memory

Memory

Stairs in the Woods

 

memory
is bitter black coffee
always tracing
the was against
the wish it was.

moments
are pages yellowed
in time’s acid –
edges crumble,
feeling lost.

i return
as my own ghost,
translucent and silent,
remember everything
and then forget.

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Reflections in Time

Reflections in Time

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These are windows which let in light but cannot be opened, and doors through which I cannot walk. They are in my mind and lost in time, but they return to me now. My gaze pushes through them and I remember. There are some which I can’t quite see through because they are still in the future, and they are hidden to me.

A day comes that isn’t a day. It’s a thousand days – days passed and days yet to come. Some are clear, and some are hazy. I don’t really know why it happens. Situation and circumstance twist themselves around and come to a moment of clarity when the past, present and even hints of the future become visible at once. It doesn’t last. It’s purely temporary, but for those few hours or days, it is like standing on a ridge with everything ahead and behind in view. The moment is usually accompanied by a fear of trusting the scene unfolding in the mind.

Windows and doors full of light, memory and possibility, separated from me by time, a hundred people and places I’ve been surging across each other like the tide coming in – this is the picture. It is confusing on the surface, but tied together by the internal narrative of a human life. For a few moments, or maybe even an afternoon, the whole story hangs together. For a little while, there is an element of certainty and clear seeing.

It leaves as quickly as it comes. The sacred hologram of non-linear time collapses to a single thin thread – tomorrow morning, the next meal, the next job. The picture remains as a memory, its ambiguous special dimensions spilling across each other in ways that no longer makes sense. At least the memory remains.

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Louisville’s Central Park

Arbor-at-Central-Park-Louisville Of Louisville’s great parks, Central Park is probably not the most impressive. It’s about the size of two city blocks, square and flat. It has a building in it that once was an athletic club but is now a substation for the Louisville Metro Police. It has a wonderful arbor which supports an ancient wisteria vine that gives shade to the whole thing. Most significant probably is the stage for “Shakespeare in the Park” which runs every summer and gives people the chance to come down and see Shakespeare’s plays performed for free.

arbor_3

I happened to catch a show on KET done by metro councilman Tom Owens, who is also a history professor at the University of Louisville. Tom Owens knows the history of Louisville like no one else. His knowledge of each inch of this earth at the Falls of the Ohio can only be called supernatural. In this show, he was doing Central Park and St. James Court in Old Louisville. His narrative of the creation of the park and St. James Court from a hunting camp owned by the DuPont family fascinated me. On a hot Sunday afternoon we went down to Central Park to soak up the history and shoot some pictures.

arbor_2

Central Park is one of the Olmstead parks which give Louisville its distinctive character. Frederick Law Olmsted designed 18 parks in the city of Louisville. He was characterized as “the father of landscape architecture” and I wouldn’t trade our Cherokee Park for New York City’s Central Park, which Olmstead also designed. Louisville’s Central Park must have been a challenge to the master landscape architect. To be fair to Olmstead, he didn’t have much to work with on this patch of ground. There are no hills, no naturally occurring waters or interesting outcroppings of rock – just a flat rectangle of ground. He built the athletic club, laid out the sidewalks and fountain, and planted some trees. I can’t think of anything he could have done that he didn’t do that wouldn’t be totally artificial, and artificial wasn’t Olmstead’s style.

best-days

Colonade-at-Central-Park

And yet, Louisville’s Central Park has something that no other park in the world has: it has St. James Court across Magnolia Street at its southern edge. From the St. James Art Fair information site:

