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.


Don’t Move Here

Don't Move Here

17 years ago I never would have imaged the Austin I visited this past May.  The green gem of the liberal South developed into a snarling and congested city with swirling highways, Manhattan style co-ops, and a capitalism Austin once fought vehemently in order to maintain its uniquely slacker status as the State’s capital.  No where else in Texas would you find rednecks in boots next to a bare-footed bohemian siren across from a sliver-haired professors all crossing paths with a Lucchesed Congressman talking policy with a lesbian couple and their adopted Asian infant.  Only in Austin, hence the “Keep Austin Weird” logo that I don’t remember but fondly recall as I more than once found myself in such situations when I was in college back in the early 90’s.

Austin was a Technicolor dream compared to the monotoned murmur of San Antonio, my hometown.  Nothing seemed to progress very fast or far in SA other than the Spurs and tourist numbers and when my acceptance letter came bearing burnt orange, I couldn’t wait to escape the clutches of my one horse town.

Again, 17 years later, I knew it could never be the same.  The years after I graduated, Austin developed into a premiere town of statue with major tech corps putting their stakes down.  SXSW grew into an international event pulling big name bands and acts, and UT’s nationally ranked football program, and of course, its top notch and cheap education, pulled more kids into it’s enrollment. By far, the town of Austin itself drew newcomers for it’s small town flavor and southern hospitality, it’s in-town lakes and Austin’s enduring laid-back and green culture.  Sadly, new money and high demand always leads to gentrification and it pushes out many of the people that made Austin…Austin.  But change, as much as some may not like it, is good but sometimes gentrification can leave a nasty aftertaste.

We didn’t spend much time in Austin due to our whirlwind tour of Texas so we decided to just drive into town and see what happens.  We go for a walk down South Congress and I immediately encounter stuff that begins to wear on me…not for their uniqueness but for its uniformity.  Faux-hawks, Converse and skinny jeans. Mercurial girls in short skirts and cowboy boots trying to hard to hide their Brooklyn adapted attitude in western wear.  Sneering looks from people who surely didn’t care about me and seemed to be more annoyed by my presence than anything else.  It was as if they were annoyed we were on their turf.  Eh, its my imagination.  Its nothing but I was beginning to think I was like in Southern California with all the curt smiles and bad attitudes.

Within all the hip and vintage clothing were the burnt orange baseball hats of the Levi-ed and booted wearing frat boy and the Umbroed sorority girlfriend with standard frat party t-shirt and Kate Spade handbag.  But they were outnumbered by skateboards, Holgas, and people wearing identical “I’m a Pepper” t-shirts.  Oddly enough, I felt a more comfortable fraternity with Christi and Jeff than with the new hipster that flowed down the streets.

So I thought…Big deal.  So a bunch of ironic non-conformists hipsters found Austin and made it their new town to destroy then bitch about how it was so cool like last week before all the poseurs showed up and ruined everything. Hipsters infected New York long ago so I wasn’t too put out by their entitlements.  They uprooted loads of artists and photographers who were making a living (and art) in the slums of Dumbo by rushing in and pushing the rents up to the limits and standards of Manhattan.  It’s hard to stop that type of progress.

But what killed me the most about the new Austin was this jackass I came across at the Whole Foods flagship on North Lamar.  This guy wore a  “Don’t Move Here” logo-ed t-shirt.

Don’t move here. Huh. Don’t move here I kept mumbling to myself.  Is that addressed to me?  Is that addressed to anyone else that came behind him?  Bedazzeled, I rushed off to confront him about his choice of clothing only to loose him in an MC Escher world of similar faces and clothes and attitudes.  I, dazed and confused, rushed off to find solace in the past.

I knew what this ass was trying to say.  He, probably a newcomer from California, who left his craphole of a state to come here and destroy his new one.  Like a virus, jerks like this spread to the new epicenter and declare it off limits to anyone after them.  I see this type of attitude all through the Hawaiian Islands.

