Dark to Themselves (Two Landscapes)

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Jenny was taking a summer class on creative writing in Colorado Springs. She was a student at Oberlin, but decided to come out west for the summer. I was 21 years old, and was working just outside of Colorado Springs for the summer, doing my first photography job.

Lost in our own ways, Jenny and I found each other for the summer. Over a number of conversations, it became clear that as much as Jenny wanted to see things out west, she also wanted to flee from something back in Ohio. Jenny was damaged.

The first time we met (and I can’t remember how that happened), she showed me some scars on her forearms, self-inflicted wounds. Jenny was a cutter.

We spent a lot of time together that summer. We would go for drives around the city, and I would photograph and she would write. At this point, I had been photographing for about six months, and I already decided it was time to settle down and learn the craft (as a musician, I was quite disciplined, very methodical, and brought the same sensibility to my photography).

I was working as a printer at the Colorado Historical Society. Several days a week, I went to the museum and printed a ton of photographs, mostly late 19th and early 20th century landscapes. I worked a lot with glass plate negatives. The museum held a largely complete archive of The Detroit Publishing Company, William Henry Jackson’s outfit. Over the course of the summer, I ended up printing a number of Jackson photographs, even some of his famous images, as well as the work of other landscape photographers.

I decided to do landscapes myself that summer. I got a 4×5, and Jenny and I would drive around in the plains just east of the city (Colorado Springs is a unique city, with the Rocky Mountains on the west side, and the eastern plains on the other side). We went to largely empty places – grass fields, dry creek beds, lone cottonwoods – she would sit in the car and write, while I trudged through the fields taking photographs.

Photographing with Jenny was easy. She never invaded my space. In a strange way, it was even a collaboration. After working a space for a while, I would come back to the car, and sit with my legs hanging out the door, pulling thistles and debris out of my shoes and socks, and Jenny would read to me ideas and stories she had written. There were even a number of photographs I made at this time that I still like, ones I connect with, for which I feel that same fondness I found while making the image (cottonwoods can be the loveliest of trees).

We would go back to the city in the evening and drink and smoke. One of these nights, and I remember it specifically because this was also a notably successful day photographing, Jenny and I went to a party. This night, her fragile psyche opened, and perhaps even collapsed. We went into the house, Jenny chatted up her friends from her writing class, introduced me around. Somehow, and here are some details I can’t fully see in my memory today, Jenny ended up with a number of sheets of glass. She ran out to the front of the house, and started smashing the glass on the concrete sidewalk and ranting, and even talked about using the glass to cut herself before one of her friends intervened. She was so emotional confused, angry, and desperate for attention and understanding. I walked out with her, but once this fury started, I lost it in my own way. There was a metal trellis over the front porch, contacted to a solid canopy. I climbed up the trellis, and sat above the scene, holding my knees to my chest. Watching Jenny like this, I felt vulnerable and confused myself, vulnerable because of all this time together. I felt like her outburst was directed at me, or her outburst was mine, or that my landscapes were hers too.

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