Thomas Park, writer & teacher
Have you ever gone up to a stranger and simply said, "Hey man, you are so great looking! Can I take your portrait?" That's what I did with Thomas last night at an art opening. And he graciously agreed. Turned out his son is a professional photojournalist and whenever Thomas had asked him to take his picture, his son didn't have the time. So it worked out well for both of us. Besides, Thomas and I really connected. Cool fellow!
The quilt in the background is from the exhibit "Urban Memories: The Quilts and Fabric Art of Carole Harris" that will be up at the Ellen Kayrod Gallery in Detroit until March 13, 2009.
another new self portrait
I just keep working working working on my self portrait project. This is a relatively new photo that has just been added to my "Falling Into Place" photo essay in BURN magazine. (CLICK HERE
to see my essay). This photo has special meaning to me because the mirror I'm holding is my grandmother's silver hand mirror with her initials--LLLL--engraved on the back. And the clay sculpture in the background is one I made when I was in art college in the late 1970s.
We're now using this image as the cover photo for my essay. It also shows up--along with the photo I took of my hands while meditating--within the essay itself. I was delighted when David Alan Harvey, BURN magazine's curator/editor, recently said that my essay didn't have to remain static but could evolve as the project evolves.
Oh my, is it evolving! I have 6-7 new "keepers" that I've taken in January alone. I'm hoping to be finished shooting by the end of March. Then it will be time to do the final edit and work with David on a book layout. He says I'll want to create a Blurb book to present to possible publishers in the spring.
Life is such an adventure!
chess for young & old
The Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA)
is a remarkable place. Somehow they manage to appeal to everyone. Friday nights are a good example. The museum stays open until 10 p.m. and hosts activities as diverse as drop-in chess tables set up in the Farnsworth lobby, live music in the Diego Rivera Court, drawing in the galleries, art-making workshops for children, plus world-class exhibits in the galleries.
Last night (Friday) my friend Pat and I heard the Vijay Iyer Trio perform two sets of exceptional experimental jazz compositions. Apparently Vijay Iyer
was described in The Village Voice as "the most commanding pianist and composer to emerge in recent years." I can see why.
On my way into the museum I passed about twenty tables with mostly young chess players engrossed in their games. But as you can see in this photo, everyone was welcome to sit down and play. In another area there were adult artists seated at tables filled with materials for children who wanted to make artist's trading cards.
When I got to the second floor I had to make my way around adults and teens drawing at portfolios set up in the galleries. By the time Vijay Iyer on piano, Stephan Crump on bass and Marcus Gilmore on drums were introduced in the Diego Rivera Court, there must have been a couple hundred people in the audience.
And how much do people pay to enjoy these activities? It is all included in the price of admission and if you are a DIA member like Pat and I, everything is free. For an additional $7 you can attend the Detroit Film Theatre that presents foreign, classic and independent films.
Yes, Detroit may be hurting economically but it is still a wonderful place to live.
Yes, he did!
Of all the horrors that the 43rd president brought to my country and the world, there was one that made me sick to my stomach every time I thought of it: America's use of torture against its prisoners.
I could not square that with everything I'd been taught to believe about my country. "No," I'd say to myself, "torture is used by governments in countries ruled by brutal dictators, or in lawless lands where violent mobs terrorize the people. Not in democracies. Certainly not in the democratic country in which I was born and live. How could torture not only be tolerated but approved by the president himself? This is unimaginable."
Well, the photos that came out of Abu Ghraib showed us the truth. The few photos that came out of Guantanamo, images of men and boys being held out in the open in cages like animals, made it all too clear. And then our president finally admitted it. Not only admitted to approving torture--only he wouldn't call it that--but used men like John Yoo and Alberto Gonzales to justify it, to say the Geneva Convention was outdated, that it no longer applied to what they called the "war on terror."
So when I read today (Thursday) that our new president had signed his first executive orders and that they outlawed the use of torture by American interrogators, and ordered Guantanamo and CIA secret prisons to be closed, I burst into tears. Tears that have been waiting to be shed for years. Tears of relief. Tears of gratitude. Tears that say, "President Obama, you are restoring our nation's soul. Bless you for that."
May we never again become the monsters we were from 2001-2008. May we reclaim the ideals upon which our country was founded. May we again become respected and respectful members of the global community. And may our new president, Barack Obama, be given the wisdom, courage and hope he needs to lead us into this new brighter future.
Inauguration Day 2009
Like millions of people around the world, I spent hours in front of my TV set today. Much of it with tears rolling down my cheeks. Occasionally sobbing aloud. Often grinning from ear to ear at the same tiime. What can I say? This was the most emotional inauguration of my long life, more so even than John Kennedy's in 1961, the first presidential vote I ever cast.
And why was it so emotional? For me, the fact of a black man being sworn in as President of the United States was enough. But add to that a man of character, intelligence, maturity, honesty and compassion, a man who offers our beleagured country a message of hope and sees his role as one of helping us rejoin the global community. Well, it's no surprise that there were few dry eyes around the world.
As Laurie Brown just said on "The Signal," her nightly radio show on CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Company), "It didn't feel like just an American event; it was a global event." I received an email tonight from my photographer friend Reimar Ott who lives in a small town in Germany. He and his mother watched it live on TV and he said they both wept.
It was just that sort of day. Now maybe our communal tears were partly tears of relief that the Bush years are finally over. I'm sure there's some of that in it. But really it is more about the sense of hope that President Obama--my first time writing that!--personifies in his very being.
