From Orlando to Titusville
After leaving the cheerful reptile enthusiasts at the Alligator Farm in Saint Augustine, Transit Antenna continued on to Orlando, this time with Josef, Amy, and the temperamental Pace Arrow. We were in route to 1010 Forest Avenue where Forest Young, Bob’s grad school buddy, lives (incidentally). We pulled the RV into his driveway, and the bus onto his curb, and for about a week, we barricaded Forest’s house from the other suburbanites living around him. Only one neighbor complained. She had the City of Orlando Code Enforcement out after us, but once the official saw that we actually live on our city transit bus, he said we could stay a few days as long as we planned on leaving. This cantankerous neighbor tried to turn others against us, but to no avail: after discovering our bus ran on veggie oil, no one else bothered us.
Much like my hometown of Charleston, Orlando is also a tourist town with a thriving youth culture. Even before we arrived in town, these Disney antipathists were already entertaining themselves. We met Forest at the park where a kickball tourney was underway and the grill fired up. We ate homemade burgers, laced with red wine (courtesy of Joe senior) and drank Forest’s cashasa, which prepared us to play a mean, although wobbly, game of kickball. Later that evening, some folks from the park returned to Forest’s house where he and Taylor wrote a song about Kentridge. Here’s a little slice: “Kentridge is my dog, living in a fog, rides along our mighty ship, his tail wags during the trip…” We were among friends already.
Our visit kept us busy with many leisurely and educational activities. For instance, we spent a few hours exploring the natural flora and fauna in Forest’s backyard.
Dawn and Amy made an alligator cake, and we sang karaoke at the bar in the bowling alley.
And with the fun times came challenges such as fixing the RV the three times it decided to break down while on our trip to the beach.
Despite our mechanical setbacks, we made it to the white sand beaches and emerald waters of the Canaveral National Seashore. We concluded our beach visit by drawing constellations with our freckles and posing for Wheat, the photographer in the bunch. I don’t know how the day could have been better. I even saw Elvis at the local flea market.
We also made a visit to Wekiwa Springs near Orlando. The refreshing, chilly water relaxed us before our journey that evening to see a shuttle launch at Cape Canaveral. The bus packed with beer and people, we hit the freeway for the 2:30 am count down. When we pulled into Titusville, crowds flooded the streets, stood in the medians between moving traffic, and waited for the rocket to lift off a few miles away.
We parked the bus just minutes before the launch. I was still running down a driveway toward the water when the rocket began its ascent. The sky turned from black to brown to orange in seconds. I could not hear the engines burning, but I could see fire and smoke pluming. The windows and garage doors rattled around me. Then the roar of the engines finally reached us and grew gradually until it overpowered all other sounds. I had my camera in my hand, but I couldn’t bring myself to raise it up. Watching the shuttle disappear through the clouds, the only barrier between us and the cosmos, feeling the force of the rockets blow across the water and hit us, and running as fast as I could to see it all–I understood, for the first time in my life, why people join cults.
The rest of the evening, you’ll have to imagine in your head (for I failed to maintain enough distance from the traumatic event to take pictures). While turning the bus around to go home, we accidentally drove the front right tire into a drainage ditch concealed by tall grass, dropping the bus to the ground. The doors to the bus popped out of socket during the accident, and the bus leaned severely to the right. There Walter sat like a schooner in pluff mud. The remaining eleven passengers climbed out and pushed all twenty-two hands against Walter as Seth attempted to drive the bus out of the ditch. We lurched forward and backward in this manner, trying to avoid the gas pumps about three feet from the rear and getting closer. Between heaves, there were whispers of calling Good Sam to get us out, but Bob wanted to give it one more go. This time it worked, and the bus was free. Impressed and excited, the nearly stranded crew climbed aboard. Taylor played “Take it Easy” to help us decompress. It was a great night, after all.
Wheat Wurtzburger: Of Love and Photography
On our first day in town, Chris Rank, a friend of Forest’s, told us that the person who promised to take us out the next day was “a mythical figure.” By day three, we had heard Wheat’s name a hundred times and always with admiration. A quiet guy who can almost always be found in cut-off jeans, wearing a pony tail and baseball cap turned backwards, and always wielding a camera, Wheat Wurtzburger took up the job of making sure we enjoyed our visit to Orlando. After a few days with him, I decided to find out why he holds the center of this community.
Wheat, a self-taught photographer from Titusville, spent several years of his life waking up at 6:00 am to the hunger grunts of Elvira, his pot-belly pig, whose head he used for a pillow, that is, until she would jump up, dropping his head to the floor. During his teenage years as a skateboarder in Titusville, Wheat petitioned the local government to zone for a skate park, but they failed to do so before Wheat racked up over seventy trespassing warrants. Finally Titusville has a skate park, but he could still be arrested for stepping foot on concrete anywhere around there, he says. He was an amateur body builder for a year before he started a punk rock band and ended his career pumping iron. The band once booked a thirty-day, thirty-show tour, but had trouble getting on the road. Wheat chuckles when he tells me, “We didn’t have any money–we didn’t even have a van.” Since his punk rock years, Wheat has become a career photographer.
