YES!!!! Drown is finally finished and online! Two long days of wrinkled palms and electricity way too close to water. And totally worth it!
Pin Up Photographer • Film and Video Director • Things To Look At • Welcome to Burke Heffner’s home on the interweb.
Recently, I spent a day wading through sewage. It wasn’t my sewage, not even a friend’s sewage. …It felt better than it sounds.
Hurricane Sandy didn’t mean much to me. Some news reports, a trip to the hardware and grocery store, then some wind, a cool photo of the flooding, and that was it. We never lost power. No blown out windows. The flood surge came within a hundred feet, but never reached us. Yeah, we lost the internet for a while. Lots of our friends lost power in lower manhattan, so they went to visit their parents, or came to to our neighborhood and couch surfed.
Sure, I had to wait a full day before my favorite coffee shop reopened. But that was about the extent of Sandy’s impact on my life. So I edited a video, watched movies, went out to eat a couple times (even though the shelves were stocked with emergency food). We had no gas, but when everything you need is within two blocks and open for business, gas isn’t that important.
It was surprisingly hard to find out what the hurricane did to people less lucky than myself. The news obsessed about fuel and lower manhattan. Lower manhattan was just fine, eerily dark and silent at night, but just fine. The halloween parade was cancelled. We went anyway. And marched the streets with a brass band and costumes. We were illuminated only by police lights. Dozens of squad cars and 20 officers on foot encircled us and kept a wary eye on our merrymaking. Lower manhattan was very safe.
A few news sites reported on the makeshift parade. The news failed to mention what else was happening nearby. I almost slept this entire hurricane away. But was nagged by a couple desperate Facebook posts, from volunteer relief workers along the shore. No photos, no video clips, no slick soundtrack, just friends posting lists of things badly needed, like blankets and batteries, and pumps to drain houses.
So I enlisted Veronica, my roommate Tessa, and to two friends Flambeau and Abbey. We packed my tiny hatchback with the generators, pumps and fuel and tools and blankets and rubber boots, and the five of us and headed to the Rockaways, a narrow spit of land in the ocean below Brooklyn.
I arrived almost a week after the hurricane. I am embarrassed that it took me so long, and shocked that I was still one of the first people there.
We drove to the end, on streets covered in sand, through intersections with dead traffic lights, past car crushed by trees, past wet mountains of ruined possessions–couches and televisions and mattresses and baby clothes piled high on the curbs. We drove to the poorer neighborhood and stopped finally at the parking lot of a boarded up laundry mat. There were 60, perhaps 100 people there, standing, waiting.
As we rolled up they swarmed our car, surrounding us on all sides. It was an apocalyptic moment, spiked with the fear that they might overwhelm us and take everything. Of course they didn’t. They were just hungry and cold and had been waiting for hours for a relief truck to arrive.
We called out taking addresses of homes still full of water, and we went to work with our pumps.
Hurricane new reports occasionally suggest donating to the Red Cross. But the Red Cross wasn’t there yet. Neither was FEMA. This far out, there were NO official organizations instigating relief work. City workers were plowing roads clear of debris, but if residents needed food or blankets, they were entirely dependent on DIY volunteers.
The Far Rockaways only relief had come in the form of regular people who had taken over churches and parking lots, individuals who had written their name in marker on a piece of duct tape and slapped it on their chest, kids without gasoline who had biked over the bridges with camping burners and soup, arts collectives like House of Yes pulling up in a painted bus loaded with roast chickens.
It was a disorganized mess, a lot of kind hearts without training. As a firefighter, trained in emergency response, I was both touched and dismayed. There was no infrastructure. No communication network. No one in charge. But for six days that disorganized mess provided the only relief the Rockaways had seen. They were doing their best.
We worked till dark then had to leave. It is not safe at night. There are no lights. Its dark there, very very dark, and there are looters. And in some places robbers accosting the kind hearts. There are things to be afraid of in the dark. Its a mess.
As we were leaving we saw the first FEMA convoy rolling in. It takes a massive organization like FEMA time to assess, coordinate and take action. They have millions of people to tend to.
I am sorry I didn’t get there sooner. I’ll do better next time.
