Distant Echoes

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Which dream was the dream?
The perfect day, or the night
It interrupted?

About Distant Echoes

“I think there’s a book in that. Your book.”

Going from submitting seventeen syllables to a poetry prompt to compiling an entire book might seem like a leap to you. It certainly seemed like one to me when my good friend Sandy Carlson suggested it. I confess, I was skeptical. Sandy never was. And for that reason alone, this is as much her book as it is mine. Without her, it would never have existed.

Distant Echoes began as a photo essay of the nighttime world and the people in it. Not simply images of the physical, this is an attempt to capture what happens “when you climb inside what creates the sleeplessness”. That question led to something more than a simple collection of photographs. As the project evolved, it took on a different character and I began to add prose or poetry where it fit. The resulting combination hopefully brings the concept to life in a way that neither medium alone would.

Every project, no matter whose name it bears, owes much to many people. So many, in fact, that I cannot possibly name them all here. I have been blessed with friends from (quite literally) all over the world who have offered me the validation and encouragement to undertake this endeavor. Daryl Edelstein in Manhattan, Carmi Levy in London (Ontario), Anna Larsson in Karlstad (Sweden), Robin Epstein in Tel Aviv, Deepak Amembal in Mumbai, Mary Tomaselli in New York, Maggie Ginsberg-Schutz and Lisa DeWayne, both in the Wisconsin wilderness somewhere. The list could fill several pages. They and so many others have freely and consistently given their encouragement, friendship and insight. A simple “Thank you” seems woefully inadequate. That doesn’t mean I’m not going to say it anyway. Thank you all. Whether you had a hands on role in the actual production of the book or not, you provided the underpinnings upon which it is built.

I must acknowledge two very special people without whom I could not have — or at least would not have — gone forward with the project. First, I have to thank Ti Conkle of Fairbanks, Alaska for her undying support and occasional reality check. When I needed an honest opinion, I knew I could count on hers — even if it wasn’t what I wanted to hear. Her help along the way was of inestimable value. Ti, you’re amazing girl. And I couldn’t have made it the last few miles without you.

Finally, more than anyone else, I owe an incalculable debt of gratitude to Sandy Carlson of Woodbury, Connecticut. A noted author, poet, photographer and teacher in her own right, she is the inspiration that took this book from a nebulous “someday-idea” to a concrete “now-reality”. Without her unending patience, guidance, encouragement and support throughout the process, the project never would have reached fruition. Friend, editor, collaborator, muse; you have been all of these and much, much more Sandy. I owe you more than I could ever sufficiently express in a few sentences. The world would be a much better place if everyone could be lucky enough to have a Sandy Carlson in his life. Thank you for showing me the things that are possible, my friend. May happiness visit you in abundance. No one deserves it more.

James Bengel
Raleigh, North Carolina
March 2010


“Everything you have done in your life has brought you to exactly where you are right now.”

A dear friend who is a Buddhist monk taught me this years ago; it is a lesson I realize anew every day. The words everything and exactly offer the lessons of mindfulness: of paying full attention to life itself.
Everything: all you have understood and misunderstood, loved, refrained from loving, given, taken, let be. Everything.

At the heart of you is all you have done to be exactly where you are. Exactly. That is, your life is not an accident. There are no coincidences. Your universe unfolds exactly as it does because of everything you have done.

In other words, you make your life. To understand this is to realize you are sacred. That life is sacred.

Artists who live in this knowledge imbue their creative gifts with it to present the spirit of that truth in some new way. Life is exquisitely beautiful.

James is one such artist. He does this on a daily basis. All those things that have shaped his life come together with his photographic expertise to capture the soul of whatever he is seeing. His photos are not about technical correctness–even if they are technically correct. Nor are they about the rules of composition–though they are well composed. They are about the splendid beauty of life. In this book, they are about the ineffable beauty (even when it’s painful) of night as he so often lives it.

These photos are about James as much as they are about the world he sees. They are also about so many of us who have lived in the strange other world of night, where things become simpler at the same time they become more mysterious, where solitude is unavoidable regardless of the size of the crowd, where purpose seems pointless. Indeed, sometimes night is the sharpest send-up of all we find meaningful. (Perhaps that is why the ancient bards slept by day and wrote by night.)

These photos are as inviting as they are challenging. They invite us to stand where stood the man with the lens in these moments of clear vision. They ask us to say what we see even at the risk of having the conversation with ourselves alone and to let that be. We are here for one reason: we chose to be here.

Sandy L. Carlson
Woodbury, Connecticut
April 2010

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