14 December 2020
14 December 2020 - Selected by PHmuseum
Maya Meissner mixes her own photographs with a collection of archival images to analyse the parallel stories that link her family with the scene of a terrible tragedy more than 20 years ago.
Growing up in northern California with horticulturalists parents, Yosemite National Park was my family’s Mecca, and in September of 1998, we took our first pilgrimage there. We stayed at the Cedar Lodge, a roadside motel. I returned to the park years later as a teenager pursuing my love of photography, excited to channel Ansel Adams and the other greats who came before me, in the birthplace of landscape photography. It’s hard for me to comprehend human horrors in Yosemite, one of the most majestic natural places on this planet.
In 2014, my mom revealed that during our idyllic childhood vacation a man tried to break into our motel room in the middle of the night. My dad scared him away by yelling; my sister and I slept through the whole thing. Five months after our trip, four women were brutally murdered in Yosemite. Three of the women, a mother and two teenage girls, had disappeared from the Cedar Lodge. The confessed killer was the handyman there.
My mom didn't have the tools to process this encounter and the twist of fate that spared our family, and so the guilt and grief festered within her for fifteen years. Learning that four women were killed in a place I considered paradise was confounding, but that I could have been one of them wasn’t something I could shake off or even really understand. I just knew I couldn’t keep these feelings building within me, as my mom had. My tool for delving into myself has always been my art.
Through research and the gathering of images, I began to layout the disjointed narratives that crossed paths at the Cedar Lodge. To understand and illustrate my place within, or rather alongside the tragedy, my connection and my disconnect, I made collages: fracturing, obscuring, and layering images that included the photos that my parents had taken in 1998 and my teenage landscapes. I approached the project from varying perspectives because of my own confusion, but also to illustrate that this wasn’t really my story. This is not my trauma; we survived. The trauma I saw my mom go through does not compare to that of the families who lost their sisters, daughters, mothers.
To complete this project, I returned to The Cedar Lodge. I studied it closely and made new images of it. It’s terrifying to come so close to a nightmare, but I found that as I put it on paper where I could see it, the history of the place became less of a threat. Yosemite and the Cedar Lodge became beautiful again.
Words and Pictures by Maya Meissner.
Maya Meissner is an artist living in Brooklyn working within the mediums of photography, collage, installation, books, and performance. Her work often deals with personal histories relating to family, landscape, and the relationship of the photograph as evidence. Her work has been exhibited in galleries and festivals around the world. Find her on PHmuseum and Instagram.
This feature is part of Story of the Week, a selection of relevant projects from our community handpicked by the PHmuseum curators.