Wednesday, September 3, 2014


Grand Forks, North Dakota 1981
Since Harley Straus’ 
photo-journalism class at the University of North Dakota, cameras have been part of my life.  Assignment 2: capture a ‘style of life.’ Exploring Grand Forks’ fading downtown I met this waitress. While on break, resting her feet, I took her photo.

Harley taught me how to burn the overexposed window, making print after print until I got it right.  Counting seconds my prints were in developer, stop bath, fixer, then wash,  hours flashed by. 
 As an English major, tussling with complexities of literature,  this tangible language appealed.  Now in my virtual darkroom I do nothing and the window pane is perfect.  When I see this photograph, though, I'm back in that school dark- room with the smell of photo chemicals whiffing to the exhaust fan, the chatter and banter of fellow photog students, the sweep of the second hand on the large darkroom clock, and Willie Nelson on the tape player, for Harley instructed. ' he's essential-for-good-printing.'  This quirky mix made magic of the developer’s oily slickness, swirling  between my fingers, as a hint of exterior window frame finally appears.

                                               Self-portrait for Harley's class, Grand Forks, ND 1981

After receiving my B.A. in English, with an emphasis in photojournalism,   I produced audio-visual slide shows in northwestern Minnesota . I worked on issues facing most rural communities everywhere:  limited access to medical and social services, job creation, low wages, transportation limitations, school closings, aging populations.  Living on the Great Plains was the wildest, most remote place I’d ever lived.  It suited me.

I was born in Washington DC, moved to St. Louis at age nine, and in my mid-twenties, moved to England with my husband Jim and our toddler daughter.  We lived near Jim’s family in Lancashire, then Cheshire for the richest period of my life.  When the economy tanked--double digit inflation, miner’s strikes, rolling blackouts, terrible unemployment--we left England for North Dakota.  At the rim of the American West I cultivated the seeds of the person I am today. 

Leaving England was the hardest move we’ve ever made, as we struck out all on our own in a remote region, losing the tapestry of family and friends the likes of which I’ve never found again.  I discovered what it’s like to be an emigrant from and an immigrant to my own country, finding surprising gains and profound losses, like migrantss everywhere. 

Road to Kief, North Dakota 2010

Ten years later we left North Dakota, for Boston, then Galveston and finally Virginia, just outside Washington DC.  In 2005 I completed the foundation year at the Corcoran College of Art and Design, Washington DC.  My favorite course was Resources taught by Raya Bodnarchuk.  Each place has added a dimension to how I navigate the world. This odyssey has brought me nearly full circle.  The place that evokes the most wistful resonance is North Dakota, where the possible seemed closer to earth.

Jim collecting the mail and wildflowers, friend's farm near Kief, North Dakota 2010
When we moved East I dreamed--in color--of the Great Northern Plains we’d so cavalierly left behind for the bright lights of the East.  In sleep I navigated freely beneath a cerulean sky, vast horizon, all burnished with an incessant wind.

            This was the road over which Antonia and I came on that night when we
            got off the train in Black Hawk...I had only to close my eyes to hear the
             rumbling of the wagons in the dark, and to be again overcome by that
             obliterating strangeness.  The feelings of that night were so near that I
             could reach out and touch them with my hand.  I had the sense of
             coming home to myself, and of having found out what a little circle man’s
             experience is.  For Antonia and for me, this had been the road of
            Destiny had taken us to those early accidents of fortune which
            predetermined for us all that we can ever be.        
                                                      --My Antonia, by Willa Cather 1918

Near Grand Forks, North Dakota September 1996

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