photographing new jersey

Several weeks ago I came across an open call for work to be considered for a photography exhibit that asked, "Is it possible to make a photograph of New Jersey regardless of where you are in the world?" The wording of the call is wonderful, and brings into focus the relationship among space, geography, image, and interpretation:

You were born in New Jersey. You’ve been there. You’ve never been there. You know it from movies. TV. Songs. Newspapers. You’ve Googled it. YouTubed it. Wikipediaed it. Flickred it. You’ve never even heard of it.

So ask yourself: is it possible to make a photograph of New Jersey regardless of where you are in the world? The Pierro Gallery and invite photographers, designers, and artists of all kinds to participate in this global open call for work.

Are ideas about place dramatically different since the internet has allowed us to participate in culture on such a global scale? Despite the endless stream of information and images available through mass media, are there limits to how we perceive, imagine, and understand the world? Exactly how do you picture New Jersey? What would you say about it in a photograph?

Your most striking responses—from the literal to the conceptual—will be included in the exhibition "Is it possible to make a photograph of New Jersey regardless of where you are in the world?" curated by I Heart Photograph for the Pierro Gallery in New Jersey, on view from April 6—May 25, 2008.

Exploring the ways that digital technologies impact how we see, circulate, and understand art, works for the exhibition will be submitted, curated, and produced exclusively through the internet.

I thought it was an interesting question and a wonderful topic for an exhibit, so I took the risk and submitted a few images. My rationale was that I, as a Jersey native, might know a few things about New Jersey.

I submitted 8 images in two groups (the first 2 images, the second 6 images), and I am pleased to announce that all 8 were accepted.

This is very exciting for me as I am a lover of photography but rarely have any time to actually get out and take pictures, spend time in the darkroom, or learn more about photographic and darkroom techniques. So, I’ll get a kick out of seeing my photos on the wall somewhere other than in my office and my apartment. Here they are:

Train 1 and Train 2
Spring 2004, Howard Lane, Austin, TX
Holga, Ilford Delta 400, Sunny setting
printed by David Johndrow

Approaching Dementia
January, 2008, Princeton, NJ
Samsung Blackjack Digital Camera

Updated 3/8/08, 11:31pm
I submitted Train 1 and Train 2 because to me New Jersey is and has always been about shipping, freight, and transportation. I grew up enthralled with car carriers that I later learned were transporting cars that came through the Port of Elizabeth, and on a daily basis my school bus would drive under the train tracks on Deans Lane. These days I am reminded of Jersey’s reliance on trains because a freight line runs through my little town not 100 yards from my apartment. Two, three times a day I hear the train whistle and feel my apartment shake with the train’s massive weight and energy and importance.

The latter prints are of my maternal grandmother who is suffering from a form of Multi-infarct dementia, an illness related to Alzheimer’s. The experience has been one filled with frustration, anger, fear, loss, and begrudged acceptance for my entire family—and, I imagine, thousands of New Jersey families who have a relative suffering from a similar illness. Yet it has been incredible to see what strands of my grandmother have remained—her sense of humor, her feistiness, her ability to surprise, her love of art and flowers and concern for her grandchildren (whenever I see her she questions me about my "lady," a question that is about the dissolution of my marriage). There is, indeed, a beauty in her that is markedly different than the beauty that was there before, one that is masked by the pain of witnessing what can only honestly be called withering away. So often I have heard my grandfather, mother, aunt, and uncles talk about finding a way into her, and that is why I like the presence of the door knob in several of these shots. Here, for me, it is not merely an artifact of both the semi-locked environment in which she now lives (physically and mentally), but a talisman that reminds us of the struggle (for her and us) to try to unlock what has become locked, to gain access to that what she once knew and felt and could articulate. On this day I brought my grandmother flowers. She rubbed the petals in her hands and smiled and spoke of how gorgeous they were. It was a long visit—over an hour and a half—and we see her tiring in these images. On her floor I see many other families making similar visits with their loved ones. The concerns of aging and sick family members is a community, state, and national issue. She is a portrait of an aging, fearful, desperate New Jersey populace.

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