Books I Love: Yesterday’s Perfume

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The latest installment “Books I Love.” The concept is very simple. Find a book in my collection, photograph it, then share it with you. The idea being to share what I love about the book or why I have it. The books will range from traditionally published, POD and handmade. The only stipulation is that I love the book. Most of them have a backstory, which I will also share. Books and photography are forever linked, so why not explore the relationship through my bookshelf. Hope you enjoy.

In addition to being an epic traveler, writer and composer, Paul Bowles was an influential superstar when it came to the creative world. “Yesterday’s Perfume”, described as “a memoir of friendship” is the blending of lives, loves and relationships through the narrow streets of Tangier. Brought to us by Cherie Nutting, friend of Bowles, who not only weaves the story but also provides us with a variety of stunning imagery.

The book was designed by my friend and uber designer Elizabeth Avedon.

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.

Why do this?

Why do this?

Why write a blog?

That’s a good question, and I realized I had never really explained this. Not that anyone cares, but it did make me ask myself this same question. This blog takes times, these posts take time, and I’d perhaps be better served, financially and photographically if I took the time required and focused it on my business or my images.

Here’s the problem…I can’t.

This blog isn’t an option for me. I need to do it. Let me explain.

In elementary school I was home sick. I was home sick a lot. I wasn’t a sickly kid but my lungs betrayed me from the first moments of my life. There was the oxygen tent, the pneumonia and the days home from school. On one such day I was watching TV, which for us was somewhat of a big deal. We had, I THINK, a black and white TV in the “den” and that’s where I sat as the Indiana winter(I’m adding this for drama) churned out the flakes. On one of the three channels we got came a movie, a sci-fi kinda thing about mushroom people, at least that is how I remember it. There was an island, there were mushroom people and oddly enough this triggered something in my new mind. “What the %$#%, mushroom people?” “What?” “When did this happen?” I remember being overwhelmed with confusion and knew I had to get this confusion out, somehow, somewhere. So I grabbed paper and a pencil and started to jot down notes about this new world that clearly NOBODY in my family was yet privy to.

That was it. That was the moment everything changed. Soon my frail, little finger developed that bump on it you get from gripping the pencil too tight. You know the bump, the one you got when the teacher said, “Okay children, open your textbook to page 28 and write down everything on the page.” The “busy work” bump. As we all sat in these overheated little incubator rooms, our growth plates groaning and creaking like the plates of the Earth’s crust, our poor little finger developing our first bone spur and I was in pig heaven. Thanks public school.

I would blaze through the assignment and then begin on my own stories, great stories of sweeping scale that I no longer have any recollection of. But, I remember the little notebooks. Large, small, thick, thin, it didn’t matter. I just wrote.

By the time I reached middle school, luckily, I’d discovered martial arts and more importantly, martial arts movies. There has perhaps been no greater contribution to world culture than the martial arts film genre. I read the Chuck Norris autobiography, official and non-official. I think I cried. I wanted to BE Chuck Norris. I wanted the Chuck Norris pants with the flexible crotch so I could absolutely kick the living crap out of anyone that even so much as slightly brushed into me in the hallway, cafeteria or cage fighting arena we called PE class. A kid at school got caught with a Chinese throwing star. He rocketed to the top of my “Most Want To Meet” list. I studied the dynamics of nunchakus with a rope vs nunchakus with a chain. I ordered Chinese peasant outfits, by mail, out of the back of martial arts magazines, magazines that portrayed some type of violent struggle on the cover, the exact type situation I needed my Chuck Norris pants for. No living creature was safe from my eye gouge, throat grab or knee punch. Mom, dad, sister, brother, dog, grandmother, nobody was immune to my wrath. I didn’t know if someone in the family would turn on me and I would have to defend myself.

And I wrote. My stories went from innocent sci-fi to all out martial arts fueled global chaos. Most of the time the story involved one main character, armed to the teeth, completely vaporizing a foreign culture of some sort. I spared no geographic region. South America revolutionaries, SE Asian drug lords and generic Russian thugs all died the same merciless death by gun, knife, throwing star or hand to hand dismemberment. The main character could get shot, stabbed, attacked by twelve bad guys and still slaughter them all. My imagination was my playpen and the bad guys of the world suffered for it.

