Journal Entry: Discourse, August 2014

How does someone really make a difference?

I honestly don’t know. At least anymore. Do one thing? Do it well and hope that others follow along? What I find challenging today is the lack of allowable discourse. If you mention something the Canadians do, or the crafty Europeans, one of the responses you get here is “Well then why don’t you go live there?” Questioning the way things are has become “anti” and frowned up.

Let us look no further than online photography. I don’t look at work online, and I’m dangerously, dangerously close to not looking at ANYTHING online outside of my immediate requirements of email and work related issues. That’s it. My departure from social has had a profound influence on me, and this influence grows stronger and stronger each day. The vast majority of online discourse is predictable and catered to the overwhelmingly positive. You know the favorite kisses, “Amazing,” “Incredible, “Awesome snap.” Etc., Etc. This isn’t discourse. The news is embarrassing. One real story buried under celebrity, the outlandish and the tricks to feed the insatiable advertising machine. We are bought, sold and traded on a daily basis.

I’m in the Texas Hill Country today, my final day here, and this trip has been a strong one. Where I sit now, looking out a picture window, I see little to no influence of modern man. Five acres. I’m sitting in one small space on five acres of land owned by my bloodline. The cabin is hand built, fortress like and yet it is under constant attack by the forces of nature. Rain, wind, relentless sun and an absolute army of the insect and animal world. Yesterday a scorpion in the shower. Brown recluse under the desk I sit at now. And just this morning, outside as the sun peaked over the Twin Sisters, I see deer, raccoon, squirrel, white wing dove, vulture, hawk, bull snake, fire ant, chickens, feral cats and an abundance of song birds. Last night mosquitos and clicker bugs bombarded my waiting carcass.

There is no chance in winning this war. It’s evident we are the visiting species. Yet a few scant miles away the Earthmovers do their best to enslave this wild beast, and they do it in the most shortsighted, ignorant, arrogant way. Just do it and do it quickly. The new road is already showing signs of fray. The traffic has already overwhelmed the “upgrades.” “Progress” is made as the horizon is painted with identical rooftops, all needed to be air conditioned in the summer and heated in the winter. The three foot wall of Earth has been replaced by the six inch wall of toxicity. (Our neighbor’s house was lined with toxic insulation. I know because I walked it as it was being built. Right there on the warning label.)

I’m not the only one. Others I know look around and ask “Why?” But none of us know what to do, what step to take. Do you take a stand? Maybe. When you take a stand you are often times labeled, pinned, accused of being “revolutionary,” a “kook,” or something worse. Anti-American? Questioning is now subversive. In Orange County a man yells at me in the parking lot of the market because I rode the 2 miles from my house on my bike to shop. “You shouldn’t be on that thing,” he says to me, shaking with rage. Why? Was he stuck in traffic on the way to the same market? Has the bike become a lightning rod? Or do we have a growing, underlying anger emerging from what is clearly a dead end street of human “evolution?”

I see many underlying issues, but the one I find most troubling is greed. Look no further than our current wars, the financial collapse, the auto industry lawsuits, real estate bubbles, etc., etc. Greed. Plain and simple. Driving the daily engine to acquire. You question this and suddenly you are “anti-progress,” or “against competition.” The cover ups, the bail outs, the leaks of atrocity. They are endless, and the media makes sure we are good and scared while being good and burned out on all things that matter.

Drugged. That is how I would describe this, or us. We are straight trippin. So we medicate with media. We medicate with television. We medicate with the internet. We seem to know everything and nothing at the same time. I’ve written a lot about attention span, something I find wildly interesting. “You should write multiple posts per day.” “You need listicles.” All words of advice about blogging. Forget the truth. Forget how you really feel. Do what you need to do to gain, to get and to promote. Man, I’m so over this mentality. How many of my photographer friends live dual lives? The online, professional life and then the real one they wake up to each day. They pretend, the clients pretend and the awkward imbalance continues while EVERYONE whispers behind closed doors.

The truth hurts, but it’s a good sting, like eating ginger, or wasabi when it goes up your nose. We don’t need much. We really don’t. I have too much. I’m guilty of some of the things I complain about, and my mind wanders like a felon on furlough at the Playboy Mansion. I’m not centered. I have no real answer. But with each passing day my mind gets closer to making a stand.

Meaning. Yes, okay, I’ll do it. “What is the meaning of all this?” Yes, I just asked that question. What is the meaning of life? Is it building another strip mall because you own a concrete company and that’s what you do? Is it covering the Gaza Conflict? Is it joining a monastery and attempting to find peace? No idea. Perhaps we aren’t supposed to know.

