Monday, August 31, 2009

Hotel people or I ♥ Mexico

Hotel People, Nuevo Vallarta, Mexico, June 2007.

The week-long obsession with taco trucks made me hungry and nostalgic for Mexico. I love Mexico. I love eating ceviche on the beach while it rains. I love the family-owned distellerias and the sweet-smoky smell of burning agave leaves. I love how they let you sample almond flavored tequila even though you're only ten years old. I love that I can smoke in Mexican airports. I love that I can practice speaking in Spanish, but only in the present tense; the way I would struggle to order a meal in Spanish only to hear the counterboy answer, "do you want cheese with that?" I love Mexican Coke which is superior to American Coke. I love photographing in Mexico as much as I love Mexican photographers. I love Don Manuel Alvarez Bravo and his wife Lola, Graciela Iturbide, Nacho Lopez, Flora Garduño, and Tina Modotti, although she's really Italian. I love that Mexicans are not scared of color but also look great in black and white. I even love how they call me Chino even though I'm not really Chinese.

Nostalgia for all things Mexican had me clicking on my picture archives, where I found this old set of portraits that I took of hotel workers in Jalisco. A relentlessly friendly bunch, they make the phrase "hospitality industry" actually mean something. It's no different outside the hotels. People are pretty much all smiles and carefree everywhere in spite of the hard life and the hard work. Like they say in Mexico, good face to bad times. "Al mal tiempo, buena cara."

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Two lads, boards, and a dog

Untitled, San Francisco, May 2007.

To chase a picture means to run. You spot someone and that someone has "the thing" -- a look of ages, a stoop that carries the entire burden of humanity itself, an innocence that restores hope, beauty or horror, a hat -- and you chase it. Instinct compels it. And in the fast-paced traffic of urban life, you have to run, bump shoulders with other people without apologies, and catch "that thing" before it recedes into your ever-growing stockpile of missed opportunities.

When that someone is on wheels, as it was here, you wish you put that extra hour on the treadmill. At first I heard wheels grinding on pavement, then the sound of kids whooping, and a dog barking. The howling trio swooshed past me, and I gave chase before I could think. An old lady recoiled in terror at being flattened by the onrushing boys and beast and man with a camera. I snapped away as the dog growled and pulled away at the boy's t-shirt. One of the kids gave me a peace sign. And for a few seconds, I was part of someone else's fun and games, out of breath, but happy.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Photo of the week

BART, Orinda, August 2009.

This picture was selected Photo of the Week by The Lilliputians, a Flickr group thats takes its inspiration from Gulliver's Travels and the power of images to transport us into our own Swiftian adventures. Perhaps it is fitting that they chose this image of a commuter who is equally lost in the world of imagination, forged by words and not pictures, a fellow traveler aboard a different vessel. Thanks to the moderators of the group, Rinaldo and tabacstar, for the recognition. Very cool, indeed.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Breaking the line

Hip 2 B Square, San Francisco, August 2009.

I was standing in front of this office driveway with my Leica when a woman asked me what I was taking pictures of. I answered, "lines," and took a quick shot to show her (left). It looks like an abstract painting, she said.

She must have been thinking of Mondrian, who tried to distill the geometry of urban life into obsessively composed paintings of lines and squares and rectangles. To live in a city is to find lines and planes everywhere; the grids of a well-ordered existence. I am drawn to them and the shadows they create, but they are not enough. In much the same way I feel about Mondrian's paintings, I find the symmetry and order of geometry impressive but antiseptic; they leave me cold. People, on the other hand, are unpredictable, messy and disorderly. Their presence in a picture is exactly what I need to break the line.

A fellow Leica enthusiast from Norway said this about the lead picture in this blog post: "it is hip to be square." It's the perfect title for it. Thanks, Roger!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Taken today

Portraits from Open Train Doors, San Francisco, August 2009.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Summer, in my winter coat

Untitled, Powell Street, August 2009.

It was warm in San Francisco today, as it should be, but this man was wearing a fur-lined winter coat and a woolen cap while he hawked Street News, the newspaper that donates its proceeds to homeless people. I told him he was overdressed. And he said, "I know, but I look fabulous." Billy Crystal's SNL character, Fernando Lamas, who said, "It is better to look good than to feel good," would have been very proud of him.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Taken today

BART, Orinda, California, August 2009.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Taco trucks of Oakland

Tacos Guadalajara, Oakland, August 2009.

After a week of hand-wringing, I shot the taco truck project yesterday. The entire family joined me for support and the chance to gorge themselves with freshly-made carnitas. The pictures, like Mexico itself, are remarkable for the mad melange of colors, but disappointing for the lack of activity in them. I was expecting to find humanity feasting around the trucks; instead I found a smattering of weekend patrons standing on empty parking lots, a bad day for action photography.

I decided to make portraits of the taco workers. In naming the pictures, I took a cue from Philip-Lorca diCorsia's Hollywood Hustler series, and listed the following information in the titles: the subject's name, name of taco truck, city or state where subject originally came from, and the average number of tacos sold daily.

I learned two things from the project: (1) that I'm a bolder photographer than I thought I was; and (2) that I've been a fool for ignoring the taco trucks right in my own backyard. At $1.25 a pop, they're a steal and certainly the tastiest morsels I ever had outside of Mexico itself.

