• The Secret Books
    The Secret Books
    by Jorge Luis Borges, Sean Kernan
  • Among Trees
    Among Trees
Teaching and Lecturing

Barry Realbird and Crow Project news

Barry is a Crow Indian, a hunting guide, rodeo roper, husband and father, and a great talker. You'll see him (though not yet hear him) in clips I have just posted from my October work on The Crow Project. This is the working title for a video that I am filming on the Crow Indian reservation in Montana, and the current source of my greatest excitement. I have just returned from my second shooting trip, and I really have no idea how many more there will be to get it done.

I also have no idea what done might mean in this case. My best and most honest answer is that it will be done when it doesn’t need me any more.

The project itself is meant simply to take viewers to the reservation, and to their own sense of what itfeels like to be there on the land and among the people of this tribe of pre-Americans. Have a visit and see what you think of the project at this early stage. Go to And for a much more detailed explanation and more footage examples, go to and click on the Crow Project page. There's a description of its origins and aims, along with links to more footage.

Comments are welcome.

This project took me by surprise, which is how all of the good ones happen, and it is the focus of my work at present and for the future.


Alan Arkin book in the works

My teaching was transformed by what I learned  from Alan Arkin. I'd always felt that photography depended on seeing, on being aware in the first place, not so much on seeing photographs per se or on technical execution. An improvisation workshop that he taught gave me a whole sheaf of ways to get people to_or back to_our original creative state. More importantly, it confirmed that the deepest learning takes place by doing what you don't know you can do, by starting at empty.

Alan is bringing out a new book about his improvisational approach to acting and to life. If you read it, you'll learn a lot about photography, seeing, being present in your own work. It won't be out until March, but keep your eye out for it. I'll post a reminder when the time comes.

Thanks, Alan. Couldn't have said it better myself.


Alison chase disappearing into the fishing-line sculpture

This piece knocked me out the whole week I was at MASS MoCA, and it is still with me.  I'd slip out and see it on break from rehearsal. On the last day, just before opening, I took Alison Chase up to see it. I was afraid she'd get lost in it.

Fishing line and light! That's all! Here I am, working on a video, up to my neck in equipment, worrying about the light, about whether things will turn out. How simple this seems...though I'm sure the sculptor went through all the same stuff.


The nicest cowboy ever.

He works near where I'm staying on the Crow reservation, and he turned up with his two little blond children and a broken finger. We talked while a nurse splinted his finger, and he just radiated a kind of innocence  and goodness. He is not uncomplex, but he's just not compromised. I did a few quick photos and he was on his way back to the ranch with his little family. I know his finger isn't going to heal quite right, same way his teeth didn't.

"Yes sir, pleased to meetcha."

Pleased to meet you, Bobby Newell.


Finale: the Drowned Man at MASS MoCA

The week-long residency was an incredible gift that let us do things that we couldn’t have done any other way. It allowed us to make a first draft of the Drowned Man, to really see what we had and how it worked. And it let us show the work-in-progress to an audience (sold out, I might add) so that we could see how things were landing on people.

And it landed very well. There was complete silence in the house during the performance, which is always a good sign. And about 80% of them stayed for the conversation afterward.

There was, of course, the pressure of knowing that people other than us would actually see what we were doing, which pushed us to push ideas to conclusion and presentability. (As Samuel Johnson said, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight it concentrates his mind wonderfully.)

But the real gift of a first draft is that it shows what needs to happen next. It reveals flaws, directions, things that need to happen, things that are full in the mind but thin in the execution. Easy enough to sit at your table and write out a draft, but when you are dealing with 7 dancers, music, lights, video and photography, plus a tech crew of 6 people, and a 40x70 foot stage to put them all on…well, you can see that it is not something you can easily pull together.

This was the huge value of the residency for us. MASS MoCA does several of these each year, then makes the results public in a performance. It really is not possible to thank them enough for making this kind of thing a part of the museum’s mission.

And of course there was the fact of being able to wander through this huge old factory building and see the incredible works there. One highlight was 3 floors of large Sol LeWitt wall drawings (is there any other kind?) It certainly does something to you to work in the midst of such energy. It both opens you up and encourages you to bring what you’re doing to a higher finish.

In the end, as with all creative endeavors, the greatest reward is in finding things you weren’t looking for--the way that glints on the sea in one projection looked like stars on the scrim and like blue fires on the dancers bodies. You can’t think your way to such things,  you can only get there by doing, then gasp at what you've done.

In particular, it was wonderful to me to watch the dancers work. I realized that there is a whole language that they communicate in, one that most of us don't speak. Where we might get into a group and talk, they move. It was amazing to see them take a piece of cloth I'd brought on day one, play with it, integrate it, and make it a whole visual spine of the performance.

So what's next? We have a video of the performance, and a highlights reel in the works. And we hope that all of this will lead to a commission to complete the work and stage it somewhere soon.

So thanks to all at MASS MoCA, Alison Chase, Derek Dudek, Eric Trester, Paul Sullivan, and the wonderful and inventive dancers.


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