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Their wives are often better yet; so bright-eyed and competent, quick with grins and sly retorts. They manage households, chase parts, work at church, raise kids, grow gardens, vaccinate pigs and keep the books. Some are teachers and nurses and administrators on the side. They work in town, for the insurance, they say. They run things. We let them.
Older folks are more reluctant. In all likelihood, the objects of my desire still mean something to them. This seems especially true of farm widows, which abound. They’re not sure they want a stranger messing in those intimacies. Or they are sure and are afraid to say it plainly. Others seem embarrassed by the untidiness in a slumping barn and its moat of weeds. A few hint that Grandpa’s endlessly replayed vision jumped the reel a generation back and has ensnared them ever since. He’s locked them into circumstance, burdened them with ground. What else might they have been? Sometimes I can see that these folks are unlikely to ever grant permission, but it’s a slow day, and they seem to enjoy the back-and-forth. “Oh,” they say, “what would you want to photograph that old eyesore for?” implying that the defect is in me. It is, but it’s in them too. We all seek shelter in symbols, some of us consciously.
“Why do you keep it around?” would be a better question. “Surely it costs you money, and it’s long past useful.”
I don’t say such things, of course. Beggars can’t be choosers, and besides, I think I know the answer. As long as they can still see Dad ambling toward the barn in that raglan-sleeve denim jacket, tipped slightly away from his bucket of oats, his cap riding high on its earflaps, they won’t burn the thing down. They wouldn’t mind if the kids torched it later, but not just yet.
What I can’t say is that it’s these very predicaments of the heart that I’d like to shoot, these hybrid schemes gone to seed, reverting. I can’t, of course, so surface things suffice, things knowable on simpler terms. It’s the everyday article, after all, that gnaws a niche in consciousness, wiggles in and stays. In fact, these overly familiar subjects almost beg interpretation, and I’ve long been intrigued by how stored and discarded stuff seems to arrange itself into art, all on its own. I almost never need to prop a scene. Dust settles, weeds encroach, fingerprints evaporate. The item in question is no longer useful. It sags a bit and is fundamentally altered. In the end, it’s the very lack of care that seems to move things along, artwise. It’s time spoiling invention. After these items have done their last lick of real work, they busy themselves with irony and texture and composition, and await, like the rest of us, some reconciling intervention.