Monthly Archives: May 2007

Why We Fight

Holliston, MA

Here in New England we have a lot of veterans, just like everywhere else. And as elsewhere, the graves are marked with flags on Memorial Day. This year a group has once again attached flags and the names of soldiers killed-in-action to utility poles along a half-dozen miles of Route 16 in Holliston and Milford. A couple years ago the group did the same thing for the first two years of the war; but this year I didn’t see any Spanish, British, Central European, or Latin American flags — just a few Canadian flags and a Danish one. (Of course, I was driving and surely missed something.)

I understand that some think what we’re doing is tremendously valuable for the world and noble — despite its incredible mismanagement — but to me the lives associated with the hundreds of names every 50 to 100 feet along Route 16 all seem to have been wasted.

Posted in Burying Grounds, This is who we are | Leave a comment

Stony Brook Road Cemetery, Great Barrington

Stony Brook Road Cemetery, Great Barrington, Massachusetts

Today I had my first unexpected brush with post-mortem fame since Lisa, Sarah Danberg, and I found Medgar Evers grave in Arlington Cemetery back in 1999. There at the back of the small unnamed cemetery on Stony Brook Road in Great Barrington lies the grave for André F. Cournand, marked with a fine white stone, delicate script and a bas relief Nobel medal. Yes, I had discovered the final resting place of the winner of the 1956 Nobel Prize for Medicine. How unusual!

I love these little New England cemeteries. This one had a load of Comstocks and Harrises, too. I wonder if any of these folk are related to my Harris relatives in Iowa.

Lexi Rudnitsky (1972-2005)
Yet I love you more, having not loved you longer

  • Ebenezer Townsend (♂ – †1862)
  • Electa Townsend (♀ – †1864)
  • Wealthey Townsend (♀ – †1859)
  • Michael Ugo Stille (né Mikhail Kamenetzki, 1919-1995)
  • Cornelius H. DeJong (♀ 1908-1995)
  • Erika Kloz Olivier (†1970) & Anton Olivier (†1977)
  • Harmony A. Bills (♀ – †1912)
  • Lancaster Comstock (♂ – †1842)
  • Abel Benedict (♂ – †1819)
  • Prudence Ray (♀ – †1817)
  • Maj. Artemas Ray (♂ – †1829)
  • Selona Turner (♀ – †1818)
  • Mix Turner (♂ – †1879)
  • Zebulon Chapman (♂ – †1804)
  • Phineas Atwood (♂ – †July 19, 1836 Æ 33)
  • Phineas Atwood (♂ – †August 13, 1836 Æ 70)
  • Erastus Martin (†1838) son of Uli and Silance Martin
  • Permelia Harris (♀ – †1835)
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Must every discussion of suburbia be inherently political?

I went out photographing in the Commonwealth today for the first time since starting my master’s program. While I would have preferred the opportunity to go out and work on my projects over the last nine months, the absence gave me time to think a bit about what I’m doing and where it’s going.

So I found myself in Upton and Northbridge today thinking about one of the recurring themes in my project: new subdivisions.

I have been told that my work is political or has an anti-growth message, but I don’t think so and certainly haven’t consciously tried to impart any particular message. In my mind, my project is primarily about how the six million people in the Commonwealth fit into this rather old landscape, about the margins where people and nature meet. And today I realized that, although towns in Metrowest and other suburban areas are all subtly different, they all follow a number of general principles.

First, dispossession. Historically native peoples and then farmers and poorer people have ceased to hold land. Towns divest themselves of common land, and it becomes fungible. It ceases being inchoate when subdivided into lots and stripped to a tabula rasa state. Infinite, terrifying potential is transmuted into something real and limited which we can comprehend and apprehend. This tends to be when I started to get interested in a scene.

Today I became aware of a certain kind of violence visited upon the land during suburban transformation. Most (if not all) of the trees in a wide swath are felled. Rock is blasted, pulverized, and excavated. The ground is stripped, leveled, compacted, and then replanted with new grass and thin trees. It’s not all like this, of course, but I realized that many of my photographs reflect this microcycle of destruction during construction. Nature itself has to be dispossessed and made anew.

And yet, at the same time, we prize the presence of small portions of that primordial nature at the margins of property because (thirdly) new suburbia is founded on human dislocation and separation. We move to new places and live next to people we don’t know or have time to get to know, and we feel the need to have some separation from them. Plus the goal of suburbia — in this Commonwealth at least — is the negation of the urban and its problems. (If it’s not a conscious goal, it’s at the very least a conscious accident on the part of town planners and residential developers.) This negation has in its manifestation a measure of wildness and nonlinearity.

