Tension

Logolepsy (n.): An obsession with words.

I have an unshakable belief in the power of words. I believe in public speeches, in long phone conversations, in pillow talk and in curse words, in slam poetry and even in silence. But I also believe in photography. I believe in the wordlessness of an image and its ability to evoke memory, to make you feel something you’ve never felt before, and to speak for itself.

Dr. O’Dell defines my images by their tension, and I would like to think she’s right. I love the way this island and the water and the wild life and the people are coexisting, interacting, changing each other. Nothing is static, so why should our photos be?

It was a beautiful day in Maine.

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Climbing Rocks and Laying Eggs

“When people look at my pictures I want them to feel the way they do when they want to read a line of a poem twice.”

-Robert Frank

This past semester I took a poetry class. I don’t write much (read: any) poetry, but there’s something about a perfect line of a poem that mimics the feeling of a cold drink of water, of putting in the last piece of a puzzle, of falling into bed after a long day. There’s something else there too–some feeling that no matter how many times I read it or think it my thirst won’t really ever be quenched because my mind can’t wrap itself around it enough. In Adelia Prado’s “Denouement” she writes “me and the idea of death just can’t get used to each other.” No matter how many times I think it, write it in my journals, or in letters, or on a blog, it’s flawlessness is too much for me to feel like I ever really get it.

That’s how I want my pictures to be.

…That being said, I really wasn’t happy with the pictures I took today. We went out to a gorgeous beach and climbed all over multicolored rocks, miles of this strange looking seaweed, and more snails than I’ve ever seen in my life. But the day was gray, the rain was cold, and even though I had a great time exploring, my pictures felt flat. Out of the 241 photos I took, I was okay with about five of them.

Maybe that’s what photography is about, you know? Trying over and over and over again. Finding color in the gray spaces. Attempting to show everyone else how you feel, to make them want to “read that line” again and again. To leave someone so taken away by flawlessness that they’re almost unsettled.

I once read that photographers are like cod; they lay a million eggs with the hope that one will reach maturity.

 

 

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The Bird Man and the Sea

“I love the people I photograph. I mean, they’re my friends. I’ve never met most of them or I don’t know them at all, yet through my images I live with them.” 

-Bruce Gilden 

 

Yesterday was a beautiful day on the island. Sunny and in the mid-sixties, we actually found ourselves shedding layers instead of piling jackets on top of our jackets. We started the morning with the Memorial Day parade that the islanders hold every year, but quickly realized that getting photographs might have been more complicated than we thought.

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Personally, I love taking pictures of strangers. I think there’s something beautiful about trying to capture a person without having any preconceived notions about their personality, their past, their fears. But for some reason this time felt different. The Memorial Day parade was to honor every single man and woman–all 533 of them–who had lived on Vinalhaven and died serving their country. All 533 names were read aloud, along with the wars that took their lives. As an outsider, it felt wrong doing anything other than blending into the shadows and observing quietly. Among the large group of people, even my camera shutter noise felt loud.

 

After the parade, half of us went on a boat ride with a bird watcher named John, where we learned that 65 degrees may as well be 25 in the middle of the freezing ocean with the wind blowing for three hours.

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So we were wet, cold, and happy. I’m not sure how much John has in the way of money, but the man has his boat, his birds, and his islands. And I’m willing to bet he’s a lot happier than some people who have a lot more than that. He towed us around to the surrounding islands, of which he knew the names, histories, and approximate size populations of all major birds. To be honest, we were much more fascinated by the seals.

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They would dive off of the rocks as soon as the boat got too close, making us believe they were terrified… until they started following us. They would swim out for a bit and pop up their heads closer and closer, playing with us. We squealed like dolphins every time they surfaced. Poor John just wanted to see his birds.

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Our farthest destination was an island with a lighthouse that apparently used to be accessible to people. John made it sound like there was much more to the story than an accidental destruction of a boating dock, but wouldn’t say much more. Every fifteen seconds or so, the lighthouse let out a screeching beep that could give a zombie chills. So of course, the seals completely ignored it.

