Family Life

Family Life 1985-88
Silver Gelatin Prints  9x12” image size
on 11x14” paper base

Note:  Click on images to enlarge

This body of work came three years after my 1982 solo exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago, and after three different bodies of work that followed the exhibition:  Dream Portraits,  Images of Eden, and City Places. 

The Dream Portraits were about a personal psychological state of mind; the Eden series, photographs of Milwaukee County parks, struggled to be about an idealized or fantasy place; and City Places was an attempt to find some essential pictorial meaning in urban spaces.  But in 1985 my life situation would help me to return home, to find that essential meaning in “my own back yard” as Dorothy might say in the Wizard of Oz.

My wife Gloria and I decided it would be necessary for her to earn some additional money to help send our two kids Shaun and Jessica to college.  So Gloria went to graduate school to prepare to become a social worker.  

Since she was very busy with her studies, it became clear that I needed to spend more time doing house chores and focus more on helping and being with the kids.  I did more food shopping and cooking and house cleaning; I took the kids on camping trips, to the movies, to the circus, etc. so Gloria could have some quiet time for her school work.  And instead of wandering off into the world with my camera on yet another photo project, I would photograph at home, or at least restrict my picture making to only things, places, events and people directly related to my family life experience.  Rather than allowing my photography to take me away from my family life, I would use my photography as a way of concentrating my attention on it.

I made portraits of Gloria and the children, portraits of our pets, portraits of our domestic spaces, and portraits of family life things.  

I had done similar projects twice before: 1) as a graduate student, 1n 1972 when I was too busy writing my MFA thesis paper to get out into the landscape to take pictures, I photographed Gloria and the things and spaces inside our little house which we were renting in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  That work was made under the influence of Gaston Bachelard’s wonderful book The Poetics of Space.   And 2) when we first moved to Milwuakee and had not yet felt comfortable photographing in the city I photographed the kids; and that work turned into the project named the Persephone Series.

The Family Life project was influenced by a book of poetry: News of the Universe, edited and introduced by Robert Bly.  I had read about this book somewhere and had decided to give it to Gloria for her birthday.  It was one of those books that, in combination with my life situation, it very directly changed my life.  I read Bly's book voraciously and underlined about every sentence.  I even bought another copy for Gloria because I marked up the copy I gave her turning it into my own. 

I recommend News of the Universe to everyone.  It has an environmental agenda - it’s about the evolution of consciousness and man’s relationship to Nature as reflected in poetry (it was written for and published by Sierra Club Books);  but it’s also about poetry in the highest sense, that is, it’s ability to help us see in the most conscious, profound sense of the word.  I will always be grateful to Bly for this powerful collection of poems and his many wonderful introductory essays.  

The most important chapter of the book for me at that time is entitled The Object Poem.   It’s about seeing things intimately, from the inside.  It’s about seeing the things of the world, all things, as being just as alive, with just as much consciousness or soul, as you and me.  And so a melon, or a pile of un-nameable trash things, or a jelly fish, or a window shade pull cord, a bath robe, a pillow, a picnic table, a desert dish, a steet puddle . . . all these things are equally as worthy of our attention, our love and respect, as our wives and children.  

Everything has eyes, everything is looking at me.

And so my intention became to make pictures that were not only about my family life, my personal reality, but rather I aspired to making pictures that transcended the personal to the archetypal; pictures that brought messages not just from me (the poet or photographer), but as well News of the Universe.

I have written in more detail about this idea and included many of the poems in Bly’s book on another web page which I invite you to visit entitled:  Poetry for the Departing Landscape.

Gloria did well in graduate school and immediately after graduation with honors was fortunate in getting very good positions as a school social worker.  We got our kids through undergraduate college.  They are doing well in their careers.   Jessica is a Montessori teacher in a Milwaukee public schools innovative program;  Shaun teaches 3-D computer animation and other related subjects at the college level.  And during the time I worked on this project Gloria and I met an enlightened saint from India.  Yoga and Photography.

One technical note: the Family Life photographs were all made with a 35mm camera which allowed me to work quickly and spontaneously. 

Welcome to Family Life.

                                                   1 Front Porch View from Storm Door  9x12"

                                                   2 Gloria Napping in Our Station Wagon  9x12"

                                   3 Jessica in the Wisconsin River  9x12"

                                   4 Shaun's Back  9x12"

                                  5 Near Death Experience in the Wisconsin River  9x12"

                                   6 Sparkler, Hand with Bandaged Finger   9x12"

                                   7 Jelly Fish  9x12"

                                                   8 Front Porch View of Apple Tree  9x12"

                                                    9 Bedroom Window Shade Cord  9x12"

                                                   11 Gloria's Bathrobe  9x12"

                                   12 Pillow  9x12"

                                    13 Two Desert Cups and Spoons  9x12"

                                   14 Backyard Picnic Table   9x12"

                                   15 Garage Things  9x12"

                                   16 Sabrina  9x12"

                                   16 Circus Elephant  9x12"

                                   17 Grandma With Grandchildren and Laundry  9x12"

                                  18  Family Portrait, Niagra Falls  9x12"

                                   19  Our Front Street Puddle  9x12"

                                   20 Luke In the Universe  9x12"

Welcome Page  to The Departing Landscape website which includes the complete hyperlinked listing of my online photography projects dating back to the 1960's, my resume, contact information, and more.