I want to shape a moment for you:
Twentynine Palms, California desert. 2011. Mid-morning. Lava-rock mountains surround.
I drive, dirt rising from the road, cakelike. I open the windows and the air is hot, too hot, beautifully thick with heat. I pull into a gas station. Two teenagers are sitting out front with a pit-bull; they’re drinking Slurpees. I go in, and as I walk I feel the precision of this moment — the dirt and heat, the way each lava rock fits its counterpart, the way these teenagers sit with this pit-bull, all together. I didn’t take a photograph. This moment felt like a needle to me — thin, compact, sharp — and the thread was movement, driving away, understanding that we all grew from this planet somehow. That, to me, was art. IS art. Layers, growing. Energy, wrapping. The way we discover when we stay present. The way these discoveries bloom.
“Energies” are the feelings that shape us, feelings that stem from experience, from awareness in the moment. And yes, I realize that we can become more aware as time goes on. In a way, that is also how time and layers come together to create certain energies. Falling in love, for example, is a way to be wrapped in energy. Honoring a friendship by being fully aware, present, delving into each other’s lives without judgment — wrapped in energy. Being aware of how these experiences affect the body, where they “grow” — wrapped in energy.
Every time I connect with another being (human, animal, plant, etc.), I think of this being’s past and how each moment from birth until how has created this being’s energy. I also feel this, not just think this. The combination of feeling and thinking, of experiencing moments with another being, bonds time and the layers of this entity’s life.
When I worked at a florist’s shop, I didn’t need to know the exact history of a flower before I cut it; but I did know that the flower was a cut flower and that was enough: The flower was technically no longer alive when it arrived; I was dealing with energy that had passed on. The flower came to me with its own sacred geometry, its own energy, its own way of moving between existence in this world and existence in the place our energy travels next. I treated each flower with care, noticing each one’s smell and texture. A blossom grows, opens, shows its layers over time.
With the friends I’ve photographed for this Energy series, I was going to talk about the amount of time I’ve known each. But that is not important, I’ve realized. What’s important here is that each of our lives has brought us to this point — the point of photograph — and when I did these shoots, each friend knew the challenges and obstacles and joys I was experiencing in my life at the time. And I knew theirs, too. With Leslie, for example, we were both in transition. She was in the process of moving to North Carolina and I was in the process of moving back to Florida from California/New Mexico. We both wanted heavy change. We went into the water for this shoot, too, but I ended up using that photo for the 15 Views of Orlando book cover. “History” and “Leslie” made it into this set because each photograph uses material to physically show layers, how they grow, where they grow. In the photographs, why do these layers grow where they do? We experience feelings within the body. In this series, I focused mostly on the throat/third eye/crown areas of the body. Body, mind, and spirit are connected when it comes to feeling, when it comes to creating energies, being wrapped in energy.
I’ve been very thankful for the relationships I’ve experienced that take into account the layers of one’s life — what each person/being has been through, how this past has transformed into the present somehow. In other words, energies can also mean complexities of life, and being wrapped in energy can mean how we experience these complexities.
Eckleburg: Are your works always in black and white?
Not always, but a lot of my photographs are. Over the past three months I have been taking more black and white photos than I ever have. At first, I wasn’t too sure why. I knew I wanted to highlight shape and texture, not color, but I didn’t understand that I was craving shapes that were “drained” of something. I only understood that I wanted color drained a few weeks before I moved to Brooklyn from Orlando, Florida. I gave most of my clothes that were not black, white, or grey to a second-hand store. I kept few items with color and some Earth tones. But for the most part, I wanted a wardrobe that would feel, to me, very much like a foundation. I wanted the foundation to be enough.
Black and white photography portrays the base of shape, of texture, and I was very aware of how texture was working in these photographs.
Eckleburg: Among the pieces you submitted to us, do you have a favorite?
I am not sure if I have a favorite, and in terms of gratitude, I’m thankful that all of these photographs happened. “History” and “Leslie” were taken during the time of powerful transition. “3841” and the other numbered photographs were taken on a cold day in Florida this year, years after “History” and “Leslie ” in 2011, at a time of resistance, confusion, hope. Numbers play such an interesting role in our lives, too. We use them to control, to understand specifics. When I took this photograph I sensed that I was reaching the base of something. I was just starting to understand why I needed to use material in my photographs — feel the layers, fold the layers, understand the way moments unravel and wrap.
“Mother of Nature” was taken shortly after the numbered pictures, and during these moments I could feel community blooming, not only between the subject of the photograph and myself, but among our friends, the city of Orlando.
Eckleburg: Why do you choose photography?
I have never felt more connected to landscape and life until I started practicing photography in 2008. I was working as a copy editor/reporter at the University of Central Florida’s school newspaper, and I was supposed to cover Margot & The Nuclear So and Sos with the photo editor. Water ended up leaking on her camera, and she was unable to photograph the show, so she asked me to do it. I used my point and shoot and couldn’t believe the connection I felt in those moments. Photographing the show changed the way I experienced each moment of the show — I remember the way the pianists’ movements slowed as I held up my camera, the way I felt grounded — in the moment — as I pressed the shutter. I ended up pursuing photography from that point on.
I love the mindfulness photography requires. When I am shooting, the moment means everything. I must stay fully present. That, to me, is one of the biggest gifts I’ve ever been given in life. And to stay present doesn’t mean I discount the past — it means I honor the way it has rolled into the present, the way it has layered itself into the present.
I’ve also painted with watercolors, but I haven’t done that in a while. I wanted to feel the body emerge on paper with color, stroke, shape. I’ve also painted with acrylic and done some collage work. I am working on building an installation in a suitcase, too, that may take years to finish, which is inspired by Janet Fitch’s White Oleander.
I love that it takes certain projects years to finish. Decades. Even lifetimes.
Ashley Inguanta is a writer/photographer who recently moved to Brooklyn from Central Florida. Her first collection, The Way Home, is out with Dancing Girl Press (and has been re-published for Kindle with The Writing Disorder), and she has translated the collection into a live performance, too, with music and dance. In late November, she had the honor of co-hosting Poetry Cover Night at The Bowery Poetry Club. Ashley is also the Art Director of SmokeLong Quarterly.