Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

Dec 11 2017

Not an easy weekend

Another crazy weekend with this year’s Tiger Mountain Ramble coinciding with cold, wet weather. I headed over to Bobwundaye on Friday night to reunite with our dear friend Steve Gardner for some serious jamming, and we made the acquaintance of another fine musician who came along for the gig: Jett Edwards, also a long-term American ex-pat in Tokyo. Jett plays a mean bass, and has seemingly endless energy in front of a crowd while being quite laid-back in person. Jett, Katrina and I were talking during a break about expats in general, and he mentioned that he’d encountered westerners in Japan who seemed to have “gone native” to the extent that they refused to speak English to him, only stammering confusedly in Japanese when he tried to talk to them. “Would these individuals happen to all be white dudes?” I asked him, and he gave me a knowing look.

“Of course,” he said, adding that in his experience, Black people don’t go native, at least not in that fashion. I was surprised to hear it; I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone like that, and though I’ve gone through times when I avoided the company of westerners in general, particularly early on when I was studying Chinese, I’ve never gone to such extremes.

We played several sets, during which the thundering headache I’d had all day gradually subsided, but I felt a cold coming on, so I shared a cab with Cristina and Zach back to Xindian. I really should visit their new abode down there, it sounds very cool. Redman has apparently also secured a mountain lair…somewhere. I suppose he can’t be a very good spy if everyone knows where he lives. Oops, did I say “spy”? I meant “accountant”.

My cold was present and accounted for on Saturday, so I basically slept all day until it was time to head over to Tiger Mountain. I’d left in plenty of time to get there, but for some reason, after I exited Xiangshan Station, I could. not. find. a. cab. Several taxis drove by without stopping. One even stopped for a western couple standing not far away. I wondered if they too were heading to Tiger Mountain, and silently hoped they slipped in the mud and had costly dry-cleaning bills.

When I finally flagged down a cab, I told the driver about my difficulties. “Well, it’s no surprise,” he said, shrugging uncomfortably. “I mean, just look at you, dressed all in black, carrying a staff, standing on the corner there scowling at everyone…you looked like trouble. I wouldn’t blame anyone for electing to skip that fare for their own personal safety.” Well, at least he was honest; and I can’t find the lie.

The Tiger Mountain Ramble, which we’ve played every year since its inception, is always strange for me, centered around an abandoned temple into which some rather shifty local spirits have moved. It would be intimidating enough on its own, but fill it with hundreds of foreign devils, a technicolor stage truck, and several food stalls with rather expensive western foods, and it becomes surreal to say the least. The rain had stopped at least, though the ground will still muddy. I took some artsy mud shots with my phone. As one does.

Our show began after an excruciatingly long soundcheck. The sound people seemed to have little clue what was going on, and we eventually just said screw it, let’s start. Various instruments appeared and disappeared from the mix throughout the show, but the volume was painfully loud on stage. It’s a shame, because we all love playing gigs with our friends from Japan.

My ears and I all needed to rest after that, so I slipped out, luxuriating in the silence of the walk back down the mountain, though part of that silence was probably (hopefully) temporary deafness from the show.

As much as I wanted to rest on Sunday, I had to meet up with my photography students for class in the morning, followed by a trip out to Sanxia in the afternoon. We’d come up with a plan to take a bus from Ximen, and while that might have worked on paper, in practice it was rather trying. Though the light was nice, and there was a lot to shoot both on the bus and outside it along the way, the effort to remain standing on a crowded bus for over two hours as the driver stomped on his gas and brake pedals with the eagerness of a teenage Dance Dance Revolution aficionado was considerable. It was late afternoon by the time we staggered off the bus, and we headed over to the riverside for some peace. A small group of men were cooking under the bridge while another brought up some freshly caught fish for a meal.

We walked towards the main temple, which was packed with Pokemon-seeking zombies, providing a rather surreal foreground to the place, and then headed into the alleys. A few nice places have been built/renovated along the stream there, though a few pitiful remains of once-lovely structures remain. It’s a shame the owners lack the resources to fix them up; they could make a mint if they did so.

We took another bus on a thankfully much-shorter trip to the Shanjia train station, a station I recall from my army days as featuring a nice little stream running through it. The stream has largely covered by the new station, alas, but I did manage to get some photos, Nick Turpin-style, of passengers on the trains at the platform. Felt a little one-sided and fishbarrelesque.

I really would have appreciated a weekend to rest up from my weekend, but that’s just not the way things work, alas. I need to begin to work on our semester-end photobook, which means reviewing hundreds of shots from the past few months, and violin class again tonight has me thinking I probably should have practiced at some point during the week.

posted by Poagao at 12:15 pm  
Dec 04 2017

Exilations

Ideally, yesterday I would have taken full advantage of my day off, getting up early to go practice tai-chi in the park, having lunch with Chenbl’s family, reading photography books at Eslite in the afternoon, dinner with Eddie, our far-rambling pianist, and many other fellow musicians, followed by a late-night jam at Sappho and in bed by midnight.

