May 17, 2017 – The Warehouse District

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I can guarantee you that I’ve published this image before – probably on this website – but I’m too lazy to search around and confirm it. Regardless, this is one of my favorite images from that period of my life. I had recently been laid off, and my girlfriend left me for one of my other good friends – a bass player in a local band – and I was pretty much the definition of ‘down and out.’

Pretty melodramatic in hindsight, but I was living in a renovated garage with no air conditioning or heat – the place was a cinder-block dump, maybe four hundred square feet with termites and concrete floors and a bathroom smaller than a closet. The monsoon was sticky and hot, and I remember nights huddled in the shack with friends, hand-rolling cigarettes and listening to music, playing guitar, passing the time with idle conversation and cheep beer. I didn’t have much, but I didn’t need much. It wasn’t a bad time, looking back – it was just difficult, and new. A few romantic flings, a minimal approach to living, few responsibilities – I made it through.

I used to ride my bike, every day, to Raging Sage, a coffee house a couple miles down the road. I probably read two books a week during that period of unemployment. I always kept my camera with me, too. I rode all around the city looking for interesting things to photograph. South Euclid Avenue was filled with interesting textures, buildings, warehouses, graffiti, and other industrial ephemera. And this is one of my favorite images from that period, right along the railroad.

Sometimes having nothing – or next to nothing – can be the most liberating thing in the world. I had a couple of months where I didn’t have to answer to anybody. Sure, I was applying for work and trying to get back into the market, but I had a lot of extra time, and it was extra time that I had never experience before in my entire life. I read books and rode my bike, entertained guests at my little casita, and enjoyed the company of a few lovely women. Looking back, it’s one of the more romantic periods of my life, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

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May 13, 2017 – Tucson Rail-yard

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I have published various iterations of this image. I took a lot of pictures that day, my feet crunching through the stones alone the railroad tracks. In this particular section in downtown Tucson, the rail-line runs behind warehouses and various artist spaces. I remember going out back during a show I was performing in at a place called, at the time, The Space. It was a fashion and music showcase, and I was wearing these amazing custom-made pantaloons and a painted-on curly mustache for a little performance piece.

Booze was flowing, and we were able to override the city ordinance by accepting donations, rather than accepting cash, for liquor. Art was on the walls and the music was loud, and I was half-clothed, wandering around without my glasses, pretty-well out of my mind. Halogen track lights on red brick and a clutch of people dancing and laughing. We’d congregate on the back stoop, a small group of us, on a rickety wooden platform with three precarious steps down to the graveled ground, just ten feet from the rail line. I remember hunkering down, red wine in a plastic cup, smoking a cigarette, as the train whooshed by, drowning-out our conversation.

Ten years later, I realize that these are the stories I’ll be telling to younger people. You know, “when I was in college” or “when I was your age” type of stories. Speaking about when times were more innocent, when the rules were more relaxed, when we got away with murder and still can’t believe it. I think this happens with every generation. I’m glad I was wild and reckless and had a memorable night in a strange performance space along Congress Avenue, with a collective of creative and free spirits, huddled against the darkness, in this tiny little corner of the cosmos.

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January 23, 2017 – Boxcar

boxcar-post

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There are lots of clichés to either avoid or embrace when developing one’s own photographic style. Portraits with the horizontal bands of light from window blinds raking across the subjects face, looking for garbage on the ground and trying to find the ‘beauty’ in it, and then of course there’s always graffiti. And this is just to name a  few.

I guess my weakness is graffiti. Almost like compiling a mix tape, photographing graffiti is like appropriating somebody else’s art in order to express yourself. Knowing that it’s a common subject in college photography classes, I was always keen to try and document graffiti in a way that combined the tagger’s artistic sensibilities with my own. Not entirely sure how successful I’ve been – it’s always a challenge, evaluating your own work – but I’m quite fond of how this image turned out.

On the south side of Tucson, where faded murals and rusted boxcars sit under the desert sun, I always know where to go to find interesting textures to photograph. I hope you enjoy today’s picture of the day.

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February 12 – Suicide Alley

02-12 Suicide Alley post

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In October a train hits and kills a pedestrian around 7am. Officials investigate the incident as a suicide.

In November, a man kneels down in front of a train. The conductor tells police the man walked out of the bushes near the tracks and bent down to place something on the tracks. He then knelt down, facing away from the oncoming train. A note is found on the body, along with a single dollar bill. The note says goodbye to a friend and requests that whoever should find the note to please deliver the dollar, a debt, to the mentioned friend.

In December a man steps in front of a train and remains there until he is crushed. Witnesses tell police that the man intentionally stood in front of the train; the engineer sounded his whistle and flashed his lights and was unable to stop before killing the man.

Sixteen years ago, the Tucson Citizen published an article about railroad deaths after a series of tragic incidents, accidents and acts of suicide. Although the number of railroad suicides isn’t known, they’re not uncommon. The article included an interview with Dan Hicks, a veteran railroad conductor who has worked in the Tucson area.

“Hicks, 48, said he’s experienced the trauma of rail accidents several times,” the article reads. “Engine’s he’s operated have hit trucks, cars, and in one horrifying instances, a drunken woman who had been beaten and left on the tracks.”

Today’s photograph – two exposures made with my handy-dandy Fujica Half – shows an area south of downtown Tucson. Around the time these two images were made, I met an engineer at Hotel Congress. I was sipping a beer and waiting for some food at the lobby restaurant, The Cup Café. He was dating one of the women who worked there, a woman I’d known for a little while. He told me about the number of accidents he’d witnessed, and the number of suicides. He also talked about a stretch of train tracks nearby that area rail-workers referred to as “suicide alley,” where a cluster of deaths had occurred. He told me how certain determined people would arrange their bodies on the ground, laying their necks directly on the track.

I’d recently been walking around that very stretch of tracks. Taking photographs was actually a challenge while I was studying photography – an irony I can’t even begin to describe – and it was an activity usually undertaken on the weekends. I’d never considered that suicide by train was a problem in this shiny new modern world. I remember thinking I hadn’t heard anybody talking about it. I hadn’t heard anything on the news.

But then – I’d  pretty much been living in the basement of the Theater Arts Building (where the photo lab was), so how would I know? For the past several months that’s the only place anybody could ever find me. I ate there, worked there as an employee and worked there as a student. Hell, I had a sleeping bag and pillow, a hot plate and a wet-bar (rum, coke, tonic water, and whiskey) in my private, closet-sized darkroom in the bowels of that institution. I only ever emerged to meet my girlfriend downtown for food and drink, or to fetch a pack of cigarettes from the 7Eleven across the street.

It shook me to think about what it must feel like, to be that determined to end one’s own life. It shakes me still.
I can’t look at these photos without thinking about it.

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