Turquoise Days

Just when the thought occurs
The panic will pass
And the smell of the fields
Never lasts
Put your faith
In those crimson nights
Set sail
In those turquoise days

You’ve got a problem
Come on over
You’ve got a problem
Come on over

It’s not for glory
It’s not for honour
Just something someone said
It’s not for love
It’s not for war
Just hands clasped together

It’s not for living
It’s for hunger
Just lips locked tight
It’s not rebellion
It’s not suffering
It’s just the way it is

And my pistol’s packed
And my God goes with me
I feel easy
And I want it
And I need it
And I’ve got it

It’s not for this
It’s not for that
It’s not any of it

Did you say knowledge?
Did you say prayer?
Did you say anything?
If not for good
If not for better
If not the way it is

excerpt from Turquoise Days, Echo and the Bunnymen, Heaven Up Here, 1981.

“In 1981, music magazine the NME described the album as darker and more passionate than 1980’s Crocodiles. The Record Mirror also said that the band sang the blues and devoted themselves to existential sadness. They went on to note that the album offered ‘an anatomy of melancholy, resplendent with the glamour of doom’ ”

featuring Models: Jackie and JoEllen
Green Falls, Voluntown, CT  USA

 

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The Bell Jar

It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and
I didn’t know what I was doing in New York. I’m stupid about executions. The idea of
being electrocuted makes me sick, and that’s all there was to read about in the papers —
goggle-eyed headlines staring up at me on every street corner and at the fusty, peanutsmelling mouth of every subway. It had nothing to do with me, but I couldn’t help
wondering what it would be like, being burned alive all along your nerves.
I thought it must be the worst thing in the world.

—excerpt from the Bell Jar, by Sylvia Plath, first published in January 1963 under the pseudonym Victoria Lucas and later released posthumously under her real name.

featuring Model: Jane Anderson
Photograph by Michelle Gemma

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“Don’t Take The Ring”

“Don’t Take The Ring” draws from an admonition spoken by Agent Cooper to Laura Palmer in a dream sequence in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me.  The focus of this series is upon choices made, once the ring is taken.

We are drawn into the young blonde model’s world:

 

she has chosen to stand at the threshold-

 

she pauses,

 

she considers what lies beyond,

 

 

and then she enters the mansion.

 

 

She wants to explore,

 

and we ride along with her

 

 

And then it has been decided

 

 

that the consequences have already unfolded before her

 

 

as she meets her shadow self- the brunette model.

 

It is the casualty of her decision-

 

to cast one’s lot with the angels

 

in the hopes that it will be received well,

 

that resonates with the audience.

 

 

We are rooting for these models to succeed

 

 

because we see ourselves in them.

 

We understand the platform of complication,

 

but we want them to rise like the phoenix,

 

and speak to our own immortality.

 

It is all about the work.

“Laura Is The One”
All Photographs by Michelle Gemma
featuring Models: Piper Meyers and Julia Farrar
locations: The Haley Mansion, Perkins Farmhouse before it was demolished, woods off River Road, Mystic, CT USA

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Chronicles of Sonic Life

“The Stars Turn, and a Time Presents Itself”:::


I started thinking about all the band photographs I have taken since the early 1990’s, when I first tested the waters with a camera. Musicians were my first muse, before I established a model stable, a steady fuse that still burns today. I realized with a tiny shock,  that not a single band in my photographic collection is still together today.

Of course……not shocking at all:

being in a band is the very essence of a photograph: “it is a flash in a moment of time” (Portersville, 1998).

My very first band photo was a live shot of Delta of Venus, at the El-n-Gee in January 1993:

 

$3 Depth Charge Photo Shoot for Postage Magazine 1997 on promotion for the Trapezium CD.