“In 1890 after the Southern Exposition site was cleared, William Slaughter led the development of St. James Court, one of Old Louisville’s most renowned neighborhoods. Centered on the picturesque fountain, the court was envisioned as a haven for turn-of-the-century upper class and was completely occupied by 1905. Slaughter set up deed restrictions to ensure that all houses on the court were constructed of either brick or stone. From its start, court residents established a homeowner’s association, one of the oldest in the country. Described as the epitome of Victorian eclecticism, the neighborhood included homes in such styles as Venetian, Colonial, Gothic and others. The Conrad Caldwell House on the northwest corner of St. James Court prominently features the turrets, towers and bay windows associated with the Richardsonian Romanesque architectural style. Through the years the court has been home to several city officials, judges, doctors, writers, poets, and business leaders. St. James Court residents are proud of the unique history and friendliness the neighborhood offers. When strolling through the tree-fringed court, you too will experience a vibrancy and vitality that no suburban neighborhood can match.”

So, when you visit Central Park, not only do you see an historic old park, but also, you can stroll down a shady boulevard where Louisville did its best to create a little piece of Victorian England in the 1890’s.

St.-James-Court-Fountain

Some additional reading on the history of this area:

A History of Old Louisville’s Central Park.

St James Court and Belgravia, Louisville, Kentucky

Satellite Picture

St.-James-Fountain

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The Iron Horse

Like millions of other American teenagers, I couldn’t wait to get a driver’s license so I could go racing off in one of my dad’s cars. I scarcely noticed that sometime between my childhood and early teens, the great passenger trains had vanished.

208-1 The Old 208 Close-up, Yashica 635 with Ilford Delta 100

After all, cars are much more fun. You can go where you want to go, when you want to go there. Cars are freedom and individuality; railroads are institutions. And, it didn’t help that when the railroads had a virtual monopoly on overland transportation, they took advantage of working people by charging exorbitant rates to ship farmers’ crops to market. When I was a kid, I never heard a single lament for the passing of the trains.

208-2 The Old 208 , Yashica 635 with Ilford Delta 100

The last time I rode on one of the great trains was when my mother took my sister and I on the Texas Chief up to Oklahoma City to visit my grandfather in Norman. It was like a luxury hotel on wheels. I couldn’t have been more than about nine years old, but I remember it as if it were yesterday.

French-Lick-Train-Station-1Train Station, French Lick, Indiana, Yashica 635 with Ilford Delta 100

When I was a kid, my dad could drive down the middle of the highway steering only with his knee while he lit a cigarette with his Zippo lighter. This drove my mother crazy, but you could do that then because there were so few vehicles on the road. In Texas, you could often drive for quite some time without seeing another car. Things have changed, and changed a lot since those idyllic days. Today we face streets and expressway choked with millions of vehicles almost 24 hours a day. Half of the time I set out to drive from Louisville to Lexington, I am delayed by a multi-vehicle accident. Today, the air is turning toxic, the planet is said to be heating up, and the Gulf of Mexico is filling with crude oil where a living ocean once thrived. In the days of my youth, gas was 25¢ a gallon. Today, people are going into debt to fill their tanks. Times have changed.

Passenger-Cars,-French-Lick Passenger Cars, French Lick, Indiana, Yashica 635 with Ilford Delta 100

I can’t help but think that our friends across the pond have been smarter than we have on the issue of trains. Only we gave up our trains – England, Europe, Russia, India, Africa, China and Japan all kept and developed their railways. Only we relegated our great trains to the pack mule role. Ours still run, but they carry only new cars, coal, chemicals and other bulk freight.

208-3_antique_effect The Old 208 , Yashica 635 with Ilford Delta 100, antique effect from Photoshop

It would be great if we would re-think our ideas about the trains. I know I would use them. I think a vacation on a train would be terrific. Just being able to hop on a train and ride to Cincinnati to see a Reds game would be a hoot. I wonder how many cars we could get off the road if we had a railway system that took people where they wanted to go. How many amphetamine-crazed truckers would have to find another line of work if our railways were truly operational? How many tons of hydrocarbons could we keep out of the atmosphere? How many Deepwater Horizons would we need if we were running the trains?

