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In “The Daybooks of Edward Weston”, pages 160 and 161, Weston rants about an encounter with a tipsy sculptor. His rant morphs into an examination of what it is that photography has to offer the tradition of portraiture.
The year is 1930. Has anyone rivaled this insight into portraiture in the eighty years since?
“May 19… Photography’s great difficulty lies in the necessary coincidence of the sitter’s revealment, the photographer’s realization, the camera’s readiness. But when these elements do coincide, portraits in any other medium, sculpture or painting, are cold dead things in comparison. In the very overcoming of the mechanical difficulties which would seem to restrict the camera, and does if one is not aware, and turns these apparent barriers to advantage, lies its tremendous strength. For when the perfect spontaneous union is consummated, a human document, the very bones of life are bared.”
Some shots from my holiday trip to NYC, shot in glorious, grain rich Ilford Delta 3200 black and white 35mm film:
Thanks to my “Primo”, Rollence Patugan for letting me use his scanner to get these images into The Matrix!
The core of inspiration in my world rests in the hands of a group of artists, people who have inspired me in all walks of life and not just artistic endeavors. Experiencing their work pushes me to create, pushes me out the door in the morning, pushes me to embrace life to the fullest extent.
No one artist that I have encountered has set a higher bar for inspiration than Bob Dylan (which puts me in great company; this is the guru who inspired The Beatles, The Stones, Jimi Hendrix, U2, etc., etc.). This is an artist whose career has had more comeback records than most bands have records; a man who practically defines artistic integrity; a musicologist whose knowledge of American music rivals his place in it; a visionary whose music continues to inspire across generations (indeed, my mom once said to me, “He was mine before he was yours!”).
I am prompted to write this dedication to the former Mr. Zimmerman due to the arrival of his latest effort, his thirty fifth album, aptly titled “Tempest”. Much has been made of the significance of the title; Shakespeare’s last work was named “The Tempest” and many have questioned whether, at 71, this will be Dylan’s last release. Pshaw, says Bobby. From a Rolling Stone piece: “Shakespeare’s last play was called The Tempest. It wasn’t called just plain “Tempest”. The name of my record is just plain Tempest. It’s two different titles.” That settles that.
This record is the kind of savory, flavor packed, overflowing banquet that Dylan fans dream about. There is so much to sink your teeth into, it’s almost too much. In the same way that the Black Crowes have become the grey bearded road kings they always aspired to be, Dylan has become the crusty, wizened folk troubadour he always pretended to be. Or has he? He always displayed caprice in leading fans toward fools gold, heaving red herrings throughout his wake. As true as his role is, or not, he clearly relishes it.
And what a role it is. This Dylan is a randy, feisty old goat, ready to fornicate or fight within a heartbeat. Sex and death permeate the album, boldly up front and center; seeping through its pores. People are shot, stabbed, bleed, drown, are torn apart, dragged dead through the mud. Every character, it seems, is a battle hardened, hard hearted cynic ready to duel unto dying. A broken heart is a light sentence. The males are pimps and blaggards. The females are worn out whores, or at the very least duplicitous. Everyone springs from dubious provenance. Meanwhile, Dylan slings sexual braggadocio to rival Muddy Waters.
“I got somethin’ in my pocket make your eyeballs swim/I got dogs could tear ya limb from limb/I’m circlin’ around the Southern Zone/I pay in blood, but not my own” – Pay in Blood
Okay, so what about his voice? Voice? What voice? Whatever voice he had, and whether you liked it or not, it’s pretty much all gone now. Dylan’s “Never Ending Tour” which has him on the road pretty much continuously, has left him singing with basically a throat. Funny thing is, it completely serves the material and delivery. Voice aside: Can anyone wrangle a lyric as well as Dylan? Certainly none better. His phrasing, his enunciation, stretching and clipping just the right amount, he wrings every last drop of nuance out of the lyric.
This record will leave fans reading tea leaves for decades. There is so much to analyze. Think old timey music meets Cormac McCarthy. Eviscerating financial industry gluttony? Check (“Early Roman Kings”). Spewing vitriol at politicians? Check (“Pay in Blood”). Eulogizing his dear friend John Lennon, the sixties, and possibly himself? Check (“Roll on John”). Glib forensics of a long dead marriage? Check (“Long and Wasted Years”). Epic nine minute love triangle story sung entirely in couplets and ending in a pile of corpses? Check (“Tin Angel”).