 

Fatal Film photoshoot at the Waterford Drive-In Theater 6 March 2004

Estrogen and Tonic   (ONE HALF OF PAISLEY JUNGLE!!!!!!!) Hygienic Rock Fix 29 January 2005

 

Lotus at the Green Marble 1994

 

Low Beam at Hygienic Rock Fix in New London January 2005

Incessant Pop Group chez Centraal Studios, 2005

 

Slander band photo June 2012 in our backyard

 

My last band photo was Slander at the Stardust Motel in North Stonington for a video production of  “Ghosts” b/w “Magnets” in 2013.

 

Over these twenty years, I have photographed in pretty much chronologic order:  Delta of Venus, 17 Relics, Lotus,  Mindbender,  Magpie,  MAP,  Doug,  Cigarette, The Reducers, Vera From Alice, Grand Passion,  Semaphore,  Mona Gritch,  Adams Onis,  $3 Depth Charge,  Black Pig Liberation Front,  AmberTones,  Portersville,  Roger Human Being,  Seratonin,  Low Beam,  Estrogen and Tonic,  Fatal Film,  Quiet Life,  Ringers,  Sodium Lights,  Incessant Pop Group,  and Slander.

The music of many of these bands can be heard here in the music archive, carefully maintained by Mat Tarbox. The origin of PortFire was in MMA:  Mystic Music Archive, and after the Chez Depot Memorial Show in July 2011, it was decided that a larger Artist website would better serve the talent of the roster.

“I can’t find my way home..
That’s when I don’t need you.”

Incessant Pop Group, Anhedonia, from Batterie Electronique, 2006

 

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Last Quarter Moon

The LAST QUARTER MOON occurs on Thursday, November 29th, 2018, at 7:19 PM EST.
Thursday evening, the Last Quarter Moon is exact, when the Sun in Sagittarius forms a square with the Moon in Virgo.
The Last Quarter Moon phase points to some sort of crisis of consciousness.

Outtake from “The Balance of Power”

a new photo narrative featuring Model: Jane Alice
as my LIBRA
for the new series: Personal Universe, an astrological study starring the model stable of Michelle Gemma (2017-2018)
Photograph by Michelle  Gemma
27 July 2018
Stonington Boro, CT  USA
Full Moon Lunar Eclipse

http://michellegemmaphotography.com/
https://michellegemmaphotography.wordpress.com/

 

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Meeting Rollie McKenna

Suddenly, in the last week of August of 1995, I needed a new job. I had been raised in the family business in Downtown Mystic, A Stitch In Time Boutique, and had acquired a fledging interest in fine art photography through a young roster of poets and musicians in my hometown.  I was introduced to a new Rock and Roll family now, and I had made significant forays into local exhibitions and publications, and had set up my own darkroom in our rented artist collective in Stonington.  In fact, it was a fellow artist in our homegrown art scene that told me that Rollie McKenna lived in town, and she was an important literary photographer, having photographed the likes of Sylvia Plath, Dylan Thomas, and many others. Albert was always incredulous as he stated, “and she lives right here in Stonington!”  So, on August 31, 1995, I took the phonebook out, paged to the listings for “M”, and found “McKenna, R” in Stonington, Connecticut at 1 Hancox Street, and I dialed her number. She answered the phone, and I introduced myself as a photographer who was looking for a job, “did she need anybody right now?”  She said, “As a matter of fact…I need someone to do some research for me, as I’m working on another book.” I answered promptly that I could help her out, so she suggested that I come to her house the next day so we could meet in person.

We sat on the back patio overlooking Sandy Point, and discussed her new project. She had published her autobiography, A Life in Photography (Knopf 1991), and in 1995, she was looking to complete a visual timeline of the many poets and writers that she had photographed in the 1950s through the 1980s.  The new book would feature each writer with an older photograph, next to a brand new photograph, along with a short biography of each writer that I was being hired to write, and a piece of “new“ work, by each writer, that Rollie called a “gleaning”.   I clearly had the easiest job, as it would prove challenging to get some of the writers to sit for a new photo, and produce new work. The time that had elapsed between each earlier portrait and also their literary output was the overriding factor.  The photographs captured the vanity and vulnerability of her subjects. But she was fearless in her vision, and she parlayed that same enthusiasm to me on the first day in her studio, which was September 5th, 1995 at 145 Water Street.

