Craig Blackmoore is a New Media artist and
music producer from Detroit, MI.
Craig Blackmoore is a New Media artist and
music producer from Detroit, MI.
Elizabeth Anne Nowicki is a New York City based portrait photographer. Her work revolves around her mother, family identities, and self reflection. More of her work can be seen on www.elizabethannenowicki.com.
by Rebecca Bowman
I’d arrived at the cafe first, so I watched Beth come through the glass door and scan the room for me. A few months before, when we’d first met, her hair had been blonde. Today, it was dark brown. Her lip color was surprising, and her large eyes were lined and lashed in a style that reminded me of the Barbies I collected as a kid. She looked unflappable, smart, slick in heels and black leather jacket. I resisted the urge to slouch. I was glad to be the one already sitting down. My nerves jangled somewhere behind my ears, and I went back over what I knew. She is my roommate’s photographer friend. She’d actually studied art in college, something that, to me, indicated a bravery and sureness of vision I wanted to probe in our conversation. She, like me, grew up in the quasi-rural sprawl of the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, in towns that prop up the big cities around them. I was nervous, but had hope we could connect, at least, on having grown up in similar places. This is something I frequently hope when meeting new people in New York City. More than half of all the people I met had come from the suburbs. It was an immediate connection to be made and mined for repetitive, reliable conversation: growing up was so boring, I’m just trying to make enough money to stay here, here is where life is.
Our mutual friend had told Beth about the online magazine I had in production. She emailed me about the possibility of sharing her work, and I was immediately keen on profiling a visual artist. I imagined the project of the magazine as an investigation into how meaning is constructed, but had mostly attended to words, rather than images and their role in that process. Photography is the most direct artistic confrontation with the appearance of things, and I was thrilled to schedule a conversation with a studied photographer. I suggested meeting at a cafe near almost every subway line in Brooklyn.
She produced a large, bound book from her purse. It had Dianne embossed, metallic, across the front. Beth explained that it was a project named for its one subject, her mom, and invited me to flip through. In one, Dianne’s making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in a kitchen with honey-oak cabinets and floral tiles identical to my aunt’s. In another, dressed in utilitarian-black snow-clothes, she’s standing, as if waiting for her lollygagging daughter, in front of a Jeep. The driveway seems lost under recent, half-shoveled snow, before a forest background that fades to wintery grey. There are several from a shoot of Dianne holding one of her grandchildren, and she’s wearing a rosary with beads the same turquoise as her fingernail polish. In almost all of them, she’s wearing lipstick a lot like Beth’s.
These portraits were not what I was expecting. I’d prepared to present Beth with some sort-of-dull questions about mechanical aspects of photography, her perceptions of beauty and how they play out in her work, and who influences her practice. I’d jotted these talking points onto a piece of paper, in small, cribbed handwriting, to help me if I got too nervous or conversation lagged. While Beth pointed out the shots she liked best, her voice glossy with pride, I surreptitiously slid the paper under my cup. I asked about her work more generally, and she told me Dianne was her primary project, that she had taken up her mother as her muse. In my head, I wandered around a new line of inquiry I didn’t feel confident pursuing: why has Beth seemingly circled back to make her mother the center of her artistic attention?
Per my own experience, Americans living in the interior of the United States watch the coasts through tinted pinholes. My grandmother has a habit of letting me know who is soon to appear on the Today show, in case I want to wake up early to glimpse a celebrity in real life. It’s a privilege she attaches to living in a cultural center. I’m never interested, but I enjoy imagining her calling me on her cordless house phone, reclined against the dusty afghans folded across the back of her couch, just in case I wanted to know Justin Bieber could be seen in the city tomorrow. There’s part of me, of course, that’s bemused by her calls, but I also know how amazing it would be if someone even a little famous visited her town out in the sticks. I remember the excitement around Johnny Unitas’ son visiting the local Barnes & Noble and the picture, texted to me by my mother, of Grandma posing with him after his book-signing. I can understand, but not share, her feeling that these encounters are thrilling. They are small meetings with a world presented to her as foreign and physically inaccessible, but important enough to be transmitted into her living room, by every channel, on a television she has on eighteen hours a day.
