Top Posts Of 2019

In my element-Cionn Mhucrois-Cill Charthaigh, Ireland

Testing…testing. Is this thing on? I’m not sure how to work the controls!

Yes my friends…it is actually me again. Four months after saying goodbye to the blogging world I’m back to say…I’m still not coming back lol! But to be serious though there are some things I miss about actively writing and sharing my thoughts, the thing I miss the most is the blogging community. And I suppose this is a way to again express some thanks and gratitude for all who have read or commented on anything I have written over the past six years by sharing some of my favorite posts of 2019 before I decided to call it a day.

Before we get into that, I did want to briefly share my latest venture with you for those who do not follow me on social media. I now have a for sale photography website-https://soundtrackphoto.smugmug.com/ where you can finally purchase some of the many photos I have taken over the years. Many have actually graced these blog posts in fact, so I invite you all to have a look and there are lots of options for prints and frames, as well as things like coffee mugs and gift cards. And I am making tentative plans to work on something even more special for 2020 that I will be sure to announce when it is finished. But I get ahead of myself.

I think before I called a halt to the blog that perhaps I was tiring of the concept slightly. Or maybe just feeling a sense of pressure or devotion to publish ‘something’ and I felt the quality of what I was writing about was suffering. But looking back at some of these posts this weekend after distancing myself from them, I realized that was not necessarily true. And that is why I decided to share some of my favorites with you all right now.

In Two Rivers I shared music from the wonderful album In The Heart Of The Moon by Ali Farka Toure & Toumani Diabate. The concept of rivers flowing in my imagination and in reality was on my mind and this outstanding collection of guitar and kora music set the thoughts perfectly.

Once the holidays are over and winter really sets in here, one obviously spends a lot of time indoors. It is a good time for reading, catching up on TV, and listening to music. It was then that I discovered the wonderful American Epic documentary series, and promptly bought the box set of music from the show. And it was there that I heard the startling, mesmerizing, gut wrenching sound of Blind Willie Johnson’s Dark Was The Night, Cold Was The Ground. 

It is always great coming across new artists and new music. Like many people this year, once I heard J.S. Ondara for the first time I knew I was hearing someone very special. Combined with the purchase of a vintage camera bag from a thrift store that was filled with lots of goodies, I had an idea thinking about how the really great artists craft their songs one at a time. Similar to how photographers used to take photos on that vintage equipment.

Not a new artist by any means, but someone whom I finally managed to see in concert late last year was the fabulous Dar Williams. Her song ‘Go To The Woods’ prompted some thinking on my part about what a magical, mystical, scary and beautiful place the woods can be.

In the end I abandoned a planned punk series (I know, I know…) but a series I did write touched me in a way that no other post has before. What was meant to be purely a historical telling of the Lord Franklin saga while weaving in some of the variety of music inspired by it became something much more personal. It coincided with a difficult time and a revelation of some long trapped pain from my past. The conclusion may have been unsettling, but it was one of the most important revelations of my entire life. So much so that when I thought I was done writing about so much personal pain, I needed to write one more post, working out that the way I ‘see’ and ‘hear’ things  is my prism…my way of connecting dots or strands of my life that have seemed disconnected or disengaged.

And that my friends is where I essentially left off in this blogging world. Maybe all of it was my way of realizing that my passions and memories are tied together. And though music will always remain a passion for me, it was the photography that allowed me the ability to tie those strands together. Which is why for this moment in time, the photography will be my main area of focus. Like I said in my announcement  I am certain I will return to writing someday when the time is right. And I am immensely proud of myself for what I did, for what I created. Which is why I think once you get to that place, you are eager for the next thing. My life right now is ‘my next thing’.

Join me one more time next week when I share a few of my favorite photos taken this past year!

Photograph By Robert P Doyle

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An Announcement…

My dear fellow bloggers and readers, watch this short video and scroll below for some additional words.