You can buy prints of these photos and others on Red Bubble by clicking on this link

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Dances with Dinosaurs: Why I Still Shoot Film

Florence_1 I am still in possession of every film negative I have ever shot – well, excepting a couple of rolls I shot of a girlfriend in a motel room in Nashville which I destroyed because I’m a good guy – but excepting those two rolls of slide film, I have them all. Yes, it takes some plastic tubs and shelves to store them all, but I have never thrown away a negative. I would no sooner pitch a negative than hurl a Morgan silver dollar into the alley. We all have our principles, and that’s one of mine. Think of what a rich vein of personal history that is: me and my sister at the San Antonio zoo in 1961, old shots from high school, my loves and friends, hiking trips through the mountains, the birth of the first-born, my “arty” experiments, every place I have ever been – you get the idea. I could probably spend the rest of my life just going through my old negatives and making prints, but sometimes dealing with the past can take too much energy, and I prefer to be working in the present. Yet, still I know I have my archive of forgotten treasures that carry all of those parts of my life into the future.

Quite a few of those negatives are really terrible. They are bad shots of people with eyes half closed or with dumb expressions in their faces. Some are just flat-out mistakes, a twitch of the finger that fired a photograph at nothing all, but I have them. I have every single one of them. But, that is also truth. We have those times when we wear dumb expressions on our faces, and times when the finger twitches and fires a picture at nothing at all. There are those times when it would have been a good picture, but we had something set wrong on the camera and it came out dark or blurry. Those moments are also truth. Those are all there too, in the boxes and binders.

Contrast this with the digital camera that you take to a party. You may shoot 3-4 dozen shots and then look at them in the view screen of the camera, “That sucks… delete, that sucks… delete, that really sucks… delete…” Maybe a handful of these photos survive, and maybe they’ll get uploaded to the computer, and maybe they’ll survive a while, at least until the next hard drive crash, when everything you’ve done for the past couple of years suddenly vanishes into the cruel and indifferent clutches of cyberspace.

Marian-with-Yashica-635 I have been working with personal computers since their beginning, and if I have learned nothing else, I have learned to never trust them. They die; they fry; they crash; they burn. And they only work when the power is on. My negatives don’t need electricity to remain in existence or even to be viewed, and, were I to get really hard-core about it, I could devise a way to print them without electricity. Fortunately, I’m not quite that compulsive, but it could be done. My negatives are among the most persistent elements of my “memory.”

I transitioned to digital photography for professional work in 2004. The case for digital is compelling: faster, more economical, greater capacity, instant availability of the images, and, on average, the onboard computers of digital cameras do assist us in getting more usable pictures more often. At this point, I have shot oodles of digital images, have stacks of boxes full of CD’s storing terabytes of digital photography. A lot of it has been very successful; in a number of situations digital has been an absolute life-saver. This is not another “digital versus film” screed. I love my digital cameras. What I have found, however, is that I also love my film cameras, and I do not want to be forced to abandon film photography.

I am finding that film and digital are different channels for me, as different as oil painting is from magnetic tape recording. I don’t try to do everything with film as I once did. I don’t have to. If I need a picture of a bottle for a brochure, I grab the digital, fire off a few frames and dump it to the computer. Life is good – no waiting for the lab to process the stuff. The job gets done and I’m off to the next thing. When I get a feeling in my mind that I want to express visually, I am still inclined to pick up a film camera and load it with a favorite film that I know will support the mood I want to capture. I’m talking about me here, not everyone in the world. I have years of experience with film. Like a painter who knows intuitively that cadmium yellow will produce a different feeling than yellow ocher, I know that particular films and developers will produce particular effects and moods in a photo. It’s not rocket science; it just comes from fooling around with them a lot. Most new photographers just coming to the art will never have the opportunity to explore film. They may create great pictures, but there is a sensibility that film imparts to photography that they will miss unless they make the effort to experience it. For most, that won’t be practical, and that’s fine – no judgment intended. I’m just glad that I spent enough time in the darkroom that film is hardwired into my psyche.