My notebook was small, spiral bound, and for some reason I wrote these stories in the smallest handwriting I possibly could. They were so good I wanted to cram as much as humanly possible into my $.39 notebook, which I promptly lost. It was during this time a new kid moved to our block, Stuart. Stuart was wicked smart, still is, and Stuart could actually write. From what I know, I think he is now a screenwriter in Hollywood. Stuart had a small notebook and he too was writing stories. This only fueled my need to get things down on paper. It was as if Stuart writing was my permission slip. It’s wasn’t just me.

And then came high school. I went dormant. The writing stopped. Completely. What a surprise.

College. Yep, not much going here either…..

Graduation. Hmmm, nope, nothing yet.

Then came the internship. The newspaper. A big one. I was required to write captions. I found a feature story. The paper wouldn’t assign a writer. I already had the images. “You write it,” the editor said. It was a short piece, maybe 300 words. Something began to rumble in my mind. I lived near the public library and would spend time cruising the shelves. No money to buy books. I found the photography section. All the usual suspects. But wait, what’s this? “The Adventures and Misadventures of Peter Beard in Africa.” What? Who? And that was it. The gloves were off once again. This book blew my mind. Beard blew my mind, and his life almost put me over the top. Screw Chuck Norris, I wanted to be Peter Beard. It was this little bump of creative inspiration that got me going again. Beard is the prolific diary maker, the best, most interesting I’ve ever seen, and something in my mind clicked and said, “You need to do this again.”

I immediately began to write, sometimes ten or twelve pages a day. Some people think this is crazy but it’s actually fairly easy because for me the writing didn’t have to be about anything in particular. I could sit at a cafe and write ten pages about someone sitting across from me, someone I didn’t know. I’d make up the story of their life and put it down on paper. This exercise was a cleansing of sorts, a way to find the clarity within the clutter of my mind(phrase stolen from Peter Schwepker).

Since those blistering days in the desert I’ve kept a notebook, something I used each and every day. Now I have friends who do the same, artist friends, and their books are simply works of art, no other way of seeing it. Mine are not. I can’t paint, sketch or draw so that isn’t part of my routine. Mine are most text, written in perhaps the world’s worst handwriting. And if you think your handwriting is bad just know that I once sat at a cafe, writing, and someone looked over my shoulder and asked what language I was writing in. No kidding. It’s the perfect foil for anyone trying to read my notes. I’m the Navajo language of the writing world.

Now people, I can’t stress to you how important, and how much a part of my life these books are. They are with me EVERY step of the way. Just last week someone asked me, “Why did you bring your notebook?” I really didn’t know how to answer because…..I didn’t know how to quickly say what I’m saying here.

Now I’m not a great writer, wish I was, but I really love doing it and need to do it to get the thoughts out and down. When I’m working my brain is on overtime, CHURNING with things, ideas, thoughts, fears and stresses that all end up being part of the crime when all is said and done.

About twelve years ago I attended an invitation only, creative industry event. I wasn’t invited but I weaseled my way in and was blown away. Game designers, writers, photographers, artists, designers, etc. I heard the word “blog” for the first time. It freaked me out. I KNEW it was for me.

When I first created my blog, all those years ago, I never told anyone about it. I committed to writing for the public the exact same way I wrote in my book, as if NOBODY was ever going to see it. I think this is the ONLY way of doing it. I know this doesn’t fit the modern blog trend of the overpowering sales pitch, overpowering, “everything is amazing” feel but I just don’t care. I would rather have ten people reading it, ten real folks, than 10,000 somewhat uninvolved readers. My first post was a story I wrote in my journal at 3am, during the time I lived in LA. I heard a drive-by-shooting out my window and wrote what I thought was happening. The piece, thanks to a friend, was picked up by a major paper and then syndicated nationwide. After that I wrote about anything that crossed my mind. Art, music, film, television, life, etc. I also wrote a little bit about photography.

One day, out of the blue, an email arrived from an unknown person, a person in Africa. “I’ve been following your blog.” “You are on to something.” “If you want this to really work, narrow your focus and just write about photography.” At first, I really didn’t want to do this. I look around, from where I’m sitting right now and I see posts about the border war, the environment, rural culture in America, pets, gun control and my beloved Saints kicking Falcon ass on last night’s Monday Night Football. I can barely contain myself. But I understand, if I write about ALL of those things, on this site, it might be more confusing than anything else. So, I took this person’s advice and that is why I’m here today, and probably why you are here.