It’s not novel to consider how differently the world appears to me, someone who’s been web-surfing since my preteens. Thousands of studies track how the consumption of processed images has been hyperaccelerated by almost full national access to the Internet. But the first generation of people exposed to the Internet during early adolescence have only recently become adults; like all adults, they’ve developed enhanced critical thinking and are tasked with reckoning with the psychological legacy of childhood. The emotional contents of their daily lives was partnered, from a uniquely early age, with the emotional contents of their Web consumption. My grandmother recalls being riveted by the local news and racist, blockbuster Westerns on her family’s first television, brought home when she was in her late teens, while I remember being fourteen, talking with strangers in anonymous chat-rooms every night after my parents went to sleep. Sometimes I feel a gulf between my grandmother and me, our ways of expressing ourselves and what we consider valuable enough to receive our attention. The raw materials of my daily life are not much different from my grandmother’s, yet I feel myself moved away from her unrelenting sincerity, inherited morality, and devotion to the rural community she never left. I dislike this and feel guilty because I love her. And it’s my instinct that habituated consumption of multifarious, emotionally-stirring Internet content has redirected much of my attention from the daily, concrete parts of living, those things over which my grandmother and I might connect.
Internet content is a maximally engaging species of Hitchcockian drama— life with the dull parts cut out, but cut out by you, your clicks and views. The whole of the expanding world and human experience seems to exist on the Internet today. A web user consumes helpings of that infinity, per their own ideas of what they want to consume. There is a significant, invisible choice to be made: what do I want to pay attention to? But there are equally interesting questions attached to the underside of that one. Can infinite, non-physical access to whatever you want to see impair your ability or desire to pay attention to that which physically surrounds you?
I think a person’s most immediate surroundings are the mechanisms of self: the physical body, and a person’s corpus of beliefs and memories. The environments and people near a person’s body could be called secondary surroundings. A person’s Internet-environments seem between these two sets, in a way that may mediate or moderate the connection between our immediate selves and secondary surroundings. This isn’t a prelude to shaking my fist at people glued to their phones. The web provides a person with access to myriad perspectives and catalogs of brute fact. A kid in Nebraska can become acquainted with obscure Russian writers, or the most respectful way to address a transgender person they haven’t met yet, or the culture and history of the Native Americans who once inhabited the land now occupied by their tiny town. The relationships, learning, commerce, and activism which are made possible by the Internet are as real as those which exist in three dimensions.
However, family and the other people which surround a person have, traditionally, provided those perspectives and lessons which inform a person’s worldview. In addition to being an evolved tool of survival, family connections are meant to socially and culturally educate a person limited to only their singular point-of-view. The insertion of the Internet into a child’s daily life takes from that traditional role of the family. So, in 2017, there are legitimate questions about the changed role family plays in a child’s emotional and intellectual development. And, to be honest, I wonder if paying close attention to one’s family is less appealing to a generation of children exploring the expanse of the Web.
Probably, yes, I think. I thought about this while I looked at Beth’s photographs, feeling anxious. It’s clear, as she smiles and flips through them, that she’s reached a different conclusion I can’t explain away by generational difference, like my grandmother’s interest in the Today show. Beth pointed to small details in her photographs, explaining how they tell stories about who her mother is. She loves Dianne, but it’s obvious she also loves the portraits of her. I wonder, what are these photographs, if they are something separate from Dianne, herself, to love? Our chitchat digressed, and I found that as kids, Beth and I both hated our Catholic school uniforms and felt separate from our peers. In high school, we loved the same singer from an emo band, and I could imagine us both, alone in our rooms, trawling MySpace and practicing our eyeliner technique.
On my way home from meeting, I steeped in embarrassment over my remaining questions and wondered if something was wrong with me. I’ve spent the entirety of my adult life with my mind turned from the world of my upbringing, and while that’s largely a conscious choice having to do with politics and trauma, I know I must hold unexamined feelings. I couldn’t reconcile all of the similarities and differences between Beth and me, so I took a seat on the train and returned to the plastic envelope she’d given me, full of prints from Dianne.