Don't worry. I'm not idolizing him. I already see important areas where he and I differ. I know I will be a dissenting voice in the months and years to come. But that's good. That shows my willingness to be a critical thinker and to analyze things for myself. And I know Barack Obama does the same. That's one of the things I like and respect about him. I know we're in for a rough number of years. But at least I won't feel ashamed of my country, as I've felt every day for the past eight years. At least I know if our president makes a mistake, he'll reflect on it, admit it, apologize, and try to change what can be changed.
Tonight I feel as though I'll sleep more soundly than I have in years.
a new day dawns...
At 12 noon EST on Tuesday, January 20, 2009, Barack Obama will be sworn in as the 44th President of the United States of America. After the eight-year nightmare America and the world has lived through, any change looks good. But THIS change looks especially good.
Imagine! We will have a president who thinks, deliberates, welcomes dissent, reaches out to our neighbors in countries friendly and not-so-friendly, can admit and learn from mistakes, sees dialogue as the first rather than last option, knows and is committed to upholding the Constitution, cares about the people--ALL the people--in the country he is to lead, sees the environmental threats to our planet and will be working to protect her, has a sense of integrity and ethics, and is ready to shake up the status quo.
I ask everyone across the globe to hold this man in your heart. He's going to need all the good energy we can send. And please see him covered in protective light. We need him to stay safe.
[I created this composite using my own photographs.]
So long, George W. Don't forget your water wings.
I invite photographers of ALL nationalities to take and post your own farewell image to the 43rd President of the United States. Today, January 19, 2009, is George W. Bush's last day in the White House. Thank god.
Imani Ruffin, poet
I met this remarkable young man today at Hannan House, the senior learning center where I've been working on a photo essay since last June. Imani was there doing community service during his mid-winter break. I happened to hear him ask Larry, with whom he works, "Do you want to hear the poem I wrote? It won me a $20,000 scholarship to college." This is Imani's poem:
Anger, rage, no compromise, stubborn headed-ness are all a young black man's demise.
Failing to realize the greatness Dr.King seen in all of our eyes.
Instead we choose to do drive-by's and scrutinize to hide our insecurities that arise.
Blood and violence chosen over peace every time.
Father against son, mother against daughter, why can't we just coincide?
Our ancestors were taken out of slavery but its still in our lives.
Blaming the white man for our lives, but by that ignorance we're blind.
And by knowledge we can see, all we have to do is take advantage of it.
Because now knowledge is free!
By: Imani Ruffin
Kettering High School
You never know when you're going to meet a true original. For me, it came 80 years and 1 day after Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was born, and 4 days before Barack Obama, America's first African-American president will be sworn in. How appropriate.
[portrait background: William Szaro's painting, "The Whistleblower."]
pro-Palestinian demonstration in Detroit
On Thursday afternoon I put on my photojournalist hat. I'd read on Lightstalkers.org
that Huffington Press was asking for photos from Israel & Gaza, but also of protests from around the world. Detroit was having such a protest in front of the McNamara Federal Building downtown so I showed up with camara in hand to document the rally and march as best I could. Actually I got threatened with arrest three times by the Detroit police, but that's another story. Believe me, nothing was going to keep me from my self-imposed "assignment" not even our men and women in blue.
There were at least a thousand Palestinians and pro-Palestinian peace activists on hand, and a couple dozen pro-Israel demonstrators as well. I got photographs of both "sides." The image I'm posting here is one of my favorites, not because it is the most action-filled but because it seems to capture the profound sadness behind all the signs and chants. This war is sad for everyone. And what will it accomplish? No one will "win." In war everyone loses.
my meditating hands
After all the turmoil and stress of preparing an edit of my "Falling Into Place" essay for publication
, I realized I needed to refind my center. So on New Years Day, the day my photo essay first appeared on Burn Magazine, I began to meditate. Again. Even though it had been decades, it was easy to remember how to do it--simply stay aware of breathing in and breathing out. Of course my busy mind wants to go scurrying off in a million directions but I just bring it back when it does. Breathe in and breathe out. Such a simple thing. Actually the simplest part of my day.
I've now meditated every day of the New Year, and I'm beginning to feel grounded again. Whew, that was close. I almost lost my Self altogether.
self portrait with my new friend, Kaa
I've loved snakes all my life but the older I get, the fewer opportunities I have to be with them. Today's intimate encounter with Kaa, a 30 year-old Ball Python who lives at the Ojibway Nature Centre in Windsor, Ontario, was one of those instances of unexpected magic.
My women's singing group--the Gaia Women of the Great Lakes Basin--was meeting there for our monthly day of song and sharing. Today we'd been invited to bring any song we wanted the group to sing. I brought Carolyn McDade's "Serpent Song." The words are:
In the places that reek
The serpent of life coils.
She crawls upon
the swollen stone,
Crawls upon the
the swollen stone,
her only garment.
After we'd sung it several times, we shared what this song meant to us personally. I spoke of my recent experience of preparing my self portrait series for publication in Burn Magazine...certainly an example of shedding my skin.
Kristen, who was staffing the Ojibway Nature Centre today, heard us singing. She asked one of our women if we'd like for her to bring a snake into the room while we sang this song. I was intrigued by her offer and talked with Kristen during lunch. I told her about my self portrait project and asked if I could hold the snake and take some photos. She said "Sure."
Well, Kaa and I spent a full half hour together. In my opinion, he is one of the sweetest-natured creatures on the planet. I felt like I'd died and gone to heaven. And I got over 40 photos.
Oh, we never know what a day will bring. How I love life!