The Things That Are Deeper Than Photos


There is this rule, in internet blogosphere land, that you are not supposed to post blogs at 12:30 am. Something about how most people are sleeping and not surfing the internet, devouring your precious content. That rule probably also suggests that you shouldn’t be doing it on a worknight, and maybe shouldn’t be writing it after that last margarita.

But some things really matter. Beyond blog statistics, beyond photography, beyond words. Really, I am kind of speechless,  but I feel the need to blurt out this stuff in the middle of the night anyway.

Okay, deep breath. Context.


A while ago–months ago, now, I wrote this post here, about my trip to Winston-Salem. I went there to see Reynolda House and the Edward Steichen exhibit there. I stupidly missed my opportunity to go to Foothills Brewery and drink some of the finest brews to come out of North Carolina in my drinking lifetime. I took this photo of this couple that I am immensely and ridiculously proud of:


And, most importantly, I saw this symbol, from my childhood–the hand clasping a tobacco plant.


In my formative years, my dad had worn this ridiculous hipster trucker hat with the Pride in Tobacco logo on it when fishing, mowing the lawn, working in the yard. It doesn’t seem like much at the time, these everyday things, gestures, symbols, but these are the things that we carry with us, the things that are familiar, the essence of our relationships. It is the complicated history of tobacco inextricably tied to North Carolina, to Durham, and to myself. It is something that you think is ridiculous to place importance on. And yet you find yourself, many years removed from childhood, having visceral reactions to seemingly inconsequential things. Like tobacco farmer logos. Like yellow and white trucker hats. Like certain songs that you can hear echoing in your head, taking you back to the most specific of moments, of memories.

If you want to know, really, why photographers take pictures–or maybe, as a photographer, only why I take pictures–it’s because we want these portals, these things that take us back to very specific places in our lives. I want to be able, when I am very old, to remember what it was like to be a new husband, a new father. I want to remember what it felt like, smelled like, tasted like. I want to be able to remember the woodsmoke lingering among the redwoods as I drove to a wedding in Cazadero. I want to remember, vividly, all the important and fleeting moments of my life.

It’s an impossibly Sisyphean task, of course. But maybe not. Maybe, just maybe, one image, or word, or sentence that you utter into the great darkeness will touch somebody. Maybe it will trigger something as deep in them as it is in you, and they will feel something that is beyond images and words, that is part of the very fabric of who we are.

I know that’s a lot to take in, to swallow, to think about here, as we near 1am. But it’s real, and raw, and someone came through for me in such a beautiful and unexpected way. I felt it would be a disservice to whatever single person reading this to be dishonest, to be distant, to be removed. To ignore the fatigue, the margaritas.

This is LIFE, people–these little shreds of things, these everyday trinkets carried by those we love. You never know which ones will be the most important until you see them, hear them, or smell them. But then you know.

Perfectly, I received my Pride in Tobacco patch (along with some other rad hipster swag) on my dad’s birthday. Maybe he won’t appreciate it in quite the way I do, but that hat is one of the symbols of my dad–who he is, what he stands for, what we have experienced together. So even though I’ve never been able to get straight whether his birthday is on the ninth or the tenth, maybe he’ll forgive me.

So happy birthday, dad. And thank you, from the deepest darkest depths of my heart, Robert and Dawn. You have compelled me to write a ridiculous rambling way-too-personal-blog.

I can’t thank you enough.


One Comment

  1. Pat holton on Aug 10, 2013 at 11:56 am

    You write so beautifully. Tobacco is certainly inextricably tied to my life, growing up in a small town whose livelihood was tobacco. Moving to Durham when American Tobacco was still in biz, the air smelled of tobacco…..just like Kinston. So many memories of black people picking tobacco, hauling it in on flat bed wagons pulled by mules, tying it to poles and hanging it in curing barns on Grandaddy Casey’s property.

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