The grayscale has always been more intriguing to me than the full range of the color wheel. Line, shape, texture, mood, and detail have dominated my eyesight from a young age, and thus the minute I discovered the Film Noir genre, my view of storytelling had forever changed. I began to think about life on a slower, more miniscule scale, focusing on details such as the repetitive sound of rain or the long pauses people take in the middle of one-on-one conversations. I began to write. I wrote for years and years, having no idea whether it was poetry or journaling, and I didn’t care, I only cared about those in-between moments in my head. I walked everywhere I went, pausing here and there to sit, observe, and write about my thoughts. Looking back, it was almost like street photography without the camera. I did all this well before I discovered photography. And as of recently, I am realizing that to maintain my drive and creativity, I need to merge the two.
This project does not feel “final” to me at all. It is a beginning. I did not start this project with all of this in mind. Instead, I began thinking about landscapes as constructed material, which lead to fantastical cities, leading to manipulation of light and shadow, then to Film Noir, and finally to now bridging the gap between my creative photography of today and my observational writings of a few years back. I am a firm believer that art can teach us about how we really feel, it brings the conscious face to face with the subconscious, and that is what this project did for me. I used only several types of paper and one other person to make these photographs but I intend to continue this project to document more of those in-between moments, transfigured into paper silhouettes.
Mirror to My Memories by NAVERETEP
I became a submariner because I am an artist, not the other way around. I observe everything, sometimes from a distance and sometimes close-up and I obsess over these moments, objects, and feelings. If I can successfully stitch these moments, objects and feelings together, I can make a story, my story. And on a submarine, these moments, objects and feelings mean life or death, sane or insane. This is reflection, ultimately about myself, a lesson about memories and locked-up emotions where both the professor and the student are me, myself, and I.
For 5 years I served on nuclear submarines in the Pacific Ocean. I was a Sonar Technician. My job was to listen, watch, and track everything in the ocean from shrimp to ships, all while never being detected. I was good, really good. Acoustic Intelligence they told me. Another 10 years of this shit and I’d be a Chief making over a hundred grand. I felt like a part of the machine. A necessary bolt to build the engine and keep it running. And that’s what it was, living inside of an engine.
Every day I’d wake up and shovel a plate of starch and Grade F beef slab into my stomach to endure the 8 hour watch of mind-numbing boredom or skull-shattering stress (there was no middle ground). After that, I’d pile up a plate of chicken nuggets and make fun of some movie with the boys on the mess deck. Then shine a steel toilet bowl until it looked like a mirror. Followed by a 10-second shower and a 45 degree cold mattress to crawl into and check-out, hoping I wouldn’t have to run out of bed naked to battle a laundry fire in the middle of the night. Day after day after day. For months and months on end. This was considered the relaxed schedule.
Like time travel, holding on to memories is a struggle. Days overlapped and faded away once I got back home or on dry land. Thousands of hours of experience, gone. Looking back on a six-month deployment brings just a handful of moments to mind, the rest cloaked in an inexplicable blankness. We call this “data drop”.
Due to issues of National Security, I cannot share my story through more conventional means. I cannot show photographs of a modern submarine’s interior, I cannot document where we were and when, and I cannot expose my brothers and sisters still out there to potential harm nor would I want to. Fortunately for me, I have to dig deeper than that. I have to reconstruct my own memories and feelings about what I went through “in excess of 800 feet” below the surface.
Thus, I constructed most of my memories of these times with readily available materials, some of it out of my recycling bin, some from items left in parks or on the street, and some from my kitchen. Forgotten materials made for almost forgotten memories.
I went to the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago to document what the U-505 looks like in comparison to what I remember my Los Angeles-class submarine looking like. And I took numerous self-portraits somewhat subconsciously showing how the “me” of today has been impacted by these events and what my self-analysis “looks like”.
Since getting out of the Navy in July of 2016, most of existence has revolved around reflecting on the past while forging a new present and future for myself. I feel that my current body is a vessel of reflection, a mirror to my memories.