She handed me a copy of her master list, “People Photographed as of September 1995”, a nine paged single spaced alphabetical listing of the artists in her photography archives.  We fully reviewed the list together, and started updating the dates of her most recent shoots. I immediately began a handwritten studio log, noting the date in the upper right hand corner and “Gemma and McKenna” below it, which I carefully updated each day with all of Rollie’s directions: tasks at hand, current status updates, and reminders for the next day and week.  On my first day, I noted:  “Searched for the folder on Elizabeth Bishop to no avail, which contains the missing third page of a letter from 10 May 1956.  Need for the completion of Bishop in book, need other comments on life, other than the “lonely poet” symbol most publicly known.”  I had no reference for this bullet point listing, yet I wrote it, and it would come in handy during my days doing research at the local libraries. Another note from 20 September 1995:  “Pull negative of Alastair Reid from Master File (1960) and tell L and V (her photo lab in NYC) to lighten up contrast of his suit and into the background. AR8.60B  #25 need two sets 5” x7” with white borders”. I quickly realized her archival system was masterful. AR8.60B was “Alastair Reid August 1960 Second Roll”.

Rollie left for Key West that October 1995 through April 1996, and we talked on the phone daily and faxed furiously.  Also, letters were sent, and sometimes copies of faxes and letters that she received in Key West, like when she mailed me a copy of the letter she received from Tom Wolfe, expressing dismay at his tardiness in response to Rollie’s request for a gleaning. Every day I was working on the research for the biographies for the book. I collected magazine articles: The Sewanee Review Autumn 1972 to garner literary reviews on Rollie’s subjects, John Malcolm Brinnin, Lucille Clifton, Philip Caputo, and James Dickey. The Saturday Review 17 November 1955 for an article on a review of Dylan Thomas in America: An Intimate Journal, by John Malcolm Brinnin , by Louis Untermeyer. Mind you, this was all before the Internet. I could not Google ”Philip Caputo”. I also dove into Rollie’s sizeable and extremely well organized photo archives. To this day, 23 years later, I have enacted many of Rollie’s organizational techniques. It was of utmost importance to be able to manually retrieve any photo at a moment’s notice. Judith Bachmann handled the affairs at Rollie’s house, each day fielding phone calls from literary agents looking to gain clearance for publishing one of Rollie’s photographs.

At first, requests for a new print would go to Rollie’s photography darkroom of choice, L and V Photo Lab in NYC. We would carefully pack up rolls of film, and negatives and overnight them to the urban studio. But then I suggested that I could get Rollie’s darkroom at the  Water Street Studio back up and running, and that I could handle all of the darkroom printing. By early summer of 1996,  Rollie  got a call from the Muskegon Museum of Art, in Michigan. We had sent them a copy of her autobiography on my second day of work back in September of 1995, and the Museum had finished selecting the 61 images from the book that they wanted for a Rollie McKenna solo exhibition. I inventoried all of Rollie’s framed photographs boxed up in the studio, and made a list on 31 May 1996, that we had 37 framed photos, ready to go, and 7 to be framed, and 17 to be printed and framed. I got busy right away printing up those 17 photographs, as Rollie was due back from Key West on 10 June 1996, and the moving company was booked to transport the exhibit to Muskegon on 26 July 1996. I finished printing the photographs, then sent the photos to Studio 33 in the Boro, to be matted. In the interim, I ordered all of the framing hardware, and a small party of us assembled and framed the remaining photographs at Rollie’s studio. Then everything had to be carefully labelled and packed up.

Rollie announced to me that the Museum wanted her to give a speech along with a slide show. She said that she wasn’t up to organizing the slide show, and writing a speech;  remember that in 1996, she was already 78 years old: an extremely hardworking and passionate artist, but still, she had to contend with some heart issues from time to time and a milder case of forgetfulness.  So I jumped on it. I culled the 36 images for the slide show, and found that over half of them needed to be produced into slide form, my first experience shooting slide film with a light set-up. My notes from Rollie said that “a blue tint suggests the wrong filter, and that I should use TMAX 100 film with a ASA of 50, and to make sure that the image on the copystand was equidistant to the lights”. These tips would come into play for me when I later worked for the Stonington Historical Society after Rollie moved to Northampton in 1998.

