Monday, February 26, 2007

Facing the Photographer

Some would have called it a favor to a friend, others an honor gracefully bestowed upon me. Whatever it was it brought up old anxieties and most of all, vanity.
A local friend, a charming and whimsical artist who has a gallery in town and a garden shop that is like a glimpse of fairyland; a beautiful storyteller and peace activist who has planted her hillsides with olive trees--she asked me one morning at the post office if I would consent to take part in her Goddess project.
Sounded pretty lofty. She explained that what she envisioned was a lot of photographs of local women. Artists, grandmothers, midwives, writers, firefighters, activists. A whole spectrum of faces. She had asked one of the most insightful local photographers to create the photos. Would I let him take mine?
I said yes, though within my heart I knew this little moment would bring up all sorts of inner turmoil.

Yesterday I walked to the pink house with the laughing Buddha in the planter box. The bright quince was in full bloom, a burning bush if ever I'd seen one.
He met me at the door. The storms had abated a bit, but I was carrying my Sistine Chapel umbrella, full of voluptuous nudes on a golden background. It cheers me up, come the weeks of winter storm. I walked past his kitchen alcove, where his wife and a friend were chatting, and into the room with the silver reflective screens and the window looking out to the mountains.

Sit down, said he, indicating the lovely, pale woven rug on the floor. I did.

Now, the whole concept of "Goddesses" had troubled me a bit--I am no goddess, nor was meant to be--and I wasn't all that certain of what the intent here might be. He'd asked, when we spoke on the phone, what characteristic item might I be holding. My answer was immediate: a pen. I always have a pen in my hand, and two or three clipped to my shirt, just in case I need to write something down--some flash of poetry, some thought. He'd said he kind of wanted to focus on hands.

I was curious about the list of women--about 30 of us--and asked to see it. He handed it over, and they were certainly all known to me: the midwife who cradled my children into the world, the artist in glass who is one of my favorite board members--the one who doesn't mind my hula hooping at important events; teachers, artists. Quite an exalted company.

The photographer, far from carefully arranging a pose, liked to snap a zillion shots while talking. Did I ever relax? No. I'm pretty sure in my background is some tribal memory of soul stealing through photographs. The only photos of myself I have really loved since childhood were taken by people who loved me. The photographer, gentle, whimsical, and snapping his shots, had no reason to love me. Did not know me, save at a distance. We got through the half hour and finally he crowed "That's it! I've got it!" and showed me the photo, in which I have a puckish smile and my hands near my face (must get those hands in).

"Hmm. I look a lot like my dear mother. Well, I loved her."

What I longed to say, what raged in my vain heart, was "when did I stop being twenty? Where have the years flown?" It is the same question I ask my mirror some mornings, as I meet my eyes--nice eyes, sometimes gray, sometimes bright turquoise, depending upon..I don't know what--and the crinkles by them, and the high cheekbones, and the nose I never quite liked even when I was little, and the myriad small lines, and the serious mouth. The photographer likes smiles. If I were to have faced his camera on my terms I would have stared it down, like the old photos of my great grandparents: a steady stare, a serious confrontation. This is who I am, and what of it?

As I grow older, and see the lines not only of my mother's face in her last years, but of her mother before her, a woman I never met but whose gaze I meet in some of my photos, I am coming to terms with...I don't know quite what. Time, vanity, the loss of youth. I have good bones, and when I reach 80 or so I plan to try to carry off the "she was a beauty in her youth" role. But this in between stage is as awkward as my teen years were. I just don't quite recognize that woman, though she has an elfin smile still, and a wicked gleam in her eyes. I don't recognize all those lines, that softening flesh.

I do recognize my hands--thin, inkstained, with broken nails from work and gardening. They serve me very well still.

After the photographs I asked to meet the birds--the photographer has some bright and lovely birds in an alcove. His wife cautioned me not to touch them, assuring me they'd bite. I went in anyway, and he handed me a bird he said was a parakeet--the largest of that sort. Orange and yellow and black and green, with a salmon ringed eye and a quizzical tilt to his head. The bird and I exchanged looks and murmurs, and the other birds gathered and watched. Pure delight. I'm sure the birds never bother to worry about how they look, or how they are aging. These ones fly and climb and murmur.

I'm trying to learn their aplomb, their joy.

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Blogger marlyat2 said...

Yes, I am with one this one! I would have felt the same, and do feel the same about this borderland between one thing and another.

Sometimes I call myself a young crone, but Laura-of-Laurelines scolded me for that!

My mother has to figure out the camera, and then we shall have a fairy house. But it make take a while.

7:38 AM, February 27, 2007  
Blogger David said...

Hi Jarvenpa,

Well, no one has ever offered to take my picture like this! ;) However, after all the good works that you have contributed to your community, maybe it is about time that you were recognized! :)

Have you actually been to the Sistine Chapel? I went on a week long tour of Italy with my Latin teacher in high school. St. Peter's and the Sistine were very memorable stops along the way. I took a lot of pictures in the Chapel before the extensive restoration. All my pics of Italy are in slide format. I should get them transferred to CD sometime. Anyway, I was just in awe of all the art and architecture that I saw!

Btw, I have a new post. An Iraqi friend of mine needs some American subjects for her Ph.D. research project. Could you take a look? Perhaps you could help her. Thanks!

9:05 AM, February 28, 2007  
Blogger jarvenpa said...

marly, I'm glad someone understands. (just creeping out of the unusual snow storm and power outages here--we usually don't get the big feathery flakes).

david--yes, I've visited the Sistine Chapel, a very long time ago when I was lucky enough to spend many months wandering Europe with my love of the time. Might have been around the time you and your Latin teacher were there, who knows.

