Camilo Jose Vergara is a photographer and sociologist who has written extensively on urban decay and urban ruins. He has also produced a stunning body of photographs documenting the decline of specific buildings and neighborhoods throughout the country. In many cases, this documentation has spanned almost 20 years.
Vergara became interested in the plight of the inner-city in the late 1970’s, when he began travelling the country with his camera. But he then decided to return to these same places, over many years, where he would stand on the same spot, shooting the decay in process. The resulting sequence of images is mind-blowing, and can only be seen to be understood. Two of his sequences are posted below.
He, like I do, sees great beauty in modern ruins. He has even suggested preserving some of the country’s grander examples and turning them into museums or tourist attractions.
A South Bronx and Camden, NJ street through the years:
Sign, sign, everywhere a sign
Here are a few signs I came across in my travels this year.
Artistic Waste Services
This image is a new release, shot early this year. This old abandoned ship, called Faithful, has a long fascinating history that Kathy Webber (with whom I did the final shot) was able to dig up. The shoot itself was a little hair-raising, and in fact was the forth time I had shot the boat. The other three were foiled by failing equipment, errors on my part (this was not a simple shot - it included a tightrope act), and by the police who kicked me and my wife off this private property (the fourth attempt required permission by the owners… a first for me)
It was docked off Alameda, with Oakland glittering in the background.
Here is a recent Alameda Sun story outling her fate.
Lots of stories here, but I’ll save that for another time.
For now, here’s Alleys & Fire Escapes, no. 109 - The Faithful (2008, Alameda, CA 10:30pm)
Art Business News
Several art photographers and I were interviewed a while back by Art Business News on the current state of the fine art photography market. I’m a little slow on this, but the Sept issue of the magazine features the article. It also features one of my images (Alley 97, NOW) on the cover, which was cool.
I drove back to Ann Arbor, MI from Louisville, KY last night. I took a long nap today and woke up to find it had been another miserable day at the stock market. What are we in for??
This was shot in 1985, on a happy family vacation in Cape Cod, MA. I call it “Friends”
My next stop is in Louisville, KY for the St. James Court Art show…. I catch a flight this afternoon. I’ll be travelling like a mule again; I have lots of artwork I need to bring. My dilemna is whether to bring my Hasselblad camera so I can shoot the city at night, or to bring extra art. I can’t bring both… if only I hadn’t amputated those three extra arms!!
I just watched “Dark City” for the first time - the great 1998 movie from director Alex Proyas. I can’t believe I hadn’t come across it sooner – its absolutely brilliant (Ebert named it the best film of 1998) and it deals with some of my favorite subjects, including Dark ominous cities and dystopic societies. In fact I came across it while scanning a list of the “Top Dystopian Movies of All Time”
Here’s a good definition of a Dystopic society: Massive dehumanization, totalitarian government, rampant disease, post-apocalyptic terrains, cyber-genetic technologies, societal chaos and widespread urban violence are some of the common themes in dystopian films which bravely examine the ominous shadow cast by the future.
If you like my images, I think you’ll like Dark City… but then, you probably beat me to it.
I’ve always had pets: cats or dogs usually… and I’ve always loved them…
But this is the craziest cat I’ve ever had, Frankie. And I’m talking evil-crazy. One day I’m stirring from my sleep - I was in college at the time. I open one eye and see Frankie sitting 12 inches away on my bed, staring at me with that demented look he had. I start getting nervous, but I stick to the staring contest. Finally I blink and Frankie charges towards me, towards my eye, mouth open with his little fangs showing. And his teeth wrap around my eye socket!! In the alarm and chaos I grab him and fling him across the room where he runs away.
A few weeks later I have a party and one of my friends, Mike, takes a liking to Frankie. I explain that he’s cracked, but Mike doesn’t care. He even indicates he would take him home if I wanted. I give him my blessing, and so off Frankie went, to a new home, and to new people to terrorize.
I give you… Frankie:
Happy (nuclear) ending
I have an unhealthy obsession with nuclear war and its aftermath - this influence is clearly stamped on my work. I can’t help it… I’d rather not have this obsession (I watched Terminator 3 for the 4th time today), but the fact remains that I believe in my lifetime at least one major city somewhere on this planet will be destroyed in a nuclear battle – and I think its irresponsible and dishonest for me to smother this belief. I have felt this way for, I don’t know… 20, 30 years.
Part of the package is that I have bad dreams related to this. I had one recently that was unusual because of its humorous ending:
The foolish decision is made to launch a first strike. The nuclear codes are entered and an electrical current carrying the launch command is sent to the missiles. In my dream, I see this current leaving the pristine government office and running along street cables at night. The current, carrying this doomsday command, is now running along cables through desolate, abandoned city streets, still late at night. It reaches its destination: a boarded up building at a vacant street corner, and comes to a sputtering halt. The missiles can’t be launched because some go-between business, required to get the missiles up, has gone bankrupt under our faltering economy.
