Hi, I'm Angi
Welcome to my corner of the internet! My passions include travel, photography, books, music, Japanese language and culture, Italian language and culture, and art.

Here at Abbott Lane you'll find my thoughts on these topics and much more. Thanks for stopping by to visit!

Hot Combs & Space Ships

To be 100% honest with you dear readers, I haven't picked up a camera in MONTHS. I think the last time was when I was in Bali earlier this year (Feb/Mar). It's been even longer since I made something that wasn't travel or portrait related. Something just for myself; something that speaks about me and my life from a core place. And to be honest, I miss making art. I miss wrestling with ideas and concepts and trying to shoot them in a way that says something, but still leaves a lot for the viewer with something to think about.

The piece above, which I shot in 2013, is called The Challenger. I was going through a box of old hair-related things at my mom's house, and came across this battered and scorched hot comb. For those unfamiliar, hot combs were commonplace when I was a kid. You'd place the comb in the open flame of your stove, wait for it to get hot, then pull it off. After letting it cool - for just a second! - you'd run it through the hair from root to edge. The goal? Bone straight hair.

This was something I grew up having done fairly regularly, and it was always a bit of a precarious and terrifying experience to have a smoking metal comb just centimeters away from my scalp. You didn't dare move. And as good as my mom was at the process, there were occasions where I'd get burned. It's just how it was. It was the process we went through to have "tamed" hair; hair that wasn't "kinky" or "nappy" or "out of control"; hair that was acceptable to white society, and thereby, to society at large.

So yes, this image is about black hair. It's about being a black woman and beauty and danger and identity and the things blacks often do, willingly or otherwise, to fit into a world not built for them. But my intention was for this image to vibrate with double meaning. It was in 1986 that The Challenger explosion took place. I was nine years old, fascinated by space travel, and devastated by the tragedy. On that flight was Ron McNair, a 35-year old physicist, saxophonist and mission specialist. He was only the second African-American in NASA's history to travel space.

And so the image is also about how to become bigger than your blackness; how to move beyond it and break the walls of what society views as your birthright and natural ability. How do we keep things real while trying to get where we want to go, even if it's to the stars? Will it always necessitate  sacrifice, loss, assimilation, and submission? What losses of self, as a means of survival, did Ron McNair encounter on his way to becoming an astronaut? Born in 1950, he would have been a teen during the height of the civil rights movement, and no doubt experienced all manner of oppression and abuse from people who believed he was no more than the color of his skin.

Finding this comb brought back a lot of memories from childhood; the intersections of black space travel, black identity, and hair politics interweaving and overlapping, creating strange new dimensions. As I was sitting in my kitchen at age nine destroying the kinks and coils of my blackness, taming it through heat and violence, a hero with skin like mine - skin like the inky, beautiful darkness of space - was traveling towards the stars (to "take root" as Octavia Butler might say), eventually meeting his end through an even greater heat and violence.

The universe is full of tragedy and loss, both great and small.