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Thursday, October 19, 2017

The Intimidation Game: Sexual harassment & my short career as a young woman in film

Installing a sign I made on a small indie pilot.
When I was a few years out of art school and still looking for direction, I hit the job jackpot when I happened into a position on a major motion picture. The movie, code name, The Intimidation Game, was filming all over the world. One of the first people in town on the production, I worked out of a hotel room with another production assistant (PA) and a producer, doing preliminary photography for the Special Effects Department. The producer, a white man in his 40s, was smart and kind. The work put me in some precarious positions and before leaving our hotel room/office in the morning he’d tell me, “Be safe. It’s just a movie.” He never wavered in his professionalism. When the huge production circus came to town I was offered a job in the Art Department - the dream continued. I worked closely with a local designer and the rest of the team, imported from Europe and Los Angeles. They were a truly amazing bunch of guys. They became friends and mentors, encouraging my personal art career and taking the time to include me on important decisions. I was making good, steady money and could barely believe my good fortune. I felt like I had found my niche, I could see myself doing this work for a long time and it was exhilarating. Strangely, more than one of the local crew warned me, “Don't get used to this.” At the time I didn’t understand what they meant, but it proved to be an ominous warning.

Living in the middle of the country, local production workers are at the mercy of what shows come to town. The options are to work or not work and I was eager to keep working. My next job in film took a hard left down a dark alley. I was hired, it seemed, exclusively to take verbal abuse. Apparently because of a dispute between the director and my boss, it was open season on my department. I spent my days getting screamed at both in person and on the phone. I was chained to my desk, so to speak, and the people in my immediate vicinity were pretty great, so it was bearable. I was young, they were paying me pretty well, but I still went to the bathroom to cry a few times. The film, though boasting two big names, was absolutely terrible. I tried to find the humor in how serious and how angry these people were. “It’s only a movie!” I wanted to scream. But the reality that “professional” adults acted like this at work was pretty shocking.

After that I worked on a series of failed TV pilots. At least 90% white and 90% male, there were few young women like myself. I got to know the local crews and met a few really sad men from LA. Almost without fail they were divorced, alcoholics with a sour sense of humor, some with famous last names. I tried to get the most out of every gig and there were always some good people learn from. Eventually, I got a job on a TV show which had been picked up for the ‘front 13’. I was working with an older man, my Boss, a Draftsman I had met before, and a female coordinator - all local. A small team with lots of work to do, we had a crowded little office in the basement. From the get-go it was clear how my boss felt about women. A man with daughters not too much younger than me, he seemed almost obsessed with the female lead in the series, who was just a bit older than myself. Nearly everyday he mentioned how ugly he thought she was. “Her face is lopsided. The camera hates her. She must have slept with everyone above the line to get this part.” It made me wonder if I had gotten the job because he could stand to look at me, but really, I didn’t care, I knew I was good at my job. TV shows are a hamster wheel with three episodes in play at any given moment - preparation for the upcoming episode, shooting the current episode and wrapping the last one. Things inevitably got more stressful as we transitioned from prep to filming. As the first shoot approached, Draftsman became overly involved in my daily duties, while Boss barely left his office. Draftsman was checking in with me incessantly, asking me to do one hundred silly tasks a day. It was my job to oblige him, but it was hard to totally mask my annoyance. It amazed me that he had enough time to spend bothering me, we all had so much to do. A giant man, he would stand behind me while I sat at my desk, instructing me on minute details. At last I told him, “Please, stand where I can see you. You’re like Lurch, lurking back there. It’s weirding me out.” Unfortunately, this must have been the desired effect, as his behavior quickly escalated. Soon after, while leaning over me from behind, he put his hand over mine on my mouse and his chin on my shoulder while he “showed” me how to complete a task on my screen. I was shocked. His cheek grazed my cheek. I wanted to punch him in the face. But I did nothing. I froze. When he left I spun around to see the wide eyes of my coordinator. Her and I escaped to the alley and talked about what happened. We mentioned his increasingly odd behavior to our Boss. Busy and annoyed at our interruption, he literally laughed in our faces. Everyday after that it was something. Draftsman walking past and brushing his hand on the back of my neck. He’d looked confused and even hurt when called him out. “You touched my neck. What do you want?” An accident, he’d say and then deny touching me at all. I made it clear, in no uncertain terms, that I did not want him to touch me, EVER. I emailed Boss to put it on the record - I don’t want Draftsman touching me. Of course, he ignored my email.

Draftsman was utterly unkempt even though he was quite well-paid (why is it always like that?!). He wore ill fitting shirts where his belly bulged out of the spaces between missing buttons. One day he came over to my desk to give me some ridiculous task. He stood extra close to me and as he bent over me from behind, his bare belly rested on my neck and I lost it. “GET AWAY FROM ME!” I shouted. “Why are you touching me?” He retreated, but that night before I went home Boss called me into his office. He had heard about my “outburst,” and reminded me that part of my job was to support Draftsman. I told him that it seemed reasonable not to have to come into contact with the bare belly of a strange, grown man at work. “You're not gonna last very long if you’re so sensitive,” was his reply.

Draftsman’s wardrobe, hygiene and appearance deteriorated further. He regularly showed up in pants where many inches of his hairy ass were visible. In my small effort to fight back I never let it slide. “Oh no!” I’d proclaim, “You forgot your belt!” “I don’t have one.” he told me once. In a helpful tone I’d offer to pick one up for him or go to wardrobe and borrow one. As the days dragged on it seemed like they had joined forces make me miserable. Boss made a rule that I was to be the last to leave at the end of every day. Draftsman began napping in his disgusting hoarder car for hours during the day and then working late into the night, leaving him and I alone together in the basement office. Dying to go home and at his mercy, they made it clear I would be fired if I left. This is the real Intimidation Game, I thought. Still, some days I left before him. I found myself spending more and more time helping out other departments, finding any reason to get away from my desk. Finally, one day he got off the elevator with his fly wide open and the flap of his boxers just precariously covering his bulging penis. “Oh dear,” I covered my eyes, “your fly is down.” “I know,” he said, calmly, “It’s broken.”

The entire day I refused to interact with him, this was one step too far. I figured it was just a matter of time before he was trying to rub that thing on the back of my neck. I asked for a meeting with him and Boss. That night after work I sat down with what I now understand to be two old friends. I expressed my concern with his wardrobe, which was making me more and more uncomfortable. Boss listened quietly, when I finished he told me that I was being superficial, petty and unprofessional. “It’s not a fashion show,” he condescendingly explained. From there it spiraled into an appallingly bad performance review, where they took turns telling me how awful I was. It was obvious they got a kick out of this little intimidation game. Seeing how far they could push me before I quit or gave them a reason to fire me.The entire drive home I talked myself out of quitting. This is an absolutely horrible TV show, I told myself, there is no way it will get picked up for the back 9. I just have to make it a little longer. On the way to work the next morning, I repeated my mantra, “It’s just a movie. It’s just a movie,” (or in this case, just a shitty TV show). When I arrived I had a note from Boss - Great news! - the show had been picked up! When Draftsman gets in, I was to go with him, in his tiny disgusting hoarder car, on a 3 hour drive to scout a new location. I should plan on being alone with him all day and into the evening. He expected my “complete cooperation.”