But I screwed most of it up. I didn’t get out of bed in time to make going to the park for tai-chi practice a viable plan, so I went directly to the restaurant for lunch with Chenbl’s family to celebrate his father’s birthday. The food was delicious; it’s a new place, but we’ve been going to that place at its old location for years, and the cuisine fortunately survived the move. An immaculately dressed wedding engagement party had taken over most of the new place, which is bigger and brighter than the old one, though somewhat less cozy.

After lunch Chenbl and I took a bus over to Eslite’s Xinyi branch, where he went to look at travel books and I sat down and devoured not only Chang Chien-chi’s Jet Lag, but also Koudelka: The Making of Exiles by Michel Frizot. Chang’s latest book paints a rather disconcerting picture of his life in recent years, lugging himself all over the world and hardly sleeping, inflicting a state of fraught hyper-reality to his work, as if the camera was infused with a mixture of caffeine and sleep medicine. It’s not a pleasant read, but it wasn’t meant to be; rather, it’s a hint of his experiences during that time. I realized while reading the text that the last time I met him was during that time, and it goes far in explaining the mood in which I found him at that point.

The Koudelka book was fascinating; I’m going to have to go back and read it again, if not buy it because I’m a cheap bastard and I already have too many books, including, of course, Exiles itself. It goes into mesmerizing detail concerning the photographer’s life and principles, as well as the conflict between him and more mainstream photographers, particularly at Magnum, who took assignments and had more conventional lives. Koudelka is a hero of mine, not just for his photographic work, but just the way he has managed to live his life. A bit of an exile myself in many ways, I could identify with much of what he was trying to describe, and over the years it has actually helped me deal with some of my feelings and issues on the subject.  Or, if not deal, at least appreciate his explorations of this most personal subject. In any case, it’s obvious that he has done a much better job.

The sun set over the city outside the floor-length windows as I read, sitting on the floor with the books on my lap. It was the best I’d felt in a long time, the most engaged, even though I was alone…or possibly because I was alone. I used to go to the original Eslite on Dunhua South Road all the time, staying up until all hours, of after a night on the town in those days of my feckless youth, to just sit and read, cello pieces playing softly on the store speakers. It’s gratifying that, especially after the demise of other bookstores such as the once-wonderful Page One, Eslite not only survives but thrives as a haven for those of us who need to escape for a short time.

 

But I couldn’t linger and read all night; I had to go meet up with the others for dinner near CKS Hall. It was good to see Eddie again, as well as the others. I lied to myself about going home early to get some sleep for work the next day; I might have gone to the jam at Sappho, gotten home at midnight and slept better than I ended up sleeping…or perhaps it would have been the same; in any case, something from the day was flying around, keeping me awake; I only got a few hours of sleep before dawn.

posted by Poagao at 12:31 pm  
Nov 19 2017

Photography never died

Lately the photography sphere has been inundated, not with the gazillions of photos everyone is talking about, but with article after article proclaiming that photography is dead/over/irrelevant/trash.

The questionable assumption here is that it was ever alive in the first place, but what puzzles me most is how this status has been defined. And it is about status in the end, because the reasons given for photography’s untimely (or exceedingly timely, depending on the source) demise are invariably centered around the rise of social media, short attention spans, instant sharing and, inevitably, cat pictures.

Yes, you.

However, in a world where so many photographer bios begin with “I began documenting the meaningful moments of my existence with my iPhone in 2009,” I wonder if some context is missing from this argument. The so-called “life” of photography referred to in these articles arose from the concurrent rise of digital cameras and the Internet in the 2000’s, resulting in an army of technology-minded dudes buying the latest megapixel box they’d seen get a gold star on dpreview so they could make sure every pixel was sharp before Photoshopping the living hell out of it (using the handy Living Hell slider), uploading it to Flickr or 500px and watching the Faves roll in.

Ok, so I’m exaggerating. A bit. Obviously, a few of these people were, and remain, serious photographers with serious work. But the driving force behind this boom, this zombie “life”, was mainly hippishly whitebread men who worked in IT buying rather large cameras and showing their files to each other on rather small screens. Numbers ruled this phase of the game: numbers of faves/likes, numbers of followers, numbers of shots, no matter how awful the photos. One such dude in San Francisco (because of course it was some dude in San Francisco), made his only goal taking a million (completely unremarkable) shots, and he got quite a lot of attention from his considerable fandom.

I can’t remember his name for some reason.

During this time, the dedicated photographers who had been working quietly and being ignored for decades before the boom, continued working quietly and being ignored, though a handful got caught up in the storm and propelled to Internet stardom. Magnum, sitting suddenly up in its comfy chair and remembering its illustrious history, returned belatedly to the fore when they realized that their website needed an upgrade; they began changing their reporting and recruitment styles to suite the “life” of this new reality.  Skateboarding also factored in there somehow, because of course any old thing being subjected to rejuvenation must by law involve skateboarding.