I looked for clues in Beth’s photographs. She described Dianne as her attempt to see the woman which contains her mother. But as much as they are portraits of Dianne, they are also portraits of Beth looking at Dianne. Beth makes images which attempt to “elevate her to not-mom-ness,” which is to say, by my understanding, that they attempt to illuminate those of Dianne’s features which are not always visible to her. Beth’s always been interested in art, but found, after her grandfather gifted her a camera during high school, that in taking a photograph she could capture external instances of beauty, rarity, and meaning without battling a medium like paint or clay. It was also a practice of mindfulness— seeing and capturing a moment both as it is and as she sees it. That urge to mindfulness echoes what she remembers as her mother’s personal philosophy and advice she can recall verbatim: “Beth, live life right now. Stop trying to fast forward.”
She resolved to make a living by making art. This resolution moved her to place more physical distance between herself and her family; she moved to New York City, got a job doing commercial photography, and became immersed in the culture and images she’d previously consumed remotely, through the Internet. The role of the Internet shifted for Beth when she was an adult living in New York. She found herself obsessed with ancestry.com. She would pore over her own family photos, and admire the work of other photographers, like Larry Sultan or Elinor Carucci, which adopts the artists’ families as the subject of inquiry. Her occupational art-making, work mostly involving merchandising and home goods, became increasingly separate from her emotional self. She found herself heading back to Pennsylvania on weekends, feeling lucky that she was so close to her home and family, and able to disconnect from life in New York for a few short days. She’d always been a family-oriented person, but it became the most important thing to her, now, when she was most physically removed from them.
Dianne did not study art, and she never moved to New York City. She married, then supported her husband’s small business and kept a home with five children. She took Beth and her siblings to painting classes, workshops, music lessons, and sports practices. A different woman may have suppressed her daughter’s interest in the arts, but Dianne understood the importance of expression. She’s never stopped wearing bright pink and red lipsticks, and has kept her hair blonde for decades. In both of her two homes, she’s installed a pink bathroom. These details are prominent in Dianne and show themselves in Beth’s own sense of style. Dianne commissioned a painted portrait of herself in her late 20s, and it still hangs in her home today. Despite all of this, and how comfortable Dianne appears in front of the camera, Beth said that when she first began photographing her mother, Dianne questioned who would want to see her.
Of course, it’s Beth. Dianne, as both mother and muse, provides a centering touchstone for Beth that the shifting tides of fashion, career, aesthetics, and romance cannot. Now, both adults, Beth and Dianne can consider their relationship in terms more nuanced than mother and daughter. The act of attempting to strip that layer of interpretation is also an act of revealing that layer. For both of them, this process is revelatory. Beth is revealed to herself in the act of looking at her mother as a person; their similarities and differences are thrown into higher relief, and, in the process of creating an image, Beth is forced to confront subconscious ideas she holds about her mother’s appearance, appearances in general, and how appearances are transformed by and with love. Dianne is also revealed to herself by taking in her reflection in her daughter; she said to Beth, “I had so much fun watching you kids grow up, I didn’t realize I was aging with you.” She experiences being seen, not just as a doting grandma or mother, but as a person and source of identity and inspiration for Beth.
As we talked, I alternated between looking at Beth and at the photographs of Dianne. It was easy to see Beth behind the camera, in the backyard or the bathroom, using the visual language she’d studied in art school to capture images of her mother. Dianne contains fundamentally beautiful and thoughtful portraits which experiment with looking and presenting. In one shot, Dianne peers at Beth between the fronds of her houseplant, with a nude, daily-wear bra strap hanging just below her sleeve. In another, Dianne is distracted, but Beth is watching her closely through the screened storm-door on their porch.
I shuffled through the photographs again, wedged between two strangers on the train. It was impossible to miss the intimacy captured by Beth’s work, and I felt a pang of loneliness. It began seeming foolish to wonder why Beth would take up her mother as her muse. Emotional relationships, familial and otherwise, provide texture and value to the inevitable passage of time; if Beth’s aim, as an artist, is to capture moments as they are and as she sees them, a series of images may serve as a topographical survey of time’s passage. In collecting these images of her mother in various present-moments, Beth is building a history of her own shifting feelings toward Dianne and their relationship. It’s un-mysteriously valuable to Beth that she can return to these images to see her mother, but it’s less obvious that it’s also valuable to be able to look back upon one’s own perspective of one’s mother. Taking the photograph provides the moment which reveals Dianne’s personhood to Beth, and it provides a record of that experience too.