Calmly, I sat down at my desk and typed out a detailed resignation letter. I outlined the many steps I had taken to address the issues. I described his bare belly, exposed buttocks and unprofessional behavior. I took my letter upstairs and gave it to the head producer. On my way out the door, I dropped a copy on my bosses desk.


Afterwards, I was too naive to realize that the reason this major studio’s HR department kept calling me from Los Angeles was that they were worried I would sue them. To be honest, it didn’t even cross my mind, but I wish it had. I was reveling in the AVALANCHE of emails, calls and words of support from people who shared similar stories with me about Draftsman and others. Apparently, Draftsman was well-known in the industry for being a creep and had forced many a young women to quit or gotten them fired with similar behavior - how many of them stayed and put up with it? How far did it go? While no one disputed my side of events, he was not fired or reprimanded in any way. Draftsman had nothing extraordinary to bring to the table and still, over a decade later, he is getting hired by the same people, a member of the same Union. They all know what kind of guy he is. It as was clear to me then, as it is now, there is literally nothing a white man can do that will get him fired from a movie set /production job. There is however, many things a woman can do, first and foremost complain about harassment. 
Self portrait in 2006 - the world at my finger tips

The systematic, coordinated harassment of a young woman by her male superiors is not a unique story, I’m afraid. But there is something about the film and production industry which makes this a rampant problem. The close proximity to money and fame inflates egos. The (mostly) men in charge have the power to make or break careers, to make millions and to make people millionaires. The production is a limited engagement and thusly the cast and crew have no lasting memory of wrongs or misdeeds, and indeed, no real incentive to report them, as they’ll be on a different project next month or next year. HR is usually off site, and sometimes thousands of miles away. Who could one turn to for support in this situation? The recent Weinstein revelations come as no surprise to me. It’s impossible for me to believe that anyone one close to him didn’t know. My heart goes out to the many, many women he violated and mistreated. My experience in no way compares to those assaults. But the allegations did bring back long ignored memories of my short-lived career in production. Or as I call it, The Intimidation Game.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

From an Image, to an Image: The Crowd in American Lynching Photography

Warning: There are graphic and upsetting depictions and images in this blog post. I have made the images deliberately (too) small to minimize their digital appeal as a shareable commodity. They are described in more detail within the text. Both images are from Without Sanctuary (Allen, James, Hilton Als, John Lewis and Leon F. Litwack, Without Sanctuary. Santa Fe, New Mexico: Twin Palms Publishers, 2010).

A note on the text: This paper was originally written in 2012 for a class on Crowds with Laura Fantone at SFAI. In light of the recent events and images of racist violence which came out of Charlottesville this paper is very topical in that one can draw a number of parallels, not just between the events of then and now, but also between the use of photography of lynchings and the function of Confederate monuments as a beacon of terror. I encourage you to read this and look for the many similarities to the current uses of photography (of crowds) and the long history of the use of imagery (and crowds) in fascism and the fundamental understanding that an image (a photo or a monument) drives a crowd (mob). And finally, to consider the crowd and its (n)ever changing make-up, motivations and ability to induce fear.

Additionally, I am interested in the use of photography and social media to identify (some of) the criminals from the Charlottesville protests and the accompanying out cry of - Is this OK? Do we become (like) the mob by trying to hold member of the mob accountable? (In short, NO.)

I am not, and do not claim to be, an expert on lynching in America. 'Reading' archival photographic images and the history of photography are my areas of expertise. This is a look at two images of lynchings as they relate the long history of Crowds and their associated violence, unpredictability, anonymity and unsettling duality.

From an Image, to an Image: The Crowd in American Lynching Photography
“ the power of the crowd is the only force that nothing menaces.” - Gustave LeBon1

Throughout the semester we have looked at a number of ways to analytically interpret and investigate the crowd through both visual representations and critical analysis of history and various archives. Looking at two images from the book, Without Sanctuary, 2010, I will examine the nature of two crowds represented there. Without Sanctuary is a collection of images of American lynchings from 1890-1920. These images, according to Congressman John Lewis, “bring(ing) to light one of the darkest and sickest periods in American history”.2 The two chosen images are part of the photo postcard craze of the first few decades of the 1900s.3 This craze was the result of reduced costs and a simplified process for making and printing photographs as well as special pricing for postcards offered by the United States Post Office starting in 1905.4 As Dutch writer Luc Sante states, when referring to photographic postcard images from the time this era, “It is always important to remember that these photographs were a vital medium of communication, much more than the vessels of memory they appear to us today.

Lynching in America was mostly (but not always) white on black and gradually became a blacker and more Southern Rural phenomenon.5 I have selected two distinctive images from this collection to analyze in regards to the representations of the crowd. Who makes up this crowd? Why is this important? Why is it that often times, the identity of a crowd/mob are veiled by history? Beyond that, How does a crowd become capable of dramatic and hideously unspeakable acts of violence?

In light of readings by French sociologist, Gustave LeBon, and British historian and socialist, E.P. Thompson, as well as, reading from Crowds (2006), the seemingly unknown nature and motivations of the crowd come into slightly sharper focus. Photography played a role in American lynching not unlike the role of printmaking and new publication technologies played in the French Revolution. LeBon suggests that crowds are lead by images.6 He argues that crowds are seduced by the strong sentiments suggested by an image, and that this seduction can drive a crowd to action.7 In this study, the images of the crowd, the crowd which gathers to watch the spectacle (of the imagined image), becomes the spectacle themselves. These crowds were driven by images and, I argue, to images.

An integral part of the spectacle of lynching was the creation and proliferation of souvenirs, often times a photographic postcard. In these postcards, the crowd, which gathers to watch the spectacle, is photographed. By being made into an image, they become the spectacle. The audience is the subject. They are also part of the intended audience for the image, making the spectator the audience and the subject. These postcards worked to broaden the audience of the spectacle, creating a less tangible audience of those who bought and received postcards (images) of the event. They too are now seduced by the images, threatening transformation to an act, and the cycle continues.

Image 1
Spectators at the lynching of Jesse Washington, May 16, 1916, Waco TX. 
From the collection of Allen/Littlefield. 

This 5 ½ x 3 ½, black and white image is a real photo postcard. Hundreds of individuals can be seen at what appears to be the core of an even larger crowd. The term “real photo postcard” refers to an postcard printed in the darkroom and typically editioned as 100 or less.8 It shows the view from above, a great way to capture the image of the crowd. Reminiscent of the oceanic crowds of fascist propaganda, it is a tightly packed sea of hats, heads and shoulders. At first, it is hard to notice anything but the crowd. There is a tree just right of center, whose branches reach out of frame. At the base of the tree, to the right is the naked, tangled corpse of Jesse Washington, rope still around his neck.

