everyone is asleep in los angeles

i get in the car and drive

but turned and crashed straight into my reflection

there is no escaping the desert

we see what we want to see

pacing at the ocean like a dog to it’s fence

we just can’t let go

a jaded native - the ocean leaves the world to my imagination

surrounded by those who pretend to live lives they don’t really have

but who cares

i am lonely just like everybody else

we do this to ourselves

everyone is asleep in los angeles

night’s glow serves a desperate purpose

actor, dancer, model… whatever

it takes a feral form of hunger to travel this far

in a sinking ship like ours, how will we ever compete with all the rats

Real estate open houses are interesting - that uncomfortable feeling of being in a stranger’s private space. Some homes feel cold and devoid of love, and others feel sad - sad to be empty - as if the walls themselves are mourning a loss and dreading the inevitable changes to come. We put our first house on the market in Mission Viejo and now my family and I are on the hunt for our next remodel. The last one was of the cold variety. A suburban neighborhood lined with perfect green lawns and high end SUVs. I’m hoping for something a little different this time. Something with a past, something like this.

India

Many years ago, I wanted to be a travel stock photographer. Or more accurately, I thought I wanted to be one. In 2008, A former mentor of mine - a photographer extraordinaire who would prefer to go nameless, took me around Asia for a few weeks; instructing on how to get the “right” shots… and proving just how wrong I was for this specific profession.

Naively, I thought we would be traveling around by the seat of our pants… photographing the wild experiences had along the way. Instead, we spent a lot of time looking through books… at pictures already taken by other stock photographers. He then picked which ones we would attempt to recreate, only better somehow. Our driver Bobby, a raging alcoholic, would eventually drive us 4,000 miles from city to city - crossing standard issue images of Indians in India off our list one after another. Drunkery aside, Bobby was a very kind man, and always helped us connect with the right people. Once the right people were well met, we were then taken to meet other people, and they would eventually introduce us to owners of whatever animal we required to take whatever photograph it was that needed to be taken yet one more time by another Teva wearing foreigner. Our models were transported to a preselected location, they were then paid Rupees to either stand a certain way or walk a proper direction - to basically do the things most Americans think Indians do all day. Minus the begging of course, that non sense isn’t exotic anymore.

We traveled together for 3 weeks; and although India was the focus of our trip, we still managed to poke around Thailand… with a little Myanmar at the end. As I had hoped, we did have a few interesting experiences: In the home of an wealthy indian couple… we had food served to us by a modern day slave. I watched Bobby puke in the middle of the desert at least twice. And at one point I ran full speed out of a Kathoey stocked brothel… my mentor at the heel. Yet none of those moments were photographed… because… well… I thought I wanted to be a travel photographer. We both came back with thousands of contrived and meaningless images that said everything all at once in a single glance. Few images of real life or adventure, mostly just the moments we artificially created. To this very day he says it was the most successful trip he’s ever had.

For 6 months I worked as a food runner at one of the top night clubs in Los Angeles. The money was okay and the shifts went by quickly. It was supposed to be a temporary gig, but the service industry is a time machine of the worst sort - one moment you are rolling silver… then suddenly five years have gone by and you’re transported from one side of the room to another. The fork in your hand is now a martini glass; not much else has changed. 

That was my biggest fear, and so I kept a camera in my locker. Whenever I felt afraid that life would remain stagnant - that years into the future I’d still be working a dead end job, I’d get my camera out and take some pictures. It was therapeutic… a way of moving forward just one half inch at a time - one new picture created, one small thing to be proud of…. one more educational experience to leave fondly in the past.

You unlock this door with the key of imagination, beyond it is another dimension. A dimension of sound, a dimension of sight, a dimension of mind. You’re moving into a land of both shadow and substance, of things and ideas. You’ve just crossed-over into … The Twilight Zone.

Sweet dreams.

