How I Became a Photographer:
I grew up in Bexley, Ohio and attended the University of Wisconsin at Madison for my undergraduate work. I received my PhD from the English Department of Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island where I taught courses for seven years as a Teaching Assistant. I continued to teach literature and writing at colleges in the Boston area after I completed my degree but the college job market was tough at that time for us baby boomers. I taught part-time at Boston College and decided to try my hand at writing. I published several articles and feature stories for the Boston Globe Sunday Magazine and for other publications. As a result, I was invited back to Brown University for one term as a Visiting Professor of Journalism. (See resume for details).
In 1988, I acquired my first camera. I had decided to take a break from teaching to write a book and had moved to the fishing village of Menemsha on the island of Martha's Vineyard off the coast of Massachusetts. The cottage I rented had a second floor study with a marvelous view of the harbor; and while I joke that I became a photographer because of writer's block, the true answer has more to do with what I saw through that window. I was working on a book about the Vietnam War which I found to be a very depressing topic, and I looked forward each day to my one reprieve which I saw arrive through my window: at 4:00 p.m., the fishing boats return to the harbor with their catch of the day. I was mesmerized by the red buoys on board the boats; at that time of day, with the sun shining directly on the red buoys, a powerful set of reflections is produced that elicits a sound I can only describe as that of a siren -- not a loud annoying siren but a Siren like the ones in Ulysses -- a sound that neither he nor I could resist.
I grabbed my camera and walked down to the harbor where I took my first photographs of red buoys. I snapped when I heard the sound of red. I noticed that reflections on the surface of the sea stimulate my synesthesia. I found myself literally unable to keep my lens above sea level; I'd try to take normal pictures but before I knew it, I'd be aiming below, down at the water no matter what my intention. I felt positively compelled to document, in photographs, the source of those synesthetic responses though I didn't think of it in that way at the time.
I knew that I had no choice so I surrendered to what I think of as my "have to": the same internal voice that has told me, from earliest childhood, what and how to write now commanded me in this new medium to regard my synesthetic responses as reliable signals for when to click the shutter. I used synesthesia to teach myself photography and use it to take my pictures today. I shoot a picture when I hear a chord of color which, for me, is not a metaphor but the way I perceive the world. I named myself a professional Reflectionist (a word I made up) when I chose to ignore subjects above see/sea level and focus my attention on reflected versions which better match the way the experience feels.
My first exhibition was held in in 1993. Since that time, I have had other solo exhibits and my "paintings by camera" (as I think of my photographs) have been shown in galleries, profiled in articles, featured in films and in many books. The first book was written by a fellow synesthete, a wonderful writer who has become a close friend, Patricia Lynn Duffy who devotes a chapter to my work in Blue Cats and Chartreuse Kittens. My art work is featured in many documentary films though interestingly, the first one focused not on my synesthesia but on my dreams, specifically on how I use dreams in my work.
I have become a professional speaker on how I use my synesthesia to create my art work: a slide presentation with a detailed explanation of which synesthetic response was responsible for which image. I sometimes add a short film at the end in which I match music to my images, the reverse of how I take the images -- but then, my synesthesia works in both directions (known as bidirectional synesthesia).
I see with my ears and I hear with my eyes.
Living on Martha's Vineyard when I first looked through a lens was a perfect match for my interior life; and while it appears I am photographing the landscapes around me, the truth is, I am photographing my emotions. As I have recently moved back to Columbus, Ohio where I grew up, I am curious to discover what will capture my attention now. Please feel free to contact me with questions and I thank you for visiting; the truth is, it is through our exchange that I learn which makes the joy of teaching all the sweeter.
For more details about my background please visit my Resume page and Abstracts and Lecture pages.