rowan james – trespassers will be shot

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Rowan James

Trespassers Will Be Shot

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This body of work is a photographic survey of the American landscape. It weds traditional documentary photography and my own inclination toward cinematic, or dreamlike, imagery. The project was inspired by years of traveling throughout the country, particularly in the southern United States.

These photographs were shot spontaneously. They demonstrate an intuitive appraisal of their subject matter. While the narrative structure of this work is intentionally abstract, it also presents themes that steadily develop as the series unfolds.

 

Bio

Rowan James is a photographer currently residing in Tennessee. He received a B. A. from the University of Michigan-Dearborn, and an M. A. in Photography from the Savannah College of Art and Design. His new body of work is a meditation on the American landscape.

Rowan’s photographs have been exhibited throughout the United States including San Francisco, Atlanta, Minneapolis, Chicago, and New York.

 

57 Responses to “rowan james – trespassers will be shot”


  • OK. Wait a minute.

    I am going to assume that photo 11 is not set up.

    If that is the case I have a question.

    How can anyone come across a scene like this, photograph it, and just come away with “anonymous?”

    Really?

  • There is a palpable eeriness to this set of photos that i really like.
    Rowan James looks like a fan of lynch.
    I sure do not want to be caught sneaking around those parts of the woods!
    #7 “night of the living dead” ;-)
    #3 I can’t say why i like it so much….i just do.
    This essay is a good segue to October!

  • Well, I don’t get it. But, I live in rural America, so this is everyday stuff in our county. Folks pull up to the front door of the newspaper so we can get photos of their dead deer for the annual “Big Rack” contest. lol

  • 11 looks like taxidermy to me.

  • Vague and open artist statements are often, in my opinion, a futile effort to articulate a series of images that otherwise would not work together as an essay. I am not saying that this is the case, but there is certainly nothing unfolding here yet (at least not for me).

    This said, I like some of the images, especially #2 and #3.

  • The statement is nothing grand, but I think that’s of little consequence. The work that I find myself most drawn to (in general) is the stuff that doesn’t need so much explanation and is inherently personal. This work seems like a simple, honest extension of the Rowan’s view of the world, and it’s a haunting and somewhat surreal view. I don’t really see this as a piece on the American landscape (in terms of subject matter it unites the images but it doesn’t seem to do much more than that), but just as a Rowan’s personal travel journal, something like that. Sure the concept is nothing new but the work is never the same if it’s done by a new person following their own unique intuitions. Sometimes I feel that it’s a shame that we always expect a statement to go with the work.

    For what it is there are some really nice and intriguing frames. I like this essay and the fact that it’s not trying to be anything other than what it is, if that makes sense. 2,10,12 are my favorite single images. Rowan I hope you keep making these images until your day is done.

  • Yup, this is just so bizarre. It confirms my impressions about the surreal nature of rural southern America. I love each one of these images on their own. As a series, they fit together wonderfully. I know I too often use comparisons, but here, Robert Frank springs immediatly to mind.
    Jim, we are all probably missing the obvious in our own little universes. If this is the stuff of your daily reality, you’ve got to know how out there it appears to some of us. This is a great example of how we need to become aware of the extra-ordinary in our own particular neighborhoods and lives. No place is ordinary.

    Wonderful stuff Rowan, would love to see more.

  • When I read the title, “Trespassers will be shot,” I though, damn! this guy has beaten me to the punch and put out an essay on Wasilla before I did.”

    Then I read, “particularly the southern United States…” and I thought, “whew!”

    Then I looked at the images and it felt oddly like it feels here in Wasilla, right now, with the light waning, a chill wind blowing, tearing yellow leaves from the birch, cottonwood and aspen to send them tumbling here and there. We don’t have any graveyards that look like that one and the vegetation is very different and it would be a moose, caribou or bear head but still, somehow, it feels like right here, right now.

    So maybe it is a study of the American landscape.

    I like the feeling in it a lot.

  • I like this essay. I came looking for landscapes and I also found something else. It’s many years since I’ve been back to the USA and even more since I grew up there, so I find these images unusual. I don’t find eyeball kicks in these images but they grow on me so I they must be eye candy. The sort you suck on in your mouth and all of a sudden it refreshes you – peppermint. I see photos where James keeps a distance with the subject and I keep getting an urge to get closer to find out what’s going on and it makes me uncomfortable, perhaps that’s intentional. I wish I could see more photos, these are not enough, I need more, I’m enjoying myself and I also need to know why that guy hangs a deer heads from his washing line :). Maybe James is too nice perhaps he needs to be as Anders Petersen says “Be a little more horrible. Yes?”
    I like it!

  • Gordon, I guess my problem is that the “bizarre” is what many photographers choose to focus on in rural America. While these scenes are familiar ones here, our small county also has almost 300 working artists, a successful and busy art gallery, etc. I realize this is the photographer’s personal take, and that’s cool. He has no obligation to exhaustively reflect the reality of rural America in the 21st century in this small group of photos.