I’ma let you finish, Henri, but…

So for a time, everyone was All About Photography, particularly “street” photography, which is the easiest to practice because it doesn’t require anything in the way of studios, sets, models, lights, conscious thought or, from looking at most of it, talent. Bloggers featured their friends in “The (insert number here)-best photographers RIGHT NOW”-type listicles, some of which became actual books. Publishers pole-vaulted onto this suddenly relevant bandwagon, and groups on Flickr appeared and thrived on the drama of clashes between personalities.

Amid all this, it must be admitted, some photographers did actually get to know about other photographers and enjoy each other’s work. Several collectives emerged from the chaos, e.g. in-Public, Burn My Eye, and Observe. Of course, many others promptly disappeared when they found out that ego clashes are far less entertaining when you’re actually trying to work together in some fashion.

“I’m sick of your excessive use of Photoshop sliders, Larry!”

But then Facebook and Instagram arrived on the scene, along with decent mobile phone cameras. These burgeoning businesses quickly realized that what the vast majority of people wanted out of all this was not actually photography, but rather that short sharp injection of dopamine that came with simply seeing something new. Clicks, but not those of the shutter variety. Eyeballs, but not through viewfinders or at exhibitions. Photography itself didn’t particularly matter to these industries; it never had. It was a means to an end, which inevitably means an end to the means.

Digital camera performance plateaued as manufacturers tried to make them more like mobile phones, cramming things like wifi, video and touchscreens into their machines and then wondering why nobody was buying their larger, heavier boxes. Computational mobile photography came to the fore, the camera boom waned; the party began to lose steam. Video was supposed to take over, but nobody could figure out the fundamental difference between the two media.

In any case, most people discovered they could get all their ego-driven drama needs from Facebook, and all their dopamine hits from Instagram, effectively severing the connection of conversation and photography that had been the accidentally advantageous side-effect of sites like Flickr, where you could do both, but not with the same rabid intensity. Some people tried to lure young would-be photographers into thinking they could “make it big” through competitions that they could only participate in after paying for the honor of consideration by their illustrious jury of people they’d never heard of. But then the world quickly learned that photography, like the cake, was a lie after it was found that many entrants in these contests were the result of applying a bit too much of the “Asshattery slider” in Photoshop.

The relationship between actual photography and social media was fraying; some would-be serious photographers desperate to hold onto these heady days tried spamming all their contacts about Kickstarter campaigns to fund their photo books. Precious few were any good. But then, truly good photo books have always been 1) few and far between and 2) generally ignored by most people.

And then, photography was dead, lying on the metaphorical sidewalk in a pool of its own metaphorical blood. You read it in an article by some famous Internet person with an impressive-sounding name. And then you read it again. And again. Dead. Over. Kaput.

Help! I’ve fallen out of favor with trendsetting demographics!

But what died, exactly? The techie crowd had become bored with these particular machines, moving on to newer, shinier gadgets, and young people, like most young people, just wanted to hook up. Nothing wrong with either, and certainly nothing new. The dedicated photographers who had been working quietly and being ignored likewise continued in this fashion, and will keep doing so even while everyone else is using brain implants to beam live VR experiences featuring their cats.

Yay?

In short, the “death of photography” these articles lament is actually the loss of the veneer of popularity photography momentarily enjoyed when it was caught up in the perfect storm of technological progress and social media. The three were conflated so closely for a time that most people assumed that, when the latter two moved on, photography would be rendered meaningless. But that is a false narrative; the essence of photography hasn’t changed; it has always been, at its core, a small, largely ignored niche. Not something for everyone, nor the grand new universal language once promised to us. Photography’s unique and quirky nature of stopping time and conveying complex emotion in one small frame was one of the things that drew me to it when I was growing up, and it occurs to me that perhaps we should just let it be what it actually is, without all the trappings, the bells and whistles of social trends.

Put your glasses back on, photography. Lose the makeover. Put on those comfortable shoes. And welcome back.

Photography is dead? Good. Long live photography.

posted by Poagao at 12:38 pm  
Oct 24 2017

An extremely busy month

The second and final symposium of the Dadaocheng photography event was last Saturday, bringing to close the main events of this month. It has been a whirlwind of activity, with Chenbl and I arranging a three-gallery exhibition, a three-day international workshop with Burn My Eye, and the two symposiums, of course with the help of several dedicated student volunteers. I had no time for anything else, missing several shows with the Muddy Basin Ramblers as well as all my violin classes. My own community college photography classes were also put on hold, and I had to take some time off from work. I even neglected to visit my friends at the aborigine protest site as well as other friends I should have visited.

So how did it all go? In a word, swimmingly, with only a few snags. After wrestling with some rather non-professional printers in the run-up to the exhibition, we finally found a guy who did a great job for not a lot of money. He was very helpful as well, showing up and helping us hang the prints. The exhibition opening on the 1st was great; the venue was packed, and we enjoyed a few nice speeches before leading everyone to the second gallery and ending up at the third one, the BME exhibit at Le Zinc, in time for a nice evening get-together. Our exhibition space was later enriched by the presence of a sound art piece overseen by David Chen, made by Nigel Brown, Alice Chang and Yannick Dauby, providing a lovely audio experience to match the photos of the area. If, like me, you’re into ASMR, it’s even more interesting to listen to.

