marc davidson – artifacts

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Marc Davidson

Artifacts

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When our father died in the Twin Towers attack   on 9/11, my brother and I were left with the task of entering his apartment for the first time. Thinking practically, we were looking for things that would help us tie up all the loose ends of his life: a will, phone numbers, bank stuff, insurance stuff. We found much more. We found artifacts which showed us parts of our father we’d never seen before.

The inspiration for Artifacts came from a conversation I had with Bob Black while looking at my father’s ID card recovered from Ground Zero. We started talking about the powerful relationships between photographs and identity and the role they play in the story I am creating on my father and 9/11.

As part of a larger project I am working on for the 10 year anniversary of 9/11, artifacts is a departure from my earlier work on the subject which was more documentary in nature. On its own, artifacts, is the conceptual story of my father’s life told by him through the things he left behind.

The images in this essay are unaltered scans and photographs of artifacts found in my father’s apartment 10 days after 9/11.

 

“Give not over thy soul to sorrow; and afflict not thyself in thy own counsel. Gladness of heart is the life of man and the joyfulness of man is length of days.”

- Apocrypha, Ecclesiasticus 21.

“If I keep a green bough in my heart, the singing bird will come.”

- Chinese Proverb

 

And how often is it that we fail to listen to the dead, fail to attend to all those moments they have bequeathed us in their living? Do they not remain with us and continue to animate us through the entirety of our own divesting days? Do they not continue to speak when we speak, breathe when we breathe, ache when we ache, love when we love? Are they not still alive inside us and along with us? This is the canticle of the living. Can you hear it now?

For the lessons and lives of loved ones do not desist even after they themselves have gone. How often though have each of us drowned out the wisdom and kindness of the departed by our squabble with wearying grief. None of us is immune from this deafness,  for each of us has during those days and nights of anguish lived through moments when our focus was more often on absence, the hole in the center of our lives built from death, instead of presence. This is natural.  But I wish to offer something else, to suggest that in fact their voice is one of celebration rather than sorrow, that though we must commiserate with sorrow there is another lesson to behold.  For though loved ones die and seem to vanish from our immediate view, they in fact remain.

We are of them and they of us and this beautiful and eternal abacus never ceases. Though their bodies and lives are no longer, their presence is everywhere instructing and nurturing.  They contribute to the wholeness of our lives; they fill our chasms not with dirt but with fecund soil. They have bequeathed us life even in their vanishing. It is the greatest covenant that I know and we are sustained because of this lasting presence.

This constancy lines the heart of Marc Davidson’s newest essay ‘Artifacts.’  Recently completed,  ‘Artifacts’ is part of a larger body of work, a work-in-progress,  entitled “Shared September.”   Marc completed the first chapter entitled “Zero Ground” (search Road Trips) and has since gone on to work on and complete a number of different  components of the project.  In its final form, “Shared September“  will be a book  commemorating the 10th Anniversary of 9/11. Though ‘Artifacts’ is part of this larger body of work, it is a powerful stand alone chapter in its own right.

“Artifacts” is a story about living though it is built from the agony and despair of death.  But it’s lumber and stone are taken not from the ashes of annihilation and misfortune but from the fertile and affirming anatomy of life. A soulful and heartbreaking story, describing not the aftermath but of a life lived fully.  Make no mistake about it, ‘Artifacts” is more than a memento mori but instead is a celebration of one man’s life and all the love and living that his shortened life held. Stitched together by a string of personal photographs, the essay is a collection and composite of the basic moments and possessions that made up the tick of one man’s life, and by extension the ticking of our own.  Though the essay has been constructed by Marc, it is in fact his father, Lawrence Davidson, who speaks throughout.  An extraordinary act of ventriloquism.

Opening with Lawrence Davidson’s book “Touchstones: A Book of Daily Meditation for Men,” a book published by the Hazelton Foundation which was given to Lawrence and which he used daily,  the essay moves through a remarkable time line, shuttling the viewer through the moments of Lawrence Davidson’s life by using photographs, documents and objects that Marc obtained after his father’s death. It is a story outlining one man’s life.  But the story that unfolds before us, though weighted by the knowledge of death, is one of redemption, reminding us of how important each life and each moment and each object contains the totality of our lives: a  teeming accumulation of the quotidian. Not detritus, but the grains and seeds of one’s life.