But this elevation of the “non-city” shouldn’t be equated with a total lack of order, for the final aspect of exurban development is unachievable Platonic perfection. Just look at the closely manicured lawns free of weeds and ornamentation, or consider the carefully chosen shrubbery and the fine expanses of mulch bordering everything. Exterior perfection and harmony mirror a desire for household and familial perfection.

In my Commonwealth images, I have been trying to show the outward appearance of these changes, the margins between wild and tamed, the self-similarity of suburbia, and the absurd ways that things go awry. It’s not political, per se, as I don’t have any suggestions in mind that I wish to advocate. My goal is to show a slice of our inner thoughts by examining the outward appearance of our things.

Posted in Commonwealth Project, Photography, This is who we are | 2 Comments

Milwaukee, Not so bad after all

Friends, I think I’ve made my peace with Milwaukee. Our problems started fourteen years ago, really got going seven years back and moderated a bit since then. Today, I can say that I like Milwaukee.

You see, in my first year at Grinnell, I had a girlfriend from Wyoming who was attending Michigan Tech in the Upper Peninsula, and we decided it would be great for me to visit her over fall break. The easiest way for me to get from Iowa to the UP involved crossing Wisconsin the long way. So after my last midterm I piled into my ’63 Dodge Dart, drove through the evening in thickening fog, and somehow ended up on a Forest Service road outside Eagle River, WI. The pavement ended, and with a large bump I hit the gravel road.

A few miles later, I made the paved highway again and drove for a bit before the “oil” light came on. This wasn’t out of the ordinary for this old car, and I took a fresh quart from the case I kept in the trunk. A few miles later, outside of Crystal Falls, Michigan, I heard a loud rattle, then a BOOM, and then silence. The car glided to a stop on the side of the road about an hour outside Houghton, my destination. Opening the hood I saw bits of metal that used to be the engine embedded in the hood.

There was only one thing to do: hitchhike back to Crystal Falls, call for a tow truck, and try to get my car fixed in the morning. I also called my girlfriend, who said she would pick me up in the morning when she could borrow a car. After sleeping in my car behind the Dodge dealership waiting for them to open, I met my girlfriend and some guy, who turned out to be her new boyfriend.

Not long afterward — I had to stick around in order to sell my car for scrap and hoped in vain that I could win the girl back — I got on a bus to go back home, which is where Milwaukee enters this story. I arrived after midnight to find the ticket window closed. I had only ten dollars or so left to my name after paying for a late-night tow and a bus ticket to Milwaukee. If Greyhound didn’t take plastic, I would be forced to have my own private Idaho there in Wisconsin in order to get home. But I had more immediate concerns: Milwaukee’s bus station is rough. “Don’t worry, I’ll look after you,” said a burly-looking janitor who seemed to sense my nervousness.

I eventually arrived in Grinnell about 24 hours after leaving Michigan and changing busses in Chicago. “Hey, bus driver, are you going to get my luggage from stowage?” Hey gave me a hurried look. “There’s no luggage on this bus for you.” He got out impatiently to prove his point. I was living the perfect country and western song: no girl, no car, no money, no luggage. The only things that seemed to be missing were mama and prison and gettin’ drunk; and I was pretty sure one of those was right around the corner.

Seven years later I was back in Milwaukee after flying into General Mitchell International Airport — at the time more bus station than airport — to attend a three-day DICOM course. Three days in the suburbs without a car with everything of interest miles away. Three days of pinched, nasal Wisconsin accents. Three days of wall-to-wall election ads targeting the swing state. I think I went a little bit crazy. Or at least that’s what the picture of Crazy Horse told me one evening.

A few years after that I was back to visit GE Medical Healthcare. Still no car, but I was in the middle of miles of strip malls along the six-lane Blue Mound Avenue. Walking past miles of mostly empty parking lots, I got my first sense that something was fundamentally wrong with land use in the ‘burbs.

Then last year I was in Milwaukee twice. First, for a couple days to see a baseball game and some “lazy” animals at the zoo, and later for a couple days to visit GE again. That didn’t seem so painful.

