In my office now, I have an old segment of wire coathanger, about a foot long, with half of the paint scraped off. Each end has the metal crudely bent over and wrapped with masking tape. It’s kind of a tribute to masking tape, actually, because it’s held together for 25 years at least.
If you were to see this sad piece of scrap on the street, you might wonder for a split second why someone went to the trouble of twisting it, breaking it, wrapping it — before you tossed it into the nearest garbage can and went about your day. You’d never consider that for decades, a tall, strong, determined man used it to delicately dodge in and out of a tiny beam of light shooting down from a film enlarger onto a piece of paper treated with photographic emulsion. This unsightly, twisted bit of scrap aluminum was a tool of creation. It helped make some remarkable images.
The man was my father. He worked in obscurity, humility, and quite literally in darkness for day after day, year after year, creating singular images. “Rough Mix” blasted on the 8-track player. “Just want to be misunderstood/I wanna be feared in my neighborhood/Just wanna be a moody man/Say things that nobody can understand.”
I suppose like any good eldest son I’ve spent most of my life trying to understand my dad, and also trying hard not to care too much. Since he died in 2011, that process has taken an unexpected turn — a story I’m planning on telling at TEDxRCP. Can’t wait.