Winter in the Driftless area of Wisconsin is the black and white season of repose in an otherwise abundantly colorful world. Wisconsin winter serves up loads of negative space that tends to focus the attention on anything notable breaking the continuities of white sky and white snow. I look to shoot edges and transitions. Floating shards of lake ice, pastures punctuated by hillocks of barren trees, memorial garden mementos and hills and ridges crowned like the thinning domes of old men. Such things speak either of potential on the brink of manifestation or, alternatively, potential nearly spent.
Alive or dead is typically a black and white issue. But taxidermy wraps the issue in a thick and fascinating ironic mist. Here are the things about taxidermy that make me uneasy. 1) To immortalize through taxidermy, the subject must be dead. 2) The highest praise, of course, for successful taxidermy is “It’s SO lifelike!” The ironic weight of such an exclamation probably rushes right over the head of the typical exclaimer but the fact that it is “so very lifelike” simply underscores the dreadful truth that the thing is actually very dead and moreover, was likely executed precisely so it could “live” forever on the wall or behind glass. So, I’ve made a series of photographs that encourage the thoughtful viewer to consider the relationship between the quick and the dead and the immortal occasioned by the practice of taxidermy.
Grant Park Totem – Serra Reading Cones
On a lunchtime walk though Grant Park, I saw something that immediately made me uneasy. It wasn’t clear whether it was the remains of a display or an impromptu construction. What was left was grim and unsettling as well as inspired and full of purpose. A broken totem. A gate and warning. It looked like how a bad outcome feels, or what is felt in the morning after a night of troubled sleep. It was each of these things and more, just on the edge of understanding. It stood for three or four days and then the city removed it.
Nothing announced it or attributed it to anyone or anything. It looked broken or disrupted but it remained very potent. It was a powerful but incomprehensible memento with an extraordinary presence. I shot it twice on consecutive days.
Red Steps – Highway 55 Langlade County Wisconsin
The small white house with red steps was noticeable even at 65 miles an hour because of the discontinuities. Although the concrete steps down from the front door had been recently painted a deep ruby red, the pealing siding and soffits had not been painted for many years. There was a gate and a mailbox close to the highway, but no drive from the highway up to the house or any path through the yard to the front steps. Then there was the one-off and extraordinary effort at front yard décor that clearly had required considerable effort to make and install, and which, although weathered and desaturated by years in the sun, retained a quirky nobility. The meticulously maintained yard was like a green lake in which artifacts floated. The place had the glamour and sadness of a ruin and the solemnity of a shrine.
This memento’s meaning seems more apparent: a dream subverted just before its realization. The ongoing power of that derailed dream was evidenced in scrupulous care over many years of the externalities and fading outlines of the dream’s promise. I made photographs over the course of several visits spanning two years, intending to capture the memento’s impact and to celebrate the impulse to memorialize and pay homage, and to honor the need, in spite of defeat, to keep alive in some tangible manifestation, what might have been. Last winter I went to shoot the house again, but it had been demolished and the yard scraped clear.