 

This is not a decision I have made lightly. The idea of stopping started creeping in my mind earlier this year.  Initially I thought maybe I just needed another pause from writing to clear my head. To make it feel less like ‘must post something’ to writing purely for the fun of it, which is how this all started here nearly six years ago. I started writing a punk series and stopped a third of the way through. Not because of writers block or lack of inspiration. Instead as more time passed I realized that deep down, I just was not getting the same level of excitement or ‘buzz’ from this that I used to get.

Some of that is down to the shrinking community of bloggers. I made efforts to counter this effect and stay true to the type of writing I wanted to do. To stay true to the type of blog I wanted this to still be. But nothing really seemed to help counter the dwindling readership and scarcity of comments that seemed to be the norm rather than the exception. That isn’t meant to sound like sour grapes. That did bother me in the early days here, but a wise friend told me to just write for myself. Stay true to the ideas and passion I had and good things would surely follow. And they definitely did. Years went by in this way and I was happy sharing a new found creativity that had been hidden away for most of my life.

But beyond the numbers, after almost six years of the same core concept of joining the music that I love together with my own photography I decided it is time for me to explore some new ideas. In the past I padded out the fallow moments of the music themed blog posts with a few stabs at fiction, or a weekly photo feature. But the time feels right now to work on other ideas I have jotted down halfheartedly in my  notebook over the years. Ideas I felt were always secondary to maintaining the blog. And once I had that realization (made on a blissful early morning hike in Ireland a few weeks ago), I knew I had reached the right decision.

Musicians may pour their hearts into recording and touring behind a new album for  years. Photographers may work on a particular subject matter for long periods. Novelists might lock themselves away writing an epic book for months and years on end. At some point after the work has gone out to the world they are presented with a choice-carry on with the status quo, or veer off in a new and challenging direction. That new and challenging direction is where I want to head towards next. I am not sad about this however. In many ways this is a huge relief to have made this decision.

In practical terms, I want to say that I will NOT be deleting this site. For one thing, maybe the time will be right some day to start back up again. Even if that does not happen, it makes no sense to erase the past six years of writing and photography. Also, for some of the new ideas I am working on it might be useful to have the blog in place to utilize.

Additionally, I am NOT deleting any of my social media accounts affiliated with this site. So the Facebook page, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube sites for Soundtrack Of A Photograph will remain in place. Some of these may transition into the new ideas but it seems unnecessary to delete them outright and start over. Especially because even though the writing about them in this manner may be ending, I can assure you that I always will remain passionate about music and photography. In fact the photography will be playing a much bigger role in my future plans (take that as a sneak peek into my brain!).

Which leaves me at thinking back to the past six years. Thinking back to that first post I nervously posted and thought it might be nice if 100 people read it. Well I surpassed that number many times over, and it is a point of pride to me that folks in some 125 countries have read my little works. Writing this blog has given me some of the truest and dearest friends I have had in my entire life. From California to Canada, India to Ireland, Germany to New Orleans and beyond my life is better because of you all. And to Tasha- the best, best friend I have ever had…blogging introduced us to one another, you made it a friendship that goes far beyond these words on a computer screen.

And to everybody else-all of my family and friends who have supported this endeavor. All of the people who have followed and supported the blog right from the start or who came in at some point a mere thank you is not enough. You read, liked, shared, commented on these words I wrote for years now. You gave me the confidence to continue writing, which I will now use for whatever is ahead.

Finally, a word of thanks to the many musicians who have also liked and shared Soundtrack Of A Photograph. Early on I had a great compliment from one musician. He was blown away that songs he wrote inspired me to write my own words melded with photos to broaden the effect. Art inspiring art. That was a pivotal moment for me. In the years since I have had similar interactions with other musicians. I set out what I wanted to accomplish-to find personal connections to songs through my own photographs. Together this has given me the fuel to keep on going.  Whatever happens next these feelings will always stay with me.

So this is not a forever goodbye, but merely a goodbye to something that has been a pivotal part of me the last six years. I’m going to take the next few months to make ideas into reality. If you are not already,  connect with me on social media to stay in touch.

Thank you again, love you all!