Image 2
The lynching of Laura Nelson and her son, and several dozen onlookers. May 25, 1911, Okemah, Oklahoma. Gelatin Silver Print. Real photo postcard 5 ½ x 3 ½. Etched into negative, “1911 copyright, G.H.Farnum, Okemah, OKLA 2897”

With a warm sepia tone, this image is, at first glance, pleasing, even serene. A steel bridge rises over a picturesque rural, river. White townspeople, including men, women and numerous children, line the bridge. Relaxed and casual, they face the camera. Look a little longer and the lynched bodies of Laura Nelson and her son can be seen dangling between the bridge and the water. She is wearing a light colored long-sleeved dress with her arms at her side. Her figure almost disappears into the light background of the trees in the distance, the rope from which she hangs is barely visable. About 20 feet to her left hangs her son. The rope which hangs him makes a bright white line to his body which, is somewhat camouflaged by the trees in the background. His hands are bound, he is wearing a white shirt and his pants dangle from his feet. Ms. Nelson and her son were taken from the jailhouse without impediment by a posse of 40 men in the night. They were gagged and taken to a new steel bridge in a black settlement where they were hanged. Ms. Nelson had confessed to the crime of murder in an effort to protect her son. Though she was known to be innocent for many weeks, and her son sat untried by a court of law, they were hanged in an act of vigilante justice to avenge the shooting death of a white man.9 In an account of the events in an Oklahoma newspaper it was reveled that, “Hundreds of people from Okemah and the western part of the country went to view the scene.”10 One can assume then, that this image was taken on one of these sight seeing trips.

LeBon and Thompson draw conclusions that help us to make sense of a complicit crowd, which views and encourages acts of (extreme) violence. Latent tensions are the real underpinnings of the rise of mobs/crowds in revolutions. Considering the context, the times, in which a crowd was living, is integral in understanding their motivations. In the case of these crowds, one can point to a backdrop of racism, segregation, proximity, poverty, fear, the perceived threat of social mobility of Southern African-Americans, as well as the invented sexual threat of the Southern black man, which all play a dangerous and foundational role in the actions of the crowd. 

In the context of social folk photography, these images are shameful and telling.11 They are as full of contradictions and dichotomies as the people in the crowds. Reproduced and disseminated, these images of specific, horrific, acts of violence make it impossible for us to ignore the event, but they can be read (remembered/presented) a number of ways. How do we interpret the visual information then vs. now? As Congressman Lewis notes, “These images stretch our credulity, even numb our minds and senses to the full extent of the horror, but they must be examined.” 12 I will address here: the the make-up of the crowd, the leaders, morals and motivations of the crowd, including rape, and finally, the role of the democratization of photography on the viewers.

Both of theses images, but especially Image Two evoke Brazilian, social documentary photographer Sebastião Selgado's mechanism of showing something horrible in a beautiful way. The scene is romanticized. Does this work to blind us to the brutal reality? Image 1 and 2 represent seemingly different crowds, but in many ways they are the same, they share the same motivations - they hunger for the same image, that of a dead black man or woman at the hands of a white crowd. They represent (but not in the same frame) as Stefan Jonnson points out in David's Tennis Court Oath does, “ a well-organized assembly and a raging mob [are] crossed with each other”.13 These images represent the enduring dualities of the crowd and their motivations.

Who makes up a/this crowd? Why is this important?

Lynchings were carried out by groups large and small.14 The term “lynch mob” is used to refer to persons responsible for inflicting (physical) deadly violence and sometimes the entire group of spectators as a whole. The physical aggressors are just a small part of a much bigger audience and together they are the crowd. The lynch mob/crowd is multifaceted. It includes active lynchers, spectators/fans, the large group of complacent towns people, politicians. Additionally, the images expand the audience even further, to the wider country as a whole, and they continue reach out, making the audience ever larger. The expanded audience includes those who got postcards, who may have pinned them to their wall, showed them to friends, and even put them in family albums, and now us. We, as the newest viewers of these images, become a witness to these atrocities and join the audience, all thank to the technology of photography.

The term “lynch mob” evokes a certain image of chaos, but this was not always the case. To be sure these mobs/crowds were terrifying and represented the worst of many long held fears of the crowd, but even orderly crowds can invoke terror. Indeed, the Latin root for crowd is “tuba” meaning “to trouble or stir up”, turbulence. 15 This fear is represented by the fact that, “In populous Rome, a large crowd of men was viewed as such an unpredictable and potentially hostile force that the Roman army was forbidden from marching into the city.” 16 

The media of the time placed a distinction on ”good”, orderly executions by the community.23 By one Atlanta newspaper's account the crowd at a lynching were “orderly and conservative” not “foreign or lawless”.24 In some instances the victims were given time to pray and say goodbye to family and friends. The word was put out to farmers in the surrounding areas and spectators were brought in by train to view the event.25 The crowd grew. At the time, society tried to exult and justify the crowd, stressing their dignity and the need for such actions as necessary. Ironically, over time, history has tried to make out lynchings to be the acts of a few disenfranchised barbarians, in an effort to sanitize the truth. Like LeBon's investigation into the crowds of the French revolution, we need to take the time to understand who these people really were. It is the only way to avoid the same type of atrocities in the future.

So who made up these lynch mobs/crowds? We know that there was fair number of “church goers” in the group which can account for the “relative silence of white churches,” in a deeply devote South.17 Other participants included: merchants, farmers, laborers, machine operators, teachers, lawyers, doctors, policemen, students and children.18 According to LeBon this crowd represents a sect, “individuals differing greatly as to their education, their professions and the class of society to which they belong, and with their common beliefs as the connecting link.”19 The crowd present in both presented images is homogenous, that is, almost entirely white. According to LeBon, “the violence of the feelings of crowds is also increased, even in heterogeneous crowds, by the absence of all sense of responsibility. These sentiments are atavistic residuum of the instincts of the primitive man, which the fear of punishment obliges the isolated and responsible individual to curb. Thus it is that crowds are so easily led into the worst excess.”20 These homogenous crowds, they were able to kill, kidnap, and torture with impunity. Endorsed by politicians and ignored by the legal system, crowds could murder with abandon because of the complacent nature the townspeople who do not actively participate, but did nothing to intervene, thus becoming an extension of the crowd. ”Townspeople closed ranks to protect their own kind, thereby becoming partners in the crimes committed...juries refused to bring indictments against easily identifiable mob participants,” ruling the deaths to have taken place, “at the hands of persons unknown.”21 indeed, they, “inflicted their terror as crowds and mobs, rarely as individuals.”22

