natura consonat: Latin, in harmony with nature
Years ago, when I first visited the Lac du Flambeau Reservation in the Northwoods of Wisconsin the home of my husband’s mother and her people, the Ojibwe, I was struck by the ineffable quiet and serenity of their lands that produced in me a sense of wonder and completeness. I have returned countless times, photographing on the Reservation and in other forests of the Northwoods, trying to capture and express the awe that I experience.
Photographing throughout the seasons, I use classic color film and a conventional camera to picture the woods, marshes and meadows, the sky, waters, and places marked by the people who dwell there. Later, in the studio, working from my color negatives, I create small diptychs and triptychs, which I print on paper. Other images, I print on large panels of semi-opaque silk charmeuse fabric, 95” H x 40” W, and sometimes smaller panels, 40" X 40". These delicate panels, suspended from the ceiling of the exhibition space by transparent nylon line, can be viewed from all sides. Some panels I hang in groups, others singly. Because these fabric pieces are lightweight and semi-transparent, they sway in the currents of air that drift through the exhibition space.
My pieces invite viewers to contemplate the wonder of the Northwoods, and to feel a deep connection to these ancient forests that are at risk of being lost to mining, logging, and development. The land, the Ojibwe teach, is the source of life. When anything is taken from the land, something must be given back. The photographs I have taken I give back as art that testifies to the sacredness of the land.
Does any other institution witness as much human drama as a hospital? Churches and temples come closest, but even these sacred places don’t witness the wide, intense range of experiences that is routine in any hospital. Within hospitals, lives are saved and lives are lost. Painful discoveries are made, wondrous healing occurs. Prayers are whispered, curses shouted. Tears are wiped away. Promises are made and forgotten. Every day in hospitals our vulnerability is exposed.
I, like almost everyone, have been a patient in a hospital, and I’ve stood by those I love in emergency rooms and clinics. I know what it’s like—the fear, the emotional bargaining, the boredom, the desire to escape. But I also know hospitals from the other side. I am a nurse. I’ve practiced nursing in England, Israel, and in Chicago, my hometown. I know the protocols and procedure, the calm and professionalism required to provide care to those in need.
In 2001, I learned that Columbus Hospital, where I’d worked in the eighties and nineties, was slated for demolition. Wanting to preserve in photographs traces of the human presence that I knew existed in this former crucible of life-on-the-edge, I began photographing the interior spaces in 2002. What you see in my photographs is gone. Today a high-rise of luxury condos stands where Columbus Hospital once stood.
Do rooms have memories? Do the marks we make on the places we inhabit give evidence to what we have lived? I believe so. I believe that something is left behind. A record of what I found remains in these photographs.
In 2007 in southeast England, two abandoned hospitals sat on prime land slated for development as luxury living spaces. Hellingly Hospital had been built as a state-of-the-art mental health asylum in 1903 and closed in 1987. All Saints Hospital was built in 1869, and became a rehab hospital for the elderly before it closed in 2005.
As a former a nurse—I studied in England, and received my psychiatric training at Hellingly in the eighties—I was compelled to photograph the place I had known as a vital institution, a center for treatment, care, and healing that had become a site of deterioration, decay, and vandalism. After I began photographing Hellingly, I learned about All Saints, a nearby hospital recently closed by the National Health Service. Struck by the different handling of the closure of these two hospitals, I photographed All Saints Hospital, too. Hellingly had been left to deteriorate. All Saints was protected from the moment it closed its doors with fencing, guard dogs, and electronic surveillance. Even though what had happened to these two hospitals was so different, I saw the same currents that were affecting the England’s approach to health care delivery: short-term goals driven by profit.
When I began to photograph at Hellingly Hospital, it had been closed for seven years. Local teens had set fires, broken windows, and painted graffiti throughout the place. Kids and professional thieves had looted prized Victorian fixtures. Water had flooded through broken windows and the rotten roof. At a late stage, after most of the damage had been done, fencing was erected, but the buildings’ structures had been irreversibly ruined. All Saints and its grounds, by contrast, were secured from the day it closed in 2004. In the interval between the two closings, economic reality made itself evident: it cost less money to hire security than to repair vandalism.
Over the course of four years, I photographed the interiors of both hospitals recording layers of history and time preserved within the walls of two institutions that had served the needs of countless patients, their families, and their communities. My pictures serve as a witness to what has been, and they ask viewers to ponder the possible outcomes in the provision of healthcare. As costs rise and resources diminish, will existing infrastructure be preserved to be useful in the future, or will mismanagement, inexperience, greed, and corruption lead to the irreversible destruction of useful resources?
In 2009, luxury condos at the redeveloped All Saints sold for $400,000. At Hellingly, most of the building have been razed to make way for new housing. A new medium security mental health hospital with 46 beds was built at the cost of $27 million dollars. Hellingly could have been saved to serve far more, and at less cost, and an institution with historic links to its community could have been preserved.
