When I first started making Polaroids I wrote on them. Nearly all had some type of handwriting, and then I started using letter stamps to ink out words and phrases. Many carried inked fingerprints and some had masking tape; a few were stitched with colorful thread. The photos were only part of a way I told a story.
Landers, California, at dawn (Polaroid SX-70) (all images 2021)
Then the Polaroids became prefaces, essentially, for me to write longer stories and give context. There was no longer writing on the photos themselves, but I wanted to use them as an illustration.
Somwhere over Texas (Polaroid SX-70)
Then I just shut up. In the past few years, I studiously avoided all other context. There would be a catalog-style entry below, at best; and even some of those were obscured, à la Bill Egg.1 “Mississippi,” the caption would say, or “Alabama.” I wanted the image to speak the whole story; if you wanted more, that was all there was. It either hit you or didn’t.
Yucca Valley (Polaroid SX-70)
I was scanning Polaroids this morning with a cup of coffee and thinking, well, I really don’t have anything to say about these. I like to tell stories in these newsletters, but I was so thankful to be able to travel, and feel safe doing so, that every photograph seemed like a gift. I’m still learning how to see the world as a surprise, as something special; heading out West just magnified that process and made it much easier. Look at that mountain, I would think, driving to Lucerne Valley. It looks like God just threw down a huge heap of God-sized blocks.
Somehere or another, possibly Mars, Polaroid 600 I think.
So I hope these tell you a story, just on their own, and maybe I’ll try to fill in the blanks a little bit in the weeks to come. Or not! I mean maybe not! What else can I say? The world is gorgeous, and perhaps we should strain ourselves staring towards the edge of the earth. If not now, when?
Twentynine Palms, where I would have stayed, but they never answered the dang phone, so (Polaroid SX-70)
EVERY YEAR I DONATE A POLAROID to the Ogden Museum for their annual Magnolia Ball celebration. It is a horrifying thrill to place a piece of artwork up for auction, and I’m sure this year will be no different. It’s a fun process though to select one to donate—I send five or six examples, they toss it around, and pick what they think people will like. This year it’s a giant monkey.
FORTY FOOT!, Lincoln County, Miss., 2020 (Polaroid 600)
I didn’t think they’d pick the giant monkey. Roll Tide, though.
FOR MOTHER’S DAY the Mississippi artist Lucie Wren made a song celebrating her mother, the artist Wendy Eddleman. “If it were up to me,” she sings, “I’d have you laughing all the time . . . If it were up to me / you’d know only kindness.” I think that is a lovely sentiment for all mothers and those who give care and nurturing.
OKAY I’m going to fold some socks (I actually tie them together) and play Dead Cells on the Switch. I hope you drink too much coffee and listen to Emmylou Harris.
I remember seeing some of the old scamp’s great works at an exhibition at the Met a few years ago. They were so beautiful they almost glowed. It was a crackerjack of a show, left me feeling electric, giddy. In a few instances, as I recall, the maestro provided only “undated” and “no location” as when a photograph was made. In one such “unknown” there was a giant Chevrolet. Mississippi car tags have the county on them, unlike some places, like Alabama’s use of a number code. The tag on the Chevy had TUNICA and 74 stamped into its metal.