Knee-Jerk: A Few Wonderings

“Whether the photograph is understood as a naïve object or the work of an experienced artificer, its meaning–and the viewer’s response–depends on how the picture is identified or misidentified; that is, on words….But one day captions will be needed, of course. And the misreadings and the misrememberings, and the new ideological uses for the pictures, will make their difference.

“Central to modern expectations, and modern ethical feelings, is the conviction that war is an aberration, if an unstoppable one. That peace is the norm, if an unattainable one. This, of course, is not the way war has been regarded throughout history. War has been the norm and peace the exception.”

–Susan Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others

I have been working my way through this essay for the past year. I’ll pick it up at random and catch a paragraph or two, and if I’m lucky, these moments will coincide with the phases in my life when I’m angry at particular aspects of the world. War photography and photojournalism that captures human suffering: How do viewers react to/experience it? (How) Do their feelings change as this form of expression evolves? What effects does the photographer intend? In what ways do s/he and the audience share a conscience?

“God does not demand that we give up our personal dignity, that we throw in our lot with random people, that we lose ourselves and turn from all that is not him. God needs nothing, asks nothing, and demands nothing, like the stars. It is a life with God which demands these things.

“Experience has taught the race that if knowledge of God is the end, then these habits of life are not the means but the condition in which the means operates. You do not have to do these things; not at all. God does not, I regret to report, give a hoot. You do not have to do these things–unless you want to know God. They work on you, not on him.

“You do not have to sit outside in the dark. If, however, you want to look at the stars, you will find that darkness is necessary. But the stars neither require nor demand it.”

–Annie Dillard, Teaching A Stone to Talk

I wonder about God as a photographer, if what I see in the world requires anything of my conscience. I wonder whether captions are necessary, or if the experience itself provides sufficient commentary. I wonder how much of the experience I am in control of.

The Finals Crunch Shutdown

Is it okay if I don’t post any real content that will definitely not display my writing skills? I’m so burnt out from this semester, and I didn’t even do anything. Well, I listened to some new music.

I think I like the Retribution Gospel Choir. If “Mormon” is supposed to have a sound, I don’t think this is it. I was pleased.

Oh, speaking of retribution, here’s a song about war by PJ Harvey. It’s darkness tricked into peppiness; it’s a pretty catchy song, and it sort of reminds me of what Woodstock might have felt like. DISCLAIMER – I didn’t see the whole video because I was working on a paper at the same time, so I didn’t see the scanty claddenness until later. I apologize. I changed the video to a recording of the song. Your eyes should be able to heal now.

Remember how tomorrow is the last day of class? Remember how next Tuesday is my last final for the semester? I keep telling myself this hoping I’ll eventually care. I need to try something else.

Oh, awesome. The person to my right in this computer lab is reading a fanfic site forum, and the guy to my left is playing one of those shooting games as well as watching 30 Seconds to Mars videos. Look who else isn’t caring about school!

Footage of Bastille Day

Regardez ces images et savez: Vive la France! And don’t forget to click “more” for the rest of the story. Also, if you hover over the photos, you’ll get their titles in addition to the captions below them.

We start our journey in the early evening, as the prisoners are settling into their nocturnal routines.

We first find ourselves a few miles north of the Bastille, making sure our presence as the French is known throughout the province. Fiction catches our eye.

We remember the days of the Revolution we're about to start.

Continue reading


In the galley, my shackles clink as I rouse. They say the rest of the fleet is gone, destroyed. The bow slowly slices the horizon, and our synchronized oars obey the coxswain’s rhythmic commands: stroke, stroke.

The vessel lunges forward, forward. Our bodies move in unison, backward, counter to our progress.

The air smells of rot. Death has gone sour.

Our lungs huff and hum, and arms pull and legs push. The skin we shed is the grime that cakes in the creases of our throats and the crooks of our elbows. We never molt completely. Never down here.

The chains drag and swing, thud and clack. It becomes a dance, and I hear it in my sleep. It makes me sleepy.

Light peeks through a porthole. A point. It perks my pupils.

Your eyes used to be empty, too.

Eventually shadows fade, booming subsides, and we hear cheers on deck.

We keep rowing, rowing.

I Really Like This One, Too

September, 1918 by Amy Lowell

This afternoon was the colour of water falling through sunlight;
The trees glittered with the tumbling of leaves;
The sidewalks shone like alleys of dropped maple leaves,
And the houses ran along them laughing out of square, open
Under a tree in the park,
Two little boys, lying flat on their faces,
Were carefully gathering red berries
To put in a pasteboard box.

Some day there will be no war,
Then I shall take out this afternoon
And turn it in my fingers,
And remark the sweet taste of it upon my palate,
And note the crisp variety of its flights of leaves.
To-day I can only gather it
And put it into my lunch-box,
For I have time for nothing
But the endeavour to balance myself
Upon a broken world.
Sorry, people. This one totally blew me away.

Weird Dream

I had a weird dream last night. Part of it involved Q-tips. I have no idea.