If I have a gripe with digital, it is with its perfection, a perfection that verges upon sterility. Assuming that you have adequate light, a digital camera will kick out a correct image every time. Film isn’t like that. Film is full of chaos and unpredictability. If you shoot film on a manual camera, and especially if you develop that film yourself, every roll is an adventure. There are surprises. You can get the “how did that happen?” moment in film. And yes, there are times that the camera can make you look better than you are.

Film carries the truth of the moment: This is what I saw and what I did in that particular moment. There is no little computer saying, “It really ought to look like this.” I won’t bullshit you: there are plenty of times that I want that little computer saying, “It really ought to look like this.” But, that’s not my truth. That’s the truth of me and the engineers at Nikon. I love them. They are a talented group, but there are some parties I don’t want to invite them to. Sometimes, I want it to be just me and the light.

Most people who might read this will not only have no nostalgia for film photography, they will joyously cheer its passing. To be freed of the expense, uncertainty, effort and processing delays of film is a godsend… for most people. I don’t condemn that point of view because I understand it completely, but you won’t find me in the cheering section. I am discovering that for me, film is an important color on my palette, one whose value is not negated by the development of newer imaging technologies. It is something I like to do which even now still engages my imagination.

To make such claims, I suppose I should get down to specifics and try to illustrate what I’m saying. I’m not going to stumble down that old “x is better than x” road, because it’s pointless and subjective, and in many aspects, film certainly does not win that debate. Contemporary digital cameras have achieved true excellence in image quality and function. Instead, I want to explore what it is about film that continues to fascinate me.

Mindset – The preparation for a shoot with film involves decisions. Film comes in color, black & white, and transparency (slides). It has speeds (ASA). Once the film is loaded in the camera, you are committed. You can’t just dial in a different speed in a menu. There is a huge trade-off between speed and grain (image quality) with film, which is far more pronounced than with digital. The difference is that with film, the grain can often produce a pleasing graphic effect, whereas it almost never does with digital imaging. Further, films have different characteristics in tone and color, and to a discerning eye, each formula is different. To me, Tmax 100 from Kodak looks different than Ilford Delta 100, even though they are both 100 ASA black and white films. So, when you’re preparing a shoot with film, you sift through your memories of the different films, matching those to the feelings you have about the images you want to produce. The film is already informing the final image you produce. Choose a Polaroid, or a 35mm SLR loaded with Fuji Velvia, or a medium format TLR loaded with Tmax, and the final product will be significantly shaped and formed by the choice of film you make. The film participates in the creation of the image. A good digital camera goes the other way and it’s a tremendous strength of the digital: it gets out of the way and gives you what you are seeing, quickly and efficiently.

The photographer’s mindset when shooting film is inherently more conservative about exposures. Film costs money and exhausted cameras have to be reloaded. I shoot fewer exposures when I’m using film, but I really look carefully at the picture I’m about to take. If it will be one of twelve rather than one of 175, it had better be right, or at least as close to right as I can get it. This is a slower method of doing photography, but it demands that you slow down, look around and get really present in the location where you are shooting.

Allan's-Wheelchair Visualization – There is no view screen on the back of a film camera. You will not see how an exposure comes out until the film is developed. You can’t really shoot “test shots” to see if the camera is getting what you want. You have to “know” or be able to imagine what the camera will do with this film in this light on this subject. In a secondary way, you have to know what you can do with a particular exposure when you print it. You can shoot a basically “correct” negative, but know that to really get the punch out of the negative, you will need to increase the contrast and push the exposure some to get that dark, moody feeling you want in the final print. All of this exercises the muscles of imagination. Film “kicks away the crutches” in photography by strengthening the capacity to visualize images. When you know you can take a film camera to a shoot and get the picture you want, you achieve confidence. When you see the image in your imagination, making the machinery capture the picture is easy.