I imagined Beth and her mother looking over the prints, spread out on Dianne’s kitchen table. It suddenly felt strange to be holding them, in the view of strangers on a packed train, as they so obviously contained the unique intimacy found between to a mother and daughter. Each was a token of the physical closeness they shared when the camera shuttered. They are Beth’s means of answering: these are the details and moments I want to pay attention to.
Rebecca Bowman is a writer working in Brooklyn, New York.
by Sophia Park
The small window of the room brightened as the sun rose over the mountain next door. Even though the light had barely begun to hit the empty bed, the impatient rooster had already begun his piercing morning call to demand that his humans start their day. Down in the quiet sanctuary of the church, Su-jin had started her prayers. Her slightly hunched back was moving softly forward and then back as she confessed her innermost thoughts and desires to the Only One Who Knew It All. The comfortable rhythm that filled the room reflected the many years of prayer and service she had dedicated to the church. Though her husband was the pastor, she had somehow become the exemplary religious figure in their church. The sun’s rise picked up pace and introduced the other parts of the sanctuary to the day. The light traced the piano and the newly acquired electric organ. It dipped and swirled as it highlighted the patterns on the glass podium. As if an alarm that only she could hear went off, the rhythm of her prayer sped down as she moved to a barely audible whisper of repeated thank you, thank you, thank you. Gamsahapnida, Gamsahapnida, Gamsahapnida.
She moved on with her day by greeting the two cats running around the courtyard. They created an orange and white blur around her legs as they purred for their first meal of the day. Their morning menu was the leftover fish from her meal last night. Her slight stature with bowed legs and a wobbly walk betrayed her body’s ability to keep up with her mental desires. Though she complained of knee pain, she never let it actually bother her because it was better than the bout of cancer from five years ago. She continued on to the other animals. They all seemed particularly eager that morning for their meal. All four dogs were yelling, each in a different register. The chickens were the worst. They pecked each other while screaming nonsense. Unable to understand why they were so restless this morning, she moved more cautiously than normal and carefully removed the lock to enter the chicken pen. The impatient rooster stared at her as she placed the food in their bowl. Amused, she treated him with an equally strong glare. She alone held the key to the rooster’s heart, but even her enticing food never seemed like a fair exchange for his obedience. Obedience was not her objective today, not when she had such a long day ahead of her. She exited the pen.
As she made her way to the other side of the farm, she stopped by the green house to check on the drying peppers. The valleys of the peppers’ wrinkles were a beautiful deep red color that promised a deep spicy flavor that would be worth the wait. The two cats had silently followed her into the green house. As she scurried them out with a small broom, she noticed some peppers had fallen off of the plastic covering they were drying on. She gently placed them back into the mix of the other hundreds of peppers waiting for the sun to change their flavors as the days passed. She pushed on, as there were other plants and animals waiting for her.
Three goats stared at her from outside their little house. The goat compound was large. The inner space was for sleeping and evading the harsh winters. A fence that came up to her chest marked the outside space. Two large black containers were arbitrarily placed in the outside area because sometimes, every creature enjoys being alone. The female was purposefully marching around as her two small kids were tailing her at a distance barely enough to prevent tripping on each other. She paused thinking about how she had heard the pregnant female’s urgent cries two weeks ago in the middle of the night. She rushed over to assist the birthing but discovered she was powerless. It was up to the female goat’s given innate strength to push the new lives out of her. The kids were small but their fur was bright and shone with good health. What a wondrous sight it had been to witness. She gave thanks.
