Sunday, March 25, 2007

If You Break the Skin, You Must Come In

This last week has been a long week and I am certain the next couple of weeks will be equally as long.

if you break the skin, you must come in-1web

I made this photo in the summer of 2005 while I was driving around SW Philadelphia. The trailer was on the other side of railroad tracks that run toward east/west toward the Schuylkill River and could only be seen from a very small street that faced the drop off to the tracks and the huge lot of used trailers on the other side. I have no idea what "If You Break the Skin You Must Come In" could mean in the context of a vinyl banner facing railroad tracks; I guess it could have something to do with the plastic covering on the side of the trailer...I really don't know. At the time I made this photo, I thought maybe the text was too cryptic for the way the photo was structured. The architectural components aren't that strong in this photo (I never love cyclone fencing and always try to avoid it in my shots) and when the text is the crux of the photo I want to make sure the text is read as a part of the entire photo, not as an independent statement.

However, I kept coming back to this photo to help with the ordering of the I-95 images based on the text in this photo, even with the inclusion of the new Katrina images for 2006. When I was having the ICA show it was something I referred to in placing the wall images and I included it in the projected was in keeping with the idea of "looking at" and "looking through" the main image and my desire to have viewers carry the images further than the initial viewing.

When David Kessler suggested that "If You Break The Skin..." be the name for the documentary, I was certain that there couldn't be a better name.


Last week there were 2 deaths that will have a long-lasting impact on my life; one was a friend who I had known for about 18 years, and the other was a woman who I'd met 3 times and I hadn't spent more than 15 minutes total with in my whole life.

Our friend Ray shot and killed himself. Lynn and I lived with Ray for about 10 years. When I met Lynn Bloom she was in a band with Ray and he was always Lynn's friend first and foremost. When I move into a different part of the grieving process, that will always allow me a little anger toward him for hurting her. I think that's healthy for me. Of course, I will always be indignant on Tina's behalf. And on my behalf, too. But who knows? It's going to be a lifetime dealing with this.

The memorial at Morning Glory was this last Friday...I was really ready to get my grief on in the morning and then have all day to prepare for the celebration of showing the film that night. I guess that's what you call a full life. Christ.


Three days after Ray's death I got this email,

"My name is Gina Carbone ,You don't know me but I know you , You had taken a picture of my Daughter Monique a few yrs ago she was pregnant ,You took the picture of her tatoo that said Daddy and she was in a magazine called ELLE , I am sorry to say that Monique has passed away , My heart is so broken , But I want to thank you for taking that photo, She was so excited about hearing that she was in a magazine , Thank you Sincerely Gina Carbone."

The photo Gina Carbone is talking about is below.
daddy tattoo womanemail copy

This photo is one of my favorite portraits and one that I think will hold up over time. It's also an image I look at almost daily.

I sent this reply back to Gina.

"Dear Gina,

Thank you so much for writing to me, I am so, so sorry to hear about Monique. Please accept my deepest condolences and extend them to the rest of your family as well. I had only met Monique 3 times, and the second was when I made the photo that ended up in Elle. I will never forget that moment.... despite the great difficulties that she was going through, she was incredibly beautiful and self-possessed. I look at that photo almost every day and think about how she had great beauty and strength in that moment.
And I am so happy to hear that she was excited about being in Elle.

Gina, if it's not too much, could you send me Monique's date of birth and the date she passed away? I would like to put a memorial up on my web page.

Again, thanks so much for taking the time to write to me and please accept my sympathies. You and your family are in my thoughts and prayers.

Zoe Strauss"

I meant every word of that email.

Gina replied with this,

"Dear Zoe Thank You so much for writing me back ,And thank you for your condulison. and prayers .Monique's Birthday was AUGUST 22ND 1983 She passed away September 9th 2006.Monique has a son Shawn my grandson who now is almost 2 and a half he is a healthy happy boy and he is so truly loved . We have had him since he left the hospital .Monique would come and visit him from time to time ,and he knows Monique is his mommy .I am just so glad you to saw the beauty in Monique .It was also inside of her ,I always told her this .she could not see it . Thank you again I am going to send you a picture of monique , and also when you do this memorial please send it to me . Sincerely Gina Carbone."

photo by Gina Carbone

We exchanged a few more emails and I put up a memorial for Monique and found myself thinking about how I was really invested in the "Daddy Tattoo" and the "Showing Black Eye" photos . And did being invested in the photo mean that I was invested in the life of Monique Carbone? Who could tell with the initial shock and mourning of Ray's death? I didn't know her first name when I made the "Daddy Tattoo" portrait and I didn't know her last name when I made the portrait below 2 years later.
monique showing black eye web

I do know I thought of her often and wished that she was safe and healthy. I know that I refrained from asking Gina Carbone to call me although I really wanted to talk to her because of my strong affectionate feelings for Monique and I wished that I could offer something more comforting than an online memorial. But I don't know what I could say except that I'm sorry. The last time I saw Monique she was in a bad way, but she still had a strength, resistance and defiance that came through in her decision to show me her beaten face so I could photograph it. I am sending you my love, Gina Carbone. And my love to Shawn.


