Wednesday, October 26, 2011


It's been a strange and somewhat shitty week. Last Friday I flew to Tulsa for the funeral of my four-year old cousin. I'd barely gotten unpacked when I was told that I probably shouldn't bring my camera to the service the next day. My family knew me pretty well. Sometimes I can be obnoxious with a camera.

Saturday morning we drove in a caravan to the church and I was careful to leave my camera in the car. It turned out the service was heavy on photography anyway. A large screen overhead showed a slideshow of Colby's life, followed by video clips. It was heartbreaking.

As I sat in a pew fighting tears, my inner photographer wouldn't go away. I couldn't help seeing potential shots nearby. The poster near the pastor. The row upon row of police in uniform. Raw emotions everywhere. I imagined Larry Clark in my shoes. What would he shoot? How had he kept it together during those funeral scenes? Then I caught myself. Is this how I react during crisis? Have I gone totally overboard? I was glad not to have the camera.

from Tulsa, 1971, Larry Clark

Afterward we all retreated to a nearby home to share memories and company. We set up chairs in the driveway where Colby's accident had occurred. At first I thought the location was a bit strange considering the home had a large backyard. Wouldn't we be more comfortable there instead? But thinking about it later I realized the location was very meaningful. By meeting in the driveway we were reclaiming the space. Not to erase what happened there but to renew it with a happier memory.

I asked around if anyone had heard of Tulsa but no one had. Before last weekend that book had provided my main mental image of the place but the Tulsa I saw was pretty different. There were no junkies or gunplay or rundown homes. The only similar feeling was the sense of death, and everyone circling helplessly around it.

I had my camera with me now in the driveway but more as a security blanket than anything. I didn't feel like shooting. It just felt good to hold.

That feeling lasted a few days. Sunday morning I found myself in the Tulsa airport terminal where I saw the perfect scene. A pilot's hat upturned on a countertop formed a very strange shape, and behind it a bald man in uniform sorted through blank printer paper. It took me a moment staring before I could decipher it visually. What's going on here? What is that thing on the counter? I'd never seen anything like it.

It would've made a beautiful photo but I didn't even raise my camera. I just held it tightly and kept walking.


Unknown said...

Heartfelt and beautifuly intelligent post...I won't forget it...

Anonymous said...

My sincere condolences. Thanks for posting this.

Martino said...

Condolences (I could *see* that hat).

jeff downer said...

come to the presentation house gallery. you can see the tulsa exhibition in vancouver!
say hi if you do!

Elizabeth Fleming said...

So sorry, how awful.

Anonymous said...

I'm a photographer from Republic of Moldova. It was very hard to keep my tears while reading your post. On the 25th died my uncle. I had my camera with me, but it was unbelievably hard to take any images. I saw moments eveywhere, but I kept them to myself as a way of respecting his memory and not be selfish. And I hadn't take any image since then.I couldn't.

Thank you.

jacques philippe said...

My condolences for you and your family Blake. Great post, so to speak.

StevenJohn said...

Best photography post I've read this year. It caused a tear.