Hairy Scary

The idea for this image came in a flash.  Ella and I were sitting in the living room.  I was reading the Sunday New York Times and Ella was behind me, on the other side of the room brushing her hair with what could only be called extreme prejudice.  She was starting at the roots, with a big, prickly brush, and reversing the length of her hair in long, jerky strokes, punctuated with frequent grunts, sighs and what almost could be called growls.  After about 15 minutes of so near constant racket, all the grunting stopped and I looked up to see Ella staring in the mirror.  

Now we all have big hair in this family from my wife to the kids to even little old moi.  When we go to restaurants and are just about to order, the waitress will say, “My God, you guys have such amazing hair!”  When we go out shopping and Ester is trying on something and we’re all waiting around near the dressing room, one of the sales folks will walk by and say “Damn, I wish I had hair like that!”  When we’re getting on a connecting flight from London to Stockholm and we haven’t really slept in twenty or so hours, an overly cheerful flight attendant greet us as we board a shitty little commuter flight with “Well, goodness what lovely hair you all have!”

You get the point.  

Be that as it may I was ill prepared for how absolutely ginormous Ella’s hair had gotten.  All of that brushing had puffed and feathered and poofed it all out to the point that there were bits that, even under normal big hair conditions, should have gone straight down that seemed to be lunging-out directly to the sides in a gravity defying vector that I have truly never seen before.  Poor thing.  She looked miserable at first, this tiny toothpick of a child topped with a head of hair that looked ready to attack whatever came walking by for first for food, but then she just started laughing.  

And I started laughing too.  I grabbed my camera and made a few images of her.  Then I got the idea to lay on the ground and shoot upwards.  With all of that hair going everywhere I knew it would be perfect so I threw myself on the floor and pushed myself around on my back with my legs ‘till I found the sweet spot.  I loved the way that hair cut her off at the eyes and it was so long that it just gradually swept out of focus.  I made two more frames, all the while making jokes and laughing about that monster hair of hers.  When I was a kid one of my brother’s friends, who constantly cut his hair to a millimeters length, made stickers that said “Hairy Scary” and plastered them all over the place.  I hadn’t thought about those stickers in ages but as I was squirming around on the floor taking pictures of my daughter and her enormous frightening hair, I found those exact words coming out of my mouth and they elicited such a hysterical response from Ella that she started hic-up’ing uncontrollably which made me laugh so hard that I had tears in my eyes.

That was a good Sunday. 

“Hairy Scary” shot on my Leica M7 with the 35mm Cron on Kodak Tri-X 400 pushed to 800 at the Icon.    


One of the best parts about living where I live is that I’m only a stones throw from the Venice Beach boardwalk.  Venice is seething with images just begging to be made and time after time when I head down there, close to sunset with a fresh roll it never disappoints.  Whether it’s the freak show or the skatepark or whatever random event occurring in between, you find images–even if they’re not the ones you thought you would make.  

Such was the case with this one.  On the way to the skatepark there had been only a handful of scenes that had caught my eye.  I had managed to get off a couple of frames but missed equally as many.  I was feeling off.  Something wasn’t hitting right.  As I walked, my mind wandered from this to that.  I was taking in the world in front of me but more and more at a subconscious level.  It’s that phase for me between attention and recognition where I can make out shapes and tones but context slowly recedes, dripping silently away, and I’m left with a purely abstract impression of the events unfolding around me and an unspoken narrative running in my head.  

Usually something happens to snap me back–a scene predicates an image, shooting an impulse down the nerve to my right hand, forcing a hard-break from the on/off switch mantra of left/right/left, and into bringing the camera up to my eye so I can interpret the events unfolding in my mind’s viewfinder.  Usually.  This time I snapped out of it because I almost got run over by a woman in a bikini on 80’s roller-skates wearing pink-heart-shaped sunglasses amidst a fury of red curly hair.  I whipped back to reality just in time to jump out of the way but not early enough to make an image.  I had wandered on to the bike path by the skate park without noticing.  

