Saturday, February 24, 2007

A French backpacker took the above picture. I was on the Isla del Sol, an island in the 12,500 foot Lake Titicaca. The Incans believed that creation began on the island. In the distance is Nevado Illampu, a 21,000 foot citadel standing on the northern edge of Cordillera Real.

Photos and the Moment

Why do we bring cameras on trips? We love to share your experience; we want to hold tangible evidence of the voyage; we need visual reminders of adventure when a lifestyle of commuting and cubicles becomes route. A bad day at the office? Open up the photo book and remember that we will always have Casablanca.

But the process of capturing the moment can result in a total loss of being there. Last September I took a three tour in the remote southwest corner of Bolivia. We navigated through the world's largest salt plains, the world's dryest desert, 15,500 geysers, and pink flamingos feeding in red and green lakes. Vicunas (wild llamas) dotted the treeless scape. The landscape was surreal, as the lack of oxygen enabled the views to stretch for miles.

I traveled in a jeep with a guide and five fellow travelers. An older French Canadian couple, a thirtysomething French couple, and a young Catalonian. Everyone came with cameras in hand. As we came upon each extraordinary vista, the jeep would stop for a photo oppurtunity. The men of each couple would shoot before looking, eagerly filling up their expansive memory cards with momentos. By the morning of the final day, each couple had more than 500 pictures. For the exception of the herds of vicunas, the vistas were not going anywhere.

With the onset of digital photography. we can afford to shoot mistakes. If one shoots a hundred shots, at least one will turn up right.

In this way photography can be a refusal of the moment. The moment is not something separate from ourselves, something that must be caught as it flees. Time is endless, it is the only thing we can be sure that will never run out. We can structure our lives to convince ourselves that we are short on it, but this is only an illusion.

Jordy, the Catalonian, waited for his oppurtunity. He walked around, breathing into the scene before setting up his shots. Funny enough, he is a professional photographer. His shots came only after careful observation, as opposed to indiscriminate firing. And perhaps that is why he is successful with what he does.

The moment is there for the taking. The best photography is a merger with the moment, as opposed to an outsider's observation of it. Let the camera be a tool for merging with the inner.


Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Moving Class Divides: Either Way You Divide It, You Wait

My car has been in the shop for the past few days. I have substituted my car for the bus while negotiating the gridlock. A massive fault line exists between those who take public transportation and those who drive.

Public transport can be an equalizer in New York City. The upper middle class sit alongside the city's dispossessed. New York's compact bundle has spilled out over several thousands of square miles in Los Angeles. Cars become status beacons. Bentleys and Ferraris are a daily sight, and seemingly every third car is a Mercedes or a BMW. The moving masses shut themselves in the roving castles, bluetooth headsets ensuring no awareness of other people or other even fellow traffic.

Below the lowliest of vehicles is the bus. A majority of riders belong to ethnic minorities (though I am not sure if you can call Latinos a minority in a city where they make up 52%). Blank, anxious ridden stares cover the faces of most riders. If you don't have a car in LA, you are not necessarily making ends meet.

Los Angeles's massive transient population use the bus. Last night our bus was stopped after a blacked out homeless man began screaming to the bus driver that she did not know where she was going and that we were all fucked. We filed out of the bus, and waited next to the 405's roar for a police officer to cart him away. A look of crushed humiliation filled him as he used his little remaining effort to remove himself from the bus. A fellow homeless man made a ruckus about how he was homeless, but did not treat others that way. His play for sympathy and stories of how he had been cheated out of a fortune playing with Ray Charles brought some attention: an recovered homeless women gave him 8 dollars which he promised not to use for booze.

Some buses are clean, but others are cramped graffiti ridden roving dungeons.

However, riding the bus gives you an outsiders look at the rush hour traffic sludge. At least I can read a book and not worry about slamming into that person either chatting to etheric voices or into their blue tooth.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Sometimes my time in Los Angeles feels like a dream. My childhood was in the shadows of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson's plantations. The past hangs thick in the humid air. The Appalachian mountains, the world's oldest range, is cloaked in vegetation reminiscent of the Amazon's depths. The old boys of the hollows seem to have grown with the mountains from their inception

I had a core feeling of roots, of beloning on this ancient land

And then came Los Angeles, a virtually history-less post-urban apocolypse of eleven million people all seemingly in their cars at rush hour. The dry desert inhalation shows no relation to its sticky green counterpart in the south. Small towns are so non-existent that they are recreated as shopping centers of glitz. Old Appalachian folk contrast with fashioned up aspiring stars and the armies of mentally ill homeless.

I now find myself wearing turbans and medieval white dresses in contrast to camouflage hats and khakis of yore. It is said that the electro-magnetic field is particularly heavy in the south, and it is virtually non-existent in LA.

I sometimes feel like I may wake up, arriving back in Charlottesville Virginia in late April as the flowers are blooming and the school is gearing up for party season. This time in California, of yogic discipline in the nightmare of Moloch, is not bad, but it is not home. Perhaps the work I have done has unhinged me from my attachment to that area, but it remains imbedded in my soul.


Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Here in LA We All Talk to the Voices

Los Angeles pulls the creative and the crazy towards it. Glance towards the hills and gaze in awe at the marble mansions of the movie moguls, those whose visualized impulses are the entertainment for the world. Hoardes come to LA with dreams of looking down at the city from their Hollywood Hills villa after having chiseled their notch into the collective psyche.

The mentally ill of America arrive at an equally staggering rate. If I were a vagrant inclined to sleep on the street, a land of beaches and mild winter temperatures would seem the logical choice.

The line between starry eyed aspiring actors and street people is not always clear. Both share a common trait: talking in public to voices only they can here.

Wireless headpieces have become the safe way to talk on a cellphone while going about business. Perhaps I am the only one, but everyone appears to walking around addressing the voices in their head. I was raised to see someone talking loudly to themselves as crazy. When the faux hawked, Van Dutch hoody hipster picking up his Kombucha at Whole Foods addresses silent voices, I cannot help but to question whether they are healthy in the head.