the family ties
we persevere through this life
together as one
This is not a van. This is a bus. A Volkswagen bus with a Westfalia camper conversion. “The Pig” was there when Penny was born. Maizy and I took her camping in it when she was 2 months old. From that point on we toured as much of the Rocky Mountains as we could before the engine finally blew up. We beat up this already beaten bus. We rode it hard and conquered some of the highest mountain passes in the United States. I took her to 14,000 feet at Mt. Evans and got some epic pictures for my refrigerator in the process. This bus even made a Go Westy calendar a few years ago. I never did get a copy of that calendar.
We loved this bus. When the engine blew and we made the decision to give it up a little piece of me died with it. It was an impulse decision and a bad purchase all the way around. I paid too much. It was too rusty. It had very little in the way of heat. I once drove it in a blizzard with bald tires. We passed several cars and trucks that were overturned or stuck in ditches along I-70, barely able to see, hands freezing, inching forward ever so slowly. I think our top speed was 14 miles per hour on that stretch.
There was just something about this bus. We have a “new” 1982 Vanagon Westfalia now. Everything that was wrong with the pig is what is right with the new van. We plan to travel the country as slowly as possible in it. It has a stove and a sink, it has two beds, it will have a good heating system. We just have to keep it running which may or may not be a challenge. It’s all a part of the adventure now.
The laptop is in the shop and the iMac has a full hard drive. So I had to dig into the archives until I get my ThinkPad back. I took this photo about 3 years ago with an old Nikon DSLR that I borrowed from my oldest son. It was the first DSLR I ever used.
After spending four years with Penny as a stay-at-home dad my college career has reached a point where I must attend classes during the day in order to continue on toward my degree. Today was her first full day of preschool. I think she quickly realized how relaxed the rules are here at the house.
When I asked her how her first day went, she sighed and said “They have A LOT of special rules.” I instantly felt guilty for not preparing her better. Penny and I had a good thing going, we get each other. I suppose some outside structure will do her some good. The best part is, she only has to go Tuesday and Thursday. I told her from here on out every Wednesday is “No Rules Wednesday.” She seems to like the idea.
The classes are huge, and I don’t really feel entirely comfortable leaving her there. Luckily I am on the same campus so I am only minutes away if she needs me. I like the real world experience she gets from it. Riding the packed trains in the morning, seeing all the diversity.
She sees everything I see, the guy smoking the funny smelling stick walking down the street. A homeless person passed out drunk in the middle of the park. Occupy protesters. Business people. People who use the word fuck a lot, like in between every word they say. I guess you can’t shelter your kids forever, but I’m sticking close by. Call me paranoid.
In the interest of keeping things even , I offer you this unflattering self-portrait. I turn my camera loose on the people I run across in my day to day life, it’s only fair that I be subject to the scrutiny of the lens as well.
It is my contention that the emotional reactions that I capture have a lot to do with my brusque appearance. I’m sure I don’t always look exactly like this, but I do know that after 4 or 5 hours of shooting in the streets, I grow tired and I wear that weariness on my face.
This is what I love about photography. The fact that even though everyone has a camera and everybody is a photographer, I can still share images that are unique, pictures from the perspective of a cross-eyed man, from the perspective of me. No one’s images will ever look exactly like mine.
Pictures taken from someone who is socially awkward compared to someone who is full of self confidence and has an outgoing personality are going to look completely different. That being said, focal lengths, camera settings, whether you shoot film or digital all have a major effect on our images as well. The point is, each photographer’s vision is unique to them.
I couldn’t bring myself to take the photos of strangers that I do without knowing in my heart that I would be willing to be a subject in someone else’s image. Thanks to my ability to read and comprehend words I know that I am under camera surveillance almost 24 hours a day. Every stoplight, every store I walk into, every fast-food drive through, the ATM, the gas station, the grocery store, city streets, people with camera phones, people with hidden cameras, we are never not subject to being photographed or captured on video.
It’s important for me to know that other people understand my photographs are meant to illustrate my experience in the world. I want to take an unflinching look at the society that I am a part of, but I want to do that while keeping people’s dignity intact. I want to promote human connection. It’s not my goal to hurt other’s with my photos. So I struggle when deciding whether or not to share certain photos.
When I’m photographing people nothing is off limits. However, when I begin processing the photos I try and think about how someone else might feel seeing that image shared with thousands of people. It feels like a big responsibility. The images I decide to share reflect directly back on me. I love looking at the work of Bruce Gilden and Martin Parr, but I often find myself questioning if I could share those type of images as they do. I wonder if they struggle internally before deciding what to put out there.
The world is full of imperfection, and I want to show that. I want to help people understand that somewhere out there is someone that we can relate to, regardless of whatever it is that we are struggling with in our own lives.
I wish I could say that I didn’t hold grudges, but unfortunately for me and everyone who knows me, that isn’t the case. In fact, I’m harboring a grudge right now. It’s been something like 5 years since I have seen or spoken to my parents. When my daughter Penelope was born they didn’t bother to make the trip to see their infant granddaughter. I was hurt by the fact that they weren’t there.