I love cameras – I have always loved cameras – big, small, old, new, fabulously expensive, and el cheapo. Cameras are just cool. There has always been a bit of magic about cameras to me. There are some cameras that are such wonderful instruments in themselves that I want to load and shoot them, just to be using the instrument. The Nikon F3 is such a camera for me. It has an almost hypnotic pull on my psyche.

Tactile – There is something very neat about souping your own negatives. Your hands get wet; you smell the chemistry and hear the timers going off. Development is a multi-channel sensory experience that results in a set of negatives that are truly yours. There is a tremendous sense of ownership that comes with successfully developing a good picture. It’s different from five mouse clicks in Photoshop.

Texture – Film has texture. At its most basic, the texture of film comes from the tiny silver halide crystals embedded in the emulsion. When light hits them, they change chemically and this produces the image on the film when acted upon by the developer. You can see this texture in what we call “grain” in the film. In the right amounts, grain produces a visually pleasing organic effect. With too little grain, objects can begin to look plastic and two-dimensional.

Marian---California-Dreaming-4 Chaos – That bit of uncertainty which clings to every roll of film excites me. Going back to my “almost sterile” observation, a good digital camera becomes highly predictable once you get familiar with it. This is a good thing. On a lot of shoots, I want the confidence and predictability that my digital gives me. On the other hand, a bit of uncertainty and not knowing how a shot will turn out creates excitement and a sense of anticipation. I get more of the uncertainty with film. I enter “the cloud of unknowing” easily. Call me a romantic if you want to, but I like to play with the chaos in the universe.

Individuality – The choice of camera, film and lens creates a distinct and individual look in an image. Probably the best known illustration of this is the work of Ansel Adams. When you see an Ansel Adams print, you seldom need to be told that Adams produced it. It is obvious in the deep, rich grays and resolution of the photo. The great Edward Steichen is another example of a photographer whose technique produced a distinct and individual look. Our choices of films, developers and printing methods give us another way to achieve a distinctive look.

Permanence – As I said at the outset, my negatives stay with me. Nothing digital has lasted as long as my negatives. Someday in the future that may change, but it will be a long time from now.

Hopefully, this outline has given you a sense of why I continue to use film for photography. Maybe I have even encouraged you to dust off Dad’s old film camera and run a few rolls. That would be great. One of my agendas is to keep Kodak, Fuji and Ilford in business. Even as carefully as I have written this, I know that it ultimately fails to capture the magic of film. Perhaps, you just have to see that for yourself.

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Memories that Haunt

Me-at-the-swimming-pool-at-Mt.-Carmel

That’s me standing at the shallow end of the swimming pool at Mt. Carmel, east of Waco, Texas, the site of the Branch Davidian compound which was destroyed in an FBI assault on April 19, 1993. I’m shooting a picture with my Nikon F3. Just after that trip, I wrote a detailed account of my impressions which can be found here. I don’t intend to rehash that now. Alex shot this picture with my Nikon D70s.

Like millions of others who watched the tragedy unfold on television, I wasn’t there and had no connection to any of the main players. I was born and spent my formative years in Texas, and in that general area, but that’s about it. I’m no fan of the FBI or the Davidians. I think the FBI is power mad and the Davidians were just plain old crazy. What I find intriguing about this event is the way that it haunts me.

I think about it often. I have read hundreds of pages of “after action” reports and commentary about it. I felt compelled to drive the country roads east of Waco to find and physically visit the site to shoot pictures of it. Why? I don’t know.

The large chunks of concrete in the foreground are what’s left of the “concrete room” in the center of the compound where most of the women and children died. The FBI pushed them into the pool with a bull dozer. I guess they didn’t want any monuments left to their handiwork. I have seen photos of the children’s bodies who died in the fire. That’s a visual I wish I could get out of my head.

