The Palette of Panama Falls Upon the World….Again

Panama, Central America July 2010

My book begins like this….

DATELINE: PANAMA CITY
TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 23

“What do Americans think about the canal?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” I answered. “What do you mean you don’t know?” he asked with agitation blossoming from the face that was so friendly moments before. “I’m forty-one-years-old and I’ve never had a conversation about the canal,” I said. The face of the street barber in front of me slowly morphed from agitation to despair. This is Panama. “The Crossroads of the World,” yet nearly forgotten, rarely discussed, a footnote in the engineering books cluttering the shelves of heavy equipment makers from Europe to Asia.

Beyond the facade of a world class skyline lies the decay of what only a jungle can provide. Every moment, every breath, every backdoor business deal sucked in and out through the filter of the green blanket just over the hill. Cut it, burn it or flood it and it just keeps coming back. Who really owns Panama? La Jungla.

There is money here, lots of money. The Chavez regime of the neighboring Venezuela has assured Panama of that, but personal shoppers of the Panamanian elite still work the streets of Miami. Panama is worth a look but art comes from America.

And yet under this unique existence of global, economic and maritime positioning, the people of Panama remain. Frustrated yet resilient and proud, Panamanians look toward a future of expansion while longing for respect for their past.

I f****** love it here.

Panama, Central AmericaJuly 2010

Once again the palette of Panama falls upon the world, and once again nobody seems to notice. The Panama Canal Expansion Project churns like an inland tsunami, disposing so much of our sacred Earth it will change the entire ecosystem of the region. Every single person who reads this post will be impacted by this project, and yet nobody seems to notice. We are busy. Former Panamanian President Martín Torrijos formally proposed the project on 24 April 2006, saying it would transform Panama into a First World country. We will see about that. This post isn’t a history lesson or window into the future. This post is about the past, about my time in Panama, however brief, and what it felt like to be there. I want you inside my head for no reason at all.

Panama, Central AmericaJuly 2010

There were a million reasons not to go. There always are. Too little vacation time. No story. No realistic ability to accomplish anything in the allotted time. But in the end it was inevitable. Photographers do that to themselves. They make things inevitable. “Something will work out, make sense,” I told myself. After all, this is why I picked up a camera all those years ago. To explore the far reaches of the world. To walk that one extra block. To see what was around the corner and get my boots dusty or bloody. “Where are you going?” a friend asked. “Panama.” “Panama….why?” That’s why. Because I knew a total of three people who went to Panama, one was born there and said she never wanted to go back. With this kind of love, how I could I NOT go.

Panama, Central AmericaJuly 2010

Customs was customs. “What is the purpose of your visit?” “Not entirely sure.” Jokes never work in customs because regulated life is crawling so, so slow and the molasses of the tropics adds to the downshift. The Tropics. The legacy of these places in the journalism and photography world is legendary. My mind flickers with Webb and his Hot Light, Half-Made Worlds.(Haiti) Luckily I have no intention of being Alex Webb, a guy I really admire, but my style isn’t his. In fact, I no longer know what my style is, and more importantly, I don’t care. You see this trip is the first unraveling of my photographic life.

Panama, Central America July 2010

Leica x 2, twenty rolls of Portra 400 and twenty rolls of TRI-X. 35mm. 50mm. Nothing else. I even debated the color. I knew I didn’t need it, but it’s a crutch…just so damn easy when the color bleeds from Panamanian society. Color is a lifeboat in a sea of chance and circumstance. Sails down, storm coming, the take dangerously thin and the color is your emergency beacon, snappy snap, a blue building, a crushed red can against the black Earth. Filler. This little photography game is an exercise in mental evasiveness. Sometimes speaking to another human being is torture. Just leave me alone and let me LOOK. I’m there, closer than I’ve ever been before, but at the same time I’m far away from it all. Mentally carrying on so many different conversations, so many potential outcomes. I find no peace in this, but I can’t stop doing it. This trip is about UNLEARNING photography. For me photography has become too polished, too hyper specialized and too saturated. Strategy and marketing have overpowered soul and much of what I see feels clinical. What I’m after is the snapshot. It sounds easy but it’s not. I think back to images my parents had from travels fifty years in the past and they resonate. On an entire trip they would make a half a roll or a roll of images total, each different, and each defining a moment, a place, or an important figure. The rest was allowed to be filled in by imagination. Now, NOTHING is left to good copy or imagination. It’s the photography full court press all the time. I find myself unable to consume it, nor do I have any interest in creating it any longer. I just want single images, a few at most, things that remind me of places, or smells or people.

