My mom celebrates her 80th this weekend and she still has more energy than almost anyone I know. She’s been laughing and shining bright her whole life. Tonight I fly back to the homeland, Montreal, to be with her. A big birthday party is planned for Saturday, with my dad, my two brothers, Rob and Charlie, their families, our extended family and my parent’s friends. My mom will likely be the life of the party…
Mom, dressed in a flamenco costume in Spain 2 years ago.
Cuevas de San Marcos. The small town in the south of Spain, where my mom grew up.
Tatjana Vejnovic is a photography student at the Brooks Institute, and a fellow urban explorer. She’s introduced me to some of the run down areas in the Bay Area, and she and a friend assisted me on a night shoot on Mare Island.
Alley no. 106 - Stacked (2008, Mare Island, CA, 10:30pm)
She was tasked with writing a school paper on a particular image and photographer. She chose to write about Goast Pier (which was shot with another friend, Kathy). I thought she did a good job, so here’s her paper:
It’s still all clear to me the day Xavier sat down and told me the story about his latest photograph of Hunter’s Point. The sky was a dark grey, almost like a blank cement wall. The clouds hung low, hugging the city tightly. Ever since he was a teenager, he’d find himself digging through restricted areas for hours, just to get the right shot. He’d climb over fences, venture under overpasses, anything to get that perfect shot. My friends and I thought we were the only ones who did these kinds of things until we befriended each other. But the stories he had up his sleeve were far more exciting than the ones I had to offer. I couldn’t even explain how I felt when I first saw the photograph. There were endless details, your eyes always finding something new. The colors were so vibrant, the detail of the buildings so crisp, and sharp, it was unbelievable. So, I asked how it all went. The moon was high, and the night was dark, as Xavier drove up to the abandoned district at about midnight. With the gravel crunching under his every step, he tried to be as quiet as possible while carrying the equipment he needed for the shot. He’d been waiting for this moment, and was quite excited to see such a great spot. I respect him for this, for the stories I heard about Hunter’s Point at night weren’t too pleasant. Hunter’s Point was one of the most dangerous crime-infested areas of San Francisco, the homeless and gang population was sky rocket high, but that didn’t stop him. He felt that no matter what, he needed to get this perfect shot, and nothing was going to get in his way. Hunter’s Point was not the nicest area you could think of. The water surrounding the harbor was clear until about a foot off the coast, where oils and green materials stuck to the surface. The local refineries and industrial buildings producing gases that smelled of rotten eggs and fecal matter. But once you really dug into the abandoned buildings, and old shipyards, it was the most interesting place on the planet. So much history crammed in one little place. He set down his tripod, and loaded his Hasselblad with Kodak Ultra 120 millimeter film. With that, he began the twelve minute exposure, and kicked back. Everything around him was visually pleasing. It wasn’t going to be a very long twelve minutes because there were many things to look at, and question. For urban explorers like him and myself, this sight was the most beautiful thing on the planet. Whenever an abandoned area is open, we don’t even hesitate to go inside and explore. Xavier focused on the area of the shot, the water was perfectly still, grasping onto the dock’s support poles. The railings were broken in half, some dangling over the water, the others flat on the dock. The part of the dock closest to Xavier looked like it was broken off, as if someone took a saw to it. The buildings on the left looked newer, and still operating. The lights shined bright, like stars in the sky, illuminating the abandoned building. The abandoned building had boarded up windows; the wood looking like it had taken a beating or two in the past. The wood across the surface appeared to be weak, and rotting. Both buildings were covered in graffiti, different colors used in each piece of art. The red tower lights from the airport blinked repeatedly in the background, signaling the planes to land in the correct spot. The tall skinny tower sticking out of the building looked as if it were being held up by four pieces of hair, almost as if it was pointless to even have the support lines there. The big wire framing on the dock looked like it was about to fall, the cement block on the verge of losing all support from below. As the shutter close, Xavier got up, and began to pack his belongings. He put his camera back in his bag, and put it around his shoulder. Picking up his heavy tripod, he looked back at the scene. He smiled, he was quite satisfied with what he saw, and was very anxious to see the final result. Little did he know, he had just produced one of the world’s most amazing photographs. I looked up from the photograph at Xavier. I still couldn’t get over how amazing it was. The water was a deep violet, and the sky a mixture of peach, dark blue, and purple. The reflection of the docks as red as blood in the water, and the color of the wood deeply saturated. Looking at this photo reminded me of what being an urban explorer was all about. It was about making a simple alley, or even the ugliest shacks in the middle of nowhere, look like art. This task was never impossible, as long as you took the picture just right. As an urban explorer, it’s my goal to show society how beautiful abandoned places just might be.
Alley no. 102 - Goast Pier (2008, San Francisco, CA, 11:30pm)
I drove into LA today…. I drove through the night when it must have been in the 30’s or low 40’s in the central valley - death by hypothermia. Then up comes the sun and its instantly scorching hot - death by heat stroke. I think its like this all the time out here. Its very strange for a guy from the East.
Ok, also strange: I went ice-skating in Burbank today. I’ve started ice skating again, because a good workout makes me feel almost sane. (And I grew up playing hockey). It is one of the exercises I can still do since I tore my left calf muscle from running - 6 years ago. It still hasn’t properly healed!!! Which gives me no shortage of grief. So from the scorching heat, I walked into a massive ice-box, where I laced up and went skating.