Slainte,

Robert Doyle

P.S…one final photo and song below.

And We’ll Sing-Written By Calum & Rory MacDonald

Photograph By Robert P Doyle

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New York Punk & New Wave. Part 1-Velvet Dolls

Black & White-New York City, 1967

When viewed through the prism of vintage TV shows of an earlier time, one might be forgiven for thinking life itself at that time actually being in black and white. Color movies had been around for quite some time of course, but color television only truly started taking off in the 1960’s. It wasn’t until 1972 that sales of color TV sets finally exceeded their  black and white counterparts in the U.S. Which means that although much of how people viewed news, sports and entertainment at that time may have actually been filmed in color, it was still viewed in black and white by the majority of the public. The moon landing, the Cassius Clay vs Sonny Liston fight and The Beatles for example. When we see the footage for any of these things today, we perceive of them actually happening in black and white because that is the only way we know them all these years later in our mind by way of the existing film clips.

Of course the world is very much in color and in the 1960’s with fashion, music and art at the forefront of culture it seemed to be a much more vibrant decade somehow. Often these elements combined to make bold statements about consumerism and the accessibility of art. A move away from the elitist art world and perceptions of how art should be presented to something that was inspired more by commercial art, advertising, and even comic books instead.  Often it was presented with an element of dark humor and irony. In the art world of course this movement became known as Pop Art.   Reacquainting  myself with the history behind it recently, I realized that its attitude was very much a punk one, long before that became a phrase used to describe anything that defied the comfortable norms of the time. A key figure in the movement of course was Andy Warhol who was in the vanguard of producing art across various mediums and did not shy away from experimenting. Love it or hate it, Pop Art definitely pushed buttons.

When the Sex Pistols released Never Mind The Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols in 1977 it was arguably as much of an artistic outlet or statement from their creative force and manager Malcolm McLaren as the other art and fashion he was involved in at the time. But in many ways, the precursor for McLaren’s work with the Sex Pistols was Andy Warhol and the pivotal group he was involved in at the time in New York-The Velvet Underground. Originally formed in 1964, after a few lineup shuffles the band coalesced around Lou Reed, John Cale, Sterling Morrison and Moe Tucker with Warhol taking on not the business and logistical side of matters, but the artistic side instead. The Velvet Underground became involved with Warhol’s studio ‘The Factory’, most famously as part of the Exploding Plastic Inevitable, a mixed media show. German singer Nico joined The Velvet Underground at Warhol’s insistence and appeared on a few tracks on the Velvet’s first album-The Velvet Underground & Nico, famed for its Andy Warhol created album sleeve.

The music The Velvet Underground produced was about as far removed from The Beatles or Rolling Stones as you could get in the mid-1960’s. Their music was mostly hard edged and experimental in nature. There were industrial soundscapes, cacophonous feedback and drone, dark songs about drugs, and perhaps in an effort not to be so completely bleak, some breezier songs mixed in for good measure. But it was in the experimental and darker places that the Velvets clearly roamed. As Geoffrey Stokes put it in ‘Rock Of Ages-The Rolling Stone History Of Rock & Roll-

“Lou Reed never sentimentalized and almost never prettified, and even as Time and Life were discovering how cute and colorful the hippies were, Reed was walking around counting the scabs and scores, listening to the grinding teeth and empty promises of a thousand junkies.”

That quote is rather telling when put in context. In 1967 on the other side of the ocean, the Beatles had released Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. It had drug inspired songs too, but the references were subtle and the music was certainly not bleak. The Velvet Underground’s song Heroin however stands in sharp contrast. Some liken the song to an actual heroin trip- a calming feeling before moving into darker and noisier realms of the psyche the further into the heroin laced trip the song moves into. It isn’t pretty, but it seems so real.

