My friends put out a new video awhile back.
Dearest, I feel certain that I’m going mad again.
– Virginia Woolf
Sometimes, a friend will text you in the earliest part of the morning saying they need you. And they’ll talk about how they feel alone and how they want to take all of their sleeping pills at once and you sit there, almost completely silent, because in your heart of hearts, you want to go too. And the only rope you have to save either of you is the thought that you might have to trudge through this life shy of a load-bearing friend, and chances are, your heart will collapse and both of you are fucked anyway. And it’s that self-preserving panic that’s going to do anything at all to save either of you, so you just grab a shovel and start dumping the guilt through the phone, scoop after desperate scoop, begging don’t you dare leave me, motherfucker, please don’t leave me alone and the voice on the other end of the phone won’t make even the simplest of promises to you because honest to god, everything is on the fucking table and that’s why they’re crying and that’s why you’re falling apart and fuck it all to hell, neither one of us wants to be here, not really, so it’s only the lies we’re shoveling about love and how life isn’t that bad that’s stemming the collapse of my heart, and jesus fucking christ that’s not much, but I don’t have anything else to say, just whispers. I can’t do this without you, please tell me you’re ok, don’t you dare leave me. Please. I can’t.
I looked up and thought I was in Gotham.
Staring at three towers, I was walking towards a Christmas market. The perspective changed with every step I took. I wasn’t watching where I was going. I wasn’t paying attention to the people I was with. I couldn’t take my eyes off the Atrium Tower, the Kollhoff Tower, and finally, the Bahn Tower. I had no idea what they were called.
But the Kollhoff reminded me of the Hobart in San Francisco and the Flatiron in New York. And maybe you don’t think about early 20th century high-rise architecture when you think about Gotham, but I do. I can’t seem to disentangle one from the other–to think about Gotham, as a real place and not something from the comic books–I have to think about buildings like these.
Modern architecture can be so fucking boring. How many buildings still carry this kind of personality? The Kollhoff (like the Hobart and Flatiron) really stands out as something worth appreciating. Something worth the photograph. It almost demands your attention. I don’t see how one can’t help but admire it.
Maybe go to Berlin. Take a lens with you that soaks up the light. Make a picture that brings you joy.
On the BART from 12th, I stare across
the train at a homeless man. He stinks
and he appears to be talking to me
and I watch him as his arms wave and
move and have their being in a crowded
car because no one wants to sit next
to a junkie. I send hand-wave emojis
to my friends when I want to die.
They think I’m saying hello. I wait
for the occasional text message back
asking how I am, if I’m ok, but my friends
are happy and have beautiful children.
I have thoughts about heroin, and how
many of us would detach from this life
if the passing wasn’t painful for the people
we love. I can see this hope in the junkie,
in how his body writhes when it’s high.
Slain in the spirit of his drug, he reaches
for the invisible, babbling word-like sounds
from his spirit to the uncomfortable people
all watching. Almost in tongues. Almost
absent from the body. Almost separation.
I’m not sure why it’s so hard for us to take care of each other.
Why even just one homeless person struggling to survive in this world is not a crushing weight of shame on all of our backs. Why we’d rather fight to carry guns than give them up. Why we defend corporations that would see us dead if it meant making more money. Why we let these dragons speak with their money to our legislators though it means the end of our livelihoods, our environment, our health, and our children. Why we’d rather invent religions and power structures to control people instead of blessing them and loving them and esteeming them as our own.
Why we’d rather step on necks. Rather the police kill whom they please. Rather the world burn up. Why we always seem to choose to have a little more even though it means taking from someone else. Why we believe horrible lies like God gave me this money and I deserve it. Why we have the concept of money at all. There was a better way to do this.
Why do we insist on building mortal empires. How did we ever think that subjugating our fellow human beings in any form or fashion was ok and not morally reprehensible.
How do we live with ourselves.
I’ve been in Berlin for about a week. And in the entire time I’ve been here, I’ve seen about four hours of sunlight. Most of it was that magical golden hour light, which I thought was strange at 2pm in the afternoon. That was before I knew that sunset in Berlin happens before 4pm this time of year. And due to some strange luck, I found myself at the Victory Column followed by the Brandenburg Gate. For such a short window, I don’t think I could have been in a better spot.
Photographers that I know love the light found just after sunrise and just before sunset. It’s almost magical the way the light during those times is diffused.
I think about how the best light is separated by a period of time when light is hard to find.
