As we move into 2010 I've been wondering about how I will continue to learn and develop my craft throughout the year. As I look for inspiration one of the photographers that I keep returning to is NYC based Erica McDonald who was published on Burn in November 2009.
Photo-essays on Burn are always of a high standard but Erica's multimedia presentation, 'The dark light of this nothing' simply blew me away. I return to it again and again and...
Erica says that the work is "meant as a tribute to those long term residents who have sustained the Park Slope, Brooklyn, New York neighborhood for generations and are now in an increasing minority. The old guard is losing their sense of community. A new, affluent population, drawn by Park Slope’s popularity as one of America’s best neighborhoods, is swiftly overshadowing the working class."
The presentation juxtaposes harsh urban street photography with searching formal portraits that locate our humanity and evoke enormous passion for the residents. We see faces and memories that drift away as we watch the images change.
But for me, the surprising and magical element of Erica's show is the voices. Heard over the haunting piano of 'Spiegel Im Spiegel' we hear the voices of the residents:
Anthony: What the hell is this? you gotta talk to this thing?
EM: It’s a microphone.
Janet: Dad, just talk about..
Anthony: What am I gonna tell? I was born over on 3rd street. And the place was beautiful at that time, we had a nice time, not too much traffic, I’m old, that’s why. We used to play stickball in the middle of the street, there was no traffic, you could play stickball. right? Today you can’t even walk in the friggin street, too many cars.
The sound locates the images; it adds a dimension that allows us to more fully experience the visuals; to more fully walk in the footsteps of Erica's subjects. Even the most challenging photos become real people; vulnerable, concerned, uncertain, trying to get by. Just like the rest of us.
"I know that every day... somebody staring.... look at that dude..."
When Erica agreed for me to use her work on Photo-Dialogue she mentioned that she had previously studied linguistics (and artificial intelligence...) and has an interest in learning in systems so I wonder if this is at the root of her interest in the mixture of sound and vision.
Her web site includes some 'scribbling in the dark'; records of talks and interviews with other photographers. She notes that they are, "a group of personal reflection writings on photography gatherings and slideshows as well as interviews.
Unfortunately, there is not much that directly references Erica in the scribbles and I found myself wanting to understand much more about her and the way she approaches her work. But on her site she quotes Ami Vitale's introduction to the Photojournale book Connections Across A Human Planet: "These images give us a glimpse into lives we might not otherwise see and emphasize not how different we are but rather our similarities. The intentions seem to be to get past mere headlines to try to get a truer sense of who we all are. Perhaps now, more than ever, the need to get beyond the stereotypes and dramatic images and instead allow people to tell their own stories in a humanistic way.”
I tentatively wonder if Erica is telling us just as much about her own work here. Whatever, I will be keenly following her progress. And have already resolved to buy a voice recorder...