This memory isn’t even mine. It’s a meta-memory. I wasn’t there, but I might as well have been, given the persistence of the haunting. I was there virtually in that I watched it live on television and participated in the electronic auto-da-fé. Maybe I feel guilty about that. Maybe I’m just amazed that so many people could make so many bad decisions in one place and one time. Maybe it’s one of those things that undermines my confidence in humanity to do the right thing.

Mt. Carmel was religion which had become sick. A charismatic but perverted leader with a cadre of brain-washed disciples and assault rifles is never a recipe for a good time. Mt. Carmel was federal government run amok. When federal law enforcement agencies care only for the assertion of their own absolute power, and forget the value of human life, due process of law and basic justice, bad things will surely happen. It was all bad. I just wish I could understand why it won’t leave me alone.

Deep down inside, I’m an optimist. Deep down inside, I still want to believe that people are capable of good decisions, capable of doing the just and moral choice. Waco is like a corrosive acid poured on that basic trust. No one did the right thing. Good didn’t win out. Perhaps this is what haunts me about Mt. Carmel.

I been double-crossed now for the very last time and now I’m finally free,
I kissed goodbye the howling beast on the borderline which separated you from me.
You’ll never know the hurt I suffered nor the pain I rise above,
And I’ll never know the same about you, your holiness or your kind of love,
And it makes me feel so sorry.

Idiot wind, blowing through the buttons of our coats,
Blowing through the letters that we wrote.
Idiot wind, blowing through the dust upon our shelves,
We’re idiots, babe.
It’s a wonder we can even feed ourselves.

— “Idiot Wind” by Bob Dylan

The-Underground-Bunker-at-Mt.-Carmel

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The Wind at Mt. Carmel

The Wind at Mt. Carmel

I don’t know why I had to go there, but I had to go there. I had to see Mt. Carmel, the site of the Branch Davidian compound where 80 or more people died in a botched raid by the ATF and FBI. We were traveling down to Austin to visit my mother and our route took us through Waco. Mt. Carmel isn’t actually in Waco; it’s a few miles to the east of town. There are no signs which might direct tourists to the place. You have to know where you’re going. I’m sure the town of Waco would be more than happy to forget that Mt. Carmel ever existed, and to escape the linkage of their town’s name with tragedy. It won’t happen anytime soon.

It was a sunny May morning in Texas. The temperature was already climbing into the nineties. The sky was clear blue and the land looked lush and fertile. Golden rolls of hay sat in green fields of grass. Lush young corn stood in rows. This is good farmland, not the postcard cliché of desert so often associated with Texas. My son, Alex drove the car and I followed the map, navigating us into one of the darkest moments in American history.

My anxiety began to rise as we neared the place. Would the gate be locked? Would someone come out and run us off as a couple of sick vultures come to poke around in the bones of the dead cult? What would be waiting for us there? As it turned out, the only things there to meet us were the wind and our own dark visions.

We drove right to the site. I’m pretty good with maps. I remember thinking that I could have found it without a map – just follow my intuition. I grew up on little Texas roads like that. The gate was open. We drove in slowly. There’s a tree in the middle of the gravel road with a stack of granite stones, each with the name of a slain Davidian, stacked on either side of the tree. A little office building stands to the right of the road and double-wide a little further in. We looked at the windows and waited for someone to flag us down or come out to ask us our business. No one did.

They have built a little church there, more or less in the center of where the compound stood. We drove up to the church and stopped. I opened the car door and put my right foot out, and suddenly a strange apprehension hit me: I was about to put my foot on hallowed ground, un-insulated by the shiny Nissan Maxima. It was a weird sensation. I put my foot on the ground. Nothing particularly remarkable happened except for the sense of reverence that swept over me.

We immediately began to walk, simply walk, and look at the ground, this earth where so much happened. From the church, the first remnant of the compound you see is the swimming pool. It still has water in it, but it’s rainwater, green like any natural pond with bulrushes growing in it. In the southwest corner of the pool is a pile of concrete rubble pushed into the pool by FBI bulldozers eager to cover up the evidence of what happened there.

