King Daley's reign will end.
"Justin, you're no longer a citizen of Chicago." I know. But there was big news recently from the shores of Mishigami - Chicago's mayor of 22 years announced this week he won't run for re-election. The city is justifiably stunned. The Chicago Tribune has a series of photographs that covers his life from boy to yesterday. Whenever I see these kind of photo galleries, I am transfixed. Here is the arc of a man's life from child to mayor who managed to become even more of an icon as mayor than his father. He also became a focal point for critics of Chicago politics, but fundamentally transformed the city for the positive. Yes, it has massive debt and corruption. Daley was just too pragmatic to pretend he could do anything drastic about the way Chicago politicians behave and still be able to catalyze positive change in the city. Maybe that's naive of me. The Olympics are gone, the city's economy is like the country's at large - slow growth rate and no obvious engine to replace oil and the car. His father died in office in his 22nd year. Already the pundits back off, Daley isn't the target any longer, he can't do anything to fix Chicago or to harm it after 2011. Everyone who lived in Chicago from 1989 to 2011 will remember a wholly unique politician - already the golden sieve is at work.
I remember listening to a radio program during college in which a German intern was trying to understand the Chicago citizen's connection to Daley. He was ineloquent, brash, and above the political process (at least as it is defined outside of the Cook County borders). Watching that slide show linked above, it all began to make sense. I doubt any other American politician has had so clear a path and purpose as Daley. I doubt his aspirations ever lay above the office of Mayor. To him it was what the Presidency was to Joseph Kennedy - the ultimate prize. Every city ought to have a mayor that feels that way. At least for a little while.
All the world is a frame.
This news fit neatly into an idea that has been cooking on the back burner of my mind for the past few weeks - that the photographic experience is a piece of a life experience writ small. Both life and photographs need frames. We frame our lives carefully to provide context. We have rites of passage, mark the year with holidays and celebration. These break routine and provide milestones and I think all of us at least subconsciously take inventory using these benchmarks. I'm almost 30, what have I done so far? This year is almost over, it's been the best I've yet had. I think this is why I find the slideshows of retiring, deceased or newsworthy potentates interesting. You can see the entirety of their public life framed within their accomplishments and within a rectangular photograph's borders.
This is where things start to run together for me and (I suspect) every true lover of photography. We go past framing by milestones and move into framing via photographs, or maybe it is better said we merge the two kinds of frame. A good friend is shocked I have almost no photographs of my own hanging in my home. Just one actually - a panorama of the moon taken through my father's telescope over 10 years ago. This is partly a function of previously limited wall space and partly because the photographs are to be made and remembered, but not necessarily framed and viewed.
Intellectually, all frames are equitable. Your photograph needs a frame for the same reason that Daley's life and legacy are now so much easier to see and swallow that the end of his mayoral tenure is within site: because borders give the beginning and the end of an idea. An idea's totality is only seen inside a border - a photograph of a meadow within a black frame of silhouetted trees gives boundary and the world is seen as small and manageable. Successful photographs necessarily have ideas behind them, but when a frame (within the rectangular frame that all photographs possess) punctuates that idea, it is the photographic equivalent of an exclamation point on a sentence's end.
I was leaving Redwoods State Park in July. Last morning there, on the road soon. Stepped out of the tent pre-dawn to frame the experience as best I could. To walk the camp loop and look at the meadow of Elk Prairie once more. I stopped to try and place that little square of my camera's dynamic range exactly where my memory wanted it to be - with the frame of the redwoods filtering the early gloaming. Negative space and a warm glow burning through, looking back the black frame of the redwoods is a journey's end distilled.
Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, California. July, 2010