After the slide production, I settled into writing the speech from Rollie’s perspective, so that she could read my text, transposed onto index cards for easy reference. On the Denise Levertov slide from 1969, I wrote, “I approached Denise for this photograph again to join the legions contained within the Modern Poets, Second Edition (McGraw Hill 1963). She made the peculiar demand in her response,  ‘She wanted the right to have destroyed the negatives of any photographs I wouldn’t like to have in circulation….’ I said I would have to ask Elizabeth Bishop first……”   Rollie said the speech and slide show was a huge success and that she was very thankful for all of my hard work.

That Winter of 1996 saw more research for the book, and completing any studio and darkroom requests.  When Rollie returned from Key West in the Spring of 1997, she had a new companion who favored seclusion and privacy , and her work crew would soon find Rollie cut off from the familiar foundations. Soon everything was for sale, and we had to pack up the house and studio, as Rollie was moving to Northampton, Massachusetts. I remember her telling me that she wanted her life’s work to go to the New York Public Library, because that’s where her friend, James Merrill’s work was archived.  One day when I was packing up at the studio, Mary Thacher, the then Director of the Stonington Historical Society came by, as a friend of Rollie’s to inquire what was going on, and she hired me for the Stonington Historical Society to be a photo archivist.

We wouldn’t hear anything more about Rollie until we saw the obituary in the New York Times in June 2003. Alas, her third book, to be called Poets and Writers of an Age would never get published.

—Michelle Gemma
Mystic, Connecticut
2 August 2018

Inscription by Rollie McKenna inside her autobiography “A Life In Photography” (Knopf 1991), given to me on my birthday 10 October 1995.

—-This memoir was written 2 August 2018 for inclusion in a book about Rollie McKenna, published by the Stonington Historical Society on 1 November 2018.

Rollie McKenna

Book cover design by Chip Kidd.

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Destroy The Negatives

“Hi Michelle,
Although I have not run into you around Mystic in a very long time, I am sure you remember me since in the past you took photographs of Maria.

 

I have been meaning to call you, but usually do not remember until it is too late at night to do it.

 

As you know, Maria’s father was not at all pleased with the pictures of Maria.

Since the art festival is quickly approaching, I am emailing to ask that you absolutely do not use any photos of her in your booth this year or in any future years

– or show them at any other local events.

We have a friend who seems to go out of his way to check your booth each year and report back to her father, which always sends him into a tirade about how it was never the right thing to do.

 

I truly think it would be best if you destroyed all negatives of her pictures.  I know some were exhibited at the Wayne Richard Barbershop when it first opened, because someone else mentioned that at the time also.

 

Sorry this did not work out well.

Thank you for your consideration.”

—-Maria’s Mother

note: the photographer’s father was protective, also.

 

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“This Night Has Opened My Eyes”

“The dream has gone
But the baby is real
Oh you did a good thing
She could have been a poet
Or, she could have been a fool
Oh you did a bad thing
And I’m not happy
And I’m not sad”

—-the Smiths, “This Night has Opened my Eyes”, from Hatful of Hollow, a compilation album released 12 November 1984, Rough Trade.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hatful_of_Hollow

featuring Model: Liz Walz wearing a handmade dress by Susan Hickman for Crocker House FashionShow
Photograph by Michelle Gemma

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33: THE MAGIC NUMBER

“Since the most ancient of times numbers and numerology have been believed to conceal secrets and messages. For some, numbers have very special significance, with the ability to conceal true meaning from all but the initiated. To some, certain numbers can convey that something of particular importance lies within the text under their study. Such numbers needn’t even be written to convey the presence of a hidden code within a sentence or paragraph, only that the sum of letters included adds up to a particular number.
No number holds more esoteric significance than “33.” The number three is significant in all major religions. There is a Trinity for Christians, and a Triple Goddess for the ancients.”