These entitled types, with privileges, and sometime with none, moved in remote places like Oahu’s North Shore, Molokai, and the far ends of Kauai.  They paint, surf, write, smoke pot, eat organic and pepper their language with Hawaiian words.  They demand their lifestyles be accepted, praised, glorified, and spread.  They cut you off in the crosswalk as they speed by in their hybrids with Obama 2012 stickers on the back.  They are the types that help ban plastic shopping bags in Kauai, stopped the Superferry on Oahu, and march en mass on the state capital when their views and beaches are threatened by tourists and developers.  They piss on newcomers if their surf breaks get overcrowded and pretend they’ve been local all their lives when they’ve just got off the airplane six weeks ago. They are the last ones in and try desperately to lock the door by swallowing the key so no one else can ruin their slice of perfection.

But the worst of all were the highly regarded food trucks.  What an absolute waste of time.  Bad attitude and service seems to be the only good things dished out from these trendy trucks.  Self-important meals of no real direction or distinction other than the clever ability to take two food groups and deep-fry it in organic vegan oil.  Good food, whether its an accidental mishap or taken from the food follies on cable TV, has to have some education behind it.  Because you ate banana pancakes on Khao San Rd. and taquitos in Juarez doesn’t give you creative license to deep fry a panko breaded a slice of avocado and expect Bourdain to ordain you a chef.

Oddly, I find Bourdain’s shit-eating grin amusingly absurd as it makes for better TV.  His blessing of the food truck culture in Austin must have inspired so many more kids to pick up the spatula and create food not fit for much more than their own stupid egos.  I can’t help but to wonder what Anthony was really thinking.  Sure there’s probably someone making magic in their rinky-dinky trailer somewhere but it clearly has to be vetted so it can shine.

So as my rants and disappointments come to an end, I must say Austin has changed for the better in many ways but in others I just don’t know.  Austin is much more multicultural we saw loads of Indian and Chinese families roaming the capital ( was graduation week!  HA!) so it seems diversity is clearly changing the face of the town.  I don’t live there anymore and I haven’t lived in Texas for over 15 years but I remember what it was like.  I remember older students telling me how it was back in the day.  They remembered older students telling them…yada yada yada.  So does my review of Austin count?  Only to me, really.

The one true thing I did see about Austin laid just outside the city limits towards Lockhart.  We drove past a family selling live chickens, goats, and fresh eggs.  A young boy of about 12 but mature well beyond his age asked us if we wanted to buy something.  His voice hid a slight Mexican accent but his Texan was apparent as his dirt farmed hands and dusty cheeks gleamed of his background. We asked him what kind of peoples came to shop here.  Was it only Mexicans?  He answered, “No, all races come.”

My wife noted how sad it was for him to have lost his childhood so quickly just to help his family. I felt the same but was clearly convinced he was the future of Texas.  It wouldn’t be the immature children with tight jeans and scarves around their necks.  It would be that kid selling eggs on that Sunday morning.

That encounter was my tale of two cities.  One of entitlements and demands, the other of hard work and sacrifice.

The humble beginnings…

The humble beginnings...

While editing and doing some archiving, I found a disc of old images from my time working for the community newspaper in San Antonio.  How humbling to see how I started off and what images I shot as a student and budding photographer.

I shot the Mexican dancers at a community event on the West Side of town.  I remember being in love with this shot because of her loving reaction to her partner.  She’s so happy.  I photographed this event for the San Antonio Express News community newspaper, The Sun.  Each district of town had their own edition so there was always something different to shoot.

So many times, I’ve seen how digital has changed the field of photography.  Even more importantly, how cheap credit has allowed many people to purchase pro equipment and how digital has allowed the average flickr type to create amazing bodies of work.  Now students and prosumers can compete with full-time professionals.  I know I’ve talked about the old Nikon gear and manual focus lenses but I can’t stress how it was such a different time.  There was no Photoshop, no Lightroom, no computers!  Darkroom, stop bath, fixer.  A steel can and reels.  A red light bulb.  It was so long ago and technologically speaking, it was truly the dark ages of modern photography.

What may have taken several hours to create can now be produced in seconds.  I remember shooting an event like football or a late night press conference.  I’d have to  leave half way through to get back to a darkroom, develop film, print from the negative and make a 10 pm deadline.  Now I’m shooting boxing matches and transmitting images in between rounds.  I’m talking seconds to get an image from a digital camera into a laptop, process the raw file, caption it, and ftp’ed to a client.  Seconds!  And technology will eventually allow streaming images to be sent directly to an editor thousands of miles away as the photos are being shot.  I mean they do that now with TV live feed so surely they will find away to get images on line immediately.

