Archive for May, 2008

Seeking Ancestry

Korpi is a Finnish last name, and like many immigrant family names, it was shortened from Takakorpi for the sake of simple pronunciation by the crew on Ellis Island. “Takakorpi” translates to “from the wilderness” in Finnish.
Finland has come from the wilderness to a modern society in about the same amount of time as my ancestors made a life in America. In European standards, it’s doing great economically. Thanks to home-grown companies like Nokia, the country is undergoing strong growth.
What I hadn’t known about the Finnish is their social timidness, their elegant design style like iittala, artek, marimekko…, their affinity for saunas, their attachment to nature, their social welfare system…
Ten days was just enough time to get a taste of their culture, but not enough time to feel like I understand what it’s truly like to be Finnish.

From the Wreckage

It’s said the first thing someone would remove from their burning house is a photo album. Photographs can’t be replaced. If a tornado hit your home, what would you try to gather from the wreckage? Honestly, let’s start a simple blog discussion. What would you hope to find? Also, what would you grab before running out of your burning house (children count)?
I was drawn to small piles of people’s belongings that they found amongst their broken homes. This woman couldn’t believe her ceramic duck survived. It reminded me of a cookie jar my mom had at the house. Do you still have that Mom? If you do, don’t worry about it if the house gets hit by a tornado, but do make sure you grab my black box of old love letters!

Before and After

Picher Oklahoma was undergoing a federal buyout. A number of homes had been bought by the federal government due to health and safety risks of former mining. Now a tornado has put a twist in the whole scenario. What will happen to the people of Picher who have not yet had their houses bought? What will happen to the people whose homes have not been appraised?
After spending some time in Picher in Febrauary, it was strange to return to a town where the north side is the way I left it, and the south side had been blown away.
This photograph was taken in the south side of town in February and then today.


“I served in Iraq for four years,” said a resident of Picher, OK, I was talking to today. “I’ve seen blown up things, but I haven’t seen anything like this. It looks like someone dropped an A-bomb on the place.” Now, I’ve never seen any place where an A-bomb has been dropped, and I hope I never have the chance, but this was a pretty telling description of what just happened to this troubled town.
I had been working on a project about Picher, OK. Saturday night I got an email reporting of a tornado ripping through the town. I then drove all day Sunday to get here. Tornado destruction is strange. The path of the tornado is complete other-wordly devestation, like the guy I was talking with had described. But outside of the tornado’s path, there’s very little signs of anything out of the ordinary having occurred.
Trying to document something like this effectively is surprisingly difficult. It’s so overwhelming. Everywhere you look there are houses flattened, cars toppled, and panels of metal roof wrapped around trees as if they were frozen pieces of wet paper. The material world does strange things in the whirling wind of a tornado.
So as an observer you’re dumbstruck. What don’t I photograph? How do I transport anyone to this never-never land?
Both Sally, left, and her sister Nancy had hid in their bathtubs during the tornado. Sally’s house was destroyed and the only reason she survived was because she had enough sense about her to climb in her tub after hearing that the tornado was coming to Picher on her scanner.
After all Sally had been through, she was worried about finding her purse because she didn’t want anyone to steal her identity by finding her social security card.

Part of the Family

Last year Annah and I lost one of our cats to the traffic constantly hurrying by our house. Finding Adeaba dead in our neighbor’s yard was traumatic. Even worse was carrying her still soft body to the backyard where we had to dig a shallow grave between our house, the woods and bouts of tears. Annah and I fought about whether to pack the dirt after we finished cover her body.
Having animals as pets is one of the most peculiar relationships humans can have with the animal kingdom. It’s really only then that one begins to realize the intellect and personalities behind other living creatures. After watching my cat’s behavior for the past couple years, I’ve begun to think my cat is more like most people I know than she is not.
This photograph of a grave was in the backyard of a house near where a friend and I were gathering firewood recently. The care these people took in placing the cross between the two pine trees made me think of how much affection people have for their pets.