Kevin Dunn lays it down, Winchester Mass, June 2012
The sweetest version of the sweetest song of all time, Velvet Underground live in 1969
I have an old old friend named Vito Gesualdi, he taught me how to joke and how to learn to smoke. He loved video games, every name of every system tattoed on his brain. From Game and Watch to Sega Dreamcast to Virtual boy to Gensis CD… I wondered about him for a long time, wondered what he saw when he hit the buttons and watched jump man jump…
Then he asked me to help film this video about a Japanese Style Arcade, it was dark and strange in Arcade Infinty and I didn’t understand what I saw there. Then I came back to film the closing ceremonies (you see they were going out of business) and we interviewed dozens of men just like us, men who were lost and found not at the pound but at the base of a DDR machine, or Street Fighting cabinet. Listening to their stories was profoundly humbling to me. I don’t question Vito Gesualdi anymore, cause when some one shows you their scars and then their muscle you don’t put them down, you hug them close and say, I’m glad you finally got through that kill screen you were stuck in, now sit down, have a Sapporo and tell me all about it.
Taken with permission from her blog http://maria-kazvan.blogspot.com/
This Mornings Email
“6 months after Romney is elected the Yankee nuclear facility will melt down and giant mutants will try and hit on normal sized chicks all the way from Maine to Greenwich Connecticut, I have the pictures I can PROVE IT”
Statement from [REDACTED] a Mental Patient in the care of Dr. Ticlea, Cooley Dickinson Hospital, 6/17/2012
So there I was, a satisfied photographer, happy just to snap away day in day out, then this picture happened. I was at an art party in an industrial section of Allston, she was one of the first people I saw and I tripped over myself on the short walk across the room to talk to her. People ask me what I’m looking for when I go out, pretty much any and everything but women like this just jump in the boat sometimes. Looking at the picture later I tried to figure out what made it so exciting. Obviously she is beautiful and she’s dressed to the nines, the painting looking down suspiciously at her drinking is great… how could I shoot more pictures like this one? When do women dress to impress and drink in mixed company?
I used to have a hard time photographing women my age… wait scratch that I used to be intimidated by women my age. I was recently going through old work with a gallery owner and he said “Where are all the ladies Ed… Hmm?” He basically questioned my manhood based on the ratio of hot chicks to bums in my college portfolio. Back then I could photograph homeless dudes and older women and policemen and dogs and such but something about admitting I wanted to photograph young women because they attracted me was too much. I used to blame the media (see hot chicks my second post ever) but I think I was just afraid of being rejected, if only for a picture. Now I’m a grown man and beautiful women in all there forms is all I want to expose on film it seems. Well you know where the beautiful women are? Out at night dressed their best looking to talk to somebody, anybody, even me Eddy Pula couldn’t be Coola photographer dude!
So if you read “a complimentary life” you know I got permission to shoot in a bar named Hugo’s. I shot there for about four Saturdays to great effect, fun times and good pictures. One Saturday night I was turned away and told to meet with the manager, Dave, the man who gave me permission in the first place. The next Monday I showed up with all my prints and all sorts of ideas but it turned out the owner of the bar who I never met had had enough of me and my camera. The manager and I held a bit of an Irish wake for the time I photographed there. He seemed honestly bummed when he told me the news, I tried to put a good face on it while I sipped my whiskey at one in the afternoon and showed him my portfolio and cracked jokes, but there’s something heart breaking when the men with all the paper work, who have never met you or seen your pictures think that it’s all just more trouble than it’s worth. I understand where he was coming from, this mysterious ‘owner’ has a business to run and insurance and frivolous law suits and such, but it still hurts a bit. The biggest irony about all these “No photography, insurance blah blah blah…” arguments is that everyone is a photographer now. Every single person under the age of 30 is constantly documenting their drunken antics and instagramming them, my camera is just more obvious.
No worries though! You know what Martin Parr said about getting thrown out of businesses? “I just go to the one next door” So I turned around and shot a rave. Those ravers understand the web 2.0 photography branding machine like the back of their hands! The revelers themselves adorn themselves like primitives readying themselves for the spring renewal festival; they demand to be admired/photographed. The promoters want awesome pictures of beautiful people having a great time because that’s all anyone wants from a club promoter, and the owners of these establishments? I don’t think they care what happens in the barely renovated factory spaces in run down mill towns.