As mentioned before, in image 1 the crowd is (almost?) entirely male, and white. At least five black men can be seen in the image. In this, by today's standards, poor quality black and white image, the white farmers and other laboring white folks, darkened from the sun, are at times almost impossible to discern from a black individual. Almost all of the men in this image are wearing hats, though not the same style, some are tattered and some are crisp and white. Ten gallon hats for cowboys, fedoras, flat caps and “boss of the plains” are all seen by the various spectators.26 This ocean of hats represents all class of white folks from the community, from well-to-do, to common laborers. This crowd is packed tightly, shoulder to shoulder they form a tight ring around the tree, clearing by only a few feet, the tree where Mr. Washington was lynched and to where his naked, disfigured body is still tied. His body and the base of this tree are the center of the photograph. A white man in a dark suit, hat, jacket and tie, is at the horrific heart of the scene, stands within the narrow clearance. Is he a politician or a sheriff? Two men without jackets or ties are also active within the narrow clearance. One holds the open end of the lynching rope with one hand, while he looks down to inspect the desecrated corpse on the other end. To his left is a blurred figure, the camera has caught him in a fast action. It appears as though he is beating the already dead and defiled body of Mr. Washington with a long stick. Is this picture showing a frozen-in-time act of violence upon the victim's corpse? This assembled crowd spills off the frame in every direction. It is likely that many of them witnessed much, if not all, of what was likely the extended torture of Mr. Washington and his horrifying death. The dipicted prolonged abuse of his his corpse was not uncommon, also he is naked, as many male victims were sexually assaulted and mutilated, a bit more on this later. The men toward the center, having by nature of the tightly packed crowd, likely the longest, may be the original instigators. But by looking at them we can't tell – which one of them brought a rope that day? Who called for this death? The point of the crowd is that IT DOESN'T matter. There was a rope and a man was killed, but by whom remains unspoken and in that regard unanswerable. 

Image 2 shows a much more relaxed crowd of 60 or so people, though it is impossible to say if they are all white, most if not all of them are. They are loosely spaced, standing at the railing of a bridge. This “real photo postcard," taken after the crime of the lynchings,  shows a number of men, women and children. It is likely that many of them, the women and children at least, did not witness the actual lynchings, but came to view the scene.27 Some of these these people are women are dressed well, some have parasols, perhaps they have dressed to be seen and in the hopes of having their picture taken with the ghastly scene. Though not written about this image it applies here, “the assembly...looks out at the photographer/spectator – as if they have satiated their appetites for the black corpse hanging...What they want to see now is themselves looking at the camera...”28

One man has removed his hat, but one cannot know why. Is it a gesture to the murdered mother and son? Or, a nod to the still novel act of having his portrait taken? We cannot know the specific thoughts of this spectating crowd, but their presence and willingness to pose seem to affirm their support for the murders and for the normalization, even commemoration( a celebration) of the act of lynching. Still, not everyone who witnessed a lynching, nor everyone who was photographed, was supportive of this vigilante violence. Quoted in Without Sanctuary, a white spectator wrote, “I am a white man, but today is one day that I am certainly sorry that I am one... I am disgusted with my country.”29

Could any one man have stopped a lynching? Could the momentum of the crowd have been stopped? In 51 BC Cicero said, “(there is) no fire so hard to check as the vengeance of the un restrained mob.”30 It is doubtful that any one person, or even a small group, could have stopped a lynch mob. If Laura Nelson is any indication of what happens when you try to protect an intended victim. I have read no reports of this happening and there are very few men known to survive a lynch mob.31

Indeed, the shamed an remorseful white spectator is somewhat of an exception. How can the audience be so calm and complacent in light of such a abhorrent sight? Often times, smiling, pointing and posing?32 Crowds, according to LeBon are “readily influenced by not admit doubt or uncertainty, and always go to extremes.”33 This can begin to explain how a group of “normal” even “good” people participate in the kidnap, torture and lawless murder of an often-times innocent victim. “A crowd which slowly slaughters a defenseless victim displays a very cowardly ferocity; but for the philosopher this ferocity is closely related to that of the huntsman who gather in the dozens for the pleasure of taking part in the pursuit and killing of a luckless stag by their hounds.”34 This can begin to answer the question Who or what leads a crowd to such extremes?

What drives this crowd?

Crowds, which are, according to LeBon, “incapable of..thinking for any length of time,” need a leader.35 They are simple, exaggerated and intolerant.36 “An orator wishing to move a crowd must make an abusive use of violent affirmations. To exaggerate, to affirm, to resort to repetitions, and never to attempt to prove anything by reasoning are methods of argument well known to speakers at public meeting.” 37 We have seen some of these various methods employed throughout history in leaders and great and unifying orators such as, Dr. Martin Luther King and Jr, JFK as well as in more sinister speakers like television evangelists or even Hitler to name a few. “An orator in intimate communication with a crowd can evoke images by which it will be seduced.”38 The lynch mob seems to have two leaders, first the longed for image, and next, the orator, which, I argue, stands only to prop up the image, the real drive of the crowd. One such orator proudly proclaimed, “I led the mob which lynched Nelse Patton, and I am proud of it. I directed every moment of the mob and I did everything I could to see that he was lynched.” 39 The previously seen image (a photograph?), implied (impending), and anticipated image of a murdered black man or woman, which can confirm their place in society, was the driving image of these crowds. According to one black observer, whites knew that the image of “one Negro swinging from a tree will serve as well as another to terrorize a community.”40 Even better was a photograph proving they were there.

If, in images 1 and 2, these crowds are gathered around their leader, then we can see that this crowd is lead by violence and hate, but how did they get there?

According to LeBon, “A long time is necessary for ideas to establish themselves in the minds of the crowds, but just as long is needed for the to be eradicated.”41 Indeed, the painful and divisive end of slavery, coupled with the black mans suffrage (1870), threatened the white patriarchal hierarchy that was in place throughout the country, but deeply and bitterly entrenched in the South. The “new negro, born in freedom” was a threat to the white man.42 According to Congressman Lewis, “ If lynchings were calculated to send a message to the black community to underscore its vulnerability, whites succeeded.”43 The terror of lynching was made viral with the photo postcard. In one instance, a minster from New York who had spoken out against lynching got a postcard in the mail, “depicting a crowd in Alabama posing for a photographer next to the body of a black man dangling by a rope,” on the back it read, “This is the way we do them down here. The last lynching has not been put on a card yet. Will put you on our regular mailing list. Expect one a month.”44 This is a good example of the use of the image and its proliferation hard at work to spread the image that drove the lynch crowds. Incidentally, in many cases, it is also an image of that crowd.

Besides spreading the message of fear and terror to people with anti lynching sentiments, both black and white, it helped to codify those who were in favor of the practice. Not unlike the sense of national unity created by posters and pull out panoramas of Italian Fascism, these images fed and created a larger audience.45

Thompson notes that there are, “popular attitudes towards crime, amounting at times to an unwritten code, quite distinct from the laws of the land. Certain crimes were outlawed by both codes...”46 He continues, “the distinction between the legal code and the unwritten popular code is a commonplace at any time.”47 In Without Sanctuary there are plenty of examples in which the victim was proven innocent in a court of law and still murdered by the lynch mob, representing street justice.48 According to LeBon, “The usual motive of crowds is a powerful suggestion, and the individuals who take part in such crimes are afterwards convinced that they have acted in obedience to duty, which is far from being the case with an ordinary criminal.”49 There existed, “the murderer's conviction that he has committed a very meritous act...An act of this kind may be considered a crime legally, but not psychologically.”50 With this in mind one can see how a crowd is driven by a sense of exaggerated justifiable justice.

