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.
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.
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.
A nice start to the year! The Austin American-Statesman featured my East Austin churches project in their paper. I had been in contact with the reporter Michael Barnes for almost a year in regards to publishing this piece, so it was nice to finally see our efforts come to fruition.
As I wrote my list of goals for 2018, one of them was to either complete or continue this project. The Statesman's recognition of the photos reinforced the feeling that I'm not quite yet done.
Below are some snaps of the actual paper. Here's a digital version too: https://atxne.ws/2KMaxKS
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.
My photo of the taxidermist Rachel Ahern was spotlighted in the August 2017 issue of the Texas Observer. The magazine's Eyes on Texas column features Texas-based documentary photography, and I was pumped to show some love for my project on Texas taxidermists, one of my favorite assignments to date.
Check out the virtual edition here: www.texasobserver.org/eye-on-texas-fantastical-taxidermy
“I think people who are involved in taxidermy look at animals in a different way,” Ahern says. “As much as I love them and love them alive. …At the same time I can look at a dead animal and still love it just as much in a different way. As morbid as it sounds.”
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.
The organization's Six Square Austin's Black Cultural District and Preservation Austin are exhibiting photos of mine from my East Austin Churches project. The opening night is March 3 from 7-10 p.m. and will include an artist Q&A and discussion. Below is a sneak peak of one of the photos being exhibited and a snippet of my artist statement. To learn more and RSVP, visit the Facebook event.
Undoubtedly, churches are a focal point of East Austin's history. As this area of the city undergoes rapid changes to its physical and cultural landscape, the traditional role of churches as the center of community life has shifted. Using medium format film, this project in progress documents the smaller African American churches and congregations in the neighborhood. These churches embody a culture with a vibrant past, a resilient present, and a potentially tenuous future. They contain a rich heritage and perspective that this exhibit hopes to acknowledge and honor.
This spring, I was awarded an Arch and Anne Giles Kimbrough grant from the Dallas Museum of Art for my East Austin church series. What a wonderful surprise! I'm excited to continue and finish this project the help of the museum. It's been a really important part of my growth as a photographer over the past several years, and the award is a much-welcomed motivation to keep at it.
I'm showing some new work during the East Austin Studio Tour this weekend, alongside some wonderful Austin artists. We're located at Satellite Studios, 1109 Shady Lane.
Though I've lived in Texas for almost a decade, I still feel like an outsider looking in, and the images I'm exhibiting are a slice of that continuous exploration of what looks and feels unfamiliar.