    Many of these images are humorous to me because they ARE familiar. I can understand why some would say they are bizarre. I don’t see much of an “essay” though.

  • JIM…

    i think you are quite correct in terms of what some may find bizarre or interesting…in my world travels , whenever i shoot people they always ask why i am finding their particular activity interesting since for them it is routine…they always want to know why in the world a photographer would come all the way from America to photograph their routine walking on fire ceremony or whatever…

    and yes, it is the nature of most photographers to try to find something “different” or what they perceive as a reflection of how they see things in general..to be considered special..special seeing.

    i would still love love to see your take on the “ordinary” in your small town..if you just photographed ten ordinary things in your town, THAT would be an essay..maybe one of these days i can convince you to do it…honestly would like to see it Jim…

    the word essay is always restrictive one way or another…maybe we should use collection instead of essay…but then collection sounds stuffy…in any case, like Gordon , i do see at least “connective tissue” in this essay..and i am always a sucker for Americana anyway…was just doing it myself in Moville, Iowa..got love it…even the bad pictures are good..but i digress..

    our main beef here on Burn is almost always with the artist statements…almost never satisfactory to anyone…my big job on Burn 02 was focusing on what the photographers wrote…this is a serious full time job…most photographers can neither write about themselves nor edit their own work…i did not say all, i said most…i think “most” is quite fair…writing about motives is tricky…and most want to beat around the bush or sound intellectual…hell, photography is a gut level art…feeling it, not thinking about it..better to let others describe the meaning of your pictures…besides if you write about the subject instead of about yourself, you will in fact reveal yourself in the very best way…

    anyway Jim i think i will be meeting you soon…looking forward

    cheers, david

  • Speaking of weirdness and the deep south… Someone, I cannot remember who, mentioned a documentary to me called “Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus.” Finally got a chance to see it last week (netflix) and I recommend it. It is a 2005 BBC documentary on a journey through contemporary Southern America. Very quirky and very cool in the way it was filmed.

    I will say though that after watching it I feel the movie should have been named “I have Jesus in my trunk.”

    As someone who has lived there, it is the best movie I have seen that captures the creepiness of the deep south perfectly.

  • This work looks oddly familiar to my own backyard in rural Pacific Northwest, and perhaps to some of my own work. I appreciate more and more just straight ahead seeing. Here it is.

  • I don’t think it’s particularly difficult to discern themes and several possible titles spring to mind. Perhaps “Death and the Transitory Nature of Manufactured Housing?” If not the good old standby, “Them Yokels Sure is Weird.” Okay, I think not. Or something to do with the nature of primitive art in rural America. Deer heads are popular objets d’art. And rural Americans often arrange industrial detritus in an amusing manner. Or if it’s just about how tough it is to be a deer in these climes, the current title does suffice.

    I simultaneously agree with Jim that nothing in this set is particularly bizarre and David that what’s familiar for thee may appear bizarre to me and think that’s where the photographer’s craft comes into play. I see the photographer’s intent to portray these scenes as bizarre, but otherwise, any bizarre nature of the work escapes me. First, the image must stand as an abstract, as a conglomeration of lines and colors that don’t represent anything in the natural world. Then it’s possible to enjoy the deeper levels of cultural abstraction. That’s where this essay falls a bit short for me. The images are, for the most part, straightforward. The object of our attention, their meanings, are front and center. With the notable exception of #5, of course. But it’s a good effort in that direction, visually. A very good effort, intellectually.

    As for the artist statement, I think its fair to judge it as an integral part of the work, unless we know for a fact that some gallery or curator required some kind of convoluted academic speak that uses a lot of big words to convey nothing. In this case, we know for a fact that that was not a requirement. But at least this one was short. Still, its pretentious nonsensicality still detracts from the work. I know I’m not the first to note that a master’s degree is pretty much the bane of clear writing about art.

  • I once spoke to a girl who attended a Keith Carter workshop and she told me he used to remind the pupils everytime they went out working on their essays to look at the world as if they were Martians who had landed last night for the first time on earth…

  • I would also like to know about the deer heads…I’m assuming they are trophies for a wall?

  • Hey Jim, crazy thought. How about a collaborative piece on hunters- Texas and Washington- you’ve got them coming to your front door and I’ve already been working toward doing portraits of hunters with their game for the” brag board” at the country store up the road. Hunting season is just about to kick off here in a big way- it’s a way of life every fall for many, and feeds many families through the winter. Think about it. Seriously. Both the similarities and differences could be interesting.

  • You know, the possibilities of an annual Big Rack contest are so great I don’t know where to start. As for Rowan’s essay, it looks a lot like rural New York to me, so maybe I’m just missing the creepiness and the weirdness of it all. I suppose if you spend all your time amongst the creeps and weirdoes, they start looking normal to you…unless they’re mutants, and then you start noticing them.