Adding to the disconnect between the crowd and the victim was the segregation and separate living quarters and conditions of blacks and whites in the South. Living separately can act to dehumanize one group from another and breed fear.51 This is evidenced in historian David Harvey's study into Belleville. In 1855 the prefect of police in Paris laments the class segregated neighborhoods. He thinks the checks put in place by poor citizens proximity to their more well-to-do neighbors are now lost, and also that there is no longer a direct form of neighborly assistance that can humanize the poor to the more wealthy while also assisting the poor (economically and otherwise).52 New communities like Belleville that were strictly of the lower class became places the upper class feared.53 This is a clear example of the, “ growing spacial segregation, and specialization of quarters.” The segregation in the South was racial, and, one could argue that entire rural communities were spatially segregated by distance from nearby towns and cities. One can only image how an isolated and segregated group, griped with fear would act when they perceived a threat to their power. The evidence of such actions are these images. The crowds within are, “too impulsive and too mobile to be moral”.54

There are accounts of lynching happening just because there hadn't been one in a while. This would imply that lynching had elements of sport to it. According to Congressman Lewis, “For some, “nigger killing” had simply become a sport...prompting one black newspaper in 1911 to call it “The National Pastime”.55 This recalls the aforementioned image of the “luckless stag”. These lynching victims are Martyrs. If, “Martyrdom is...a dance between the individual and a vision of collective-vision...the collective need not be present in its entirety,”56 Accordingly, “...what must be present, at the site is a crowd of opponents...”, this definition fits the bill precisely. 57 The crowd at a lynching surely being a crowd of opponents to the lynched. This idea, along with the concept of religious relics, has a strong parallel to lynching events in America's history. In ancient Rome, criminals being put to death were subjected to painful and gruesome public torture, often in a “fitting” manner as to “suit” the crime.58 This was played out in the drama of American lynchings, as seen in the sexual mutilation of victims accused of rape, for instance. Lynchings, elevated to theatrical drama, calling on societal myths, stereotypes and fears.59

The stereotype (and white male's creation) of an “African” oversexed predatory brute was a common theme in lynching theatrics.The crime of rape played an important role in the perpetuation of lynching. Often times there was grotesque and sadistic mutilation of the victim's genitals.60  History shows us that this fabrication was an inversion of the actual sexual violence which was common between the races, namely the rape of black women by white men in power and NOT the rape of white women by black men.

In LeBon's assertion of a crowd, “a single great crime drives them to action.“61 In the case of numerous lynchings that crime was rape. Murder was committed under the banner, “we must protect our southern women.”62 This was part of the ocular economy in the South, of who can look at who.63 The reported (or purported) rape of a white woman, by a black man, was often times the catalyst for a lynch mob. It played into the fears and insecurities of the (rural) white man. To hear one black souther man tell it, “The closer a black man got to the ballot box...the more he looked like a rapist.” 64According to art historian T.J Clark there is often a sexual component to the revolutionary crowd “compounded sexual fears with fear of revolution”.65 I'm not sure that a lynch mob can be described as “revolutionary”, though perhaps at the time they would have described themselves that way.

“White fears were based on the assumption that most lynching stemmed from sexual assault.”66 However, this is not the case, only 19% of those (on record) lynched between 1889 and 1918 were even accused of rape.67 An interesting point made by congressman Lewis, “Whites seemed incapable of grasping the fundamental hypocrisy which condemned black rape of white women and condoned or ignored white rape of black women.”68 Another example of the dual (contradictory) nature of the crowd.

As is the case with many crowds, what they thought had happened was more important than what actually happen.69 As Thompson notes, “stout fellows that would spend the last drop of their blood against the popery that do not know weather it be a man or a horse.”70 As in lynchings where the person had been found innocent or the case without evidence. Fabricated stories were swallowed whole heartedly by the mass, which went onto seek retribution for the “crime”. Typically, the “affirmation of the first witness, himself a victim of illusion, had sufficed to influence the other witnesses.”71

Lynchers, with the help of the news media and images of lynchings, created a monster; the violent, uncontrollable black rapist. “Having created a Frankenstein monster (and it is no less terrifying because it is largely illusory) the lyncher lives in constant fear of his own creation.”72 Then in an effort to protect themselves from a “decent in to anarchy and barbarism” they perpetrate it savagely upon their imagined enemies, and very real victims.

Photography as Postcard
With the advent of the personal Kodak, and the democratic proliferation of photography, in the early decades of the 1900s, the photo postcard became a popular form of communication and correspondence.73 It is hard to underscore how hugely important and innovative this was for people at the time. It revolutionized correspondence, primarily for people who did not live close to family and friends and had no money to travel. Buying and mailing a postcard could be done for about 5 cents and with a little more money you might buy your own camera.

“Hundreds of kodaks clicked all morning at the scene of the lynching. People...came from miles around to view thew corpse dangling at the end of a rope....Picture card photographers installed a portable printing plant at the bridge and reaped a harvest in selling postcards showing a photograph of the lynched Negro.”74

These souvenirs were a way of proving/authenticity saying, “I was there.” Recording an event with a photograph was nothing short of revolutionary, it was so much more than a memory or a tale. It seemed to prove something, to show something 'real.' It made it harder to deny the event or to forget - both for the intimidators and the intimidatees.

Consider these quotes from Without Sanctuary:

In reference to a lynch mob and deceased victim it was said, “The exuberant and proud lynchers..posed around him while photographers recorded the scene.”75

Also, “It was not uncommon for members of lynch mob to pose for news photographers with the sheriff and the intended victim.”76

These images implicate the vast, gawking and guilty crowd, their ”self-satisfied expressions as the pose beneath black people hanging from a rope...”77 In a time before people thought to smile for the camera and often times held still for long exposures, it is hard to read the expressions of the people in these images. This is especially true in light of our inundation with images today, and the ease with which we can achieve them. Interesting by today's standards, no one is hiding their face in these images. Maybe it was because photography was so new and the dissemination, as well as its implications to identity and privacy were not fully realized. The future of image proliferation could not have been foreseen. I have only seen one image where someone appears to be hiding his face (in shame?), a solo shot with the lynching victim. As mentioned before, these crowds acted with impunity. Today the images could be used against them in court or law or public opinion, instead they are evidence to a sadistic history in Without Sanctuary. It is true though, that even with the images of these individuals, the identities of most of them are lost to history.

The images were ultimately used for contradictory purposes, and now in yet another new light with the publication of Without Sanctuary. Used, at the time, as propaganda for the lynch mobs/crowds, they were a threat, a warning to blacks and whites alike who were against the disgusting practice. They were also used by black publishers, and politicians, and sent to sympathetic publications both at home and abroad. Black newspapers were encouraged to print the images, ”so that the world can see and know what the semi-barbaious America is doing.”78 This is not propaganda if the definition is, “forms of mass persuasion to which one is adverse”.79 The images were played both “for” and “against” lynching.