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We could probably learn something from them.

 

Welcome to Vinalhaven

Having been on a ferry maybe once in distant memory, I was thrilled to get moving to Vinalhaven, our final destination. First, we had an hour or so to explore the area around the ferry called Rockport. The thing about Maine so far is that there are so few chains of anything–I haven’t seen one McDonald’s since Portland. The boutiques are charming, the names are nautical, and the people are genuinely thrilled you’re here. 

So Rockport is the only reason I’m sure we’ll even be excited to leave the island at all. And the promise of another ferry ride! It’s hard to even choose my favorite photos from the ride. The water here is so dark blue it’s almost charcoal gray. I love the way a cold ocean seems to exist in spite of people–we can change the land. Plow it, break it, burn it, build on it. But with the ocean, all we can do is float on it. And even then we’re at it’s mercy. The ocean is a beautiful indifference. 

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After a brisk hour long ferry ride, we arrived in Vinalhaven. We were not let down by the year long build up–the Tidewater Motel opens up to the water we can hear rushing under our rooms at night, into the impossibly blue harbor speckled with boats.Image

 

We got settled in and enjoyed dinner down the road at the Pizza Pit, followed by amazing ice cream at a candy shop across the street. So far, nothing on this island is too far away to walk. After dinner Madison and I went to explore Vinalhaven, and found ourselves looking at homes, boats, ropes, buoys, and asking ourselves about the people that live here. Are there people who will live and die never leaving this island? What about kids who are our age, do they feel trapped here? How much do they depend on tourism, and what are the schools like? Do they home school?

Everything here is open. On an island of only 1,600 people an hour and a half ferry ride from the mainland, crime can’t be too prevalent. We find ourselves leaving our doors unlocked already, comfortable with the people and the mild weather and the atmosphere.

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Around sunset we made it to an area down by the water (not hard to come by here) and sat for a while. Everyone who walked past greeted us more than pleasantly, and as the air chilled and the water rose, we thought that maybe a life away on an island wouldn’t be so bad. 

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Lobsters and Lighthouses

Could this be anymore Maine-y? After a long day of travel I got off the plane in Portland, and before I even left the airport, New England had me.  Those of us who landed early sat in a restaurant in the airport and I had my first real New England clam chowder–if I’m being totally honest, it tasted a lot like clam chowder from the Midwest. But maybe that’s my inexperienced and underdeveloped Ohio taste buds.

We made our first stop at the Head of Portland Lighthouse, where Henry Wadsworth Longfellow used to frequent. There’s something comforting about going to a new place and immediately being assured that it’s the way you pictured in your head. Except of course, better.

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We continued on to Brunswick, where we had a lobster feast for dinner at Dr. O’Dell’s brother’s home. They brought in bags of live lobsters–caught that morning–and we stuffed them into several steaming pots to be boiled alive. Don’t worry, “they really don’t feel. Much.”

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But the experience was perfect, and we asked way more questions about lobster than we had any right to assume that our hosts knew. We did learn that they don’t eat lobster that often, it’s a treat, like steak might be for us. We learned how to dismantle them ourselves, a party trick that will surely make us look cultured and fancy in the future. They also have to be five to seven years old before it’s legal to catch them, and that the females have a wider tail and smaller claws.

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This probably all seems very predictable. It’s Maine, and the first post is lobsters and lighthouses?

I actually like it. The idea of states is a human constructed concept–Maine is Maine because we drew some lines on a map and called it that. But there’s more than just latitude and longitude that define a place. If I had showed up here and it had looked like Ohio, except ten degrees colder with different trees, I would have been disappointed. I want to see things that surprise me, but more than that, I want to know what makes a place special.

So bring on the lobsters and lighthouses, the anchors, and the sailboats, and welcome to Maine.

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