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no gold (things will have to wait)

There is an old Russian expression for the inevitable moment when your neighbors begin renovating. "Searching for gold in the walls." They say, to describe the epic sounds of drills in ancient concrete. You might appreciate this odd humor, this dark joke, this survival tactic. I am not so graceful a man to wrap my thoughts around it. Those drills and grinders, they shake the very walls of our apartment. Early on Sunday mornings and often long into the evenings they go.

This has been going on for the last four months, maybe more. I stopped counting.

I cannot imagine there are any walls left, that there is an entire open floor below us, the wind whipping through the naked beams and nothing else. That is the only explanation. Or that they break down walls, build new ones, find a flaw, some grand mistake and then break all of the walls down again. Not swiftly with sledgehammers, but with one crappy old drill with a dull bit, mashing away, so that children hundreds of miles away…

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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