I was honestly a little scared to go. I usually am when I go to a different type of place, I know how to photograph people on the street stone drunk and half blind, a dark laser filled crowded rave is different than the street. However this rave was the easiest thing to photograph in the world. Everyone was mighty friendly and kind to this rave virgin, and I’m quick enough on the draw to focus by jiggling lasers and glowsticks. Ravers are also the best subjects, there is already a huge infrastructure in place to disseminate and tag thousands of club pictures, I made them wait longer than the digi kids do but they were so grateful for the pictures it made me want to quit my day job (unemployed artist) and run away to join the drum n’ bass circus, all they are missing is a day glow elephant and some tight rope walkers.
Of course raves aren’t the only place filled with people raring to have a good time, and have said good time plastered all over the internet. Snowzees is an honest to god juke joint in Sunderland Mass. I’ve only photographed there once but they have an amazing mix of people there. Old polack farmers, college kids, local barflies and now photographers! I walked in and the dj was spinning techno flavored top 40 while the old guy blues band was tuning up and jamming along with Katy Perry E.T. garbage. The owner/book-maker/janitor/lead-guitarist Mark Snowzees makes a point of dragging up all the regulars and shaming/honoring them between songs and getting people to move to country western, blues and the old Motown songs they crank out with surprising skill. I myself danced with a white haired lady to Do You Love Me (now that I can dance) and every roll of film came flying out of my bag and rolled under tables and chairs. After our dance I thanked her and was quickly approached by 4 different people holding my escaped film.
Finally a whole different kind of scene was brewing in Cambridge, a group of local musicians/boston-playboys set up a night of folk music at the (in)famous Out of the Blue Gallery. I don’t care what anybody says it’s an interesting space in a great part of town, and just as an aside, everything you’ve ever heard about that place is true. Me and Jeremiah Burbank (my best-friend/worst-enemy/documentary-maker-guy) went to make a music video. Soon it turned into a party/sing-a-long/drunken-good-time just for me to photograph. The pictures are good out there during the dark times after sunset. I just need 10 rolls of film and a large black coffee to get me through the night. Wake up; spend 12 hours in a dark room, then out again to talk pretty girl into photographs. What a tough life a live as a semi itineret street snapper. I want to tell all the single ladies, put your hands up, up in the club, (good now wait for my flash to recycle and please go about your business) cause I like it and I want to make a picture of it. Yeah I like it and I want to make a picture of it. Don’t be mad cause I want to document it. Cause I like you and I want to make a picture of it.
Check out the music video, chock full of my pictures! Credits: Band- Bastard Sons, Videography: Jeremiah Burbank, Photgraphy: Eddy Pula, Shot on location at Out of the Blue Gallery in front of a live studio audience!!!
Oh man.. There is only so much I can say (literally I lost my voice from talking all night like a amphetamine freak and smoking rolled cigarettes) but my work is really starting to come together, and people are starting to notice. I’m not just getting death threats any more, I’m getting the opposite, life compliments? I’m thinking about how my work is changing because the subjects are starting to see them and we are having a dialog, some times good sometimes bad. Its very interesting. Here’s an email I received from one mother
“You took some pictures of my kids the other day at Puffers Pond. I would be interested in seeing how they came out. Also I’d appreciate seeing any images before you use them on your blog/site.
I like your black and white work. – the photos of the people waiting for the parade are great.”
This is exactly what I wanted to happen with my ‘Threat Level Zero’ post. She totally understands and I feel great about it. Maybe this is what my procedure should be with kids shots, the only problem is that only 1 in a 100 people ever email me after I take their picture. Hmm, its something I can work on. On a side note the pictures of her kids are photographically rubbish (all my fault) and I have no intention of putting them on the internet. So it worked out great for her, they are pictures ‘only a mother could love’.