Next up was our workshop: I’d been a little worried about this because I’d never run such a large, international workshop before. Fortunately, fellow BME member Andy Kochanowski flew out early, arriving on the evening of the 3rd to get the lay of the land, and we spent hours walking around the area and mapping out a general direction for the various parts of the workshop over the next several days. Our other BME instructor, Junku Nishimura, flew in from Japan at noon on the 6th, followed by Rammy Narula from Thailand that evening, and we all got together for hotpot in Ximending that night. Both Andy and Junku were rocking film, Andy with his rare black Contax and Junku with his Leica M6, while Rammy sported the new M10. My old Sony, dinged and banged up so that it’s largely held together with duct tape at this point, definitely felt a little ragged in that crowd.

The workshop itself was a blast. I’d been praying for good weather, and we were fortunate to see all kinds of weather and light over the course of three days, from bright sunlight to misty rain to windy, almost typhoon-like conditions. The students were also able to see four very different styles of street photography between us, and though a little subdued in class as most Taiwanese students tend to be, were quite enthusiastic. We also had students from the U.S., Canada and Scotland, so it was quite an interesting mix of styles and commentary. Andy tended to do the most talking in the classroom, preferring to send students out on missions for outside work, whereas Rammy was a bit more hands-on outside. Junku was always around and offering advice, but he has always been a little shy, unless he is currently drinking you under the table at a karaoke bar. I was dividing my time between running the workshop, making sure no one got lost (in a bad way), watching students shoot and offering my opinions and suggestions when I felt it was necessary. After three days, we were happy to see impressive improvement from all of the students, and everyone seemed to have a great time. It was a great experience, and has made me more interested in doing more workshops in the future. A good third to half of BME’s current membership was actually involved in workshops in October, not just in Taipei but in Brussels and Barcelona as well.

The first of our symposiums was a talk by my friend Chang Liang-I, a longtime photojournalist, and the second was by another friend of mine, Ethan Chiang, who runs a popular street photography blog. Both were well-attended and full of useful advice and insights. Members of the audience had many questions, and the back-and-forth was fascinating at both gatherings.

So I count this event a great success, one that has hopefully raised awareness and appreciation for the idea and practices of street photography as well as photography in general in Taiwan, both on the part of the students as well as the instructors who were able to sample photography on the streets of this town I call home.

One thing I can’t stress enough is that I couldn’t have done all of this without the help of Chenbl and my student volunteers. Even after all of this, Chenbl went straight to another event with his company, with no break in between. I don’t know how he does it; that man is incredible. You can tell this from the fortitude with which he faced a snail crawling up his leg during the workshop, as photographed by Andy.

For myself, I’ve been taking it slow these few days; the weather seems to have decided it’s time for us all to wrap up and go inside, and the recent death of a friend has given these days a more serious tone as well. Our lives go on, in any case, until they don’t. But that’s all the more reason to do what we can while we’re here.

So here’s to the next thing: May it go well.

 

posted by Poagao at 12:59 pm  
Dec 11 2016

Of Rights and Rambles

This weekend has gone non-stop. It started Friday night when I piled my instruments onto the 650 bus to Liuzhangli so I could make a gig with the ramblers at Bob’s. And not just the Muddy Basin Ramblers, but famed bluesman Rambling Steve Gardner as well, who flew in from Tokyo for the Tiger Mountain Ramble on Saturday. We met Steve at the Yokohama Jug Band Festival a couple of years back, and we’ve stayed in touch, always prodding him to make a trip over. The gig was a riot, and Kat served up tasty meat pies, potatoes and pizza afterwards.

After hauling my ass out of bed Saturday morning, I put on some Rambler-approved clothes and again hauled my instruments out and took the subway to Ximen, where I stashed them so that I could proceed unhindered to the Marriage Equality event on Ketagalan Blvd. Even though it was just starting, huge streams of people were joining from all directions. It was difficult to get into the crowd; I haven’t seen that many people there since the Sunflower protest, so I mostly just walked around the periphery. Suming gave a short speech and sang, and there were other performers with the MCs on the stage.

It was heartening to see so much love, hope and idealism, a real contrast from the previous anti-marriage-equality protests, which were mostly driven by hate and spite as well as stacks of cash from American Christian groups. For one thing, the anti-equality protests were much smaller than reported, even though the churches bussed entire congregations up to Taipei, and populated mostly by middle-aged people; so many of them were dressed in white and wearing masks that it was alarmingly similar to a Klan rally in all but name; “Straight Power” was pretty much the theme, and people there would throw their hands up in front of their masked faces when I raised my camera to take a shot. A good 10-20% of the protesters were actual Christian clergy, priests and nuns in full garb. One tall Western priest stood by one of the “praying” priests, and I managed to not enunciate my hope that he would get deported for taking part in the protest.