Journal Entry: S. Texas August 2014

Thunderclap
Duramax dreams
this place would be difficult for me now
after all that has transpired
the squint, effortless after a while
dust devil with the condor above
nature untouched by modern man
footprints below but pavers can be heard on the wind
they are coming
you have two choices
surrender
or take to what you can’t see, what your instinct tells
is out there
and run with it
bark, feather, bone and all that remains is the dust
the cycle continues
my little tribe is on the precipice, something we all know is coming
but we are still unprepared
nothing we can do to change the odds
life just runs, powerstroke
pistons rise and fall, rise and fall
hammering as the clock betrays any chance of changing course
drop the main sail, hoist the jib
hold that rudder like it’s made of gold
stay the course
but it gets more and more difficult
when you know you can’t pretend, what alternative ending awaits
the fateful decision you promised you would never make but
know you will surrender to
the buildup is just about more than I can take
hints here and there, more hints
you hope they are misunderstood, something you can apologize for later
whispers, tilt that new brim down a notch and don’t move
wind swirls a chop pattern as the line unwinds above your head,
down your arm and into the wild green
there is nothing to do now but wait

All Things Old are New

Roughly two years ago I was falling out of love with Leica. There were a variety of reasons, some valid, some perhaps not. Regardless I culled my rangefinder heard down to one remaining body, two lenses and moved on in the world. I discovered the Nikon F6. In fact, I discovered two of them, and two lenses to go with. The F6 is the most advanced 35mm, film camera I’ve ever had. It has the best meter, the best autofocus, the best viewfinder, feels great in my hand and is built to last longer than I am. Everything about it is right. It’s nice to hold a roll of 35mm to the light and see nothing but PERFECT exposures staring back at you, and anyone who darkroom prints knows what this means. And the F6 is FAST. It’s also routine to hold a roll to the light and have 36 tack-sharp images staring back at you.

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But there is ONE problem. The images. I simply do not make the same images with the F6 that I do with the Leica. I thought I did, and thought I would, but I don’t. Now, this is ME talking here, and I did, after all, use the Leica for roughly twenty years so it’s not like this is an accident. The Leica became a part of my photography, more than I ever imagined. I figured all this out about two months ago while shooting at The Palm Springs Photo Festival, something I do on a yearly basis. For the first time I carried two F6 cameras and not the Leica. Okay I lied, there are TWO things about the F6. They are SO heavy in comparison to the Leica. As you know, I’m not in great health at the moment, and this difference between the two, after ONE full day of carrying was substantial enough to include back pain, even with carrying everything else on my hips.
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Then during the nightly presentations I watched a VERY good presentation from a New York based photographer who shot black and white, 35mm. I looked at the work and thought, “That is what my work USED to look like.” It was not only the weight, but also because Leica allows for a certain TYPE of image. Let’s be honest, if you are going to shoot runway fashion or a football game the Leica is going to suck, but if you are after a certain type of image there is no better camera in the world. I happen to want that exact type of image.
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I’ve also come to realize something else…for the LAST time. Most of the great work I see, and what I’ve seen from the past, is all ONE style of work completed over a long period of time. Almost all of it. My way of working, color 6×6 and 35mm black and white, isn’t really working. It never has, but it’s EASY with the 6×6 and for a lazy photographer or someone with little time, I’ve been both, it’s the crutch I felt I needed. I need to stop this and just shoot ONE thing. This WILL not apply to my Blurb shoots however. Those will remain a mixed bag, understandably. Would I love nothing more than to descend on a Blurb shoot with two Leicas, one with color and one with black and white? YES. YES. YES. And it would make my life logistically superior but it ain’t gonna happen.
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There are also a few new/old constants that have cemented themselves further into my life. I wasn’t sure that was even possible but it is. The journal is a DAILY must. This damn thing is maybe the most important thing I do. After all these years I’m still a bit afraid of how powerful this book is. Not the content, but what it sparks in me, how it opens doors, works as a companion and allows for truly flushing things out. The written word has always been a serious thing for me, something I give tremendous respect to, and this book is the anchor of it all. I also have to throw in audio here. I’ve dabbled in the past, but I now realize just how much I love the power of sound. On the contrary, after doing more video, I have LESS interest in video than ever before. But audio, oh my lovely audio, we are headed toward a serious courtship.
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Finally, I’ve realized a few other things. I want to continue to explore art. Sketching, painting,etc. Just for fun. And fully understanding, learning Spanish is a must. There is NO WAY around it any longer. Where I live, and where I want to work, Spanish is the only way. I’m tired of not being able to really speak with people, in depth, with meaning, and until I can do this I can’t really make great work in these places.

To recap my current systems check….

Leica(s)
Dan Bag(s)
Film
Audio
Art
Spanish
Focus
Peace
Patience

New Site: Oh Ya, I’m a Photographer Again.

It has been three years since I actually had a photography website. During this period, when people would ask about where they could see my images online, I would say “I don’t have any images online.” The looks I received were PRICELESS. “How can you be a photographer and not have images online?” they would ask. “I don’t work as a photographer, so I really don’t need a website,” I would reply. Then came the process of my friends and family saying “Wait, no he IS a photographer,” then defending my cult status as “photographer,” “not a photographer,” etc. Personally, I think this is entertaining and because it speaks to the IDEA of being a photographer, not the realities. For me it was simple. If I made my living with photography, I’m a photographer. If I don’t, I’m not.