The film "If You Break The Skin..." premiered on Friday night to a packed auditorium of folks who came on less than a week's notice. Later, I will write a much longer review of the evening, which was a great success in my opinion. David Kessler make the film from unstructured footage of all of us fumbling our way through a project that kept getting bigger and more complex and more intimate and more invested and more contentious. Right. and then the project kept getting bigger and more complex and more intimate and more invested and more contentious after the filming was done.

The "youth" filmmakers were proud of the film and I love those guys. Here's to Diane, Tracy, Meme, Charday, Phylicia, Shante, Misha and Daliyl. You guys are the best and I am proud to know you. There is a much longer story about DHS and how they have tried to derail this project and how they haven't paid Tracy and Diane and a billion hideous things that I will attempt to address after the end of May. As of right now, all involved in the making of the film will mull over what will happen with the future of "If You Break The Skin" and there's no need for immediate jumping.

During the course of this increasingly complex and convoluted project I, of course, became emotionally invested in all the's Charday laying on the floor of my studio during one of the last days of filming. We were all this tired.

I talk to all of the filmmakers, some more than others. I talk to Charday a few times a week. Recently Charday said she wanted to join the Air Force, and gave reasons that I could really understand; I could see why she wanted that kind of structure...EXCEPT IT'S WAR TIME AND SHE WOULD BE JOINING TO GO TO WAR. I was waking up in the middle of the night a nervous wreck about it. I begged her not to join. BEGGED! She's not going now, she's got another plan and I am thrilled. Yeah, try and get me to "close the goddamn door!" Nice try, Charday. I'm going to be bossy to you FOREVER! Ah ha ha ha!

My GOD though! Did I need this? No. But what am I going to do? I love her and I'm concerned for her. The end. I'm in for the long haul with all of them. At the beginning of this project, which began about 9 months ago at this point, Lynn said she was worried I would become too close and too invested. Sorry, honey! Too late! Oy, patience of a saint, that Lynn Bloom.


In the version of the film that was shown on Friday, Ray's briefly in the footage of last year's I-95 show. He's at the table and at one point he's holding up 2 photos. And Monique's in it too...Meme asks about the black eye photo and I talk about my interactions with Monique.


At one point in the early in the film I say, "I'm gay and I'm Jewish" and my niece Katie turned to my sister-in-law Kim (you may know her from "One Station Square" fame) and said in a shocked voice "Aunt Zoe's Jewish?!?!" All of my nieces that came (Maggie, Katie and Kellie), Lynn's older sister's girls, wore shirts that they made with things written on them like, "I Heart Aunt Zoe" and Katie had "You Know Her as Aunt Zoe but I know her as Adiah!" and "PAP!"

And it was GREAT that Elle was there and her mom, Marion. I love Madielle! I saw her earlier at the memorial, Elle knew Ray for a long time, too. I could have a long speech about how I love Elle so much and I hardly ever see her and we've been friends since grade school...Greenfield Class of '83. Let me tell you this about Marielle Cohen; she introduced me to Lynn Bloom.

There were a number of people at the film who were at the memorial...I was really happy to see Jim Sweeney at the film (thanks for coming, it meant a lot)...he told a great story earlier in the day at Ray's memorial, one I'd never heard before.

At the end of the night my mom gave Tracy and Diane, two of the youth filmmakers, and Brent, a new friend and the writer of the great Heart as Arena blog, a ride to 30th St. And my sister went out with friends, the old and best friend Darla and the new friend Nick, and Lynn and I went home and I laid on the sofa and Lynn watched college basketball. For real, it's been a long, long week.


While writing this I have been listening to "To Sir, With Love" over and over. I've often get in a way when I have to play the same song consecutively for about a billion times. I have always loved "To Sir, With Love." I don't think it means anything, it's just what I like.

To Sir, With Love

Those schoolgirl days, of telling tales and biting nails are gone,
But in my mind,
I know they will still live on and on,
But how do you thank someone, who has taken you from crayons to perfume?
It isn't easy, but I'll try,

If you wanted the sky I would write across the sky in letters,
That would soar a thousand feet high,
To Sir, with Love

The time has come,
For closing books and long last looks must end,
And as I leave,
I know that I am leaving my best friend,
A friend who taught me right from wrong,
And weak from strong,
That's a lot to learn,
What, what can I give you in return?

If you wanted the moon I would try to make a start,
But I, would rather you let me give my heart,
To Sir, with Love


if you break the skin, you must come in-1web

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