A mime play shot for the San Antonio Express News community newspaper, The Sun.  I was probably paid $25 per assignment back in 1997.

Whats more interesting is seeing how my professional career in Hawaii has evolved.  How my views have changed…from portraits to street work.  How I’ve visually grown.  I constantly read art books.  Study old paintings.  Visually stimulate my senses so I can “see” when I put the camera to my eye.  And its working.  My timing is different, my angles are changing.  My views are evolving. I try to look at images as paintings.  I try to think of how a painter or sculptor would see a face or scene.  My actions seems so far away from what I used to shoot.

The family above had parts of their home catch fire in San Antonio due to faulty wiring in a junction box.  The family holds the box which caused the problem. (I think thats what happend!)  The Sun Community Newspaper, 1997.

 These images seem so long ago but when I view them, I can clearly see how I naturally had a vision but it wasn’t developed.  It was raw, unexpected, and unreliable.  I was just a kid with a few cameras and pocket full of film.  Sure, I was in my 20s.  I though I knew more than I did but couldn’t prove it.  I knew I wasn’t good enough to get a staff job at the Dallas Morning News or the LA Times but I though if they gave me a chance, I could do it.  The Express News gave me that chance but it was shooting for their community newspaper. It was really bad work on my end but in many ways, I think it was some of the best stuff around.  I shot so many images of real life that it made me realize what life was about.

Lilly Tejeda is the mother of Frank Tejeda, a local politician who had high hopes but sadly died of cancer a some time after this picture was taken.   His death was a loss to the Hispanic community as he might have gone to much higher positions.  I remember going to her humble house on the South Side of San Antonio and asking her if we could take the photo of her and her son’s pictures.  How much they looked like.  Funny, this image still makes me sad.  She held a brave face but she knew her loss.

How far I’ve come from the 90s to the 2010s.  How arrogant I was to think I new so much but in reality I knew nothing.  The base was there but the experience was not.  So many kids and prosumers I’ve encountered over the years here in Hawaii and elsewhere seem to think because they have a digital camera, have a few images published here and there, they are equal or better than me or anyone who has shot for years.  Maybe they are.  If I had top digital cameras and technology back on my side in the 90’s, maybe I would have been just as good.  But what they lack is experience.  They don’t have any experience shooting high school plays, community dances, kid’s swim meets, or a local strawberry fair.  I regularly would drive an hour or so out to the the middle of nowhere to shoot a portrait of man who raised a prized steer.  All for about $25!  There is lots to really say about starting from the bottom.  It humbles you and makes you realize you don’t really know what the hell you are doing.

I shot an event for Reuters a few weeks ago and worked next to the Honolulu Star Advertiser’s senior photographer Craig Kojima.  He’s in his 50’s or so but walks around like he’s a nobody.  No attitude, no beef, no nothing.  He wears those ridiculously stupid shoes that you can put your toes in…you know the ones!  Ugh!  He’s such a great guy and he knows how to shoot. After looking at his take the next day in the paper, I realized that experience trumped anything I did that day.  He shot unbelievable images that I failed to see.  And why was that?  Experience.  I called him a few days later and told him so.  He laughed in that soft, fatherly way and denied he was any better.  Yet he clearly has 20 plus years on me.  Experience counts.  Not workshops, or degrees, or attitude.  Experience makes up for anything some stupid classroom can teach.

Would I go back and shoot the community newspapers again?  As Sarah P would say, “you betcha!”  In a Texas heart beat.  Those were the best days of my learning photography years.  From there, it just got more complicated, harder, and more depressing.  Moving to New York essentially took all the romance out of what I though photography was.  At the community newspaper, I was in a dream world.  I thought this last Sun’s assignment would get me into the doors of National Geographic.  I really did.  And who’s to say it wasn’t going to happen? A youngster can dream, no?

So when George Lee comes knocking on your door to shoot a Pulse assignment, you might want to reconsider his offer.  You just never know…

The police and you!

The police and you!

Note on above picture…

The date in the exif info states photo was taken August 3, 2003.  Happy anniversary!.  I hope you’re outta jail…or maybe better said, I hope you’re not back in jail…but recalling the types of people these guys were, we can only hope for the best.

