When I was young


When I back in New Orleans for Mardi Gras–my first in twenty years and the kids first ever–my mother insisted that we go to the Lakefront airport.  When I was a kid, I was fascinated with planes trains and automobiles just like every other kid that had the giant Richard Smiley books.  My mom (or maybe my dad or both) used to take me to the observation deck at the lakefront airport so that I could watch the planes take-off and land.  I remember this vividly and what’s incredible about this memory is that what really makes it stand out isn’t the airplanes themselves which, if I’m being perfectly honest don’t really stand-out after all these years.  What is crystal clear in my mind 40 odd years later is the drive to the airport over the high bridge over the industrial canal, into the parking lot of this structure with these monolithic white walls and through the lobby of what I would later find out was an art deco masterpiece.  I saw that building in coutless dreams throughout my life in fact.  It was the keystone image for my internal idea of what the future was supposed to look like.


As time passed, the vision of that art deco hall mutated into many other things, but it was always a symbol for the comings and goings of people and things.  My own Kings Cross station or better yet, (if I’m going to use an HP reference) its been my subconscious’ room of requirement, always ready to morph itself into a familiar place but somehow always retaining it’s distinct character as remembered through the eyes of a small child.  Last year I dreamt that we were living in New York and the Grand Central of my dream where I would change trains was a childhood remembrance of the Lakefront Airport.  A few years before that I woke from another dream when I realized the lobby of the Lidmar hotel in Stockholm (gone for easily 10 years now) bore a striking resemblance to the Lakefront airport.  


So of course when my mom suggested we go and look around after the post Katrina restoration I felt a surge of excitement punctuated by a wave of fear.  I cherish the vision of this place I’ve had locked in my head for all of the years.  I know it’s not real but I never needed it to be real either.  Curiosity got the best of me in the end and we drove out there.  I can’t fully explain why visiting this childhood place of wonder–this magical place subconsciously kept under lock in key deep in my memory and released every once in a while over the last four decades–this whisper that breaks into a thousand pieces the second I open my eyes–would have caused my heart to ache.


But there I was, walking though this fragmented memory turned reality and a singular thought began to spin in my head as I watched Ester peer out at the airplanes on the runway.


I want to be a kid again.  I want a do-over.  I want one more shot and I promise, if I get the chance, this time I’ll play harder.  I promise I’ll dream bigger.  I promise I’ll build more.  I promise I’ll give my mom more kisses.  I won’t pick fights this time and I swear I won’t ever watch tv.  It all went all wrong at some point last round and it went way to fast and I think I deserve a do-over.   I had a sense of wonder when I was young.  I was curious and I was good and I thought anything was possible when I was young.  Can’t I have that back?  I promise I’ll be good.  


Mamiya 6MF at 50mm on Tri-X at 800.  Processed by the Icon. 


Deafening silence

It’s quiet where I am.  It’s so quiet that the noises outside are monstrously loud even though there’s nothing new or unexpected about them.  It’s the same motorbikes and traffic and barking dogs and car alarms I hear every day, but the house is oh so quiet.  So quiet I can hear the “fuck you” guy–you know the guy that just yells “fuck you!” over and over and over and over again at the top of his lungs as he wanders the streets–from miles away.  As he gets closer to my house his vomitous mantra pounds in my head and rings my ears like he was standing next to me and mainlining his spittle ridden maxim over and over directly into my ear canal.  I’m fucking unsettled.  I am not comfortable and I am not on the up and up.  I’m hopelessly alone in a house that all of a sudden doesn’t feel like my home.  I find myself uncomfortable in my own skin.  


My wife and the kids are on their annual pilgrimage back to the motherland and I here I sit.  Alone and wanting nothing more than for them to be home again.  My work and projects managed to hold me at bay for a week, but they’ve lost their luster.  I go to the gym everyday and most days twice, but it feels futile and silly and vain.  When you strip away my photography and my little creative musings you’ll find my family underneath it all–holding the framework of who I am together.  When they’re gone, I fall apart.  They left the day before my birthday.  They won’t be back for two months. 


