I don’t know why, but I love this sequence of this bright, little girl.
Apologies, as this is a bit out of order, being placed in the middle of the Bangkok series, but I have just returned from a trip to Bucharest, Romania where I had the great fortune to see Sir Richard Bishop perform at a club, thirty-one years after I had seen him for the first time at a hardcore show in DC.
I’ve posted the introduction to his interview below, but if you should read the article in it’s entirety here, at The Attic. A very nice piece of synchronicity.
It was 1984 in Washington, DC, at the height of that city’s legendary hardcore punk scene. We were young, aggressive and frustrated, and though not dumb, the amount of things we didn’t know were huge. We had no idea how important that punk scene was in DC. We had no idea that we were in the last year of hardcore punk, that the next year, the scene would just collapse into fragments. We had no idea we would survive and grow old and sit in chairs at desks for decades to come. And we had no idea that the visceral, instinctive and emotional wave of hardcore punk that surprised us and filled us with ideas and growling intensity was a feeling we would never feel again.
One of the great surprises was at a JFA show in DC in 1984 at the 930 Club. The small club was packed as usual for a well-known out of town band, a band whose logo was easily drawn on jackets, skateboards and walls. None of us knew the opening band, but back then, we had no information except for paper magazines and we were hungry for most any music. The opening band came out and the guitarist with his head wrapped in an Arab keffiyeh head scarf, started to sing in a high falsetto, like a feminine muezzin, chirping out a call to prayer. This went on for minutes. No accompaniment. This was at a time where hardcore punk fans would abandon their favorite bands for daring to play a song less than faster than the speed of light.
People started to leave. A few here, more there. Than a constant stream of people headed for the door. Hardcore punkrock took in and embraced many different musical flavors (The Pogues and The Butthole Surfers for God’s sake) almost because there was no place else to go. But a challenging avant-garde, experimental trio? Sometimes, people just wanted to thrash. For the few of us that stayed, and it was a fair amount, we were enthralled for next hour. All I remember thinking was, Who the fuck are these guys? And where the fuck are they taking me?
During one sequence, the drummer was standing, sticks just barely brushing the cymbals, in a trance, the band letting the tension build. When the break finally came, the drummer descended on his kit and I saw a drumstick shatter but did not see where the top half went until the guy in front of me turned around, blood streaming from his face. We filled in the gap he left and closed ranks to get closer to this crazy band. Who were they, I asked someone after the show. Sun City Girls. I bought their album that week and drove my friends nuts with it for months. I don’t even remember JFA playing.
Thirty-one years later, I was in Bucharest for a week, there to photograph the people and the streets. This musician I had met that night before took me to Club Control to watch a free, improvisational duet of violin and percussion as she was friends with the violinist. This show was an unexpected choice and I was enjoying the performance and oddly proud of the size of the crowd in attendance for such an experimental performance. Then some guy named Sir Richard Bishop came on. I had assumed it was going to be a DJ since it was a club. I had no idea. Bishop brought out a gorgeous small body 19th century guitar and started off with a song, heavy in the Phrygian mode, playing fully off of the North African mode. Unexpected again. I heard his voice in between songs. Definitely American. At times, percussive and at times, trancelike, I sat on the floor beneath the bar and let myself get taken along for the ride.
It was afterwards, outside in the terrace that I found out that it was Richard Bishop from the Sun City Girls. Well, look at that. We had both survived.
This image was the result of my being lost in this weird trap of a neighborhood for two hours. Right before I finally found the exit, I had been following this canal that had appeared out of nowhere. And then this man revealed himself.
One of my favorite moments of this trip, one of my favorite shots.
He’s like the sentry, asleep on duty, to one of the gates of Hell. I found the way to leave this neighborhood a few minutes later.
Before I left my hotel, I scouted out the neighborhood I wanted to explore that day. On Google Maps, it looked pretty simple. Take the BTS to Victory Monument stop, proceed in a northeasterly fashion to the area I was going to explore.
What of course happened, is that I became stuck in this interim neighborhood for almost two hours, sweating my ass off, going down streets that turned out to be dead ends a few minutes later, going into parks that had no other exit but the one I used to enter, jumping concrete barriers to cross highways.
Frustration, copious sweat, and a lot of backtracking.
Such is the life of a street shooter when you try to leave yourself open to chance and whim.