I didn’t feel comfortable taking photos in the bad parts. It didn’t feel right. But we stopped at a couple places that were doing pretty well, despite the wreckage. It looked like this…
The piles of sand aren’t a beach, or didn’t used to be, that’s the road. One street had been invaded by the ocean front boardwalk, which ripped off its columns and rammed down an entire block dropping onto the cars parked there. Somehow, it stayed intact including benches and hand rails, and was still providing a safe area for kids to play.
I have a new music video coming together, Drown by Tora Fisher. This video is going to be amazing. …its probably bad etiquette to call your own work amazing. But really, it is…
These are images captured from the raw footage we shot, no post production effects. The piano is real, the water is too. Marshall, Tora and I spent two days underwater. Its was cold, exhausting and mesmerizing…
Water is so powerful. All the elements are. And the closer you get to an element–water, fire, air, or earth–the more consuming they become. I was a fire fighter for a while. I fought wild fires in Alaska. I understand pyromaniacs. The fire calls to them. When a forest fire is big, you cant ignore it’s call. Fire pulls at something deep inside, before thought, before language, and when it really calls, you loose sense of everything else and turn to the flame like moths. Water’s call is just as strong… and when she sings she is the Lorelei, the Sirens, the mermaids and we dive like lonely sailors into the darkness.
Drown is about water… Tora might tell you its a song about love and heartbreak, or about those delicate connections that somehow never break even when they should… She’s probably right, but the deep current underneath those emotions is water.
I had nothing to do with this video… I’ve never even been to outer space before. But my dad’s middle name is Armstrong (the first person to land on the moon) and I know both people behind this little treat.
The imagery came from Nasa probes, and the song comes from somewhere very haunting and enticing inside Kim Boekbinder’s mind. She just launched a kickstarter to fund the rest of this space themed album… I hope its all as good as this song is. The video was created by Jim Batt. They are a serious art-power couple.
Tyler Walker – Memories of Home
In the future all Astronauts will be able to dance like Michael Jackson.
We had so much fun shooting this video… with the possible exception of Tyler and the dancer. They may not have relished sweating to death in a cumbersome spacesuit quite as much as Marshall and I enjoyed watching them. In a more formal world Katie Soloker (who played Spacewife) would have received some kind of trophy for Most Fun. Despite looking unapproachably model-hot and sultry in the freeze frame above, Katie is better known for being cute, bright and adorably colorful. I doubt she recognizes herself here.
Yesterday was the Fremont Solstice Parade–a wonderful, home spun, DIY celebration. Its upbeat, low fi fun. It just makes you want to relax and make stuff. In addition to all these strange creatures, Fremont also has a troll.
Our old house was very old. It was a classic New England cottage from 1900 or before. The frame was hand hewed post and beam. It was irreplaceable. I knew that trying to build the old house again would not work. Even if it were the same shape, it would be a shiny new mcmansion mocking the weathered imperfect history that stood before.
If we could not have the old house back I wanted something new. Something completely new. Something the was ours, that represented Veronica and I. We are influenced by many things, but we are our own people. I wanted our uniqueness in our new home, worldly influences but not definitions.
My first drawings were made with no regard for gravity, efficiency, physics, or cost. They were just ideas. I knew in time those ideas would merge with practical restrictions. But I began with ideals. Veronica had only four requests, and I included them: A long porch, a hobbit hole door, our own bathroom, and a spire.
I knew Tyrone would tell me somewhere, “This part can’t be done.” But he didn’t.
I have bit off more than I can chew, we dove instead of wading, and I definitely put the cart before the horse. There are easier ways to do things. But I’m not sure easy is my style.
My style is something more like this…
By Late August Tyrone and I had worked out a complete house plan, our building permits were in place, and the garage had filled with salvaged windows and doors, in addition to the way-too-early tub from Film Biz Recycling. We were ready to break ground, and then Irene came to visit.
The hurricane dropped a massive pine tree through the roof of our rental house. Our property was untouched (hard to damage a house that has already burned down) but the damage to our rental was so severe we decided to clear a couple trees which would lean over the planned new house.
Falling a large tree is a very powerful experience. I worked as a wildland firefighter for many years and I’ve dropped a lot of trees, but i was attached to these trees. I consider myself the guardian of everything that grows on our property, so falling these two shade giving giants was a little rough.