But that would never have happened, as the Christians (who claim homosexuality is a “foreign influence, oblivious to the fact that Christianity is much more of a foreign influence than homosexuality ever was), carted in an Australian woman who has some kind of personal vendetta against her parents, Katy Faust, to actually address the Legislature on what she clearly knows nothing about. The appropriately named Faust has no expertise on either homosexuality or Taiwan, yet not a single lawmaker saw the obvious violations of the actual law that her visit incurred. The media hasn’t really been on board with Reality either, e.g. articles like this from Focus Taiwan, which calls the event a “concert” that only “thousands” attended, even though official estimates run from a quarter million and up, and highlights claims of “bullying” of Christians on the subject.

As I was wandering around the East Gate and up the road toward the Presidential Office, it occurred to me that these people, not just the people at the marriage-equality protest, but other similar groups like the Sunflowers, et al, are the very people who were targeted by government forces during the White Terror period. Forward-looking people, people with inspiration and ideas for the future. In the awful times after 2/28, all of us would have been on those lists.

And who would have been writing those lists? The people who showed up in white robes and masks to protest equal rights.

I would have liked to have stayed longer, but I had to go retrieve my instruments and head over to the Tiger Mountain Ramble, where we were playing in the late afternoon. The mountain road was apparently so difficult to navigate that my cabbie shushed me when I tried to tell him where the place was. “Don’t talk to me!” he said. “I’m trying to concentrate on these GPS coordinates!” He found the place despite this.

The ramble was a little behind schedule when I got there, putting my stuff away and greeting friends. The cloudy skies threatened rain, and someone had started a bonfire. Steve presented me with a lovely gift: His photobook, from his days as a photojournalist on the theme of the American South, specifically the people of Mississippi, entitled Rambling Mind. It is a beautifully printed, large-sized book, one of only a handful left from the print run. The photos inside are wonderful as well…it’s a real treat, and I’m so happy to be able to add it to my collection.

It started to rain as we climbed the metal steps of the mobile stage and began our gig. It was a raucous affair, and most everything went right. There was much dancing in spite of the rain, which got heavier as we played. Afterwards we had to slog through the mud to get back to the storeroom, and everyone was huddled around the former temple for shelter. I was tired after a day of walking around as well as the show, so I packed up and headed down the mountain on foot, pulling my cart behind me. I met one of the other bands on the way, and they said some very nice things about our show, and I returned their compliments.

This morning (Sunday) I had to head out again, this time to lead my photography students on a walk around Keelung. We met up in front of the train station at 10 a.m. to find a large gathering of Indonesians, including dancers, martial artists and singers, as well as stalls selling food and attire, and a stage. It was all very festive; I bought three nice new hats, but we couldn’t stay long; we had to catch a train to Keelung.

Of course it was raining, because Keelung. We got off at the brand-new train station, which is worlds nicer than the awful old station, which itself was…much more awful than the old Japanese station. Some people were a bit peckish, so we had some food at a breakfast shop where the owner told us how to get to the big KEELUNG sign at the top of the hill. “You go up,” he said helpfully.

So we went up, following alleys, complimenting one household in particular on their delicious-smelling curry rice and dodging the scooters that would occasionally charge up the steep slope. One of these was a Gogoro electric scooter, with no less than two people on it. Impressive.

We paused at the big KEELUNG and then proceeded up to the platform at the top of the hill, caught our breath, and then went back down again, this time taking a different, more circuitous route. Eventually we found ourselves back to the main road behind the station. We crossed over the old blue pedestrian bridge that’s been there forever, and walked towards the Miaokou market, where vendors were hauling their stalls out into the rainy streets. It’s always difficult to lead these photowalks because I remain a firm believer in the benefits of solitary ventures. “I’m just showing you this place and some of the possibilities,” I often find myself saying. “You can come back on your own sometime and really see it!” It might seem odd for me to be telling this to native Taiwanese people, but they almost always have never really been to the places I take them, or, even if they have, they never really noticed what was there. I think it works; several of them have come a really long way in their photography, which makes me happy. And after this rather fucked-up year, I appreciate such things more than ever.

posted by Poagao at 9:39 pm  
Nov 02 2016

A Day in Girona

I wasn’t in the best of moods when we left the hotel this morning. Oh, the weather was fine, and Beatriz and hubby had picked out a place for us to visit for the day, but something was just off, and I was irritable and moody…at least more than I usually am. Which is saying  something.

We got onto the big double-decker train that would end up in Paris in six hours, and got off at Girona, north of Barcelona and near the French border. The pleasant square in front of the station cheered me up a bit, and my mood improved more when we came across an entire construction wall covered with the characters from my namesake and favorite childhood cartoon, Top Cat. I took a selfie with the original TC and kept walking.

I was making a silly video on a bridge when I spotted someone who almost certainly another street photographer, from the way he held his small Olympus EM-10 on its wrist strap. He came over and asked me if I was me, which, it turns out, I was. He turned out to be one of my Facebook photographer friends, Jordi Simon. He had somehow recognized me, and we chatted a bit, mostly with me speaking in Chinese to Beatriz, who translated to Spanish for Jordi, and vice versa. It was a nice coincidence.

We proceeded into town and I spotted more street photographers. One guy had stationed himself at the foot of the red bridge with a long lens, which I thought strange. Another was taking mirror-in-windowshop-reflection shots a la Friedlander, and yet another was stalking a tall clown downtown.