Panama, Central America July 2010

Andrew and I hunt like White Sharks. He’s been here many, many times and is one of the reasons I’m here. A friend, but also a crutch, a short cut, but I have to be careful. You see at this time I was still a working photographer. Still a guy looking for a pickup game, shirts and skins of photography. Get in the game. Make a picture, promote a picture, sell a picture. Repeat. And there is no use crowding anyone. He knows, and he has his own agenda, but still it’s in and on my mind. He’s equally as F***** when it comes to the tropics, to this kind of work. Worse maybe because he’s so much closer to it all. We’ve done this long enough to know when the ingredients are right, when something you stumble into becomes a potential “best in show.” And then the great dissection begins. Nothing survives. Every single living thing gets cut up. Framed. Parted out and discarded. It’s there one second and gone the next and it’s never coming back. Get it through your skull. The shadow boxer punches himself out in the park, and minutes later he is down and stayed down.

Panama, Central AmericaJuly 2010

We navigate debris, but human and artificial. There is something SO NICE about NOT working for anyone. Freedom. Complete and total freedom, but it comes with a cost. If you are the keeping score type then each and everyday is reduced to staring down at your exposed film. We both have clear bags, and each night, sometimes together and sometimes alone, this becomes our conversation. “Puro f***** oro,” we say to each other. “Pure Gold,” an ironic twist of a description in these parts. We find a restaurant we like, a place robbed at gunpoint during dinner a few months before, and we go every single night. Beer, steamed fish, rice, beer. At night we retreat to a high-rise in downtown Panama City where you look out a vertigo window at other, taller high-rises and I wonder why there are here. Who built them? With what money? Art projects and other high-profile architectural offerings dot the horizon, but in some ways feel entirely out of place. And out there on the horizon, stacked like dominos are the oil powered steel beasts. The reason why this place exists. Syringes filled with cargo, making the world go around. The ships. Comical in their size, filled with the best and the worst the world has to offer. Panama, ultimately, is a short cut.

Panama, Central America July 2010

The days are about making a plan, scouting, traffic and oppressive heat. Everything is wet. Changing rolls means holding the upside down Leica away from my body so the falling drops of sweat do not corrode the inner workings. Film left in pockets also feels wet when retrieved. We never escape the eyes of the jungle. The jungle here is always watching. Always. Sit in downtown watching banking officials make their short dashes between air conditioned towers and when I peer down, peaking through the cracks of the poorly formed sidewalk I see the jungle peaking back at me. Under me, next to me, sometimes over me and always in my dreams. We take a small boat upriver, and the jungle invades the waterway, flowing downstream in massive bundles, clogging the moving arteries like plaque. The boat slows, the motor is lifted and the hull slams into and over a sunken log used to keep the flowing jungle at bay. But it only works so well, and then the jungle laughs and comes over, under and around. By the end of the day there are cracks in my drenched, canvas boots and massive salt circles on the back of my shirt. Humans are the weak point here. Fragile and skittish.
Panama, Central AmericaJuly 2010
The guide book says “If you go to “X” city the odds are good you will be kidnapped.” “Do NOT get out of your car.” We skirt the edges of town on our way north to find a more rural experience, rehashing and reliving a conversation from the previous night about a serial killer working the back country of Panama who killed a friend of friend. Simple decisions. Life and death. All running parallel. I think of another friend, someone I’m closer with, who was also nearly killed by a homicidal freak who liked to drug then burn his victims. It doesn’t seem that strange anymore, almost predictable in some ways. It’s not but it FEELS that way. It’s a distraction, something to pass the time on the road. The bus ahead of us has a Rambo mural on the back. Guns blazing. Diablas Rojas. Metallic machismo.
Panama, Central America July 2010

Green. Green and brown. Green and gray. Flickering color and rubble, distorted through rain covered windows. The rise and fall of a small engine. Water seen through blurred gaps in the jungle. And then the canal appears. It looks like it should look. It looks like it’s supposed to look. Like a knife wound through what once was. Brown. Covered in oil. Filled with things. There is something both magical and tragic about this thing, this cut in the continent. Many died to make it, and many will die in the future either expanding it, protecting it or attempting to take it over. We made it and now we live with the results. The Devil called “progress” has many faces.

