Sandy Logan and the FBI

What Lies Beneath

by Pauline West

“Sunlight burns out color,” he said. “What I do is, when I find an object, I take a note of where it is and go back to visit when the light will be right, when the color has saturated naturally.  Then I shoot in such a way that it is removed from context, becoming abstract.”

Sitting on the arm of the sofa, Sandy Logan studied the book held between us.  “And you can possess it, in a way.”

His photographs collapse time: metals become fluid, soft; even sensual, while colors pulse like the tide; swimming back even after you’ve closed your eyes.

We first met back in October at a potluck meant to put Redux artists together with board members.  He was tall, elegantly dressed with glasses and a neatly trimmed, grizzle-colored beard- I overheard him talking with Mariah Channing about how his own photography had landed him on the FBI’s watch list.  I butted in shamelessly and gave him my card.  “Please let me interview you,” I said.  Then he lost it.

Weeks later he contacted me, saying he’d found my card in his wallet, and admired the writing on my website- “found your site to be unfathomably fascinating, like a very dark, but not quite opaque, veil… have we met?”

Oo!  Tickled beyond reason, I reminded him I’d asked for an interview, beginning a long email chain titled ‘Wandering Card.’

When we finally met, it was the night before Thanksgiving, very clear and cold.  The Logans house was warmly lit, filled with books and art and large, comfortable furniture.  Dogs and cats scuttled out of our way as Mr. Logan walked me through the house, introducing me to Donna, his wife, who teaches at the University School of the Lowcountry in Mt. Pleasant.

Sweetly abstracted from cooking all day for Thanksgiving, with a big smile and a chic grey haircut, she wanted to show me her snowglobe collection.  The Logans, who treasure mementos, have made their home a happy shrine to color, shape and image.  After the snowglobes, we took our coffee into the living room and he told me about his family, his life and his art.

He grew up in Philadelphia, but even as a little boy he often came alone to Charleston to visit his grandmother, who was a fabulous local figure in those days: Sara Simons Hastie.  He showed me a framed photograph of a glamorous woman.

“She manages to look both wistful and haughty at once,” I said.

“Not wistful,” he said.  “She was a terrible mom, God rest her soul.”  Logan smiled, putting the picture away.  “But she is one of the most intriguing people I’ve ever known.  Just outrageous.  And she remembered all the stories.  She was an adventurer!  She went to her grave never having set foot in the kitchen.  My friends always fell in love with her.”

When he was a boy, she paid him to shoot pigeons out of the columns of her house on the battery, a mansion purchased from Solomon Guggenheim.  Hastie mentored him in architecture, spending long hours talking to him about art and line.  She’d been widowed young, and had spent most of her life ‘just gallivanting- you know, to Paris; to Spain- she was friends with the queen of Spain.  There’s pictures of her- skating on a pond with Rudyard Kipling; playing poker with Roosevelt.  She had a lifelong correspondence with different writers, poets…”

“What would she think of your work?”

“She would probably have preferred it to be a bit more elegant- but I think she would approve of my process.”

Logan first began to shoot photographs when he was in architecture school.  He took countless studies of the refineries in Philadelphia, triggering a lifelong fascination with rust and decay.  As an architect, however, his work entails making new things work within old contexts.

“You have to go up and down with your team, reading the street.  The street will tell you what needs to happen,” he said, showing me his boards.  “Charleston has a rhythm.  Tall, thin buildings-” he sketched over the paper with his hand- “vertical proportions.  You have to respect it.  This was called the Charleston Gateway Center.  Now it’s Charleston First.  See this curve here, on the side?  That’s a nod to the semi-circle porches about town, and this;” he indicated the front of the building, “These lines here  are a reference to our port; the davits, those big cranes that lift the containers, see, we’re referring to them here, and here, over the entrance.”   Next he pulled out plans for the Beatty School of Business, explaining how windows had been placed to make light intersect throughout the day.

“I’m interested in light as it changes,” he said.  “Light is the form-giver.  Without light, you don’t know what the form of the building is.”

His interest in photographing the light has carried him into tight corners over the years.  “Oh, I’ve spent dozens of hours in the back of cop cars, explaining myself.  Dozens!  And I’ve been questioned so many times by the port authority.  Those signs you see, saying No Photography Allowed?  Those are because of me.”

Once, exploring the Neck- a burned out industrial zone on the fringe of North Charleston, Logan came upon a tank farm.  “They were out there for oil storage or something- these massive drums, thirty feet high, a hundred feet long.  They had these curling stairs which went all the way up their sides to the very top; just beautiful.  I went out at noon, when the sun would be directly overhead, to cast the shadow of the ladders over the side of the round white surface-

And there I am in the road, taking my pictures- it’s a public road, mind you, and there’s no signs up barring photography- when these two guys roll up in a pickup and start flipping out.”  After an ugly standoff in which Logan refused to give up his film and then drove away, the pickup followed him into town.  They shadowed him while he drove around, trying to lose them.  When they finally faded back, he went home to find a squad car outside his house.  The men had called the police.

His wife invited the investigators inside.  When she heard the reason for their visit, she indicated her husband’s photographs in the entryway.

“Would you like to buy anything?” she said.

But it turned out the chemical company had not just called the Charleston police; they’d also contacted the FBI.  Within days, the Justice Department came out to photograph Sandy Logan’s photographs.

“Can you imagine?  This guy- big guy- with a badge and a gun, coming in here…  I said to him, ‘Look, I know this must have meant a great deal of trouble for you, coming all this way- and apparently I’m in a lot of trouble as well, so can you please tell me what’s going on?”

The officer sighed.  “That tank you happened to photograph?  The day before you went out there for your pictures, that tank had received 27,000 pounds of nitrogen.  That’s the stuff Unabomber used!  I’m sorry, sir, but it looks like you’re going to go on the FBI’s list of favorite people.”

Grinning, the photographer shrugged.  “It’s not so bad,” he said.

Caravaggio

palimpsest

one fox jumping

#

Pauline West is a novelist and member of Redux Studios.  She is at work on a Southern Gothic about a young girl who opens a door between the lands of the living and the dead.

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