Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The Stories a Photo Can Tell. And a Tribute From Me

Sydney Australia January 2016

I spotted this couple on the streets of Sydney back in January. The woman in colorful clothes and wearing cool beads; she even carried a polka dot umbrella. The guy, presumably her husband wearing jeans, a particularly funky cap, and a t shirt that seemed to be connected with rock and roll or something like that. Very groovy couple, I thought; probably old rockers. Maybe even hippies back in their younger days.

Fast forward to a few days ago when I came across the photo and felt the urge to work on it to complete the image. All went well till it came to the time to give the photo a title. I didn’t want to be obvious and call it ‘Old Rockers Never Die’ or something equally as cliched. So, I decided I would look up ‘Rock Eagle’, thinking it might be a band I’d not heard of, or a brand of some kind.

Well, after a very quick session of googling, I had learned a lesson about jumping to conclusions about people I see in the street, as well as in how we all write our own stories for people we encounter and they may or may not be the real ones.

Rather than have me paraphrase what I discovered about Rock Eagle, let me quote the Wikipedia entry:

Rock Eagle Effigy Mound is an archaeological site in Putnam County, Georgia, U.S. estimated to have been constructed 1,000 to 3,000 years ago. The earthwork was built up of thousands of pieces of quartzite laid in the mounded shape of a large bird (102 ft long from head to tail, and 120 ft wide from wing tip to wing tip). Although it is most often referred to as an eagle, scholars do not know exactly what type of bird the original builders intended to portray. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) because of its significance. The University of Georgia administers the site. It uses much of the adjoining land for a 4-H camp, with cottages and other buildings, and day and residential environmental education. 
What prompted the early inhabitants of Middle Georgia, who lived in a time long before the rise of the later Mississippian, Creek and Cherokee cultures, to build these massive effigy mounds is still something of a mystery. They obviously hold ceremonial significance and the Rock Eagle seems to have been expanded from a large dome-shaped central mound.

So, was this guy’s t-shirt simply a souvenir he picked up on a visit to this site? Maybe. Perhaps they are not old rockers after all? Or maybe they are. We will never know (unless they by the grace of the gods of art hear about this blog). And that’s the point: we can never know for sure what people’s stories are when we only share a fraction of a second with them.

We can only make a guess, often an educated one of course, based on our own observations and experience. All of which is fine with me. I make the picture after being allowed into a person’s life for a few seconds or less, then I put the photo out there into the world and then anyone who sees the picture will have their own ideas about it. Or perhaps they will simply accept my interpretation; that’s also fine with me.

Meanwhile, back to the little time with google I had. I was amazed at this beautiful creation by what was clearly a very sophisticated people so long ago. Imagine the commitment, love and devotion that it must have taken to put together such a huge sculpture. That’s what it is you know: a sculpture worthy of anything produced anywhere at anytime in history.

It is a monument to a people, an unknown people it seems, who inhabited that land. A people whose descendants walk the land today. For me this man’s t-shirt, while appearing to be a souvenir, really represents a kind of tribute to those long lost and forgotten people.

For me, Rock Eagle represents a lot more. It is a testament to the heritage and long long history of many and varied rich cultures and art and connection to country (as it is called by the First Nations people of Australia) maintained by Indigenous peoples all over the world, and not just this particular piece of Georgia, despite the genocidal actions of so-called colonizing powers over the centuries. 

And, despite the best efforts of many of our so-called modern societies where selective memory and collective willful ignorance rule, Indigenous cultures are very much alive and well today all over the world.

And that, my friends is a very good thing indeed. For all of us.


PS On a plaque placed at the site in 1940, there is the following:
Tread softly here white man for long ere [sic] you came strange races lived, fought and loved.
While I in no way endorse the language used in this quote, I do get the gist and therefore named my photo Tread Softly at Rock Eagle.

Just a small tribute from me.

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