New York is the intersection of so many divergent paths of culture, language, food, art, film and music. The music on the album reflected the era it was recorded in certainly, but it also had a healthy dose of  New York as only New Yorkers can understand- Fuck everyone else, fuck the other trends, this is New York we do what we fucking want in other words.  Suffice it to say, with songs like Heroin, The Velvet Underground and in particular Lou Reed arguably became the earliest ingredient in the mixing bowl that later became punk. It was dark and gritty like the city streets. This was not the tourist New York of shimmering lights, nor the wealthy Wall Street New York. This was the back alley view of New York City, strewn with trash, drugs and the uglier side of life.

There is a famous joke about how despite the poor record sales of that first Velvet Underground album, everyone who did buy a copy started their own band.  And one of those bands that were clearly listening were right across town and about to bring some color into the picture…

Color-New York City, 1973

Around the time those color TV sets were finally taking over from their b&w counterparts another band on the New York scene was about to make a mark on influencing the music scene as well. Like The Velvet Underground that mark was not driven by sales but rather by the influence the tracks would have for years to come on the music scene. But most especially for the punk movement, New York Dolls were a pivotal step. By the time of their self-titled debut in 1973, Rock & Roll had witnessed the relatively new jolt of androgyny and glam rock with T Rex, David Bowie and others. The New York Dolls borrowed that look and took the music off into a completely different  (and harder) direction.

Hard Rock did exist during that time already of course. But what top hard rock bands of that era like Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and Black Sabbath offered was music that was loud and hard, but still bound by the blues scale typically. So on the one side you had bands like Led Zeppelin rocking hard with lengthy guitar and drum solos and songs that clocked in on average at 5 or 6 minutes long tailor made for FM radio stations. On the other side you had New York Dolls who rocked as hard, but eschewed lengthy solos in favor of a tight crunchy guitar attack and the sneering lead vocals of David Johansen. Speaking of David Johansen, I did see him perform as his alter ego Buster Poindexter once…do I get punk rock points for that?

Because New York Dolls were not on my musical radar for much of my life I never made these sorts of connections between the hard rock bands in the Black Sabbath vein and what the Dolls were doing. In 1973 though the Dolls album definitely received attention, though early on it was not always positive. Some critics derided them as untalented and not serious about the music. Others sensed something special going on and praised the new direction their music pointed towards. Though the Dolls themselves were certainly not aiming to be a punk band, what comes through on the speakers is what made it such a clear punk influence. My favorite example (and favorite track on the album) is Personality Crisis. Absolutely filthy sounding guitars, thumping piano, and screaming…what’s not to like about it!

What the darker sounds such as Heroin on the Velvet Underground’s album and the entire New York Dolls album show is the first steps in that lineage of NY Punk. With the Velvet’s a music born partly out of the broader art movements of the day combined with an experimentation of sound led to crucial songs such as ‘Heroin’. Just six years later, the New York Dolls burst forth bringing a more basic sound more rooted in the origins of rock and roll but minus the pretension. It was loud. It was sneering. And it was so New York. The photos I used here represent the motion, movement and life at the time in a city that was gritty and edgy. An emergence from black and white to color. From art house to drug house. From conformist to hedonist.   Just a short time later a couple of guys in Queens were able to take the next leap forward.

Coming soon-Part 2-The Heart Of The Movement.

Heroin-Written By Lou Reed

Personality Crisis-Written By David Johansen & Johnny Thunders

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New York Punk & New Wave-An Introduction

An Introduction-

Punk Rock was born in 1975 and died in 1978. Or was it born in 1973 and died in 1979? No no, it was definitely born in 1976 and died in 1977. The answer, like many things in life, depends on who you ask. It is either still very much alive and kicking in 2019, or has been diluted from its origins and heights past the point of recognition. My own experience with punk has been very limited for much of my life in all honesty. The Sex Pistols emergence went unnoticed. I was only 9 when Never Mind The Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols came out after all!

The first punk band I properly knew was The Clash, though the first couple of songs I heard-Should I Stay Or Should I Go Now and Rock The Casbah came from what die hard punks thought was an attempt by the band to sellout. After all those two songs became acceptable to play on ‘classic rock’ radio stations slotted right next to the types of bloated, over sized pretentious rock that fueled the punk movement in the first place. Great though those two songs are (and they are of course) they are stylistically and musically different compared to what The Clash had done on earlier pure punk tracks such as London’s Burning or White Riot.

