2009 McKee Photography Grant Recipient: Rachel Goldman '10
With The Current: five connected short stories drawn from the Kennebec River in image and word
At its core, this project was an exploration of the power of creation through image and word. Both media partake in that same scrutiny of and siphoning off of life and of ideas in order to create narrative, character and emotion from essentially nothing. Interested in this potential, I wanted to explore the creative process when these two media, the image and the word, were married together in a process of exchange. How can both mediums become inspired by and also inspire each other to create a narrative? How can image and word communicate in this powerful act of creation? How can I use photographic language to recreate the meaning, emotion and atmosphere of a written text?
In exploring these questions, I wrote and photographed five short stories that confronted the reader on an articulate and unique level that is both visual and textual. These stories, and the process I went through to create them, tested the limits of spontaneity and staging in the creative process. Recreating life and story in this way, I pushed word and image out of their comfort zones and into a fruitful process of cross-fertilization.
With The Current can be previewed and purchased at:
Between slick slits in the deck chair, I watch ants forge their edible barricades. Infrastructures of raisins and loose, wrinkled onion strings. I reach out a hand and fish, blindly, for another cookie on the table between me and Molly. It’s a pattern we’ve fallen into, pool-side and summer-soaked, and so without looking I easily pinch out the raisins that are puckered and soft and drop them onto the pool tiles. Raw materials, I tell myself, and don’t feel guilty about littering.
The three of us are beached, antiquated pool statues in the summer and we know it. Regal Venus’, or maybe merely her swooning water nymphs, but that’s us all summer: me, Molly, and her mother, Mrs. Forester, who I’ve been allowed to call just Tasha for as long as I can remember.
I press a slab of cookie against the roof of my mouth and let it age and soak. While I do, I feel a cold finger press against my backside, slipping beneath the twist in my top.
“Elley, I just made you white. You’re burning.” My brother is eleven and doesn’t get the point.
“Simon, whuda you want?” I say, shifting down my sunglasses to the point of my nose – the better to peer over. I roll over onto a hip and rustle my fingers through the curls of his hair that are stiff because the Foresters’ are chronic over-chlorinators.
He wiggles himself from me and says, “Nothing, nothing.” Crescents of soaked feet paint their way back to the pool and as I flop back down I hear the slap of a cannon-balled body against the water. Life has become the perfect set-up that Molly and I dreamt it to be. As soon as we noticed the simultaneous bloom of our mother’s waistlines we crossed our fingers. The next thing we knew, Simon and Noah Forester were born twelve days apart and ever since we told them they had to be best friends they have been. Sometimes, I think, they’re even better friends than Molly and me. But it’s easier when you’re young, friendship, when you don’t know the word complicated or what it could possibly mean.
My summer job is as easy as not having one: watching Simon all day. Simon, who couldn’t do anything wrong if he tried. In the pool, he and Noah wiggle on the backsides of inflated plastic animals, screeching so much in the sun that I don’t even have to open my eyes to know they’re there.
Beside me, there is the sharp, double beep of the stop-watch that Tasha has borrowed permanently from Mr. Forester.
“Roll over,” she says, muffled because she always lies in this uncomfortable way with her mouth pressed down against the deck chair. Out of the corner of my eye I watch Tasha roll over. Thick red indents from the chair tattoo her belly in strips. A wedge of bathing suit has slipped perilously low and the pale crown of her breast winks out into the sun. I follow the skinny lines that squiggle against her skin there, white and smoky, like the last traces of fireworks. Tasha has beautiful breasts. She snaps the triangle of her top back in place and I roll over so the sun sears me even through closed eyelids.
Tasha is like my second best friend, in fact sometimes I think Molly and I were swapped at birth. She’s unlike my mother in every way possible and I think its funny to watch my own mother purse her lips at the Forrester stories I bring home. I wonder sometimes if she’s jealous.
Tasha is, has always been, the mascot of womanhood – a cult of which I am dangerously proud to be a part. She teaches us those things that other women have had to nervously learn from pilfered library books or hushed conversations. Or other, more nervous mothers.
For example, yesterday at the pool while we sat reading with iced teas cooling our palms, Tasha let the glossy pages of her magazine fall against her chest. It stuck, tired, to the salt of her skin.
“Girls,” she said. “If there’s one thing I can teach you…” This is a line which prefaces a lot of what she has to teach.
“Girls,” she gathered up the magazine, unstuck the pages from her chest and set it down on the chair beside her. “If there’s one thing I can teach you, it is only love a man who becomes attractive later in life.”
Through the shade of our sunglasses we watched her squirt a glob of SPF 8 onto her arm. The tan lotion disappeared into her skin beneath stiff finger swipes.
“Like your father.” And then, “Mr. Forester,” she added, nodding in my direction. “He used to be fat.”
We looked over to where Mr. Forester pushed the John Deere up against the edge of the fence giving the lawn something of a beard trim. Tasha waved the tips of her fingers in the air, across the pool to where he had stopped, looking over at us. We lifted our arms and did the same.
“Hi girls,” he yelled, lowering his headphones until he wore them like a necklace. We became a high-pitched chorus of hello.
“They’re the nice ones,” she said. “Not full of themselves. Happy about what they have. They feel lucky.”
The hair at the base of my neck gets stringy in summer heat, ratty, and so I pulled it back then into a ponytail, slicked back by its own sweat. Tasha grabbed the magazine again and leafed back to what looked like any old page and could have been because she’s read the same issues hundreds of times. Tasha doesn’t read the new magazines, which is a little surprising because of how important it is to her that she stays up to date. Instead, she reads old issues of her favorites, usually Life or Vogue, from when she was, what she calls, “Just a girl reading a magazine.” She keeps them stacked in a trunk in her bedroom and its like playing dress up, flipping through those. I think I understand why she reads them; It must be like closing your eyes and spinning and waking up back when the world was at your feet.
Always, when she drops something like that, some surprise that maybe we should write down and save for later, Tasha just goes right back to her own thing. Yesterday, I watched her finger the weathered pages again. One of her thumbs rested over where it said December 1988 and then she flipped to an article on Elvis’ daughter Lisa Marie and how grown up and beautiful she was all of a sudden, an article that even I had read more than once.
I licked the tops of my fingers and smoothed back the cowlick, feathering at the peak of my forehead. I smoothed, and I thought about these men, the ones that used to be fat, and them feeling lucky now.
My parents tell me they’re lucky all the time. Sometimes I watch them kiss by the stove while they make dinner together. They think no one’s watching or maybe they just don’t care. But I can’t get enough of it. Watching the way people love, I’m fascinated. They make it look so easy as if its just another step in the recipe; as if its dip, level, pour, kiss.