Panama, Central AmericaJuly 2010

Every thought begins with walking. There is no other way for people like me, like Andrew. We can’t make what we make from the safety of the room, or a hotel or anywhere else for that matter. We need the street. Walking, talking, watching, waiting and then pouncing on things that last for fractions of a second. What do I really see? How much have I learned to ignore? The deprogramming takes four days. Four days to forget everything I know in the world and just be. Be and see. I press and wind, press and wind, almost without feeling, until that moment comes and goes. That moment that leaves a mental residue, or scar. I know it’s there. I know I have it and my fingers drum the smooth sides of the film can in my pocket. I check it from time to time, making sure it’s still there, still safe because I know I NEED it. What’s on it is really the only thing that makes me worth the air I’m breathing. It’s my job I tell myself, to be here and to do this these silly things. Does any of it really matter? Something I’ve asked myself a thousand times over hoping the answer I convince myself is the truth actually is.

Panama, Central America July 2010

At times of weakness I allow outside thoughts to enter my brain. If I allow the crack to open too far death will become me, at least in the creative sense. I can’t be half-photographic. It’s all in, visual pink slips on the table and offered up for all to see. As a witness, or a storytelling, I am undressing a bit more each and every time I press the shutter, put pen to paper or slow and close my eyes to hear something the world has offered up just for me. I give myself up and in to what I know I can’t control. The word “soul” is tossed around in the world like confetti but it’s ever so hard to actually find. Even harder to capture or control. This is well worn territory, this land, this place, and I have to pay respects to those who came before. This is a “me” world now, but I fight to keep this really out. I am bloodied by it. I know it’s not about me. Not at all. Regardless of the game I must play for attention. Fool me once…fool me twice.

There are times I feel I can never go back. How does one become normal again? How does one forget these things are out there. There is always another bend in the river. A bridge to flow under or a fateful step to take. If not now then when? In a driving rain I hide in the shelter of a small building, massive, tropical drops obscure my view, turning the horizon into a fun house mirror. I am silent. Alone and not wanting to be anywhere else in the world. I watch the distance muffled beasts sit silently waiting their turn to pass. If I could disappear I would. I would turn and walk away. I would never look back.

Panama, Central AmericaJuly 2010

The author somewhere near Panama City.

Matej Sitar: America, My Way

So I got this email. “Hey, I listened to your webinar with Photoshelter and learned a lot.” “I’ve got this project, will you think about featuring it on your site.” “You probably get a million requests.”

The short of it is I don’t get a lot of requests, and if I like something I run it. And I like this book. I also love what the project is about and how the actual object is put together. It reminds me of a book/portfolio I have from Ernesto Bazan.

A few links to get you started.

This project is in the crowdfunding stage at Verkami.

There is a blog.

And the museum of art in Vienna has also come in with a piece in regard.

Like many things these days it pays to keep multiple irons in multiple fires. The GREAT thing about being a photographer today is that you have options, choices, tools and platforms BEGGING to be used creatively.

And here is the story behind the book. This part of the puzzle is fascinating to me.

Project description:

The goal of the project is the publication of a limited edition artist photo book of Polaroids I took on my journey in America. The title of the series is America, my way. It concentrates on selected moments of the journey, rather than on the American landscape. I have been on the road for 2 months and drove 15.000 km from Seattle to San Diego and again up to the Yukon. The series presents an intimate view of the experiences a visitor had in a foreign country. The series has been presented in various exhibitions in Europe, USA and it also won 3 awards.

About the book:

The book will be published in an edition of 750. All books will be hand numbered and signed by me. There will be 3 staple bound booklets in a foldable box case. I decided to create 3 different journeys across the country instead of one book with more images in it. In each book there are pictures which are the same in every book (9) and then there are the changing pictures (30) that can be seen as the vast amount of possibilities that a journey can offer. Also if you open all the booklets on the same page, this alternative pictures function as triptychs, forming a unity.

All books will be equipped with an ISBN number.

I have been very fortunate to have James R. Reeves write the accompanying intro.

