Cracked window in Valentine, Texas-Jan. 9, 2009
There I am, tooling through the vast landscape of West Texas, working for an English language newspaper working out of Abu Dubai, Arab Emirates. Don’t ask. I’m not sure I understand the assignment. Something about Bush returning to Texas and illustrating what two brothers, who were doing a road trip, saw (except, according to my editor, they were really bad photographers). What that has to do with West Texas, I can’t figure.
But, hey,’ta bien, mon. I’m a “Call Boy,” call me and I do your thing for you, pleasure and satisfaction guaranteed.
So I’m toolin’ and groovin’, this is like playing an old tape from my past life, the one I’ve lived, on the road, doing photojournalism, out here, on the border. Always felt like I was hiding and the world was hiding from me.
It occurs to me, what am I gonna find that’s new?
I have my shot list: a hotel in Marfa, find something to do with James Dean (who filmed Giant there), shoot the wide open spaces and give a feel for its emptiness, go to the McDonald Observatory and shoot the chrome dome, etc. I have an equally long list telling me what not to shoot because the newspaper is published in a Muslim country. “No no,” is Muslim women, government buildings, bottom of feet, pigs, people using drugs, alcohol consumption (if I had a little more time to do this gig that might be a problem), off color language or graffiti (the local ranchers don’t like that either) and on and on.
OK. Cool. It’s a gig. I can do that.
I’ve always used my assignments as a context for finding my own stuff, my own thing…for finding me. I do the work of the Man and the Man helps me to to do mine.
I’m, wondering if I can find anything, on this road I’ve traveled for decades, for me, that’s new or interesting. Been here. Done this. Many times.
I stop at this car. Looks like a Ford, 1930s. I’ve driven by it before but never stopped. Never needed to. Never been in such need of some kind of clue why photography is relevant anymore in an age of video and web and daily declarations about the demise of the “print media,” that I have worked in all these decades. I’ve been feeling all cracked up, all the more because I’ve been teaching photojournalism at a university and I’m not sure what to tell the kids anymore. Go ahead? Do it anyway? They’re paying 10 grand a year, working two jobs and building up a debt in the five figures but I’m supposed to tell them to do the thing they love for the love of it?
Yeah, I guess that’s exactly what I tell them. It’s a place where magic exists and your brain can’t do it and your heart can only feel it. It’s a place -photography- that’s all about you, and what other self centered addiction actually sends love or beauty or truth back at ya? Yeah, ya do it because it feels good after you work hard. It’s not theory. It’s not academic. If it is it sucks. Do it, enjoy it, get little valentines out of it and spread the vibe.
Ach, Enough. Can’t stand this thinking anymore. I do it all the time now. That’s part of my new job, teaching, it seems. Worry about everything. Forget it. Somewhere in there I forgot about my old job: doing. Just doing…brain on low wattage.
I start paying attention to this wreck of hulk of a car. I shoot. I grind. I start to sweat. I keep at it. Snap, click, twist, grunt, bend, talk to myself like a friend, make little ballet steps -an inch makes all the difference- I climb and I crawl and what I find is the re-discovery that photography isn’t coming out of the head or even the heart: it comes from the doing of it. It comes from the motion and the action. It’s sex and it’s magic alchemy and joy. Nothing less…and nothing more, really.
That simple. ‘ta bien.
Images come from the doing of them and there is no other way (at least none that interests me).
I finish my shoot and move on. I got a job to do. Down the road. The Man’s work (in this case the Wo-man’s). I am on the clock here and have to get an area that is about 500 square miles covered in one day.
I can do it.
I’m feeling a lot less cracked today.