Though heart wrenching, ‘Artifacts’ works a  larger and wiser and more loving territory than one that the shadow of lamentation might suggest. From the passing of Lawrence Davidson’s life, comes another chance for each of us to learn about and see aspects of our own lives. We would never have known who Lawrence Davidson was had not this horrific subtraction occurred and yet here we are, in full view of his life and as each photograph passes, as each calendar changes into another, as each new object comes before us, we begin to understand both the fullness of his life and the necessity of each of our own. Lawrence Davidson is giving to each of us a renewed sense of living though he died eight years ago. It is that sharing, the remarkable act of generosity that is so vital to this piece.

For in truth, this essay is not really Marc Davidson’s essay as it is Lawrence Davidson’s: his life, his voice, his descriptions, his time, his stories, his conversation with us. Even in death, he is sharing with each of us the moments of his life: childhood, life in Israel, military service, marriage, relationships, children, hard-won successes and setbacks. His life is spread out before us, as a son, as a brother, as a father, as a grandfather, as a companion, as a friend and colleague, even as a stranger, a person we knew nothing of until this very moment. Is there anything more generous than to share the contours of your life with another? It is this aspect which is so exceptional and remarkable. The generosity of the essay is the quality that I return to again and again. A brave and self-less act on his son’s behalf to honor the father by allowing him his moment to speak and by doing so removing himself, the photographer, from the equation. His father’s voice and story are alive, can you hear it?

Photographic essays are usually told from the viewpoint of the photographer. With photographic work that wishes to speak about tragic events, it is even more arduous. Most of the stories about death are narrated from the point of view of the survivor. How else to tell the story? This is no less true about the tragic events of September 11th, 2001.  Most of the collective grief has been focused, as it should, on the survivors, the family members who lost loved ones. They grieve and they continue to grieve, for the loss is never fully remedied.  We too ache for them and we wish, in our quiet moments, to assuage their suffering which appears to continue without surcease. Moreover, we view these events always from the perspective of the living. We listen to the stories of the widows and widowers, the parents and children. We shelter and shoulder their bravery as they recount their loss and love. The story is a universal one for from all the families of the 2,973 people who perished that autumn morning, people who came from more than 90 countries and represented the entire spectrum of ethnicity and religions, occupation and ambition, age and gender, we feel a bond, for though we cannot feel fully the weight of their loss we recognize the totality as belonging to each and all of us.

And yet, ‘Artifacts’ is a story of survival. It is a story told by not a family member but by a person who perished. A resurrection of sorts. A life which unfolds in front of us and is transformed from death toward life. Lawrence Davidson is no longer a number on a fact sheet or a name on a Certificate of Death sheet. He is with us and he is here to share his story with each of us through the things he best loved:  his photographs, his letters, friends, his children. His children, the anchor and pivot of his life. This essay is his story told not from the beyond but from the place, right here, of the living and of the expanse of his life. In the wake of his death, the story of his living rises. A life bequeathed and continued.

Not just the pictures of rubble and ash and bone-broken girders, not just exoskeletons of steel and glass, not just the placards of the missing and grieving, but of the clothes and the shoes and the papers, a grounded-firmament of papers scattered like a great-plain of seed and sand, the badges and shoelaces, the wrist bands and name tags, the emails and extension memo’s, the parking passes and metro cards, the ties and rings and bracelets and rubber bands, the coins and collars, the cufflinks and sock stitching, the flaxseed of hair and the nails filed that, miraculously, showed up next to poured and flamed concrete.

Who speaks of these things? Who speaks of the minutiae of the living that goes bereft when the living have left their loss to us? We consider history and death on a scale set large by constellations, when it is just as true that our lives are large because of all that infinitely small detail which scatters and snakes it’s way into life. Can you now see the largess of what was left simply in the small, dog-eared turn of a corner in a plastic card, set aflame thousands of degree that will not relent? The face remains uncharted though the life and building came down. How do we begin to speak of this to others?

‘Artifacts’  is an extraordinarily courageous and generous essay. Marc Davidson has brought back from the dead his father’s voice, has allowed him to speak to each of us and to tell us part of the story of his life. This is an affirmative story, a story of living and creating, a story of a man whose greatest riches were his children and the life that they continue to live both honoring and celebrating the gifts which he bestowed them. I can’t think of another act by a photographer as selfless as this. How many photographers remove their craft, step aside from the stage and allow another to speak unadorned. A testament of the life that one man, and by extension all of us, imparts during the span of an impossibly short but miraculously rich time on Earth.