What is going on? I thought to myself. Am I about to see a bunch of Girona shots in the HCSP queue? Sure, the light was nice, but nice light is found in many places, and is often a trap in any case.

We kept walking, and I turned a corner to find none other than Gueorgui Pinkhassov sitting outside a cafe, in the midst of ordering a creme brûlée. He and I have had conversations on Facebook before, but we’d never met in person, so this was an extraordinary coincidence. It also explained the plethora of SP activity in the town that day. We chatted for a bit about various things before I let him get back to the workshop he was teaching; at least some of his students were also seated around the table. I told him that I’d originally planned to take his workshop in Tokyo a while ago, but had submitted too late. He invited me to sit in on this one, but I thanked him and declined, feeling that it wouldn’t be fair to the students who actually got their submissions in on time and paid a great deal of time and effort to be there.

img_1967We continued walking up the hill to the obligatory cathedral, and then back down some more alleys to find a restaurant with extremely slow service, so slow that we had to rush back to the station to catch our train back to Barcelona. We could have taken our time as the train was very late, and this being Spain I had to piss like a racehorse once on the train due to the lack of public facilities.

The reason we had to be back in town was that we had tickets at the Palau de la Música Catalana, a lovely old concert hall, to see an organ concert played to the 1926 silent film Faust. The screen was a bit small, but the magnificence of the theater’s interior and the wonderful organ performance made up for it. After the show, we tried to take a look at the third floor balcony, but appparently it’s a secret, so don’t tell anyone.

After the show we walked over to the 4cats restaurant, where Picasso hung out as a moody teen, for a delicious dinner that was a bit more expensive than we could really afford. The servers were very good, and there was a mediocre live band that consisted of piano, double bass and a singer. Carlos and I both guessed that they were moonlighting students.

posted by Poagao at 8:16 am  
Sep 26 2016

Afternoon at Losheng

I took my photography students to Xinzhuang yesterday, exiting the new-to-me Huilong MRT station and walking up to the Losheng leprosarium. I hadn’t been up there in a couple of years, and it seemed an interesting and suitable place to take a look at. The skies had been cloudy when I set out from Bitan, but the sun was shining as we crossed the footbridge over to the old complex.

Or at least what was left of it. Much as the disease chipped away at the bodies of its residents, various parties have chipped away at the community over the years, destroying invaluable old buildings to make way for an MRT facility. There were large-scale protests a dozen or so years ago, and most of the patients were transferred, some against their will, to a rather soulless new hospital building adjacent to the site.

I told the students a bit about the history and the importance of respecting the residents, and then went back across the bridge to use the bathroom. There I got a call from our class leader, who said that some authorities had shown up insisting that photography in the area was prohibited. I sent Chenbl over to deal with it, and when I finally got back to the community, everyone was walking around, taking photos as normal. “What happened?” I asked Chenbl, but he just shrugged and said whoever it was had gone away.

We walked up to visit some residents we knew from previous visits, old men who live in the old wooden buildings. The baby rabbits we’d seen on our last visit had all been raised and eaten, and we talked about how things had been there recently. Some other students went up to visit the old lady who has a particularly good relationship with the local cats.

As we were talking, mostly in Taiwanese mixed in with some Mandarin, a security guard came over and said we couldn’t photograph. “We’re just visiting friends,” Chenbl replied.

“Ok, but don’t take any photos,” the guard said.

“Why not?”

The guard had no answer. He glared and said, “I’ll tell our leader.” Chenbl shrugged.

“Tell your leader to look me up any time,” he said, showing him our college teacher IDs. The guard grimaced and stalked away.

As it turns out, we found after talking with the residents, that the area has recently become not only a big deal in Pokemon-catching circles, but some young men have apparently been telling their girlfriends that it’s “haunted” and showing them around at night, no doubt arm in arm, “protecting them” from the “ghosts”. I’ve seen the same phenomenon at Bitan, with these vaporous little gollums taking girls up the mountain to the “haunted amusement park” for the same purposes. As a result, the security people have gotten pretty tense about visitors. But it should have been plain to them that we were seeking neither ghosts nor Pokemon.

Our conversation turned to the history of the place. “If those students hadn’t told everyone what was going on,” one of the older men who had lived there for over half a century, said, “they would have torn this entire place down.” They talked about the old days there, including the local band. One of the men had played the trumpet.

“Me too! Do you still have it?” I asked. He said he had two, and went to fetch them. The valves of the first one were frozen from lack of oil, but the second one worked fine. Neither had any kind of branding of any kind. Were they hand-made? The man declined to play the horn himself, telling me to give it a go, so I took it and played “Wang Chun Feng” for them. They loved it, most of them singing along. I wondered how long it had been since they’d had any live music up there. I then played “Dance Age”, which they’d never heard, despite it being a similarly old tune. The horn was actually well-made, with a sweet tone.

We took group pictures and listened to another fellow who had constructed scale replicas of the complex’s buildings in wood. Chenbl is going to make prints, and we’ll take the photos back up there to give them. I was thinking we might even bring some instruments and play a little for them.

