1991. The Gulf War begins and marks the beginning of an almost constant U.S. presence in the Middle East into the still un-seeable future. Yugoslavia begins a bloody civil war that includes genocide and ultimately breaks into separate Republics. October sees Anita Hill testify before the U.S. Senate to acts of sexual harassment by Supreme Court candidate Clarence Thomas, who is then confirmed to the Court. David Duke, former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard wins a place in the runoff election for Governor of Louisiana.
Locally, the Oakland Hills in California are on fire, killing 25 people and destroying close to 3500 homes. It is a warmer than usual month with the high topping out at 92 degrees this October and I am having a particularly hot and hellish month aside from the fire. Recovering from a traumatic relationship break-up, I have a car accident and mourn the death of one of my best friends from AIDS related causes.
Then the attack. Three men jump out from behind a fence outside of my apartment and grab me. I think I’m dead, or worse – tortured all night and then dead. I think, “I’m a statistic? It’s all over? This is it?” Then the mace – in my face, my eyes, down my throat and lungs, up my nose, in my mouth and ears. Mace as a weapon is designed to be sprayed from 10 feet away. Just one squirt should deter the usual attacker. I absorb a whole can of it point blank. I feel as I’ve been doused with lighter fluid and set on fire. Mace won’t disable you or render you passive however and I fight them and don’t go down. I make enough noise for a long enough time to attract unwanted attention and off they go. Wow. I don’t know why or what that was. I am going to live… with a good dose of PTSD and a creeping illness that resembles the emerging description of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. My life is irrevocably changed. Who am I now that I can’t get out of bed some days, that I’m not very productive, that I’m in constant physical pain and in a state of anxiety all the time? When I leave the house, I can barely tolerate cleaning fluids, bus exhaust fumes, scents – the Vaseline hand lotion worn by my co-workers! I channel my inquiry and process of recovery through photography.
The series By Fire is shot at our country home over twenty years after this hot month and explores the human experience of tragedy that has often been described as a trial by fire. Although I do not stage these images, I sense archetypal moments emerging in front of me and intently render them. The focus of the images is shallow with the lens barrel focused on the fire, the sparks. The blurred person moves about the fire like the ghost of my 30 year old self protected by an oversized magic coat – unbecoming, disintegrating, down to the bone and returning whole, wiser and stronger. I find that if we move through the metaphorical fire with awareness, we may find that facing mortality creates expansion and renewed life. The images contemplate the ephemeral nature of life and the perseverance of humanity.
This series is created with a digital camera, though not altered digitally in processing. The instant visual feedback allows me to push past surface appearances and use the optics of the camera to expand vision – showing the unexpected, underlying or overlooked. I consider the images I create to be sensory artifacts that provide a conduit for others to directly experience new perceptions. The photographs are archetypal in that they are simultaneously less and more than their original subject matter and also transcend it. Viewers can project their own experiences onto them and perhaps receive insight for themselves, as some even report to me has happened.
October isn’t all bad of course. Poland holds their first free election, the Galileo spacecraft probes the first asteroid ever – 951 Gaspra and 1991 marks the end of the fifty-year Cold War with the Soviet Union. And again we go – through the cycles of tragedy, suffering, death and rebirth – endlessly through time. Although my life as I know it ends in 1991 and I experience more tragedy as I surely will again in my life, I shortly thereafter meet my soulmate who brings my life joy and fulfillment, and protects me like the magic coat she wears in these images some twenty years later.
The photographs created for By Fire are also available as a photographic exhibit. Please contact me (barbara at barbarakyne dot com) about exhibiting the work and Norfolk Press http://norfolkpress.com/books/ about purchasing the book.
By Fire, a Photographic Chap Book of photographs and poetry by Barbara Kyne, 8.75 x 7.25, 32 Pages, $20.00, ISBN 978-0-578-16037-5, Available from Norfolk Press http://norfolkpress.com/books/