  • The author said his work “weds traditional documentary photography and my own inclination toward cinematic, or dreamlike, imagery” I think everything is explained. I really like this essay. I find it quite poetic. It has not a clear speaking line, but personally, I don’t look for that when I see a photographic work.

    Do you?

    Best
    Brandán

  • lol. Sorry, Akaky, these are the only racks we run in our paper! But your idea sounds good, too. :)

    http://tcbhost.net/bigrackwinner.jpg

  • Jim
    Yes, I suppose there is always the danger of outsiders judging us based on a limited point of view. If we focus on weirdness, we will find it anywhere we care to look. The whole spectrum is rarely represented, although in fairness NatGeo tries.
    The other side of the coin is that you are not likely to find any trailers, deer head, or otherwise creepy/weirdness in a tourist oriented magazine or coffee table book extolling the wonders and the culture of the south (or anywhere else).

  • Rowan’s essay resonates deeply with me – mainly because of the style of his work and the technical beauty of the photographs. Partly, and selfishly, because of the delight of seeing a Southern photographer on burn that confirms and validates many of my own images. I’m grateful for seeing this particular essay on burn because it’s helped me to find direction in my own work.

    Like Brandan,I find the key sentence in his statement is “It weds traditional documentary photography and my own inclination toward cinematic, or dreamlike, imagery.” I necessarily don’t find the deerhead images bizarre, and from Rowan’s statement and the rest of the essay, I don’t think he does either. Maybe it’s because I’m accustomed to their peripheral existence – just as often as tokens of a job accomplished on any given day in hunting season as trophies – but their function in the essay seems to be part of the documentary photography that Rowan references. They’re here, they’re there, in the yard, on a line, mounted on the wall, laying in the garage, sitting on top of corn and peas when the freezer is opened, and in this essay – part of the cinematic imagery Rowan sees.

    The images work as an essay for me because I’m not necessarily searching for a “coherent, linear story” that is the prototypical photo essay model. Instead, I perceive the response and evocation of each photograph to complete the essay – that’s why I’d have to disagree with Ramon that “certainly nothing unfolding here yet.” Each of these images, and the essay as a whole, evoke a sublime, naturalistic experience that is as much a part of the essay as the images themselves.

    Congratulations to Rowan for being published on burn; I’d love to see more of his work.

  • Part of my comment makes no sense now…..the order changed.
    here is the revisited comment ;-)

    #1 “night of the living dead” ;-)
    #4 I can’t say why i like it so much….i just do.

    ahhh…much better.

  • It’s nice to see a bit of a discussion on a paradox of the photographic world. While some people need a statement of intent by the artist to appreciate the work and not disregard it, others will simply dive into the work regardless of any type of mental construction/gymnastics. In my opinion the words here slide nicely into the middle. Rowan is following his intuition which is what I appreciate most. There seems to be no pretense either. This works parallels my strong belief that life is about exploration and understanding of others outside our own realm. All that said I don’t agree fully with the idea that photography is purely an emotional art. Ideally, I would like not only to feel something but to think something as well.

  • Nothing in these photos struck me as weird… dreamlike, sometimes, but not weird. The fact that it does strike others as weird just highlights to me the detachment that modern, city life has brought to so many even as it has separated them from the basic realities of their own survival.

  • Frostfrog…

    Weird is just a matter of comfort or discomfort, isn’t it? What are you comfortable with? Taxidermy, hunting, eating road kill? Or are you more comfortable with shopping at Trader Joe’s and eating sushi at a nice restaurant? Something entirely different? I suspect Mr Anonymous in #11 would think most of NY City to be rather weird, eh?

    And what do you mean by “separated them from the basic realities of their own survival.”? You aren’t suggesting we all go back to the good ol’ hunter/gatherer days are you? ;^}

  • “You’ve got to lie to stay halfway interested in yourself.”-— Barry Hannah

    “Speaks well of a man to need a little something in this world. I wouldn’t trust a man who could git through it cold sober.”–Harry Crews

    “The Southerner is usually tolerant of those weaknesses that proceed from innocence.”–Flannery O’Connor

    I learned to listen to stories from living and traveling nearly my entire life through the South, sitting down upon a land kudzu’d with tales and variety scrappings made verdant and viral from all the meandering being done through the tops of trees, the knees of the oxbow’d rivers and juke-jism’d joints, the barbeque and the slaw, the pecans crisp with honey like a dead pirates tooth, only sweeter to the bite, the swollen seaside sandbanks along the Carolinas and the tarpin ochre and greens deep in the curve of the places’ bellies. It is a place constructed and rearranged by a (in this modern age) nearly deranged sense of the importance of the word, speaking in tongues if you’ll have at it with some Pentecostal folk, the priority and probity of the tale: name, river, tree, sauce, ghost, slave, chain, swelter of tale and wagger of nail: my South uncontainable.

