Tuesday, April 25, 2006


"The light of God surrounds me. The love of God enfolds me. The power of God protects me. Where I am God is. That's my prayer."

-Violet Hobaugh

A disquieting brush with photojournalism leaves me still bristling....

A few weeks ago I recall reading a post on Utata questioning photos' inability to tell the entirety of a story in a single image. I have never felt this so acutely as I did this last Sunday. (Brace yourselves, I am about to beat the dead horse).

Unlike anything I have ever photographed, the subject of my last post struck something in me which continues to vibrate with this strange, unknown, frantic urgency. I must know.

I had a long chat with my Brother in Academia because he was particularly struck by the images as well, and he related his readings on Freud's studies of psychosis... we delved into things far beyond my ken, which bars me re-explaining them here. What I can get my head around is this:

I entered this sphere, belonging, now completely, to another person's insanity. In ten or fifteen minutes, I sat in a car snapping away, trying to make a whole out of a thousand unrelated pieces. I look at the photos, words are cut off, repeated elsewhere, spelled differently, paired randomly. Completely disjointed and out of context from each other. While I was there, I knew none of the backstory, and yet I continued to try to catalogue and make sense of the fragments I was seeing. I still am. There will always be this huge hole in the story where her brain started filling in the blanks.

bearing © Laura Kicey

The most unsettling thing was that which spoke to me directly as a photographer. In amongst the lists of words that had lost their meaning, which appeared to start off as accusations, there were the words take pictures. In the tangle of Violet Hobaugh's mind, was 'take pictures' something her 'attackers' were guilty of along side the vandalism (which she herself committed on her own property), poisoning, arson, mail fraud, robbery and rot spraying? Or was it a request to take the evidence of her situation and make it real by showing it to other people.

the windman
the windman © Laura Kicey

I went through the Patriot News archives and bought some articles on her from '93 and '04, during which she was fighting the PA Department of Transportation over a tree on her property... which she took residence in for a number of years. I gleaned as much as I could of the time recorded before she went off her medication and her schizophrenia consumed her, and all she felt she had left to protect her were words. I still want to transcribe the walls, it feels like her answer is in there somewhere. She may be dead inside for all I know.

Most of all, I remember sitting in the car, looking at these walls covered with words, having this completely out of character urge to go up and knock on the door and speak to the person inside and hear their story. I haven't been able to shake the intensity of my feelings about the visit even now, days later. Return? Forget? There is no logic to either, looking harder will not change that.


Anonymous calicojane said...

Lady Neue, this is why you are Great. This is why you are Real.

It is "uncomfortable" to feel so much. Yet could you do otherwise? Would you be half so alive?

I've driven by her house almost every day on the way to work for a year now. There was mild curiosity, but I haven't really seen her until now.

9:53 AM, April 26, 2006  
Blogger Patty said...

hey neue...read this entry and it really struck me, perhaps for reasons i, also, can't fully explain. not now, perhaps not even later on...of course (and i think this goes without saying) your photos in the conviction set are beyond AMAZING! the images really do penetrate one's sense of reality (no pun there)...and have the potential, i believe, to suspend disbelief in lunacy, or madness, or insanity, or what-have-you. equally true, they just give us reasons to believe in madness, far beyond what the logic of reason tells us (or Freud's theories on pychosis, for that matter). tremendously captivating.

these are just some thoughts... perhaps mental wanderings that, like our always failed approximation to understanding miss violet's own ponderings, amount to nothing, or something, but illogical at that.

what interests me most though, in your writing is this idea of impossible exchange...which is how i understand your desire to *know* about her, to *hear* her story. in short, the desire to see how she *sees* (i could be way off here, but i'll take my chances...)

if every photo (photo as text here, right) is a fiction, and an impossible one at that (re: utata article), then perhaps it is in and through fiction that we can not approximate to one's pain, or suffering, or illness....but rather come to understand and *experience* (such as your very own mental accumulations as you sat in the car, feeling "out of character") another's story, another fiction...but one that is real. so that, in the end it's not about truth, but about stories, about the fiction of said truth...

if and when i finish my dissertation (not a self plug here, just a reality) i will dedicate a chapter to you, because you are lovely, and great, and real, and...because the impossibility of knowledge coupled with a desire to *return* (or forget) is what exchange between you and me and the world, is all about.

the world is not made of atoms, but stories.

8:12 AM, May 02, 2006  
Blogger AmyRose said...

That which you do not understand should not merely be shrugged off as insanity. Assumptions based on a single set of snapshots of a woman's life should be considered insane. Perhaps it is best that some do for her what they did while she lived ~ leave her alone.

2:31 PM, January 23, 2010  

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