Robert Hill Long

Begin with intoxication: spirits of turpentine, linseed oil, palettes, brushjars, canvases crowding the North Carolina studio of McKendree Robbins Long. By the time I was born, he had abandoned academic portrayal to become what we now call an outsider artist–visionary and evangelical, painting dreams, desires, revelations, and historical nightmares. In his role as Grandmac, he is the vivid stage manager of imagination, as dramatic a visual storyteller as a grandchild of 5 can imagine.

When he died in 1976, I had begun publishing poetry. That was my artlife for decades: publications, books, awards. Not long ago, during a health crisis, I took leave from writing, and in convalescence began to see how that life had grown inextricable from crises not only of health but of  spirit.

It was then the muse of photography opened a door in the air, and I walked through, into new art, new life. I had reached the age when my grandfather radicalized his art, but the timing was no coincidence: he was, in the truest sense, prophetic. His last words to me–face shining, undimmed by dementia–were “You are an artist!” Moments after he died (many hours before I knew his death as fact), he traveled a dream to stand over my bed, arms raised in blessing.

Why do I photograph?
Because my grandfather showed me, while my clay was still wet and impressionable, that making images with all your spirit and strength and desire is worth a lifetime.

Why do I photograph?
To make moments of light memorable; to give shadows their proper mortal heft.  To bear witness to what blossoms and passes daily, eternally, outside my skin.

Why do I photograph?
To stop time–and in so doing, to breathe in timelessness: whose many faces behold you and me at every moment.
Eye to eye (1 of 1)