Surrealism

Anthurium, 2020; A Fever Dream

Metro Washington, DC

United States

Bruce Bowers:  Photographer, Creator, Location Manager, Editor
Erin Schaal:  Photographer’s Assistant
Anastasia Green:  Model

This year, 2020, is one of the most difficult that many of us have lived through. The problems that the United States faces have a lot in common with those shared by our sisters and brothers around the world. People everywhere tend to react to both physical and emotional pain in many of the same ways. Of course, cultural differences exist, but we are bound by our shared humanity. Sudden frightening assaults from a multitude of sources elicit a human response.  “Anthurium, 2020: A Fever Dream”, incorporates a surrealist documentary format to express an emotional and psychological process, similar to that which millions have endured, in reaction to a public health crisis, political tension, economic hardship, social unrest, and painful levels of personal isolation.

The Anthurium is one of the longest blooming flowers in the world.  It is a symbol of creativity, sexuality, longevity, fellowship, and hope. It serves as an avatar as it guides our subject, model Ana Green, through the multitude of challenges that so many of us have faced during this current year.  Along with my assistant, Erin Schaal, we’ve worked together on a storyboard that I assembled about six weeks before our shoot in order to ensure that we all had a good understanding of the kinds of scenes and shooting locations that would come into play. A big challenge was to make the message accessible without getting so involved in the story that we risked losing our audience.  Not only the images, but the progression and resolution of the story is suggestive and open ended.  The captions are merely a guide.

I am well aware of the many outstanding photo projects that have been executed using COVID-19 as subject matter. Rather than taking a strictly documentary approach I address, by using referential symbols in each image, how one might react on a strictly personal level to the challenging events of 2020. In our current situation in America, these are bound together by a thread. It is not only a thread of events, it’s also one of feelings. Due to the current state of governance, fraught with constant lying and a lack of centralized leadership, the concept of objective truth has been relegated to a sliding scale and its effect is to confuse and divide us. The division of ideologies in America is worse now than at any time since our Civil war in the early 1860’s. This phenomenon will be a large part of the legacy of this period and may be responsible for tens of thousands of unnecessary deaths and unimaginable suffering.

When these photos are viewed in sequence, they are meant to be evocative, similar to a fever dream.  Every frame juxtaposes psychologically potent images.  Railroad tracks can carry us far away and are symbolic of change, loss, or the fear of either.  Walls are physical or emotional barriers and houses are strong symbols of both the subconscious and unconscious self.  My intention is that the interaction of these elements will tell the story of the subject’s personal journey.  As isolation takes hold of many of us, the repetition of events from day to day can be hypnotic.  Many of us have lives that seem as if they are being lived in continuous twilight, in a dreamy loop of repetition.  As a result, each of our interpretations of this essay will be different and will be born of our individual experience.

It seems evident that a crack has formed both in ourselves and in our country that time won’t fix. Through that crack, though, comes sunlight, hope, empathy, and a shared destiny. We dream. We hope. We imagine. We do these things until the day comes when we surrender to our new normal and go to work and school and visit our friends and take a role in our community. We may need to be very vigilant for quite a while. Eventually, though, a Valentine’s Day like the one that Ana faces will come, but without a multi-faceted menace waiting for us in the wings.

One day, hopefully, we’ll tell our children and our grandchildren about the great hurdles of 2020.  Let’s suggest to them that they nurture the wildflower in each of them and to let it flourish and bloom and be their guide through the rough patches of life.

May the future hold them, and us, warm in the arms of Grace and keep us all in good stead.

Kindly follow the captions to accompany Ana on her journey of confusion, fear, isolation, loss, realization, and re-immergence.

1. Valentine’s Day. On January 31, 2020, the United States government issued a Public Health Emergency for the Novel 2019 Coronavirus after receiving word that a new disease with lethal potential was emerging overseas. Many Americans remain unaware or confused by conflicting information. Beallsville, Maryland, USA
2. Confusion • March 1. Boyds, Maryland, USA. Stories of the spread of COVID-19 are everywhere and the media is turning up the volume on its reporting. Anxiety builds, although many people keep their feelings private.
3. Suspicion • March 16. Boyds, Maryland, USA. Theories abound and people are beginning to be divided into two camps, believers and non-believers. The government just issued a set of health guidelines for citizens and businesses. They are loosely followed as a split between denialism and science arises.
4. Apprehension • April 1. Boyds, Maryland, USA. There is no doubt that the United States has joined the world in its battle with the virus. Millions of people are laid off or furloughed from work and the stock market is in free fall. Home schooling begins.
5. Isolation • May 25. Beallsville, Maryland, USA. Seclusion is common as outings and social interactions suffer. Substance abuse, depression, domestic violence, self-harm, and financial worry are increasing. An African American man named George Floyd was brutally killed by police and protesters are taking to the streets. Emergency rooms and morgues are overflowing. It is an historically desperate time in America as the Administration downplays the severity of the virus.
6. Loss • June 1. Beallsville, Maryland, USA. Death and loss touch the lives of many. Protective equipment for frontline workers is in short supply and survival supplies for the very ill are severely depleted. Social unrest intensifies as a disproportionate number of non-white members of society suffer the worst cases of COVID-19.
7. Reflection • June 24. Beallsville, Maryland, USA. There is plenty of time for self-examination during these times of isolation and loneliness. Looking deeply through the eyes of loss, an answer may be possible.
8. Realization • June 24. Boyds, Maryland, USA. All of the citizens of the world need help. No one is exempt. Some of us feel that their face mask suddenly feels lighter and more bearable.
9. Inspiration • July 15. Beallsville, Maryland, USA. Go for a walk. Ride your bike. Go fishing. Read a book in the sunlight. Socialize outdoors and use a face mask. Use your phone more and touch base with friends. Be inspired to get back into the mainstream of life. Think about it.
10. Carefully • August 1. Boyds, Maryland, USA. For the safety and good of all among the population, most people re-enter society very carefully.
11. Crack • August 15. Beallsville, Maryland, USA. “Ring the bells that still can ring. Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything , That’s how the light gets in”. From “Anthem” by Leonard Cohen
12. Help • October 2. Beallsville, Maryland, USA. The President of the United States tested positive for COVID-19 today. Feeling alone, again, many people reach out to one another as the dreaded “Fall Surge” of infections starts and society is faced with a fresh onslaught of death and decay. Still, we go on with the dream of a vaccine, economic recovery, unification of a deeply divided populace, and the hope for a brighter future.
November 7. Beallsville, Maryland, USA. President Elect, Joe Biden and Vice President Elect, Kamala Harris, win the election. The majority of American society is filled with hope and optimism, even as the pandemic reaches its most severe level since we became aware of it last winter. People celebrate those things that they still have, as the lesson of a lifetime is learned by so many. Someday, hopefully, we’ll be able to tell our grandchildren the great story of all that happened during the year 2020.
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Bruce Bowers

I am a fine art, photo essay, and portrait photographer. I have been involved in the arts for over 45 years as a professor, a workshop facilitator, a practicing artist, and a mentor. I hold an M.F.A. in Sculpture, a Master of Photography Certificate from the NYC Institute of Photography, and a B.F.A. in Painting. I have work in several prestigious collections and over 90 exhibits of my work.

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2 Comments

  1. What a moving, accurate and beautifully photographed story of 2020. The images powerfully describe the emotional upheaval of these past months, but offer a sense of hope as we near the end of 2020. I am very grateful to Bruce Bowers for his captivating images and comments.

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