The first month of the year has been eventful in many ways. For me it hasn’t been very eventful photographically. I’ve had jobs cancel due to pandemic worries. I’ve found myself once again preoccupied with household chores and projects that somehow never got finished during the actual lockdowns. The camera has been down.
Last night, however, the Santa Ana winds came through–hard. I was born and raised here in Southern California, and never have I experienced winds like these. Gusts of over 60 mph blasting through my quiet little suburban enclave nestled up against the Angeles National Forest. I didn’t sleep well as I witnessed helplessly the winds tear apart my backyard, moving furniture and toppling pottery. I’ve always taken comfort in knowing that on the hillside below our home are very old and very tall trees that protect us from the elements. Imagine my shock when I looked out the window during the storm to see that several had fallen into a neighbor’s property, damaging their fence and crushing their patio.
In the morning, all seemed to be still as I woke up from a few hours of sleep. I photographed the fallen trees above.
Today meant a lot of clean up and some rest. I heard crews around town cleaning up the destruction from last night. Later on I stopped by an old park that I often photograph. Several large old pines fell in the winds, completely uprooted. Several folks stopped to see the massive roots shoved above ground.
I lost my stepdad to cancer a few years ago, and besides being a huge guiding force in my life, we did a lot of photography together. He left behind a trove of cameras and gear, including a few film cameras that were loaded with film he’d already used for a few shots. One of these was a Leica M7. It took me awhile (it seems a little too long, now) to finish the roll of Kodak Tri-X 400 that was inside. I actually had no idea what film it was until I had finished it out.
With the recent passing of legendary photographer, Tom Stoddart, I’ve been spending time thinking of some of the most celebrated masters of street photography (Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Frank, Elliot Erwitt, Vivian Maier) and how mundane they might have felt their everyday lives might have been. As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve struggled with creative stagnation during this extended time in pandemic. How did they stay so close to their work and still keep it interesting?
Walking about with this loaded M7 was a change up. It felt like driving blind. I’m old enough to remember shooting film, but never with manual settings. What film was in this camera? What lens do I use? Am I going to completely mess this up while unloading the camera?
Turns out I actually did completely mess up a roll of film in another camera my stepdad had loaded. Not my greatest of moments. The world will never know what photos he’d gotten there. The shots he’d gotten on this roll were either blurry or completely gray. I’ll never know the when and the how there. But I did find a small local photo lab that processed and scanned the shots managed to get. I have to say, I’m enjoying the results way too much.
I think of these as mundane, but close to my mindset. The solitude of the times meeting my prolonged grief meeting my creative mind searching to keep photography interesting to me.
The days in November seem to quicken as they go by, probably since they do. And this is made worse by the coming of Standard Time (the fall-back time change). People seem to love the extra hour of sleep, while I bemoan the shortened days. The sun sets around 4:45 p.m., and I can’t get anything done. I do revel in the changing light, though. Everything starts to become tilted and surreal. Dali-esque shadows stretch lengthily across streets and sidewalks.
I’ve been busy with client work since the world as started to reopen again (thank you, vaccines). I’m grateful for the work, and it reminds me to get back to shooting personal work again. I’ve been creatively depressed during the various lockdowns and, while I can’t stand the crowds back out again, I’ve been taking the few extra moments to go on photo walks with whatever camera I have on hand.
A few weeks ago I got to photograph Acentos Bienvenidos, a celebration of Latin/Hispanic Heritage Month at the Citadel Shopping Mall in Commerce, CA. The celebration was outdoor with COVID safety precautions in place, and featured performances by Yamila Cuban Latin Band, Heart of Samba Brazilian dancers, and Mariachi Arcoiris de Los Angeles. The event hosts were Valentina and Alexander Rodriguez. Enjoy this selection of photos…
I was particularly moved by Mariachi Arcoiris as they are the worlds first all LGBTQ+ mariachi, also featuring the first transgender woman in mariachi.
This beautiful event was presented by Hulu and constructed by the talented folks at AKJOHNSTON Group.
