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Black & White Street Photography

Wordless Wednesday

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Friends and Enemies

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In response to today’s Daily Prompt:

Witness Protection

When you do something scary or stressful — bungee jumping, public speaking, etc. — do you prefer to be surrounded by friends or by strangers? Why?

Personally, I’d rather have my friends around in uncertain situations. Someone to give you that knowing glance when you are struggling. To provide support when everything might not be going well. A friend in the crowd. 

The scariest situations I’ve found myself in I’ve experienced both ways. I had a 7 1/2 month stay in the Denver County Jail back in 2001. I didn’t start out with any friends in that situation. I’ve also been in combat zones with fellow Marines, surrounded by my brothers in arms. Both situations were scary as hell.

When surrounded by strangers I have found that if all of you are in the same boat you have nothing to lose by supporting each other. In the Marines we began boot camp as complete strangers but we ultimately learned to pull together in order to overcome extreme adversity on a daily basis. I still talk to the Marines I served with to this day, but there was a time when we were all strangers, wet behind the ears, most of us broke, young and dumb, the adventurous sort that can’t afford to go to college. I only spent four years in the Marines, but the friendships I made there have stood the test of time. Nearly 20 years later we still look to each other for moral support and guidance. 

In jail it’s a little bit more shady but the same approach works wonders. It’s easier for a room full of strangers to be able to relate to each other because none of us really know each other. So we are all in the same boat. Going to court appearances, shackled to each other at the wrists and ankles. There is no dignity to be found in the county jail. There is no privacy, you eat together, sleep together, shit together and suffer together.

There are unwritten rules that you need to learn fast or else you will find yourself a social outcast in a real hurry. My first full day in my squad bay (pod) I tried to take a shower while another guy was in there. There were two shower heads on opposite sides of each other, and every gym in every high school I’ve ever been in, guys showered at the same time. So I walked in there and stripped off my towel and started taking a shower.

The dude on the other spiget wasn’t too pleased with this, and he stormed out of the shower mad dogging me the whole time. I had to find a friendly face I could talk to to find out why this guy was so pissed off. It turns out that in this squad bay, the showering is done one at a time. Lesson learned. 

During my time there I made many friends and very few enemies. Of course there were a couple of jerks that I was forced to stand up to, but my ability to get along with others always made it easier. In the real world I’m anti-social but in extreme situations I find a way to do what’s necessary to survive. Knowing how to make more friends than enemies is a great start. It’s nice to know that a few people have your back.

Looking at it from my current perspective as a college student I prefer presenting in front of people I know. I don’t really know them per say, but we’ve been in class together for a few months and there isn’t a single one of us that gets to get out of it if we want to pass the class. I still get awkward and nervous but I know I can count on my little clique within the classroom.I look to them for encouragement.

I’ve been in classes before where a person might be giving a bad presentation, one where it is obvious that this person might not pass the class, and someone in the crowd starts peppering her with really intense questions, knowing they don’t know the answer. I witnessed one man badger a poor girl with questions just to watch her squirm and go through the embarrassment of not knowing. The one thing I have the most trouble understanding in life, the capacity of us humans to be cruel to each other. The worst part is having to accept that you cannot change it, and you have to carry on knowing the problem will never go away. 

I had to help that girl a lot in class, and after watching her go through that I admired her ability to shake it off and not let it destroy her. It was obvious she had already moved on from it or just didn’t know or just didn’t care. My skin was hot from watching it, but she was entirely calm as far as I could tell. I clapped loudly and shouted a compliment her way when she was finished. She made the best of it and pulled through. Maybe her presentation wasn’t an A+ performance, but her composure in a tough situation was commendable.

So I prefer friends in scary situations. I’ll be your friend too if you need me. If someone is picking on you I got your back, we might not win but at least we’ll go down together standing up for what’s right. Kindness, compassion, and good will towards all. The “Do the Right Thing” mentality. 










Sent from my iPhone

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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.

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Self-Reflection

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I am a Grudge Monster

Penny, 4 yrs. old.

My daughter Penelope gets excited at the mall. She has never met my Mom or my Dad.

 

Do you hold grudges or do you believe in forgive and forget?

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.

 

 

 

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graffiti letters

a public art gallery

admission is free

 

 

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Letters

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Weekly Photo Challenge: On Top

On top of the world
looking down at the sunrise
rocky mountain high

It can be a feeling, a perspective, or a physical location — share a photo that says “On Top.”

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Weekly Photo Challenge: On Top

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M is for Maizy

 

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The Daily Prompt: Take a Chance on Me

What’s the biggest chance you ever took? Did it work out? Do tell!

I was sitting in my cubicle on an unspectacular day preparing to write an email to a co-worker. Her name started with the letter M, so I typed M into the search bar on my e-mail interface and the first name that popped up was Maizy Faithfull. I hadn’t thought of that name in a couple of years. I remembered she was kind and that I broke things off with her after a very short time.

I was in the middle of a “conscious uncoupling” with my girlfriend at the time. The level of insanity that my previous relationship reached was epic in its proportions, and I wasn’t sure the timing was right to dive into another relationship right away. I needed to be unattached, and for two years that is exactly what I did. I detached myself from reality.