    What i love about Rowan’s piece (besides that magnificent first name) is that although the photographs are not specifically any more about the South than say BBQ in Toronto is about Carolina BBQ, what the pictures and their familying together does attest to is a kind-kinship with the marrying of seemingly irreconcilable elements that dovetail into a beautifully odd (not weird) story, that get’s it true grit from the gathering of those elements, those moments, those people in one sit-down tale. Call it what you will, but Rowan sees a story in the collision of the offkilter: pairing Cormac McCarthy’s Moonshine Racing Road (The Orchard) with Harry Crew’s turbine=flash lit spit, backlit, with some bbq/stove/detritus mountaining some statuary in a year-yard as if Ignatius J. Reilly very own. The very sequence is enough to make me all giddy….

    Having just returned from 10 days vacationing with my mother and brother and assorted friends and family in the Carolinas (charlotte and charleston, folly and edisto), this piece just plucked me at the perfect time. I’m sure for some all the tropes of ‘southern reality’ (I do not know what that is, in truth, as it’s usually a lie concocted by folk who haven’t spent much downhometime there to begin with) in this series will resonate with their sense of Southern Gothic. But let’s get it straight: there aint nothing gothic about the South or any place for that matter, but only in the cornices of all our hearts and hums that drum up the life. There is as much tincan detritus in Ontario as there is in any country road in georgia or kentucky or alabama, or maybe Ontarians squirrel it away better. What the South does have though, What the south does call upon those who live and spent time there is to listen and to slow, to savor what has gone before (absalom, absalom) even toward bewilderment and to share those stories. And because southern folk tend to be more closely bound to the stories of the towns/cities/land in my experience (having lived north and south, east and west), bound in the sense of weened upon their telling, the oddity of life seems to just be part and parcel of what is accepted. Rather: one can appreciate both the Charleston porch light by Magnolia and Palmetto and the swaying spit of bourbon on a backporch during the hunting thunderstorm. Modern and antiquated, refined and sloppy, slow and jiggered, spirited and lazy’d, haunted and enlivened, cuttled and freed, its great dichotomy.

    And that eye for the twin beauty is right here, in both what Rowan has chosen to shoot and how Rowan has put them together in their juxtaposition, their merrytelling. And why shouldn’t a beheaded/prepped dear awaiting taxidermy not settle right in next to the morning sun posting its hymn over the crown of a glorious tree. The pictures are shot without fanfare or mannered pyrotechnics and yet their simple and sly iconography sticks in the crawl, whether extraordinarily poetic (the tree of life, the tendered barn, the kudzu swaying), black-humor’d (the spit, mr. anonymous, mountain of junk) or sociological (heart/road/wreath/cemetary) and they add up to a kind of haunting, a road trip of the kind that seemed to be so much of my own childhood and continued into adulthood. The bend in the oxbow’d tale.

    And it just feels right, part Meatyard part Christenberry part Eggleston and a whole lot of stories, novels and poems all cascading this…..i want to see this MOVIE! :))))….just feels so right to me…

    my only lament: not enough pictures…(i’m a broken record)….

    it is a lyrical understanding of place, a sequence that moves both the quotidian and the out-of-place toward the step of beauty….ordinary toward the extraordinary and soulful….

    a metaphor: the cicada…

    the cicada’s late afternoon wisp is like a racket of sound ratcheting its spiral buzz increasingly spellbound, like teeth being rattled in a plastic jar and spun cylindrically until the sound becomes a kind of cracking….parsed, it makes no sense that the cicada’s hum is so calming because it resonates more like a howl, and yet, beneath the tree shaded by the canopy of sound and buttoned by the grass, is there no greater comfort than that noise wing-banged into song…..

    that is how this sequence works on me……wing-banged into beauty and loss…a kind of haunting, without the terror or ghosts…but the brisket is fine as butter and spit…

    congratulations Rowan…great to see this here…
    cheers
    bob

  • and a note about the documentary that Pete Mentioned: Searching for the Wrong Eyed Jesus….

    I also loved it…but it isn’t entirely about the South…it’s a small section of the south and for that a very small idea of the south: about Music and Pentecostals…there is no mention of black folk or other kinds of Southern Music or much of the other important aspects of the south…but it is worth just hearing Harry Crews tell a story…

    I hate that people think the South is only THIS…the south, like all places is a place for each and every demarcation…no more about speaking in tongues or hillbillies or tin junk and jukejoints than ny…those are part…but just as Rowan’s work is not about the ‘South’ per se, but is another beautiful story told from a Southern Point of View…and that is important when looking…

    so, if you want, here is the documentary in full:

    http://www.humyo.com/F/6857833-245588425/ZWNkY2Q2MTYwNDIzOGM5ZTZmYWE5MmMxYTE3MjUxN2Q=

    and then watch Invisible Girlfriend…my favorite documentary of 2009…..(won’t describe it, just find it!)
    cheers
    bob

  • The interior dashboard of #1 strikes me like a 1980 ish Chevrolet Caprice Classic. Fond memories……

  • BOB..

    nice..you have the perfect handle on the South…if God dropped out of the sky right now and said in a roil of thunder “David , you must photograph only one thing the rest of your life..what will it be ?” my answer would be..the South..

