Life at the End of the World

Island Life


And in the death
As the last few corpses lay rotting on the slimy thoroughfare
The shutters lifted an inch in temperance building, high on Poacher’s Hill
And red mutant eyes gazed down on Hunger City
No more big wheels….
Excerpt from Future Legend by David Bowie

Some of you may know- I have fairly recently started a loosely structured photo series on the Facebooks and the Instagrams that bears the same title as this piece. It started to take shape when, a few weeks back, I made a photograph with my camera that has been converted to shoot infrared pictures- the variety that are made from that part of the light spectrum, not from heat. The scene that was captured, if it had been shot as a Kodak moment might have dictated, was of your basic American home-scape: a white picket fence, a small home with a ladder leaning against its wall waiting for its owner to come back and finish the task at hand, a large fir tree and dramatic clouds. If this had been shot on Kodachrome in saturated colors, or even with Tri-X or Plus-X and rendered in traditional black and white, it would have been a common and even sort of boring view.

I have found that I have a mixed record with preconceived photographs, with the final result of a planned picture not always living up to the vision I had envisioned. This kind of changed a while back when I was working on the various night series I’ve done recently with time exposures and available light. In doing my daytime traveling about the Island at that time, I would make mental notes of various scenes that seemed to have potential for nighttime time exposures. I would then go back after dark and see if they lived up to what I had seen in them in the light of day. When I began having more successes than failures, I started to rethink my wariness of preconception and to have some faith that I could do something with a camera beyond just happen on a scene and capture its uniqueness of that moment. This picture that is part one of this end of world series is another vindication of preconception- I had been passing by this spot on my driveway for weeks and had seen its potential. Then one day I was walking uptown and happened to have the right camera and lens in my bag and I was not in a hurry. I took the time, stepped off the road, pointed the camera where I felt was best and pressed the shutter release. The rest may not be history, but it was the photograph that I wanted from that place and time.

There is of course the whole end of the world thing, which I have been thinking a lot about lately- how can you not? There is the baby doofus clown car driver that is somehow still the president of these not so united states. There are the daily reports of his deconstruction of various safeguards to health, environment and basic human welfare that had been put in place by people with good intentions and practical concerns for human welfare and the world. That all seems to be of no concern anymore. There is the whole thing with words, that being that they, the words, seem to have no meaning anymore. There is the legislative body that is supposed to be watching over the actions of the doofus, and which is now totally hamstrung because a statistically significant number of these so-called legislators seem to be okay with going along for the ride with the clown at the wheel, and because words have no meaning anymore, the watchers and observers from the printing presses and the picture tubes (well, the flat screen things anyway) seem to be powerless to fashion meaningless words into meaningful statements. I think that if we were even way back in the primordial stew as single-celled entities, we might have more effect on day to day occurrences than we do now. That is in part why I am thinking about the end of the world.

It would not really be the end of the world as such, regardless of which button or lever or switch baby doofus clown car driver may push or pull as the ineffective legislators stand by and watch. It would be the end of humankind in the worst of all scenarios, which may in the end not be a bad thing. It could also be the great planetary extinction of plant and animal species as well, but we are constantly being reminded of the resilience of cockroaches- the same could be said of morning glory, horsetails and kudzu or English ivy. I am reminded of the Voyager spacecraft bearing all kinds of samplings from humans’ worldly creations and heading out into the great unknown. I would like to think that what is on board there might be at least some small contribution of achievement to the collective cosmos. But then, what if all that is on board there is completely unintelligible to whom- or whatever might find it. What if it gets totaled by a comet or one of those asteroids that news services say are about to just miss us or already did just miss us three days ago?

And what about the grand mystery of space travel? Whatever happened to the promise of exploring strange new worlds and going where no man (and then no one when we became more gender aware) has gone before. What about the promise of racially and ethnically diverse crews, with these crews heading way out there as ambassadors to the human race. What if we extrapolated that concept out to a version where the clown car doofus was the point person for the human race out there amongst the stars? Why should that be any different, or more or less concerning, than what he is currently doing here in his present form and lack of function?

Back on earth, and thinking along these lines, I was standing in line at our local food and drink community center, paying for dog treats and talking with the next person in line about the political slogan hat she had sewn for me. Out of the blue, or so it seemed, the conversation turned  to a question aimed my way as to whether or not I had been  watching the series titled ‘Designated Survivor’. When I answered in the negative, the next people in line chimed in as well, and affirmed that this show was indeed worth spending time with in front of a flat screen TeeVee. And so I google- searched for box sets of discs for both seasons one and two, and when they arrived I sat down to watch. My takeaways so far after passing through season one are numerous. First of all, if you don’t know what this series is about, it is not a spoiler to say that it involves wiping out almost the entirety of all three branches of U.S. government in one fell swoop during a capitol explosion while the president is giving his State of the Union speech . If one had been paying attention during the last time the clown car doofus made his state of the Union speech in “real” life, which happened shortly after that same doofus had shut down the U.S. government for over a month because he wasn’t getting his way, one might have heard that the secretary of energy, Rick Perry, had been named the designated survivor for that speech. He was locked away in an undisclosed location during that speech in case someone decided blow up or otherwise wipe out the capitol building and everyone in it- the designated survivor is supposed to take over the reins of government should the worst case scenario occur during the speech.

At the time, some questioned the pick of a cabinet member who, prior to being named energy secretary, had actively campaigned for the abolition of that department, and Perry was known for actually forgetting the name of that department during a candidates debate in his unsuccessful run for the presidency. This obviously left some people concerned as to what we would then be stuck with if Perry were suddenly thrust into the presidency if something should go horribly wrong during the State of the Union 2019. The same general worries and concerns surround the TeeVee version of the new designated survivor Tom Kirkman, played by Kiefer Sutherland as former housing secretary and newly sworn in president, as he is perceived as one of the least qualified potential presidential successors- the bombing was thorough and he was indeed the only one left to take the office.

Much has been made of the potential for true disaster if our current so-called president were to be confronted with any number of crises that could come down the presidential pike.  Most recently we have seen the so-called president poke the proverbial bees’ nest of Iranian troubles and then waffle and dodge an effort at resolving them. While it is with the benefit of screenwriters and plot twists in ‘Designated Survivor’ that Sutherland navigates the presidential office perils with reason and smarts and the advice of those around him, we are nevertheless reminded here of how a President of the United States should carry himself (or herself) through any challenge to the country and the highest office in this land. In many ways this show often feels like one of the original Star Treks, where in spite of everything pointing to the demise of the Enterprise and her crew, somehow Captain Kirk, like President Kirkman, or anyone in their close circle of crew and staff always comes through to save the day in the end. I know it is a fiction, but it is also a salve to the reality show we are being forced to watch in real time. It also makes life at the end of the world seem a little less likely in our time, but I will still keep making these photos as a reminder.