So, what effect does the viewing of these images have on the people who were able to view them through this revolutionary technology of photography? What was the effect on the men, women and children who saw those images then and who see them now? When writing in a public place I am careful not to leave an image of a lynching face up or in view of anyone, especially a child. The images continue to terrorize and also to expand the audience, prolonging the spectacle. We can reasonably assume that viewing these images would traumatize a child. Writer James Baldwin tells the tale of two young friends in the South, one black and one white. After a lynching in the town their friendship is too fractured to grow, changing forever their innocent childhood love for each other.80 This is the way in which the act of lynching was intended to function by the lynch mob, and an act which an image can replicate ad infinitum.

Consider the viewing of these images by a black man, then or now. In this case, the “spectator as victim”.81 This is not something I can fully elaborate on here, but to try and sum up a very complicated equation I will quote noted African-American author, Richard Wright. History professor and writer, David Marriott quotes Wright in this excerpt, “ The 'emotional truth' of the feeling that 'there existed men against whom I was powerless, men who could violate my life 'at will' (the pedagogic value of the lynch photo)”.82 Marriott, “this is what the lynchers want. A memory, an imago, that will not go away.”83

Role of the Photographer (photography) 
These perpetual effects show the power of image making and an artists translation of information. In regards to the folk photographer, Sante said, “He or she was out to do a job, to please the public, to turn a dollar, but also to record things faithfully, to include as many details of a scene as the frame could contain...”84 In the case of the lynching photographer, “Not only did photographers capture the execution itself, but also the carnival-like atmosphere and the expectant mood of the crowd...”.85

Is the photographer in this case, as was stated in Crowds a “dictators double”?86 He or she stands apart and often above the crowd, but also remains a part of the crowd/mob. The photographer is not complicit in the act, they are taking action. They are taking a photograph. The photographer may even be the only person on the scene who is doing anything (if even inadvertently) to speak against the act.

These images are black and white in more ways than one. Besides being black and white photographs they represent (almost?) exclusively, African-American and white Americans, that is, blacks and whites. They are read in both positive and negative terms depending on who views them. One could see them as representative of the the fight between good and evil, either side fits. According to writer Stefan Jonsson, depending on your point of view, “view varies accordingly, one of enduring fraternity, one of dangerous subversion.”87 This is the enduring dichotomy of the crowds. The glaring bifurcation of the lynch mob, who uses terror and torture in the name of restraining savagery and depravity.88

With lynching, white patriarchy was trying to undermin what the black man had attained in regards to social freedoms, civil rights and education. Flaubert wrote, “To accomplish anything lasting,” he wrote, “one must have a solid foundation. The thought of the future torments us, and the past is holding us back. That is why the present is slipping from our grasp.”89 This very well could have been said by a black man in the South in this post slavery period, where one tried to establish themselves as equals with former slave owners and white citizens in general.

It is my assertion that photography, and its publication, as well as its new democratic dissemination, in part through the US Post Office, prolonged and endorsed the grotesque phenomenon of lynching in the United States, Sante's democratization of the photographic image. Viewing lynching images from many angles we can begin to see how the camera effected these events in regards to the crowd, the role of the photographer, and finally the devastating effect of these images on viewers especially African-American individuals, then and now. We can see how these crowds, who are driven by an image, quite literally return to one. 

Again, “A long time is necessary for ideas to establish themselves in the minds of crowd, but just as long a time is needed for them to be eradicated.”90 LeBon

As long as this visual evidence exists can these ideas ever be eradicated, as the audience continues to grow? Acting as prop for each side, “Look at what we are capable of.” (as if to say, “you have been warned.”) “Look at what they are capable of?!” If we can never un-see these images, and we can't, how can these images work toward the eradication of hate. The answer ironically, is that these very images work to prolong the spectacle and also to work against these atrocities as enduring evidence that these were not the acts of a few deranged men.

The lynching audience often lingered beyond the event. They stop coming (leave) only when the body is taken down, the “crowd disburses when the spectacle is over.”91 Over until the postcards come out, and then it can be relived again, and again.

1 Jeffery T. Schnapp and Matthew Tiews, Crowds (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 2006), 3.
2 James Allen, et al.,Without Sanctuary (Santa Fe, New Mexico: Twin Palms Publishers, 2010), 7.
3 Luc Sante, Folk Photography, (Portland, Oregon: Verrse Chorus Press, 2009), 9.
4 Ibid, 9.
5 Allen, et al., Without Sanctuary 13.
6 Gustave LeBon, The Crowd: a study of the popular mind (T.F. Unwind, 1952), 28.
7 Ibid, 28.
8Sante, Folk Photography, 9.
9 Allen, et al., Without Sanctuary, 179.
10Ibid, 180.
11Sante, Folk Photography, 9.
12Allen, et al., Without Sanctuary, 34.
13Schnapp, Crowds, 55.
14 Allen, et al., Without Sanctuary, 10.
15Schnapp, Crowds, 30.
16Ibid, 30.
17Allen, et al., Without Sanctuary, 21.
18Ibid p34
19LeBon, The Crowd, 5.
20Ibid, 17.
21 Allen, et al., Without Sanctuary, 20.
22Ibid, 28.
23Allen, et al., Without Sanctuary, 17.
24Ibid, 10.
25Allen, et al., Without Sanctuary,18.
26 "Wikipedia: Hats",, accessed April 29th
27Allen, et al., Without Sanctuary, 180.
28Marriott, On Black Men, 6.
29 Allen, et al., Without Sanctuary, 17.
30 Schnapp, Crowds, 4.
31Marriott, On Black Men, 5.
32 though not in these two chosen examples, which show larger groups. Individual portraits show more personal gesturing and glee (?) in the people who pose with the lynched bodies.
33LeBon, The Crowd, 8.
34Ibid, 21.
35Ibid, 10.
36Ibid,15 and 19.
37Ibid, 18.
38 Ibid, 27.
39Allen, et al., Without Sanctuary, 20.
40Ibid, 16.
41LeBon, The Crowd, 26.
42Allen, et al., Without Sanctuary, 11.
43Ibid, 27.
44Allen, et al., Without Sanctuary, 11.
45I could not cite this in out texts, but I pulled it out of my notes from the third week of class.
46E.P .Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class, 77.
47Ibid, 78.
48Allen, et al., Without Sanctuary, 17.
49LeBon, The Crowd, 30.
50Ibid, 31.
51David Harvey, Paris, Capital of Modernity, 253.
52Ibid, 237.
53Ibid, 237.
54 LeBon, The Crowd, 20.
55Allen, et al., Without Sanctuary, 26
56 Schnapp, Crowds, 140.
57 Schnapp, Crowds, 143.
59Marriott, On Black Men, 20.
60Ibid, 6.
61LeBon, The Crowd, 29.
62Allen, et al., Without Sanctuary, 10.
63Ibid, 24.
64Allen, et al., Without Sanctuary, 30.
65Harvey, Paris, Capital of Modernity, 249.
66Allen, et al., Without Sanctuary, 23.
67 Ibid, 24.
68Ibid, 23.
69Ibid, 24.
70Thompson, English Working Class, 83.
71LeBon, The Crowd, 14.
72Allen, et al., Without Sanctuary, 24.
73Sante, Folk Photography, 9.
74 Allen, et al., Without Sanctuary, 11.
75Ibid, 11.
76Ibid, 20.
77Ibid, 34.
78Ibid, 11.
79Schnapp, Crowds, 2.
80Marriott, On Black Men, 17.
81 Ibid, 4.
82Ibid, 11.
83Ibid, 15.
84 Sante, Folk Photography,12.
85Allen, et al., Without Sanctuary, 11.
86Schnapp, Crowds, 15.
87Crowds p 55 Jonson
88Allen, et al., Without Sanctuary,12.
89 Harvey, Paris, Capital of Modernity, 236.
90 LeBon, The Crowd, 26.
91 Allen, et al., Without Sanctuary, 18.


