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photograph + poem = PHO-TOEM



My visual art pieces, crafted digital photographs, draw from the traditions of urban landscape photography, collage, mural, and graffiti art. I call these works “pho-toems.” I begin with a digital photo I’ve taken. Then, via Photoshop, I add other images I have created, e.g., black & white images I’ve Xeroxed out of 1930’s sixth-grade textbooks, hand-colored, and scanned back in. Then, I add small bits of my own text— mini-poems, if you will.

My intent is to have the word elements function first as visual components and secondarily as language. I also aim, overall, to create a synergy whereby the whole pho-toem may be greater than the sum of its parts. I try to make the fusion of elements invisible so that the pho-toem’s reality is its own credible edifice, inviting the viewer to enter, explore, and discover.


Especially in the tradition of graffiti-artists, I am interested in the urban landscape as a kind of frontier and the graffer as pioneer. The graffer is staking claims to boarded-up buildings that others perceive as wasteland. This is a kind of reclaiming of unclaimed space.

I’ve published five books of poetry and three collections of short stories. But the page is a by-invitation-only art. The wall is in your face. I’m fascinated by the many ways poetic language may intersect with graffiti. Both are messages, but there’s a primacy I appreciate about graffiti. Graffiti is a message that MUST be conveyed. It’s all about emotions and ideas that are uncontainable.

And as with poetry, graffiti tackles the BIG emotions of love and grief and, perhaps most of all, of sheer being, unequivocal PRESENCE.

The graffer is inclined to transform the “self” into a cipher, a thing of mystery but a thing that must be noticed.

With graffitied “poetry,” words take on a new or “refreshed” intimacy. They are not just language acts but physical things: brush strokes and paint flecks.


Another thing that I’m attempting to “capture” in these pieces is a world that is quickly passing. Many of the buildings I’m photographing are from small towns in Eastern Washington. There’s still a feel of the old west about these buildings. Many were associated with the former financial “engine” of my region: silver mines and lumbering, industries whose demise is reflected in the now dilapidated state of these formerly lovely buildings.

I’m interested too in how the abandoned building, no longer having a life of “use,” may now open itself to a new stature, albeit one that exists outside the confines of everyday life. Via these pieces, buildings are renewed, but, perhaps paradoxically, only in a dimension that stands at the extreme other end of their former early 20th Century grandeur; they live now just in a digital dimension. Still, released from the bonds of “use,” the buildings—with their new murals (made to look “old”) and their text— completely defy the world of commerce and use and have become, I hope, something entirely “else.”