Picture by Sam Quinn
I was working my (and Jairs) ass off last weekend, after loading up on Friedlander’s big yellow book and 20 rolls of tri-x I stayed out all night Thursday taking pictures
On a technical note the slow speeds on the Mamiya camera I’m working with are VERY SLOW, that’s why I’m getting all these ‘spirit photographs’ but for these ones I kind of like it. We got up early on Friday to hang at the Otherside Cafe and because my hands are useless for anything but changing f-stops, Jair hung the show in record time.
After that I went to park street. Its been far too long since I’ve haunted downtown crossing, I used to prowl it a couple times a week and I get nostalgic. Oh man I’m getting old, but not this old.
I met a bunch of ‘The street photographers’ there, the same ones who were hunting preteen girls in packs with their fancy vaguely Aryan equipment. Click between the (((()))) to watch the video, I can’t make links work right DAMN YOU WORDPRESS
It was funny, I never was really part of their club, but I miss those guys… I’m glad some one is down there ‘harassing’ the people of Boston. I hope ‘King Leica’ sees his portrait, I think he would like it, its funny, I’ve photographed him before and he was always scowling. Maybe he was happy to see me.
The Otherside was great, good friends, decent nachos and great photography. I had to duck out too soon and drive back to western mass and SLEEP, but I’ll be back Other Side. I need to have a pretty girl notice that I’m the man from the picture and buy me a beer.
If you read ‘the world is wonderous’ you know I got permission to shoot in a bar called Hugo’s, I almost didn’t go I was so tired, but I’m happy I did. Drunk people are great material and this leads me to another ethical quandary. Arbus shot developmentally disabled people acting like retards and made haunting work. Pula shot college kids after too many pabsts and made funny ass pictures. I don’t know if it all adds up. Take a look at this pair of pictures. (You really got to click on them to view the large)
The girl in the center changes from deranged to cutesy in 10 seconds flat, both are a honest depiction of events and neither of them is what she really looks like. I hope she would understand why the first one is the better photograph, its the look of shock on the blonde to the rights face to whatever conversation she and black hair are having that frames the seizure like expression of the center girl. I’ll have a long post about the interviews I’ve been doing with all sorts of portrait photographers about how they sleep at night, but for now lets all sit back and laugh at the drunken antics.
So I had an awesome Tuesday. I have a friend of a friend who works at the Mead Art museum and owns a boa constrictor. My befuddled brain put two and two together and came up with an idea for a picture of her with her snake in front of an oil painting. First problem, the Mead doesn’t allow any photography, old Eddy would have let that stop him, but Tuesdays Eddy had some other tricks up his sleeve. I went into several galleries in the area and said “Hello, I got a strange question to ask you, would you mind if I brought in a snake and started to infringe on various copy-written art works?” The reactions ranged from laughing me out the door, to outright snake phobia. The head librarian at the Amherst Library (they have a gallery and a huge oil painting of our town founder Lord Jeff) hissed through a forced smile, that the snake in question would probably constrict and eat all the children who came in for story time.
I kept at it anyways, and the Michelson Gallery in Northampton (the same gallery who represents Leonard Nimoy, that’s right SPOCK) thought it over and decided that they’d let me do it next week for 40 bucks. Hell Yeah!
I went back to my truck to get some more film when I spotted this guy in front of Lucky’s tattoo shop. I took a couple pictures and I said “Thanks man, but what I really want to do is take a picture of somebody getting inked” to which he replied “Come on in, I’m in the middle of tattooing this dude right now” Fuck YEAH! I thought and with that win to my name I decided to double down.
So I hit up a couple bars and after several no’s, David the owner of Hugo’s (also in Noho) said “Sure what the hell.” So I’m gonna shoot there this Saturday, come on down to get your portrait made, you can buy me a drink as payment.
“That picture is not for publication and you need to remove it from your web site or else you HAVE just comitted your suicide !!!! Ever hear of the Diablos !!!!!! Remove that picture and I suggest you discard any negatives NOW”
I received this email the other day from one of the people I photographed at the Holyoke St Patrick’s Day parade, from what I remember they agreed to have their picture taken, it was a pleasant exchange and ended in me giving them my business card. This begs several questions. What went wrong? Who are the Diablos? What the hell should I do?
