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talking to the trees

Most experiences cannot be discussed. No one wants to hear the ugly truth, and chances are you will be attacked for sharing it. To be able to speak freely means that you need a willing listener, otherwise you are just talking to the trees. Time and again I have come to understand that there is no difference between New York and Moscow, no difference between East and West. They are just cults of personality, built on violence and money and moral quicksand.

The life of an expat evolves from those early, awkward victories to one of assimilation or in cases like mine - eventually understanding that you have no country you can (or want to) call home. I am left with just these four walls and my family. This apartment is the only place I actually belong. This is the only place I do not need to soft-pedal my thoughts, where I do not need to apologize for what I have unearthed. The river of betrayal runs deep whether I look outside, or across the ocean. Willful ignorance, willful indifference…

leaving the party

I got kicked out of a photography group for saying "all art is political, in some way". Someone had posted an image of a protestor, and there was a consensus that politics should not be allowed in this community. People wrote all in caps, how they needed a safe space away from the headlines, to post their landscapes, their scantily clad women, their close-up pictures of flowers. I know it was no great loss, but the expat life is often a lonely one. No one wants to be told to leave the party.

Since then, I have paid much more attention to the role of politics in creative work. I took it as a given, a latent set of bones in the skeleton to flesh out. Social documentary work inspires no confusion. It is exactly what it is - elegant advocacy. Lights shine on unknown stories, bearing witness to events as they unfold. There is a sort of guarantee for this work, meaning - it has a place in the world. It is needed, the same as we need to know how many people died in the latest attack, how many citizens stepped up to defend a stranger, how many ran screaming into the street, how many bullets, how many wounded, how many days since the last attack.

The information can become overwhelming, as phones blink with silent alerts in the middle of the night. Of course I want to know. But how to wake up later, how to navigate the morning, how to decipher this reality and then pick up a camera or a pen, how to load another roll of film, or spread my hands across a fresh empty piece of paper. How to dig deep, and make something valuable? It seems like a very tall order. I live under a great deal of censorship here. I pick my words very carefully, even in private. I have a family.

My thoughts turn, holding up the work to the light wondering how irrelevant it may be. Who cares about some nuns in the street? Who wants to know the story behind that waiter rushing across the cobblestones with a glass in his hands? Are those young boys really smoking? What song are these men singing in the street, their heads tipped back, their mouths wide?


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