I started to see the graffiti, "R.I.P." everywhere I went in Baltimore. I went past one 2 blocks away from where I lived, it was on a wall on the corner of Whitelock, and Druid Hill Avenue, "R.I.P. TROY." That is when I decided to start recording them photographically. I began asking people, showing them R.I.P. on a piece of paper, "Have you seen this anywhere?" Many said NO, right there in their own neighborhood on the walls, and people were not seeing them. I did not want to be alone viewing this madness.
Statistics of Baltimore Maryland, since 1990
It is this murder rate as manifest through the graffiti "R.I.P." that I have been documenting since 1999.
From the time of sitting next to my mother on the NY Subway, feet dangling off the edge of straw seats, ceiling fans turning, and the endless supply of every type of face parading before me, I enjoyed LOOKING!
All of my relatives expressed themselves audibly, or visually. Painters, Sculptors, Designers, players of violin, piano, and wind instruments. I loved LISTENING!
I found myself visiting Raleigh, North Carolina in the mid 50's to see my Uncle, who was Professor of Design at N.C. State University. It was the first time I saw, 4 bathrooms, and 2 water fountains. I never thought in terms of, 2 kinds of MEN, and 2 kinds of WOMEN. I never thought of two different supplies of, WATER. I looked at the signs, the plastic engraved ones, the brass etched ones. I thought about the machines that made them, the people operating those machines, the spelling out of words:"W-H-I-T-E M-E-N", "COLORED MEN", "COLORED WOMEN". The drilling of the holes, the person screwing the signs to the door, mounting them to the water fountain. Days later I saw new signs on two fountains in the Sears and Roebuck, downtown Raleigh: "MEN" and "GENTLEMEN". I hated HATRED!
It was more as, not understanding the thought process behind it all. But there I was, LOOKING at it, wondering, was I the only one seeing it? Back in Manhattan, we had 2 bathrooms, 1 water fountain. Later I came to understand the the thought process was not unique to North Carolina in the 50's, but everywhere, just not as that graphic. The same without the 'Signs'.
I returned to NYC, to Junior High School, to Eisenhower's February, 1955, "Brotherhood Week". There was a Poster competition for the Week. I depicted a traditional movie theatre, bright Marquee, carpeting, ticket booth, and movie posters. The theatre was bordered with a sidewalk out front, and an alley on the side. The alley wall I did in charcoal grey with a single door lite with a single yellow light bulb illuminating a sign: "COLORED". I was told by my Art teacher that it would not be accepted, because that "Was not Brotherhood", I responded, I know.
I have been involved in photography 50 years. The joy is in the seeing, story telling, assembling. Years ago I heard a woman describe, define, DOCUMENTARY: " The function of a documentary is not to make a court case, Thats the function of the courts. The function is to raise a reasonable doubt that perhaps the world works in a slightly different way then the way in which you had previously perceived that it did."
In 2004 I wrote, We must hold the mirror up, there should be no bliss to those who choose to ignore.
This is a world wide condition, and not difficult to understand when we look at the examples, the teachings, and the chaos available to us. When governments kill their enemies, the people will sometimes kill theirs. We have become insensitive and distant with ourselves, our families, surroundings, and the world. We don't recognize Peace, harmony, the natural world. We haven't learned from the ancestors, the elders. No history, no past, no past, no future. We look to overpower, and yet feel we have no power, we are entertained by "REALITY" shows that are illusions, and true reality, we don't see. I have been looking at the City of Baltimore, in the State of Maryland, US for years, and its murder rate, and conditions. I have recorded my observations of the past 12 years, because I wasn't finding anyone that was seeing what I was seeing. Ignorance is NOT bliss.
Law enforcement bring no peace,
courts can bring no justice.
The markets "Super", got no food,
6, 11, News, on just for us.
The Guiding Light is all but dim,
billboards, posters, bright.
Papers tell us what to do,
but all we do is fight. ...........Peter Barry
what is art? who is an artist? i don't make art! artists do that, go ask someone else. I express myself, I do it for me, ask me about that!
Alone with myself, inside looking out. Crowds, people in a bar, just a film for my viewing. Sometimes a table top model I walk around selecting my angle, slicing my fractions of a second out, displaying them on paper stored in an envelope. A glass aided ear to the wall of a housing project, a periscope in the palm of my hand on the Lexington avenue line looking up the nose of a mutha look'n, Bad. I've walked the street and never looked up, other times been down so far I'd have to turn over to look down. All of it there, no categories, no boundaries other then the ones picked up at the 6:30, 7:30, 9:00, 10:30, 12:00, and 12:45 at St. Raphael's, or presents from my Mother and Father. The bell sounded loud at P.S. 150, and rang in rounds, at Principals offices, guidance councilors, and auditoriums. Hurdles to be scaled before the assent of subway steps to the reality of the possibility of independence. Rides to Harlem, the Bowery, the Village, walking down alleys, stepping over Eddie, glass-eyed Eddie with a hollow leg filled with white Port and a mind with the response time of a turnip.
Reading the messages of Jose' on the "while you were out" walls of the subway, twenty days later seeing the transit crew steam clean his only claim to fame and drip it down the ceramic tile wall to be absorbed in the cement platform that has supported millions like him.
Could be New York, could be Mexico, maybe Baltimore, the Eddies, the Jose's, the faceless names trying to be different in a tribe that can't justify their own existence accepting the different. But could I expect anything else when looking outside their hut, to only see the back of another hut, having it's garbage thrown in a truck. How can I not see the calligraphy of field corn in the snows of Stormstown, or the rear screen projection of a communal auction in a society that might work better if the subways weren't laid to their porch. Or are they the same just on a smaller scale?, with parking lot lines, and arrows to show them the way, with trophies of lesser and greater, a mounted deer, a mounted toilet seat, conquest over the elements.
