I took a portrait of each of my brothers while visiting home this winter. This trip was a supposed conclusion – 2 years later – to what I first mentioned in this post. I found out though, that nothing is ever actually concluded. The expanse behind what we realize is infinite. Think of it as a movie stage facade on a clear cold morning with an unknowable and unending landscape falling behind it to a dark horizon line, to where your imagination ends. And I’d wonder at anyone who does not stop in awe of this notion, of this incredibleness of existence.
They were dubbed by my siblings and I as “The Dukes” (Mother) and “The King” (Father). When and why the names were adopted I can’t remember anymore, but it seems fitting. Fitting here b/c they are the two most difficult subjects for me to photograph (hitherto). It is not b/c of tortured baggage – I would not pretend anything that compelling – but it is b/c with ones parents there is something fundamental and unaffected, and something also myriad and unutterable. They’re our kings and queens, our cardinal gateway. Naturally one’s ideas or proclivities are not bowed to by one’s king or queen. Generally it’s the other way around. I’m sure you can understand what I’m getting at, how a Duke and a King aren’t easy subjects.
I was taking these immediately after looking through some photo albums with my mom, snaps from child-hood of us in gondolas, of us petting odd animals, of us dressed up. Upon realizing my early childhood is at best scattered, illusive fragments as far as my memory goes, I commented to my mom, it’s amazing how little we remember, you know, how forgetting it so natural… She offered in response (with not a trace of irony), that’s a good thing.
Dark, Dukes, for God’s sake, dark.
Also, a poem the author, Haven Kimmel had sent me:
OCEANS I have a feeling that my boat has struck, down there in the depths, against a great thing. And nothing happens! Nothing . . . Silence . . . Waves. . . . --Nothing happens? Or has everything happened, and we are standing now, quietly, in the new life? Juan Ramon Jimenez tr. Robert Bly
Which for some reason I think makes sense perfectly here.
Larry Towell’s name was familiar to me b/c I knew he was with Magnum (here), but I’d not paid attention to his work until recently when I saw this series he shot years ago of his family in rural Ontario. In many ways this work remind me of Sally Mann, in location, in a certain affection, and in an idealic pastorial vision, but Towell’s work is less heavy handed visually. To it’s credit it’s simpler, and I say to it’s credit since the more subtle visual effect requires exceptional content – in general. But Towell’s work didn’t just strike me as being photographically excellent; more importantly, it reminded me of childhood and my own fond memories. Wonderful stuff.
(For more, there’s a multimedia essay on Magnum’s site, here.)
I guess I could say getting old is a sad process that betrays much of human nature, that family brings both the most joys and the most pains in life, that people rarely change and if so only on their own terms, that you can learn something from everyone around you…and so on. But instead, I’ll turn to Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov (someone once said, and I paraphrase, that everything a man needs to know in life is in this book, a bit of a hyperbole probably, but I’m not sure it’s so far from the truth: reading it is like taking counsel from a prophet), so sitting next to my Grandpa, reading this novel, and thinking of the things you think of when in such a situation, a certain important passage from effected me (and I’m not religious in this sense, but just as much can be taken from this passage w/ a secular interpretation).
Much on earth is concealed from us, but in the place of it we have been granted a secret, a mysterious sense of our living bond with the other world, with the higher heavenly world, and the roots of our our thoughts and feelings are not here but in other worlds. That is why philosophers say it is impossibly on earth to conceive the essence of things. God took seeds from other worlds and sowed them on this earth, and raised up his garden; and everything that could sprout sprouted, and it lives and grows on through its sense of being in touch with other mysterious worlds; if this sense is weakened and destroyed in you, that which has grown up in you dies. Then you become indifferent to life, and even come to hate it. So I think.
-from The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky.
Anyway, enough of that.
I thought of just sharing the above picture, but here are two more.
If you drive fast straight east from Portland for approximately 3 hours you’ll pass within about 9 miles of this place. It’s the kind of place that conjures absolutely nothing in the imagination. It’s a desert of sorts.
“Human existence being an hallucination containing in itself the secondary hallucination of day and night (the latter an insanitary condition of the atmosphere due to accretions of black air) it ill becomes any man of sense to be concerned at the illusory approach of the supreme hallucination known as death. -DE SELBY”
Epigraph from The Third Policeman by Flann O’Brien.
These many photographs are from a trip I took recently to the Alto Plano of Bolivia to visit my sister, Erin, who lives there.