Around that time, say 1983 or thereabouts, I was probably more familiar with some of the second (or ‘new’) wave bands that were hitting the air waves and that more recent invention-MTV. There were a whole flock of new bands making very different sounding music compared to the more straightforward rock and roll I was accustomed to.  Though I did not understand the roots of the music, new wave was the most popular and direct movement to come out of punk. Musically quite different, but as I started doing research for this post I realized where there were definite similarities.

Some hard core punks might disagree that bands like The Slits or The Ramones had anything whatsoever to do with Human League or Talking Heads, but as author Simon Reynolds points out in his book ‘Rip It Up and Start Again (Postpunk 1978-1984), what made the two forms related was a shared disdain or any sort of reverence for much of the music that came before. They also shared some aesthetic similarities that as I have dug into researching this project I feel are still in place today in all sorts of music as a result. Punk may have started out as pure attitude, but it is appropriate to say that it gradually became a movement, and one that has had a lasting effect not just on music, but on art, fashion, sexuality and culture as well.

It is so much of a movement in fact that I realized that short of writing a book of my own on the subject matter that I needed to narrow the focus for this series. In the history of punk arguably the two most critical cities the music flourished and grew in were London and New York. Of course there was punk and new wave all over from San Francisco to Leeds, Dayton to Paris.  The pivotal innovations may have come from elsewhere but were fed through the filter of the larger music scenes in cities like New York and London.  And since I live in New York I decided that was an obvious area to focus on.

So what this series will look into is both the history and places, the art and the fashion of both punk and new wave in New York. I wanted to explore the lineage of the music which began with the art school sensibilities of The Velvet Underground in the late 1960’s straight through to the harder sounds of The New York Dolls, the pivotal contributions of Patti Smith and Blondie, to the 1234 count in of the Ramones, and the sophisticated yet funky sounds of Talking Heads and so much more in between. I wanted to find what remains. Not just the physical memories like the site of CBGB’s or Max’s Kansas City, but also what remains of the spirit of the music, and everything else we deem to be ‘punk’. So join me over the next few weeks as I dive into New York Punk.

Photograph By Robert P Doyle

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One At A Time

For those of you who follow me on social media, you might recall that I have been talking about working on a Punk Rock series. That is still very much in the works. It is quite a different undertaking than my Lord Franklin series (yes, I’m promoting that again, because I’m proud of it!) Truth be told for the punk series there is so much music, art, books, and fashion to go through that I have gotten bogged down with making a cohesive series out of it. Rest assured it is still on the way.

Additionally, those of you who follow me might remember that awhile back I purchased a vintage camera bag at a thrift store. Inside it was an assortment of old camera lenses, assorted gear, and most incredibly, a good condition Olympus OM 10 film camera. Beyond inserting fresh batteries I have not experimented with it to see if it still takes photographs, but in examining the solid workings of the camera I am pretty sure that it probably does just like it did when first introduced to the market 40 years ago.

As I admired the look and tactile feel of the camera construction since the day I purchased the literal ‘bag of goodies’ I had some thoughts about how that solid  feel to the camera reminded me of some of the changes to how music is made these days. In terms of the camera the most telling example is the fact that it has a manual winding lever, which 40 years since its release seems about as archaic as the very first daguerreotype cameras first introduced in 1839. Imagine…there you are on vacation with the family assembled in front of..oh lets say the Grand Canyon. Everyone get together now, smile! The photographer would have to focus, frame, adjust, then snap the photo from a long thin shutter release button (nothing like the low profile buttons of today). Ok fine, but what if you wanted to take another photo of the family? The just to be sure photo as most call it. Well you would have to slide the manual advance lever approximately 180 degrees until an audible click was heard before you could take that next photo.

