An Old Fashioned Experiment

I’ve noticed a fun trend on “social media.” Photographers using older cameras and expired film to create images that have all the attributes of a piece of art. Who am I not to give it a shot?

Asbury Park boardwalk. Kodak Gold 400 that expired in 2005. Shot on the Mamiya Sekor camera I took to Art school in 1975.
The Asbury Park boardwalk. Kodak Gold 400 that expired in 2005. Shot on the Mamiya Sekor camera I took to art school in 1975.

Didn’t See That Comin’

A world wide pandemic, infecting millions, killing hundreds of thousands, forcibly transforming society as we know it. Sounds more like a bad apocalyptic movie script, but it’s not.  It’s been almost three years since it started. While the scientists dropped everything, rolled up their lab coat sleeves and went to work on a vaccine, over five million people died. A million people in. this. country. died. Many of them, alone, isolated, unable to hold a hand or say goodbye.

Most of us withdrew into our caves, spraying 2020’s eau d’cologne, Lysol, over all the “touch points” around the house and washed our hands raw. Gingerly heading out to a grocery store wearing a surgical mask quickly became a bizarre fashion statement.

Businesses fought to survive, especially “mom and pop” stores, the local shops that are part of the fabric of small communities across the country. More than a few didn’t make it. For most of the spring and early summer, of 2020, empty storefronts and vacant parking lots became all too familiar.

If you were lucky you packed up your computer emptied your “cube” and suddenly found yourself working at home, but not before you’ve had a few weeks of “vacation” (read “furlough”) to help you over-think your “Post-Covid” future.

Working from home or not quite “working from home,” Kids suddenly home from school. “self isolating,” “social distancing,”  realizing that it’s been weeks since I’ve talked to someone who isn’t a family member, the faint smell of Clorox everywhere and washing hands … constantly.

And yet …  Summer comes anyway. The squirrels (your new office co-workers) still steal too much bird seed. The lawn needs mowing and I should paint the living room. Everyone takes up some sort of hobby. For some reason, sourdough bread has started trending and you can’t seem to find those little packets of yeast in the grocery store.

There is a dichotomy in the shadows of empty shelves and shuttered stores. The five star restaurant delivers now, sometimes using the same “Doordash” guy that’s delivering the pizza your neighbor ordered. Everyone’s  gotta eat.

Surgical masks hung from rearview mirrors like a twisted pair of Covid-19 fuzzy dice. If you had stocked up on canned beans and tomatoes you probably also had a shelf full of disinfectant spray and Purell. Groceries delivered to your front door, Clorox wipes on nearly everything before it even comes in the house. You keep everyone at a literal “arms length.” Working remotely has you not seeing or speaking to an adult you’re not related to for days on end. The world of the introvert.

The lab coats come through and there’s a vaccine, a light at the end of the tunnel. People rush to stand in line for the shot in hopes of putting an end to over a year of all of this.

But

You knew by now there had to be a “but.”

Yes, there’s a “but” at the end of that sentence.

For reasons I still don’t understand, a good sized part of the population decided that they just didn’t want to participate. Poor leadership, short attention span, cynicism with a dash of mistrust. Suddenly it’s not a health care issue, somehow it’s a political one. Cries of repression (But, I don’t want to wear a mask, it’s uncomfortable and it restricts my “freedom”). Inane conspiracy theories (tiny chips in the vaccine will control you or allow you to be followed, or it’s the mark of satan or worse yet … it’ll turn you into a Democrat). You can’t make this shit up.

Trust and civility seems to evaporate causing every disagreement into “us vs. them” shouting matches and amazingly, even death threats. Not much of a middle ground.

There’s an election and the people who lost decide that they didn’t, insidious plots, conspiracies, and amazingly, and what amounts to an attempted coup follows. Who was responsible for turning the country into some bizarre banana republic remains to be seen, accountability vs. the possibility that it could all happen again just feeds the contentious arguments among people who used to be friends or even family members.

Militia groups bent on tearing down the government. They used to hold up in the far flung parts of Montana and North Dakota but they see the opportunity and come out of hiding to take point in the coup, joined by an angry mob that wants to burn it down and start over in their own exclusive image.

What happens next. is anyone’s guess on a daily basis. To be continued.

Touching a Dark Side of History

From time to time, I do photo research at the National Archives repository in College Park, Maryland. As often as I see photos I’ve seen a thousand times before, I run across things completely new to me. One of those I found especially chilling.

I was sifting through images of Germany’s Buchenwald concentration camp for an upcoming story and found myself examining the family photo album of Karl-Otto Koch, the camp’s first commandant. The album, full of mostly mundane photos, was assembled by his wife, Ilsa Koch—who became known as “The Witch of Buchenwald” (among other harsher nicknames) because of her savage treatment of prisoners at the camp. She’s notorious in particular for her collection of lampshades and other items made from human skin, often bearing a tattoo she’d spotted and taken note of on a living prisoner.

What creeped me out was that in my hands I held the album where, like so many of us, she had carefully placed her family photos—her husband, their kids, the dog: everyday behavior from someone who then went off to participate in some unthinkably gruesome and sadistic things. Imprisoned after the war for her crimes, Ilsa Koch hanged herself in her cell in September 1967.

Right in Your Backyard

I drove past it nearly every day.

There are things in our own backyard that deserve a second look, or even a third.  Guilty of taking the same route to work and then back home. Muscle memory and a travel mug full of coffee and before you know it you’ve clocked in and almost as quickly, returned home.  I missed it again.

This time I finally stopped and took a longer look.