I couldn’t, and still don’t, understand why it is that they couldn’t make it. I was angry and bitter, and I still am. I vowed to myself that I would never speak to them again, and I have lived up to that since I made myself that promise so long ago.The truth is, there are many reasons that I give myself for continuing this estrangement. My parents are heavy smokers and drinkers, I grew up around beer and cigarettes.
I started smoking when I was 15 or 16, stealing Salem Ultra Lights from my mom’s pack and smoking them in the bathroom. It was my decision to start smoking then, so I can’t completely blame my parents, but I wonder if I would have never started if I hadn’t been exposed to it so regularly. We disagree on politics and religion, I was told that I was “crazy” for not believing in Jesus. I’m liberal, Dad is conservative. It just got increasingly difficult to keep my mouth shut while I listened to them tearing down all the things I believe in. So my parents, who raised me, put a roof over my head, and bailed me out of trouble when I needed it, are no longer a part of my life anymore.
It is an empty feeling. I cut off all ties with every person in my family. Family friends, cousins, aunts, uncles, sisters. If you were a part of my family life growing up, we don’t speak anymore.It’s hard sometimes not having them around to confide in. I miss them, I think about them, but I can’t take that initial action to let them back in my life.
It’s not like they are beating down my door trying or anything, they are just as culpable in this as anyone else. They don’t call, write, or communicate with me in any way. They sold their house in Denver and moved to Nevada and didn’t even bother to tell me. I found out through an old family friend on the day they were leaving. Was that supposed to be my chance to swallow my pride and show up on their doorstep to say goodbye?
We are all too stubborn to put whatever it is that is splitting us apart behind us. My reason for staying away in the first place was purely selfish. I grew tired of the constant drunken bickering around the table. Political arguments, gossiping about family and friends, lamenting the crappy lives we lead. I felt stuck in a rut.
All of the negativity surrounding our family was just too much. I wanted to start my own life, free of their parental expectations of what they had hoped I would become. I wanted to show them that I could live a successful life on my own without their help. Bottom line is: I didn’t like my life very much when I was spending so much time with my parents and my sisters. I leaned on them when I needed dinner, or I was too broke to go to the bar and get a beer,I knew there was always one waiting for me at Mom & Dad’s house.
I always felt like this black sheep basket case who nobody thought was mentally stable enough to get through life on his own. I wanted to be free of that feeling of being beholden to my family. I didn’t want to feel like I owed anyone anything. They are my parents so I suppose I will always owe them gratitude for deciding to have me instead of aborting me. I am thankful for the home they provided me as a child, the lavish Christmas gifts, the birthday parties at Skate City, the ski trips to Vail, the little loans here and there, they bought me my first computer and I did not want for much growing up. They were good parents, they had their flaws, but they loved me unconditionally. I was their first-born.
They did all that but they also struggled to understand me. I’m a bit of an enigma. I might make you super proud one day and completely let you down the next. I was born cross-eyed which gives me an unfriendly disposition in general, a trait honed by the treatment I received from my peers for being different. I am the first born of three children, my sisters Jenelle and Elizabeth are both beautiful girls with perfectly straight eyes. Jenelle grew up defending me to her friends, she was a popular kid and I was a nerd. I was subject to ridicule and abuse on a daily basis. I think it must have made me mental, because for every good thing I’ve done in my life, I can give you an example of bad thing that I did to destroy any of the good that I had accomplished. I am a self-defeatist through and through. I can tear my life down to zero in the blink of an eye.
I wish there could be an inspirational ending to this post. I wish I could say that I am in the process of working it out between us, but I just don’t see an end in sight right now. The answer is simple right? Suck it up, swallow your pride and call your mom. I know the answer and the simplicity of it, but I still refuse to budge, and so do they. I fear that the next time I see my parents it will be at a funeral, and I ask myself, would I even go to that? This is my daily struggle, the painful absence of mother and father and family. I hope that they keep tabs on me, I hope that they are proud of me. Because even though I am so angry and hurt by everything we have been through and are currently going through, I still have this desire to please them. I’m halfway done with college, I’m experiencing success as a photographer, chasing down the dream of doing something I love for a living, regardless of the paycheck.
My parents taught me to stand up for myself. They raised me to be polite and treat women with respect. To work hard and never give up. I’m angry with them, I’m confused by the state of our relationship and hurt by the absence of any communication at all. I hold onto this grudge as they do. I hold onto it with a death grip, our failed family, split apart and scattered across America. I continue living without them, getting further away every single day. I feel their absence, it is the empty place in my heart, the lump I get in my throat remembering fond moments, the butterflies I get in my stomach when I see someone who reminds me of them. They are with me everyday, they literally created me, so I can never be without them. They ARE me. I love them, I miss them, and I begrudgingly carry on without them, selfishly waiting for them to make the first move.