“Young love never lasts” wrote Wheat to ex-girlfriend Anna Kerlin after their breakup. The letter eventually became a piece in Wheat’s most recent exhibition, a multimedia installation of work he and Anna created during their relationship. The show called “Oooo! The way you make me feel!” made public a few moments from the artists’ private life together and in doing so diverged from Wheat’s prior work.
Wheat thinks of the show as a celebration of his and Anna’s “year together in photography.” They hung love notes, handmade valentines, and lists enumerating all the things they like. They furnished the gallery’s walls with their belongings (and sometimes with stuff they just picked up for the show) to recreate the feeling of being in the intimate space they shared as a couple. They placed their bed in the center of the gallery and hung drapes overhead. From there, viewers could take in the photographs on the walls: pictures of them sun bathing at the beach, of their reflections in a dirty bathroom mirror, of the underside of their bed, of their bodies flailing under water’s surface, trying to stay down long enough for the snap. Wheat left the images frameless and surfaces vulnerable.
I met Wheat after the show ended, so I never saw the full installation. Instead, he pulled the show piece by piece out of a cardboard box he now keeps beside his bed. The work Wheat and Anna created together spans many tones and textures: from hazy, magical Polaroids, to crisp shots of homemade banners lining anonymous fences.
But this optimism disappears from the work Wheat created after the breakup. Recurring are compositions of single objects shot against a bare hardwood floor, almost washed out from the flash: a tin Anna used to keep her change in and the camera they used to photograph each other. In a way, the photographs preserve what the objects meant to the couple, but Anna’s literal absence communicates something else entirely.
Wheat pulls other images out of the box, one of his and Anna’s shirts hanging in the closet and another of a mess on the floor. Void of emotion, the objects are distant reminders of what they no longer represent, and the photographs, of who no longer fills the frame.
(photos by Wheat Wurtzburger)
But the other works in the show facilitate Wheat’s intention to celebrate his and Anna’s time together, not to resent their breakup. I am moved by the diligence Wheat and Anna took in loving one another–a feeling communicated through the gifts, songs, cheesy cards, homework assignments designed to communicate their desires, and countless portraits that they included in the show.
What seems strange, or refreshing, about the show is the distance Wheat himself exhibits toward work he must feel an irreducible, inarticulable relation to. Hanging love notes and other relics of a now diminished intimacy transforms them by sharing them with outsiders, by opening them up to others’ scrutiny. But the phrase that reverberates through the work–that “young love never lasts”–provides this distance already. Furthermore, Wheat acknowledges the role creativity plays in falling in love, that the person you love is not always who you believe her to be but rather who you want her to be. Wheat writes, “If someone holds your attention long enough you run the risk of falling in love with them. You build a character or project a fantasy onto them, and they eventually become this person or idea. It’s not necessarily what they’re doing to you, it’s more what you’re doing to them in your own head.” (W.W.)
When asked why he takes photographs, Wheat said, “I’m still trying to figure out why I do it. For the longest time it didn’t matter why I did it. I just did it and it felt right. And now I’m asking myself, to try to get better, what compels me to do this? It’s people that I love, admire, and want to impress or get close to, and ideas that I want to be a part of, like Learning to Love You More. It’s such a great concept. It looks good and it feels good.” Wheat’s endless list of friends occupy his images, but the testament of his talent is his ability to capture people in genuine moments without knowing anything about them.
Like any dedicated artist, Wheat always looks for inspiration in the things around him. His job never done, his camera is always out, whether on dry land or under water. If you spend any amount of time with him, you will notice that unlike many photographers, Wheat does not liberally take shots. According to close friend Jason Mosley, when Wheat decides on a composition, it’s as though he has been waiting for it all along.
Mosley adds that “Some people ask for more than they need. Wheat just isn’t like that.” While in the spring, he offered me some flippers and a mask so I could swim down into the cave entrance. After I came back up, he asked if he could take my picture under water. “I really like the way people look in that mask,” he said. I wonder how anyone could ever feel ill at ease with him or in front of his camera.
According to Wheat’s friends, his character exhibits mythic virtue. All adore him. When I asked for his reaction, he replied, “I think I’m often mistaken for something I’m not. I’m quiet and socially awkward, and people will see something that’s not there, that’s not necessarily true. I’m a simple person, and I take simple photos. People can get from them what they will, like they do with me.”
Quickly agreeing how bizarre hearing such things about oneself must be, we changed the subject and talked about something less epic. I’ll leave his photographs to say the rest.
For more pictures of friends’ scars and freckle constellations, see Wheat’s work onShow on map