I’ve been thinking about money quite a lot recently. In a perfect world I’d make a decent sum by doing something completely unrelated to photography. I’d forever remain an amateur photographer and have the funds available to pursue personal projects at will. It’s such a lovely concept. Every now and then I have gotten paid to take pictures which are personal and satisfying, but it never seems totally pure when I still know a client has to be satisfied as well. It’s the selfish photographer inside me.

My family started a house flipping company a few months ago; a business I’ve been wanting to try my hands at for quite some time but never had enough cash of my own to be competitive in the kind of market we have here in Southern California. The physicality of construction is obviously much different than photography, but a body can harden and a mind can learn. I came into this with a character quality that seems elusive to most construction workers I’ve met thus far: efficiency. Too many highly skilled men spend way to much time looking for tools, driving to home depot, and standing around watching each other work. It’s pretty funny actually.

We just finished our first house and It’s been a wonderful learning process for all involved. In 2004, I pissed away an opportunity to learn about property management from my uncle who owned half a dozen apartment buildings at the time. I didn’t like having to wake up early or get dirty. Regardless of where this thing goes, I’m not going to take the experience for granted this time.

Besides, I’m sure there is a market out there for a photo book of men at work. Right? Power tools and fast food burgers?

A memory lane that leads straight to hell - lately my brain has been spinning after hearing news about the restaurant in Nigeria that served human meat to customers. Years ago I photographed a man carving up bodies at a morgue in Port-au-Prince. When I asked some of the staff what he was doing they says he comes once a week and buys the unclaimed bodies and then sells all the parts: heads for the University, bones for those who use them in rituals, and the meat for human consumption. I had been to the morgue repeatedly in the years since the earthquake, but had never seen or heard of this happening before that day. I got as much information as I could from the staff and aid workers who deal with the hospital; I even discussed the matter with a man I knew named “Junior” who was not only a practicing cannibal (Ritualistic) but a member of a gang from Martissant - knowledgeable of various criminal activities. The information from the morgue staff was consistent with the stories Junior had to share, he even recognized the butcher and knew his name. One big piece of the puzzle was missing - I didn’t know where the meat was being sold… only where it was coming from.

I’ve been looking through the pictures from HUEH again; and reaching out once more to see if any journalists might be interested in what goes on at that morgue. I don’t hold out much hope that things will be any different this time. I don’t have pictures leading from morgue to mouth, so to speak. You can report on the end without concrete knowledge of the beginning; but a beginning without an end makes the whole thing useless. Or so I’ve been told. I’ve not yet found a journalist willing to investigate the matter and answer the remaining question: where does the meat go?

Who knows… maybe one day the circle will be closed.

I really don’t get out enough and walk around this damn city. Too much driving. Maybe we’re all such neurotic drama queens here because we don’t get enough fresh air. Or maybe thats just me.

There was a period of about 5 years when I had a really bad travel bug. Not the kind of bug that keeps you glued to the toilet seat, but the kind that kept me running from country to country. It was an addiction… an excuse to escape all the things I didn’t like about my life. Which is so silly, because life was always extremely good no matter how hard I tried to paint it otherwise. At some point during this prolonged phase; a mentor of mine sent a strongly worded email which can be paraphrased as:

“You spoiled and arrogant little jackass… you don’t need to be in Africa to take great pictures, and you don’t have to goto Amsterdam to have interesting experiences. You live in LA. Grow up, get out of the basement, go outside and look around.”

I argued with him and then proceeded to ignore his advice for another few years - because I really was arrogant. But, the seed eventually began to sprout. Now I photograph anything and everything I’m doing no matter how uninteresting it may seem to anyone else who isn’t actually there. The little moments are important, like the other night when I learned how to tile a bathroom floor.