And being in Germany, a country completely over fascism, I think about history repeating itself. How we make the same mistakes over and over again. America’s recent decisions, our citizen’s lack of critical thinking, believing that stupidity should be tolerated *cough* nazis *cough* and not dismissed outright.
Despite how the news outlets are spinning the attack on the Breitscheidplatz Christmas Market, Berlin (and Germany), has no tolerance for this alt-whatever bullshit. No one is afraid. We were all back in the markets the next day. Berlin has made it through the night to its next Golden Hour. America’s Midnight, on the other hand, is only beginning.
May the morning come quickly.
When I was a kid, the nearest light I could see from my own house was a quarter-mile away. Sally and Doug lived there. I knew their daughter, Julie. The next nearest light was more than a mile away, but I could see it across the fields that grew wheat and milo, depending on the time of year. I didn’t know them.
I’m not sure how it started. The dream of living somewhere else. It seems like it’s always been there. I had no idea how I was going to live in the city. Buildings and skyscrapers and busy sidewalks, subways and restaurants; I lived in the middle of nowhere. I had no business in the city. I had no business being surrounded by light.
And I’m still not sure how I got here. Standing on a sidewalk snapping the streets I dreamed about when I was a child. It’s not quite how I imagined it to be. I still carry the expanse of Kansas with me. Inside my head, there is nothing between us but empty countryside a mile in each direction. And maybe you can feel it, the distance. It’s ok. I don’t know how else to live.
But I can see your light. And I’m drawn to it. To what it means, to who you are, to what the future holds.
Let’s talk about light.
How long has he been doing this. Pulling fish from a bucket. Killing it with a club to the head. Cleaning it with a knife. Keeping what remains for fish stock. Rinsing the rest away with small bowls of water and a scrub brush. Repeat.
There is honesty in work like this. I’m not sure I can say the same for a majority of the tech industry. This man is providing a good that will feed and nourish people. You could probably count on one hand the number of Silicon Valley companies that have even this small amount of integrity.
Uber could give a fuck about the industry they’re “disrupting”.
They could have built their business in such a way that respected the systems and people already in place and slowly moved the industry to be better. But you don’t make billions of dollars when you respect hardworking people as much as your venture capitalists.
When did we, as a human race, decide that money was worth more than integrity?
For me, I’m more interested in calling a fish cleaner my friend than someone like Thiel, Trump, Paul Graham, or Sam Altman. Maybe it’s the fish cleaner’s eyes, or his hands, or the humbleness of his work, I don’t know. But when I see this man, for just an infinitesimal shred of a moment, I remember my religious upbringing and can imagine what Peter must have been like when Jesus first found him and said follow me.
Maybe you’ve heard the Smashing Pumpkins song and will get the reference in the post title. Maybe you won’t. It doesn’t really matter. But last night, I took this photograph — well, these nine photographs. And it’s one of these photos that I can’t stop looking at. The light on the left and the impending darkness on the right. The beautiful palette in-between.
I’m heading home soon. Back to Oakland, back to work, back to an America that voted for Trump. And maybe I’m the pessimist, but I think I’m going to need to look at this photo a lot in the coming years. I think things are going to get dark and ugly and frankly, I’m preparing for the worst. And I’m trying to remember that I’m not a coward, that just because I have the money to live here and wait it out doesn’t mean I should. In fact, it probably means I shouldn’t.
Sarah Kendzior says that we should write down our memories (among other things) now, because the coming years might make us forget. This photo might very well represent my good and beautiful life up until 2016. I want to hold on to it.
And the song says: Is it bright where you are
And the song says: Have the people changed
The answer to both of those questions — now, in this moment — is a resounding N0.
When I’m shooting photography, the thing that I’m constantly aware of is the Observer Effect. The photo I want is the one where I’m not observed by my subject at all. It’s difficult with people. Subjects without people — architecture, nature — will behave the way they’re going to behave regardless of your presence; but with people, well…that changes everything.
I’ve seen a lot of photographers use their presence with the subject to great effect. If done properly, there can be intimacy or raw emotion or even the captured complexity of anger and surprise commonly seen in street photography. But what I want, and am not usually successful getting, is the photo like the one above.
This one works because she was posing for the perfect selfie with her friends. They shot picture after picture with these lanterns for the singular purpose of showing all their friends on Facebook how they’re living their best life now or some bullshit. But what I caught was the in-between. I was standing a good 10–15 feet away in a moving crowd. She never knew I existed. And in this photo, she wasn’t trying to pose for the perfect selfie. She wasn’t even looking at a camera. She was just trying to hold the lantern up.
On a tangential note, calling all mosquitos.