Miki Johnson & Anna Shelton – Story #2

Small, smooth head lifting
spear strikes plated half moon.
This submerged fountain
does not trust my rippled knocking.
One breath more. Floating rock sinks.

Everything was the
other when the world began.
Rocks, liquid. Water, gas.
Insect rulers brushed aside
mammals, pests on their way up

Now banks and beaches
reunite these ancient states.
Rock and water kiss
remembering another way,
a path passed, but unregretted.

Do we trust the tide
to lift us up, even as it throws us down?
Can we take the temperature when
we are the glass and our blood the mercury?
Do we gasp more loudly when
our mother’s ocean leaves our lungs or
later, when the salt and sea rush in?
I’ve learned.
The ocean is too big
to care for fairness, but neither revenge.
Only small people
hold us down until the bubbles stop.
The waves roll on
trusting us to float.

Up, up the lilies sway
Down, the pines insist, wavering only
when a water bug puddles by
on hair-fine legs
Water-reflected sun reaches for branches
a hand gently squeezed beneath the table
They fall suddenly silent
Still shadows, clear curtains
part: A world below,
sifted sand and rocky nests
fluid, undisturbed

Photographs by Anna Shelton; Text by Miki Johnson

Miki (on collaboration II)
There is a way to look at photos. At least certain kinds of photos. Photos that are not “about” something. It is this: You look. Then you look away, maybe close your eyes. Your mind wanders. It catches on a phrase, an idea, another image. You look again. You look more this time. Look at the corners and the dark places and turn it sideways in your mind. That one thought lengthens, stretches, becomes a sentence, a scene, a memory. This is what some photos can become. They can show us the inside of our minds, the texture of another time, a world that is yet un-created.

It took me a long time to learn to look at photos like this. I came from the land of words, of meaning, of cause and effect. I thought photos should tell me what to think, where to look, how to feel. Those they didn’t made me uneasy. How could I tell if they were good? How could I decide if they’d made their point?

Looking at uneasily defined images is still hard for me; it is work, but work in the sense that it is more rewarding when I’ve finished. Looking at Anna’s images as prompts to a piece of writing helps me do this work. I do not expect her photos to tell me what to think—I expect to know what I think only by putting into words the things that drift through my mind when I look at her photos. When I really look, slowly and sideways and quietly and carefully.

Anna has written about the way a collaborator, another set of eyes on her images, can propel her to work, can help her hear a new voice when her own feels stale with too much proximity. Having a visual prompt for my writing also helps my imagination run, helps me find new voices—but it also helps me see photos with new eyes. It helps me remember how to look.

Anna (on collaboration II)
The second series of photos I sent to Miki were purposely very abstract. We had not really discussed whether we would create a theme through each segment or if they would sort of become their own entities. I felt a trust within the collaboration that she would run with whatever I chose to send. Her decision to write poems was a pleasant surprise, and one I felt resonated perfectly with the images.

In preparation for the third segment, I read through the poems a number of times and felt that I could see the photographs very clearly in her words. It was interesting that the more I visualized the words, the more the four images started to become one larger piece in my mind. I wished to layer them over one another to impart their connectedness. From this feeling, I worked with newer images in the hope of fusing the first and second segments with the third. I wanted to carry over the dark fairy-tale feel of the first images along with the water-based abstraction of the second set to see where it might lead. I tried to just focus intuitively on what felt right instead of over-analyzing what images might work best.


Story #1

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Issue 4

LPV Magazine: Issue 4

Featuring work by John Francis Peters, Miki Johnson and Anna Shelton, Mark Peckmazian, James Turnley and Ryan Headley.

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