This project revolves around my great-aunt's house in Wisconsin, which was designed by Gus A. Krasin and built under the supervision of my great-grandfather Hamilton Roddis in 1914. Last year, as my great-aunt neared the end of her life, the future of this house, which had been significant to the psyche of my extended family for nearly one hundred years, began to look uncertain. I turned to photography as a way of documenting and preserving that shared history.
As I unearthed buried objects found in drawers and dark closets throughout the house, I realized it was not only a documentary project but also a personal investigation of nostalgia and how we envision the past from the present perspective. How do we prepare for the passage of time and teach ourselves to remember the past? What do we leave behind by accident or on purpose?
This is how one family left their memories to be found and how I choose to remember.
A photo book published through Blurb of these images can be found here.
The Weirdest Thing
An excerpt from my journal:
It rained today and after the rain came the eeriest fog that settled over the back lawn and around Marshfield Middle School. I spotted it by chance and thought at first that the sprinklers were on back over the field and how odd  that they would water the lawn after a rainstorm and  why had I not seen them go on before? I rushed to put on my sweater and boots, grabbed my camera, stormed down the staircase, and through the kitchen out the back door. I ran towards the fog and kept taking pictures as the sun set over the middle school’s observatory.
It was beautiful, sublime, and horrifying all at once. Almost apocalyptic, claustrophobic. I felt enveloped by it and hidden within it. So that I could take voyeuristic photos through the living room window of a neighbor’s home. That I could sneak back behind the football field and have the back field all to myself. The lights glared through the fog, trying their damndest to reach me. The concrete slickered and glistened. Fences kept me out and caged my view. The fog particularly liked the goal posts in the middle of the soccer field and it was there the fog last relented its grasp and eviscerated somewhere, who knows where.
I have a strong desire to take more of these photos – to take photos as if I was thinking about directing/setting a horror film in that location. I like photographs that seem dreamlike – something beautiful yet disconcerting – uneasy. Life is uneasy. There is darkness. I want to look it in the face in a way or, wait, no, no, I don’t, but I want to at least create semblances of it through my work. Why do we enjoy being scared? Why do we intentionally watch a horror film? What happens when we are frightened? Why is there sometimes pleasure in that? Is it the heightened awareness we experience when we’ve heard something in what was supposedly an empty house? That super alive hyper-reactive all senses on 11 type situation that we wish could always be the case. Adrenaline? Can you get that little itch/tickle on the back of your neck from looking at a photograph? I wonder.
I suppose you can enjoy the beauty in fear or eeriness from the vantage point of a photograph. You don’t have to worry about a boogieman tapping you on the shoulder for instance and there is value in that. I like using the real world to create my alternate reality – the fantastic, mysterious, fluid world of my imagination, my subconscious, my dreams, and nightmares. They come from the land of reality and I’m simply putting them back and seeing what they look like – seeing if they stir those same emotions as they did when I was fast asleep.
October 23, 2011
A road trip to Bend, Oregon and back that included but was not limited to: a freight train, a murmuration of starlings, an overheated truck ablaze on the side of the road, and a suspiciously empty main street.
Through an ongoing study of nocturnal landscapes, I seek to capture moments in which our awareness is heightened and we are more susceptible to our realities being altered by our imagination and the subconscious.
A study of the physical world, particularly at times when it can be almost dreamlike in its hyper-sensuality.
A study of roses in the wind.
An excerpt from my journal on December 30, 2011:
I love baths. They help me relax and I can be pretty tense sometimes. They also keep me warm and I can get pretty cold. When I feel the blood returning to the far reaches of my toes and fingertips, I start to feel like myself again.
I love the way your ears seem to tune into a whole different spectrum of sounds when you’re beneath the surface. Suddenly the hum of the airplane overhead or the rumbling of the train passing by on the other side of town feel as though they’re emanating from right there inside of you.
I love the way that everything slows down. That the perpetual white noise is drowned out.
I love that water completely envelops you. It reminds me of love.
I don’t even mind that I can’t breathe underwater. It reminds me that I’m alive.
Joan and Alfred Russell lived in Room 1019 of the Hotel Chelsea for 30 years, from 1978 until their deaths. Peter Feld, the couple’s nephew, invited me to document their apartment on December 31, 2008, two weeks after Joan Russell’s death.
This project would become my first photographic thanatopsis and an attempt to record the postmortem traces of life that remain in a space shortly after an occupant's passing.
A photo book published through Blurb of these images can be found here.
Below, Peter Feld gives a short bio of his aunt and uncle:
Alfred Russell (1920-2007) was a "painter with a gift for the magic of spiderly lines," according to critic Jed Perl. He began his career in the mid-1940s, studying at Stanley William Hayter's Atelier 17. His early abstract work was featured in seven Whitney Annuals from 1949-55, in MoMA's major abstract show in 1951, and with Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning in the controversial 1951 Paris exhibition, Véhémences Confrontées, that contrasted American with European painters. In a 1953 essay, Russell renounced avant-garde abstraction as "The Bourgeoisation of Modern Art," and lamented the rise of "assembly-line product for the needs of mass culture." In Brooklyn College, "he walked out of the history of post-war abstraction and into oblivion." For the next five decades, he worked in a diverse range of mostly figrative styles, including classical and geometric forms, exhibiting rarely. He continued to paint and draw until his death.
Joan Silverman Russell (1929-2008) was a teacher, author, and classics scholar. As a Brooklyn College art major, she studied under Alfred Russell around 1949 and 1950. She later earned an M.A. from NYU in art history, took part in the archeological dig at Aphrodisias, Turkey, acted in ancient Greek drama, and taught classics at NYU's continuing education school. She went on to teach English as a Second Language at CUNY's New York Technical College, and co-authored two well-regarded textbooks, Science and Society and Past, Present, & Future. During the 60s and 70s, she lived a bohemian single life in the West Village. She married Alfred Russell in 1977, after the death of his first wife, and they soon after moved to the Chelsea, dividing their time between New York and Paris. She was a voracious consumer of culture, reading widely and attending art shows and performances, and was a beloved member of the tight-knit community of the Chelsea's 10th floor.