti, February 4, 2017

Jean Baptiste is one of the finest artists I have met in Haiti, and his work opens magical windows into his faith and voudoun. I felt it. And was sorely tempted to ask him about dolls… but decided not to. Messing with demons must come at a high price, even if they commute between NYC and DC while living in the twittersphere.

Magic: Floating Lightly, Oak Hall, Lynchburg, TN, 1989.
Platinum-palladium print on 100% cellulose paper (Fabriano 5) from original 8×10 inch negative.

One image from a series called ‘Magic’

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Datura and Passion Flower, Berkeley, 1987.
Platinum-palladium print on 100% cellulose paper (Van Gelder Simili Japon) from original 8×10 inch negative.

My dear friend, and mentor-whose-mentorship-I-resisted, Ron Partridge, had a habit of gleaning flowers and plant material during early morning jaunts through his neighborhood. He loved that I loved datura flowers. And he loved to hear me tell him how Lord Shiva is known to knock back a lethal brew from these flowers every now and then.

This photograph was made in Ron and his wife, Elizabeth’s, kitchen sink, early one morning. I can still hear Ron whistling and fumbling around in the kitchen, keeping a (critical) eye on me.

Shiva must be knocking back some datura brew right now. Things are fairly crazy around us. One day past the Solstice.

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Ron Partridge, Water Lily 3, 1998 [included here with permission]

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