Coal Dust and Diamonds

Coal Dust and Diamonds - 1985

"Coal Dust and Diamonds" was Giraffe's first series, and was exhibited in Spokane, Washington. Its words, and images, remain as powerful today as they were then.

When I was five, they told me my grandfather had gone to the hills. I knew he was dead.

When I was a teenager, they went to the cemetery to change the name of my aunt. If the Angel of Death couldn't find her by name, they reasoned, she wouldn't die of cancer. She was dead a few days later.

I asked, why don't we grow young in time?

My father always said if you have a question look it up in the dictionary. But Webster's had no answers for me either.

So now I take to the streets, the workplaces, the shops. In downtown Los Angeles I see bread lines of hollow-eyed, disheveled men snaking around the block and around the block again, beneath the gleam of brass and marble. In Venice I watch hookers selling Paradise by the hour, and on Wilshire Boulevard strollers in guerilla suits flanked by store mannequins in ball and chain. I pass a fairground in Greece, festive with trinkets and flowers: it is a graveyard. In Sicily I wander through catacombs where the corpses are re-costumed from time to time in fresh and fashionable clothes. I think of the living skeletons in Ethiopia looking for crumbs to clothe their bones.

We have been taught to look for answers in black and white, but things are not what they seem. We turn to learned books with our questions, to what the camera records, to what the seers have proclaimed as truth. But reality can be as crumbling as a fistful of coal dust and as brittle as a handful of diamonds. Coal dust and diamonds, after all, are only carbon, and so are we. Perhaps, when the coal dust crumbles and the diamonds shatter, it is only the questions that remain.

c.Corinne Whitaker 1985