More…it was taken with the Canon 10D.  What a horrible file.  Probably shot with the 20-35mm 2.8 lens.  How far we’ve come!!!!

I was a budding street photographer walking around Jersey City when I ran into a horrible Dominican Republic Pride Parade where mayhem was on the rise.  Mayhem usually was hand in hand with ethnic pride parades.  I found national pride in many ethnic groups equated fighting and cussing (and in some cases raping) for the good of the nation you fled or had very little connection.

I was just walking along when I saw a ruckus rushing towards me at full speed.  Red tried to escape from the clutches of the JC police but was quickly apprehended and arrested.  Of course I snapped away until a burly officer got in my face with that firm and polite rudeness that most cops have about me being in the way and letting the police do what they gotta do.  I recall his words as something like we got a job to do here and we don’t need citizens in the way recording our actions.

Fast forward to 2011.

My Canon 10 D is now replaced by a Mark IV and my surrounding have gone tropical from urban.  (Alas, I miss those days…)

Load of videos are popping up on YouTube and other media sites showing citizens and supposedly members of the media being arrested for simply videotaping police in action.  While I should note my brother is currently a police officer in Texas, I do have my feelings on both sides of the fence for this matter.

Here are three videos where you can see citizens being harassed and arrested by the men in blue.

Video 1

Video 2

Video 3

In all three videos, we see two citizens and one supposedly freelance member of the media being harassed and arrested for simply videotaping a crime scene or police action.  The police, or as I will refer to now as the cops, overreact.  They overreact BIG TIME.  The two civilians were on their property and the police should have never harassed them for observing and recording the police.  The freelancer was completely harrased and arrested with no real premise other than he didn’t obey.

Should any of them have been arrested?  Probably not.  Should the cops be retrained in understanding how to deal with the public using easily accessible recording devices?  Indeed.  Should the cops involved be duly punished?  Surely.

Everyone has a camera or video recorder in their phone.  Everyone has a phone.  Has our privacy been eroded?  For sure.  You can’t go anywhere without seeing some idiot with a camera snapping a picture these days. Its almost as if we can’t avoid technology as somewhere somehow we are being recorded.  Would you be happy if your bosses watched your every move via a video above your desk?  I should think not.  I would assume the police feel the same way.

If you do see the videos, clearly the civilians mouth off to the cops in the first and second vids.  They both quickly get combative and argumentative about their rights, “I’m not doing anything wrong” blah blah blah. But in reality, what are the civilians taping?  What is so important they need to stand their with a camera pointed at the police?  Where is this video gonna end up?  How will a civilian paint the picture of the police’s actions?  Are they just looking to be the next George Holliday hoping to cash in on a new Rodney King video?  Are they hoping to be confronted by the police and get arrested so they can sue?  What is the point of doing what they are doing?

SURE–many great (horrible, really) things have come up like the King video or the transit cop who killed an unarmed black man in San Fransisco.  Yes, I would prefer to have the public videotaping more police action so as to combat possible wrong doings of law enforcement.  However, how important is it risk irritating the police and getting arrested?

On a daily basis, the cops have to deal with the scum of the earth.  Drug dealers, pimps, crooks, thieves, murderers, liars, jackasses and possibly donkeys.  EVERYONE hates the police until they need one.  I don’t know one cop who would say he’s a loved and respected member of society.  Everyone wants to piss on a cop.  We all love the police when they come to save us all but when they pull us over for pushing down the pedal on yellow, we hate the men in blue.  My brother bears scars of having to deal with us a-holes, both physical and mental.  I remember he once told me that the worse people to arrest and deal with are the “educated types like me.”  We all know our rights, scream of lawsuits, and spit in their faces any chance we get.  We’re all lawyers when we stumble out of bars and try to get behind the wheel at four AM.  Derelicts and hookers have more manners than we-know-it-alls.

Ever seen the TV show Cops?  The public is horrible.  I sometimes wish the police would just shoot a few of us so we’d learn to respect one another.  Come live on my street on any First Friday and hear all the degreed hoi polloi screaming down Nuuanu at 3am.  The hookers on Kukui St are as quiet as meeces, as they should be.

