Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Once upon a time a poet and an artist got together...

Self Portrait by Carol Sawyer
Just over two years ago I found this photograph on the web. The encounter was almost that random. A year earlier, a friend of a friend had sent me Carol Sawyer's email address and told me Carol was a photo historian and might have information for me on Hannah Maynard, a Victorian photographer of the 19th century who worked in Victoria, B.C. At the time I was writing a sequence of poems on Maynard.

And Carol did know quite a bit about women photographers in British Colombia. In fact, she was also generous with her knowledge. And so a year later, when I surely was meant to be doing something else, I googled photography and Carol Sawyer. The images I found fixed me in their gaze. I felt more connected to this piece in particular than anything I had ever seen on a computer screen.

Carol is a performance artist, a singer in an avant-garde jazz band, professor, and stellar photographer.  I wrote my first fan letter to Carol asking if she would consider a collaboration with me. We wrote back and forth for a few months until we could finally clear our calendars to meet.
When Carol's husband asked her about me, their guest for the next few nights, Carol told him the truth, "I met her on the internet."

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During that visit we created a still life together and realized that collaboration was possible. A half a year later, Carol came down to Seattle and we collaborated on a show at Highline College where I work. We led a workshop together on artistic collaboration, created a show in the gallery, and played well together.
You can see the poet and the photographer in the gazing ball

We did a fair amount of asking and answering questions about what our collaboration might look like. As the writer, I wanted to make sure that the collaboration went both ways. In other words, I wanted for us both to create art inspired by the other's work. And it worked. In fact,  during my visit to Vancouver we created a still life together and realized that collaboration was possible. 

Carol took a line from my poem "Try to be Done Now with Words," a line I particularly liked:

"Double note of window and world"  and created this photograph.



Looking back over the Powerpoint we created, some of the elements we said made for a successful collaboration included: a sense of humor, willing to go into the unknown, and generosity. This week two of our collaborations were published at the wonderful resource Ekphrastic.Net and another one is coming in September from the LA Review. 

My hope is that we will continue this collaboration for a long time to come. And one of the things no one tells you about collaboration: in the best of circumstances you find a new friend. A friend that "gets" your art --- a friend that becomes your friend because of the art that you do. 

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