All songs need a listener.

There is this part of me that does things with a child-like intent; getting caught up in the excitement of giving or doing without thinking of the consequences. For example, about a year ago I was in my final year of college and had a friend who made an adventurous move to start a business: she makes feather jewelry. Maybe a couple months after she started her business, I found a bird on campus. Its feathers were golden to deep brown, with bursts of orange at points. Downside: it was dead. It had flown into one of the large glass windows of a building and fallen on the sidewalk, where everyone looked at it, stepped around it, and went on with their business.

I had just bought lunch at a local sandwich shop, so I had a brown paper bag, and thinking of my friend and her business, I removed my sandwich and used the bag to pick up the bird (keep in mind, this was a high-traffic area). I sent my friend a text message saying I had a surprise. My thought process was that if I brought the bird, she could use the feathers. I was all smiles. This would be the best, most thoughtful gift.

When we met later that day, I handed her the paper bag and lit up as she smiled with anticipation. Then she opened the bag, and I can not remember if it was a gasp or a scream, or a mix of both, but either way it made me realize that maybe I had done something sort of unacceptable. In disgust, she handed the brown paper bag back, regained her composure, then thanked me, and we had a quick laugh about my naivety.

Anyways, I started to think about the fact that I had just handed someone a brown paper bag with a dead bird in it. I still thought the bird was quite beautiful, but now instead of having found some life after death, it was just dead. That day, I went to the studio and took a couple photos of the bird on 4×5 film. I pinned a basket with a blanket in it to the wall, the most makeshift nest I could think of, and then laid the bird on the lip. A few months earlier I had won an award and was invited to show a photograph in a local show, so I labored in the darkroom to create an 11×14 silver gelatin print from one of the negatives.

At the show, some people shook their heads in dismay, some people avoided it to go look at happy, colorful paintings, but it was one of the only pieces in the room that I saw a few people actually stop at for a few minutes and just reflect. While that bird did not make an acceptable gift (stupid me!), it did end up making an impact on a few people at that show. It made an impact on me as well. I titled the piece All songs need a listener, because there was no life left in the bird when I found it, but it still had a song to be heard. One can only hope for so much after they are gone.

All songs need a listener

One of two 11×14 prints I made is still available, matted and framed, should anyone be interested. The above photo is a scan of the negative, so the print does not have the negative edges showing. Shot with a K.B. Canham DLC45 on Ilford Delta Pro 100.

10 thoughts on “All songs need a listener.

  1. you are CUTE! your friends must be lucky to have you there…lol.
    p.s. a colorphoto could reflect more of your “child-like intent” than this black&white one, and i like that you put the bird on that handkerchief, peaceful and with respect.
    another GREAT article, J.

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