  • DAVID :))))

    thanks amigo…the question from god: me too amigo, me too :))…and for you, can’t think of a better place for you as well…and can’t wait to get some porch time with you in Nags, since Irene kinda of screwed up the plan to sit with y’all…next year summer for sure…i may come sooner than summer, will write you at the end of the month :))

  • Michael, I guess I am fortunate in that regard as I blur the lines you reference. I love and am quite comfortable dining on sushi in a fine restaurant, just as I am dining on the boiled maktak (skin and blubber) pulled fresh from the steaming pot even as the hunters still labor to the pull the whale from the water onto the ice, or of eating it raw and frozen, along with frozen caribou and fish, dipped in seal oil, or with sitting at the table with my Hindu relatives in India eating all vegetarian, spicy hot.

    “You aren’t suggesting we all go back to the good ol’ hunter/gatherer days are you? ;^}”

    I did not even imply such a thing. How could I have when I referred to the “basic realities of their own survival”? This does not suggest they go back to anything. That means their survival, right now. Not back in time, not in the future. It means that so many people who live a modern lifestyle and eat foods almost exclusively from grocery stores and restaurants have lost a basic connection to the reality of that food gets onto their table. Intellectually they know, but spiritually they don’t.

    Hence, they can eat steak or chicken, yet be offended at the cruel hunter who kills his own food. They can live vegan, and feel disdain for the hunter who holds in check the deer population that would otherwise happily consume their vegetarian food and leave them to starve, or the farmer who kills off the rodents and such that would do the same.

    This not a criticism of anyone’s diet. I am happy with people following any diet they want. I’m just saying that many people in modern societies have just lost touch of the basic reality that goes into putting the food they eat on the table.

  • Frostfrog, yup.
    Bob B
    Notwithstanding my on-going appreciation for your insight, and your reluctance to judge, there is, from my point of view, major weirdness going on here. 07, worms/aliens growing out of a head, 11, dis-embodied head, guy with two sizes too small hat in a lawn chair next to a highway, weird. What the hell is with the chain and the whole scene. Actually, dis-embodied heads, animal or otherwise are always, I’m sorry, weird and creepy. (and we do butcher our ducks by lopping off their heads). Finally, not shown, but implied, the title of the essay, “trespassers will be shot”, speaks of the ultimate weirdness of the American pre-occupation with guns, personal security, property ownership, privacy, etc.
    Not to pick on the Americans, my rural northern BC cousins have many of the same attitudes, I find them pretty weird too.

  • “…many people in modern societies have just lost touch of the basic reality that goes into putting the food they eat on the table.”

    That’s true, I suppose. But so what. That’s civilization/modernity. It’s what people are used to. Again, many folks like Anonymous would see city life or modernity as “weird.” The fact is some in here find some of these images peculiar. It’s something they may not be familiar with. They don’t know how to kill and field dress a deer or moose or whatever… and Anonymous likely doesn’t know his sushi from his sashimi.

  • Michael, you set up a false premise about what I stated in order to challenge what I said, so I am glad it is at least somewhat clear to you now. You may be right about Anonymous – you may not. I have pictures of lifelong hunters taken in environments that would look much more primitive to you than this one and you might well make the same judgment of them. But I have eaten sushi and sashimi with many of them, so I know you would be wrong. Also, you seem to think that by observing that people are detached from the basic reality of their own food, I am criticizing them. Again, you are wrong. While I do think a knowledge of how your food gets onto your plate is a good thing and might cause some to be less judgmental of those who live closer to their diet, I was merely making an observation about modern society at large. I was not condemning modern society, just noting a feature of it. Nothing personal.

  • As it is now frame #1, I have been looking more closely at the graveyard scene and I just realized what an utterly brilliant picture it is. Truly brilliant. This brings up another point. I love online digital publishing, but if I had seen that picture for the first time well-reproduced on the printed page, I would have immediately recognized it as a brilliant picture, rather than merely a very good one, which is how it struck me the first time. That is because, on the printed page, it would have arrested my gaze and I would have sat and studied it for awhile. Online, the tendency – my tendency anyway, is to click fairly quickly through a series of pictures and then move on to the next thing.

    However, if I had been able to look at it in full-screen mode, it might also have arrested my gaze. For some reason, as of late, whenever I try to look at a Burn essay in full screen mode, it opens up, the image flashes across the screen and then it collapses right back down to normal mode. I don’t know why. Hey! I am on Safari! I will check Firefox and see if the same thing happens there.