5:49 PM, February 28, 2007  
Anonymous santa cruz lady said...

Hi Javenpa,
Having photographed you when you young i can verify to all that you were indeed a beauty and in fact have not left that stage of life entirely behind. Remember when we photographed each other through the fish bowl? The fish were most intrigued by our squashed golden faces pressing upon their small world.
When i come north next time i will bring my camera and you may eye it as somberly as your soul calls for. Pixiehood is banished!

7:58 PM, February 28, 2007  
Blogger Lori Witzel said...

Yes yes yes. And Marly, I laughed about the "young crone" thought -- I've had it myself!

I look in the mirror, and see all the melting shadows of my mother, my maternal grandmother, my great aunt, and who knows what other ancestresses shifting and pulling at the inner avatar I have of myself, something close to six years of age, bold and free and unselfconscious in my own skin.

The mirror brings all those selves, and self-consciousness, back, and the inner adventuresome child recedes.

One reason I'm very reluctant to take photos of people -- haven't figured out how to keep it "theirs" not "mine" and how not to intrude.

Gets back to a familiar fave thread, why drawing people feels so less intrusive than photographing them.

Thanks, as ever, for a lovely blossom of a post.

8:09 PM, February 28, 2007  
Blogger jarvenpa said...

Ah, Lori--I thought of you when I was posting this, and your discourse on drawing vs. photography.
And my santa cruz lady, I definitely thought of you during the entire photography session, since my favorite photos ever of my young self were taken by you--I well recall the fishbowl afternoon. Of course, we cheated--I recall you lent me your false eyelashes, which definitely improved upon nature.

10:40 PM, February 28, 2007  
Blogger bijan said...

Hello. I have been quietly reading some of your posts now and then, but feel like a tourist, unfamiliar with this place, never have much to say but the admiration for your writings and stories. One of these days, you will hopefully tell us what city you live in.

9:14 PM, March 02, 2007  
Blogger jarvenpa said...

Hi bijan, I checked out your interesting and ecclectic (is that how it is spelled? tonight my spelling, which is often kind of odd, is really feeling challenged)blog--thanks for stopping to comment here.
I live very far from any city at all.

9:31 PM, March 02, 2007  
Anonymous marly said...

Perhaps we need a Young Crones Club...

8:21 AM, March 03, 2007  
Blogger Lori Witzel said...

Marly (and Jarvenpa) -- Hahahaha! A Young Crones Club -- brilliant!

I do not know if either of you have read Terry Pratchett -- specifically his "Wyrd Sisters" novel. I read it and decided I wanted to grow up to be Granny Weatherwax. (Which sort of scared The Mur.)


4:17 PM, March 03, 2007  
Blogger jarvenpa said...

I have read Terry Pratchett and laughed a lot--but not the Wyrd Sisters. Must rustle around and find it now.
Yes, a Young Crone's Club by all means. Laurel of Laurelines has beautiful art--but possibly she is too young yet to be admitted. We can take it on advisement.
Between you, Lori, and Marly, and myself, we cover three directions--the south (if you count Texas as such), the east (though I know Marly's heart is transplanted there) and the west. All we have to do now is find the glamorous Crone of the North and we'll be set.

9:37 PM, March 03, 2007  
Blogger jarvenpa said...

Of course, my dear lady of santa cruz gets to be the coastal west young crone; I'll cover the forest region.

9:38 PM, March 03, 2007  
Blogger marlyat2 said...


Crone of the North... Living here, that makes me shiver! Perhaps I am the Young Crone of the North in one of my manifestations, though I should rather be Young Crone of the Carolinas. It is March with piled-high snow, and I'm feeing as blue as snow shadows. The silver shadow lining is that I've fallen into a poetry jag.


Granny Weatherwax is also in the Tiffany Aching novels. I think you would make a grand and penetrating Weatherwax, judging from that eye and eyebrow.

11:32 AM, March 04, 2007  
Blogger David said...

Hey, I have read some aTerry Pratchett too! :) I have heard of Granny, but I haven't read her books yet. So far, my favorite character is Captain Carrot. :)

8:02 PM, March 05, 2007  
Blogger Nyx said...

Indeed a familiar feeling (but I like getting old, don't know for how long though).
Also, I have to admit I'm a bit envious of your umbrella, it sounds gorgeous.

12:05 PM, March 06, 2007  
Blogger David said...

Hi Jarvenpa,

Would you like to sign a petition to free a group of Iranian women's rights demonstrators who were arrested this past Sunday in Tehran? Details at my Constructive blog if you are interested. Thanks!

10:38 AM, March 08, 2007  
Anonymous marly said...

Hmm, somehow I thought it was time for more jarvenpa!

Oh, and I think you will have a long wait for that fairy house. Though I suppose they are worth the wait.

4:38 PM, March 15, 2007  
Blogger chris miller said...

And what three fine young crones you are !

Marly - who's never at a loss for words

Lori - whose magic camera sees what the eye cannot

Jarvenpa - the forest lady of unlimited kindness

How fortunate of me to have stumbled into your cyber company !

5:38 AM, May 01, 2007  
Blogger krsa said...

I’m trying to replace my favorite umbrella that was stolen this weekend while I was shopping. It’s a sturdy wooden-handled, stick-style umbrella. Black on the outside with Michelangelo’s full Sistine Chapel ceiling inside (golden tones, pre-restoration). It was a gift of unknown origin from many years ago... any suggestion where I might find another?

10:42 AM, February 03, 2008  

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