A wedge of dawn this morning as I worked my way south to work. Up late preparing for class and grading papers. Up early to get to school before traffic on Lake Shore Drive gets too solid and clogged and before the parking becomes impossible in Hyde Park. Somehow today’s wedge of dawn made it all worthwhile, pushing open the day at the lake’s horizon in stunning triangular beauty. It’s all I can do to pour coffee into my body to wedge open my eyes.
It’s a sacred experience having the lake accompany me at my left on my morning journey to work each day, on my right as I head home. I just have to remind myself to pay attention.
JB could not help himself. Somewhere around 4:00 this morning he woke me up to come outside and look at the Blood Moon lunar eclipse. I have to admit, I could have put up a fight, and rolled over and gone back to sleep, but there is something so poetic and magical and compelling about the phenomena of nature, that I did, in fact, foggily find some shoes and clothes to throw on and make my way to our backyard. There JB was sitting on a chair behind his tripodded camera. “It’s amazing. Do you see the red?” I wasn’t sure if it were just my eyes that were heavy-lidded or if the red really was there.
It was still outside. Cool but not chilly. And there was the full moon with the first bite of its eclipse appearing at the left. I was thrown back to more primitive times wondering how our ancestors responded to this lunar disappearance. Then my endurance abandoned me and I weakened to the call of sleep. I went back upstairs to the still warm sheets, knowing that JB would be out in the yard documenting the whole process of the earth’s shadow passing over the moon.
This is called a Blood Moon because of the way the sunlight scatters in our atmosphere. The light reflected off the lunar surface passes through Earth’s atmosphere, where all the colors of the spectrum, but the reds, are stripped away.
Once I crawled back into bed, I wasn’t sure if I had actually been outside or not, whether the Blood Moon was a lucid dream or an actual observation. I remembered thinking that I would know in the morning if JB had the photographic evidence.
(Photo by JB)
In 1975, when the photographer of these images, Nicholas Nixon, and his wife (third from left) were visiting his wife’s family, he photographed her and her three other sisters, using his 8 x 10 inch view camera. In 1976, they were together again for a graduation of one of the sisters and Nixon asked that they stand in the same order for another photograph. Then it became a yearly event. Each year one of the sisters was able to determine where and when the photograph would be taken. Each time the Brown sisters wore whatever they felt like wearing. No preplanning regarding wardrobe or pose ever occurred.
These photographs are clear evidence of the inexorable and inevitable march of time. In fact, Nixon says, “Everyone won’t be here forever.” These images are ripe with the nuance of the sisters’ relationships as well. Even Nixon’s shadow in a couple of the photographs provides a kind of yearning on his part to be a part of this group. Seeing these haunting images altogether portrays a poignancy to aging but also demonstrates the Brown sisters’ resiliency to the vicissitudes of time through a deepening of relationship, including their relationship with the photographer. These family portraits of the Brown sisters reflect a powerful intimacy and stunning genuineness which connect to all of our humanity.
Nixon’s photographs are in the collections of many museums including the Museum of Modern Art and the Met in New York, The National Gallery of Art in DC, Los Angeles County Museum, and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.
All photographs by Nicholas Nixon/Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco and Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York.
In commemoration of this 145th birthday of Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948), it is good to revisit his “Seven Blunders of the World,” which pointedly sum up how we mortals go astray. As the November elections draw nearer, we would do well to bear these in mind.
1. Wealth without work
2. Pleasure without conscience
3. Knowledge without character
4. Commerce without morality
5. Science without humanity
6. Worship without sacrifice
7. Politics without principle
What happens to the ones that fall out of favor:
the Dorises and Archibalds,
the Theodores and Eunices?
They all had their day,
once roamed the earth in multitudes
alongside Gerties and Wyatts—
at least one in every classroom.
Names written in neat block print,
scratched into tree bark,
engraved on heart-shaped lockets,
filling the morning paper
with weddings and engagements.
How could they have known
that one-by-one the Constances
and Clydes would disappear,
replaced by Jennifers, Jacobs,
Ashleys and Aidens.
That few would ever dance again,
corsages pinned to their breasts
or hear their names on the radio
whispered in dedication,
or uttered in darkness
by a breathless voice,
or even shouted out in anger—
as they grabbed the keys and stormed out the door.
Each name fading quietly from daily life
as though it had never existed,
except for the letters etched into stone,
warmed by the sun
and at night, lit by a crescent moon.