SEE YOU ON THE OTHER SIDE
One of the scariest things for a woman to hear is that she has an abnormal mammogram. You just know there's something going on when the tech says they need to make more scans. Those are the very words I heard back in December, 2014 when I had my annual exam. The radiologist found an area on my mammogram that looked like sprinkles of white sand in the shape of a tree branch. It was an incidental finding, something that would only show up on a mammogram, but it was enough to warrant a biopsy followed by surgery and radiation therapy. I had cancer. My radiation treatment was five days a week, Monday through Friday for six and a half weeks, or thirty-three days.
My daughter’s choir conductor would say "See You On The Other Side" before any full performance. Once the concert started, the singers would enter a zone in which the music was the only thing that existed for them. They would not see each other again until the last note. Receiving my diagnosis put me into a similar state--I would not reconnect with my ordinary life until my treatment journey was over.
After a thirty year nursing career I was now the patient. I have educated countless patients about cancer treatment. "Radiation is Monday through Friday, with weekends off" rolls off my tongue automatically. Now, after a thirty year career in nursing as a carer/supporter/comforter/educator, I was the patient. I didn't like it. "See You On The Other Side" also chronicles my being on the other side of the mirror in the healthcare relationship.
This was a dark time for me in many ways. I've never really been sick and now I was at the hospital or doctor's office once or twice a day. Making photographs has always been my fallback strategy to help me navigate life. Visual study helps me process complex emotional and verbal experience. I reflexively made pictures on the way to and from radiation appointments. Reflecting on the images, I realized I had created a "Reverse Rorschach" test, in which the images I chose to capture, the ones that drew my attention, were indicative of my internal experience before and after a daily ritual that forced me to contemplate my own life and my own death simultaneously.
See You On The Other Side is a selection of sixty-six images that chronicle that journey from February 23, 2015 to April 8, 2015.
Spitshine was created in response to a project titled Youth and War curated by the Chicago-based artist collective, Standard Usage Project. Youth and War addresses the way in which war changes the lives of our youth.
My father was a captain in the United States Air Force during World War II. He was one of the personnel involved in the liberation of Germany at the end of the war. Like many military men, he didn’t talk about his experiences. In retrospect, I can see how his war experiences shaped his compassion, the way he cherished his family, his privacy, his sense of discipline and duty.
The totality of his sharing this part of his legacy was condensed into a single act: he taught his children how to shine shoes when each of us was little. He showed us how to put a high shine on a shoe with the same intensity and attention he gave in life. Even though none of his surviving children are in the military, we’ve all taught our kids how to shine shoes in military fashion. My dad was of the generation that believed you could “tell a man by his shoes.”
I had shined my shoes regularly for years. Many years ago, working as an au pair, I made the mistake of shining my young charges’ shoes. The next morning, every shoe and boot in the house had been lined up for me to polish. I had forgotten this precious lesson until recently when my mom asked my brother if his shoes were new. “No, I just polished them” was his reply. I realized I had gotten out of the habit of caring for my shoes. I decided to reestablish the practice then and there, and to create this video to hand down my father’s legacy…now my legacy…to my children.
I have my dad’s old shoe shining kit. The distinct smell of the black polish brought back the memory of him, patiently showing me how to clean the leather, dab a round brush in the paste, rub in small circles across the toe, the heel, making each movement as if it were the most important thing he could be doing. The Spitshine has become a small, private family dance we all know by heart, passed down from generation to generation--similar to an oral history, but visual.
I consider the video to be a special photograph that incorporates time and motion into the stillness of the image. There’s a plain black backdrop. You see only hands in the performance of polishing shoes. There’s no sound but for a simple guitar loop.
At the end of the video I stand up and automatically rub the tip of my shoe on the back of my pants leg, a nervous habit I do when I’m about to meet an important person. I never knew where that came from until I saw myself do that on the video, because as Dad said, you do one last polish before you enter a room.
HOSPITAL, Artist Book
The book, Hospital, is a selection of twenty-four color photographs of the empty spaces of the former Columbus Hospital in Chicago, which was closed to make way for luxury condominiums. This project weaves photographically-based artworks with the sensorial cues associated with emotional branding, that is, the practice of enticing the senses to evoke a strong emotional receptiveness in the viewer. The goal of the book is to expand the boundaries of photography and emotionally engage the in-between space, the space between the viewer and the artwork. This is accomplished by stimulating senses other than the visual sense, the purview of typical art exhibits. Each book includes a CD of live hospital sounds, five glass vials of antiseptic smells associated with hospitals and a small book describing each smell.
A Summer Residency at Columbia College Center for Book and Paper enabled me to complete a small edition of six flat back case-bound books with two artist proofs, each in a clamshell box with an accompanying CD of sounds and glass vials of antiseptic smells. The book has twenty-four carbon pigment prints with an Introduction by the photographer, an Image List and Colophon.