And as I sat gripping the Olympus camera, I thought how different that simple film advance action was to people 40 years ago.  How antiquated it seems now and how wonderful it is to have digital cameras and smartphones by comparison.  As so often happens to me, my mind shifts gears rapidly towards music. In some ways I think there is almost a little too much music now. Or maybe I should say too much mediocre music made designed to solely move bodies around and shift sales units. But when the radio stops playing the songs there is often little lasting memory of the song once it has been deemed to be ‘overplayed’. We move on and don’t look back until we hear it on the radio or streaming after a year or two away and proclaim it to be a ‘classic’.

All of which is fair enough. But believe it or not, there is still music being recorded, released and promoted in the more old school way. Like the film advance on that OM 10 camera, the albums are recorded ‘one at a time’. One song first. One well crafted song stripped down of anything extraneous, focused instead on the lyrics and natural emotion of the song. Well worked in the studio-edited, with different instrumentation experiments, different tempos, different vocal approaches. When that song is completed, work begins on the next song. One at a time until maybe 20 songs are recorded for an album. Of those 20, maybe 10-12 will be chosen for the album itself.

With photography now, the ‘trash’ button is used readily. Someone not smiling? Delete, take it over. Not so easy back in the days of the Olympus OM 10 or other similar cameras. That photo was on the film roll, whether you wanted it to be developed or not. So what the serious photographers had to learn was patience and skill at not wasting chances. Load up the film. Compose, focus, structure, frame, set aperture, set shutter speed. Then and only then is when the shutter gets released and composition takes place.

So to with music now when someone comes along that reminds you of the way music was produced in the studio-one song at a time. Awhile back I began hearing a lot of buzz around a new artist called J.S. Ondara. Originally from Kenya, he became interested in the sounds of singer songwriters such as Bob Dylan. Eventually he moved to Minnesota to hone his craft, much like those photographers skilled in the capabilities of their cameras. To J.S. Ondara, the words are his camera. The skills and lyricism translated to  his own original songs that are powerful in their words, and the words by turn powerful in their singing. The album-Tales Of America abounds with poetical lyrics all written by Ondara himself.

There is a mystery to some of the words that begs repeated listening. A realization that songs and delivery such as he gives are destined not for karaoke machines of the future, but for something more real, more telling, and more revealing. They will become part of the rich tapestry of language that lies at the heart of the best popular music. And it happens when the songs are approached the same way a good photo is taken-one at a time. Never too much at once. Never too flashy or driven by outside forces. Just a singular moment. A photographer out in the wild, utilizing skills of composition honed by years of dedication. Or a songwriter in the studio, utilizing different yet similar skills of composition and performance honed by years of dedication. One at a time.

Saying Goodbye-Written By J.S. Ondara

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Go To The Woods

Wood-noun. plural noun: woods

an area of land, smaller than a forest, that is covered with growing trees.

Scene 6- The mist creeps in over the woods as the camera zooms in on a group of tents. Nearby figures are gathered around a campfire. A sound not too far off in the distance startles the assembled group. “What was that?” asks one of the group.  “Ah probably just an animal” says another. The camera zooms out rapidly to a lone figure seen from behind observing the campers nearby in silence. The music becomes ominous as the figure starts walking towards the campfire…Cut scene.

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” 
― Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Having spent much of February locked away working on the Lord Franklin series I decided I wanted to go in a vastly different direction for a new post. For starters, writing about the frozen Arctic in the actual winter here in the Northeast was maybe an odd move on my part.  Nevertheless, I was so happy with the results of this collection that you will see it now immortalized at the top of this page as a menu choice in case you missed it the first time around.

I decided on a theme of the woods and forest as a change of pace for a few reasons. First, I have long wanted to feature the handful of photographs I have taken in the woods over the years. It isn’t a normal subject matter for me to be honest. Typically I feel more connected to the water. Second there is something by equal turns fascinating, mysterious and ominous about the woods. I’m sure everyone has seen a horror movie with a scene in the woods such as the fictional one I created above. Third, it is of course spring now, and the trees and flowers are bursting out in full force with each passing day conjuring up the poetical language employed by writers such as Thoreau.