There are so many amateur photographers out there running around with a camera around their neck shooting the same crap as everyone else. Only a tiny number of them have realized that 50 years from now no one is going to care about their typical street photographs, their typical portraits, or their typical landscapes. The best thing we can do with our camera is to document that which we know best - ourselves, our family and friends. 50 years from now those images will have a historic value, to your family if no one else. Those pictures will tell a story as unique as you are; you’ll never go wrong photographing the best and worst moments life throws your way. The pictures will be incredible no matter what.

Cliches don’t matter when your wife is living out the last month of her life in a hospital bed, dying of cancer. Or when your grandmother takes a shot of tequila on her 90th birthday and gives the camera a big thumbs up. Or when you’re spending 40 hours a week sitting in a cubicle staring at a screen till your contacts dry and fall out onto your keyboard.

Turn the camera inwards, unless you have lived your life in the service of others, the  experiences YOU ARE having are the experiences you’re most qualified to document. I promise… the way you try to see the world isn’t as interesting as the reality of how it actually is.

Well, I’ve really done it this time. Two days without any new pictures OR words. I guess this 365 project is in the can. Either way it doesn’t really matter. That’s not just cognitive dissonance taking form, it’s the truth. What really matters is that I keep posting regardless of this or any other little setback (as if these things really move you forward). So I’ll just jump right back in and break another rule while I’m at it: These pictures are not new, just new to me because I’m seeing the scans for the first time.

I took them exactly one year ago. Well maybe not exactly… today is the 6th and these are labeled Feb 7th 2013. The point is that one year ago my sister and her husband (plus kids) packed up their house to leave California and create a new life in Seattle. It didn’t seem like a big deal at the time - we were excited that her husband got the job he wanted. They had to do what they had to do. I’ve often dreamed of doing the same - back to Montana with my dad or maybe someplace entirely new… like New Orleans. But I’ve been blessed with the curse of many close friends; a hard thing to leave behind. At times… an anchor.

My mother and grandmother still live here in LA… but we’re in Atwater and they’re in the Palisades  - with all the traffic between us it may as well be a state line.

Anyway. These pictures make me feel extremely sad. 

Conscious of it or not… sadness was obviously an emotion that I was feeling that night while walking around the house taking pictures of their stuff. I put a lot of empty space into the frames but don’t remember why. I suspect the reason goes a bit deeper than an appreciation for blank walls.

The Manor.

This last year I began turning down photography jobs that didn’t meet a personal stress vs. profit ratio. The final straw came in the form of a wedding I photographed for $500 in July, 2013. A mutual friend of the bride and myself asked if I’d be willing to accommodate their small budget; I needed the money and said yes. This wasn’t my first wedding by a long shot, nor was it the lowest payment I’ve accepted. I’ve done a few for free in the past and all went well. But this time was different; shortly before the big day, it became clear (via multi page shot list email attachment) that this bride had expectations which would have only been met by an actual wedding photographer, a seasoned pro who could provide best-of-Pinterest quality wedding images… vignettes included. I on the other hand do my best work in a morgue or nightclub parking lot.

The couple hired me to save money… not because they liked my personal style. I did my best to meet their needs. The results turned out okay; they didn’t write an angry letter afterwards or anything. But it felt like the right time for a policy change.

I recently sold all my Nikon gear and switched to Fujifilm. An X100s to be exact. I literally can’t accept a low paying job now because I’ve got to rent the proper equipment, this hassle basically eliminates any temptation to give in. Some jobs pay well and some offer unique opportunities. Free is fine if it gets me in the Playboy mansion with a camera, or a safe place to sleep in an otherwise dangerous part of the world. Plus, the dream of being a successful pro-photographer is behind me. I just really really like taking pictures.

The irony of all this: the best paying job yet fell into my lap this week; and it was dropped there by the same friend who requested my assistance for the budget bride.

It rained tonight. Well more like drizzled… but it was none the less very exciting. We’re heading into a major drought. Yet with all this emphasis on water - tailgating Angelenos still slide their cars into one another the moment the roads get a bit wet. They should drive in the rain with one hand on the wheel and the other holding a camera to the window… it’s much safer.