Monday, June 1, 2009

Stepping In

Recently I received an alumni newsletter which included a memoriam notice for a teacher I’d studied photography with in what now seems almost like another lifetime. Except that it wasn’t a separate lifetime, it’s simply the continuum of my own, which seems not to be linear in form but rather twists and curves to where I stand today. At times it has seemed as though I’ve been on the wrong path, or going in the wrong direction, or was lost and off the path altogether and searching for the road itself. But, in truth, there’s not a lot I would change about my meandering route because it was a necessary part of my journey. From this vantage point, in this light, it seems like the best road taken and perhaps the only way I could get from there to here.

Back to the teacher, let’s call him Harry, since that was his name. I was saddened to read of his passing out of this life so soon. I’d heard stories that he’d made a conscious choice to step out of the mainstream, that he essentially became homeless and lived on the streets, but I don't know how much of this is truth and how much is myth. After graduating from art school, I moved to the west coast and lived in Los Angeles for a few months and then in San Francisco for four years, followed by a few years in Chicago and Philadelphia before returning to Pittsburgh to settle down and make it my home. I never saw Harry again after graduation, when he’d shown up at a party at my apartment in the East End. My plans at that time were to head west and find a job. His plans were to take a year off and travel to Europe.

In my art student days, I often saw Harry out on the street, walking in various neighborhoods. He was a walker because he liked being out there; I was a walker because I was a penniless student and my feet and the bus were my only mode of transportation. There we’d be at some corner, student and teacher, with or without our cameras, crossing paths in some Pittsburgh neighborhood. We’d stop to say hello and chat a while. But in truth, I didn’t really know Harry. I only briefly knew Harry-the-teacher and Harry-the-photographer and Harry-the-walker.

It seems fitting to include a street photograph from the era of the late 1970s, when I was a photography student and Harry was my teacher. I had to dig deep into my photo files to retrieve this one, from my black-and-white days, a time of film and manual cameras, and when cigarettes were given away on street corners to promote a new brand.

What makes a person like Harry choose to step so far out of the mainstream? How do we get so lost? How do we find our way? With In This Light, I’m choosing to step into the mainstream, looking to find my way through images and words.

Photo credit: Now Woman, copyright (c) 1977 by Dory Adams