queen of hearts, take 1


Hyla was over yesterday when I was preparing images to send in to a photo competition.  I left her alone for 20 minutes and she came up with this edit.  I’ve been shooting so fast lately that I haven’t had time to put it all together, but then again I’m not sure I have the perspective yet to know what to do.

In any case – her edit feels like a really good reflection of where this new photography work is at, so here – you should look at it too.  You can see the statement I wrote below.

(click on the image to start the slideshow)

Queen of Hearts

I recently started shooting pictures again after a lengthy hiatus, and it was Robert Frank who brought me back from the dead.  I was leaving on a road trip and felt this burning need to check back in with The Americans, the first photography book I fell in love with as a young photographer.

A dozen years later, the images were still fresh.  I imagined Frank as this loose lone wolf in a double-wide Cadillac, hunting in dark corners and drinking thin 1950’s coffee.  I wanted to be that guy, lonely and hard and stinking of tobacco.  It was sexy.  It was solitary.  I could relate to it.

I loaded an old Nikon with black and white film.

Film grain, to me, is mysterious and organic, elegant and anti-digital.  All day at my job, I look at straightforward, mostly digital documentary images.  In my own work I find myself voraciously curious about that point when a picture stops being readable and becomes too abstract for anyone else to care about it.  I’ve been seeking that edge in some of my images.

Although when it comes down to it, I don’t always care how my images turn out.  It’s the taking I love.  Haunting the edges of the queer parties where I go to dance, dropping out of petty conversations, seducing the disco light and smog machines and the shadows.

Hunting for the Queen of Hearts.

There’s something epic about the middle of the night. I love the sweat and the seduction, greeting acquaintances like the mayor of queer.  That particularly sweet anxiety of scanning the dance floor for my crush and spotting her across the club.  Some Mary with a New Jersey accent making me feel up her silicon boobs.  The smoke on the rooftop and the view from the fire escape.

When it’s time to quit shooting and dance, I climb onto the go-go platforms to stash my camera safely above the crowd.  I’ve discovered how much I like it up there, exhibitionism balancing the voyeurism inherent in stealing peoples’ glittering faces.  And then go, go, go-go… til hunger takes over and the entourage motivates for a slice or some french fries.

Shooting in the dark.  I’ll get back stretches of negatives with nothing but black.  But it’s unfettering to work with fast film – no flash, no checking the back of the camera, nothing major to schlep.

At first, it was strangely terrifying to return to my old, old habit of documenting this life.  I felt more vulnerable than I would have hooking up with an ex.  We had such a long run, photography and I, and such a complicated break-up.

But so far it’s like pulling up the hood of an old sweatshirt and finding it still fits.  Or maybe it’s a new hoodie altogether, considering how starkly different this work is from anything I’ve done before. These images revive the light on her skin, the depths of her cleavage, the trauma of watching her walk away without me at the end of the night.

Six months of shooting and now winter has turned to spring.  Many birthday cakes have been baked and blessed, the flowering oak blossoms have rained onto my Brooklyn street like confetti.  I cut off my hair and I zip up my hood.  The disco nap is over.  It’s time to go out.

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