1. Allen, James, Hilton Als, John Lewis and Leon F. Litwack, Without Sanctuary.
Santa Fe, New Mexico: Twin Palms Publishers, 2010
2. Clark, T.J., Image of the People: Gustave Courbet and the 1848 Revolution.
Princeton University Press, 1981 (Reader)
3. Harvey, David, Paris, Capital of Modernity.
Routledge, 2003 (Reader)
4. LeBon, Gustave, The Crowd: a study of the popular mind.
T.F. Unwin, 1952 (Reader)
5. Marriott, David, On Black Me.
New York, NY: Columbia Unversity Press, 2000
6. Sante, Luc Folk Photography.
Portland, Oregon: Verrse Chorus Press, 2009
7. Schnapp, Jeffery T. and Matthew Tiews, Crowds.
Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 2006
8. Thompson, E.P., The Making of the English Working Class.
Vintage, 1966 (Reader)

Friday, July 7, 2017

I Married a Muslim - Love, google and three intercultural weddings

"Included here you will see photos of my husband and I, but I chose not to share the image of our union which is the most special to me. An image from my third wedding, my “Imam nikahı ” or Imam wedding service."

Saturday, May 13, 2017

From: Annelerimize Mektuplar (Letters to Our Mothers) – A Mother’s Day Tribute

Written for and originally posted on

I am lucky – I have awesome mom. She patiently put up with me as an “energetic” child. She has been my biggest advocate, from taking me to the emergency room close to 20 times, to encouraging me to pursue my dreams to study, write and make art. She is always there for me. 

I can say that she is a great cook, a great baker of cookies and cakes and great at giving baths to dogs and babies – always asking, “What’s the best part about taking a bath?” (the answer is, “Hugs when you’re done!”) She’s great at braiding hair. She is a surprisingly accurate webMD and she has an uncanny intuition. She has a great eye for art and colors. She is great at running numbers. Between my sister and myself, she has sat through at least 1,000 gymnastics meets, track meets and basketball games. She is one of 8 kids and has a twin brother. She is a grandmother to three. At the age of 60 she had heart surgery and started to train – she started boxing, and lifting weights. My sister and I, who have always wondered from where we got our athletic acumen were somewhat surprised to learn that, along with our freckles and thick wavy hair, we got it from our mom.

Last year, at the age of 69, she took her first solo trip abroad – to Turkey, to help me care for my new baby. In so many ways, she has traveled quite a long way from her tiny hometown in Wisconsin. Now that I have a child of my own, I realize the thing I most want to give him, is also the most important thing my mom has given to me – A deep dedication to service and fairness.

My mom goes to her numerous volunteer gigs like she’s getting paid to be there. Like many women, she is doing the unpaid and under-paid work of the world – even well into “retirement.” She has modeled an open-minded life of service through her diverse group of friends, which transverses race, class, gender and physical ability, something I now understand to be rare in this world. I could not possibly list all of the things which she as done to serve her community but it ranges from scoring track meets to volunteering for the deaf-blind community, where she spent most of her career. Today she works what is basically an unpaid, part-time job helping seniors navigate their medical bills and the new and ever-changing laws pertaining to their care, some of them younger than herself. She has taught me to, “Bloom where I am planted.”

She is awesome. She is strong. She is funny, kind and fair.

I want to be just like her. Happy Mother’s Day, mom!

I love you, and thanks.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Wishing You a Long Life (MAGA)

First they came for the Native Americans,  and I did not speak out—
Because I was not Native.
Then they came for the African Americans, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not Black.
They came for the Sick, the Poor and the Elderly, and I did not speak out—
Because I was Healthy, Middle Class and still Young.
They came for the Women, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Woman.
They came for my LGBTQ family members and friends, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not Queer.
They came for Muslims, but as a Christian, I did not speak out.
They came for the Immigrants, and I did not speak out—
Because, while I was an Immigrant, I Did Not Identify as such.
Then they came for the long suffering Refugees. But I did not speak out—
because I was not a REFUGEE.
Finally, they came for me. And there was no one left to speak for me.

The above is my play on the enigmatic words of Martin Niemöller (1892–1984). Niemöller was a prominent Protestant pastor who emerged as an outspoken public foe of Adolf Hitler and spent the last seven years of Nazi rule in concentration camps. 

Below, one iteration of his famous quote (which he stated and restated in variation during his life):

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

-Martin Niemöller

To all of you who say, "Well, wait and see!"
You are next.
To the people who say, "But, it doesn't effect you (me, them)."
You are next.
To the people with the money, status and privilege to ignore what is happening -
May you live long enough to be NEXT.


*Instead of using images in this post, as I am wont to do, please allow your mind to view the images of the above atrocities which it conjures while you read. If they appear in a flash, let them linger. If you're unmoved, stop for a moment and imagine the sound. The screams. The sobs. The ear piercing shrieks and low primal moans of the suffering. The soft last words and urgent declaration of prayer from the dying. This is the suffering of millions of people who need and deserve the freedoms and protections enjoyed by the select and privileged few, who have put Capital above human life and dignity.

To the complicit, silent, unbothered and (yes, we see you) the amused and entertained,
History will remember your silence and your cruelty. It will lament your inability to think critically, to know and remember the past and to own up to your wrongs.
Your ignorance is your shame.
Your fear, while palpable, does not entitle you to your many misdeeds.

Wishing you a long (enough) life that you, too, may see them come for you.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Having a Baby in Turkey - reposted from

It’s amazing how things can change in just a few short years. Three years ago, I accepted a job in Turkey. Six months later I met my husband, and a year after that we were honeymooning in Rome. Today, I am at a cafe, one block from my home in Istanbul, drinking coffee and catching up on emails. This is especially delightful for me because it is one of the few times in the six months since my baby was born that I am alone. I am living my past, pre-baby life, if only for an hour. But, honestly, who am I kidding? That life is gone forever. When I was younger, I did think I would get married and maybe even have a child, but I never day dreamed over the details. Single at 35, I figured that I may be heading in a slightly less conventional direction. I certainly never pictured myself as a ‘yabanci gelin’ or ‘foreign bride.’ I never pictured a life in Turkey.