When people ask me what I do I respond,“I work for Blurb.” Normally, the response is “Oh we love Blurb, I made a book about….” This is what is so great about this company. We provide an outlet for stories, and that is one damn cool thing. However, that is not what this post is about. This post is about my new site, and the new reality that, once again, I AM a photographer.
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It was official. A phone call. “Does this sound appealing to you?” Ten seconds ticked by…..“YES, this sounds incredible actually, like a dream scenario.” So here we are people. I’m in the game once again. Please alert the media. I know for some of you this idea of being or not being a photographer is puzzling or maddening, but for me it’s very real, and it has a significant impact on things like behavior, ethics, quality standards not to mention the idea of building an archive, which for me has always been a critical driving force behind me picking up a camera in the first place.

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I am now photographing for one client, Blurb. The idea is simple. I photograph people living creative, artistic lives. We’ve noticed some threads, some consistencies with these folks, and we are fascinated by their workspaces, their lives, their habits and their process. My goal is to shoot classic reportage essays with the idea being the work could be used in a variety of forms, from print to web and anything in between. This is a celebratory mission. The creative life is under siege, whether you be in music, art or photography, but there is something urgent about those who choose this path. It’s like your blood type. You can’t change it. You were born with this need and your life is about expanding upon it.

I can’t share any of the new work yet. It’s under wraps in private galleries, and will be until it runs in it’s native form. There will be new outlets designed and created to showcase this work, and other work that features similar missives. The site you see here is simply a public face.

I realized very quickly that I needed a new site, but not just a site to showcase images. I’m not really going to be showcasing them myself anyway. I needed a TOOL more than just a website. Photoshelter baby. I had used their services before, and literally within minutes I was up and running once again. I quickly found myself having to make a decision I hadn’t thought about in years. Because the new work will be private my homepage was entirely blank. I thought “I should put up some public work so at least it looks like a real site.” My mind raced back to the old me, “Well, I’ll put up a bunch of stories.” And then the idea of culling and editing began to sink in and knew I didn’t have it in me.

But more importantly I realized something else. A LOT has changed in three years. I studied my own online habits and thought back to a recent visit to photographer sites. These were really solid shooters and I didn’t give them much time. Three, four, five clicks maybe. So instead of uploading hundreds of images I made a decision to load just twenty-five total. My mindset is “If you can’t figure out who I am in these twenty-five then either I suck or you aren’t paying attention.” I also uploaded images I would have never uploaded before because they weren’t of a certain ilk. Images like this and this.
Remember, behind each image on this site is an in depth essay of twenty to fifty images.

Many photographers today are at the mercy of industry bottlenecks who need or want to quickly pigeonhole someone so they can mentally categorize them for current or future work. “That is the guy who shoots square urban landscapes.” “That is the woman who shoots lit portraits of animals,” or “That is the person who shoots protests.” I don’t have to deal with any of this anymore and I can now upload pretty much anything I want to upload. Am I a landscape photographer? No. Do I normally find intense satisfaction in stalking wildlife? No, but I like these images, and now I can put them up without risking an unwelcomed categorization. Who knows, in the future if I get bored with this, I might add more, but for now I thought, “Keep it clean and simple.”

For those of you wondering about the “photographer, not a photographer” thing just remember this is MY way of dealing with this. There is a HUGE difference between doing work on your work and doing work for a client. Secondarily, there is a significant dialogue that needs to take place regarding how the work will get done, get delivered, get archived, etc. With these conversations and arrangements comes a situation that constantly hangs in the balance of work vs. client. I won’t go into the details but these conversations are still ongoing and are actually laying the foundation for the future of the campaign. The balance is how I feel I need to work compared to what the client, in this case Blurb, needs or wants.

These “Creative Dispatches” will occupy a significant portion of my life, and I feel extremely fortunate to be able to do these. In many ways this is the dream scenario, it really is. I have been encouraged to make the work I want to make in any way I see fit. I have both professional and personal goals with these shoots, but I frankly need to brush the dust off and get my head around thinking like a photographer once again. The adventure begins.

What was I really doing?

This photograph, recently brought to my attention by Smogranch follower and long-time friend Eric Labastida, makes me wonder on several fronts. This was made in Tijuana WAY back in the day. I’m guessing 1996 or 1997.

You will often find me at the fringes, sitting with my journal and making notes. This part I get. But it appears like I’m wearing some kind of sportcoat, which really puzzles me. What was I doing? Why a sportcoat in TJ? I am wearing my favorite ALL TIME boots, Browning Featherweights, but back when the made them in dark, dark green Kangaroo hide. If they still made these boots I would buy piles of them. But alas, like most things I fall in love with…they went away.

Just looking at this image jarred something loose. I did a show in Tijuana. I did. All those years ago and I totally forgot about it. It was something like “Building Bridges.” A great space, great building but the show coincided with a huge soccer game. People still came. I can’t remember who else was in the show. I do remember I did HUGE prints, analog style. I can’t remember who printed them, poor bastard, it had to be Hell.

Well, whatever was going on it must have been okay. I’m still here.

I LOVE looking at old photographs.