I would like to say, “I don’t have a dog in this fight.” I’m no fan of renegade federal police units with murderous intentions, but on the other hand, I don’t care much for apocalyptic cults with kinky sex practices. I didn’t like the Clinton administration under which the attack occurred and I didn’t like the Bush administration before it, under which the action was initiated. I think Koresh was a sexual deviant with messianic delusions. There aren’t many good guys to be found in all of this, except perhaps the Texas Rangers. But, I do have a dog in this fight, and it’s the same dog that every American has. We have a right to be secure in our homes and personal effects. We have a right to worship as we see fit. We have a right to a fair trial. We have a right to not be subjected to cruel and unusual punishment. We have a right to live free of the mind control of self-appointed messiahs. It has been 15 years since the flames consumed Mt. Carmel and these things are still unsettled. We have a dog in this fight.

The Swimming Pool at Mt. Carmel

Just after noon on April 19, 1993, a friend of mine called and said, “Turn on your TV.” I did and watched with millions of others as the Mt. Carmel complex burned to the ground, and only one survivor, Clive Doyle, was seen coming out of the building. The attack fueled the most intense anti-government sentiment in this country since the Vietnam War. Two years later, the Murrow Building in Oklahoma City was bombed in retaliation for the Mt. Carmel massacre. The litigation and investigations went on for years. “Remember Waco” became the battle cry of the “militia movement.” Even to this day, what actually happened and on whom the blame falls remains in dispute. Clarity has never really been reached.

Now, I was standing on this hallowed ground with nothing but the wind to talk to me about what happened there. I had bought a white straw cowboy hat to keep the sun off my head. The wind would suddenly gust up and whip the hat off of my head as if to say, “Take your hat off in this place.” The sun was hot and I put it back on.

The basement of the Branch Davidian compound 250 I don’t know how much time passed before I remembered the cameras. This trip was about pictures. What I saw, I shot. I went back to the car and fetched the Lowepro two-camera backpack. It carried the space-age Nikon D70s digital SLR and the 1980-vintage Nikon F3 35mm. I carried the backpack to the edge of the swimming pool and unzipped the main compartment. The wind gusted up and threw the cover back. “Photograph this place,” the wind said. I pulled out both cameras and shot a few quick frames of the pool and “the underground bunker” before I gave the digital to Alex. I went to work with the F3 shooting color slides.

Fifteen years have passed since tanks and choppers roared across this land. Nature, in its way, has covered the scars with grass and pink and white flowers. A memorial grove of fruit trees stands to the south of the compound site. The Davidians have built a plain little church approximately where the tower and “the concrete room” once stood.

anthill2 Alex first noticed the ant hills. The top of the soil is white, perhaps from some chemical leeching from the ground. But when the ants bring up soil as they build their ant hills, the earth they bring up is distinctly ash gray. The FBI tried to bury what happened here with their bulldozers but the ants won’t allow it to remain buried. They bring the ash to the surface. It is the ash of a community, of a building, and perhaps it is the ash of human bodies incinerated here.

When you come to this place, you feel powerful things. I have seen so many film clips of the assault that I could visualize the building, where the tanks were, the desperate gun battle, and the fire. Strong emotion sweeps over you like the Texas wind. I certainly don’t approve of Timothy McVeigh’s action, but standing on this blood-soaked ground I could understand his rage. David Koresh may have been a bastard – I don’t know, but I do know that 80-some people didn’t deserve to die like this.

I walked the foundation line of the building that once stood here. It is still visible. Finally, we shot all the pictures we could think of and felt the feelings that the place evokes. It was time to go. Cameras again packed into their case, we fired up the little car and drove away. A part of me is still there, haunted by the memory, unable to let go of “the worst day in the history of American law enforcement.”

The road at Mt. Carmel where the attack was launched640

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