Floating, Birmingham, Alabama, 2018 Archival Inkjet Print 24 × 36 inches

Drift

Klaus von Nichtssagend Gallery, NYC
January 15 - February 20, 2021


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Drift is an exhibition of straight, rephotographed, and glitched photographs spanning a three-year period, which all emanated from an auto accident on an interstate highway.

The first thing you should know is that we lived. For a second there, I wasn’t sure if we would. They say when you think you’re about to die, your life flashes before your eyes. I don’t think that’s necessarily true.*

In the epilogue of Elisa Gabbert’s essay collection The Unreality of Memory, she contemplates the relationships between time, memory, and perception. She describes an idea inspired by Henri Bergson and developed by A.J. Clay and William James, which suggests that we are always unreliable narrators of our own experience because direct perception is rooted in the “specious present.” The present is so evasive and illusory as to not exist in itself; it can only be unreliably conjured after the fact by memory. Photographs are celebrated for their uncanny connection to the instant and to reality. But just like our perceptions, these fixed glances of experience are by nature partial and necessarily distorted. We assemble the shards of memory that photographs represent to add depth to what Allan Burdick calls the “dimensionless speck” of the present.

The word drift dates back to the early 14th century. It is possibly a suffixed form of the verb “drive” and is defined as "… being driven, hence anything driven, especially a number of things or a heap of matter driven or moving together.”

The word contains the figurative sense of "aim, intention, what one is getting at" (or the notion of "course, tendency") from 1520s. Maybe the most apt pair of etymologies of “drift” apply to a path and its diversion. The twining of ocean voyages and car velocities are contained in the sense of the word described as a "deviation of a ship from its course in consequence of currents" from 1670s and from 1955, a "controlled slide of a sports car.”

We had been clipped by an eighteen-wheeler. We spun twice before hitting the side of the road and bouncing off of that. However, I do remember getting out of the car. I was shaking so hard despite the fact that it was ninety degrees outside. We stood on the side of the road for about ten minutes before my mom started crying. I held her in my arms as I stared blankly at our wrecked car. Then it hit me.

I could have died. And with me my family. Tiny oceans flowed from my eyes. There stood my sister, my mom, and I, crying so hard it seemed like there was no other sound in the world.

My dad came over to us sometime after.*

I had been making photographs. I told myself that the images were for insurance or legal purposes. I was also doing what I have done most of my adult life, making order out of chaos with a camera. I photographed skid marks, our totaled car, and the partner of the driver who hit us picking up prints of my daughters marked by tire treads and grass stains. I was enraged of the capriciousness of it all, and how figuratively and metaphorically this stranger held our lives in their hands.





I was also troubled that I found a small pleasure in making pictures in the face of such trauma.
Barthes famously wrote that the act of looking at photographs conflates chance with intensely private emotional responses. In Camera Lucida, Barthes names this intersection punctum, describing it as a “sting, speck, cut, little hole -and also a cast of the dice,” and an “accident which pricks me (but also bruises me, is poignant to me).” Looking at the tire treads on a picture of my daughter created a kind of indexical doubling. I knew that the images were ink and mud on paper intellectually, but it emotionally they took on a surprising resonance I had yet to experience when looking at my own photographs.

We could have turned around or flown home. Instead, we rented a car and kept driving, right up to Maine. We had just experienced the most traumatic moment in our family’s history, but we persisted. Things may happen, bad things that you can’t predict. They change you but they don’t stop you.*

It is commonly suggested that in order to overcome trauma, we must change our narratives surrounding the root cause of our unease. I began to reframe, rephotograph, and alter the digital code of the images that surrounded the event to reconsider the accident not as a senseless near fatal accident, but one of miraculous survival.

*Text written by my daughter, who was thirteen at the time of its writing in 2018.