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a peaceful protest

I was 16, and the thought of being forced to mention God as part of the pledge of allegiance was too hypocritical an act for me to play along with. Each day of high school began with this mundane recitation, as most people just stood with their hand jutting from a hip, the other dangling across their chest as they counted out the seconds until they could sit back down. They leaned against desks, and talked through it about what party and where it would be, if there would be a keg or a bonfire in the woods. I recited the words, omitting the "under God" part as a sort of half-baked protest. I was raised to flaunt my family's ramshackle atheism, as a choice of smug pride. We knew better, was the prevailing logic.

But one day, I could not stand and say any of it. It felt so rote, so hollow, so devoid of choice. There was no law that said I was required to say it. I knew this was my right, a form of free speech. My homeroom teacher was a legendary drinker, a trash-talking re…

orphans and old bones


Sometimes, you find yourself with a handful of frames left at the end of a roll. They can linger for days, even weeks while the distractions of daily life upstage them. They can nag at you in the middle of a conversation as your mind flits to the shots you made, and how the proof of their success is delayed by them. It is a version of finish your vegetables, or no dessert as you sit at the table - stubborn, unyielding.

I call them orphans, the pictures made with these last frames. They are rushed afterthoughts. They are throw-aways, and you are always ready for them to be junk, filler and stillborn.

And yet, they have a life of their own. There is that great expression about trying too hard and how that can lead to making nothing, and about letting things happen all by themselves instead. Something about listening and shutting up for once. Something about not overthinking things.

There is an empty playground in front of our apartment, overgrown with weeds. Some department dug a giant hole there and pulled some old pipes from the earth. They sit, muddy and rusting for weeks now.  The hole remains, like a lost tooth that did not have a new one waiting to grow underneath it. I take pictures of that place like it will disappear tomorrow.

On the way to the film lab I have five shots left as I pass the apartment we used to live in, behind the train station. I get out early, thinking of a strange little garden someone designed there. A pair of white cranes made from metal and wood sit in the tall grass. A tiny stone bridge that crosses no water, just a bare spot of the lawn. I walk behind the building and take three pictures of them. There are a collection of old garages behind them, gray painted walls and slabs of old metal, creating an alley that leads to nowhere. A dead end. I take the last two pictures here, kneeling on the ground to pull a puddle into frame on the last one. And then, I am yanking myself up walking fast to the metro like I just robbed a bank.

A young man runs up to me. He wears army fatigues and speaks quickly. I do not understand him for a moment, then catch that he wants to know why I was taking pictures of the garages. "Don't worry!" I say with a flourish, cracking a smile. "I am an artist!" He stares at me, as if this is not one of the excuses he could have imagined I would offer. I nod, smile and leave. He stands there, lost.

Later, I find out that there are men that do sneak onto property, photographing old structures, even if they are allowed, and the property is owned by the building. The new mayor can bulldoze them all down in one night, without warning or debate. His excuse? He is making Moscow more beautiful. I know of garages and little shops all gone in a day, just the naked bones of their walls left behind, like the white skin around your hips next to a sunburn.














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