I was struck at the rush of being so close to a fast moving human being.  I crouched down next to the path and framed up to the sky catching the skaters and joggers and cyclists as they zoomed by but I wasn’t getting close enough–again that feeling that I was off.  Venice always makes me think of Winogrand but the frame made me think of Gilden, so much so that all of a sudden everything felt very wrong.  The frame was to wide, I was seeing to much.  I looked through the viewfinder at the lens and realized why.  The night before, after more than a couple glasses of wine, I had vowed to be braver and get closer and make 2018 the year of the 28.  In the sobering daylight of the boardwalk the decision felt unsettling and uncomfortable.  I knew the image I wanted so when I saw the runner coming down the path, I took a deep breath and leaned in close.  I dropped my knee to the concrete and got in low.  The whole movement was fluid.  The lean to my knee while shifting weight forward than right into the pan and punctuated by the smooth click of the shutter–all in one continuous gesture–fully articulated and connected.  Nothing felt more natural.

I have a good feeling about 2018.  I have a really good feeling.  

“Low” shot on my Leica M7 with the 28mm Elmarit on Kodak Tri-X 400 pushed to 800 at the Icon.    


Over the break I’ve taken some time to edit.  I’ve tried to be brutally honest with myself and the result has left me feeling a little conflicted.  Of my last 250-300 or so pictures I had pulled perhaps 20-30 selects.  That puts my hit rate in the 10:1 range which is fine.   

After the purge that ratio is definitely down to 15-20 to 1.  There were whole rolls of 120 where there was only one image that was worth keeping.  On others there were none, if I was blatantly honest with myself.  On the 35 side the last roll I scanned has 2 pictures that didn’t hit the edit room floor.  Just two.  There might have been aspects of certain images that I liked–great shadows or great comp or a great subject–but when I take a step back, they aren’t as good as I initially thought.

Brutal honesty when it comes to your own work is tough.  After the purge, I was having a pretty hard time feeling positive about my work.  I looked at the carved-out shell of selects and tried to remember why the hell I keep shooting.  And I don’t mean that in that in some vague, fleeting sense, but more in in terms of a truly panicked and self-deprecating fury.  It’s gut wrenching to feel like you’re standing still in your personal work but t’s devastating to realize that you may be going backwards and ultimately it’s somewhere west of the genus hysteria when you don’t have a single notion of how to fix it.   

So instead of hyperventilating I sat on my hands and did nothing photographic for a few days.  Instead I decided to bury myself in books, mainly fixating on Gruyeart, Kertesz and Cartier-Bresson.  While languidly perusing through “Europeans” for the eighteen-billionth time, I had something of an epiphany.  I was suddenly struck with the realization that there were actually images in that book that left me feeling blank–images that, had I been the editor, I would have removed.  Technically, they were fine for the most part.  The problem was that they lacked something, the same sort of something  that made me edit out so many of my own images.  It’s a difficult sensation to describe, but the closest emotion I can pin it to is a feeling of detachment–that while a particular picture is indeed interesting and technically well-executed that it’s not really engaging.  In short, there are images by Cartier-Bresson that I simply do not find captivating.    

Now, let me impress upon you, dear reader, what a sense of relief it was to have this moment of realization.  You may be asking, “but who are you Chris?’ and that’s a fair question.  I’m not a photo-editor or a gallery owner or a curator.  I’ve never published nor have I ever shown.  What I am is a human with eyes and a heart and a soul who wants to be engaged by images and (here’s the nitty-gritty of it) if I would be willing to sacrifice an image crafted by the grand-master-extraordinaire-de-street-photography, then I’m am holding myself to the highest possible standards.  In culling so much of my own work I am in fact doing exactly what I should be doing: being brutally honest, pushing myself beyond what feels comfortable and ultimately holding my work to the highest possible standard.

Now, if only I could make something that I could hold to that standard–I’m still a little behind in that fucking department.  

Shot on my Leica M7 on the 35mm Cron on Kodak Tri-X film pushed +1 at the Icon.   

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