My grandfather’s life was saved by an Ojibwe guide in Northern Minnesota during the Babbitt Survey.
He was a surveyor and had laid an axe into his thigh somewhere out in the bush too far from medical help. The guide filled the wound with white pine pitch, wrapped it an old shirt told my grandfather when the shirt fell off the wound would be healed.
It was healed. Consequently, my grandparents had a healthy respect for native culture and people. And my grandmother edged my seeing by asking me to find the spirit lines and spirit breaks in Navajo rugs and various baskets that filled her cabin. Those lines and breaks, she said, were the places where the spirits moved into and out of objects. Every summer I looked at the lines and watched for the spirits to move.
It wasn’t until I was 14 that I visited an art museum.
The first painting I stopped to look at was a still life of a champagne glass and fruit. I thought the colors were beautiful and I couldn’t figure out how the artist painted a champagne glass so clear the fruit behind it shimmered. But what stumped me was I could not find the spirit line. And that meant, to me, one of two things. The spirit of the painting was not free or there was no spirit in art.
I spent the rest of the day looking for spirit lines in everything. And never once did I find one.
Years later in art school for cast iron and bronze sculpture and photography, I found myself thinking again about my grandmother and those weavings. A decision was made, unconsciously at first, to allow those spirits into all creations or to find the spirit because, according to my grandmother, all things have spirit.
So, when you ask me about how I photograph, I will always start my explanation with “work with spirit” …my spirit and your spirit and the spirit of the image I’m photographing.