A friend is someone who knows all about you and still loves you.
- Elbert Hubbard
robert larson, reporting from los angeles.
Sometimes being a friend means mastering the art of timing. There is a time for silence. A time to let go and allow people to hurl themselves into their own destiny. And a time to prepare to pick up the pieces when it’s all over.
- Gloria Naylor
It’s nearly complete, but not quite. Just one summer left to go. I’ve been working on this essay from the beginning. Always photographing the people around me - the people who love me and who I love in return. We’ve had this inside joke for awhile now… my friend Funke started it one night a few years ago - while extremely drunk he declared at the top of his lungs that “this summer is going to be the summer of our lives!” It was indeed a very good time, but typical of such close social circles there was a bit of drama and that particular summer ended less glamorously than we had hoped. It was then declared that the NEXT summer would be the summer of our lives. And so on and so fourth. The fact is we all grew up here in Los Angeles - summer time is more or less always in season. We try to mix things up, go on vacations and see new places. But for the most part we’ve all been going to the same party since high-school - for the core members, that was ten years ago. Things have not changed much during that time, at least not until recently.
In the last year we have attended two weddings, one of which was mine. By the end of this summer we’ll have also had two going away parties for two of our closest friends. It seems that against our worst judgment - some of us are actually starting to grow up… and grow apart. It’s for the best, but a bitter sweet pill to swallow none the less. Maturity rears it’s ugly head. So this is it. Not the end of a family of friends, but of a joke. Summer time is just around the corner, and this one is gonna be good. Really good.
David Carol: What was the first photo you took and thought to yourself, “This is what I want to do?”
Robert Larson: It was actually a picture that I didn’t take. My grandmother had tripped outside and fallen on her face, cutting and bruising it up pretty badly. I was living with my grandparents at the time and my grandpa called, told me what happened, and said to meet them at the emergency room. I sat next to her while the doctor put in the stitches… she kept trying to talk and tell the doctor that her grandson loved to take pictures and asked if it would be alright if I did; she was so used to me taking pictures all the time. The doctor said okay… but It hadn’t occurred to me to photograph something like that - a sad and painful moment as opposed to all the other ones. I explained that I hadn’t thought to bring my camera with me to the ER.
The next day I did bring my camera to the hospital and took a picture of her beat up head in a neck brace… she looked terrible but she was smiling at me with her eyes as if she was the happiest grandmother in the world. The photo I didn’t take and the photo that I did take… the experience changed my whole attitude about photography. My heart was all in from that point forward.
For most people, this Friday won’t be much different from any other Friday. Another weekend begins - two short days to try and make up for the last five. But on this particular Friday my incredible wife is wrapping up her last day of employment. She’s been in retail since she was 15 and has spent the last twelve years loyally working for a great company named Crossroads Trading Co. - eventually obtaining the coveted title: regional buyer. It’s been a good run, and now she’s going to kick her feet up and do whatever the hell she wants. I can think of few other people who deserve a break from the grind as much as she does, and I’m so damn proud!
This morning, I asked if it would be okay for me to show up at her store wearing a kilt with blue paint on my face and scream FREEEEEEEEEDOM!!!!!!! She thought it would be a bad idea, so for the moment this embarrassing post will have to do.
I love you Jenny!
To see the world, things dangerous to come to, to see behind walls, draw closer, to find each other, and feel - that is the purpose of life.
- Henry Luce
The Food Runner has been featured this morning in The New York Times - Lens blog! It was an honor and educational experience to be interviewed by the Co-Editor, David Gonzales - he quickly put my nerves at ease and accurately coaxed out what my wife semi-sarcastically refers to as the “Larson charm”. I wasn’t able to pin point who exactly found my images in the first place - so, to the NYT staffer who pitched my photo-essay to the higher ups… from the bottom of my heart, thank you.
After trying for five years to be a professional photographer, Robert Larson took a job as a food runner in a Los Angeles nightclub to show to his new bride that he was willing to let go of a dream that had not materialized. Once he settled into the job, he found himself taking pictures here and there, especially during breaks and on slow weeknights.
I have an interview on Monday morning with the New York Times for their LENS blog. I’ve been interviewed in the past, some short, some long. Some were an honor and some weren’t. But this is a whole new level. My wife and I are enjoying a busy weekend with friends. We went to Disneyland yesterday and spent the night. Tomorrow we are going to the Cowboy festival in Santa Clarita. It’s been a great way to help take the edge off - a distraction from my anxieties about Monday.
Though I still find time to daydream.
I was laying in bed 15 minutes ago, watching The Secret Life of Walter Mitty again for the third time since Thursday. That was the night I got confirmation of the interview. Sometimes when it’s late and I can’t sleep, I get really drunk and watch a movie by myself while Jenny sleeps. It’s probably not the healthiest way to unwind whatever is causing the sleepless night, but it’s lead me to an inspired epiphany or two for which I am thankful. I’d never seen Walter Mitty before, and although it isn’t exactly a masterpiece of cinematic history - it hit a chord inside me that hasn’t stopped humming since.
Tonight, after the movie ended and before picking up my phone to start typing this post… I was daydreaming about what questions I might be asked… which then led me to reflect on adventures past. I started wondering if there was ever a moment that I was completely aware of just how lucky I was to be having whatever experience it was that I was having. I worded that terribly. What I’m trying to say is - did I ever appreciate the moment or do I always require time to reflect in order to become appreciative?
My answer to myself was yes, there was a moment in particular. I remember taking one picture and thinking: Jesus fucking christ… this is where I am right now. I’m standing on top of a train in Liberia and it’s heading out to some little village I’ll probably never see again.
In 28 years I’ve forgotten more unusual experiences than most people have in 80. But that specific moment is one that I remember as clearly as if it had only been this morning.
I don’t know where all these experiences will lead. Nor can I really say if being published on LENS will amount to anything more than a very cool pat on the back for a few pictures well taken. Another line on the CV. But I do know and I can say… if I died tomorrow in a car accident, at least I lived well during short time I had - I’ve done a whole lot of laughing and a whole lot of crying, and that’s pretty damn good if you ask me.
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 desperate 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.
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.