The literal translation of nostalgia is “the pain of coming home,” which derives from the Greek words nostos (a return home) and algos (pain or grief).  We tend to color that word now with a wistful or bittersweet longing for the past, but at its root is the pain of returning to a place or person that is perhaps no longer the same.  Or maybe they have remained the same, and rather it is you who have changed.  The pain of coming home seems to find its way into much of my writing, and that’s not to say that I find it difficult to return home.  But I’m drawn to the way that time creates distance between who we were and who we are, between the expectations we have and the actual life we live.  The songs I’ve written, in addition to being portraits, also attempt to find that contradiction.

(Left: an early idea from Dave; Right: the original Polaroid of my sisters and I)

When I asked my friend Dave Beck (“I Can Breathe Underwater”) if he would design the promotional art for this project, he wanted to know what it meant to outrun the sun, and what that metaphor meant to me visually.  I told him nostalgia, in the strict definition.  I thought of Polaroids, vintage postcards, photographs or film with streaks of sunlight.  A lyric from his song is “Dave is an artist, I stop time.”  If the portraits work, they should stop time for a split second, like a photograph.  I sent him a number of images.

He then made a quick mock up of a Polaroid I had sent him. Basically though, he told me that it sounded like I had a specific image in mind, and that I should find it or make it and then send it to him to manipulate.  He told me to take my FlipVideo and iPhone with me on a run, which I did.  I took several minutes of incredibly blurry footage on a run through Riverside Park as well as some images on my iPhone, and sent them off to him.  But that gave me another idea.

(George Washington Bridge at sunset in New York; photo © 2010 Michael Heck)

Mike and I were planning to film a time lapse shot of the sunset in Riverside Park.  The footage will be used during the projections for the portrait of Shawn Kemp, which shares its title with the project.  The image of being able to outrun the sun came to me while running as the sun set in Riverside Park, trying to get home before dark.  I looked for the exact frame I wanted on several recent runs, and settled on a shot near the George Washington Bridge and the Little Red Lighthouse.  I thought that the next time Mike and I worked up here in Washington Heights, I would put on running clothes and we would try to get a specific image for Dave.  We did.  Mike shot some gorgeous stills, which I sent on to Dave.  He then had me write out the title in my own handwriting, scan the image and email it to him.  What he sent me back will be the basis for all of the promotional artwork for the song cycle. For me at least, it does stop time.

(The design by Dave Beck, from the original photograph by Michael Heck © 2010)