Breakpoint, A Picture Story

“Brainwashers” by Blackalicious, from Blazing Arrow (2002).

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Wikipedia: Transformation theory, first explained by Dr. George Land (1927-) is a description of the structure of change in natural systems. Land’s research, detailed in his seminal book “Grow or Die”, illustrates change as a series of interlocking S-curves, each interspersed with two breakpoints. Breakpoints are the moments in time when the rules of survival change.

My Picture Story communication art was born at the first Breakpoint retreat, in 2010.

Rico asked me to cover a 3-day intensive for inner-city DC high schoolers, run by a handpicked team of black belt facilitators from across the country. At the end of the process, I’d be expected to project a photographic slideshow of the weekend’s moments. Maybe over some music, if I liked.

I remember how overwhelming it was at the beginning, when roundabout 100 teenagers trickled into the staging/registration area in downtown DC. The cacopohny had a pattern, but I’d lose the thread away from the viewfinder. So, progressively, I would keep the camera to my face for longer stretches.

I was taking so many pictures – an absolutely incredible amount for me, then – that I had to reduce the camera’s resolution to small JPGs to be able to fit in everything I suddenly needed to try. And once I dropped the resolution, the camera could record data more efficiently, which meant that I could shoot faster still.

I continued in this way, trancelike, for the first day and a half. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing; it felt like a Hail Mary to a future version of myself who would be able to carry the ball the rest of the way.

Late into the night on the second day, I began to consider where this river could go, scraping through a few thousand images, listening to music to keep my energy up. Sonically, I kept coming around to Blackalicious. And when I’d take breaks from shooting to sort the imagery or batch process selections, it would get specific: Brainwashers.

And just so, the track began to inform the shooting, and a direction emerged.

The way Breakpoint worked is that the facilitators and I would converge on the project space (George Washington University) on a Wednesday, receive the students and begin training Thursday, run programming from early to late all day Friday and Saturday, and wrap the experience up on Sunday with a final group meeting and viewing of my output. So on a daily basis, after 12-hour days of shooting, the evenings were my only times to edit and build the piece. By Saturday, the overhead of discovery and backlog of work was so extreme that I had no choice but to break night.

Shaking from fatigue and scared out of my mind, I showed up that first Sunday morning with a plan that made sense on paper: I’d manually advance the 5,000 frames that I had spent the night carefully arranging to music. The song would stream separately, and the presentation room would have to be reorganized to allow for the largest projection possible.

All of the production details fell into place easily enough. But I found in rehearsal that no two screenings of the piece would be quite the same – some were in fact way off, in large part for my frayed nerves. But I stayed with it, running through the process as many times as I could.

It was when Rico brought the commissioning agency’s director in for a private viewing of the piece that I gained perspective: she was moved to tears.

I did my best for the kids that year. And consequently, I was asked back in 2011 and 2012, each year improving upon the formula. This year’s product is what’s presented above, and I believe it to be the best I’ve so far made. I delivered my final cut mid-July, right as AFTH2012 stormed through, and I haven’t had a chance to reflect on the experience til now. The months since have been rich in the extreme, but the desire to take the time to record my thoughts has lingered. Somehow, this late release feels right.

This summer marked Breakpoint’s conclusion: funding for this beautiful, imaginative, effective program has ended. Which is how DC works.

Breakpoint taught me things about myself I’ll never forget. The entire arc was a blessing. The facilitators showed me so much; the students even more. And as for Rico, for him the only words that feel right were the ones I spoke at his wedding: thank you.

13 December 2012, 17:28

Your Turn


Spiral (2012)

From Norbert Wiener’s “Cybernetics: or, Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine”:

Even before the existence of any adequate dynamical theory, even as far back as the Babylonians, it was realized that eclipses occurred in regular predictable cycles, extending backward and forward over time. It was realized that time itself could better be measured by the motion of the stars in their courses than in any other way. The pattern for all events in the solar system was the revolution of a wheel or a series of wheels, wether in the form of the Ptolemaic theory of epicycles or the Copernican theory of orbits, and in any such theory the future after a fashion repeats the past. The music of the spheres is a palindrome, and the book of astronomy reads the same backward as forward.