The first thing I did after accepting a job in Turkey was google “Country of Turkey.” I had only the vaguest ideas about the place. What language do they speak? Is it a secular country? Is it a ‘first world’ country? Is it safe? The answers are not always so clear cut and, indeed, have shifted even in my short time here.

Kaya & I
Getting pregnant opened up a whole new field of research for me. Many well-to-do Turks go abroad, many to the US, to have their babies. They do this for the Passport and not because the care is better or more advanced. In fact, both Turkey and the US have similar ideas about childbirth and share some of the highest C-section rates in the world. Practical differences in Turkey include access to affordable healthcare, maternity leave, “milk pay” and other baby benefits undreamed of in the States. Of course, there are some cultural differences, many private hospitals in Turkey include hairdressers and photographers as part of your birthing suite package. Accommodations for relatives and extended family are available, as they are expected to parade through the hospital during labor and childbirth. As a US citizen, my baby will not need to be born in the US to get an American passport. As a American citizen, I can apply at the embassy with a certificate of foreign birth. Many Turks seemed surprised that I chose to have my baby here, in Istanbul. Besides the expense, the inconvenience of it made it a non option for us. I wanted to take our baby from the hospital to our home. Not on a 12 hour flight back to Turkey.

When I was 4 months pregnant we took a trip to see my in-laws. My mother and sisters-in-law shared their birth stories with me. My mother-in-law has 8 children, all born in the East of Turkey in Diyarbakır. My husband, her last, was the only one born in a clinic. At over 4 kilos, and breech, it’s no wonder she decided to stop there. The baby of this big beautiful family, my husband wants a lot of kids. But, I remind him, we’re getting a late start and we have agreed to take it one baby at a time.

The summer of my pregnancy was hot and full of political drama here in Turkey. Our little hot box of an apartment near Taksim Square gave us a front row seat to the failed coup attempt. Nearby buildings were riddled with bullet holes and shattered glass from sonic booms. With just a little over a month to go, we moved across the Bosphorus to the Asian side of Istanbul. We found a new doctor and a hospital walking distance from our new home.

Pre-baby, with my husband and in-laws.

I spent the first few days at our new place unpacking, washing baby clothes and napping in front of our glorious air conditioner. We knew our baby was on the small side so I was hoping to go late, maybe 41 or 42 weeks. One morning, not even two weeks after our move, at 38 weeks exactly, while assembling my new IKEA desk, my water broke. It was not like the movies. Thinking we had another two weeks at least, it was quite a surprise.

Our doctor said to meet her at the hospital. We took our time, I cleaned the kitchen and packed a bag while my husband finished the desk. I expected to be sent home until I was properly in labor, but we were admitted. For two days we waited for me to go into labor. We watched the Olympics in what we joked was our “expensive hotel with shitty food and no pool.” We ignored calls from our moms (how do they know?!) and generally laid low, hoping to avoid the crush of calls and visits. The risk of water breaking before labor is infection for the mother and or child. The accepted time frame before interventions maxes out around 48 hours. At the end of the second day things were finally happening. After 35 hours of waiting, blood draws and antibiotic shots, we were finally on a roll. At 11 PM on the second day I was in early labor when we decided to go to bed and rest up for the impending main event.

I turned off our mood music and blew out the candles. My husband and I got into bed feeling relaxed and ready. Seemingly even before my eyes closed an orderly barged in. Holding electric hair clippers she announced, in Turkish, that she was here to prep me for my C-section. I figured that she had the wrong room, I understood her just fine, but I was confused. The lights came on, the nurse came in and while my husband translated, it became clear that my doctor was on the way. My last blood test had shown a dramatic rise in my white blood cell count indicating the risk of infection was now high. Our doctor who literally wrote the book on “natural birth” was recommending a C-section. Even though I was in labor it could still be many hours until delivery. “We have waited as long as we can safely wait.” she explained, “The baby is not in distress, so now is the time.” Even though a C-section was not our “Plan A” we had discussed our wishes if that is how things turned out. It was an easy decision to take her advice, but the transition was a little overwhelming. The doctor left to prep for surgery and the nurse handed me a gown (I had been wearing my own clothes up until now). I got on the bed and suddenly, I felt like a patient, a sick person, not a pregnant lady. I cried for a second, but only a second as a big Turkish man with a big round belly and big broom mustache came in and lifted me onto what felt like a wooden slab. Naked except for my thin hospital gown, he wheeled me down the hall and we rode the elevator into the frigid, basement operating room. I could not understand a word he said – was this guy even speaking Turkish? He transferred me to the operating table – anesthesiologists, nurses and tech prep, were all business, speaking muffled Turkish to each other through their masks. No one talked to me. It was so bright. It was so cold. I missed our cuddly maternity suite. Just then my doula arrived in blue scrubs. She translated and talked me through the epidural. I was having contractions every few minutes, shivering uncontrollably and my teeth were chattering violently. “OK,” she said, “hold perfectly still. It’s very important.”

They threaded the epidural into my spine and I was going numb in no time. They strapped my arms down tightly to the table. My doula said, ”Ok, I’m leaving now but your husband is coming, he’s dressed like me, but blonde.” This gave me a much needed laugh. I somehow knew what she meant. My husband, with his black hair and big black beard, came in all calm and cool in his yellow (blonde) scrubs. A few moments later our baby came out screaming, eyes wide open. It was amazing and surreal. I couldn’t see anything so I watched my husband watch our new baby. “Boy or girl?” he asked. “Erkek.” They said, in Turkish. A boy. After a quick clean-up they brought him over to me and put his cheek to mine. He stopped crying while I talked to him. “He recognizes your voice,” my husband said. They handed our tiny son to him and they left the room together.
My husband & Kaya
Now it’s just me again, and the workers. The techs were cleaning up and I could feel my body getting jerked around. The nurse told me in her best-effort English that they were cleaning my body. I was suddenly profoundly lonely. The big guy came back in, draped me with a sheet and wheeled me into the basement hallway. He left me there alone for a few minutes. Numb from the chest down, on my wooden slab. I could see into the operating room where they were removing bloody sheets and instruments, and chatting to each other. I didn’t understand one word. For a moment it felt like a sci-fi horror movie where I had been abducted by aliens, paralyzed and experimented on. “It’s over,” I told myself, “the worst is over.”

It was the last time in 6 months that I have felt alone and to be sure, I will never be truly alone again. Because even for one hour, in a coffee shop, 15 meters from my front door, I can’t stop thinking about him, my son. What is he doing? Is everything alright with him? Is he cold, hot, hungry? Does he miss me?

My son is a Kurdish, Turkish, American. He is adorable and at 6.5 months he can say “mom” in 2 languages.


Thanks, again, to for giving me a platform to write about art and life in Turkey.