Museo Nacional de Antropología

Museo Nacional de Antropología

A man stood next to me in a Korean owned deli in Palisades Park, NJ.  His boots were fake, not real lizard but still in the style of  botas de vaquero none the less.  The boots you can buy in any norteno town where the men have paid thousands to sneak across the border to work as low paid laborers in the US.  His trim mustache and dark skin, tucked-in shirt and ironed blue jeans might have made him a short Lotharo back in Piedras Negras but here, he was just a a guy who worked as a baker in a Korean pastry shop.  Maybe he cut grass, painted, lifted, delivered, hauled, got spit on, harassed, not paid, paid lowly, hid, ducked, drank, shivered, and maybe he did none of the above.  But he was here, not in his country, and trying to work.

The Spanish I heard in Times Square coming from Minny Mouse wasn’t the native tongue of the native Puerto Ricans or Dominicanos.  It was la lengua of the Mexican.  Maybe the Chapinas or the Peruvian.  But it was the accent of the new comers.  They  dressed as Elmo, Spiderman, and Minnie to pose for a dollar or two with the kids of those who stayed in $300 a night hotels in the City.  They crossed borders to stand next to white kids so that their parents could snap pictures of them in the blinking lights.

One guy gets hot and lets slip his facade.  The mask slips revealing a face more fitting inside the Museo Nacional de Antropología than on the streets of Times Square.  Cada de indio as my mother would say of the neighbors.  The face of an indigenista, a face from Southern Mexcio, of Guatemala, of the south.

So Spiderman crossed 9th ave near Port Authority.  Wherever he went, he seemed tired.  Worn from dancing for the Spanish and Italian tourists.  Of hearing the accents of his conquerors and taking the money of his master.  He probably walked to his next job.  His delivery job where he would make a dollar or two running msg-filled Chinese food up six floors up to an uppity Iowan who now calls Manhattan home.  The Iowan feels its his new right to belittle the delivery guy who was five minutes late because he couldn’t walk fast enough.  The rain was too hard, the snow was too cold.

Santiago once pointed out the only people out on the streets during a blizzard were the mojados who were delivering food.

I learned on this trip New York works because of it’s illegal infestation.  An infestation that makes the City move.


A hot dawg

A hot dawg

I shot Yukako holding a hot dog in like 2005 or six.  It was during our first trip back to NYC after moving to HNL.  I can’t remember where we were but its late night and I had a wave of nostalgia.  I guess it was from the recent March issues of Bazaar and Elle mags I found downstairs the other night.  I paged through them looking at photo credits and didn’t recognize any of the new names in the magazines.   Photo big shots like Burbridge, Meier, and McDean were all replaced by unknown names.  Probably young guys with photoshop skills and computer visions.

Digital has opened the world to anyone who has a camera and a computer.  So many people are creating work all over the world which was once only done by by a select few in New York.  The once iconic names of photography are being knocked over by the masses.  What attracted me to photography was the elitism of a small clan of professionals who set the bar high and limited those who could enter their ranks. Maybe not so much attracted me but more frustrated me as I sat on the fringe once as an assistant…hoping for that break to assist the elites.  No amount of trying helped as it seemed more a trivial game based on whims and so and so’s.  New York was good for that.  Maybe I just didn’t know it at the time.

Feels like anyone with a camera now is a professional.  The barrier is lower and the work is, I dare to say, improving.  Indeed, but hints of banality creep off the pages as photoshop filters and plug ins are taking over where skill with lighting, cameras, and film once danced harmonically.

Everyone now is a hot dog.  But are they tasty?


Mix Magazine

Mix Magazine

Ah…its so nice to see your name in all caps when it has Photography By preceding it…I’m not being arrogant but I swell with pride after seeing my work published in a travel piece.  Its not some of my better work but its work…made from nothing.  Well, not exactly but it was made from experience and knowing how to push when nothing is easily seen.

I got commissioned a few months ago by the Oregonian’s Mix Magazine to shoot a travel piece on the best places to dine on Oahu.  I shot (and ate) everything from locally made Ono Pops (Mexican style paletas) to fresh opelu (mackerel) at He’eia Kea Pier General Store & Deli.  Its not all about eating mind you as I have to spend an inordinate amount of time setting up a plate (well…thats mostly the Chef’s call) but having to direct a chef to create a food masterpiece on the fly, sometimes surrounded by styrofoam, in bad lighting, and customers all around.  Its can be pretty tough.

The food shots are very editorial as they are all natural light with fill bumped in from a white bounce or even white table cloths if a proper bounce isn’t around.  But mostly the reason I can somewhat capture food well is from all the years of assisting NYC food photographers back in the day.  Mostly the training was shooting in studios with top food stylists, fake ingredients, big lights, and sometimes big ovens.  You know…the mash potato ice cream or the cooked-with-a-blowtorch-steak.  I remember working on a Pizza Hut job where we shot dozens of pies pulled out of an industrial oven in the City’s West Side.  Yong Yoo, the then photo assistant extroadinare, and I had screaming fight because the neurotic photographer made us load what seem to be his entire studio into a cube truck, unload on location, and reload the truck in the pouring rain.  At the end of the day, we fought about how to roll some immensely large and heavy studio camera stand that was taller than the cube truck up a ramp as the rain poured all around.  Ah how I miss those days yet would never go back.

There is something very important about being a padawan (apprentice) in the big cities.  I never could have been successful here, especially here in Hawaii without some type of grueling informal training I had in those dreary New York years.  Every conceivable subject that can be photographed I probably helped put a studio light on it, or at least rolled a studio stand close to it.  Everything from Revlon lipstick, to beer bottles, to celebs and rock stars to rain sets, to shooting in the bloody rain.

(How on earth I go from chatting about Mix Mag to get on this subject…I will never know.  Stream of … uhhh…what were we chatting about?)

So in the above picture, the author dances around a rigged rain set with a Fender Strat guitar.  My memory dims on what job we were working on other than it had a Korean model in tight shiny pants that fit her very well.  I remembered I had this piece of chrome somewhere and fumbled through a bunch of old film files finding it next to a bunch of negatives of Trisha, a model who’s sister I knew from Texas.  Funny how I didn’t remember those pictures and funny how I forgot about this chrome.  Not wanting to start up a proper film scanner, I masking taped the chrome to my Mac, opened up a white doc in photoshop and made a few exposure on a make shift light table.  Not the sharpest but a good illustration, nonetheless.  The chrome was lifted from the studio where we worked that week but I just couldn’t resist?  The chrome came from the initial test rolls so no one would have missed it.  Besides, its me dancing in the purple rain!

Back into the Mix.  All those years of New York drudgery made me into the so called photographer I am.  Its not the greatest career but its a great living here in Hawaii.  I get a job like this Mix Mag job and use all my skills from my shooting years all the while reaching back to those “wet behind the ears” days when I held someones camera.

Literally, I was probably wet.  It always seemed like I was…