Technical specifications about the book:

3 staple bound booklets in a case.
Case: Mohawk via felt Dark Chocholate, 350g with laser etched title.
Cover: Mohawk via felt Jute, 220g
Inside: Mohawk via felt natural, 220g

Special edition:

Book with laser engraved dedication on the inside of the foldable book case + print 60×60 (reserved for book numbers 40-150)

Collector’s edition:

Book with laser engraved dedication on the inside of the foldable case + original sx-70 Polaroid, signed on the back (reserved for book numbers 1-39)

All prints go on a first come first serve basis. The sooner you pledge, the more options you have when selecting a picture. When the funding time on Verkami ends, I will go through the pledgers list and contact each one so he can select his picture.

PUBLISHING DATE IS PLANNED TO BE THE MIDDLE OF DECEMBER. THE BOOK SHOULD BE AVAILABLE FOR CHRISTMAS!!


Where does the money go?

The main part of the money will be for publishing the 3 booklets, each in an edition of 750, the paper and production of the box case. The rest will go for the laser engraving, following the fees for the text and the design.

There are many projects like this churning out there in the photography/art world, and they are being done by a range of people in a range of places both known and unknown.

A project like this is about photography, yes, but ultimately it’s about a lot more. A life, a voyage, an unknown territory, materials, an object and the journey of producing the artifact. Hope you enjoy.

New Magazine Preview: Una Pura Verdad (A Simple Truth)

A while back I did a magazine. My goal was to sell one hundred copies. I did one blog post and the magazine began to sell, and before long the one hundred copies were gone. For me this was a telling sign of the times and yet another indication that, as an artist, the future was now and the future was what I was going to make of it. I’ve always felt, as a photographer, I’ve been on an island. Historically, my tools were limited. In fact, when I started in this game my tool set included ONE tool; the land-line telephone. These days we live in an ever-changing electronic world where we have more communication models than ever before. They are simply models, there for us to pick and choose. I still feel like I’m on an island but now I can invite others to join me. These models won’t make great images for you, nor will they make you a photographer, but they can surely help you get where you want to be. In my case that means pushing further and further to the edges of the island, one foot in the water lapping at my feet, wondering what would happen if I dove in and left the solid world behind……..

This spreads above are from the recent test I completed with the new Blurb magazine format. Granted, this was a rush job done right before I left on my recent trip and right after I partially tore the MCL in my right leg. I was not in a chatty kind of mood. However, a test is a test and it came with a benefit of the doubt. I’ve been waiting for this moment for a long, long while. The moment I could make my own magazine. Magazines are different from books, they are less formal, signify a renewal or continuation from month to month and are expected to wear out and disappear. Personally, there isn’t much about this format I don’t like.

In addition to the print magazine you see above I also dove a bit deeper into the modern tool kit and made a rich-media version of this same magazine. Rich-media you ask? Add audio and video and you have rich-media. I did this simply because I could. I’m not making bold proclamations about the future, or media in general, I’m simply experimenting with new tools to see how and why I would use them. I suggest you do the same. I now have this magazine on my phone and iPad. I never use my iPad but the magazine is there nonetheless. I do use my phone and have found it handy to be able to show this work in this fashion. I also feel that certain people IN these photos can relate to this work better via phone than print magazine, which is something I must consider moving forward. What you see below is how the magazine actually looks on my phone.

My goal is to continue to explore. I don’t ever want to be one of those people who always finds a reason NOT to do something, or try something. I’ve now tested both of these platforms and have a concrete plan in place as to how and when I’m going to use them. When something new comes along I’ll test that too and see if I can find a way to work it in.

The only thing that is bugging me about all this is the fact that I can’t be in New Mexico right now working on this project. It’s driving me mad. Time, time, time. Such is life. When I finally do arrive back it will all that sweeter. Happy testing.

PS: The football photograph was made during my last trip. A week of shooting and this is the only image I think was fairly successful. It sure felt great as I was kneeling in the sand watching the lads play as the sun lit up the expanse of western sky. I was tired, sweaty, coated in dust and dirt and exactly how I should have been.

