Where in the World Was Lee?
Reintegrating a part of yourself you neglected; plus, a contest.
Posted October 14, 2010
That's a good question. For more than 20 years friends of mine may have wondered about the whereabouts of the Lee Kravitz they once knew -- a guy who had been curious, adventurous and open to new experiences as a young man. Like many workaholics, I spent most of my time between ages 30 and 55 on the phone or in meetings, fitting people and ideas into the predictably narrow construct that served my job. I let important things slip, and shaded my eyes from anything new or potentially distracting.
The only exception was when my children were very, very young and I found myself seeing the world through their wide-awake-to-everything eyes. ("To see a world in a grain of sand," as William Blake wrote, "And a heaven in a wild flower.") But, for the most part, my grown-up way of looking at the world was guarded and tired. Then I lost my job and was forced to take stock of my life, which led me to the photographs on this page and to the following realization: Unfinished business isn't simply about rectifying your wrongs; it's about rediscovering parts of yourself you may have neglected over the years.
To understand what I mean, read on. And if you read on till the end of this post, you'll get a chance to enter the "Where in the World Was Lee?" contest and win an autographed copy of my book.
In my early twenties I purchased a used Land Rover with two friends from college and traveled overland from London to Calcutta for nearly a year. To chronicle our journeys, I took along two cameras -- a Yashika twin-lens reflex that I picked up for $100 on New York's Lower East Side, and a 35mm Agfaflex my father loaned me.
By the time we got to India, both cameras were so battered by dust, rain and my constantly dropping them that I had trouble opening them up, adjusting their focus, getting film in and out of them, and seeing through their lenses. I had no idea whether the cameras were letting in the right amount of light, or whether they were capable of yielding any images at all. Still, I kept clicking away. Even if they didn't work, their ability to frame what I was seeing helped me to navigate the streets of Teheran, Kabul, Quetta, Delhi, and Bombay, where kids loved being photographed and shopkeepers became friendlier if I showed a genuine interest in photographing their wares. Also, without my cameras. I may have been less able to face the harsh realities we encountered along the way: for example, India's poverty, which was a little less overwhelming when seen through the viewfinder of an Agfaflex.
One of my favorite picture-taking techniques was to stand in a single location and take photographs in every direction -- to the north, south, east and west of me. According to the log I kept, the images on this page were taken on February 17, 1976, while I was standing in the middle of a public square whose identity will remain secret for reasons that will soon become clear. Over the course of an hour I shot an entire roll of black-and-white film -- 36 pictures. Six months later I developed the film in a tiny darkroom I built for myself and other itinerant photographers at Kibbutz Ein Gev in Israel. I can still remember the feeling I had when these images began appearing in the pans of developing chemicals: It was as though I was seeing the blind man selling bird feed, the portrait photographer and his camera, the man crossing the bridge over the cow's head, the huge building and black cat in the midday sun, for the first time.
As photographs, they were flawed. But the defects of the pictures gave them a slightly alien quality that was truer to my experience of traveling than any less grainy images would have been. To commemorate that fact, I selected 16 postcard-sized prints from the roll of film and taped them together into a "photo quilt," which I displayed on the wall of the shack I shared with a guitar-playing Australian. Later, when I returned to the States, I decorated the walls of various low-rent apartments I lived in in Cleveland and New York with the quilt. My wife-to-be asked me to take it dwn when she moved in with me; so I took the quilt apart and placed the photos in a box with other mementos from the days when I traveled the globe in search of adventure.
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