When I came home from dropping them off at the airport I started crying.  The emptiness of the house was all-consuming.  The realization that they were gone washed over me, knocking me down and I cried.  After a while, I walked to my bedroom where I discovered that everyone had made me birthday cards and left them on my headboard to find before bedtime.  One of them–the one from Ester with a pen and ink drawing of an FM2 on it–said that she (and the rest of the family) knew how much I would miss them and that to take my mind off things, if even for a little while, they had snagged all of my undeveloped rolls and processed them for me.  She went on to say the film would be ready tomorrow and that hopefully having something that I loved would help me not to think about missing the people that I loved.  


Well I cried and this time I howled like I haven’t since, well fuck, I don’t know when.  It was an ugly cry, and since it’s so damn quiet in the house, that ugly, howling cry reverberated from my bedroom to the bathroom to the living room and back, echoing louder and louder with every iteration. My skull felt cracked and my lungs burned.  I thought about the “fuck you” man for a second–how people can break–and how I was on the verge of breaking from the loneliness and the joy welling-up in my heart over this seemingly simple gift and all the love behind it.  I wiped the snot on my hand and calmed my breathing.  My eyes were fire red and my ears were ringing from the deafening silence pressuring my head at a million pounds per inch, but I didn’t break.    


“Deafening Silence” shot on my Mamiya6MF on Kodak Tri-X film pushed +2 at the Icon


Rumors of my demise…

I’m still alive.  I’ve had a ton to write about as well, but the formula is broken without the images to accompany the narratives.  So I’ve put it all on hold while I’ve focused on making other kind of images using other techniques and technologies and concepts.  The deadlines for the various competitions I usually enter have come and gone.  I haven’t bought a monograph since December and I’ve largely retreated from Instagram except for my @nollergrams account where I’ve been posting my digital sketches.  So if I haven’t been commenting or liking or lol’ing it’s not personal.  I’m just nonexistent in that sphere.  The question is though, have those pursuits been as rewarding as analog street photography?  


The short answer is “not all of the time.”  


The long answer is more complicated but worth sharing.  I’ve made no secret of the fact that I find shooting digital a difficult circle to square.  The images feel flat, lifeless and lacking in value.  Highlights are wrong.  Shadows are wrong, contrast ratio is wrong and that’s just the aesthetic.  There’s there’s the physicality of it all.  That someone can spray at 10fps on their brand-new A7III and get lucky doesn’t strike me as a skill, it strikes me as equivalent to deer hunting with an AR-15.  Next comes all the Lightroom and Photoshop processing and we’re left with Frankenstein’s monster–a flat, lifeless foggy mirror of reality predicated by an “a la mode” view of current street photography trends.  And I’m not saying that I’m right and nor am I saying that my view is the only view.  I’m just saying it’s the only view that works for me. 


Well fuck that.  


I decided to build my own realities instead.  I realized that if some portion of what I was making was going to possess any single quality I despise with digital street photography then the only solution was to create a reality where none of it was real and thereby not bound to the same stupid dogma I so desperately cling to with my analog themes.  So I kicked my 3d learning into high gear.  It was the only way to break the chain so I decided to shatter that shit into a million tiny pieces.  I started small and built my way up until small props and pieces of my vision came slowly into focus.  Those pieces built on top of each other until I had scenes.  And as I keep learning and those scenes began to move and flow and have their own stories to tell.  I’m not sure I know what those stories are all the time but ultimately I know who’s voice their being told in.  


Mine and only mine.  


I’ve thought about posting those images here on this blog from time to time, but it doesn’t feel right.  They are opposing dichotomies to some extent and holistically intertwined to another.  No Face’s coin.  I have a few ideas for a series of images that could bind these two pursuits together but I’m still not capable enough of an artist so it remains an idea.  Maybe one day I will be but one thing’s for certain, I feel like I have found a side of me that I lost at some point when I was a child.  There’s something so incredibly lego about this creative process, but unlike lego, when I extend beyond my limits it’s super frustrating and I long for those metal-wrought limits of a camera and an uncooperative street scene–it’s just so much easier to come to grips with bridging that reality.  


Shot with my dear old Mamiya6MF on Kodak Tri-X 400 film, push-processed +1 at the Icon.  

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