I forwarded this email to a bunch of people, first as a lark, then more seriously as the fears set in. As usually happens, my initial anger was softened when I started to piece everything together.
It was a picture in conjunction with some pretty terrible writing that made this person angry, I realized that the picture on its own might come off weird, but it was my over enthusiastic hyperbolic caption that brought the Diablos (a biker gang out of Westfield whose members have been arrested for drug trafficking) into the discussion. Let me quote the most offensive line of my prose
“Her disaffected stare repeating the dead plastic smile of her stuffed animal, the decapitated parents reinforcing her alienation from the nuclear family”
I talked to a couple parents who were sympathetic to my cause, but they all said that the idea of you’re child being taken from you (metaphorically through photography) and then injured (ditto) through words could make anybody murderously angry. When I reread my comment through their eyes I realized I sounded like a raving lunatic, some one who just might deserves a visit from the Diablos. So I took down the comment. Looking at it with fresh eyes changes the whole meaning of the photograph.
What was I trying to say with my super pompous, dark reading of the picture, was that a photograph shares only a tangential connection with the reality ‘recorded’ in front of the camera. I was showing off how I could take something as wholesome as a family on a Sunday stroll and make it weird and dark. I then took this somewhat unsettling image and jumped off the deep end with my words, in a way that frightened my once willing subject into anger. I want to say for the record that I apologize for that, it was bone headed and wrong of me, and my sister/editor wants to point out that I didn’t run it past her and that she would have nipped it in the bud (so really it should be her you’re angry with)
Now I’m a guy who sees the humor in everything, and whats really funny is both my accuser and I are guilty of the same thing, being too hyperbolic, bursting through the line between legitimate discourse and outright nastiness. I stand by the picture 100%, but I actually have to thank this person for opening my eyes to an important conundrum.
The material for my art is living breathing human beings with feelings. I believe that as an artist I have the right to use them for whatever purpose I’m after. The sculptor doesn’t care what the clay thinks when he is transforming it into an expression of his psyche. Unfortunately my material has turned around to bite me in the ass. So what should I do? If I try and censure myself into only finding positive things to say with my art, I worry it might lose whatever power it has and die. However I can never lose sight of the fact that these are people so decent and trusting that they let a fat sweaty bald stranger into their lives, if only for a moment, to make his art that they will never profit from. Maybe I’ve gotten so comfortable in the street that I forgot that the little image in my camera is a person just like me.
The only reason any of this happened is that I’m trying to promote myself, for years the images lived on a semi private photo stream, where I could be sure that the subjects would never find themselves and only other photographers, who would understand the stupid jokes, would see them. Of course as I discussed in the previous post (You Down with OPC) this was never really the case, but once I started handing out business cards that linked to this blog, I was opening up a can of worms that I am still struggling with.
I took part in the first ever All Visual Boston slide show event, which was headlined by the Great (if underrated) Bill Burke. I finally worked up the nerve to talk to him right before he went on, and I asked him a bunch of dorky pointless questions about how awesome it must have been to be shooting free Polaroid neg/pos film. What I really should have asked, in retrospect, is what are his feelings about portrait ethics. The big E word makes me uncomfortable, I feel that real photographers just go for the picture, while smart aleck pusses sit around on the sidelines clucking amongst themselves. Bill Burke’s portraits can be brutal, and he doesn’t shy away from a little editorializing in the captions either.
Intellectual property stolen from Bill Burke
What would make his opinion on ‘ethics’ so interesting is that he was using Pos/Neg instant film, so his subject knew exactly how they were being portrayed (admittedly after the deed was done) how did this change his interaction with his subjects and his photography. Hopefully I’ll run into him someday and be able to get some answers. In the meantime I’ll have to figure it out on my own.
This blog is for you (you being friends, strangers, and my subjects) but more importantly its a place for me to try and solidify my ideas about art making by writing down all the dumb ideas I have running through my brain, so I’ll make a deal with you. I’ll agree to look both ways before crossing the street from now on, if you agree to think twice before getting the Diablos involved. Deal?