A large tree falls very slowly. Its stages are marked by sound. First is the long whine of the chainsaw, you will cut through 90% of a tree before it begins to move at all. The motion is usually lead by a low groaning, the trunk flexing. As the leaves take motion and the whole body begins to swing, there is snapping, splintering deep in the tree’s core. Finally comes the sound of the tree hitting, a great thunderous crash, an explosion of a thousand twigs mixed with a single great boom–10 tons of trunk embedding in the earth. If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around, the forest still hears it, and shakes.
After dropping the trees we still couldn’t start building. The machinery needed to excavate was trapped across a road that had washed away in the flood. It took almost a month before the ground was dry enough to begin digging. Because of the delay I missed the first stages of building. I had to leave for Around the World in 80 Plates. When I returned the foundation was complete and framing had begun.
The first photo below is of Tyrone our builder, limbing up one of the trees. I’ve never built a house before, he had never fallen a tree–A good opportunity to learn from one another.
Tomorrow I’ll post my most recent photos.
A year ago our house burned to the ground, but a phoenix is rising from the ashes…
the new house is a little darker and more mischievous than a phoenix. If there is a legend of a Raven rising from ashes, that might be more appropriate.
I wrote about the fire here. It was, to keep things simple and understated, heart breaking and unsettling. But it has been a year and a lot has happened since then. A new house is underway.
Within a week of the fire I began sketching. I guess I didn’t want to dwell on the old house. I needed to push ahead, take the absence and fill it with something new.
I sent out letters to friends looking for building materials. I visited Film Biz Recycling and hauled a tub, toilet, tiles, faucet, painting supplies and more up to our unburned garage. Film Biz Recycling collects props and other material from film sets which would otherwise be thrown in the garbage after a shoot. I think most of their visitors are from art departments, set designers looking for props, but their doors are open to everyone. Its amazing what they rescue. The tub and toilet had never been used, they still had their stickers on them. Their shop is full of furniture, art, plates, lamps, and anything else you might have seen in the background of a movie scene. I knew we weren’t ready for furniture yet, but somehow taking a jacuzzi tub seemed reasonable.
I was about a year ahead of myself. I didn’t have a house to put it in… I didn’t even have a building permit. I did have a few crudely drawn doodles though. I was moving full speed ahead with out much idea where I was going.
My first sketches were pretty terrible. I was so bad at drawing I barely passed art class in high school. I felt much more comfortable sculpting, so my first comprehendible idea for the new house was actually made of play-dough.
I began to fill out my play-dough master piece with pencil sketches then. When I kind of felt I knew what I wanted, I asked my friend David Bell to help me flush out my drawings. He is a production designer, an animator and a fine artist and was obscenely over qualified for the job.
The nice drawing below are David’s. The architectural drafts are by Tyrone Featherly, a family friend and master builder from Nantucket. The madcap idea is mine. If you think its a little strange on paper just you wait.
Our quaint traditional little cottage is being replaced by a wonderfully unique art house. Strangers who drive past describe it as many things, a ship, a church, a Tim Burton castle. It doesn’t have a name yet, but it is the kind of house that will need a name.
…Real photos tomorrow.
Veronica and I’s bed speaks in an accent as well. Its voice is low and breathy and close to the ear. Its not quite French, and not Russian either, but somewhere in between. Our bed hangs from the ceiling on delicate cables, like a swing, and it has the accent of a foreign spy.
She is very compelling, “You have tired, no? Come to me, rest your head on my pillows. They are very soft. If you are sore muscles, I think you will feel better laying against me. Just for a moment. Come…”
Then its seems the rest world is very far away, and the urgency of the day has gone soft. And your limbs are so very heavy, and your eyes are fighting to stay open, but fighting weakly. Your glass slips from your fingers, its remaining contents spilling at your feet. And it seems, you recall vaguely, that your drink tasted a little strange, more bitter than it should have. Is it possible something was added to it?
The thought should strike an alarm, telling you to run, telling you its a trap, that you have been set up. But you are swinging gently, or swimming, and “drugged” is only a gently passing last thought. And you fall… But don’t worry she will catch you. She always catches you and she does not lie. She is soft, so very soft.
But I digress. Gisela, nor her bra, have ever met our bed.
Gisela is not from Paris or Russia, and to my knowledge she is not a spy. She is from somewhere else, South America somewhere, Argentina perhaps? Could have been Chile. I’m going to say Argentina, and you can imagine her wearing that bra under a tango dress… You’re right, it doesn’t work, the straps show. No dress then.