Yesterday, I couldn’t help but think of images from Ray Bradbury stories–of wall-sized TV panels blaring reality TV, ear seashells, and machines that breath and function like organisms–as a global social media platform went down for about five hours. Of course, it felt like a sense of relief that I didn’t have to check them as much as I typically do.
I’m aware these major social platforms monetize our attention, siphoning off our focus little by little while hopping us up on dopamine all along the way. I want to tread lightly by saying that there are some good aspects to social media. I know that posting my photography work has helped me improve over the years. Promoting my various projects has been a plus, even if it simply keeps people in touch with all the things I do with my life.
Where that balance is between sharing my entire life on social media and whatever else doesn’t happen online, I don’t really know. I try to devote at least half my day to non-screen activities. I have a personal trainer; my ongoing garden projects; making gourd-shaped candles.
During the non-social media freedom I stopped by the only local bookstore left nearby, a large chain store. I went in to pick up a new copy of The Illustrated Man. Even in the middle of a weekday, the place was fairly bustling. I found my book quickly and went to check out. In front of me was a woman purchasing at least two large stacks which the store employee was scanning and piling into large canvas tote bags. I must not have been the only one taking advantage of digital downtime.
I have to admit that finding any sense of creative flow over the last eight or so months has been a challenge. The summer was hot, arid, and felt long. The remnants of “pandemic brain” have slowly started to recede as I find I have things to look forward to once again. As the world seems to surge back to activity. As my COVID vaccine does its job, allowing me to be in a world to some extent.
A short visit to my weekly local farmers market. An exploration of tone.
Early July, my birthday month. In Southern California this means the ever earlier beginning of what we call fire season, historically reserved for dry fall months. I’m not an ecologist, but someone who is outside a lot. Someone who pays attention to the land, photographs it, and notices the ongoing changes over the years. Needless to say, growing up here we didn’t have months on end of skies amber with smoke. But that’s a post for another day.
Independence Day fireworks came and went. I’ve passed on them yet again to mind the sanity of my dogs for the evening, plus I can’t stand the poor air quality the next day. I choose instead to admire the small sunflower bursting open in my container garden. These Helianthus have been surprisingly more work than I’m used to, needing extra care and water in an already hot summer. But the blooms I do love.
These little summer suns. Among the fire colors I have spilling out of pots and small patches in my garden. The only fire colors I’m hoping to see in yet another year of climate records shattering. I’ll be keeping an eye on the landscape as we carry on through it.
An early heatwave hit Southern California and for some reason I thought it a good idea to hit the desert for a weekend in Palm Springs at a friend’s house. This is normally calm, relaxing, and fun with plenty of libations flowing by a cool pool.
It was somewhat challenging this time around. The temperatures lingered around 116 degrees all day. It was so hot, the pool water resembled a lukewarm bath. My friend lightly burned his bare feet on the hot patio, and we even had a few power outages.
Still, as pandemic worries slow down steadily, and as the world starts or reopen, it was nice to walk around (yes, in hot noon sun) with the Leica TL2 taking in bars full of chattering patrons under the palms of Palm Springs.
It’s mid-March and I’m reading one piece after another about being a year into this pandemic, at least in the US. Much of these sound familiar. The brain fog, the struggling with meaninglessness. Me, I often feel like I want to be a go-with-the-flow guy–to take these prolonged months as they come and try to make the most of them–except the flow often doesn’t really want to go with me.
Small moments of chaos break out. Our elderly dogs eliminate on the floor. Water leaks under the sink. I’ve become excellent at clearing decades of clutter Marie Kondo-style into donation boxes, only to have to drive all over town looking for a thrift store that’ll actually take them. (Note: thrift stores are overwhelmed with donations and are usually full by noon.) As a freelancer, any sort of work or creative project usually ends in a false start.
My complaints are little. I’m navigating much of this with enough privilege to usually keep these things to myself. So when small chaos seems to reign, there goes my flow. Any kind of flow.
A walk per day keeps the fog at bay. Just like our usual March here in SoCal, the rain has been off and on. A small break in the rain makes for a lovely iPhone shot. And maybe some hope that as more of us get vaccinated, this storm might actually break.