Monday, September 29, 2008

Polaroid a Day Project

I enjoy taking pictures. Some might say too many pictures since I often have my small digital camera with me everywhere I go. But I was amazed to hear the story of Jamie Livingston who took 6697 Polaroid photos, one a day, from March 1979 to October 1997. Chris Higgins, a writer for the mental_floss blog discovered a website with all of these photos and started looking into the back story of Jamie. He had already deduced from the photos that he was a film maker, Mets fan and obviously an artist who made a photographic diary of his life.

When I look through these pictures and see a life laid out in singe frames through a Polaroid lens, I as myself lots of questions.

Who are these people?
Why is it so important to the photographer to document all of this?What does this say about our daily lives? And what is truly important?
This picture of Jamie and his girlfriend was taken in late April 1997. A few days later one picture tells a much different story...radiation tattoos. A few months later he ended up in the hospital. But was able to get out of the hospital and get married.
The photos go on until the last day of Jamie's life. You should visit Jamie's pictures and see what a wonderful story they tell. One man's dedication to taking one photo a day to show 18 years of his life even when things were not pretty or happy. Taking photos of the everyday and the mundane and sad things we experience is the polar opposite of how our society thinks about photography. If you took out all your photographs right now what would it say about your life? Is it all weddings, birthdays, parties, and vacations?
Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Monday, September 29, 2008 by Christian Sinclair · 0

Monday, September 22, 2008

Tale of Two Poets

I have great respect for poets. They have the ability to say beautifully, in few words, what many of us spend a lifetime trying to convey. There are two poets I want to mention in this post... two poets whose lives were intertwined.

Jane Kenyon was a student at the University of Michigan when she fell in love with her writing professor, Donald Hall. Though 19 years her senior, they married in 1972 and began a successful life together as poets. They spent the majority of their 23 year marriage on Donald Hall's family farm in New Hampshire.

In 1989 Donald was diagnosed with metastatic colon cancer. He underwent resection and chemotherapy and was given a 1 in 3 chance to survive another 5 years. It was utter tragedy then when Jane herself was diagnosed with Leukemia in 1994.

As she battled and lost a rugged 15 month fight with leukemia, she and Donald worked on "Otherwise: New and Selected Poems" published soon after her death. One of the few poems she wrote referencing her illness:

"The Sick Wife"
The sick wife stayed in the car/while he bought a few groceries./Not yet fifty,/she had learned what it's like /not to be able to button a button.

It was the middle of the day-/and so only mothers with small children/or retired couples/stepped through the muddy parking lot.

cleaning swung and gleamed on hangers/in the cars of the prosperous./How easily they moved-/with such freedom,/even the old and relatively infirm.

The windows began to steam up./The cars on either side of her/pulled away so briskly
that it made her sick at heart.

Another poem from the book is a reflection of a loss in Jane's life:

"What Came to Me"
I took the last/dusty piece of china/out of the barrel. /It was your gravy boat,/with a hard, brown/drop of gravy still/on the porcelain lip. /I grieved for you then as I never had before.

If you read through Jane's book first and then move on to the book Donald Hall compiled in the days and weeks before and then following his wife's death, you may find yourself grieving with him. His compilation of poems entitled "Without" are an exquisite look into the lives of this couple dealing with dying.

Here are 3 different poems by Donald Hall dealing with the medical world, faith, and saying goodbye.

First the physical struggle:
"As Dr. McDonald plunged/ the tube down her throat, her body thrashed/on the table. When she/ struggled to rise, the doctor's voice cajoled,/ "Jane, Jane," until/ blood-oxygen numbers dropped toward zero/ and her face went blue./ The young nurse slipped oxygen into Jane's/ nostrils and punched/ a square button. Eight doctors burst/ into the room, someone/ pounded Jane's chest, Dr. McDonald/ gave orders like/ a submarine captain among depth charges,/ the nurse fixed/ a nebulizer over Jane's mouth and nose-/ and she breathed.

Meanwhile,/ understanding that his wife might be dying/ before his eyes, he stood still,/ careful to keep out of everyone's way."

Second the spiritual struggle:
"When the minister,/ Alice Ling,/ brought communion to the house/ or the hospital bed,/ or when they held hands as Alice prayed,/ grace was evident/ but not the comfort of mercy or reprieve./ The embodied figure/ on the cross still twisted under the sun."

Lastly, the emotional struggle:
"One by one they came,/ the oldest and dearest, to say goodbye/ to this friend of the heart./ At first she said their names, wept, and touched;/ then she smiled; then/ turned one mouth-corner up. On the last day/ she stared silent goodbyes/ with her hands curled and her eyes stuck open."

Often we find in art that some of the richest creations come from places of deep despair and tragedy. It is certainly true of the poems of these two connected souls, Donald Hall and Jane Kenyon.

If you are looking for more check out Bill Moyers documentary "Donald Hall and Jane Kenyon: A life together" produced just before Jane's diagnosis. Donald Hall also has a more prose filled book called "The Best Day and the Worst Day: Life with Jane Kenyon"

Monday, September 22, 2008 by Amy Clarkson · 0

Subscribe to Comments Only

Have you ever wondered what other people might be saying about a particular subject you see on any of the three Pallimed blogs? But to actually remember to go back and check the post is something you never get around to doing?