Another part of the dream was a field trip. We went sky diving. I remember being in the plane watching the instructional video. Instead of jumping with the trained parachutist, you stepped off the plane first, in a horizontal position to maximize drag, then your expert dove after you, caught you and released the parachute. In this dream, however, there was no distinction between my watching the video and the army guy holding me in the middle of the air. I didn’t realize I was already dropping through the sky. We floated and glided and landed in the middle of the ocean. There was a lot of green algae floating at the surface. Boats picked us up and took us to a base, in the water, where an officer gave us these weird controls with numbers on the buttons and assigned us numbers. I was 8. We were still floating on the ocean; I was with a few people at my station, which was the same boat that picked me up. The officer was yelling numbers through a megaphone, and all of a sudden things were blowing up, and it occurred to me we were in a war zone. I heard “8” and I fumbled and located the button and pushed it and nothing happened. I pushed it again. A submarine passed in front of me and I got the impression that was my target. It collided with a supposed enemy station a few hundred feet in front of me, and everything exploded. The other people on my boat had somehow died, and our boat shattered, and I ended up at the front of the boat, which managed not to sink. The battle was over, and I looked for shelter. I found a larger part of another boat where a few others had gravitated. I started rummaging for a container to keep my cell phone dry. Then rescue boats came and picked us up and then we were on buses that were going to drop us off at our homes. I got out my cell phone and dialed the number of a childhood friend’s parents. Her mom picked up and I asked if my friend was home. She said no. I explained our field trip. I explained that I hadn’t seen my friend and if I heard anything I’d call the mom. My voice cracked as I spoke, and the mom sounded as if she might cry, too. I hung up. The bus turned onto State Road 218, yes, in Florida. I sat and imagined blogging about this experience when I got home, how the first line would be “I killed people today” and I’d express my utter confusion and try to sort out all the implications of war. That last scene repeated on a loop, me sitting at a computer screen, typing “I killed people today” and trying to figure out what else to write while I felt someone had punched me in the stomach and taken away most of the the air in my world because I could barely breathe.

Then the alarm went off. I woke up.

And I still feel that way.

War Songs


“Making Pies”

-Patty Griffin

It’s not far
I can walk
Down the block
To TableTalk
Close my eyes
Make the pies all day
Plastic cap
on my hair
I used to mind
Now I don’t care
I used to mind
Now I don’t care
Cause I’m Gray

Did I show you this picture of my nephew
Taken at his big birthday surprise
At my sister’s house last Sunday
This is Monday and we’re making pies
I’m making pies
Making pies

Thursday nights
I go and type
Down at the church
With Father Mike
It gets me out
And he ain’t hard to like
At all

Jesus stares at me
In my chair
With his big blue eyes
And his honey brown hair
And he’s looking at me
Way up there
On the wall

Did I show you this picture of my sweetheart
Taken of us before the war
Of the Greek and his Italian girl
One Sunday at the shore

We tied our ribbons to the fire escape
They were taken by the birds
Who flew home to the country
As the bombs rained on the world

Here I am
Walking the block
To TableTalk
You could cry or die
Or just make pies all day
I’m making pies



“Song for Jeffrey Lucey”

-Meg Hutchinson

You would’ve made a great dad
If you’d lived that long
Your eyes are warm and kind on the evening news
There was a big celebration when you walked off that bus
With all your limbs intact we thought you’d made it back to us
And no one knew, what you’d been made to do over there

You were almost twenty-two when they shipped you out
With the sixth motor transport battalion
Operation Freedom, also known as the war
No place for a good kid just trying to pay for school

And no one knew, what you’d be made to do over there

Yellow ribbons still fluttering from the trees beside the house
Memory was a cancer that you could not live without
But you could not live with it
Oh… no you could not live with it

In the dark you held your flashlight, still listening for spiders
In the days you drank alone in your old room
Haunted always by the voices, by the jingling of the tags
Holding on to one little corner of that flag

And no one knew…

Yellow ribbons still fluttering from the trees beside the house
Made a pillow for your head and they laid you down
Oh they laid you down
Oh… oh they laid you down

And no one knew
What you’d been made to do
And all their love couldn’t keep you


War is an interesting animal. It carries a variety of symbols. Its images are powerful. Patty sings from the perspective of a loved one, first person. Meg takes it to the second person, as if conversing with the returned soldier who took his own life. Both artists incorporate ribbons. Reminders. Both remind us of the feelings involved, that human beings fight in wars and they confront other humans, many of them innocent. And how do people deal? How do they handle the loss, the trauma, the agony? Go and type. Make pies. Self-medicate into a funnel of depression. The woman feels helpless. Jeffrey Lucey felt helpless.

I guess you can push through the day until enough time passes and it doesn’t hurt as much. I guess you can write songs and sing sadly. I guess you can petition the military mental health organizations to improve their PTSD programs. I guess you can mourn for the little bit of yourself that has died inside when someone you love has died way too young fighting a war that seems to have no end. Pies were her end; getting to the end of each day moved her along. Jeffrey Lucey, though, he could only see one ending. It had gotten to be too much.

When I went to the Pomegranate Gallery to look at Iraqi art, my mind spun with curiosity and a strange sympathy. Almost all the art were portrayals of war and divided nations. All dark, solid, jagged lines and aggressive strokes with thick, unhampered textures. A lot of intertwined themes involving the colors of Iraq’s flag and the idea of stitching together the Sunnis and Shiites and Kurds. Walking through that gallery moved me. I couldn’t understand the history and the bloodshed and the tradition. I don’t get the oil and the power and the politics. This isn’t going to end anytime soon.

mind procession

looking back

following the trail

looking down

they keep attacking

looking out

but we bury those

looking up