Signs of the South
Southeast Museum of Photography,
Juliana Romnes, Photographer
“Success is not a good teacher, failure makes you humble.” Shahrukh Khan
As of this writing I am participating in an exhibition at the Southeast Museum of Photography, which is something that I am most proud of. Over the years I have been very fortunate to be able to show my work in some very fine galleries and museums. Talking about the show with my friend and mentor, Bob Lerner, I was reminded of a story about a show that I was in some 25 years ago. I think that it played an important role in some of my attitudes about the vagaries of putting your work in public.
While I was still attending Daytona Sate College, I was asked to participate in an exhibition of photography that was to feature large number local photographers at the Orlando Library. I thought this was a truly important opportunity, which I jumped at. It was for me a validation of my entry to the fine art photography community of Central Florida. Telling one of my teachers about the show, he suggested that I ask the organizers if they would be interested in his work as well, which they were. I turned in my work on time, showing what I thought to be my best offerings and then waited for the opening.
A group of us went to the opening and when we first walked into the door in a very prime place was the teacher’s work that I had suggested. The rest of the show was spread out over the entire library, which is quite large. Looking around, I could not fine my work and was beginning to wonder if they had decided not to hang the work. Then one of my fellow students said that he found where I my work was hanging and we all went to see. It turned out that my photographs was hung in an office, that at the time of the opening was locked and could only be seen in the darkness through the window in the door. I looked at the door and it said that it was where books on tape were kept. Unlike today, books on tape at that time were mostly checked out to the visually impaired, which meant that most of those who came to the office most likely could not see my photographs. I was struck with the irony and to some extent the surreal quality of the how my work was being presented, but rather than get angry, I found it amusing.
I think that almost every artist who shows their work will have one or more stories like this. It value, at least for me, is to remind me that my work is not always going to be placed in what I might think the best and appropriate spot. It keeps one humble and that can be a good thing.
Luv, Eau Gallie, FL 2013
“A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write, if he is to be ultimately at peace with himself.” And “What a man can be, he must be. This need we call self-actualization.” Both quotes by Abraham Maslow.
These two quotes by Abraham Maslow say more about why I am a photographer than any words that I can come up with. I am a photographer because that is what I am. I cannot think of myself in any other context, for it defines me. For me it is not work, and while I may tire while photographing, I am never tired of making photographs. My interest in so many other subjects is born from my interest in making photographs. My interest in history, culture and all other things are to support my making photographs. My life in photography has brought me into contact with many interesting people, who have each in their own way made my life fuller. Photography has also taken me to many interesting places, which have widened my view of the world. Photography has made whatever holes I have in my soul smaller, and I am thankful for that, and that gives me peace.
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My Brother, Doug Lang, 2008
This past week a quote by Mitch Albom from his book, Tuesdays with Morrie spoke to me more deeply with the passing of my brother Doug; “Death ends a life, not a relationship.” As I learned with the passing of my father several years ago, my brother will not truly die as long as he is in my thoughts and memories. Almost every day I have some thought about my life with my father and now I am sure that it will be the same with Doug. While he is now gone, I also know that he leaves behind many, many people who’s path he crossed who will remember him for all the good qualities that he had.
Living now in an age of photography we have a visual aid to remember those who have passed. We now can keep images of love ones at a time when they were at their most vibrant or at the very least at the time which we wish to remember them most. A large part of my life and passion in photography has been centered on the idea that the things that I photographed are being preserved for future generations. While I have always thought that making photographs that record something of the history and culture of the areas that I travel to be images of importance, I also realize that our personal, family photographs are always going to be the most important. The three most important photos that my mother has are three portraits that she has of my father, my brother and I that were taken when we were each in our early to mid 30s. In the recent natural disasters that we have suffered as a country, the one thing that most of those who were left homeless by the destructive powers of hurricanes and tornados, it was family photos that the survivors lamented most. The one thing that they search for among the rubble are the family photos.
The photograph that I featured along with this blog post is a photograph that I did not even take, nor was I even there. It is a photograph of my brother when he was on vacation. I chose it because this picture represents for me Doug in his element. Every year he took a trip to somewhere in Europe. His interest in history and culture fueled his love to travel and it was a highlight for him to see the places that he read about. And while we liked to travel to different areas, a love of traveling was something that we have in common. I thank Ken Carman for providing me with this image.
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Old Dixie, Orlando, FL 2013
In his very worthwhile book, View from the Studio Door, Ted Orland wrote, “When it comes to making art, our intuition is often light years ahead of our intellect.” I know personally that when I am photographing I do not fully realize why I find a particular subject is meaningful. Most of the time when I see something that I want to photograph it is more a reaction to the scene rather than some deep thought about meaning. I feel that I make photographs using two levels of my mind. First is the photographer in me, who is thinking about F-Stops and Shutter Speeds, depth of field, and what direction the light is coming from. There is another side of me when I am making a photograph that recognizes something of the importance of what I am photographing. While in the act of making the photograph I do not think about why something is important, I just feel it and I have long go learned to go with those feelings. I may explain the meaning of a photograph later in writing or at a lecture, however the act of making a photograph is somewhat on auto, and I have to trust it. Trust is a good thing when you are an image-maker, because trust is, in many ways, the road to truth. It is the truth of an image what makes it both a personal expression and a universal one.
This past weekend I passed by a place that I had photographed before but wanted to again. The chicken restaurant opened in the early 60s. The name, Dixie Chicken alone might be enough to bring to mind some strong feelings about the dichotomy of a being proud of one’s heritage versus what that heritage means to some people. The chicken is wearing a Civil War era forage hat that has on it’s flat top the stars and bars that again represents a proud heritage to some, and the oppression of a people to others. It is that difference in the symbolism that defines the differences in the culture that I find interesting and why I was attracted to the sign. The symbolism of what signs means is deeper than what the sign says. If there is a connection between the two cultures it is cuisine and maybe that is the universal truth in the sign.