Wednesday, October 21, 2009

What's Mine Is...

In this unit, we are all about considering issues that can mostly simply be summarized (not given the fair, comprehensive, and nuanced treatment, of course, of course) under the banner of "ownership."

The Banner, The Questions
A few of a zillion questions you can find on this banner: Who owns what I create? Who should benefit--intellectually, emotionally, spiritually, and, yes, monetarily--from my creations? (Me; my heirs in perpetuity; Columbia College Chicago; the corporation that produced my keyboard, my display, the font I've used; the corporation that provides the bandwidth that allows me to post my creation online?) How does what I create occupy the world? (Should a poem I wrote about the Holocaust, say, appear without my consent on a neo-Nazi web site? Should anyone be allowed to download a photograph I've taken and post it on their fridge?) What role do I play in the distribution of the stuff I've created? (Should I have a say in whether my class assignments are used in other classrooms? If I do receive royalties, should part of those be owed to my employer?) What role do I play in the re-conception, re-creation, re-purposing, re-directing, re-routing, etc. of the stuff I've produced? (Should I have final say over whether my creations are mixed and matched and mashed and?)

One Way In
How to get at this? Well, I produce stuff all of the time. I write poems. I create class assignments. I edit technical documents (please note: if you compare the final version of a document I was asked to edit with the original with which I worked, you'd have to agree that editing = creation.) I could discuss those. And likely I will if I continue in other posts. Here, though, I'd like to own up to the fact that I am an amateur photographer.

Like nearly everyone else with disposable income, I have a digital camera (okay, I have many), and use it, sure, to capture memories. But, too, I scratch a more profound itch. Let's call it art and be done for now.

Chiapan Art
Here's Chiapas from the window of a church tower in Aguacatenango (Chiapas, Mexico).

Here's another view:

So, now you know that despite my fear of heights, I climbed to the top of a church--up an incredibly narrow, chiseled stairwell (here's a mid-stair view)

and captured (made?) some art.

It's All Apparently in the Face
The reason I mention this is, on the same trip, I was fortunate enough to meet and spend the morning with a weaver's family, not a few hundred yards from the church. Whatever I can say about them here wouldn't do them justice, and, anyway, you can read about them in my two most recent copyrighted (Mammoth Press) publications (Burro Heart and Mixed Diction).

Drawn as I was to making art of the town, you can imagine how drawn I was to (making art of?) the family:

Given the price of digital film, I could go on. At any rate, here, as they say, is the rub. It seems that I am allowed without concern for the Spanish roof tiles, corn rows, or mottled main street cobbles to post the first three photos (the fruits of my creative loins) on a site such as iStock, "the internet's original member-generated image and design community." Where you can "Get easy, affordable inspiration with millions of safe, royalty-free photographs, vector illustrations, video footage, audio tracks and Flash files."

I am not, however, allowed to post the second three without express written permission from my Chiapan friends. Show a face, and you've got to cover your ass. Oy. Thanks, Canon, for making it possible for me to not bother with film, with chemical-based developing and enlargement. But what have I lost in the bargain? Guess it's all beer and skittles until money is involved.

In this instance, I did not want to sell those faces (as a Jewish grandmother I never had might have said, "who could sell such faces"?); rather, I wanted to post them on the site to get credits in exchange for the work of another photographer. I saw it as innocent trading. I still do. My art for yours.

Yikes, outside of a little lunch trading (my almond butter and fig jam sanGwitch for your Cheese Doodles), I guess nothing is innocent. What's mine is...


It Did Not Start

as the hand weaver

rose and shat in his pig


nor as his wife knelt before

her glassed votives her executrix

her holy virgin idol



on the swollen road risen

from the highland wash

nor during our talk

of freerange stallions

bolting through maize plots

morphed into monsoon lakes


as we grouped before the loom

to swig local beer

to distinguish between aniline

& beetle dyes

to hear

about a man’s warp

his indigenous woof


as we leaned from the bell tower

above the cathedral in Aguacatenango

not as the sweet

rains pelted

the cross-hatched cobbles

where mongrels and sots slept splayed—

a billion

motes of local light


our prodigal gaze

Copyright Jeff Schiff

Creative Commons License
"It Did Not Start" by Jeff Schiff is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

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