  • Now I am on Firefox – and I upgraded to the latest version – same thing happened. It opened in full screen mode, stayed there for two or three seconds, then collapsed back down to normal viewing mode – just as it does in Safari. This is a pretty recent development. Maybe someone knows why it is happening.

  • Just reinstalled the latest Flash player, too, to make certain it was up to date. Same thing happened. Very frustrating. I want to be able to see all Burn essays in full screen mode.

  • I like the little train :)

  • “When you can assume that your audience holds the same beliefs you do, you can relax a little and use more normal ways of talking to it; when you have to assume that it does not, then you have to make your vision apparent by shock — to the hard of hearing you shout, and for the blind you draw large and startling figures.”
    Flannery O’Connor

  • Bill, it was your words. Just thought I noted an air of superiority. My mistake.

  • Or upon rereading your comments, Bill… maybe not my mistake.

  • I like the slice of life aspect of this essay. Random photos of a certain place. Though, as others have expressed, I don’t see much of a coherent essay.

    I do love 6, 7, and 8.

  • hi Gordon :)

    I understand, but i guess EVERYONE is weird when its unfamiliar and often others (not you of course or commentators either) imply weirdness as some kind of ‘abnormal’ freakish behavior…it’s all in what you see, cause honestly all folk are pretty damn deranged, we merely get accoustomed to our own sense of we’re not OTHER ;))..and for me it is really true about many people’s perceptions about the South…the cliche, when in truth, grits and garclic shrimp in the morning looked pretty weird to my son, just as fish soup and kimchi for breakfast looked weird to me at first too (my korean students), but we just have to see that ways of living are just that: umbilicus….

    the south (at least in the US) for too long has always been papered in the same song from non-southerners, when the richness of the south comes from (to me) its acceptance of the way of life, rather than its rejection (for good and ill)….

    we all like to feel a bit superior to others, alas and unfortunately…

    what makes Rowan’s story so strong (to me) is not only the choice of pictures (talking now about the connection between that road and the magnificent morning tree bathed in tongues of light) and their relationship with others (deer/taxidermy/back of head/spit)…it’s that equality of choice that is so beautiful to me…

    that is Southern storytelling: the sublime with the profane, ….

    its a generosity of vision and acceptance that transcends the darkness, lets say, of Lynch….

    a wide and giving heart and a wide and giving eye :))

  • Every so often the last person in the world you would expect to say something harsh about anyone comes out with an absolute corker. When that happens everyone stops for a minute and looks at the speaker, wondering if they really said what the listeners thought they’d said. Sometimes you shake your head violently from side to side when that happens, as if to free yourself from the waxy build-up of language in your ears and to make sure you heard them right.

    I bring this phenomenon up because it is now deer hunting season here. To celebrate the season’s arrival hunters (and men who want everyone to think they’re hunters but couldn’t find the business end of a rifle if it was pointing right at them) throughout the not very great length and breadth of our little burg are getting their rifles out and cleaning them in happy preparation for the beginning of the hunt, wherein they will take their weapons out into the forest primeval that surrounds us and, like our earliest hunter-gatherer ancestors, get away from their wives for a while and drink extraordinarily large amounts of beer in peace and quiet. In the course of all this gun cleaning and beer drinking and traipsing about the countryside with high-powered weapons a deer occasionally expires from something other than natural causes, however implausible that may seem to the casual observer. That the rounds fired off at the local fauna hit anything other than large topographical features is something of a miracle; anyone with that much beer in them shouldn’t hit anything at all.
    This is yet another from the archives, 2004, to be exact, for those of you who like to be exact about such things, but as it seems to have some relevance here, I will include it in the debate:

    In any case, people have strange ideas about wild animals, especially people who have lived their entire lives in cities. There are no mice like Mickey Mouse, no grizzly bears like Yogi Bear, although grizzly bears may indeed be smarter than your average ranger, and there are definitely no deer like Bambi, but you can’t tell these people such things. They love animals, they’ll have you know, all animals, with the single exception of rats, but they prefer the cute, furry ones most of all. And they think the people who hunt these animals are among the most loathsome wretches that ever walked on two legs.

    I know this because a friend of the family came visiting over the Thanksgiving holiday. She is a very nice woman, a lifelong resident of the great metropolis to the south of us, but not someone at all familiar with strange local customs like shooting animals for fun and profit. After all, this is a place where the municipal shelters and local charities encourage the wholesale slaughter of the indigenous wildlife in order to feed the hungry and homeless. So there’s a bit of a culture clash right there, but a bit of a culture clash does not really describe what our family friend got when she walked into my brother’s garage for something or other after Thanksgiving dinner and saw Bambi’s dad hanging from the rafters with a bullet hole in his side, just waiting for the brother to gut and butcher. She took one look at the buck and then had a conniption of epic proportions. Well, conniption is not really the adjective I’m looking for here and an appropriate one is not coming to mind. The word I’m looking for needs to display some combination of screaming temper tantrum, sputtering hissy fit, and screeching moral outrage blended together with high volume in one very toxic emotional and etymological brew. Conniption doesn’t quite make the grade on this one, I think. As such a word may not exist at all, let’s just say that our metropolitan visitor was unhappy to the nth degree. It’s not everyday that my brother is called a murderer by someone who’s known him all his life, and when my mother tried to explain that deer hunting is not, by any stretch of the imagination, culpable homicide, except to other deer, and that there were entirely too many deer anyway, our visitor looked at my mother as if she were crazier than the love child of Norman Bates and Anna Nicole Smith and said that there were too many kids running around but no one goes around shooting them, do they? This is the remark that caused the previously alluded to state of psychological stasis; not too many people around our happy little burg would think of equating kids with deer.

