By John Rieping | All rights reserved | Published 20 July 2013 in The Madera Tribune
A winged child flees an attack by lions in an apparently controversial metal sculpture at the Iron Bird Lofts in Fresno, California.
I hunted as well on May 27th, but the beauty I wished to catch I had no appetite to harm, though I was no less hungry for it.
Photograph by John Rieping. All rights reserved.
I had parked illegally in Downtown Fresno on Memorial Day, but I hoped a 10-minute stop to hunt urban beauty with my camera would be safe enough. I thought I was just stopping a moment while on my way to the highway, but I would spend my entire afternoon on that spontaneous safari.
I captured the light of many moments outside the Legion of Valor Museum before turning back to my tiny Smart car. But an older bearded man called after me until he had my attention. He left behind his shelter, his belongings, and companion to approach.
"I see people stop and take pictures of that" -- he pointed at the 109-foot Old Fresno Water Tower -- "all the time. I've never been able to figure it out. Why do they do that?" he asked, more or less.
I looked up at the brown-capped tower of white before me with its graceful geometry and decor. A Chicago architect designed the American Romanesque brick tower in 1891, and it had served the city unceasingly until 1963.
"Because it is old," I replied in part. "It is one of the oldest buildings here. It is a landmark here."
His curiosity satisfied, we parted ways.
Down the road, I spotted a proper parking lot and decided to explore what other sights, old and new, Downtown Fresno would present. I began with the oft-forgotten artistry of Fulton Mall, a historic pedestrian-only area covering six blocks of Fulton Street. Dedicated in 1964 as an urban renewal project, Fulton Mall has returned to its depressed roots -- a victim of the ever-so-common downtown flight and blight.
Older buildings have more costly upkeep, society has grown less communal, and shoppers increasingly wanted to minimize outdoor walking. So gradually mainstream consumers and big retailers went elsewhere. Minority and niche businesses were lured in by affordable rent, government offices dominated, and the lovely mall grew ever more marginalized.
I remember visiting Fulton Mall as a child. Or rather, I recall the journey. My grandmother, Carmen Lozano Najar, took me on the public transit system, and I had never been on a bus before. I felt excitement and mystery at the sight of the promenade between shops full of strangers.
Others have different associations. One woman I spoke with associates the mall with feelings of being on the fringes of society, insecure and disrespected. Though she agreed it had pleasing art and ornamentation, it repulses her to this day because of the dark emotional investment it holds for her.
I wandered far beyond the mall along Fulton Street, and to other streets beside. Most striking, perhaps, was the apparently controversial metal sculptures at the Iron Bird Lofts, which show winged humans in distress. In one, a lion devours a cherub while a feline partner leaps after another. In several, cherubs try to escape winged men -- or are being rescued by them.
They're artistic, clever, and impressive, yet disturbing if examined closely. I would hesitate to condemn or commend them, but I wonder what stories lie behind their making.
The aforementioned lofts themselves were appealing and well designed, so much so they almost seemed out of place. I posted photographs of them online and one person asked where I had taken them. He was skeptical it was Fresno.
It seems that we respond to places and sights as much due to our hearts as to appearances. The same can be said of how we interpret much else I suppose. We judge the outlines of life with a crooked eye.
Is there any way to see reality as it is? I believe we can try, and by that effort draw close enough to it to grab hold of truth.
It is not so much that we can possess truth. It is bigger than we are and refuses to fit into our pockets or purses. But we can allow ourselves to better conform to truth, to be changed by truth, and so be possessed by truth.