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The things I didn’t photograph cont…

May 4, 2010

It’s like taking a very old person and giving them a tremendous amount of plastic surgery to try to force the appearance of youth instead of enjoying and learning from who they are and what they have been through. Also, what comes to mind is that reality show which was on TV a few years ago, “The Swan,” where so-called “ugly” girls were imposed and outfitted with drastic workouts, plastic surgery, acrylic nails, prosthetic teeth, long hair and the generic clothing custom to the average “hot” and attractive American woman of today. I only watched it few times but was upset by what I saw. The idea conveyed was that redemption could be found for these  homely women, if they only had these required things. Looking svelte, well kept, and perfectly coiffed makes life “okay.” Mostly they would end up looking caricatured and cliché. Somehow the pressure and trauma they incurred at the hands of a superficial society could not be wiped entirely from their face or presence. Who we are ultimately cannot be disguised. I can identify with their plight as I accidentally forfeited my looks in my 20’s for a debaucherous lifestyle.

When most of my friends where still cute and fresh, I looked bloated, haggard and old. It took me years of healthy living, yoga and therapy to like the way I look again and almost be able to convince “regular” people that I am “normal.” But now it’s my turn to be cliché and say that true and rewarding change emerges from the inside out. It’s strange how as my own positive transformation took place, I bitterly watched downtown receive its makeover. When taking pictures there, I found myself drawn to the older part of town, back to my neighborhood which hadn’t yet been too affected by the new development, other than an increase in real estate value, as well as the surge of homeless being pushed by the SDPD from downtown to neighborhoods where they weren’t such a threat. I was sad to see others suffer, and had a fondness for the homeless as much as I did for the old buildings and streets. When out taking pictures I enjoyed the conversations that many were gracious to have with me.

The place I loved the most in San Diego was a train yard that rests almost underneath the Coronado Bridge, in Barrio Logan, near Chicano Park. Every time I went there would be the same old caboose and maybe some recognizable engines combined with an odd assortment of whatever type of car or train was en route or passing through. Sometimes there would be round tanks full of chemicals and others times large flatbeds supporting giant narrow metal structures with holes cut-through. The last time I found several giant freight cars with massive gaping dents and I wondered what kind of accident they had been through. An old mill sits behind the yard and Nassco is just next door. Nassco builds ships for the U.S. Navy and oil tankers too. In the evening and sometimes late at night I would park my car near the entrance and watch enormous
cranes lift gargantuan hunks of ship through the air.

By the time I moved to New York, though still looking for similar types of things to photograph, I had already realized the reason I took pictures of such places was because of how I felt about myself and life. I related with old, dilapidated places and experienced a resonance with what felt like the cancellation of time or the end of world. I was raised a Jehovah’s Witness and looked at pictures of the Apocalypse growing up. I often was afraid I was going to die in the end of the world. Although I’ve long since completely rejected the religious views and ideology I was raised with, I think through photography, I’m still looking for Armageddon. I could literally explore this idea photographically until the end of time and probably never be satisfied. My grandmother is 89 and losing her mind. She is so close to death and has been waiting for Armageddon her whole life. I find this staggering yet only through photography have realized the profound effect the concept of catastrophic threat and aftermath still plays in my psyche. The recent pictures still echo something of that, I think, but are much more a quest for what is “now.”

One of the most significant ideas I have acquired from the teachers of the MFA program at ICP is permission to take pictures of other things and discover what I can from my daily and tangible life. I now ask myself why I am opening a book with pictures of my life in s New York with pictures and writing from California. Is it because it’s important to continue to process the past? I keep thinking of the time I saw clearly how life cycles around on a giant spiral and understood one could be going up, or slipping down, but in either case would find themselves in a familiar space and with recognizable shapes. I think I must of been high on acid, which can reveal a truth but doesn’t really leave you with the long term tools to utilize that knowledge. Only time well spent in purposeful  action enabled me able to utilize the  epiphanies that once rendered me ineffable. Perhaps this is why it’s beneficial for me to look back slightly while happily plodding forward. I do write about my process now, but I feel like I need hindsight for it to make more sense and have a fuller meaning. And now, I don’t mind so much to be in the present and to be writing about the past. It feels something like a gift.

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