When she threw their food over the fence, she noticed that the male was missing. Normally, he was the first one stampeding his way towards her. After making sure there was enough food for the female and kids, she walked around the compound. She checked inside each of the containers, but he was nowhere to be seen. Last week, she noticed that he had figured out how to jump over the fence. She had assumed he was too shy to pursue his curiosity because he jumped right back whenever someone walked by him. She wondered if his courage finally got the better of him. She chuckled and told herself she would be wandering too. What fence had limited her fearlessness? Thinking about her granddaughter, she chuckled noting curiosity ran in the family. Hoping he would return soon, she continued with her day.
The sun had fully exposed itself and she decided it was time to eat. It was just herself so she pulled out some banchan and already-cooked rice instead of putting together a new meal. The solitude also meant she had to acquiesce to the lack of a hot, freshly prepared bowl of soup. She transferred a small, one-person sized amount of each banchan into a separate plate. Usually, she preferred a nice color-coordinated arrangement. Today, she placed them in the order of the containers in front of her. The bright red color of the kimchi was clashing with the slightly darker red of the pickled radishes. It would have to do just for today. Out of habit, she arranged the greens from the lightest to the darkest colors.
She sat on the corner seat of the table. She whispered a prayer before starting her meal. Picking up her spoon, she considered where the goat might have gone. The farm was a mountain-locked peninsula with a river in the fourth direction. Maybe he was going through some type of goat mid-life crisis with the birth of the kids. She laughed at the thought of the goat having an existential crisis while climbing the mountains. At least it was the perfect place for such crises. The kimchi had fermented to just the right amount for her taste that day. She muttered a thank you.
The day moved quickly as she tended to the plants. The lettuce was growing in full force this season. Her neighbors and church visitors never failed to comment on their enormous size and always asked for her special formula. Nothing in particular, she would always say, but the soil on this farm is very good. Though full of rocks, the dark brown soil boasted its healthiness when she ran her fingers through it. Rows of garlic peaking through clear plastic, which helped retain their nutrients, grew obviously taller every day. She didn’t have to do much for them. The garlic knew what they were doing. For her age, she was considered very strong and healthy. However, when she had to kneel down to pull the ready garlic from their dirty dens, sometimes she felt her energy draining faster than in the past.
She could breathe up the mountains. Before her husband’s retirement from a large church downtown, she had lived in a small apartment. The church was very close, but everything else was too small. Her only respite was the small patch of plants she had nurtured on the apartment’s balcony. She had been provided with so much, yet the fermented guilt for not thinking that there was enough never fully vacated. The new place allowed her to spread out and occupy the space she desperately needed after a life of meticulous, difficult religious service. She walked around checking in on the farm’s growing life. She was thankful that she no longer lived in an apartment. She wouldn’t have the opportunity to worry about a missing goat. There would be no goat at all.
Around dinnertime, the sun slowly started to make its descent. She still did not see the goat. Slightly more concerned than she was in the morning, she selected a nice walking stick from the ground and started to walk out of the farm. The two cats reappeared at her side as she walked past the main entrance. The goat probably would not enjoy the noisy cars on the main road, but given his long absence she decided to give that direction a chance. Accompanied by the cats, both smelling a spot here and there like the dogs would, she allowed her walking stick to guide her downwards. The setting sun was hugging the top of the mountain in front of her. Had the goat purposely disappeared to the song of an especially beautiful evening?
She continued to walk down but her knees ached for her to stop. Sighing, she turned around. The cats followed her steps. Even though she had not made it too far down the mountain, the uphill was more of a challenge than anticipated. For her, the difficulty of the upward climb was proof of each of her passing years. She reached the house and looked over to see if the goat had returned. He was not there. Unsure of what to do, she decided to wait inside the house. Besides, her show was about to come on.
At ten to eight every night, she watched the daily drama that was on TV. She imagined that her daughter and granddaughter in America had joined her that night. They would have led the search party for the goat. Her granddaughter would make some strange comment about Korean society and how obviously it was the show’s protagonist’s mother-in-law who did it. Two church visitors had brought her fresh apples from their orchard. She peeled them adeptly with a knife and chopped them into smaller edible pieces. The apple crunched and the juice was sweet. Her granddaughter had taught her some strange saying from America about how an apple tells the doctor to go away. She chuckled.