Each morning getting up and riding the bus to work, suffering through the 8 hour day until the next time I could plop down on my couch, click on the giant TV and immerse myself in a virtual world of cynicism and death. I guess I was making up for all the times I couldn’t afford the newest and latest thing. I was more interested in advancing my Gamerscore on Xbox live then I was on advancing in my career. I was lonely, guilty, slovenly, drunk all the time, sick all the time, the hangovers were lasting for days instead of hours. I thought I was happy but looking back I realize now that I was the most miserable I had ever been.

I thought to myself that I should go ahead and write her a little note. We seemed to hit it off when we dated briefly a couple of years earlier. I was intrigued by the possibility of re-connecting with her. So I typed up a quick note, and I took the chance and hit send. I thought she might get really offended or just ignore me. I figured if that was the worst thing that could happen by sending that email, then I was willing to take the chance that she might like me enough to give me another chance.

I had my own place, a stable government job, and I was single. I was single just long enough to come to the realization that I might be single for the rest of my life. I didn’t see myself as dating material. I was caught up in that tangled web of low self-esteem, constantly preoccupied with what I imagined that everyone else must think of me. I didn’t have the courage to actively pursue a woman in public, and to be honest, I was wary of getting seriously involved with any other woman for the rest of my life.

In the two years prior to Maizy coming back into my life, I had two blind dates, and two really weird and awkward one-night stands, none of which were related. I remember both blind dates were awful. I just wasn’t ready. It wasn’t their fault. I just would get out on the dates and they would start asking me all the questions. What do you do? Why don’t you have your license? Why don’t you look at me when you talk?

I was just too socially awkward. Who in their right mind would want to sign on for that? Who would willingly date a cross-eyed guy with no car and a customer service job in a phone center? I don’t have the good looks to make up for those deficiencies. I went into those dates already defeated and that’s why they didn’t work out.

It takes a very understanding person to date someone with a physical deformity. That is a huge initial obstacle to overcome. Casual dating doesn’t work for me. It has to be a happy accident. I don’t have any official numbers to back this up, but I’m willing to bet that there are more people who would rather choose a mate with two straight eyes then one that was cross-eyed. So I live with this self-imposed stigma that being cross-eyed somehow makes me less of a human and therefore undeserving of true love.

Meeting Maizy for the second time really turned my life around. After several weeks of sending emails and chatting over the phone she invited me to her loft for dinner. I remember riding the train across town during rush hour, enjoying the warm sun through the window, savoring the last brief moment of relaxation before I would finally come to face to face with the girl I had been talking to for days. I arrived at Union Station and couldn’t find her anywhere. I walked the terminal twice before giving up and heading back to the train feeling dejected.

Just as I was opening the door to leave, there she was. She looked wonderful, and held my gaze with her eyes. She gave me a hug and held my hand on the walk back to her place. She put me instantly at ease, and I didn’t get that feeling of judgment from her. She was just a beautiful, kind and caring gal that was just my age and mutually single.

Typing that M on the keyboard changed everything. We made a life together. She was a recent cancer survivor and she told me so that first night. She just got a dog the day before. He ate my glasses while I was there. I mean literally ate them, chewed the lenses in right in half. I didn’t even know that was possible.

That night was 6 years ago this July. Once we started dating we barely ever left each other’s side. Now we share a home and a family. Our daughter Penelope was born on April 16th, 2010. She just turned four years old. I left my job and stayed home to raise our daughter. I started college to pursue a degree in journalism.

Pushing the M that morning was the best thing I could have ever done to myself. It changed my entire outlook on life. I found a woman who encourages me to follow my dreams, who supports me and accepts me for who I am.  I don’t feel like less of a person when I’m around Maizy. I feel like I “have just as much of a right to be here as anyone else”, which is something that she patiently repeats to me every time I get worried about holding up traffic or taking up someone’s time.

Maybe e-mailing Maizy wasn’t the biggest chance I ever took, but it is the one decision I made in a time of really bone-headed decision making on my part that has brought me to this point. It’s the one choice that paid off and trumped all the other choices. In that 6 year time span I quit smoking, quit drinking, drastically altered my career path, and fathered a beautiful baby girl. I gained an inordinate amount of courage, confidence, and self-esteem at the urging of my strong, self-assured, beautiful, wonderful girlfriend. She reminded me it’s okay to follow your dreams when everybody else was telling me to “stay the course,” even though they knew I was miserable. It seems like everything I do since I’ve met Maizy has involved me stepping out of my comfort zone in order to achieve the next level of self-improvement that I aspire to. It’s hard to look at someone who beat cancer twice and tell them that you don’t have it in you to try a little harder.

Maizy inspires me with her strength and reminds to be compassionate. She isn’t content to just sit around and wait for life to pass her by. She wants to live and so do I. Meeting Maizy and falling in love with her made me want to be a better man. That is why I’m glad I went ahead and hit send on that e-mail. You never know what little thing will change your life completely.

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