One thing I find fascinating is the ability of the woods and forest to regenerate. From earthworms churning the ground underneath to birds flitting about or the tiniest sapling sprouting from the ground that may one day turn into a mighty tree, the forest is all about regeneration and renewal year after year. Amazingly after fires and natural catastrophes, recovery often starts at a microscopic level yet gradually takes hold and flourishes. Renewal is a big word for me right now as a result of the broader themes I wrote about in the Lord Franklin series and its short followup piece. But lets leave my own story there and consider some of the other thoughts and images of the woods brought up through the lyrics of the wonderful Dar Williams song ‘Go To The Woods’ instead.

‘It’s the woods! What do you see?
In all the spooky shadows, in the forest of green
Is there a windy path, angry ass woman who will eat you?
Sad-eyed lumberjack, savior who will greet you?
It’s a different story for you and for me
Go to the woods and see’

I have been familiar with the songs of Dar Williams for some time now, but just after Christmas I went with some friends to see her perform in Brooklyn. As a result I have been exploring her work more directly. When I came across this one, I knew I had my song for this post. Like other great songwriters, Dar conveys the broad themes of the woods within just a couple of lines. She skillfully weaves the narrative of spookiness, fear, mystery and desire of the woods within just a handful of lines. Even more effectively she goes backwards and forwards in time, reminding us of the very real fragility of our increasingly disappearing woods.

‘If I was your memory, what would you do?

‘Cause you know if you go back in time there’s something waiting for you.’

Listening to the song I started thinking back to some of my own memories of the woods. Call it the ‘storybook’ version of the woods Dar Williams describes.  In my suburban childhood, there was a small patch of woods we used to go to. There was a rope swing someone had put on a sturdy branch which made you feel as if you were hurtling off a cliff. There was not much else there to be honest, but in my child’s eye the area was a vast wilderness even though in reality it was just an overgrown area yet to be developed.  Also in the larger surrounding area were a variety of trails we often hiked on. The sounds of the highway may have punctuated the feeling of stillness, but to walk on those trails always felt like an epic journey even if it only lasted a few hours. Eventually I finally witnessed what truly large woods looked like when in the summer of 1979 my family drove across the U.S. and I saw places that really did have woods like the Black Hills, Yellowstone, and the Redwoods.

As I got older my interactions with the woods were resigned mostly to hiking and camping in various places in the northeast. At first photography was not part of the equation, but gradually it took hold and allowed me to experience the woods in different ways. The deeper my interest in photography, the more understanding I  feel and think towards a subject matter. Cliche though it may sound, you really have to become one with the scene in front of you and being in tune with your surroundings. Photography is visual, but by listening to the sounds around you or feeling the breeze on your skin it can benefit the end result.

What being in the woods specifically taught me as a photographer is that there is an interplay of light and shadows throughout the day. There are the sounds of unseen birds in the trees or acorns suddenly plummeting to the ground.  There is both motion and stillness.  Each season of the year accelerates or slows down the process and adds to the sensory experience. As I sit here writing this piece I suddenly realized there is something magical or fairy tale like about setting off into the woods. There seems to be an imaginary line of demarcation between life inside and outside of the woods. We use phrases such as ‘out of the woods’ to imply foreboding. But if you dare cross that line a world of  wonder, mystery and discovery await. If you avoid it altogether you are missing out on potential treasures contained within, be you adventurer, botanist, photographer or even songwriter.

Writing this piece has reminded me that perhaps I do have a deeper connection to the woods than when I started. Though I may consider being near the water to be where my  heart lies, the woods have provided me with a lot of good memories over the years too. Perhaps I need to ‘go to the woods’ to witness the renewal and mystery of the woods for myself again.

Go To The Woods-Written By Dar Williams

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When I Write…

In the middle of writing the Lord Franklin series I could tell it was really consuming me. It had adventure, mystery, intrigue, survival, defeat, loss and death. Not that I was dwelling on all of those elements personally. Instead I was trying to navigate between the historical narrative, the songs I wanted to include in the piece as well as the photographs I wanted to use that best related to the frozen north. For the first time in a long time, I was really obsessed with something. Though everyday life and work intervened, it was a story I needed to complete.