I had a couple of good meetings today, including one at CAA (Creative Artists Agency) in Beverley Hills. They will be helping out with the Olive Crest event, which was re-scheduled for Feb 09.
Scorching heat, but of a different kind:
I shot this in 1994 for Antara Productions, a Latin event and music production company in Montreal. The image was used in a street poster and for newspaper ads. I worked with Antara for 2 years, producing a new, always sexy image every month. And now I crawl through filthy, dangerous, rat-infested alleys at night… go figure…
The road ahead
Shepherd’s Table concert at the Kennedy Center
I’m participating in 2 events this week… and unfortunately I can’t be at both.
Shepherd’s Table is hosting a benefit concert at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC this Saturday. The concert, A Tribute to American Acoustic Music, will raise money for the continued help Shepherd’s Table has offered the D.C. area’s homeless people. ST is celebrating 25 years of great service.
My images will play several roles.
I have donated an Alley piece (Alley no. 79 - Tunnel) which will be handed on stage to the biggest sponsor of the Shepherd’s Table cause: Geico Insurance President Tony Nicely.
Next, 500 of the attendees will receive a 22×28 poster of my work (sorry, these aren’t for sale).
And finally, my images will be projected behind the stage, creating an enormous backdrop of Alley images (using an IMAX projector!). I can’t believe I’m going to miss this, but I have to be in LA for the Pasadena Art Festival and for several meetings.
Alley no. 79 - Tunnel (2005, Detroit, MI, 2:15am)
New Image! Alley no. 110
This rusted out trash compactor was shot in Indianapolis this Summer.
Here is my blog post the night after the shot. And this is 2 days later with a more detailed account of the shoot.
Alley no. 110 - Compactor (2008, Indianapolis, IN, 2am)
This is the Polaroid that was shot that night to test my lighting. Following the test, I made 3 exposures on film. Polaroid is notorious for producing bad colors at night, which is fine. I’m using it to see the intensity/direction/quality/coverage of my light and the available light - I know what most of the colors will be. My film, thankfully, captures a much wider, and more accurate, range of color.
Appropriately, and coincidentally, I’m in the middle of another musical Brain worm. I’ve played this song over and over for several days. The band is Pinback, an amazing and relatively unknown group.
Its appropriate because it is a haunting song with references to a dystopian future (somewhat like my Alley images) via Orson Welles narrating his classic 1938 radio broadcast of War of the Worlds. And it is coincidental because its Halloween, and the song is called… boo.
As with many music videos, its probably best to just listen, and ignore the video part, which really takes away from this beautiful song. Here’s an idea… I think the song makes a good soundtrack for the Alley slideshow.
TC’s Speakeasy, one of my favorite bars in the world, is closing this week. I spent many , many hours inside this dive-joint when I lived in Michigan. Many of my friends will be performing on stage one last time… Apparantly the owners hadn’t paid their taxes for years. I know lots of great people who will be aimlessly walking the streets of Ann Arbor-Ypsi looking for a new home.
Alley no. 74 - TC’s Speakeasy (2005, Ypsilanti, MI)
Here is the TC story…
My regular watering hole in 2005 is TC’s Speakeasy in Ypsilanti, MI. It’s a classic dive with a large cast of regular characters, and I love the place. I’ve been going every Monday to their open mike for a year. At 3am, I stagger out with my friend Eric, aka Satchel Jones, a very talented Monday night folk singer. We’re on the hunt for alleys as we walk around this crusty old town. We lug my heavy equipment around for an hour, walking down alleys, up fire escapes, and over garbage.
I spot an intriguing awning and stare at it for a few minutes. “Nah, lets keep going,” I say to Eric and we keep walking. Then I say “just a sec,” and I go back for a second look; the awning is stirring something inside me. “Let’s set up,” I say. The exposure is long (in fact, star streaks are visible in the sky), and I add the blue light under the awning with my lighting.
“Hey X,” says Eric, “this is fucking TC’s – it’s the back door!”
“What? You’re kidding!”
I get a warm feeling inside; what a fitting tribute.
New, improved web site! And now cholesterol free!
My web site has taken a turn for the better!
(thanks to my friend and master web designer Ernesto Aparicio)
As it was, the text was a little distracting if you wanted to focus on the images, and it interfered with the size of picture I could show. But of course I wanted keep the text, since it is integral to the whole picture.
Now you can have your cake, and eat it too (whatever that means …)
There are two slide shows per series, one with large images and no text; the other with smaller images and text. Mix and match…
And as before, the slide shows begin with my most recent images.
One of my wife’s friends, Natalya, is a flamenco dancer. She asked me to take pictures of her in costume, which I did Sunday afternoon. My parents are from Spain, and so I grew up watching and listening and loving flamenco. My mom is from the culturally rich southern province of Andalusia, where the dance and musical art form originated (my dad is from Zaragoza, in the north). Growing up she would often spin into an improvised flamenco flourish, and on special occasions would wear one of her flamenco outfits.
Here’s a typical scene in a Spanish Flamenco bar
And here are some of the photos from our shoot.
My friend Dave LeFebvre is a brilliant musician, composer and arranger. He is the sax-playing front man of the Dave LeFebvre Group and he asked me to take some pictures of his show last night at the Jazz School in Berkeley. His 3rd CD is due out soon and these photos will play some role in the visuals….