Anyway, the civilians get combative and in some ways the cops have very little options other than to arrest them for not “obeying” their commands.  Again, what the hell was so important for those idiots to be recording the police?  I mean what was happening in front of them that they risked arrest?  Was it worth it?  It sure is now they got the police department by the short hairs and Harry the Luuaawwwyyahh will be taking your tax dollars.  The women in Rochester should have gone into her house and shut the hell up.  Opened a window big and wide and continued.  She was a dummy that talked her way into being a rich victim of a cop who made a mistake.  The idiot in Nevada first lied and said he didn’t live there, then he did say it was his house.  He wouldn’t put the camera down and again, knew his rights, etc…If it was his house, he should have gone in and recorded from his window, rooftop, etc…Sure he got roughed up, but probably no more than if he had played a game of tackle football in the park.  The knucklehead got the video he somewhat hoped to get, sadly, it was him and not the other guy.

The freelance cameraman showed to be the most professional.  He did exactly as a member of the media should behave.  He clearly asked the police politely why he had to move, moved as much as the cop demanded, left when it got to hot, and when elsewhere.  By leaving and following the cop’s directive meant defusing a volatile situation.  This is the difference between a jackass with a videophone or a part timer versus a person who makes his living with a lens.  He left as he was commanded to do and clearly the police had no right to push him away but he left.  He knew what it was worth.  He went a block away and continued his job but the hotheaded cop needed to flex his authority and arrested him.  Wrong!  Bad cop.  The video guy probably won’t sue but the cop will be reprimanded as he deserves.  Clearly the cop had no right to abuse the freelancer.  In the beginning of the conversation, you see the cop looking at what only could be the freelancer’s credential.  If its legit, he should have left him alone, pushed him back but left him alone.

Once again, the cops were wrong.  Clearly wrong.  Were they provoked?  YES.  But they should be better trained.  I recently ran afoul of the police at a school shooting we had a few months ago.  Mark Niesse and I stumbled onto the crime scene and were quickly cursed at and and escorted off the area by a pretty hot cop.  We clearly were somewhere we shouldn’t have been.  We politely identified ourselves, said our “yes sirs” and “no sirs” to avoid having someone interfere with our job.

I can only guess the police are afraid of creating sensationalism as they created by trying to stop a civilian from taping them.  Mix in testosterone, jackass know it all ‘tudes (both sides, of course) and a camera and you have viral video gold.  So many of the comments are so filled with hate towards the police, pure vitriol and disgust which is understandable.  Yet if a crime was being committed against you, would you want the police to come to your home and sweetly ask the criminal to “please sweetheart, put the knife down so we can chat over cookies” bit?  We walk a fine line if we de-fang law enforcement.

Now the scary part is when the government and corporations get together and truly stop us from being able to record and witness reality.  I always figured technology would be built with (or have the ability to insert) a Trojan horse.   Apple (read this) is working on a patent that will allow sensors to “automatically disable the iPhone camera, temporarily, preventing any footage from being recorded.”  Might Canon and Nikon be next?  Might your Android have a kill switch that could be activated by a corporation, law enforcement, or an individual?  Supposedly the tech is being created to protect musicians and movies from being illegally recorded and bootleg distributed.  When might Michelle Obama have this tech so she can disable a camera from taping her eating fries?  Or Lindsay doing coke at a LA club?  Or the police when they arrest and beat a citizen?

Might then Senator Obama have loved to stop me from snapping his photo of him and his daughters on Kailua?  Maybe…who knows?  He screamed at me.  He was so upset I shot him but he was just a man on the beach.  A public beach for that matter.  Secret Service knew not to mess with me.  They knew what my rights were and saw I respected Senator Obama’s rights.  I had already identified myself to the police and secret service and they even ran my name to make sure they knew who I was.  When asked for my ID, I politely produced my Hawaii issued, smiled, said my “yes, sirs,” and that was that.  I never got in the Senator’s face.  I shot with my huge 400mm lens and stayed a good deal away from him.  Even after Obama screamed at me, Secret Service told me to back off a bit which I did.  I walked a good 20 yards further out and gave him more breathing room.  Obama and the Secret Service knew they couldn’t interfere with my news gathering rights.  Now might things change? Might the government enact said Trojan device to stop the public from witnessing the truth?

Technology only knows…