Then last Thursday, before leaving for another quick trip to see GE, I resolved that Milwaukee might not be so bad after all and that I just needed to try a little harder to like it. My trip got off to a good start when I parked in one of the conveniently located spaces reserved for hybrid vehicles at Boston’s Logan Airport and ate fresh cookies in first class seats on Midwest Express, the only airline that I really like.

Not long after I arrived, the sales guy on the trip suggested that I come hang out in the “Concierge Club” with him and a fellow coworker/traveler. I went down to the front desk to enquire about the club. “Well, usually you have to have a certain amount of frequent traveler points, but go meet your coworkers,” she said and handed me a keycard. Sweet! Free food, big screen TV, a friendly concierge from Australia who somehow ended up in Milwaukee and liked talking to Americans about Led Zeppelin. She seemed amused by our story that we were record salesmen for a certain three-letter government agency.

Friday, we met with our homies at GE, and I stayed another night to watch a baseball game at Miller Park. Beforehand, I went to the Milwaukee Art Museum, which was quite nice. Like Cleveland and Detroit, the museum started with robber baron money, was sustained by robber baron wives, went through times of crisis when everyone fled to the suburbs, and now anchors the hopes of cultural renewal. It seems to have succeeded more than the others. Having a little more time on my hands, I walked through the parks fronting the water and headed inland, stopping into a beautiful federal court building that epitomizes the Gilded Era of the late 19th century and city hall, which is under renovation and whose employees and patrons appear to be members of the original cast of Laverne and Shirley.

The game itself was alright, but nowhere near as good as my seat six rows behind home plate. Since last year, the Brewers added a new member — a chorizo — to the sausage races, and he smoked them all in the sixth inning.

Happy days are here again!

Inside the Milwaukee Art Museum

A Calder Mobile

“The Janitor” — a statue

Art for a city built on beer

Me and Nikki S. Lee

Lots of little pictures

Me and my progenitors

The Milwaukee Federal Building and U.S. District Court

Milwaukee City Hall

Posted in Baseball, Travel, USA | Leave a comment

Old Indian Cemetery, Holliston

I went back to Holliston again, lured by the name on the map: “Indian Cemetery.” No Native Americans or Indians from the 19th century as far as I can tell. I can’t say for certain, but I think this cemetery and the nearby “Indian Ridge” follow the New England / suburban pattern of naming things after what the newcomers recently displaced.

For those of you who have never seen a New England cemetery, the dominant fact is stone. The Massachusetts soil is thin; some say the easiest thing to grow on a Bay State farm are rocks. These rocks make good walls if not good neighbors. They also denote sacred ground here, much as they have for millennia. (The Greeks used rock to outline temple boundaries.)

The rock here is hard, and the words on headstones are chiseled in fine script that somehow is still legible after two centuries. This burying ground also had small, squat, inscrutable stones — barely recognizable as important objects — that mark people forever unknown to us. This part of Holliston’s hinterland was clearly a poor part of town, and many people are remembered by initials only.

Here are some of the more interesting names and stones:

Mr. William Gallot
died Nov. 9, 1838, Æt 44

The Lord has call’d our frind [sic] away,
Relentless death hath stain.
We trust our loss has prov’d to be
His everlasting gain.

Beloved Auntie Doe
Doris B. Gallot, 1912-1992

Here lies the dust of an infant. Daughter of Samuel and Polly Nichols.
She died Dec. 24, 1805

  • Achsah Whittemore (♂ – †1867)
  • Ellen Faustina (♀ – †Sep. 3, 1844 Æt 1 year, 3 mos. & 16 days)
  • Clementine F. – Wife of John Whitaker †May 12, 1851 Æ 32
  • Patience Lamb (♀ – †1841 Æ 58)
  • Samuel Nichols (♂ – †1808 XXXVIII)
  • Sarah Rider (♀ – †Dec. 8, 1832 Æ 1 day)
  • Nancy Rider (♀ – †Dec. 8, 1832 Æ 1 day)
  • Kezia Bullard (♀ – †1821 Æ 49)
  • Eliazer Bullard (♂ – †1824 Æ 60)
  • Haziah Bullard (♀ – †1831 Æ 61)
  • Algernon Heine (♂ 1926-1994)
  • Jesse Haven (†1813 Æ 68), Betsey Haven (†1821 Æ 42), Mr. B. Haven, Mrs. C. Haven, Dea. J. Haven
  • Miss Nabbe Cozzens (†1806 Æ 19)
  • Mr. Hopestil Eames (†1821 Æ 77)
Posted in Burying Grounds | 1 Comment