And are the elements understood? or are they divided up for ownership, to be protected or taken. Are they ours to have, to be hidden and coveted, or are they for the use of all tribes, owned by none. When we look at outlaws do we ask, "how true are the laws they live outside of?"
and who are the people making the laws, and for whom? Is there any different goal from tribe to tribe?
I've thought, Do I see to much?, or not enough? The answers are the quest, for without questions there would be no need for answers, and without this process growth would not exist. As I look around I see balance, the shopping bag nomads, the sax players for pennies, the street corner groups that coexist with and within the rain-dropped windows, the carved manhole covers, and the transparent drapes. My world is a theatre where I may be both actor and viewer. I comfort myself with tranquil visual space, the simple use of non-subject is both calm and sarcastic. Maybe Tao is the way, the loud silence, the cluttered emptiness. I used to define balance as centering, mathematical equality, to be attained by striving to reach that vault kept standard that bogged, that paralyzed ones movement and distorted the free evolution of creativity, as any short sighted boundary can. The exploration of the boundaries and the distance between them is the energy, the resource that feeds the growth of creative sensitivity.
...Portraits are relationships where the camera is secondary, and comfort is natural. A place to be less, or observe others being so. Portraits are the result of collective energy, it is not something that is done by one.
...These are portraits of friends, in my apartment in the "Brexton". Rose Hays owned the Peabody Book Store and Pub, and the Brexton apartments, both were very colorful. Tall ceilings and a nice mix of east west light..
...I was 15 and worked in the neighborhood portrait studio. There was a large floor stand View camera, using 4x5 and 5x7 inch sheet film. Watching James, the owner do his thing, I saw the connection between the subject and photographer, eye to eye, no camera between. There on the heavy stand, eye level with his subject, was the camera, 1 exposure at a time, Jimmy would wait for that smile, the expression, the sparkle in the eye, the feel he wanted before pressing the shutter release. Its all about relationships.
My travels with, and in the reggae music world. Voices and images from big stages, to kitchens and livingrooms of singers and players. We all express ourselves, in a cane field in Jamaica, or a football field in Europe. Music and photography is all about timing.
I can see ultraviolet and x-ray
I can hear all phons and decibels
360 degrees are always in view
The five colors the the human eye will blind
The five notes the human ear will confound
The five tastes the human mouth offend
Should I not paint in colors to be seen?
Should I not speak in tones to be heard?
Would I have what I can see and hear
Or should I speak and draw of doors?
Some make Quilts, some do mosaic work, We put parts together, the collage makers, painters, and others through a camera frame. And HOW we put the parts together, thats on us, the ones who express themselves.
I am taken with the compositions available in the city using the element of Man marking his spots, or in many cases the covering up of man marking his spot. There is an endless supply of walls in Baltimore that appear for a fleeting moment.
...I was in the subway from birth, 15 cent tokens, straw seats, leather hang straps, ceiling fans (NO air conditioning), rivets and I-beams, and penny gum machines. I can feel my legs dangling sitting on my mothers lap, or next to her by myself. The movement, rhythm, the sound and the faces, it was an entire world. It was a way of traveling a distance seeing different places. I could go from the depths and caverns of Wall Street, to the sand on the beach of Coney Island for 8, 2 cent deposit bottles, in 45 minutes. I could ride in the first car and look out the window at tunnels, bridges, Brooklyn going by, and then, the ATLANTIC OCEAN. The subway is rich.
...These were made in 1994, during 4 months after my father passing, and my mother in hospital for 2 of those 4. I processed the film in the bathroom, dried the rolls hanging on the shower curtain rod, and sleeved them. Over a thousand exposures, and none of them ever in print. This is the first time I have viewed these in positve form. I never made contact sheets of them.
...I can't see, unless I look, I look everywhere, millions of faces on the NYC Subway, quiet barns, portraits of trees, people, shapes, forms, patterns, question marks, magnifying glass, story telling, or just a zen brush stroke across a snow covered field. The process is clean, just dance, let go, assemble the frame. Moving, weighing, balancing, the contiuous flow of all the elements are weighed, and image decisions are made.
Balance, it's not an equal thing
weighing left and right,
The Plums go here, the pounds ounces there,
Dollars, cents, the fight.
The canvas size, the finder frame
the edges that we see,
Thats the scope, the scale
the assembly for to be.
The placement of the forms
the colors, parts, the notes,
The fluid flow of elements,
the finished, thats our hopes.
And how we go about it,
the critics rant and rave,
"He means this", "she sees that",
the galleries, stash and save.
But in that fleeting, private moment,
the space between the beats
We dance, we play, we utter,
the sum, it flies, it leaps.
Balance, it's not an equal thing
colors, black and white
The choice, the placement, what is, what isn't,
thats the joy, not what's right.
The weighing that is done,
the shifting of my sights,
I think, "Fill dirt wanted"
here's the heavy and the light.
Give me a space to fill, a pause to sing,
a sound not to make,
Put all you have, Anywhere,
i'll find that spot to stake.
The rhythms where it isn't,
the colors where it's not.
The balance comes from, this right here,
and that, ..........Oh not.
So tell me what I'm saying,
and what I'm trying to show.
You see me standin over here,
that's him .......he had to go!
I'm sayin the eye sees this, at times sees that,
sometimes its round, and times, its flat.
Where it goes, and how it sounds,
I'm sayin: ........I can't tell you that !