There has never been any reluctance in sharing personal thoughts here; the pathos, the bathos, neither go unnoticed by me…ever. And, yes, I’m aware of perception, acutely, but, well, an old arbiter once spoke to me at a very appropriate time saying, this ain’t no dress rehearsal, and being in agreement with that, why fake coy?
Still, with that even, this particular post is, how should I say…more in earnest than usual.
I approach it wary. Very wary.
It’s about my youngest kid brother, Ian, and his misfortune, his tripping on that unseen and ubiquitous crack in the sidewalk and finding on the other side a rabbit hole to tumble down, to be consumed by… To shambles. To disarray. Know that my heart clamors. My mind grits. B/c even Alice was guilty of curiosity. She sought. She was asking for it. Ian didn’t ask for anything. Ian really just had some terrible awful horrible luck. Moreover, and unfortunately, unlike Alice, Ian isn’t dreaming…
We are all excruciatingly awake.
Wary, very wary.
The reason this is hard for me to talk about is b/c I simply don’t know what to say. There aren’t words for it. Or if there are words they are many; they are a book; they are a treatise; they are probably not mine; no; probably they’re words of poets… And I hate speaking when it’s gratuitous. I hate speaking when I know what I say will not be enough…not nearly enough.
It occurred to me just now that expression is the string of a belief cut into a hundred pieces and then spun into an endless knot of folly.
Or what I might say right now could be laconic and without compassion, perfectly pragmatic and utterly unfair. This is useful, but then what happens and what is said doesn’t matter at all… And things like this should matter. They should be made to matter.
So I’m left stuttering, and people I worry for are left ragged. Like all, they muster what can be mustered, what must be mustered… Still, it breaks my heart on a number of levels, and breaks it thoroughly.
My lips purse. My body purses. My heart purses… I shudder and shrink.
A thousand pieces spun into an endless knot of folly.
Sure, it’s going to work out in the long run. Scott, my other kid brother, reminds me of this, and when necessary, I remind him. Not much is said, never has been, never will be, b/c not much needs to be said. We understand one another. We grimace. We force laughter.
But I think we both have a distinct notion that nothing is laughing back.
So now all I can think to do is to hug my brother, Ian, pat him on the back, and take his portrait before his entire life is turned upside down and before he takes a deep breath to climb his way back out of that rabbit whole.
I envision Sisyphus.
I envision a void, perfect and very very simple. A child can’t see it, or sees past it – I don’t know – but older eyes, squinting, pleading, speak of it, scream into it…what remains is just whispers, infinite pieces spun into an infinite knot of folly…
After all, it is that which is ineffable.
This is all old news. The same stories are yellowing memories and mythologies predating our histories. Ian doesn’t know it, but he is a parable. If he learns this, he will be indestructible. In his shades fading, his outline will grow bolder. Bolder and bolder. He could, I believe, glow… I hope that he molds suffering, and that it doesn’t mold him.
But then these worries and hopes are all feeble, academic garnish, abstract fillings. Because I imagine a fixedness that is inscrutable, a trajectory that is singular…I said that he may be a boulder that we all risk breaking ourselves upon.
So portraits. Ha! All this shit and I bring to the table some platitudes and portraits…and here no less… Hope springs eternal for whatever the antonym of absurdity may be… But I’m growing more skeptical…and I fret as millions have fretted before, pacing those same vast halls, the halls cognition has kept sparse since antiquity.
Even so, I mean to rue nothing. Or am so inclined. And hope the same for my brother, my brothers.
These are portraits of my younger brothers and I.
Keep your chins up little brothers, because this will all roll off someday like a fog off a mirror, and know for now that you’re there whether the mirror reflects you or not.
My brother, his girlfriend, and I recently drove from Washington Heights NYC to Canby, OR. (thus my absence here) on an impromptu trip home to settle some destitute and surreal family matters. Bittersweet, so to speak, as the trips ultimate reason became a faint yet ubiquitous backdrop to the otherwise wonderful time we had. There’s much I’d like to share about the trip, from becoming friends with my brother again to getting intoxicated in every state we passed through, but I feel like this is neither the time nor the place.
Less talk more pictures, right?
My Grandpa, Jack, died. It was my father’s father. Here I want to share – and, please, excuse this father – my father’s rebuttal given at the service:
Eulogy I gave at Grandpa’s funeral:I did not inherit my father’s propensity for public speaking.
Eulogies enumerate the positive. In Jack’s case humor, tenacity, good memory,
and the wise choice to marry a talented, supportive wife. Edith. Mitchell traits.
