This is Ruben Palma. He decided – after a series of miscommunications that are, ultimately, no single person’s fault – that he doesn’t much like me. I had endeared myself to a local performance troupe, but joblessness, poverty, and the threat of homelessness motivated me to focus my efforts on, well, not winding up homeless and starving. I don’t think that these folks realized that I was promoting them for free and that I was desperate for legitimate work, but they definitely felt burned when I up-and-vanished to spend time with individuals who could actually put food on my table.
I’ve always appreciated what these guys do, and I hold no ill-will personally.
But my experience, and this is a big one, has definitely been that photographers should be more than happy with published “credit” for their work, rather than a paycheck to actually feed themselves and pay their rent. This was a unique moment in my life, when I realized how thoroughly undervalued my craft really was. I literally had people abusing me on social media because I wasn’t in a position to work for free…because I was living on a friend’s couch, in abject poverty.
After Ruben had dismissed me from social media – after a torrent of unpleasant invective – I ran into him one time at a local night club. Rather than let things be completely awkward, he astonished me by walking straight up to me and addressing the elephant. It wasn’t so much an apology as a request to leave the past in the past – and that was enough for me. We shook hands and walked away from each other, back to our respective friends. I’m not sure what the guy’s up to these days, but I hope that things are going well for him.
For several years, while I was living in the borderlands of Southeastern Arizona, I made it a point to attend the annual Cochise College Pit Fire. The entire evening surrounds a main event, the lighting of the pit fire itself; it’s an ancient method of baking clay pottery in which the pottery is placed in a trench dug into the ground with a wood fire burning above it. The result is pottery covered in interesting patterns and colors.
The evening is peppered with various musical performances on several outdoor stages, dance performances, acrobatics, theater art, gourmet food supplied by the college’s culinary arts club, and other vendors. It’s free for anybody who wants to attend, and it is genuinely one of the more interesting (and little-known) events in this somewhat remote area of Cochise County, right along the Mexican border.
I wouldn’t even be able to tell you if today’s picture depicts a booked performance artist or if it’s just an enthusiastic attendee who decided to spin poi in the field where the pit fire’s lit. It doesn’t really matter – it illustrates the energy and creativity of the event.
If you live in southern Arizona and want to attend, all you need to do is mark your calendar. You can check out their website here.
A very healthy example of the ‘nouveau cirque’ movement includes a group here in Tucson called “Flam Chen,” a pyrotechnic theater company established in 1994. I was first exposed to them while making a documentary about a local piercing and tattoo organization while also assembling a thesis revolving around body-modification and Modern Primitive subculture.
In April 2010 the troupe performed at a locally famous tiki bar on Broadway, Kon Tiki (try the ‘scorpion bowl,’ guys – it’s serious). The torches in front of the establishment were lit for the first time in over twenty-five years and Flam Chen was the special guest to help commemorate the event.
Today’s image is of a woman named Aurelia Cohen – a musician, dancer, choreographer, and aerial-silk artist, just to name a simple fraction of her talents. Physically disciplined with undeniable stage presence, chances are good that people don’t forget if/when they’re lucky enough to see her perform.