(excerpt from WAKE)
We’ll find a new way of living
Will find a way of forgiving
There’s a place for us
Somewhere a place for us
Peace and quiet and open air
Wait for us
There’s a time for us
Someday there’ll time for us
Time together and time to spare
Time to learn, time to care
We’ll find a new way of living
Will find there’s a way of forgiving
There’s a place for us
A time and place for us
Hold my hand and we’re half way there
Hold my hand and I’ll take you there
“Your mother thought I was nuts,” he laughed, “in retrospect, I guess I was a little bit crazy at the time.” When Mom was pregnant with me, my dad began to rigorously document his life leading up to becoming a father. He was accumulating an amount of footage that he couldn’t possibly spend the time to watch. Besides, it was more important to be filming - doing his best to make sure no moment was overlooked. His enthusiasm for recording this transition only grew once I was born; every single detail was considered: slow pans from the Hartford morning traffic to a zoom-in shot of the hospital facade, a pause to take in the colors of the trees cut to a shot out the passenger window that would capture every second of the car ride that followed the beginning of my life. Dad’s dedication to record what would be the origin of my history walked the line of passion and compulsion. However, it was obvious that his efforts were fueled by his excitement to be a father.
At the time I was born, my dad’s brother was enlisted in the ARMY and unable to come home to any family gatherings: weddings, holidays, birthdays, etc. Dad decided he wanted to make a compilation of the footage he had accumulated in the form of a feature length film. This way he could mail it to his brother as a Christmas gift, updating him on all that had been occurring in his life. Once he started culling through his footage, he realized he wanted this piece to be a smoothly transitioning all-encompassing work. He went on to contact the cameraman of the Channel 5 news to take on the project of filming my dad as a reporter that was doing a story on me, his newborn son. Later, his film would be professionally edited by a side business the Channel 5 cameraman had started; Dad spent hours in the studio with him, carefully cutting footage and soundtracking the film. My dad thought that with this approach, the footage could be pieced together as a story - a full narrative that describes me, the star of the new feature length film: Matthew, the Movie.
My dad’s news report begins with his wedding and my birth, both soundtracked by Barbara Streisand singing “Somewhere,” a carefully chosen track to reference our new home in Connecticut as well as hoping to convey a message to my Grandma to calm her upset about the family moving away from Buffalo. The story continues on with a segue noting my birth’s positive impact on the family business and next showing many of my “firsts”: my first car ride, smile, word, toy, diaper change, crib, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Eve, Baptism; it covers my first hugs with Grandparents, Aunts, Godparents, friends of my dad’s, “friends” of mine who were also less than a year old, as well as many shots of the condo we lived in, and the colorful views of the trees outside my bedroom window.
“You know me...I barely know how to turn this thing on,” is something I hear my dad say often. He’s usually saying this when asking me to help him get his cell phone to properly photograph me and Jeff at every meal we share with him. My dad has never considered himself to be a photographer, videographer, documentarian, not even an amateur any of those categories. And yet, life through his eyes has been captured thoroughly - more, I would say, than most documentarians I know. It wasn’t until I began calling myself a photographer that I realized how much time my dad had spent behind a camera when I was growing up. A few years ago, I happened upon an envelope of photographs of me and Jeff throughout our childhood; my dad made all but maybe two of the pictures in that envelope, it’s a rare occurance to find him in front of the camera, rather than behind it. This envelope of photographs was so impressive - not only in the moments captured but their ability to describe a certain moment - many of which I am part of but can’t remember taking place. By looking at my dad’s series of images that would result from “having to get the right angle on this one,” there are cases where you can nearly pinpoint his exact location based on how many pictures were made standing in one place.
Dad’s approaches to aesthetic representation didn’t stop at filming or photographing; on special occasions where Jeff or I were graduating from something or we were at the end of an activity that Dad thought deserved recognition, he would carefully arrange these elaborate still lifes on our kitchen table. Only for these celebrated occasions would Jeff and I get a taste of sparkling wine. We’d toast as our paraphernalia of awarded ribbons, plaques, and trophies would demand appreciation like a candle lit shrine. Before de-installing his arrangement, he would photograph it, noting that this moment in time deserves to be remembered. With a firm but tender pinch, he would put each of his hands around the backs of our necks above our suit collars and ties, “So proud of my boys,” he would say, “I’m so proud of my guys.”
I knew my dad was having a difficult time with losing his job and finding a way to deal with the recent tragic losses that his career had recently taken. Two weeks before leaving for Ireland, I offered up my perspective on what helps me deal with difficult times in my life. I bought Dad a five-dollar camera and a 36-exposure roll of black and white film, “this is kind of like what I started with when I began taking pictures,” I said, “just listen to your gut and photograph whatever you feel like. It might help you or it might not, but it helps me, so I got this for you.” I told him that when he’s finished with the roll to give it back to me. I would develop that film for him and give him a new roll, I liked the idea of providing all the laborious and costly aspects so my dad could just think and photograph.
When Dad was evicted two weeks later, one of the Sheriff’s workers threw his new camera in the garbage. It stayed in that garbage bag for another year until he discovered it one day when cleaning his storage bin of displaced belongings. When we were heading to Buffalo one year later, Dad admitted he hadn’t been using it much at all but was going to try on the trip we were taking. Though he felt the need to explain himself, it never bothered me when he didn’t use it; I didn’t want him photographing for me, but rather photographing for himself. Nearly 3 years after giving him that camera, he brought it one night we went out for dinner. He set it on the table at the restaurant, “Alright, it’s done. Where’s my next roll?” I laughed and loaded a new one into the camera for him.
As I held his roll of film in my hands, I couldn’t help but to consider how much weight these pictures held. The first to last frame span 36 tumultuous months of time and several temporary homes generously provided for my dad to live in. While he would be waiting for me to develop this roll for him, I asked him to consider his thoughts about this roll of film like he did with Matthew, the Movie. If he were to later make it into something, what would it be? What would he call it?
We got dinner a week after I’d developed the pictures; I was so excited by Dad’s photographs.
“So, Dad, I’m really curious,” I anxiously leaned forward, “before I show you these pictures - three long years on one roll of film - I want to know: which of these pictures do you rememeber making?”
“Oh, come on! I can’t see ‘em? How am I supposed to remember what pictures I took?”
“Come on, Dad. Really, just try to remember at least one picture you remember making. Like, visualize it. You standing there, clicking the shutter. What were you photographing?”
“Honestly, Matt,” he shrugged, “I don’t remember.”
“Dad. Please, try to remember-”
He closed his eyes and thought. “There was this one, I doubt it turned out though...,” he looked down at the table, “it was snowing like crazy one day when I was staying above Greg’s garage. I was watching the snow come down in huge flakes out the window. And I thought ‘wow, I don’t think I’ve ever seen snow flakes this big before,’ so I grabbed your camera to take a picture of it. And as I was standing there trying to get the picture right, three deer came up. And they just stood there, looking at me.” He raised his eyes from the table, “Like I said, it was snowing really hard, so it probably didn’t turn out. But I remember that one.”