Friday, March 25, 2005

Reconstruction and Redeveloment

Reconstruction and Redeveloment: Photography in the 21st

In 1875 my great-great grandfather burned down his house. This act was ignited by hope and economics (if there is space between the two ideas). You see, he had taken on a huge amount of debt to finance an expedition across the United States and he needed one last crucial element in order to resettle in California. He needed the iron nails from his old structure to build the new structure that only existed in his dreams. Like a ghost from the future haunting his present, my great-great grandfather's dream house called to him and it required a sacrifice. Sifting through the ash of his old home, he found the tools he needed for the future.

As it turns out, he did not make it to California. He settled in Oklahoma near the geographical center of the US. It was in the Mid-west where his descendants lived and died as he did, until I came along. The term the "Mid-West" never seemed fitting, perhaps the "not-quite West, not-quite East" is a better term because it is a state of in-between where his descendants have really existed. He erected his house with the deconstructed pieces of his old house in a space that was not quite where dreams placed it, but definitely not where he once was.

His specter is still with me, as is the specter of the house he never built. I have a tintype of his image that was developed over 100 years ago. Strangely, his tintype image will probably out live the thousands of family snaps I have on color photo paper and they will certainly outlive my digital images that get deleted on a regular basis because history has not had time to make them important yet.

I have learned from those who came before me and during graduate school, I burned my house down. I sifted through the ashes and now I have a pocket full of nails; the same nails that were handed down to me. It's time for me to reconstruct my house and for me to learn how to redevelop photographs that will last longer than a few years before they too fall prey to my deconstructive tendencies.

Deconstruction is as dead as any other theory. It is everywhere and it is one of my favorite tools. But I don't use the same tools everyday or in every situation. Sometimes I deconstruct and sometimes I reconstruct. Sometimes I burn and sometimes I build, but always with the same nails that I inherited and with any luck, they will be my legacy.

It seems right now that all of my friends are in a state of reconstruction as well. I don't know if it is just the timing or not, but I want to help them build their houses, and they want to help build mine. We are all tired of deconstructing our own images, but we are energized to start building a new structure together. This new structure is the stuff of dreams that exists in new in-between space. It's not Modern and it's not Post-Modern; it is a new structure built on a new hope and a new economics. The new economy acknowledges and builds on our past, while also acknowledging and building on the ghosts of the future. It is an economy that is defined by the exchange of individuals and not the binary opposition of the individuals themselves. It is an integrative economy that will finally allow everyone to participate without a margin and without a power division. I watch as my friends and I struggle because there is no language that will allow us to build this structure because we all speak the language of deconstruction. So, with great frustration, we build and destroy in the same sentence, inevitably feeling like we never have a home to situate ourselves in.

It is time for us to focus on reconstructing with the tools that have been passed down to us, knowing full well that what we build will never quite be where we want it to be. And also knowing full well that in a few years, we will burn it all down again. But if we learn to redevelop our images like tintypes, maybe they will survive our own pyromania as my great-great grandfather's image has.


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