“Cups”: Frank Jackson

I met Frank Jackson a few years ago and knew I had found someone with whom I share some DNA. No we don’t look alike. He’s a lot taller than me. But we share a love of paper, pens, Leicas, quiet time, folding bikes, photography, poetry, music and COFFEE. As you will note in one of these images, Frank has the coffee maker of all coffee makers. I don’t know what it is, but I had to get clearance just to be in the same room with it. He showed up at the Palm Springs Photo Festival with a ceramic grinder, high-grade Colombian brown flake and 100% pure Himalayan spring water culled from the mountains by chosen people.

Frank was the perfect guy for me to get addicted to Blurb. Plus, he’s a friend so if anything goes wrong I can pull the “Hey, not my fault” thing and be totally fine. Like most other things, Frank took to the Blurb like a moth to the flame. Now he is hooked. Not only did he make a book, seen below, but he has two or three more on order. Frank travels a lot and tends to go back to one place over and over again, places like Europe. I like this. Years ago he plucked a coffee cup out of its place in the world and began photographing the same cup in a variety of locales. In addition he just shoots coffee and coffee cups. But this isn’t a book about coffee. I would describe Frank as a photographic drifter, but he is a photographer drifter with a plan. If you check the link at the bottom of the post “Balance” you will see what I mean. Images shot all over the world but with a consistent theme. This happens because a photographer is always looking and feeling and understanding the connection between things and places and people and light. I dig it.

Frank chose the Blurb 6×9, which you all know is one of my favorite formats. Smallish, lightish and priced for sales if you are so inclined. He did some interesting things with the design which I also love. And just when I thought I’d seen it all he pulled out a book of illustrations that I LOVED, so I know there are more Blurb gems on the way. It’s good to see these books taking off like they are, the 6×9’s I mean. I show these around a lot and get a lot of mental wheels spinning. Also, on a sidenote, I saw one of my own 6×9’s printed imagewrap and was amazed at how much I liked it. I normally just make softcover but that might have to change. For those of you who were commenting on length of projects, Frank has been working on this baby for a long while and can’t imagine him slowing down anytime soon.

Oh, by the time I could write and post this post he emailed with ANOTHER book……told you he was hooked.


BALANCE LINK

Taste of Uruguay

 

For those of you wondering what happened to my Uruguay work, well, here is a little taste. This project is really fun, at least for me, and what I’ve done so far is ONLY the beginning. Different from most of my other work, this project is layered, textured and confusing to some degree. The elements are tied together with the thinnest of ideas and lines, but that is plenty for me. My first task was to edit the work down to about 200 color images and an equal amount of the black and white flavor. Then, I printed them all. In this case, 3.5×5 with the color square images printed small and centered on the 3.5×5 paper. Then I began to mix and match. I tried a little of this, a little of that. I started over. I put all the prints out on my living room floor and waited for the UPS guy. I waited for the Fedex guy. I waited for the kid selling chocolate bars. I waited for the Jehovah’s Witness people. I waited for the Mormon kids. I waited for the guy that paints the address on the curbs. I waited for the Girl Scouts. I waited for anyone who came near my house and past the three levels of “no soliciting” signs. I figured anyone with the cajones to come this far would be fair game for a little editing.

 

THEM: “Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal savior?”
ME: “How bad does he want me?” “Bad enough to sequence these 400 pictures?”

THEM: “Do you want to buy some cookies?”
ME: “Ya sure, come on in, let me find my wallet.” “Make yourself comfortable, and hey, have a look at those photos and put them in the order you think looks best.” “Your only six-years-old?”
“I don’t care, I’m looking for the youth vote too?”

THEM: “Will you sign here?”
ME: “Right after you figure out if I should put the black and white with the color or keep it separate.” “You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.”

 

I’m still a long way from anywhere, but I did a book anyway. I want to stress this to you endearing public. Don’t be afraid. Making a “casual” book like this is an education in itself. After I loaded it, and ordered it, I made a realization about the work that I hadn’t been able to make before. But seeing it on the pages and in sequence allowed me to have an “Ahhhh….HA” moment about where the next edit will begin and what direction the work will follow. And, it’s entirely different from this book. Funny how that happens.

Ninety, savory, color, softcover pages. This will come down in page count. Plenty of fat to be trimmed off of this prime cut.

Someone asked me earlier today, “What is this going to be?” I haven’t a clue. A book? A show? Or just a reason to move my brain?