This Permission Slip project began in 2009 as a small stapled "book" made for Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s doctoral course, “How To Make Things With Words and Other Materials.” Eve had converted her one bedroom apartment in Chelsea into a kind of art camp for PhD students, and within this confined space, she managed to make room for two picnic tables and a collection of meticulously-organized shelves and boxes and file cabinets of supplies: old magazines, postcard collections, stamp sets, watercolors, markers, beads, stickers, sheets of colored felt, fabric swatches, pipe cleaners, you name it. The course was "theories of the book" meets "arts and crafts," and into this delicious array of things–Eve's personally curated collection–she set us free to scissor, color, cut up, glue, sew, bead, and construct book-like objects.
In the footnote to her groundbreaking essay "A Poem is Being Written," Eve wrote: "Part of the motivation behind my work...has been a fantasy that readers or hearers would be variously–in anger, identification, pleasure, envy, 'permission,' exclusion–stimulated to write accounts 'like' this one (whatever that means) of their own, and share those." The notion that one could transmit permission in this way rang a bell in me, and here she was, giving us free reign to "make and do" as we pleased. Permission was an important aspect of Eve's pedagogy, but it was also an act of friendship and respect.
During one of our class meetings, I lifted an old illustrated card from a box labelled "ephemera." On it, two Roman soldiers held hands in matching red skirts. I combined this gem with other found images and paired them with permission-themed captions; then I stapled the stack into a booklet and shared it with the class. I liked idea of giving them away, like valentines or sticks of gum. Here, have some.
Around this time, I was obsessed with a pop-up Polaroid Land Camera that I had found in a cabinet in my parents' house. It used SX-70 film, the classic, super-saturated Polaroids that Walker Evans and Andy Warhol made famous. I bought packs in bulk and carried the camera around in my backpack. Then--suddenly--Polaroid announced that it was discontinuing SX-70 film, which proved to be the beginning of the end. For awhile I switched to a different version of the Land Camera–the accordion-style version pictured here–because I could buy compatible FUJI peel-away film at B&H on 34th Street. But this less-elegant cousin was not easily portable, and the film was more fragile than the SX-70 squares which you could drop in a pocket.
At the crossroads of Polaroid's decline and the rise of the iPhone, I grieved the loss of the photograph as object (still do), but I saw no other choice but to go digital. A friend turned me on to Shakeit Photo–one of the first apps of its kind to give phone-photos a Polaroid effect, including a wheezing sound effect and the gradual appearance of the image. In the summer of 2009, more than a year before Instagram was released, I decided to post these "permission slips" to a blog titled "Weather Eye Out." It was designed to be a daily practice of taking pictures and writing a line of permission to go with the image. Since my first post in September 2009, I have posted over 700 slips to date.
Within two years, Instagram had made the daily practice of taking pictures and writing captions ubiquitous. Whatever novelty my project initially had was now in question; in a way, everyone was/is doing it. We are glutted with snapshots of our friends' and strangers' daily lives, and my project seemed like yet another feed of images. Except for the "permission" part, which is what got me started in the first place. So rather than jumping ship, I determined to persist until I outlive Instragram, or until I figure out what to do with them. Maybe, someday, someone will want to publish a thick book of permission slips. Here, have some.
The origins of this project go further back, of course, all the way to Our Lady Queen of Angels school. If you wanted to get out of class early, or go on a field trip, you had to get your parents to sign the slip. Our glamorous school secretary, Mrs. Motter, kept the book of pink permission slips behind the desk in the front office. She was a kind of real-world Dolly Parton, curvy and perfumed with long press-on nails and a blonde Aqua-netted undo. Mrs. Motter was the one who distributed the slips, but Sister Linda, our nun-principal, was the final authority. She was tall and stern and a little bit scary, and once I saw her squeegeeing the tops of the lunch tables after a rainy night. Permission to squeegee the table tops.