In a way, the events that I plan to recount in perhaps half-a-dozen posts did begin in Asia - South Asia; India - the city of Bangalore, on November 22, 2010, when my beloved soul friend, relative and Muse, Soundarya, took her own life following the death by car crash of her husband Anil.
As I tend to do in times of deep grief, I turned to my keyboard. This used to mean my personal journal, where, knowing no other way to cope, I once wrote over 400 pages, 12 point, single-spaced, to lament the disappearance of the black cat, Little Guy. I also turned there after the deaths of my brother, my mother, father, and other friends and relatives.
Now, as my personal journal is defunct, I turn to my blogs - and that is what I did then. In times of grief, one also tends to turn to family and friends, and so I posted a link on one of the dialogue threads kept by Magnum photographer and story-teller David Alan Harvey on his creation, Burn Magazine.
The purpose of Burn Magazine is two-fold. First, to create a venue for emerging photographers, most of whom are young, but not all. At least one is older than me, even, but just now showing her talent to the world. Second, to a lesser but significant degree, to showcase the work of "iconic" photographers - the truly famous photographers.
I fall somewhere in between.
Somehow, in creating Burn, David also created a new family - a mix of the emergent, the iconic, the inbetween, the middle-aged, the young and the old, photographers and lovers of photography and through the internet has brought us all together.
Among those members of this new family of mine who responded to my grief in an effort to console was David himself. He told me two things that struck deep into my badly wounded pysche:
In time, he said, a new muse would come into my life.
Within a year's time, he would see me in New York. He stated that he knew this with a certainty - he was not speculating. This was something that would happen.
I did not know how he could make such statements. It seemed unlikely to me that either would happen. In the case of Soundarya, not only did I know it could not happen, I did not want it to happen.
She played an absolutely unique role in my life - one that no one before her had ever stepped into and one that no one after could ever step into.
As for seeing David in New York within a year, this seemed most unlikely. I had no plans to go to New York, I had no money to go to New York. Sometimes, I go to New York because someone brings me there. I could see no circumstance anywhere on the horizon that would cause someone to buy me a plane ticket to New York City.
No - despite the deep respect and admiration I held for the man - not only for his photographic talents but the creative and dedicated way that he has given of himself to find, nurture, and publish young and other emerging photographers of talent, I did not see how either of these predictions that he had written of with certainty could come to pass.
I knew I could and would find inspiration here and there - but another muse in the mold of Soundarya? No. Impossible. It could not happen. A muse such as she does not come into an artist's life but once in a lifetime.
New York could happen, but the possibility seemed so remote as to hardly be worth contemplation.
Yet, I did contemplate it, because I always want to go to New York and I wanted to meet David Alan Harvey in person. Also, while I have had an interesting, unique and if one does not put that much weight on the financial side of things, successful and rewarding career, I felt that I had stalled out two rungs below the level of obscurity. I had a huge amount of raw work that I needed to reshape into formats that would enable me to put it before the world, and I also had many things left to shoot, gather information on and write about.
I did not know how getting to New York and meeting David in person might help with these objectives, but it seemed to me that it might.
Still, no one had plans to bring me to New York. I had no excess resource to bring me there.
More than half-a-year later, on June 4, an amazing thing happened. While I had been reluctant to do it, as it seemed kind of like begging, enough readers convinced me that I should so that they might give my work some modest measure of support, I put up a Paypal "donate" button on my original wasillaby300 blog. I will put such a button on this blog, too, but I also plan to add a store so that people who want to support my work can get something physical back in return - a print, perhaps - an iPad book; who knows what else.
I anticipated getting very few donations, and I figured that what I did get would be mosty in the $5 to $25 range and that would be fine with me. In fact, this pretty much proved true, but with some exceptions - including some dramatic exceptions. I did receive a handful of $100 donations of $100, a of $200, one one $300.
And then one day I received a donation that practically blew me away from my computer screen. It was from another photographer, a friend of David's. I would like to identify him and if he says it is okay, I will, but I have had the feeling that he would rather stay under the radar.
He is a photographer who I admire greatly. He creates photographs and images that I could never make. His work rides a much harder edge than mine generally does. It is powerful, often disturbing, and makes strong statements about the often brutal nature of this life.
His contribution was large enough to cover the cost of a round-trip ticket from Anchorage to New York and still have enough left over for three or four pizzas. So I decided to use that money to buy the ticket that would make at least one part of David's prediction come true.
