Raymond Meeks: The Sentimentalia of Alabaster and Leaf

“One does not have to be born of heterogametic sex to be reminded of what erosion means to the limestone cliffs, nor to extrapolate what a spring without rain posits for a summer’s cooling pool.”

Careening from the deep dark edge of the vast and encroaching void of the watering hole, the common elements that glue us together, our sweet sentimentalia, the cornucopia of friendship’s bounding ability to hold and tack our emotions and our graceless moments together with the joys and pains of an uncomfortable youth exhibit a solace that can only be found in proximity to one another. At times this bond remains scuttled away, sequestered in the gross miasma of sturdy pines, hatchet thick vine and the protuberance of rocks looking outwardly for toes and shins to bloody on the vertiginous path towards the crest of the limestone lip of the pond. The sweet aroma of decay that ushers through the thick foliage to either side of the plodding trail is a fervent reminder, like the worms and beetles that parapet their bodies through toes and handfuls of dirt when the edges of the damp forest floor erode under lithe pale bodies of teens with busy limbs that each moment and each friendship is to be effervescent and as they move towards progress in life, they in deep indebtedness to their organic state, sharpen their hasty decline.

One does not have to be born of heterogametic sex to be reminded of what erosion means to the limestone cliffs, nor to extrapolate what a spring without rain posits for a summer’s cooling pool. There is a universal play at heart through the deposition of piss golden rays of light softly illuminating the gaps in the leaves from above. The same light reminds the boy of the mole on the back of the friend whom he will never see again. It also reminds her of swimming trunks pulled by the gravity of an upending dive, the trunks of the boy whose crest line of pubic hair edges just within site of her glance when he rises from the murky green water glistening in the milky yellow light, which lazily rolls across his hard abdomen looking for darker recesses. The trunks without chivalry do little to hide the affirmation of an XY chromosome combination.

And within these moments, the future is possible and yet its youth is desperate, bound by the stasis of an unknowing and the metastasizing plurality of futures yet examined, but dreamt of. A crushed pack of Marlborough Reds lies crumpled at their feet, which are shoehorned into rustic and fading cracked converse-socks a convenience pleasantly snitching their absence from the waft of odor from these bone-bleached cleats. Plans are drawn up for the evening’s mosquito-pocked embrace distilled to the point in which language meets the engagement of nods and shrugs without voice, but deep within in affirmation of possibility to communicate.

“The storyline is groomed from an excessively beautiful remote location, which reminds one of the grandeur of America and its struggles with its frontier in its early development. At once alarming in beauty and alarming in terror, the wood, the pine, the hills produce sounds and movements in the tree line…”

There is a horror story underlining “Halfstory Halflife” by Raymond Meeks, published by Chose Commune. It is very prosaically American in its distribution and latent condition of eerie potential. Perhaps a group of teens drives out to a remote watering hole (itself a very American Normal Rockwell type of geography). The smell of petrol from the cars lurking at the parking lot edge of the pines follows the still-clothed, yet perspiring teens as they descend the first ravine towards the swimming hole “down the way a bit”. Other friends are due to arrive later and the first casualty of the cinematic is the cell phone, signals lost to the vast and exploding entropy of said pines. “Motherfucker please, Mike will have to fucking find us without his Google maps. We’ve been coming here since we were kids”. A terse and loving response from Doug indicates only to “Shut up Fag, I know this, but still…” Mike ever the consoling, grabs Doug by the shoulders and reminds him patently that he won’t be as worried once the girls arrive and they crack a Bud or 20. “I know you got yer eye on Darlene, bro. She gunna be here. I’m tellin’ you”.

The storyline is groomed from an excessively beautiful remote location, which reminds one of the grandeur of America and its struggles with its frontier in its early development. At once alarming in beauty and alarming in terror, the wood, the pine, the hills produce sounds and movements in the tree line and becomes an occasional if mirthful playground from which to elicit fear from friends. Hiding deep in a drainpipe (An incredibly interesting position of observance), Doug will later remind Mike of this when he “Dickhead, you scared the shit out of me” is seen lying prostrate like a cadaver for Mike to view obliquely at a distance. It is a Ray Brower moment deeply penciled in the gyrus and sulcus of the brain’s mold from deep in the woodland of Castle Rock Entertainment. The drainpipe itself has also been borrowed from Pennywise, the universe’s most respected and murderous harlequin. The narrative is indentured to a cinematic and philosophical horror as one moves through Halfstory Halflife.

