Coney Island has always been one of my favorite places. Visiting LA this winter, I was struck by how much Venice Beach reminded me of the boardwalk from my childhood. Just like Coney Island, there is the great people watching and the stores selling questionable food and souvenirs. But Venice Beach also brings the Southern California vibes with palm trees, perpetual sunny skies, and surfers and skateboarders. I walked back and forth one early morning, photographing people I met as the sun came up, trying to capture the warmth of the sun and the setting.
I was excited this summer for my eighteen-hour train ride from Oakland, CA to Eugene, OR. I envisioned taking portraits of fellow passengers, lit by beautiful window light and surrounded by a romanticized train setting. I quickly found out that trains are wobbly fellas and my twin lens medium format camera was shaking in my hand in a way that would only lead to frustratingly blurry photos. Also, after spending the night sleeping upright in a chair, I was tempted to nap, read, and watch episodes of Rick and Morty on my phone. When everyone unexpectedly had to depart the train for two hours in the small town of Klammath Falls, Oregon, the train photo opp I was waiting for materialized. Portraits of passengers waiting to re-board below.
When it’s over 100 degrees for two months straight, and you have the privilege to escape the mind melting heat, you do. This summer I traveled by plane, train, and car to California, Oregon, and the Carolinas for a month. Always snapping along the way, some 35mm selects below.
In Texas, vendors are only allowed to sell fireworks in specific locations two weeks before New Years Eve and two weeks before Independence Day. Running the stands is a way to make quick cash, though I wouldn't say it's particularly easy. I've seen people camping out in tents and trailers next to the stands with the whole family helping out. This Fourth of July I drove right outside of Austin to photograph some of the people working fireworks' stands dotting the sides of country roads and highways. There's something about the selling of fireworks that feels very American. And it's an activity that accurately represents the true diversity of our country— all people, no mater the race, age, gender, or ethnicity seem to enjoy buying fireworks, big and small, colorful and loud, to blow up with loved ones.
When I travel, I always bring with my film cameras, but that doesn't mean I'm always taking photos. I can't really predict when I'll feel compelled to shoot. It was only towards the end of a three week trip in the Pacific Northwest that I took out my 35mm camera to photograph the dense forests and blooming flowers that I was lucky enough to witness and be surrounded by. I don't know if it was because I had finally let the camera emerge from my suitcase or if the places I was visiting were giving me shutter finger, but the light, colors, and tones spoke to me! They felt quiet, soft, peaceful, timeless, and majestic, and I wanted to capture that feeling in the images I created. Below are photos from Lighthouse Park and VanDusen Botanical Garden, both in Vancouver, CA.
I went to Las Vegas for the first time last summer with the intention of taking portraits of people with my medium format camera. It was 114 degrees outside— a type of heat that makes it feel like your eyelids are melting. As I walked up and down The Strip, taking in the people, the buildings, the billboards, I tried to grasp what Las Vegas represented within the larger American psyche.
Las Vegas' sensory overload is a thinly-veiled cover to make money off of us by providing an experience or commodity that we are led to believe is desirable and necessary. A leech disguised as a rainbow fish. What I still don't know is if everyone is in on the joke, if we know that the promises aren't real, our dreams won't come to fruition, but it stills feels good, and so worth it in the end. A collective act of suspension of disbelief is required in order to fully partake in Sin City without questioning it.
Las Vegas' inauthenticity and intentions are on display in a way we don't typically see in the U.S. anymore. Nowadays, advertising and marketing tends to take a more subtle approach when convincing us how we should feel and think, and therefore buy. Not on The Strip. A billboard for an entertainer who is supposed to be a "tough guy" can be quickly dissected — he's wearing a fake leather jacket, his tattoos aren't real, his cigarette isn't lit. In the flesh, women wearing almost nothing dot the streets and people can pose for photos with them for a pre-determined price. Some men grab the women's asses while their wives take the photos.
Perhaps by inundating us with copious amounts of food and alcohol, promises of sex and money, and lights and music that are sensorily consuming, we are being put into a stupor that diminishes our sense of free will. And maybe, especially since we're on vacation, we don't mind.
In my photos I hoped to capture the juxtaposition of the glitz and the gloom, how quickly gold can turn into something much less shiny. Ultimately, everyone is trying to make a buck, whether they are playing the slot machines, selling bottled water on the streets, wearing attention-grabbing clothing, or holding signs of desperation. Our desires don't change in Vegas, they just become more concentrated, more transparent. As I walked around, I was repeatedly told by men I passed by that I should smile more, didn't I realize, I was in Las Vegas. In order for the facade to remain intact, we all have to look like we're having a great time.
Guatemala is one of the most beautiful places I've visited. I'm learning that I'm drawn to lakes in a way that feels unique to me. They simultaneously excite and calm. At Lake Atitlan, the water was still and glassy, and the natural environment surrounding it kinetic and unruly. The towns we visited were old and colorful - even the mausoleums were painted in pastels and adorned with bright, plastic flowers.
It is also worth noting that Guatemala has a violent history in the not so distant past, which the U.S. was very much complicit in. I am aware that only a few decades ago I would not have traveled here because it would have seemed too violent, aware that cheap accommodations are possible because Guatemalans were systematically terrorized and repressed by a dictatorial government. It is something I always kept in mind.
In Northern California, the outdoors feel too large to be contained within a frame— the trees, mountains, and ocean envelope you in their quiet magnitude. They are challenging to fit into squares, and while I almost always prefer using my medium format camera when traveling, it was a bit limiting this time around. Not so limiting though to minimize the excitement of developing and scanning film from one of the most beautiful places in the country.
A ritual of mine is taking my Yashica twin lens camera with me whenever I go on trips and finding ways to fit large landscapes and small town buildings in squares. Shots below are from a recent trip out to Big Bend National Park.
I was fortunate enough to get to spend some time in Playa del Carmen and Tulum with my amiga Maya. I went snorkeling and experienced white sands/turquoise seas for the first time.