How is it that we cope with loss, sudden loss, the how and what of things? What are the objects of our life that make up the person we are, tell us who we are, allow us to gather and to reshape? How to capitulate a life? Indeed, we are partly plastic ID pictures and death certificates, we are partly bone and carbon and water and earth but we are so much more as well, eternal and etched out inside the life and lines of every living person and place and thing of whom we are a part, even when we are forever apart.

To document. To retrieve. To hold fast, even when you have so little left. To know that though they have ended and yet have also just begun. We have, because of them, not ended even when it feels like that in the cave of our hearts, but in truth, in the greenest of light we know that they are telling us: we have only just begun.

Can you hear their story and their heart beat and the expanding of their breath?

- Bob Black

 

Bio

Marc Davidson is a 36 year old Canadian photographer based just outside of Toronto.  Born in Israel, Marc moved to Canada at the age of 9 where he lived until moving to the US at attend the University of Colorado.  After graduating, Marc worked in Denver, New York, San Francisco, and Whistler before re-settling back in Toronto in 2002. Married with two young daughters, Marc is a stay at home dad who also devotes time towards his personal photo projects and the occasional commercial client.

 

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Editor’s Note: Please only one comment per person under this essay.. Further discussions should take place under Dialogue..

Many thanks… david alan harvey

27 Responses to “marc davidson – artifacts”


  • the images
    speak…..
    loud
    and
    clear…..
    no words….
    only
    heart…….
    peace
    to
    you
    and
    your
    dad……..
    xox
    ***

  • No words, no proverbs, no explanation for me, and I would even say, no need for circumstances, as death will befall us, no matter how.

    Thanks Marc for sharing the love.

  • Marc ,
    So sad ,yet the things that you’ve shown make me think about what we all have in common more than what separates us , I recognized my own father in many of the pictures and the “secrets” that fathers put away for their sons to discover, boys who only know them as Dad and can never comprehend the life that went on before we sons came along and were too young to realize.
    A great piece!

    Cheers Glenn

  • marc

    beautiful essay

    my brother was born on the fourth of july…

    today his first son was born on 9/11

    again, as always, life and death go hand in hand

    much respect

  • for me this collection transcends the event, as mentioned before.. although i can understand how the event makes the work more relevant for many.
    it has the power to trigger recognition from anyone who has lost someone and subsiquently gone through the trial of collecting and archiving the remnants of their life..
    there is little stranger than getting to know someone further after they have passed on, especially a father for a son.

    thanks marc – i’ll now delve into the god-box of my late father possetions right now.. 18 years and counting..

    anton – congratulations to your brother :ø)

  • I understand that this is a very conceptual project that has an extremely strong personal meaning to the photographer. I can imagine that a project like this applies to many who lost loved ones in the WTC attacks, or who have lost loved ones in general. my heart goes out to them.

    However, to me, these photos/documents/etc. are very personal and I would not want such information to be spread around the internet (again…this is just my point of view) In addition, I am not a big fan of taking photos of photos…

  • Great, beautiful, very moving. Amazing how found imagery can tell a story and still be visually appealing at the same time.

  • MARC! :))))))

    in much fewer words ;)), i just want to tell u how proud of i am of you and this story….it’s magisterial, generous, beautiful and extraordinarily moving…and i know how proud your father is of you as well….

    it was a honor to work with you amigo…

    hugs
    bob

  • I don’t know how much this sort of thing has spread, but the past two funerals I attended in the midwest featured very similar slideshows documenting and testifying to the lives of the deceased. With the advent of inexpensive scanners and simple photo editing tools like iPhoto, there’s at least one person in any family capable of making a deeply moving statement about life and death through photography. It’s become a very powerful form of folk art that is open to just about everybody and to which just about everybody is receptive. I think Marc’s essay is a very good example of that art, and the craft as well.

