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Mexi Burger – 122nd 1st Ave N – Seattle, WA – Lower Queen Anne

Shortly after moving to Lower Queen Anne my understanding of how it related to the rest of Seattle began to deepen and out of that reflection my visual understanding of it also began to develop.

At first I was simply taken with the somewhat funky nature of the small retail buildings in the commercial area and if I had been pressed to describe why this was so I am pretty sure I would have quickly become mute. But my intuitive eye was on to something very interesting even though my visual eye was blind to what was plainly before me.

Being a photographer I soon found myself running around the neighborhood shooting away with what soon became painfully obvious to me: a complete lack of clarity and understanding about my subject. Some days I literary would delete several hours of shooting because the images were so inadequate.

Over the ensuing months I periodically would try shooting again and fail. However I did notice that over those months that my failures were becoming less grand. What was changing was my ability to articulate my relationship with the area through the filter of my memories of Seattle growing up.

At that time Seattle was a very different place than it is today; its nature then was far closer to the time when it looked towards the surrounding forests, salmon runs, and its only major high technology concern, The Boeing Company, for its justification and existence. It was a blue collar town with middle class sensibilities and an architecture to match.

Today, Seattle has become a rather cosmopolitan city with an international population. Along with Boeing, technology and trade with the Far East are now what drive the economy. The architecture has changed by growing upwards and more densely packed. This change has began to push into the neighborhoods with the older, standalone buildings, mostly built between the 1920s through the 1960s, being replaced with apartment buildings that can consume an entire city block.

It was this insight that finally gave me the clarity to see what had been plainly in front of me for months. Lower Queen Anne, on the very edge of downtown, was still very much alive as it was when Seattle had a Hooverville on nearly the same land where the Major League Baseball and Football stadiums stand today. What I saw was our history under threat and because of that I began to see it as something precious.

That changed everything.

Suddenly I was able to see the low, linear nature of these few city blocks, with its brilliant colors, the buildings endlessly repurposed over the decades, and populated with lawyers to dudes with tattoos and bolts through through noses. I sometimes imagine the bricks here as being the same stuff that existed at the beginning of time when the primordial soup gave rise to life.

These buildings were no longer objects but my friends and with that I set out to shoot their portraits just like you would a person whose countenance that you wished preserved before it faded into time. I found myself in love with their faces and their souls.

There is a helpless beauty in finding the words that get close to places we happen to inhabit.

I can see this day I have lived a thousand times and have only seen on occasion, taken for granted, second thoughts never a consideration.

I can see my Grandmother baking bread, her fists pounding the dough and her love pounding me into an adult.

I can see my Grandfather asking me to read something for him the first time and how I knew then that he was not forever.

I can see the gentleness of my Father as he pulled a blanket around me as we bounced along a dirt road at twilight. I can see those same hands attack me with a violence that drove me away because he didn’t know a better way and neither did I.

I see my Mother trapped between these forces; today I see her growing old having  lived through my Father passing. I can see how she found a new way to live.

I can see that tiny being, no longer than the length of my forearm, his head resting in my hand. I can see when I first made him cry and how I felt shame. I can see the most honest love as I rubbed his back when he couldn’t sleep.

I see my other Grandmother with her soft, soft, soft, skin and how she gave me a wrist watch so I would remember her. I can see my sadness when I lost it.

I can see my other Grandfather dying of cancer in the hospital, how he was afraid, and how I failed to find words to comfort him.

I can see my Aunt laying in bed as talked about her hard life, the good death she was having, and how she found the words to comfort me.

I can see when I finally needed glasses and I knew I was also not forever.

I can see my moments.

I can see.

Copyright 2012 By Katherine Johnson – All Rights Reserved.

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