But because of this meandering and exploring, I found some great opportunities and such hidden treasures, some of which made it onto film. A very strong shot which will be posted next, was only possible because I became so helplessly lost on these crazy streets.
Such is the way. Enter a crossroads and like the wandering samurai, toss a stick in the air to see which path to take for the next few hours, the next day, the rest of your life.
This shot below is nothing unusual or worth nothing except for the fact that it was the exit I found, the only way to leave the neighborhood I had been trapped in for hours. I was so elated, I took a shot.
One of the exercises I do whenever I land in a new place is to head to the biggest train station to warm up. Train stations are easy. Lots of people too busy to be bothered with you getting in their faces, a good mix of different types of people, usually good light and cavernous spaces, and lots of graphic elements and compositions to use.
Granted, I am repeating some shots that I’ve taken in trains stations everywhere, but it is still a great first day exercise, a way to stretch those visual muscles.
Mary Ellen Mark passed away last week. She was absolutely one of a kind.
If you have not already, I urge you to go read the many articles and tributes pouring in from writers and artists and her peers.
Her love of teaching has sadly been ignored by the media. It was this personal touch with many of us that made her rise above the ranks of legendary photographers into a legendary mentor, affecting and changing an entire generation of photographers and artists.
The lessons I learned in the short time I spent with her, one travel workshop and one weekend workshop, have stuck with me and I am remember her words clearly like a bell. I can clearly see her influence on me in my proof sheets. She gave me so much in such a short time. I deeply regret not taking more advantage of her openness and giving nature.
I honestly do not know of anyone that could possibly fill the empty space that she left in the world.
And here is the crux of what she taught me, the lessons and goals I have each time I bring the camera up to my eye.
What I learned from Mary Ellen Mark and Think of Every Time I Shoot
These were the points from her quick appraisal of my initial portfolio review to start the workshop:
- My portraits are stronger
- I have too much noise in my street work
- I am losing the graphic elements and strongly designed frames of my portraits in my street work
- I need to add a 28mm to my suite of gear (I only shoot with a 35mm on the streets)
As she was going through my photos and making her selects, I had some of my own revelations:
- My street photos have become very literal, very straightforward
- I record and capture now more than I create, especially on the street
- My portraits reflect me controlling a situation and creating and the result is very different
- Because my candid street shooting has been my priority, I have been solely focused with the ability to get close to people and fire off that shot, in focus and properly exposed. In other words, speed and closeness have trumped other values
- I have lost the lyrical, weird, quirky aesthetic to my work, qualities that I used to have years ago
- There is a surreal, disconcerting to many of Mary Ellen’s images that I have always loved. I have never been a very strong surrealist and it is time to incorporate this quality into my work if I can
Mary Ellen’s Tasks for Me
The charge I received from Mary Ellen was simple and was repeated almost daily to me:
- Stop being safe
- Put my lens in different places
- Be bold
- Be conscious of everything in the frame
- Reduce the background noise
- Compose with strong graphic elements
- Take risks
I will do my best to honor her by doing great and meaningful work, to not suffer fools, to keep pushing in everything, and to keep shooting film.
Thank you, Mary Ellen. It was a blessing to spend time with you.
Boy, things have changed. While in Thailand, I met this model online and we agreed for a quick, informal shoot at night. Sent her the link to my work. When we met, she asked me, “I saw your site and I have to ask: do you really not work with a retoucher at all?”
Brave new world.
- Leonard Cohen | On Conde Guitars
- Chiang Mai | Hill Tribe Area
- Bucharest | Gypsy Apartments
- Romania | The Shepherd
- Chiang Mai | The Chinese Monk
- Thailand | Chiang Mai
- Thailand | Chiang Rai
- Werner Herzog | On Celluloid
- Chiang Mai | Hmong Hill Tribe
- Chiang Mai | The Karen Hill Tribe
- Arthur C. Clarke | The HAL – IBM Myth
- Chiang Mai | Palong Hill Tribe
- Ridley Scott | Kubrick Footage in Blade Runner
- Chiang Mai | Longneck Hill Tribe
- Louis CK | Leica Shooting, USO Tour
- Born Yogis
- Chiang Mai
- dougKIM photography
- Los Angeles
- New York City
- San Francisco
- São Paulo
- Washington DC