Saturday, February 8, 2014

Have You Fallen in the Last Week?

I was making an appointment to get a routine physical a couple days ago and as part of the formal questioning ("What insurance do you have?" etc.) I was asked, “Have you fallen in the last week?” Well, as it happens, yes, but why would they ask that? The woman said, “We always ask.” Not that I can recall, not in my lifetime, anyway. So the question hit me like a wet fish, as I was still achy from a bad fall. I responded in the affirmative, but was mercifully not asked to go into detail. I might have blurted out something really stupid, resulting in them not wanting to make my appointment. Here, for your eyes only, dear reader, is the detail.

I fell off a cemetery monument a few days ago. I’m not proud of this. But sometimes, artists get carried away. Luckily, I didn’t need to be literally carried away from the little mishap. Now it wasn’t a big ornate monument, so I didn’t damage anything; however, it damaged me.

Good reasons to not climb on the ornamental stones in a cemetery:
1.    You might get hurt; and
2.    You might damage the monument/stone.

So, while everyone was out preparing for the oncoming snowstorm, buying up all the shovels and rock salt, I was falling off tombstones. I took a couple hours off work on this cold February afternoon, as I had a dentist appointment. I figured since I had to drive to Delaware County, I might as well make some photographs in nearby Chester Rural Cemetery (in Chester, PA.). 

Near the Alfred O. Deshong grave (1837 - 1913, a wealthy Chester philanthropist and art collector who was a Civil War veteran, and later a successful industrialist who operated stone quarries), there is a wonderful granite angel with wings spread wide, and a marvelous bronze of a woman in mourning. After photographing the angel, I made a few photographs of the bronze, and wished to look her right in the eye. The obvious way to do this was to step up onto the Deshong Family crypt cover. The cover appeared to have about six inches of snow on it, as did everything else in the cemetery. So I stepped up onto it, thinking it was flat. Unfortunately, its top was a gentle arch of polished granite. The dense packed snow allowed me to secure my right foot up so I could lift my entire weight up onto the stone. Then the world slid out from under me! I went down like a prizefighter, my three cameras flying everywhere!

Skiers call this a “yard sale,” when you fall and your belongings are littered about the snow around you. Cameras, hat, gloves scattered all over the accident scene. My right elbow hit the granite, along with my right hip. “FUCK!” was my clever rejoinder. If I’d been watching a movie of this bumblehead falling off a tombstone, I’m sure I would crack wiser, but in the heat of the moment, that one word seemed more than appropriate. Samuel Murray’s 1910 bronze sculpture of the mourning woman (appropriately named “Sorrow") stood above me with a look and posture that said, "Omigod, what an idiot!"

Here’s a photo of the accident scene. Doesn’t look like much, I know. But there was adequate carnage, let me assure you. Syzgial alignment of me, snow, and crypt cover was such that the frictionless interfaces between the three resulted in an element of great pain to yours truly. I actually drew blood where my el-bone hit granite and cut through the skin. I usually say that great art comes from great pain, but this particular experience was simply a result of stupidity. I did, however, produce some decent images that day.

Luckily, this particular snowfall was the only one we’ve had all winter that came down wet and then crusted over, so the cameras just either bounced around or dug in. The more typical powdery snow would have been much worse for them. I scraped the snow off the expensive micro four-thirds and the even more expensive DSLR and pulled as much snow out of the back of my pants as I could (the crypt cover had pulled my coat back as I slid off it). I limped off toward my car to clean off the cameras and test them. One camera (the cheapest, of course) was in its padded case. The other two hit the stone AND the snow. A few scratches and dents here and there, but everything seemed to be functional. My lower back, however, was another story. People heal when they are injured, cameras don’t. Still, gear is gear, you know? When I first started making photographs in the 1970s, I bought a Pentax K1000 35mm SLR. I treated that like gold. And it lasted about 25 years! These days, cameras are almost disposable. If you’re serious about your art, you realize these things are just tools to help shape your vision. You can’t get emotionally attached to them.

I drove over to the cemetery next to Chester Rural, St. Michaels, and began walking around. Whoa. Back aching, neck cracked when I turned. Oh good, whiplash. If I have to lie in a dentist’s chair for an hour I may never get back up! My body felt as twisted as this tree in the photo above! I’ll just tell him I slipped on some ice, that’s all he has to know. Luckily I always carry some drugs, so I threw back a handful of ibuprofen and hoped for the best (if I’d have been at home, I might have whipped up a nice Motrin smoothie chased by some honey-flavored bourbon). It was forecast that we would get more snow that night along with freezing rain. I thought I might just have to settle for paying someone to shovel my sidewalks the next day. Maybe the guy who stole my shovel last year, then came around to ask if he could shovel my walks (with MY shovel!) for twenty bucks, will come back. This time, I might not send him away.

Read more about industrialist Alfred O. Deshong

Read more about the sculptor Samuel Murray