Most conversations about Mr. Dylan (even this post!) focus on his lyrics and his delivery, but not the music itself. Well my friends, the music here is glorious. Recorded with his road band, it is smooth as silk, as sweet as the opening guitar melody of “Duquesne Whistle” and as hard hitting as the roadhouse stomp of “Narrow Way”. It’s nothing short of a brilliant band.
“I ain’t dead yet my bell still rings/I keep my fingers crossed like the early Roman kings” - Early Roman Kings
You’re damn skippy his bell still rings. This is one of the most vital, and certainly the darkest, of all the records in Bobby’s catalog.
Mr. Dylan! What can I say: The Six String Bard delivers inspiration by the truckload.
I have to start by saying, if anyone knows of a more photogenic, interesting place to shoot in Southern California than Salton Sea, please let me know ASAP!
I visited Salton Sea in the cooler climes of winter 2012 and have been stewing over the images since then. There have been a few places that I visited which I can truly say changed my life: The Philippines, Brazil, Italy, New Orleans – and now I can also say Salton Sea. I was only there maybe eight hours, but that was enough to change my view of the world and to some extent, our place in it.
Many have remarked, and I agree, that parts of Salton Sea are what the world will look like when we have gone. This is especially evident in parts of Bombay Beach, a neighborhood along the Eastern shore. Was it bombed? A storm of some kind? Nope. The people just kind of….. left.
There is a whole backstory to the accidental creation of the Salton Sea’s current incarnation; how it was leapt upon by avaricious real estate developers and marketed as “The Riviera of The West”; how subsequent salinization led to ruinous environmental consequences; millions of dead fish on the shore; people leaving in droves; broad undeveloped areas with street signs in place, aborted neighborhoods; how it languishes under the Southern California sun in a state of perpetual decline. Many, far more talented people than myself have documented the story in magazines, books and cinema. Find these histories and read them, for there are so many elements of interest in this story – natural, human, Californian, Western.
Some shots from my visit:
More from Salton Sea to come!
In between recent photo assignments in Arizona I had the welcome opportunity to interview a razor sharp intellect, writer Lily Nance.
Reading Lily’s writing can feel like entering a fever dream. The stories are seamless, as if they were written in a single stream of thought. Lily shoots as well, and her images can also often feel slightly out of reach, but always deliver atmosphere and mood (by the truckload!).
Lily is without doubt articulate and we shared a wonderful conversation about her writing, literature, photography and art in general. Enjoy!
All still and motion content ©PK Images 2012
To read some of Lily’s enigmatic material, check out her engrossing weblog lightstopshere.
Special thanks to Lily.
Music: “Ajita” by Tom Fahy, courtesy of freemusicarchive.org
About twenty five miles Southwest of Austin is a city named Driftwood, which is home to the legendary barbecue restaurant known as The Salt Lick.
Now, The Salt Lick is a different animal than its cousins over in Lockhart. It’s a perennial favorite with the television food shows. There is waitress service (as opposed to picking up your order from the counter). There are plates and forks (as opposed to the traditional food on butcher paper and a spoon). There is even (GASP!!!) sauce on the table.
Pulling into the fastidiously manicured parking lot, I got the impression that this was like a Napa Valley version of a Texas barbecue place; very sculpted, tourist and family friendly and perhaps, in the end, a rip off.
The tale of the tape is however, my friends, a decided victory for The Salt Lick! I had a fantastic meal there and I finished it with what certainly was the best piece of pecan pie I have ever had in my life.
Get thee to The Salt Lick!
Thanks to all the gracious Texans who made my visit to the Hill Country so memorable – can’t wait to come back!
I am much too intelligent an individual to say whether or not one state has better barbecue than another, or that one style of barbecue is better than another. These conversations often take on a near religious fervor; bad tempers, raised voices and even fisticuffs may follow the expression of such opinions. And let’s be honest, those conversations really miss the point; every style of barbecue in this great country is awesome in its own right. With the aforementioned caution in mind, let us just say that Central Texas is often praised for its barbecue. You won’t find much sauce or even rubs in Hill Country barbecue, although there is no secret formula to its success: The two ingredients that raise Central Texas barbecue to such heights of elemental excellence are high quality meat and Hill Country Live Oak.
The city of Lockhart, about thirty miles due south of Austin, is known as the Barbecue Capital of Texas and boasts what could be called the Holy Trinity of Central Texas Barbecue restaurants: Kreuz’s, Black’s, and Smitty’s. All in the same small town and all within maybe half a mile of each other. Amazing. How did this happen? Town legend has it that at one time there were many more; at one point every butcher sold their own smoked meats. The competition was so fierce that some excelled and some disappeared. These three are the last left standing.
Who is the best, you ask? Well, you’ll just have to try all three for yourself!