    And of course I offer my condolences. Although those types of essays work no matter the cause of death, I was there on 9/11 and will never forget what it feels like (indescribably sickening) to watch those buildings burn knowing that thousands are dying horrible deaths inside. Picking up my daughter from school just after the first tower collapsed, I saw several children in the office whose parents worked at the WTC. They were crying inconsolably. It had to be especially wrenching for those unfortunate enough to have loved ones there. I understand how hard it can be to let go of that day. For many of us, I think creating works of art proved helpful.

    Nice written essay, too.

  • By creating a work of art work a new journey is undetaken to ports unknown…… in scribe, object,image………..

  • It’s a wonderful and quite interesting homage to a person who has died who the photographer knew well. I don’t think it tells much about the man but i think its remarkable how you can make a wonderful photo essay out of such dry objects as certificates of this and that and a few snapshots. I particularly love the opening text but I didn’t know what it was or what it signified until about half way through Bob’s essay which I read afterwards. I wouldn’t have minded knowing that this was something he read daily earlier on because in my haste i applied perhaps too much value to the words of those texts to the meaning of the essay. Now i see that the texts on those two pages are perhaps not very important or telling about the man himself.

    Its interesting what Michael Webster says. I have only seen one other photo essay of a person’s life after death, told from snapshots. I think the merit of this one is in the technical quality of the pictures and for me the unusual dryness of the objects chosen to be photographed. Normally, you’d expect lots of snapshots but not all this documentation. This is a story told in sparing detail. I don’t know why you would have chosen to do it this way. Whether there were not many snapshots, or whether you just wanted to show the major milestones of your father’s life and preserve his privacy. Its not a portrait. It is most definitely not a portrait. I feel I know almost nothing about this man’s inner life. And that i find interesting because it seems to be a deliberate choice. Or if it is a portrait its like a minimalist photo-essay portrait. The fact that you haven’t talked about your father at all in accompanying text emphasises that. Did you ever read Pierre Bordieu’s Essay on photography? and I wonder if it has influenced you at all?

  • Thank you for sharing, Marc. Makes me think more, and feel more, on the glimmer of goodbye.
    And Bob, wonder-ful writing to accompany this piece by Marc.

  • i suppose its difficult to say anything to an essay that starts with “When our father died in the Twin Towers attack on 9/11,”. Anything negative would seem out of place and insensitive. but….this collection of objects just does not speak to me. The deceased is, after all, a stranger to me. his belongings have no meaning to me, photographicly or otherwise. there are many ways of remembering and trying to understand, i guess, and this is certainly no less valid than my own approach, but it feels like it is nothing to do with me. And why should it be? [except that its presented as an essay here]
    I really do hope that marc can get some sort of closure out of what he is doing here, and that it does not leave too many unanswerable questions.
    john

  • im actually stunned. i’ve heard once a friend of mine gave a short speech on fathers day. he said, imagine your father being at your age and then, when he was 20 or a teenager, and then, when he was a little boy. how often we as children of our parents forget that our fathers were once children too. as Bob rightly pointed in his writing : Most of the stories about death are narrated from the point of view of the survivor”. this essay told me a story about your dad as if i had a chance to meet him. im very happy you shared it.

  • Powerful stuff Marc.

    A reminder to us all to document our own lives and of those we love.

    BTW Marc, I hope you have since removed those photos from those wax-stick photo albums.

  • MARC

    I have participated in a good number of commemorative events on the anniversary of this most tragic moment in our country’s history, but never before have I felt as deeply touched by the persons we were remembering. In this chapter of your book on September 11, you have brought to life just one man, but by doing so you have brought to life each sister and brother we lost on that bright blue-skied September day. “Artifacts” shows in a simple straightforward way not just the breadth and depth of each life but the wonder of life itself. This is a monumental work and you are a courageous man to be taking it on. Rather than trying to forget the pain, you are diving right into it. This is where great art is born. It is also where authentic healing takes place. I have found in my own work that the most powerful subject we can photograph is the one that causes us the most personal discomfort. My heartfelt gratitude goes to you for daring to turn your camera and keep it focused on just such a subject. Your book will provide healing for more people than you can ever imagine. It is a true gift.

    BOB B

    Your reflections on Marc’s loss and the work that is emerging from it are among the most profoundly authentic and poetic I have ever read on the subject of life and death. Thank you, dear Bob, for allowing yourself to feel his pain so thoroughly and to write from that place. It is a radiant document that will speak to all who can listen with their hearts. You are not just an excellent writer and artist/photographer but a magnificent human being, one who expresses the inexpressible and does your very best to walk your talk. I admire you greatly.