10 December 2012, 16:02

Your Turn [2]


A Month Later

Dan Millman:
“Every positive change - every jump to a higher level of energy and awareness - involves a rite of passage. To ascend to a higher rung on the ladder of personal evolution, we must go through a period of discomfort, of initiation. I have never found an exception.”

5 December 2012, 16:08

Your Turn


Confirmation Bias

The eyes see what the heart loves.

I remember the sense of wonder that accompanied my first discovery of Far Rockaway. It was the summer of 2009, and I was in love. She was new to New York, and my wanderings improved for it.

We toyed with Coney Island to escape the hot concrete of New York’s summertime, but finally found the experience to be too crowded by kitsch and commercialism. The idea to explore the end of the blue line was probably hers; the good ideas that summer generally were.

My son was a baby then. And as raw as my emotions were around the divorce that had just finalized, I was likewise new. As a man, father, and artist, my world was changing focus. To anchor myself to those closest to me, I would look for reference points to the life I’d known with them.

And one thing I knew about my quiet, beautiful, impossibly sweet child was that he was fascinated by trains. So when the A emerged from the tunnel on that first ride out, cleared the big bend at Rockaway Boulevard & skimmed the sparkling waves of Jamaica Bay, I started to count the days til I could make the trip happen for my boy.

Through regular pilgrimage, I came to favor the left side of the train both coming and going: in the morning we’d watch JFK’s air traffic, and at day’s end, sun-tired and sandy, my child would stretch out across our laps as the setting sun refracted on the bay.

Over the years, the funky beach town at 116th street became a refuge, a place of friendship to connect with nature, peace, and boardwalk beers over Mets games: paradise. I even made a hobby of fantasizing about moving to Far Rockaway full-time. To be in New York, fully connected to mass transit, but next to the beach? Very nice dream. And just so, time’s passage introduced me to many all-year residents, the Queens-leaning strain of irie in them always unmistakable.

I want to be more like that, I’d say to myself.

Today, a visit to Far Rockaway means the hum of generators, mountains of rubble, impossible visions of defaced and listing structures (contents spilling out like drunken vomit), lamposts angled crazily, city streets impassable, deserted… As though our neighbors were targeted by unstoppable forces and lost the war.

BUT THEN YOU REALIZE: the human loss (though very real) was far less than what the epic calamity would suggest. Piles of mattresses, not corpses, big difference. A fast search confirms: 48 deaths citywide. High five, government.

Which also says: the spirit that I fell in love with remains.

And alongside that happy observation came a fascinating notion, or better yet, recognition — the peninsula is miles of canvas, opportunity on an incredible scale.

This post is my personal hello to something new and just a little bit scary to me: The Far Rockaway Redevelopment Fund. The Fund will commission artists to create site-specific responses throughout the peninsula (and if fundraising goes well, I’ll also direct support to brilliant ideas).

My hope is to refocus minds on the potential exposed by this devastation — I feel a responsibility to my city (and son!) to make the most of this, to try to make things right. And the lure of a beachside art walk could invite New Yorkers to explore a patch of land that I now regard as the most important in all the city… Maybe there’s even a local economy boost in there? I honestly don’t know. But I know that I can’t not try.

Our need to rethink the way we live in the modern world is a widely accepted imperative. We’ll have to rise above everything familiar to move forward, and art conjures our greatness: this much, I know.

The Fund launches this Thursday, at Gowanus Loft, with a show I personally can’t wait to attend: The Listening, an acoustic listening party & fundraiser. We’ll have great art, food, drink, and performance in an epic space: ideal circumstances to come together in awareness of the moment we’re in.

So if you’ve read this far, and live in New York…

13 November 2012, 01:24

Your Turn [1]


Turquoise Boy

dive for dreams
or a slogan may topple you
(trees are their roots
and wind is wind)
trust your heart
if the seas catch fire
(and live by love
though the stars walk backward)
honour the past
but welcome the future
(and dance your death
away at the wedding)
never mind a world
with its villains or heroes
(for good likes girls
and tomorrow and the earth)

ee cummings

5 November 2012, 17:24

Your Turn


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