When that type of obsession happens I find seemingly minor details can pop into your head at any time. It happens when you are passionate about the subject matter I suppose. Insert this paragraph here, quote a passage from this book there, that sort of thing. Not being under professional deadlines it can be exhilarating and exciting when you see a vision for a piece coming together. Sometimes you even dream about that vision as it turns out.

About halfway through the writing of the series I woke up at 2 A.M. on a weeknight with a thought. Just a sudden realization that came to me in that fuzzy world between deep sleep and awareness. For the past few months I have been leaving my  notebook (a marvelous little one I picked up with the softest paper imaginable, eco-friendly and fair trade made from leaves of  the Lokta plant in Nepal for the record!) on my little bookshelf/nightstand. When I came to that awareness of an idea,  turned on the light and grabbed my pen these are the words I wrote which are only slightly edited for clarity. It was 2 A.M. after all!  I am sharing them because in perusing the notebook the other day I realized that it really says a lot about me and ‘where I am’.

‘When I read I want to ‘see’ what I am reading about. When I ‘see’ I want to ‘hear’ the sounds of what I am seeing. When I am ‘hearing’ what I am ‘seeing’ I want to understand why that is so important to me. I yearn to express myself in this way. To make these connections between a long ago sunken ship together with a contemporary song and a photograph of my own that ties the two elements together. It is my way of combining the things I am passionate about. The things I have always been passionate about if I really think about it.’ 

When I re-read it the next morning it actually did not come across as profound and brilliant to my mind as it was when I wrote it. But on further reflection, it is inherently and uniquely me, especially the last two sentences. That is a very important realization in my life right now. As I related in the series, I have been seeing a therapist and my head is a bit of a jumble at present. Backwards and forwards in time reliving memories. But these recollections also jog my memory further and make me think how this-all of this idea I have laid my claim to and set my flag on have always been there for me.

I realized it is absolutely the way I engage subjects I am passionate about. It has always been important for me to visualize a story, be it a song or a book. So I need to see the Arctic, an English country lane, a pagoda in China, a baobab tree in Africa, a ship on the high seas or a steam train chugging its way through the Canadian Rockies in my mind. I think the photography came about because I needed to catalog my favorite elements to the stories for myself.

It also explains why music is so deeply embedded in me. Why I feel music so much. Sometimes it can go beyond actual music and be sounds such as birdsong, wind rustling through the grass, or waves crashing on shore. Digging deeper through my life and what that 2 in the morning thought was about I realized it was the idea that sound itself is an even deeper connection for me than I ever realized.

Combined together, the ‘seeing’ and ‘hearing’ explains a great deal. It is my visualization, my way of understanding, my prism. A way of interpreting my passions easily. If I expand the idea it is precisely why from the start I tended to take photos of favorite things-bridges, ships, trees, etc. They were always my fascination from an early age. So it is years later that when I am reading a book I need to make the same sort of connection. To tie all the elements together if only just for my personal benefit.

In therapy I am connecting the dots of my life up to now. Seemingly innocuous and never forgotten memories from childhood have significance because they correspond to my life right now somehow.   When I started writing this blog I can see now that like with the connections I am making in therapy, the dots between the present and past definitely become connected eventually. These ideas I bring out have always been there. I just needed to find the clarity and space to locate and elucidate it all.

That is where I feel I am right now at this exact moment. I initially thought what I wrote early that morning would work its way into the series, but I realized it was instead a realization of something that has been laying dormant for most of my life. Now it has been firmly unleashed and I can say that like the connections made in therapy that rocked my very core, I can truly say that I have a deeper understanding of why I need to have this space and present my photography in a deep and personal way. And to quote from this song by the great songsmith Chris Trapper- ‘I’m happy where I am.’

Happy Where I Am-Written By Chris Trapper

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