    Patricia

  • Marc, I am so sorry for your loss, but your father lives through this beautiful essay assembled here.

    Peace be with you.

  • MARC,
    Sorry for your and all others loss.
    This is documentary at it’s best.

  • Marc, I admire your strength and ability to share. It is nice to see such a fitting to tribute to a man I know as a colleague of my mother’s and a friend and neighbor to me.

  • having just finished a visit to my first family home and my 91 yr old gram with an envelope of photos out of the attic, I felt a closeness to you and the images and artifacts from your father..before I left, 10 minutes before leaving I was asking gram to tell me quickly quickly who was by my great grandmother’s side and who owned this or that house, this small baby is who?? what wonderful images you have of your dad. whenever I see images of someone I know, taken before I was born or old enough to recall, there is a powerful sense of being given a gift, a glimpse into a secret, there are so many clues, so much information real or perceived, things that fill the holes and the gaps of our not knowing. and for me it becomes that when a person has passed or slipped out of my life, looking at images of them when we shared our lives together, suddenly the photos hold revelations. my father is no longer living, and I have but a single handful of photos of his life; yours are treasures.

    bob, I haven’t had time to read your essay, but I know it was done with love and deep consideration for Marc and his dad and for us all..

  • Marc,
    Excellent!
    Nir

  • Hey David,

    did you get my e-mail a few days ago?

  • I’m sorry, wrong thread. Please erase the above.

    I watched this one several times and I must say it moved me. Joni asked who I identify with and I identify with the father here. I guess it is natural since I am a father myself that I have these feelings. I thinkl because it was easy to identify with the father that this essay moved me so much. I think it is a great job to put something so strong together from what are really random pieces…perhaps that shows that nothing is really random? Everything has a meaning and purpose, or can be assigned a meaning within a context of other things. I disagree with David Bacher about this being too personal, I think it shows great courage and is a great tribute to your father that you put this out here for scrutiny.

    Again, sorry for the above message, it was a mistake.

  • This essay around this topic “death and memmory” is beautifull. Death is what wait all of us, and the death of our father is in the order of the things. On that point I am very disturbed by the link done with 9/11?

    Memory, history, I perfectly understand the point but I deeply think that this memoirs exist everywhere. For a regular death, natural, accidental, as in all destroyed houses of Palestine you find child school bag, drawings, dolls.. Like everyday, in Irak for the millions of fathers or mothers who lost their child…in the natural opposite flow.

    Perhaps I am wrong but this essay would be quiet more strong without all that reminder with 9/11…

    Anniversary are very usefull for giving a “press” interest…it sound little bit opportunist for me as far as this is too recent facing the world memory. And it make me think of a certain materialist and egoist world… This kind of personnal experience will be really stronger if done also with the same history from an Iraky son who lost in father…

    I am kind of tired with self history..

  • In the flow of my previous post I didn’t stop thinking about that “essay”. I feel really disturbed by the fact nobody react by one important thing that should appear in that specific publication.

    Perhaps, and that definitely great for you, most of you don’t loosed her or his father/mum. But for all those who already know what is it to loose someone like your father too quick, by accident, without having the time to say most of the things or even to know him.

    For those who lived this tragedy, those people know what is to enter in an empty house, open box as you where a stranger, fall on crasy letter , etc etc,found the un-offical photo album… This become the same… But to my eyes, I don’t know why dead people should desserv at least 50 years of silence. And here is only 10 years…very short…

    And then came the private life. Marc’s father seem to have both nationality USA/Israel; then we all know that the 9/11 was a war attack from some crasy islamist agaisnt what USA was representing (I hope not anymore…) and it evident position in the middle east.

    So to me, using this story like that is really disturbing, Marc’s father memory is used finally to make propagande under the fundation who help him to make that would help him also to go in all the destroyed houses in the middle east and start collecting things that relate with others memory. This will be more serious facing the use with the 9/11….

    This make all this personnal and tragic history, that I deeply respect not well used… It makes Marc’s father a war victim finally, a collateral damage or “the price to pay” of Madeleine Allbright and I don’t know if I woudl be happy that my sons use my private life for such a cause.

  • Very touching.

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