“In the written words attributed to Shakespeare, to Francis Bacon, to Spenser, Dante, and others we can find hidden code words and paragraphs that use this number to alert the initiated reader that something important is connected.
In the works attributed to Shakespeare there are many phrases and passages referencing the number 33. Julius Caesar is stabbed 33 times. The body of work shows a mastery of numerology. The number 33 reflects the interface of the familiar world with the higher spiritual realm. In Hamlet, the Ghost is represented in the first scene with an entrance described in a sentence with 33 characters. And Horatio addresses the ghost in 33 characters as he leaves. “Stay: Speake, speake, I charge thee, speake.” In Julius Caesar, the ghost of Caesar visits Brutus in a passage that starts with a 33-character sentence, “That shapes this monstrous apparition.” Brutus recovers from the shock and addresses the ghost in a 33-word sentence.”

“From Iraq through Phoenicia to Phoenix Arizona, whether by design or coincidence, the 33rd parallel passes through some very significant places.
The ancient city of Babylon was very near the 33rd-degree latitude line while modern Baghdad is on the 33rd parallel. This area was once thought to be the Garden of Eden. Heading west, the line passes through Damascus, Beirut, and onto two Templar castles one exactly on the 33rd latitude the other at 32.71. The light of the sky is embodied by the Sun with the solar year divided by the sun’s cycle of 11.06 years, equaling 33. The Sun, defined as a circumference of 360 degrees divided by 11, equals 32.72.”

Crossing the ocean, the 33rd parallel brings us to Charleston, South Carolina. This city is the original site of Scottish Rite masonry in U.S. Charleston’s Fort Sumter is the location of the first shot fired in the Civil War as that state succeeded from the Union.
Coincidence or not, Dallas, Texas, was of course where President Kennedy was assassinated. Not only is it on the 33rd parallel, but also the date of 11/22 adds up to 33. During Kennedy’s administration Papa Doc Duvalier of Haiti was upset because aid from the U.S. was cut off. He claimed to put a curse on JFK, which caused his death on the date of those powerful numbers.
While writers on this subject often include Roswell, New Mexico, we’ll go on to Phoenix, Arizona. This was once the center of the Hohokam culture. The largest site, known as Snaketown, was only five miles from the 33rd parallel and the observatory called Casa Grande is five miles from the line as well. Here this advanced ancient culture built 500 miles of canals irrigating 25,000 acres.”

“Despite the reputation given to such beliefs by organized religion, science in modern times has come to understand the concept of a body clock, the effect of the lunar cycle on animals, and most likely people, and the reality of circadian cycles. Ancients might have known this as well. There are 33 vertebrae in the spine. In India, it is believed a vital energy is needed to awaken the spiritual energy located at the base of the spine. This coiled-up energy is known as Kundalini, and through Yoga energy it ascends to the brain and beyond. Both Hindu and Tantric arts seek this awakening.”

“The spinal column is often referred to as Jacob’s ladder, or the Serpent. It is also compared to the caduceus symbol of Mercury, Thoth, and medicine. Did the ancients also know there were 33 turns in a complete sequence of DNA? Could the Caduceus symbolize the two intertwining snakes apparently reflected in the 33-sequence, double helix DNA ascending a vertical pole, which could be the 33-vertebrae spine?”

“When the two threes are put together facing each other they offer a design that is said to represent the ancient Hermetic maxim  ‘as above, so below.’ ”

 “The heavens mirror the earth; the spirit reflects humankind.”

Photo Narrative featuring Writer Royal Young on location in Great Neck, New York

Excerpts from the article, “33: The Magic Number, Why Is This Number So Important To So Many?” by Steven Sora, Atlantis Rising magazine, March/April 2015 Issue #110

https://atlantisrisingmagazine.com/article/33-the-magic-number/

Photographs by Michelle Gemma

 

 

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