The first thing you notice driving into town is the smell of Hill Country Oak smoke. The locals, of course, claim they can’t smell it because it’s going all day and all night. But that smell hits you well before you pull into the parking lot of the restaurant of your choice and let me tell you brother, when you smell that smell it means you are in for some good eating.
The town square of Lockhart also boasts some beautiful architecture.
Scores of coffee table books have been released about Texan County Courthouses; Lockhart is home to the gorgeous Caldwell County Courthouse.
Next up: A visit to nearby Driftwood, Texas.
This fall brought another round of photo assignments on the road; all told, six cities in five weeks. Three stops in Arizona, one in Oklahoma and two in Texas.
Road warrior gigs can be long and grueling, often situated in dull environs. Luckily for me, this year I was fortunate to have two gigs in Texas Hill Country. The Hill Country has a mystique; it is often hailed as the prettiest part of Texas. In a state of mostly flatlands, hills are an anomaly. The hills, the Live Oak, the hunting, the food and the culture provide a perennial tourist draw.
I have wanted to visit the Hill Country, and specifically Austin, for the longest time. But you know how it is, life takes you in different directions and then wouldn’t you know it, here I am in Austin!
Austin! Hipster laden, seat of the state’s political apparatus and flagship campus of the state university system. Indeed, the Longhorn logo features prominently anywhere you step in Austin city limits. Like many state capital/university towns across the USA (e.g., Madison, WI), the city is both similar to and vastly different from the state around it. College towns are generally party friendly and liberal in nature and Austin is no exception. For me, what sets Austin apart from not just other college towns but many other cities in the USA are its prominence in two areas of my obsession: Music and food. The city explodes with music. In different forms and genres, in different settings, live, recorded, in the bar, on the sidewalk, Austin’s music scene is everything you’ve heard it is and more.
And the food? Oh my Sweet Lord. Great stuff. And pretty cheap! Austin is known primarily for Tex Mex and barbecue, but there are plenty of other options that are delicious as well. Every place takes a lot of pride in what they prepare, from a taco al pastor to something as simple as a chicken salad sandwich.
Any trip to Austin MUST include a stop at Franklin Barbecue. You will get there early (mid-morning). You will wait on line (at least an hour; don’t fret, you can drink beer while you wait!). And you will have brisket. After your first bite, the time you spent on line will melt away in your memory as the brisket melts in your mouth. You heard it here, Franklin Barbecue is The Truth.
More to come on the Hill Country!
Enter Erik Knight, first time director, as well as screenwriter and producer of the forthcoming horror movie “Jessica’s Room”.
Erik comes to filmmaking with a great deal of life experience. He is passionate, motivated and focused. His level of commitment is such that he sold his business in order to finance his production. Erik was also very open about how writing his screenplay and making his film provided him with an opportunity to express his struggle with issues that he has been working through for practically his whole life. Erik told me that while he would not consider himself a horror director, this project was definitely a horror movie from the start.
In many ways, Erik exemplifies the contemporary emerging artist in Los Angeles. The time has come for us to do it on our own.
What am I talking about? The pundits like to call it a paradigm shift. Well, the shift has hit the fan, my friends. The music business has collapsed, transformed, or to use the Bush neo-con terminology, been “liberated”. The photography business is an anorexic ghost of what it was. Publishing is teetering. And the next oak tree to fall, and it is falling right now folks, is the movie and television business. Technological innovations, economic realities and shifts in consumer spending patterns are forcing change upon industries that have long dictated their own marketplaces and commanded vast seas of revenue.
From the outside, it’s fun to pump your fist and scream “It’s about friggin’ time, man!” But from the inside, let me tell you, it’s a little bit nerve-wracking. Being a professional creative is difficult in the best of times; in a time of massive transformation going on all around you, it is easy to feel fearful and unmoored, as if the ground beneath you is shifting constantly and there is seemingly nothing you can depend on any more.
However (Cliché Time!), with great change comes great opportunity. Artists now have the ability to get their work in front of more people than at any time in human history. Without the traditional gatekeepers such as the record labels, the publishing house, or the movie studio, artists can market straight to customers themselves.
Erik and I spoke at length about this; how the collapse of one system enables the growth of others. This weighs heavily on his mind as he prepares his first film for release. What is the endgame? What is the future of the business and what is the future for his film?
We both agreed that it is the work that matters. Do the best job you can do at actualizing your vision and at the least you will have a product you can be proud of. The rest will work itself out.
Below are a couple of shots from our session:
Many, many thanks to Erik.
MUCH more to come on Erik and “Jessica’s Room”!