Strange and beautiful clouds near San Quentin penitentiary, last Friday
My blog is not a political forum - its not the appropriate place. But I met someone at the Mill Valley show who showed me the most incredible thing: his credit card. He then sent me his story surrounding this card (see below)
On 11/10/06 I was on my way up to the Mendocino Art Center, about 4 hours drive north of where I live near San Francisco, for a 4 day intensive jewelry and metalsmithing workshop. I stopped in Cloverdale to fill my gas tank and was told that my card had been declined. No big deal, I thought, their system must be down at this gas station. After all, I have had this credit card account for 10 years and used it nearly every day. I drove across the street to another gas station, and was surprised to be declined there as well. Hmm, curious, I thought. I walked around the corner and called my credit card company (Chase), and was told that my account had been cancelled and closed. Well, I asked the person on the other end, “why is that?” I was told that they could not tell me, however if I just call this other number. I called collect from the payphone to the non 800 # and was greeted by a woman who asked me for my name. I was not asked my account # or anything else, just my name. After about 30 seconds she came back on and told me that my account had been cancelled and that Chase no longer wanted to do business with me because of an additional card I had asked for a few months previous, and had been using ever since they had sent it to me. The name on the card was Bush Sucks! I got a little surly and angry at the abruptness of Chase’s response, and pointed out that I did not do anything dishonest, nor avoid paying a debt. All I had done was ask for an additional card/authorized user to be added to my account, as all the printed literature for years had stated I could do. She informed me that the card had been issued in error and that they had made a mistake. I suggested that Chase just give me a new account # and cancel this one. No, she said again, we do not want to do business with you. Does Chase really have no responsibility in this matter; after all they issued the card and sent it to me? I got back in my truck and was stewing for a few miles, until I started laughing at the absurdity of it all. I wondered a little about the timing, coming 3 days after the election which saw the Bush and republican regime given a large no confidence vote at the polls. I called the woman who answered the phone 3 hours earlier, Karen Trimmer, Vice President for Chase Investigations, apologizing for being angry and frustrated with her earlier, and again stating that they had issued the card and I wish to keep my account open as it was before they added Bush Sucks as an authorized user. She thanked me for the apology and asked me to call back on Monday. I called back a few times and got no return call, as well as another where I got her and she said she would call right back. So I called her back again a few hours later, and she reminded me that I was rude to her the first time I called her. Well yes, I was. I was standing at a pay phone, away from home, starting a 4 day trip, with little cash, a cancelled credit card, and no other immediate resources. Just how would you have felt and responded I asked her? I am still waiting for a call back from someone she said would call me, and of course, she is away for a week now. Luckily I had enough cash for gas home and minimal food for the long weekend until I got home. I spent the next 3 nights sleeping on the floor of the jewelry studio, and eating skimpily, while it rained outside. A signature is different from a name. A signature can be a mark, or even an X. A signature is just an acknowledgment of whatever agreement you happen to be making at the time. In another time and some places still, a handshake is a signature. I started signing my credit card receipts “Bush Sucks” about four years ago, before the last presidential election. I was not changing my name, nor was I trying to shirk a debt. I was and still am signing my signature, Bush Sucks, out of frustration with the state of America and the world. Yes it is a little confrontational perhaps, and it is certainly an opening for a dialogue with people about empowerment and being able to act or make change. In the years I have been signing “Bush Sucks” the # of times I have been really hassled for it are only 3 or 4, out of many hundreds, across many states. Rather than go into the point that a signature is different than a name with an upset clerk (very likely with republican tendencies.) I decided to have the name on the card match my signature and called up to ask. I was actually surprised when it came. Every time I sign my signature I am asking myself, just what does “Bush Sucks” mean? Does it mean that most people and I feel much less secure or hopeful about the future, than we did before 9/11? Does it mean that we feel like there is a national leadership which values freedom and independence, and community? Does it mean that we are getting any closer to healthcare or real education? Does it mean that we as a nation or a people are working toward any kind of goal besides self serving or $ profit? Does it mean that the great uniterer is dividing us? I wonder One of the places I was hassled the most was at the Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona, when I paid for a yearlong national parks pass with my credit card, at the ranger’s kiosk entrance gate. I went round and around with the poor ranger woman after she decided to not accept my signature, and made me sign my pass a second time as Sierra Salin, which I did, and she then told me that my signature was not matching my license, which also shows Bush Sucks on the signature line, so I tried a 3rd time, making a total mess of the golden eagle pass. I informed her again that Bush Sucks has been my signature for 4 years and I barely know how to sign otherwise. My wife and children were hoping that our next stop was not the Petrified Jail for homeland security. A signature is not a name; it is an expression of personality and experiences. A person’s signature changes and grows with them. I signed my escrow papers “Bush Sucks” when we bought our home, and yes, I did resign them with my “other” signature as well when asked to, not because Bush Sucks is not a legal and legitimate signature, but because it would have likely added another day or more to the closing. Yes, I wanted a card where the name matched the signature. No big deal, and perhaps a little less hassle with some narrow minded bureaucrats along the way. In my life I see so many people resigned to “that is just the way it is” and “there is nothing you can do about it”, and “let someone else take care of it” “too much trouble”. I believe that the world is only the way it is because we allow it to continue as it is. I believe that healthcare and real education should be funded at the top of the list, and that a nation which runs on the premise “all that maters is $ profit” at the expense of sustainability, fairness, and trust, is heading for disaster. Yes, Bush Sucks. And Bush is us, we are all Bush. . We are all on this little blue ball together, spinning round and round and round. I ask just what are we working and striving for as a nation or as humanity? Why not expect and demand better from our elected folks, and from ourselves? I hope for my next card and signature to read, Love Heals.