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November 3rd, 2010

My Sharpest Scissors

East – 1999

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We had been together almost a year when she left. I never see it coming, even when I think I feel it. She knew I made photographs when we met and many years later when we connected, she knew and watched me make many more, of her, all the time. The last time she contacted me first was right after she left, she wanted to come over to my home, for she had a request.

My buzzer rang and I let her in. It was like it never was between us and for me, it felt awful. I knew I couldn’t tell her no, about anything. I opened the black box on my desk and handed her my sharpest scissors. She sat down and started going through page after page of my negatives. I never made contact sheets and never have, I always just edited directly from my negatives. Now I was watching her do the same. When she got to a negative she didn’t want me to own, that she wanted to take back, she started cutting. Edge to edge, like a shredder, over my garbage can. I sat there a few feet away, just watching. I didn’t know what to say and what she was doing seemed as odd to me as allowing me to photograph her in the first place, certainly if this is all that was left that she wanted from knowing me. I wanted to ask her, why, if she doesn’t like what I make or how I make it, was she ever even here. Then as I was about to ask, I realized, the answer wouldn’t make her stop cutting and it wouldn’t make her love me back. So I waited for her to finish as quietly as I could.

When she was done, she just looked at me and said, “The box you keep your negatives in is really beautiful.”

Then she left.

I saw her one more time at a party I then abruptly left. I think I saw her two more times in the streets of New York City, but it was from far away, so I cannot be sure it was really her. In the next ten years of living in NYC, I avoided her neighborhood the best I could, even after I heard she moved away many many years before.

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Where One Orange Wall Meets Another Orange Wall, Underground – 1999

1997 – I had just moved to New York City, I was broke. It’s the same story you’ve heard again and again. At one point I thought I was going to have to leave. So I dropped work off at MOMA for review and hunted down everyone I wanted to meet. One of these people I sought out was a photography book designer. She had just designed a book of boxers by one of my favorite photographers. So I sought her out and found her. She shared a space with the guy who printed for an even more famous photographer we all know of. The space and the people in it seemed icons to me and I wanted to meet them. Learn something before I maybe had to leave. So I called and shockingly enough, the designer agreed to meet me. I brought her my latest boxes of photographs of this and that, and one I wanted to make a book of, even had a dummy of this book ready to share. A book of photographs of portraits and landscapes revolving around the only woman I had known and loved to this point in my life. A woman in Texas I kept returning to, again and again, year after year. No matter what happen in her life or mine, when I came to Texas, we were together and I photographed it.

I stepped into this classic New York space and showed her the images. I can remember her looking at each one. I can remember her being polite and interested. All I can remember of the conversation today, was the one question she asked I couldn’t clearly answer. She said that the photographs were interesting and well made, but who cares? A woman left me and I felt bad and made photographs about it. It happens all the time, to everyone, someone they love leaves. So what.

All I could think of at the time and in the moment, was, she is right. I went home and put the book on the shelf and more or less abandon it. I’ve made photographs in some of my relationships since and some where I did not. But I never made a book about a woman I knew I would never see again, after she was gone, again.

I don’t know why it took me so long to know, that the reasons she said who cares, is exactly the reasons I want to make a book like that, again. Maybe I miss understood her point.