I'm meeting with the exhibition organizers tomorrow. I don't know if any of these images will make the final cut, but I will let you know. Pass or fail, I now know where the best taco trucks are, and that's good enough for me.

Osvaldo, Mi Grullense, Jalisco, 300-400 tacos a day

Fernando, Tacos Guadalajara, Jalisco, 250 tacos a day

Vicky, Tacos El Gordo, Vera Cruz, 200 tacos a day

Primos Jesus y Miguel, Tacos Los Michoacanos, Michoaca, 200 tacos a day

EZ, taco fan, Tacos El Novillo

Friday, August 14, 2009

Taken today

Untitled, Chinatown, San Francisco, August 2009.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

How do you photograph a taco truck?

Untitled, Vallejo, California, April 2008.

Press the shutter. Yeah, I know. Perhaps the better question would be how do you make an interesting picture of a taco truck? I've been obsessing with this question all week. Four days ago, I received an email invitation to join a group show that would mark the opening of a new local art gallery. It's my first photo assignment ever: to document Oakland's taco trucks as part of a series on local kitchens. I was thrilled at the mere idea of an assignment that I said yes immediately in spite of the fact that I've never seen a taco truck in Oakland. Actually I've never seen a taco truck anywhere, not even in Mexico; save once, when my brother-in-law rented one for his son's birthday party (pictured above, unremarkably).

Perhaps I'm just oblivious to taco trucks. Thank goodness for Google, I learned that taco trucks are indeed all over the Fruitvale district of East Oakland, and as I mapped out their locations for the shoot, my anxiety deepened. So I did what any 21st century man would do: I posted the question on Facebook. A sampling of the answers I got:
Take it from the POV of the taco.

Park it on a RR crossing and wait for the magic moment.

Wait 'til they sell chow mein.

I take it you wish to capture the essence of the taco truck, transcend ego separation and achieve oneness with the thing itself. To do that, you must be prepared to spend years in quiet contemplation of taco trucks. Sorry, there are no shortcuts. This is why there are no famous pictures of taco trucks.
I'm shooting on Saturday and thinking why can't I shoot Vespas instead? An old friend from New York said, "If you hang around one long enough you might get lucky." Sound advice which I will heed. I'll hang around, eat a taco or two, maybe even sample the beef tongue, wait and see what presents itself. In the meantime, I pray to the taco gods.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

All my children

Miguel and Zoe, Oakland, August 2009.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Genius of Photography 6: Snap Judgements

Andreas Gursky, 99 cent, 1999.

In the final episode of the series, photography today: the art and business of making and selling pictures; Gregory Crewdson and the staged, manipulated photograph; the battle for Seydou Keita's archives; Li Zhenseng, Wang Qingsong and new Chinese photography; Paolo Ventura's war stories; Alex Soth; Jeff Wall; Philip Jones Griffiths versus Martin Parr at Magnum; Andreas Gursky, $3.3 million dollar man. At left is Edward Steichen's The Pond-Moonlight (1904), sold at auction for $2.9 million.

Epside Six, Part One

Episode Six, Part Two

Episode Six, Part Three

Download Episode 6 in high-definition from Rapidshare here:
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

Monday, August 3, 2009

The Genius of Photography 5: We Are Family

Sally Mann, Jessie Bites, 1985.

Episode 5 looks at what happens when photographers turn their cameras on themselves and their loved ones, translating personal relationships into photographic ones. In this episode, Diane Arbus, Richard Avedon, Larry Clark, Nan Goldin, Nobuyoshi Araki, Richard Billingham, Sally Mann, Larry Sultan, Cindy Sherman, and Philip-Lorca diCorsia.

Episode Five, Part One

Episode Five, Part Two

Episode Five, Part Three

Download Episode 5 in high-definition from Rapidshare here:
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

Saturday, August 1, 2009

The Genius of Photography 4: Paper Movies

Weegee the Famous, Their First Murder.

Episode 4 continues with a lively look at the golden age of street photography from the 1950s and beyond, the age of the photographic roadtrip. In this episode: the seminal work of Robert Frank in The Americans, William Klein's New York boogie-woogie, the unblinking reportage of Weegee the Famous, Joel Meyerowitz stalking Fifth Avenue with his Leica, the enduring wit of Garry Winogrand, British photographer Tony Ray Jones' everyday people on the beach, Edward Ruscha's gas stations, Martin Parr in Memphis, William Eggleston and the ascendance of color photography, Stephen Shore, Joel Sternfeld.

Episode Four, Part One

Episode Four, Part Two

Episode 4, Part 3

Download Episode 4 in high-definition from Rapidshare here (you need to download all four files and join them using WinRAR):
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

The Genius of Photography 3: Right Place, Right Time

Robert Capa, Omaha Beach, Normandy coast, France, June 6, 1944.

Episode 3 begins with delightful footage of Henri Cartier-Bresson "pouncing" at the streets of Paris in the 1940s. The decisive moment, how it changed the way we photograph, and how it collided with the historical moment when the world went to war. In this episode: war photographers Robert Capa and Tony Vaccaro, a Jewish ghetto in Poland, post-war reconstruction in Europe, Japanese photographer Shomei Tomatsu's documents of Nagasaki, The Family of Man exhibition, Magnum Photo Agency, and, finally, W. Eugene Smith's colossal Pittsburgh Project.

Episode Three, Part One

Episode 3, Part Two

Episode 3, Part 3

Download Episode 3 in high-definition from Rapidshare here:
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5