    I suppose you could make the mental leap; there are times when I know I want to throttle annoying youngsters just for the fun of it, but, on the whole, kids seldom eat your mother’s geraniums, a well known deer delicacy, or saunter out into the middle of the highway at three o’clock in the morning and then stare bug-eyed at the oncoming traffic as the frightened motorists perform automotive acrobatics trying to avoid smacking into them. You may want to run down some cute little tyke anyway; some kids just have it coming. There is also the problem of our local constabulary, who, as officers of the law are wont to do, take a dim view of the whole idea of child hunting and will spend an inordinate amount of time and energy arranging government subsidized housing for those who indulge in this hobby.

    And then there is the problem that my mother spoke of, that of deer overpopulation. This may come as a surprise to many people, but deer inhabit a Malthusian universe: they reproduce to the limit of the food supply and when the food shrinks the population must shrink as well, which, in the wild, is caused by predators and starvation. Well, there aren’t too many natural predators in this neck of the woods, although I do have a swarm of relatives who are always asking for money; that’s the next best thing, I suppose. But unless someone wants to reintroduce timber wolves and mountain lions to the area, which is not going to happen; this is an idea whose time has come and then will go just as soon as the big bad wolf and his friendly neighborhood wolf pack decide that hunting deer, who may not be among the brightest minds in nature but know how to run like hell when something bad is happening, is just plain stupid when they can snack on little Susie Creamcheese playing hopscotch down in the schoolyard. So mountain lions and timber wolves are out, and if they’re not going to do the hunting then humans will have to take up the slack and do the predation thing. The alternative is letting the deer starve to death en masse during particularly bad winters. I am sure that no one wants that to happen, although I must admit I find the idea of turning hungry wolves loose on annoying bands of kids curiously appealing.

  • I wonder why the header appears in the middle of the above. I must look at what I’m sending before I actually send it; it will prevent all sorts of confusion.

  • And yet another bit from the same year that touches on the theme of deer hunting, in a sideways sort of fashion:

    Alcohol consumption is up here in our happy little burg, if the DUI statistics are anything to go by. I can’t explain why this should be so, only that is. The local gendarmes detained some fifty-seven people for driving under the influence within the city limits this past year, which is fourteen more than they stopped last year. So there are either more drunks on the road or the local Finest are getting better at catching them; proficiency in this area, unlike baseball, for example, is hard to measure statistically.

    Still, the presence of such a trend is somewhat disquieting, to say the least. The mixture of alcohol and almost any field of human endeavor you care to mention is almost universally disastrous, unless that field of human endeavor is making an ass of yourself. If that’s your aim, then by all means, top off the twenty Jello shots you’ve had in the past fifteen minutes with another one and a couple of beers for good measure, but before you do, give your best friend the keys to your car, this always assuming that he’s not just as crocked as you are. Otherwise, whatever it is you’re trying to do whilst under the influence, stop trying to do it; you will not succeed.

    One of the many things you should not do while under the influence is watch public television. I’m not speaking here of the children’s programming, which is fairly harmless even when combined with heavy drinking, although the hopelessly intoxicated will want to sing along with big birds and purple dinosaurs, or the political, news, or cultural programming, which alcohol makes even more soporific than it already is, putting the inebriated to sleep and keeping them off the road, thereby serving the greater good by promoting the cause of highway safety. No, I mean public television’s nature and science programming, which no one should watch unless completely sober.

    I bring this up because, as you may know, deer season recently ended here and my brothers, having killed, gutted, butchered, and otherwise disposed of one male deer, decided afterwards that reassembling the deer’s skeleton might be a good idea. They decided to do this on a Saturday afternoon after watching college football and gulped down enough beer to keep a team of Clydesdales scooting back and forth from the brewery for a couple of weeks, give or take a day. With the games over, they apparently turned to public television and watched a program about the deer problem now afflicting those of us here in the northeastern United States (I realize that deer afflict other areas as well, but we also deal with their attendant problems: our county’s leading export is Lyme disease, which we have more of than anyone else in the United States). Having watched the program and come to the conclusion that reassembling the deer’s skeleton would be a good idea; it’d be educational, one brother opined, although we all know what deer look like and don’t need any further exegesis on the subject.