In historical terms, the use of monochrome images, when “stopped down” or shifted into a cooler gray than is considered “correct” by fine printing masters reminds one at once of the beauty of platinum photography in technical terms, but also in terms of concept, pitches the work to be viewed through a patina or veil of smoke and gun metal chrome. It pushes the properties of the spectral or ghostly through process. It becomes indentured to age and beauty through the choice of material. It is bound further to nostalgia or the possibility thereof and the ghosts that may tag along with the choice. For example, with the cover image-the way in which the leaves obfuscate the back of the young man, the way they dessicate his pale form undulating through the bushes reminded me at once (and this will be a stretch for some) of the historic photographs of Elizabeth Short, AKA the Black Dahlia taken by police photographers in 1947 when her mutilated and severed corpse was found in a vacant field in Los Angeles. The way in which grass and weed clung to her body, her face and the way in which her en-widened smile created an unnatural depth to her face reminded me historically of the cover of Raymonds’ book. I felt that the body of the boy, just as mentioned with Ray Brower had an effect of image that enveloped and eviscerated the body and I was able to attach that particular image to the lurking ghosts of an uncomfortable history’s past.

“Nothing is fixed, but rather it all becomes unglued at the prospect of what comes next within the book- A patent youth code sliding into the morass of labor, love and longing in short shrill shrift. The young men dive into the darkness of the future.”

Time, memory, fading edges, blur and charcoal gray chiaroscuro mark the endeavor towards the sickly behavior of the looming future tenses within the work which then gravitate towards the questions of when, why, why and when. The sentimentality of youth, read from the position of adult life (taking a chance here to endeavor that most of the audience rages in this demographic) project an allure of lost time, burgeoning responsibility, but also questions sprung from the edge of nothingness, the slow to ever-increasing pace of finality knocking on the hood of an old 2001 Toyota Corolla the summer after next.

Nothing is fixed, but rather it becomes unglued at the prospect of what comes next within the book- A patent youth code sliding into the morass of labor, love and longing in short shrill shrift. The young men dive into the darkness of the future. The book itself came into being with the assistance of the Aaron Siskind Foundation. Siskind, when not watching the paint chips of America crack and fall from grace also captured divers in the void, rather the static of the void-in doing so Meeks creates a very sublime homage. In stylistic terms it would not be incorrect to venture out somewhere into the territory of Sally Mann, Larry Clark, Early Mary Ellen Mark, and perhaps Andrea Modica, but that conjecture is unnecessary unless I mention detritus and debris, Gossage and Baltz.

The challenge that has been given to the US of the Now is to re-examine OUR roles within society at large, but more specifically to those engaged with ITS baggage in images- photography and its status as representational force, but also how it accumulates narrative and suggests how the body, ANY body is to be groomed for its use within the frame. Within the book, there is with no apologia issued for an observable quality of white male-ness, nor should there be. The protagonists are 90-95% young white male and we have to address this. And so, we have. The bodies, the white bodies with their protuberances and their acne and their baby teen fat and virility to throw themselves off cliffs towards a blissful abyss are simply and not over or underwhelming a slice of American life captured by Meeks in HIS woodland America. The point of work like this, the world in which it exists and to which it is free to be represented or photographed with permission given to the photographer is as much the right of any particular demographic to observe the work itself as it is to perhaps look for something different that better suits a particular audience’s agenda or politics. If we are to explore plurality at all, to open up dialogues in which the beauty of work like this may exist even in its alabaster delineation, we will need to expand our perimeters of patience and acceptance. I apologize to Meeks for having to raise this issue or rather question it, but it would be unfair if this dialogue were not involved. It has been noted by others in my peer group on a few social media platforms that the protagonists are young white men, which are currently not in favor it seems. I make the point above in reluctance, but as a way of discussing this question from my own position. My hope in doing so is to cast a casual note towards the pressing topics of the day, but to do so in a manner which respects Raymond, his subjects, our audience and the work itself.

What Halfstory Halflife does for me on a personal level is that it reminds me that all is not lost. That honest work can be made without the unnecessary interference of levity. It serves to remind me that photography can still be photography and that there are a number of people working in the vein. There seems to be some push back surfacing relating to our post-Internet world of images in which those of us that want to examine photography again are doing so with all the knowledge of current and critical issues, but are also finding our way back to what the medium and what its functions are. I can think of several projects this year alone that were incredibly refreshing to engage with on those fronts. From “Rayon Vert” by Senta Simond to as of yet un-reviewed books by Gerry Johansson and the catalogue of “The Land in Between” by Ursula Schulz-Dornburg. The re-issue of Waffenruhe by Michael Schmidt and retro-introspective Paul Kooiker joint “Eggs and Rarities” prove that there is an appetite for photography as it stands and not as the Google earth project/never-ending photography as sculpture background noise that it had to become. Who knows, maybe I am just getting old and my days of smoking around the ‘hole are rushing closer to an end. This book is MY PERSONAL PICK OF THE YEAR thus far and will be hard to shake from that position. In terms of “bests” there are a few more as mentioned above, but on personal grounds, this book just crushed 2018 in the most necessary way.

 

Raymond Meeks

History Halflife

Chose Commune

(All Rights Reserved. Text @ Brad Feuerhelm. Images @ Raymond Meeks.)

 

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