Now I had to decide when to go. Occassionally, David hosts workshops - dedicated to shooting, to lighting, or to creating photo books. His is a large name in the world of photography, and so he brings in other people whose names are large in this business, be they photographers, editors, or important people in the publishing world.
I have a number of books in various stages of incompletion and so I thought that I would like to take in one of his book-making working workshops.
I could bring the images, a partially or wholly done rough layout, rework it under the master's eye, present it to publishers who would be right there and see what might come of it.
David had no book making workshops scheduled.
David did have a shooting workshop scheduled. It would be based out of his loft on the eighth floor of a Brooklyn apartment building. I was interested, but hesitant. First, by my standards, it was pricey. Then, too, what could I really get out of a shooting workshop? With one two-year break to serve a Mormon mission, I've been shooting constantly since I did my high school yearbook in my senior year, 1967-68.
Plus, I knew I would likely be the oldest photographer in the class and I was certain it would be competitive. I would be up against bright, young, energetic, photographers who had already demonstrated superior talent, or else David would not have accepted them into The Loft.
I feared they might shred me to pieces.
If I came at a time when no workshop was in progress, then there would really be no need for me to spend anything or to compete against anybody. David had invited me to stay at his loft. He is a busy man, yet he is famous for his hospitality, for finding time for his visitors, not only shoot the bull and drink beer, but to impart of his knowledge and to arrange contacts they might want to get to know.
And all this I could get for free - no need for a workshop fee - or a lodging fee. He would have a dozen students - too many to bunk in his loft. So all students would have to find lodging elsewhere.
For a bookmaking workshop, such an expense could be worth it - but for a shooting workshop? When I am already and practiced shooter with decades of experience?
Yet, I decided I wanted to be part of a workshop. Something good would come from all that interaction, even if I did get shredded by the younger photographers of great talent. It would be good to mingle with other photographers. Here in Alaska, there is a community of talented photographers and it is always good when I get to see any of them. But it rarely happens. I live a life almost devoid of interaction with my colleagues.
As a photographer, I am virtually alone. When I do see my friends and colleagues, the meetings tend to be brief - usually little more than "hi, how are you, boy, things are getting tougher and tougher these days, but hanging in there..." that kind of thing.
Without knowing for sure how I would be able to spare the full $2500 workshop fee, I made the $500 deposit.
Then I worked extremely hard, all summer. I would have anyway, even without the workshop, but it gave me a little bit of extra incentive. In some ways, it was horribly frustating, because it was mostly production work and it kept me inside throughout the long, light, summer hours. I would escape into the light about once a day to pedal my bike and that was just about it.
I never want that to happen again. When you are a photographer in Alaska, it is tragic to have to yield most of your summer to indoor production work.
That is exactly what happened, yet in so doing I was able to generate some decent income - plus, a couple of unexpected windfalls came along and so I came up with the money for the workshop and more.
Well, once again I am getting carried away and this is getting kind of long - more words than most internet readers will have the patience to read.
Anyway, I did make it to New York and to the Loft workshop, which was to be one of the final two, back to back, David Alan Harvey Loft Worshops ever.
To come to the loft was in many ways a desperate act for me. I feel I have so much yet to do, but it seems to me that all the venues for doing it are closing down in front of me. And the decades are piling up on me so fast that I know it will all soon be over and I will be dead - but I've got to get some significant work done before that happens.
That's why I created these blogs - to make my own venue. But how does one find the means to finance such a venue?
I would go through the Loft workshop in a state of almost continual desperation. I would experience technological failure. I would arrive with nothing dear to my heart to shoot as my project, but only a hazy notion of what could possibly prove interesting. Then, suddenly, catching me completely by suprise, I would find myself taking on a shooting project that would put me right back into my own, personal history and experience, among the community and extended family of my origin - right in the middle of New York City.
Yet, that family and community would resist me, make my project difficult, shut the door in my face and send me off looking for a replacement community, a replacement family, that I might document. In the end, as I perched on the brink of humilation and complete workshop failure, the entire experience would take a plunge into the bizarre, into a diverse community of the entire world - Christian, Hindu, Aheist, Jewish, Sikh, Agnostic, Muslim... all come together in a strange and alien way, all united in pursuit of the spiritual unity of artifice and the superficial; a community among which I would be free to wander and work as I saw fit.
And those young photographers that I so feared? Would they shred me? We will see.