Well for Pallimed readers who subscribe via RSS* we now have a Comments Only Feed that will keep you up on the latest conversations on the posts. Each Pallimed blog (Main, Arts, and Cases) has its own individual subscription link in the left hand column.

Pallimed: Main Comments Only Feed (About 5-10/week)

Pallimed: Arts Comments Only Feed (About 2-4/week)

Pallimed: Cases Comments Only Feed (About 1-2/month)

We rarely get spam comments 2-3/month and we delete them within 2-4 hours usually, so this should not be a big deterrent. The 'Comments Only' subscription is not available for email subscribers at this time, but if you would like an email subscription option then email me directly or post a comment.

This post will be cross-posted to all three Pallimed Blogs. My apologies in advance for readers who see it multiple times.

*Really Simple Syndication.

by Christian Sinclair · 0

Monday, September 15, 2008

Memorial Quilts

A recent Google search on a completely unrelated topic, lead me to a hospice website. I found some photos there of a Memorial Quilt that they had made. As an amateur seamstress myself from a family of professional seamstresses, this peaked my interest.

After additional searches, I came upon the AIDS Memorial Quilt. I remember hearing about this years ago. I even saw a few pictures. But I don't remember really looking at it and trying to see what each block was saying about the person it memorialized.

The AIDS Memorial Quilt was first established in 1987 to not only remember those who had died but to build awareness for HIV/AIDS. It was meant to give names to the numbers. It is the largest community art piece in the world, containing approximately 48,000 panels that would cover 185 basketball courts (2007 statistics). The panels have now been photographed and archived on the group's website and can be viewed there.

Some of the 3X6 foot panels are very simple, with just a plain background and a name. They are very profound in their simplicity. Others are more ornate with pictures of the deceased or religious or other symbols. I think the Olympic flame on this block is not only representing an Olympic athlete. Like the flames seen in memorial monuments and grave stones, it is an eternal flame. There is actually a lot of similarity in the symbolism of the Olympic torch (that burns continuously through the Olympic games) and the eternal flame. The ship, also found in this block, is sailing off into the sunset. On it's sail are symbols that represent the deceased.

While the AIDS Memorial Quilt may have slowed down in the past few years, as less people are dying from AIDS, more blocks are still being added and parts of the Quilt are on display around the country. More recently, memorial quilts have been made in honor of those who died in the 9/11 attacks.

There really aren't any fixed rules when making a memorial quilt. You can find memorial quilts made from t-shirts and other fabric belonging to someone who has died. Photos and even documents such as letters can be printed on to fabric to be added to quilts. This quilt has printed pictures (intentionally blurred), parts of t-shirts, and fabric from the deceased clothes. Like the AIDS Quilt, they are often mixed media, with paint, needle work, and pretty much anything that can be sewn on.

I found this quote talking about the AIDS Memorial Quilt, but I think it's a great description of all such works of art. "The Quilt has redefined the tradition of quilt-making in response to contemporary circumstances. A memorial, a tool for education and a work of art, the Quilt is a unique creation, an uncommon and uplifting response to the tragic loss of human life."


Monday, September 15, 2008 by Amber Wollesen, MD · 0

Monday, September 8, 2008

Postmortem Photography - A Lost Art?

In the early nineteenth century, as the medium of photography was coming into existence, postmortem photographs began to appear. These portraitures, taken soon after death were cherished keepsakes for families to possess. Usually it was the only photograph ever taken of the individual, young or old.

Even before photography existed, paintings of the deceased occurred. In the sixteenth century paintings of a recently deceased would be made of the person, usually a nun or clergyman, sitting up or lying in bed. This influence is seen in some of the early photographs, depicting their subjects also propped up in bed or in a chair.

The other customary paintings in the early nineteenth century were of young children whom had died. These paintings actually depicted the child alive, but a symbol of some sort was included to indicate that the child had in fact died. Examples of symbols used include a rose held downward, or a broken stem. Sometimes a prominent watch with the time of death was included.

As photography evolved, photos rather than paintings of the deceased became important. Interestingly, as the cost of photography lessened, the price for a postmortem photograph actually increased, indicating it's value, as well as popularity.

Most of the postmortem photos are of children, secondary to the high infant mortality rates. The earlier photos often depict the subject in a sleeping posture, as if to depict the impermanence of sleep, rather than the finality of death. As the role of the undertaker became more central to the dying process, more elaborate photo's of coffins and flowers ensued.

The official practice of postmortem photography began to disappear in the early twentieth century. Many reasons for this exist. The photograph itself lost some of its prominence as the snapshot was developed and photo's became more common place. Death also became more scarce, and our societies began to shun any reminders mortality.

The art of postmortem photography is all but gone. The palliative care movement that is slowly bringing the acceptance of death back into society's focus, is also helping to spur a resurgence in portraiture's of deceased infants. The current name now is "remembrance photography".

A very big difference is that remembrance photography is generally donated. Unlike the high prices of postmortem photography, today's tribute is a gift to families to help in the grieving process. One terrific organization that connects families with photographers is "Now I lay Me Down to Sleep". This current photo is taken from their gallery, full of tributes to children.

This picture of James Dennis isn't much different than photos taken almost 100 years ago. Spend some time reflecting on both genres, there's a great sight on Flikr with a large collection of postmortem photos and the Now I lay Me Down to Sleep gallery.

Reference: Memento Mori: Death and Photography in 19th Century America by Dan Meinwald

Monday, September 8, 2008 by Amy Clarkson · 2