I have been asked to give the rebuttal to the eulogy. What might Jack say in
response, if he could.
He might start with: I have come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.
(Shakespeare, Julius Caesar 3,2).
Ate too much. Drank too much. Smoked too much. Worked too hard.
Obstinate. Stubborn. Didn’t listen. Didn’t talk too much – why bother when you
are right? All Mitchell traits.
Well, with apologies to Bob Marley (not the singer) and Charles Dickens
If you are virtuous and in need you may be visited by three specters
The ghost of Jack o’Lantern Mitchell past,
the ghost of Jack o’Mitchell Lantern present
and the ghost of Jack Mitchell future.
To reflect upon my past, your past and your future.
Learn what you will, and act as you must (should).
For all others I may simply come back to haunt you permanently.
God has Jack traits. Quiet. Doesn’t say much and you don’t know if he is
And as we all know Jack seemed to have God like qualities
Now he has matriculated to the next form. one wonders what he and the All
knowing teacher will discuss. And who will listen to whom…
When I read this pride and love swelled my stomach and poured warmth into my chest and throat. When I read it I thought of the saying that you aren’t grown up until your parents pass. When I read it I thought of joking with my father, asking if I could steal it…if he’d mind if I used it at his…but then I wondered if he’s more sensitive than I understand.
I talked with my sister on the phone, her in her house that’s in a town so alone on the map that it is defined by what is not there (“we don’t even have a Starbucks,” she says), and I said, I don’t know if Dad believes in God, or heaven, or…isn’t that something I should know by now? She replied that she’d asked him once and he’d said __…then she added, that was many years ago…b/c minds certainly change in regards such as these don’t they? I was nonetheless impressed she’d the nerve to have asked him. I’m still working it up. Probably it troubles me b/c I don’t know what I’m more scared of, agreeing with or disagreeing with the answer.
I remember specifically the point in my life when I realized my father was human; until that point he’d been an abstraction, an a priori knowledge, a figure that w/o question defined me, a father; then my knowledge named reality and it’s propensities finally enveloped him too, and he became not a father, but my father: fallible, vulnerable, and questionable. It was my first epiphany. It was the point when I began to really love both my parents…a point of origin, if you will, since it seems like the love a child has for their parents is an ongoing journey. No?
I digressed. B/c I’ve nothing to add to death. And I am skeptical of anyone who claims to. But before death, in life, that thing we call love seems like one of the sure good things going, so I thought it worth mentioning. And family is what this comes down to, whoever you call family in life, those definite to you. Here is my family, portraits taken on the side of my parents house, taken the last time for awhile we’d all be together…
photo: David Mitchell; Canby, OR; 2007. ©Graeme Mitchell.
photo: Maureen Mitchell; Canby, OR; 2007. ©Graeme Mitchell.
photo: Erin Mitchell; Canby, OR; 2007. ©Graeme Mitchell.
photo: Scott Mitchell; Canby, OR; 2007. ©Graeme Mitchell.
photo: Ian Mitchell; Canby, OR; 2007. ©Graeme Mitchell.
For all the Mums out there, this is one of my favorite Eliot Erwitt photos; I think it’s a summation of everything that is good in life.
photo: New York – 1953 ©Eliot Erwitt
Indeed, Erwitt sees how life is sweet, and this pours out of his images.
photo: title unknown, ©Eliot Erwitt
photo: title unknown, ©Eliot Erwitt
My official portfolio ver 2.0 is online. Every bit of gratitude goes to Benjamin, or Mr. Diggles, who put this thing together over the last few months entirely on his own accord. I’ve mentioned him before for his smart, polished, and complex electronic music, and b/c he’s a close friend. With this new site he’s outdone himself. He tells me it’s standard compliant and all this other nerdy stuff. He might be the definition of autodidactic.
Benjamin, thank you for everything.
photo: Benjamin and I in a photobooth at a fashion tradeshow, NYC, 2007
photo: Benjamin and I, haggered, ridicolous, at a fashion tradeshow, NYC, 2007
Oh, and this, this is a wonderful picture I have of Benjamin (center), and my two younger brothers, Scott (left) and Ian (right). I probably took this when I was, maybe, 16. When I dug it up I was so sentimental of it I actually did a print with an accompanying text. Using text with a photo is a no no for me, but displays of sentimentality, alas, are something I’m prone to. Anyway, here’s the photo, and, as off topic as it is from the original point, for kicks, I’ll include the text too:
photo: ©Graeme Mitchell 2006
Possibly this picture risks being a mediocre stock photograph: something that’d exist almost imperceptibly under heavy text on the back of a young novelists first and last book, under-developed and hyper-reflexive, a book that will go unread for years at a time at the county library, a book titled “Summer Dreams,” “The Swimmers,” or something as such. Maybe it somehow reconciles this risk though by stepping without perfunctory gimmick into more: To childhood. To brothers. To best friends. To moments of the wonderment and inculpability- before anxiety and heartbreak and fucking and what all becomes ubiquitous baggage – to innocence, I guess.