We’re looking down the maw of the third major typhoon this summer, which, unlike the previous two storms, is arriving mid-week instead of ruining yet another weekend. Every weekend is chock full these days, between Muddy Basin Rambler shows and photo class activities, without having typhoons throwing a monkey wrench into the works as well.

posted by Poagao at 11:37 am  
Jun 13 2016

SF5

Saturday, June 11th

It is so dry here! I prefer a bit of humidity, and this dryness has me drinking gallons of water all day.

I woke up before sunrise, for some reason, and watched from my window in Ken’s apartment as the city came to light. We’re on a light rail line, so every so often a streetcar will whoosh by. Ken says he’s used to it, but I’d quickly get tired of having to pause movies every time it happened.

Ken was going to Jack’s workshop, so I tagged along, and probably pissed off some people with my various interjections as Jack spoke calmly and deliberately about his subject. When the group left the classroom to go out shooting, I kept my distance, looking at where they went, what they shot, etc. It was interesting, and not unlike my experiences teaching in Taipei.

I’d wanted to join at least one of the StreetFoto photo walks, so I left the group at 11:30 and headed towards Chinatown. My stomach then took the opportunity to remind me that I had only eaten one slick of toast so far that day, so I had a bite before heading over to the meeting point. Unfortunately, I was late; the group had already left. So I wandered around the area on my own instead, eventually bumping into JC, a photographer who wanted my advice on his photography. We arranged to meet later near the Cuppola building, and I continued down towards the harbor, approaching it though the second floor of an empty mall. I could only imagine how bustling and alive the area had been in the past.

I caught a ride with JC, his wife and his daughter over to Joe Goode, which is fortunate as I wasn’t looking forward to that long walk just then. We got some food at a nearby market, which of course was far too much for one person to eat, and I looked through JC’s book and gave him my thoughts.

They were making a video about the event, and so I missed most of Vineet’s talk, unfortunately, but I was able to enjoy Ken Light’s stories about his career, as well as Richard’s talk about his background and his work. After they announced the winners of the contest, we wrapped it up and headed over to a nearby place for dinner and conversation. There was a snag when we found you had to show picture ID to get in, and my Taiwanese ID apparently wasn’t cutting it (It ain’t my fault the bouncer couldn’t read Chinese). I managed to get in with my passport, but some of the other attendees weren’t able to enter, which was unfortunate.

We ate and talked and enjoyed each other’s company well into the wee hours; it had the atmosphere of conclusion as people said good-bye and left through the chain-link gate, back out into streets.

I’m sitting at Ken’s table writing this; it’s the morning after, and he’s gone to help Jack with the second and final day of his workshop. Don and Gene have continued on their 40th anniversary tour of the area, though they might go back to the Rayko Center before they leave. There’s one more photo walk today, staring at the Deyoung Museum in the park, where they have a Bruce Davidson exhibit, apparently, so I will try and make that. I’m leaving tomorrow night…well, technically in the early hours of the 14th, but I have to be at the airport on Monday night.

It’s another beautiful day. God it’s dry though.

posted by Poagao at 1:33 am  
Jun 13 2016

SF4

Friday, June 10th
I woke early to a clear sky outside, the sun forcing its way into my room around 7 a.m. Still no wifi, and I was checking out that morning. Downstairs at the donut breakfast, the manager lamented that they were losing all kinds of reservations due to the lack of Internet. What a disaster.

I packed up my one piece of luggage and headed down Market towards the waterfront, checking for wifi along the way. There was one point in between two Starbucks I could manage a short Line conversation with Chenbl, which mostly consisted of “I can’t hear you” and “What?” But I couldn’t linger, as I was heading to Pier 24 again, this time with Don, Gene, Blake, Joe and others.

It’s a nice exhibition, but I was all about that Eggleston…just lovely. Afterwards some of us walked along the waterfront and back up Market; Joe knew of a good Vietnamese place; we were in the mood for pho. Don and Gene graciously stored my luggage in their rental car.

We met Tyler and Skyid on the way up Market; they were making their way down, but as the street was so fabulously lit, there were having trouble justifying their usual flash.

Everyone met up at Turtle Tower, a restaurant where they apparently cannot separate their cilantro from their green onions, resulting my raw beef pho being just meat and broth because I told them no cilantro. It was still good. The Thai-style tea caused a small sensation at our table.

After lunch, we caught a bus out to the inner Richmond to take a look at the Green Apple’s photobook offerings, which were very nice. I could have stayed longer, but Blake was itching to return to the streets, so Joe and I caught an uber to the place he’s staying, which is near the Joe Goode annex. I got the opportunity to meet Icarus, Joe’s famous cat, who was friendly and laid-back, as well as Matt Gomes, whom I’ve known for a while online but had never met in person. This trip is full of that kind of thing, and I love it. I wish I could do more of it.