I consider writing a superior art to photography. I really do. Not only is it far more difficult, at least for me, but writing is possible without needing ANYTHING other than your imagination, pencil and paper. You don’t need to BE at the story, simply by talking about it with those who were, you can recreate the happenings. News photographers need to be at the frontline. Reporters can write about it without leaving the office. I’m not saying that is good, just possible.

When I read Rushie, who I met on the street in Beverly Hills and nearly wet myself(a very nice guy), I realize my mind will probably never reach that level of intelligence, of talent. It’s the same with McCarthy, Bowles, Green, Erhlich, etc, etc. When I sit down with a well written book, a book of unique style and content, I don’t need any imagery because the words allow my mind to create a vision unique to the author and I. Our little world. THAT is golden. Great literature makes me feel, both physically and emotionally, like a great image, but simply with words. It blows me away. I’m on downtime at the moment, kinda, and ordered five books to fit the timeframe I have. I’m through two and waiting for the others to be delivered….IF they make it this far out.

So here we are. That’s my story. I write more because I have to than anything else. It’s the same with reading, and reading other blogs. I don’t read many because the moment I see phony, I’m gone. The moment I see sales pitch, I’m gone. Tell me a story, tell me about you, your life, your success, your failure and I’m in, one hundred percent. There are so many folks out there with something to say who, I think, are just afraid to let it out.

Don’t be. I did and I’m still here.

A Sense of Place

My aunt and I share the same birthday, so I always try to call her on the day.

She recently had a book of poetry published. The poems came to her in a “moment of clarity” and suddenly began to flow through her. She wrote them down, thought of self-publishing, but decided to try one mainstream publisher who quickly gobbled her up. I am thrilled for her.

But something from our conversation really hit home. It was that “moment of clarity.”

You see her moment happened when she was holding her granddaughter, and watching her grandson as he roamed and ran. It wasn’t as if she was sitting alone in a darkened room, meditating with flute music. She was in the midst of things, which is what made me stop and think.

They say we all have a “powerspot,” or a place that we subconsciously relate to. “They” being educated people like the college professor that explained the “powerspot” to me.

I agree with this. I have several. One happens to be the drivers seat of my car. Another is the seat of my bicycle. And my other “powerspots,” they vary, move around.

But when I land on one, my best work emerges. Always.

It is during those moments of pristine clarity when, I think, our true creative being emerges. We find the focus we need, we find the second layer of the project, or the third, fourth or fifth. And suddenly, your vision becomes as clear as your moment.

Currently, one of my “powerspots” is where my mom lives. I only get there once, maybe twice a year, but each time I’m there I always manage to find a moment of clarity. And when I do, I make pictures. I make these pictures for no reason other than to make them. I have to.

And what these particular pictures seem to do is give me a sense of place, of being, without really showing where I am. They are like fingerprints, inspired by nature, perhaps a return to my youth. I make them each and every time I go, and I’ve found them more and more interesting over time.

I feel an energy in these images, a respect. I’m not sure anyone else would feel it, or should feel it, but I’m curious about that.

I actually printed one of these, large, roughly 30×30 and it sits framed on my mom’s mantle, above the fireplace. It’s odd to see it, then look out the window and see the real object. There had to be something that alerted me to photographing this object, and then print and frame this object, and then have my mother hang it. There had to be an unknown force. At least it feels that way.

I think the key to these moments is not necessarily the work that is made directly from the experience, but rather the realization of what happened, that you had this moment, you could feel it, and in some ways experienced a creative breakthrough.

At first I thought these images were not really “mine,”, but now I think, perhaps they are “my” work. Maybe they are leaving tracks for me to follow. A warning? A suggestion?

Slacker

Some people have been asking where I have been, where the posts have been, and I have to apologize for slacking off on the Smogranch front.

I have been in a state of perpetual pack and unpack, jetting from one place to another, for work, and for shorts periods of time. So, little time to post anything more than simple observations, mostly unrelated to the photography world.

Don’t get me wrong, I write everyday, and take notes on most situations I find myself in, but most of what I jot down isn’t really intended for the blog world, unless you are looking for a cure for your insomnia.

So, I’m home now, for a few days, and will try to post later today, tomorrow, etc, But, we are supposed to get rain today, the first in months and months, so I might be outside just watching the day pass.

After my shoot, and subsequent quick trip to Los Angeles, and after I catch up on paying bills, returning calls, emails, talking to mom, sis and bro, etc.