No. 1 by Cecilia Montalvo

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In the summer of 1998, I loaded up the car for a family vacation and we headed to South Florida.  There was, however, one stop I had to make along the way. My closest cousin on my Father’s side had suddenly died of heart failure, and we attended her small, rural Alabama funeral on the way to the beach. I remember the gospel hymn “I’ll Fly Away” (Martha Sue’s favorite) being sung and how it struck me with profound hope, and a staggering sense of loss. Just a few hours later, I found myself walking the beach at Sanibel, wondering if the ever-squawking shorebirds were echoing the same sentiment.

It was a quiet week filled with sand castles, and shell collecting. I photographed my girls as they ran up and down the beach, digging for treasure and drowsing in the heat. It was a period of regeneration for me. A time to plan for the future, and a time to live in the moment…there were a few things I wanted to figure out, and this seemed like the place to do it.

Near the top of that list was my photography. Earlier that year I had my first solo exhibition at Jackson Fine Art…it was a survey of Baseball in Atlanta. As a team photographer for the Atlanta Braves from 1991 to 2000, it was a good time to be a baseball fan in my hometown. The survey wasn’t about their wins and loses though, their World Championship, or any of the qualifiers that make a sport relevant. The purpose of that body of work was to honor the memory of, and illustrate the relationship to Family, and how it had manifested in my maturity. In 1991 my Mother passed away from ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), and two years later, in 1993 my Father died just as unexpectedly as had my cousin…of the same affliction. This coincidence was not lost on me.

Again, as usual, I turned to photography for some solace and perspective. This time the shells on Sanibel were the objects of my expression. I photographed them for the next two years, solarizing the still-lifes, infusing the images with blinding light…reversing their tonal values and staining the finished print with tea. I felt as though I had found my voice with these particular images, and I was pleased.

Almost twenty years later, I found myself in South Georgia, halfway to Sanibel, being introduced to my birth family for the first time. It seemed evident to me (at least to my way of thinking) that the obvious thing to do was to return to South Florida to assess my current condition. So I did.

You see this was a place that fellow-photographer Cecilia Montalvo had talked about, with me, extensively.  For her, Sanibel was a place of profound importance, a place where she visited with family and, still returns to every summer…Religiously.

Cecilia and I have shared several graduate courses together, and we are both approaching our thesis work, which will begin this summer…exactly twenty years after my first visit to the island.  We want to collaborate on these barrier islands in South Florida, studying their light, and considering their meaning.  A survey that centers around a vortex of position rather than a specific place.  An empirical document that reads as a latent narrative, one that is undiscovered and potent…this is our journey.


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