I have great faith in remembered images, as visual impressions tend to define my reality, though I fully acknowledge that remembered images, and certainly my remembered images, are often more unreliable and subjective than memories. The premise of many artworks, arguments, songs, stories, etc., however, must be based on real events that have been misremembered to such an extent that they have become separate stories. Many of my series have been based on a misremembering of some kind, but because inspirations are not obligated to follow the rules of accuracy, I enjoy investigations based on little more than a mental picture, a conglomerate of different memories, that I am completely convinced I didn’t create.
I thought about this recently as I embarked on a new, pre-determined, and too long postponed document; walking the length of Amsterdam Ave, an avenue that cuts through the west side of Manhattan, east of Broadway. It turns from 10 Ave. into Amsterdam around 62nd street and dead ends in my old neighborhood around 190th. Like most of the streets I normally walk, I know bits and pieces of Amsterdam based on a few restaurants, cafes, and landmarks I visit somewhat frequently. Knowing select areas of an avenue, however, cannot connect together the disparate neighborhoods of Manhattan, and there is no real way to know in advance what any given avenue will look like over the span of some 128 blocks.
The idea came about during a bus trip to Boston earlier this year, when the driver left the city via Amsterdam Ave, driving uptown from Port Authority until we crossed the river and left the island. Looking out the window at the storefronts, churches, restaurants, and corner markets passing by, at the sidewalk empty and inviting because of the hour, I thought it was a perfect street to photograph. As the blocks passed I also realized the variety in the neighborhoods it passed through, and if nothing else it promised to be a long walk full of interesting visuals.
Walking uptown from 42nd street this past weekend, I finally had the sense to second-guess my resolve. As I walked I wondered if it even was Amsterdam I drove through, and if so where, on this very long avenue, were the neighborhoods I had been interested in? The hot sun, sticky crowds, long blocks, and a desire to crisscross from one side of the avenue to the other, brought a certain dirty reality to the endeavor. While I will never be satisfied until I find the images already safely sorted in my head but missing from the memory stick of my camera, I have to laugh at the prospect of chasing after fictitious images and blurry impressions. The main problem in believing so implicitly in remembered images becomes apparent when we expect to find them, exactly as they are, in reality. It’s like going home at long last, stepping out of the car, looking fondly up at a familiar house, and suddenly wondering if it has always been brown.
It is a basic problem, however, and one that extends to everything we do, but is perhaps a problem that artists think about a bit more than others. How do you transfer, give a form to, that which exists already in your head? It is a problem that annoys me while writing or dealing with words, but is a challenge I enjoy when making art. The first half of Amsterdam might not have been what I remembered it to be, but the worthwhile aspect of all ideas is the unexpected. The discrepancies between the remembered and the actual keep me continually interested, forcing a curiosity for wandering through the “real”, and a determination to continue searching for the imagined—even if it was simply an imagined pile of colorful trash.