Saturday, November 10, 2007
lynn: waiting for the postman
A Few Words about Lynn Kindred
Lynn has been housebound since the summer of 2001 when her little lung sacks stopped squeezing the carbon dioxide out of her blood. Actually, for a couple of years she was able to venture out, even drive, with the help of a portable mini tank of oxygen that lasted for about an hour and a half. We would take trips to Kmart and Parthmark with her envelopes full of coupons. This was more of a sport for her than a necessity, as she already had stockpiled enough cans, bottles and tubs of salsa, sour cream, pasta sauce, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, Shake & Bake crumb coating and tuna fish to get her through 20 more years at home—and the doctors already told me that most of her food will outlive her. Having been the one to try to organize these reserves in the mice-inhabited cabinets of her little New Jersey apartment--cans and bags of pretzels spilling out into every closet and under the table--I begged her to slow down the shopping. I even composed “DO NOT BUY” lists of forbidden items—those she already possessed at least 20 of—and tucked them into her coupon envelopes. Finally, I gave up trying to control the clutter, when I realized well, that she flat out wasn’t going to stop.
These days, even shopping is too much for her fragile breathing, and her life, and my visits, are confined to her home. Lynn is a creature of habit, and as a result, I can predict the passing of every hour that I am there with her. When I arrive it’s hugs, updates and photo sharing. After about an hour of visiting she instructs me to eat Triscuits and cheese from her bulging refrigerator. Now that she can’t leave the house, I pity the “youth volunteer” who comes once a week to carry out her very specific shopping orders. As I eat my snack, Lynn rests in her bed. Her rhythm is about 2 hours up, 4 hours in bed. I am generally under orders not to enter her bedroom. She fears what I will do with her many boxes of cubic zirconium necklaces ordered at 2am from the Home Shopping Network.
While she is resting I clean the bathroom, vacuum the living room, and dust the knick-knacks in the kitchen. I have finally learned not to bother her about the 4 foot high back stock of newspapers waiting to be clipped of their coupons. These are her pleasures, and she is damn stubborn about them. In fact, the only way she will part with anything these days is if she sends it home with me. I have learned to pack light on my way to Lynn’s because she always sends me home with the black and white plastic mesh BIG BAG full of candy, magazines and baffling gadgets bought on QVC.
I bring her goodies too. She always has very specific requests. Sometimes they are typical cravings, like Krispy Kreme Donuts or a fresh loaf of Italian bread. But sometimes they are a little more eccentric, like foam clown noses, or the time she just had to have a pink feather boa. She models these items for the mailman, the ice cream man, anyone who will smile, as she sits out on the porch, her oxygen tubing stretched to the max.
Sometimes while she is resting, I rest too. I read while lying on the couch, and inevitably fall asleep. When I awake, I know Lynn will be in the kitchen, arms resting on the edge of the sink, back hunched over. Sometimes she is waiting for her coffee to warm up in the microwave—two spoons of non-dairy creamer and one packet of Sweet-n-Low. But sometimes she is just gazing. Maybe she’s gazing out the window at the neighbor’s wisteria vines, maybe just at the dishes in the sink.
In trying to capture the essence of Lynn in a photo-essay, I was initially frustrated by her desire to alter herself for the photographs, with make-up, with costumes, and with props. I envisioned creating a very sad reflection of what seems simply to be a sad life. When I was finally forced to let go of that vision and instead embrace the fantasy Lynn was anxious to present, I realized it was just as real. To an extent, we all present a mask to the camera; wish to glamorize our lives or appearance. Unfortunately, with Lynn there is simultaneously no escaping the reality of her terminally ill situation. Early on in the shoot, she tried to remove her breathing tube, and of course, a fit of coughing sent her straight to bed. So the breathing tube returned along with a new vision: One of a woman bound to her house, not yet even “old” by society’s standards, trying to bring whimsy and joy to a day-to-day life filled otherwise with physical pain, loneliness, and monotonous routine.
The series was shot digitally on a Nikon D70s, with an effective 27mm, the widest angle lens I have. This was necessary in dealing with the claustrophobia-inducing size and layout of Lynn’s apartment. I was also assisted by the used of a tripod, essential in retaining the rather cavernous natural lighting at exposures averaging 1/10 second. Though a help, the tripod also presented an additional challenge, littered with “treasures” as every square inch of the apartment was.
Lynn generously found the strength to model in 30 minutes bursts, with 5 hours rest in between, time I utilized by dreaming up scenarios, checking lighting, setting the frames, and of course, doing chores. This way, as soon as Lynn woke up, it was straight to make up, costumes and posing. As such, a series that could have normally been shot in 3 hours spanned the course of 3 days.
In printing, I chose to present a number of 11”x16” fantasy ‘feature’ shots, along with a series of diptychs, most pairing a wide angle ‘everyday’ shot with a close-up ‘escape’ detail.
If I didn’t know Lynn better, I’d think the photo shoot was a big misery for her, with the exhaustion, the displacement of junk, the forced focus, the spilled coffee, her oxygen cord endlessly tangled in my tripod, the cranky disposition. Yet, as I expected, three days later she called and declared, “I just made it out of bed for the first time since your visit. What joy. You make life worth living. Now what the hell did you do with the coffee filters?!”
see more of this shoot here.