Russell Banks: Floating World

After 40 years in critical care nursing, my dear wife’s idea of a well-deserved retirement is kicking back on a cruise ship and being pampered. For years, I only picked up a camera when we visited exotic ports. The ships were just the vehicle—too cluttered and garish a subject for FINE ART.  But I’m a maker, so I finally began photographing my fellow guests on board and ashore, the hard-working crew, the specialized architecture, and outlandish decor.

Although I try to create with intent, sometimes the photograph reveals something beyond my seeing. ”Get a load of this!” the Muses tease. That’s the lightning-in-a-bottle that drives my work in this modern version of Japan’s Edo-period “Floating World”, where pleasure and distraction were precisely the point.

As I explore this place more deeply, I feel the tension between the dream and the reality—the blurred border that separates my mundane, daily life from this carefully packaged fantasy world. Behind it all is desire—our need to be indulged, to feel blessed, and to get that affirming selfie. 

Who are we becoming in this age of distraction?  When phones are pulled out during a ship’s theater performance? As both an observer and a participant with a drink in my hand, I’m questioning, seduced, and conflicted.

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