Back to Somewhere You’ve Never Been

In early December, my mother called.

Her foot surgery would be far more intense than we expected. Her oldest friend would be there a few nights immediately post-op, and after that, she’d need help. Since I have the most flexibility in my job, that was that. I was going to spend a month in New England, in the heart of winter.

New England is hard for me on a beautiful, sunny day.

There’s something dark, disruptive, unfriendly about the Northeast I’ve always had a hard time naming. Sometimes I say that to live there is to maintain a crabby respect for yourself and others for putting up with it—and so to loathe, and privately envy, people who leave.

Of course, there’s nothing specifically about New England that makes anyone stay, except the usual forces: family, tradition, living too poor to move, and the bonds we form to land. Those are all legitimate reasons to stay anywhere. They’re also specifically complicated by New England’s history as a focal point of colonial violence.

I think that violence—both historical and ongoing—is what we feel when we look at each other in the winter. Or in the summer, when the temperature can swing 30 degrees in an hour. There’s an uncertainty in that place. A weight. “A darkness carried in the heart [that] cannot be cured by moving the body from one place to another.”

To be of New England is to demand a place you reject. To return to New England is to come back to a place you’ve sort-of never really been.

But I went anyway, and it was… great

I spent three weeks with my mother. We made a photo project of those three weeks, which may see daylight soon (how’s that for a New England sentence). She was in little pain, and gave me all the space I needed to walk around Cranston and Providence.

When there were no website updates or meetings to Skype into, I relentlessly trained in the art of the headshot. Late-afternoon, we’d watch classic movies* and TV shows known and unknown**. A few days before I left, we wrangled one of my best friends down, just in time to be thoroughly snowed in. We drank, she cooked, we ate, and we talked, and played indie video games into the night.

The next day, I took off for Boston, and my dad’s house, where we had a great little visit. A few days later, New York, where I spent an afternoon shooting with my friend Justin, and an endless dinner catchup with old high school friends. Four days on the train, and I was in Berkeley, just in time for the Women’s March (in Oakland). I spent a week with my son and his family, playing board games now, and skulking the parks.

And all the while, my eye was changing

Something about travel changes the way I see. I don’t mean I see new things, I mean I see the same things newly. I’ve patronized my mom’s Stop & Shop. It’s familiar enough. But something about being jarred out of context makes me look at everything slant. Something about being jarred into New England, in December, makes me want to make images that tell you how I’m feeling.

That’s a significant step for my photography: To move outside of pattern and line, and into feeling. Ultimately, I want my images to help you feel something. But hey, baby steps.

And this, this was maybe my first toddler step. Look, Mom! I can walk!


*Bridge Over the River QuaiKind Hearts and CoronetsBedazzledHot Fuzz
**Man in the High Castle (this should be so much better than it is!), PhotoDirk Gently’s Holistic Detective AgencyLovesick

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