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The Long Central American Goodbye: Talk from the McConnell Art Center


Almost from the beginning of my forays into Central America I conceived of them as being part of one long, extended journey. If I look back at the long (and growing) procession of identical black journals that hold my notes, lists, thoughts, and dreams I can see, nearly 15 years ago, the plan laid out in ink, a plan that would culminate in this exhibit.

Of course plans change and not every idea comes to fruition. Goals are completed, others, due to circumstance become irrelevant and some you grow out of. Missions evolve to fit their time as do we all.

This particular journey, this long affair, took me many times over 15 years to the countries of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. But that same journey included living in Sweden and travel to Mexico, to Hungary, Ukraine, Peru and other places not generally included on the map of Central America. It brought me to Columbus, Ohio and hence to the MAC.

On each trip to Central America I was constantly looking forward to the time I would have to leave, to say goodbye to the place and people. When I was home I wanted to be there and when I was there I was planning how to return. I am not sure I completely agree with the commonly accepted view that every trip must come to an end but things, places, ideas and people have their seasons and seasons do change.

I made my last trip to Central America a few months ago, not long before this exhibit opened. I wanted to bring a few images that had never been seen before to public view. I succeeded in that goal, but as the trip progressed, I realized the real purpose of the trip was to say goodbye. To put the final touches and ties on a decade and a half of my life. In a little less than a year I will be going to India, an altogether different journey. And while India could be as much a part of Central America as Sweden, it is not. This will be a new and different adventure.

I look around this room and see what you do: images that represent people, places, suffering and joy. I also see windows into my own past, frozen moments, fractions of a second that reveal to me the swift passage of time. I can remember the details of their making, the camera and lens I held, the feel of the sun and the smell of the air, who I was in love with or had lost. I look around this room and see the passage of time in the change of technology. This 15 years exactly covers the final days of dedicated film photography, with that technology at the highest point it will ever reach, through the development of the digital medium from its awkward infancy to the sophisticated but still-evolving present.

It is part of the nature of the medium of photography that the photographer must be present to take the picture. The photograph is like the moon. There is the light we see, reflected from the sun, drawing the image and there is the dark side, unseen, on the other side of the image. We know it is there though we often do not think of it. One cannot exist without the other.

So this is a record of what I have seen and recorded but it is also a mirror of myself, and my own journey. It is a journey that has come to a type of end so that another journey can begin. This does not mean, of course, that I never plan to return to Central America. It is a place too long on my mind, too deeply in my heart, to say goodbye to for very long. It means that when I do return it will be on a different journey, one I look forward to making.

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