Last week I photographed Mark Making to Music, a program developed by artist Melissa McGill, at Dia:Beacon. Participants were asked to listen to live music and then draw their ideas or impressions of what the sound "looks like" on the paper in front of them, using ink and brushes.
One of the main reasons we moved from San Francisco to Beacon was to have a yard where we could grow a garden and raise chickens. This came from some kind of biological longing that had been rising up in me for as long as I can remember. I was not raised on a farm (though my mom did try to grow corn in our backyard one year) but my husband was, and my experiences on his family's farm had really sent this need running.
So we moved to Beacon, put some seeds in the ground and actually inherited our first chicken from a friend who found 'dirty bird' on the sidewalk after she had fallen out of the back of a truck in Brooklyn. Several generations of chickens (and the construction of a sturdy coop) later we currently enjoy the company of Taloula and Honey. Taloula is sweet, calm and loves to be picked up. Honey, on the other hand, is a nervous bird and she has the unpleasant habit of flying straight into the head of the unlucky person who is opening the coop every morning to get away from the possibility of human contact.
Honey's faults aside, I found myself feeling sad the other night as I looked around for her in the dark with my flashlight. Chickens, unlike children, are notoriously good at putting themselves to bed when the sun is going down and so if, when you go to close up the coop, a chicken is missing, it rarely bodes well. Honey has done this once before, and survived, so I comforted myself after searching around that maybe her shape-shifting ways would save her from prowling skunks and raccoons throughout the night. I tried to shrug off any attachment to her, reminding myself that she hadn't even laid any eggs in the last couple of weeks - Taloula either, for that matter, and that is why we got the darn things in the first place.
The truth is, these hens are pets, albeit with benefits, and I have been pretty crushed every time something happens to one of them. The next morning, as soon as I woke up, I headed outside to look for the unnerving sight of feathers spread around or some other evidence of her fate. What I found was Honey, alive, but broody. She had been saving away all of the eggs that she and Taloula had been laying with the hope that one of them would turn into a chick. (This will never happen since we have no rooster.) She was sitting on so many eggs that they were leaking out from under her. I went to get the egg carton to fill up with this windfall and was shocked to find twenty one of them! Guess what we're having for dinner tonight.
This is one of my all-time favorite assignments and while all of these nonagenarians were amazing, Carter was one of my favorites, for a couple of reasons: this might sound shallow, but one of the things I loved best about him was that I could walk to this shoot. This was during a time of a lot of air travel for me and so it was an incredible pleasure to walk the 3 blocks from my apartment to his. Second, he is a composer and I was deeply obsessed with learning the cello at the time so I was excited to glean what I could from someone who's entire life was music. I lingered at his apartment, enjoying that it was such a short commute back home and breathing in what it means to have lived in the same place for such a long time. I was invited to share lunch with Mr. Carter and his wife and walked home feeling quite full and optimistic and completely in love with New York for the creative lives it nourished.
I do have to say that I really don't love this picture of Carter. He was lively at 92 and I think that is why this photo has been used over and over again, but after hanging with this over-90 crowd, they were all totally alive and thriving. They loved what they did (even the woman that worked at McDonald's) and that was keeping them, all, spirited and full of life. Carter, who died last year, was the last of this special group to go.
Here are some pics of Carter, that I prefer, plus a couple more from the series.