You aren’t exposed, then you are. In the most fundamental sense, it’s a bridge that collapses behind you. Given that we begin in a womb, and that a womb is darkness, then birth, the coming of light, is trauma. These photographs were taken in the mid 1980s in Lincoln, Nebraska. Rita Ann Cihlar Hermann was working three jobs, trying to negotiate her place in the world. As are the people that she photographed. With unsure faces, they try to exert a physical presence. But the camera, quite literally, sees through them.
When exposed to light, photosensitive film gradually moves from light transparence to dark opacity. Representation lies between there these two poles, and is threatened by different quirks of the medium. Blurring and double exposure are several among many. While these are often considered a defect, the blur or the faulty exposure represent the resistance of the mechanical. The medium is not transparent; it has limits that must be considered.
Wikipedia has this to say about intentional uses of the multiple exposures: The technique can be used to create ghostly images or to add people and objects to a scene that were not originally there. It is frequently used in photographic hoaxes. It also is sometimes used as an artistic visual effect, especially when filming singers or musicians.
The camera’s orneriness nature is used, like a bloodhound, to capture those living on a different plane: the nation’s ghosts or jazz singers. Then there are the dropouts and hometown heroes. Many in this country are struggling to get out or in to the frame. These pictures capture this desire to move. That it is ultimately frustrated adds to their power.
Forcefully manipulating the print in the darkroom can be done by several actions. Dodging occurs when light is kept off the paper, resulting in a lighter image. Burning is the opposite. It’s telling that these terms are synonymous with evasion and violent retribution, respectively. Again, light is trauma.
Leaving Nebraska. Twenty-five years ago, before fleeing again, this time for good, I wanted to say goodbye. Goodbye to all the places in Nebraska that were, in my mind at least, quintessentially Nebraskan. And make them mine. Make them belong to me, instead of me belonging to them. The places that contained everyone, held everyone, together and apart. Some were places of ritual, like Chicken Days in Wayne. Most were simple gathering places, a friend of a friend’s Tupperware party, a summer softball tournament, a batting cage business, a drive-in movie, a miniature golf course, a band setting up one afternoon outside Gateway Mall. Some came with, a singular status: Ole’s in Paxton, which I could never do justice in photographs, or Lee’s at the edge of town, and the rural Polka Festival with its own runway for private planes. Those places still stand, even more regionally regal-kitsch. Some, like the El Rancho on Highway 6, even the YWCA downtown pool, are boarded up and gone. Pool halls, dance halls, games, movies, restaurants in which to eat, night clubs in which to drink while an organist amplifies a singer’s song, roadhouses that hung Elvis on velvet next to a confederate flag, places everyone played and stayed, together and apart. Now I’ve come back. Being back, I can see that I’ve lost more than I’ve gained, looking at these pictures again, I can see just how much, of each. The look of these pictures has to do with something as a young woman I was sure I was sure about, and I was sure sure about a lot of things then. Now, I’m not sure I could explain it, just that I still feel the feeling I wanted to make happen inside the camera. Form and content all one thing, gathered together for a picture. Casting back, I can see that these images hold the great plain shadow cast over my past here, my present here, maybe, my future here. It is a shadow that I longed to slip out from under, a shadow I ran from, a shadow I thought I had left behind. Now that I’m back I can see that the shadow – and I – never escaped. For as long as I can remember, I have been dreaming of where home can become. These images were and are a dream, a dream of home that would never come true. The images carried on the dream. They carry the ominous quality, the nightmare, home can make come true, instead.
Being here then, leaving here behind, being back here now, the shadow and I, we are together. We can be each other’s form, each other’s content. This time, picture this. Until it’s time to leave dreaming a home and home’s nightmare, behind. Then, the great plain shadow and I will be able to part ways, or mend our way, for good.
Rita Ann Cihlar Hermann
Lincoln, Nebraska, February 2nd, 2012