We headed over to Joe Goode in the evening; they were having some trouble with video, so Don gave his talk on his background first, and then I gave my talk on my Sunflower experiences, and then we did the BME panel, unfortunately lacking Andy and Simon, who had thought they could come but couldn’t because of various extenuating circumstances. Still, I thought it went pretty well. A lot of people came up to me to tell me how much they enjoyed the presentation, which was extremely gratifying.

After another presentation on the drought in California by a very talented young photojournalist, we headed out to the Mexican place again. I had an enormous burrito. I’m not kidding, and neither were they; it was huge. You could knock a man unconscious with that thing. I really don’t know what the hell is up with American portions these days.

Ken Walton, the hard-working organizer of the event, was gracious enough to let me stay at his lovely place near Golden Gate park for the remainder of my stay here, so I left with him instead of going out with the others. It’s just as well; I was exhausted.

posted by Poagao at 1:04 am  
Jun 13 2016

SF 3

Thursday, June 9th
The maid hadn’t set foot in my room the day before, so I was working with previous-day towels and bedsheets, but I managed. I’d actually met the maid, who is from Guangdong, the day before, but apparently she only sweeps by once a day, and if you miss her, too bad.

Being without wifi, I was cut off from everyone’s plans. After my donut breakfast, I walked down to the nearest Starbucks, a small, gritty edition on Market, where I sat eating a salad and croissant while checking my messages. Next to me, a woman chatted on her phone about some meeting, and after she stopped, I heard her say, “I guess you must hate all the noise I’ve been making.”

I assumed she was still on the phone, and ignored her, but when I looked up, I saw she was looking at me. I started and stammered, “Uh…what? No! Why would I? This is a Starbucks!” I left the FFS unspoken. Was she coming on to me? Why else would she say something like that? This is a strange city, I concluded as I walked up to Union Square, where I’d lay out on the lawn in the sun a quarter century ago while visiting. They’ve redone it so that there’s no lawn to lay on; instead it’s now all concrete and awful street paintings. I then walked over to the Apple Store, which impressive; the Top Security People standing ominously by the door and the green-shirted Geniuses bustling around. Classes were being held on iTune on the second-floor mezzanine.
I walked up the street past more crazy homeless people to the restaurant were Joe works. On the way I spotted a large older fellow with an iPhone on a tripod, which he moved lazily around a street corner taking shots. He wasn’t looking at anyone. I approached him, questions on my mind, but he radiated fear. I retreated.

Up the street, I found Joe bustling around, chatting up customers and getting drinks, a little tattooed ball of energy with an on-point coif. I don’t know how he does it. I sat and chatted with Chris, a fellow from the UK who is a DJ and record collected, about the sad state of the music industry, and how iTunes sucks. Joe gave me a white-chocolate/caramel cookie that should be illegal to go with my ice coffee.

It was SFMOMA day in the StreetFoto schedule, so I bade Joe and Chris farewell and walked back through a new set of crazy homeless people back to Market and Third, and on to the museum. Inside I found Richard and Jared and some other folks I knew. They’d been there a while, so I took off on my own to see the photographs, some of which were worth looking at. An original Stephen Shore, recently printed, made me realize what he meant when he said the “vintage” feel people attach to him is really inappropriate, only a product of old prints aging naturally. The real scenes from the 70s look far more like what I remember being true in the day, though I was just a kid then. I also saw some Winogrand, and there was an Arbus show upstairs. I took a shot of a woman whose hair matched one of the paintings almost exactly. One of the museum guard told me in a confidential fashion that the “black hole” on the 5th floor would “blow my mind.” It didn’t. In fact, much of the exhibit seemed overly precious, and some of the descriptions had small errors such as misquotes of Henri Cartier-Bresson. But the architecture of the place was impressive, drawing me up staircase after tilted staircase. I wondered if they chose the guards based on their interesting appearance. They are part of the design, aren’t they? Either way, it works.

I got so caught up in the whole thing, standing on the upper balcony looking out of the city, which was magnificently lit by the afternoon sun, that I was late in setting out for the Joe Goode Annex, which was the site of the evening’s activities. I walked through a park and up Market back to my hotel, which was still without wifi, and then continued on. And on. And on, eventually arriving at the venue just as the photo talks were kicking off with a talk by the laconic Ben Molina. I loved it because Ben gave concise answers to many bullshit questions, and I knew exactly what he meant.

Most of the talks were interesting, particularly the one by Koci Hernandez about his photographic search for a man in a hat representing his absent father. Joe was particularly active in asking questions, but I wondered if perhaps they should have let the speaker decide the pace of the slides. I’m talking there on the 10th, along with Don, Joe and the rest of the BME people in attendance. I guess we’ll see.

After the show winded down, Blake Andrews and Tyler Simpson joined Joe and me and a few others to a nearby taqueria, which was delicious. Then we went to a bar where they played magnificent 70s music, and chatted while Joe printed out shots from his Instax. We caught an Uber with a driver named Lorenzo back to our neighborhood (Blake is staying at the Goode Hotel, just around the corner) around 2 a.m. I walked the rest of the way back to my still wifi-less hotel, took a shower and slept. Another good day.

posted by Poagao at 12:36 am  
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