The preview for the next night’s episode barely finished when she heard a strange thumping noise outside. A black flash swept by the window. She turned the lights on outside. She heard odd clicking noises coming from near the goats. When she walked over, she saw the male goat standing outside of the pen. His beady eyes stared with great concentration. He seemed to be shivering. Why was he just standing there? Did he want her help getting in? When she took one step closer, he quickly turned around and jumped over the fence.
He walked around inspecting whether anything had changed. She told him nothing had changed so he needn’t worry. As if he understood what she said, he looked over at her, snorted, and entered the covered area. She walked around to the gate where she found a stack of hay to perch on. The inspection was still in progress. He bumped into his partner. He eyed the leftover food. She noticed there were apple peels left next to their pen. She poured the peels into the eating area. He pounced on the peels. She watched him fondly as he ate enthusiastically. He reminded her of her daughter and granddaughter when they came back home. They ate like her cooking was the only food left in the world. She smiled. He was home. You can come and go, but try to come home. There are those who thoroughly miss you.
Sophia Park is an artist, science educator, and writer born in South Korea and currently living in New York City. She is a co-founder of A Ramen Quest, a ramen review blog.
by Chad M. Horn
top tier of wedding cake molds in freezer
recalling when she was a newlywed
once served as a real-wedding-crowd-pleaser
honeymoon lingerie with silver thread
a good reminder of great yesterdays
porcelain skin as taut as a drum-head
wonderful icing with caramel glaze
with cream cheese filling as smooth as mayonnaise
thread-bare sheets, but she crashes, exhausted
high praise! to cake-making gourmets!
freezer, top-tier, and marriage defrosted
vows she once screamed now echo in murmur
molding top tier serves as sad confirmer
Chad M. Horn is a Kentucky author and artist.
by Jody Gerbig
When a person sits in water long enough, she starts to bloat. The thick skin of her hands and feet stretch and pull away from the muscle until she’s as wrinkled as an old woman. After my fiancé broke off our engagement and our friends split and scattered, I sat in my bathtub and watched the water drain until I heard the gurgling of the last drop like someone choking on her own phlegm. The air had begun to cool and my teeth had started to chatter, and still, I sat, my knees to my chin, my sits bone pressed hard against the unforgiving porcelain, staring into the canyons of my disfigured fingerprints.
Once, at my family’s lake house when I was just old enough to explore without my hand in my mother’s, a friend and I found a dead animal, floating face down in the water. We were strolling along the dock sidewalks, poking sticks at the lily pads and tossing helicopter pods into the lake, when my friend poked the thing enough to turn it over.
We’d thought it was a muskrat or beaver. Never a dog. Dogs don’t lie, collarless, drowned and abandoned. Entangled in algae. It had been a mutt, its gray and black mottled fur bobbing in a passing boat’s wake. Its body had bloated, its face almost unrecognizably dog so that we were forced to debate and discern its genus; forced to name the unnamable.
I stayed in that tub, naked and empty and still, longer than I should have. Until I felt like something else. Until I was unrecognizable. And I wondered, if it hadn’t been for all that fur and I could have seen the dog’s skin, would it have been as wrinkled as mine was? Would I have seen the darkness within the folds of a skin stretched to its limit?
Jody Gerbig teaches high-school English in Columbus, Ohio, where she lives with her husband, triplet toddlers, and dog. You can read her most recent work in Burrow Press, South 85, and Parent.co; she also has an essay coming out soon in VIDA.
by Rebecca Bowman
Wet bedding can be heavy enough to rip
The speaker is accused of seeking closeness
a shoulder out of its socket
Momma was tough enough to take it on the chin
Though male figures are rare
and full enough to feed a family
they tend to be characterized by an attribute or activity
What’s sexy is reckless syntax
Characterized by particularly full legs and buttocks
Her guts are jewels
undoubtedly indicative of fertility
Keeping that secret could feel good
Here in their madness
Baby’s belly rumble bottoms out
they have unpinned their clothes and stand partly naked
He rolled like a whistle downhill east
A door left partly open is seen by the speaker as an invitation
Rebecca Bowman is a writer working in Brooklyn, NY.