    And as I said, they were in really no condition to tie their shoelaces, much less reassemble a deer. With the courage of their DUI convictions, however, they went out to the garage where the remains of the deer remained and set to work putting Bambi’s dad back together again. As you might imagine, if all the king’s horses and all the king’s men could not put a simple egg back together again, then how much more difficult must it be for a troop of drunks on an educational binge to disunravel a disassembled deer.

    At first, they thought they ought to try to put the meat back on the bones but that failed as they kept slipping in the offal mess they made on the garage floor (yeah, that was bad, I admit it) and then decided to just putting the skeleton back together again. For this purpose, the brothers and company (mostly drinking buddies) cracked out the scotch tape, the glue, and a thousand yard ball of twine that my brother keeps in the hope that someday he might get some use out of it. He bought the ball about five years ago, I think, and I think since then he’s used about forty yards of the stuff. There are only so many things you can use twine for, you know.

    Well, killing a deer is a lot easier than putting one back together again. I know this because my brothers called me down to help them, for reasons I’m pretty sure I don’t understand, since I know absolutely nothing about the anatomy of the white-tailed deer, and I found them in the middle of the garage with large numbers of bones glued together at odd angles and held together with twine and tape. I tried to make some heads or tails of the skeleton because I’m pretty sure they couldn’t, even though I’m no expert. A deer’s skull does not rest on its pelvis, I’m reasonably certain of that, and I am also sure that a deer’s ribs do not emanate from its front legs, but from the spine, the same as other vertebrates. There were also bits I didn’t understand at first, like the use of beer cans for the bones they couldn’t find or had stashed in the refrigerator with the meat still on them, said beer cans being reinforced with sticks and golf clubs. I’m no golfer, but I’m fairly certain that one of the buck’s front forelegs was a five iron.

    “So what do you think,” the brothers and their cohort announced grandly. I was not sure what I thought, or if I should tell men so far in a drunken stupor that they could actually ask me what I thought of their skeletal recreation. I tried to be diplomatic, but I couldn’t think of anything right off the top of my head, which is something that happens to me way too often, I think. In this case, though, the lucky entrance of a wife saved me from having to tell a none too convincing lie. I don’t have a wife, so this is not something I can prove with facts and figures, but it seems that most wives object to trying to clean clothing drenched with deer’s blood. And the brothers and the friendly cohort were dripping with deer’s blood; at least, the parts that hadn’t already dried to their skins dripped. One of the reasons I don’t have a wife is that loud, high-pitched scream that emanates from them when they see something like their husbands covered in deer’s blood, following by ferocious swearing and nagging of a fairly intense nature. I don’t spend a lot of time wallowing in deer’s blood; wallowing as a recreational activity has never really appealed to me, but I think I’ll skip that whole screaming thing, if it’s all the same to you. On the positive side–well, it might be positive; it’s purely a personal opinion, I think; they did manage to use another fifty yards of my brother’s old twine.

  • And now I will stop annoying everyone with my retreads. Thank you and have a nice day.

  • Really wish I had more time today to respond to both Rowan’s essay and to some of the very interesting and loquacious comments above… fact is, I am working under a vert tight deadline so this will have to be uncharacteristically brief, but I want to say, before the trail gets too cold, that so far at least the essay and the comments as a package, as a Burnian event, as an example of the give and take here at its best, is felicitous to my ears. Like Tom Hyde, I could easily envision this same essay being shot in Washington State (particularly Skagit County), or alternatively, like Akaky, in Upstate New York.. I appreciate both Frostfrog and Michael Kircher’s back-and-forth contribution, and Gordon’s and Jim’s responses as well.

    While I would be the first to acknowledge Bob Black’s brilliance, passion, sensitivity, and depth of feeling, I am often not among those so eager to praise his outpourings as nonpareils of the writer’s art… the prose is often excessively purple, the editing and self-restraint non-existent, the typos and bad grammar irritating (yes, I know, some of that is intentional… just makes the rest of it more irritating to me), and there is often something lopsided or disproportionate… Maybe I am overly-critical because others are so full of praise, maybe because he represents himself as a writer and so I think he should be judged as a writer… but all that aside, sometimes he really cuts through his own self-indulgences and offers up a truly beautiful and inspiring statement, and the paean to the South that is his first comment under this essay is perhaps the best pieces of his I have yet read… credit where it is due, Bob, you really hit it perfectly this time. Lapidary prose.

    I don’t find Rowan’s pictures all that weird… looks pretty much like a number of places I know. But I don’t find them particularly profound or eloquent either… but there are some nicely crafted images here. What is interesting to me is that they seem to have set off a number of people and sparked an interesting dialogue, and Rowan certainly deserves credit for that.

    Wish I could expand, but one of my oldest clients who is also a good friend is waiting anxiously for me to finish translating his very long essay under the wire… I’ll be back when the dust settles.

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