Scott, Benjamin, Ian, respectively left to right, standing below a railroad bridge on some hot evening that nobody can pin down anymore on a river that manages to run with such stories. They’re probably hungry and tired, and yet completely uncaring of it. They’re relaxed and confident, jesting with the bridge they’d leapt from. And, Christ was it ever high, like 65, no 70 feet (I imagine measured with string and a pair of dangling brass knuckles to weight it). Some other kid broke both his shoulders and arms the week before, another had drowned or so the stories went. Or so the myths were built. We though, unscathed, were drunk on it…I tell you: it was as romantic as hell.
Benjamin was that remarkable best friend you have growing up. The one too tremendous for life who gets the girl but doesn’t care, the one who never got the grades but who was never bothered about it anyhow, the one who knew neither deliberation nor regret. He who stands on the verge of infinite possibilities, an ever awaiting crescendo that is just about to pique but never does. And there he is, gorgeous, laughing, shrugging, mocking everything that is and everything that lays beyond. That naturally cocky, audacity that lights fields on fires and evades punishment and injury through some unknown force. Then, Scott, on the left, my younger brother, looks up in what is I think an unlikely contemplation and is more likely some motion tied to a snide and shocking vulgarity. The long scar on his shoulder represents the many: he was small, pretty, agile, and absolutely without fear. I think he did a double gainer off the bridge that day. Leaping out and falling through the center of the bridges skeleton, past 15 feet of steel, then into the open air, and finally into the still water, only the baited breaths of us looking on disturbing the air, and the sounds of our hands tightly gripping to the sun warmed rust. He who you may catch now with a waitress in a dirty restroom out back, the guy who got in more fights in a year than most people will see in their life: not even fights as much wild brawls that were more tests of recklessness than anything personal. Then, on the right, Ian. You can’t see much of him, but this is fitting. There is only his curly blonde hair, then his discerning feature, and his natural quietude as he looks on. He is the youngest brother. The quiet one. The one with immense intellect and character that is almost wasted on a world that he doesn’t quite play into. He is looking to Ben, probably for clues… I can’t remember if Ian even jumped that day, or if ever. Not that it would have mattered. He never needed too. The energy was vicarious. Nobody cared. Really, I’m not sure if Ian could even swim. It’s likely he would just wade by the bank, hanging to the rocks, keeping conversation with us by yelling over his shoulder up to the bridge…
It’s possible that all this is fiction, just bits of imagined and hoped histories. But there’s the impression. The self-consciousness of age can’t infringe on that. They all may have ran the road to mediocrity, developed drug habits, got old and ruined overnight, moved away to not be heard from again…but somehow past any possible prejudices there’s still this moment, this glimpse, this hopeful impression burned deep into the image, past the silver into some unknown construct of the film. I hope, just maybe, this can affect some sort of sympathy: you know, some sort of profundity that shows what a picture can become.
I visited my grandparents b/c my Grandpa had recently suffered a stroke. I’d not seen him in years, and it was due time. I spent summers with them while growing up, and came to associate certain things with them: a dartboard, electric blankets, a clock… They still have all of these things, and seeing them again was not initially noteworthy. Then, while in the bathroom, I saw my Grandpas shaving drawer and for some bloody reason it was deeply deeply moving to me. It was so ordered and neat; yet it contained many of the same products I use; yet it was my frail Grandpas – all at once that drawer symbolized for me what it is to be human, to grow old, to struggle with what will we can muster in the face of the transitory absurdity life. At that moment I wished I was a poet, but all I could manage was to shoot the one roll of film I had with me.
photo: my Grandpa’s shaving drawer, Windsor Ontario, ©Graeme Mitchell, 2006
photo: my Grandma’s electric blanket, Windsor Ontario, ©Graeme Mitchell, 2006
photo: my Grandpa’s rec-room, Windsor Ontario, ©Graeme Mitchell, 2006
photo: my Grandpa and his dog, Windsor Ontario, ©Graeme Mitchell, 2006