On The Train to Santa Monica

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On the train to Santa Monica, I was suddenly overwhelmed with sonder, “the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own, populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness—

an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed, in which you might appear only once as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk.”

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The Broad Museum

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“You are a goddess living in a city of angels.”

We passed by the courier-sans painted declaration of love and self-love on the walk to The Broad, LA’s contemporary art museum. On the way, we were stopped by an angry protest in the streets. They marched in circles, shouting loud, the police surrounded. After a few attempts to go around the demonstration, we finally climbed up several warm blocks to The Broad.

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We took the three story high escalator to the massive airy room, which housed millions of dollars worth of contemporary art. Several sections were partitioned off, so we zig zagged through the exhibits.

At first, all I saw were scribbles. Blobs. Meaningless abstract figures. And, truth be told, I’d never been a huge fan of contemporary. It always seemed like a whole lot of nothing imbued with something. But the art began to morph into more complicated, familiar pieces. Roy Lichtenstein. Andy Warhol. Jeff Koons. Cindy Sherman. Kruger. 2D images, pixelated and printed, danced to life.

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Here I was, seeing the works of so many artists I’d researched, written about, drawn inspiration from.

Near the end of the museum, we found ourselves in a video exhibit. In a mid-size room, there were at least 10 projections on the walls. On each projection was a musician, cradling a different instrument.

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Each musician contributed to rising the symphony, each absorbed in his own world, his own space, while creating one with others. The music ebbed and flowed.

 

Pause, Rewind

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“I wish I could pause time and moments like this without having to think about what’s next.”

Pause. The sun set. We were quiet. It felt like the moment when my friends and I were in Central Park, New York. We’d found a pond with ducks and turtles facing a castle in in the distance. So we sat on the rocks, quiet and contemplative, swimming in our own thoughts.

A blanket of peace descended upon us; I asked them what they were thinking. My friend said moments like this were rare. And maybe we wanted to achieve material success in life so we could buy intangible moments like this. Maybe we strived to make money, lots of it, so maybe we could buy peace, calm and happiness. But wait–no–that didn’t sound right.

String of Thoughts

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A string of thoughts, in no particular order:

  • The mind is the strangest thing. One of my favorite books reminds me that we’re all stuck in our heads, projecting our own distorted notions of reality onto the screen of our minds. It’s all constructed, pieced together by attention, a weird believable 3D fabrication that we call reality. Like Rorshach blots. We see what we choose to see. And the things I see make me panicky. But then I’ll become aware of this, that we’re all making this shit up, and feel calmer at the thought.
  • Thoughts are what brought me here: October, February, July–have you ever felt so listless you wanted to die? Moments like that. Sprawled on some surface by a window pouring sunlight and periodic existential crises. Then I’ll just want to watch comedy shows at hotel lobbies in Florida, where I can moan about how much I hate traveling, god, just take me home.
  • Even so, I miss New York so much. I couldn’t tell you why. Everyone gets so excited when they visit New York, inundate their social media feeds in it–look, the Empire State of motherfucking dreams. For a moment I thought New York became less sparkly–it’d lost its glitz and glam, become drizzly and cold (stuffed in a cab full of chatty ambitious strangers). Evidently it hasn’t. I miss the wide streets, the energy, the movement, the noise. It’s overwhelming, but remove the source for a while and I start to miss it.
  • A stranger in the city with a giant bouquet flowers once told me that we’re all looking for somebody to listen, that strangers just want to be listened to. I believe her. Half a year later I emailed her saying hello, and she said that she sometimes looked for me in the city. Isn’t that odd? To be looked for, even if only briefly? I became so accustomed to searching in the sea of moving faces that it never occurred to me that somebody would ever look for mine.

January 2017

Disposable Diaries: Tale of Two Cities

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Hopping from the East to the South draws each region into sharp contrast. Against the tall and narrow East, the South seems wider. Twangy recorded voicemails, the norm, strike me as peculiar (“hah-lo, yoo’ve reached–“) Cityscapes turn to landscapes and steel structures melt to lake water. Welcome home, where it’s hotter, quieter, sunnier, brighter, lazier, slower, flatter and bigger.

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These photos highlight a juxtaposition of spaces, between the urban and suburban, the vivacious and quiet, the homey and adventurous. The bright green Fujifilm camera skid from one airport scanner to another, the film remaining undamaged.

The photos turned out surprisingly well–it can be pretty hit-or-miss when it comes to film. Unlike digital, I’ll have no idea how disposable photos will turned out ’til they’ve been sent off, processed, developed and printed. Sometimes a shot of the living room turns out as washed-out black grain. Other times, a shot of a sneaker turns out to be weirdly artsy. It’s fun. It’s experimental. Generally, though, after a handful of mishaps, I’d say you can’t go wrong with landscapes on film.

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Up until yesterday, when I got the photos, I’d forgotten that I’d carried my camera from one city to another. It’s interesting seeing images of the East juxtaposed with those of the South, watching them go from gritty & grey to saturated in blue.

Cali

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Slow swaying palm trees–rugged rocks ashore– cliches washed up on the dense fog of memory–

I’m skipping around humming the outdated song by Katy Perry, California Girls, which we’d blast and sing to at 13. Ah–many moments of fleeting teenagedom, of drive-through Sonic runs and post-pool walks to the movie theatre, were to the soundtrack of Katy Perry. It was freedom when freedom was at arm’s length.

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That I’m revisiting my photos from California and humming a song about it is likely no coincidence. The current revisited album is called ‘filmed up and shit,’ because I’m doing the Photoshop version of Hujifilm and fake-filming it because I’m so in love with the aesthetic (but can’t go back to retake pictures).

We’d gone to San Diego, shouldered by mountains, snaked through by tortuous roads. Precarious, precarious. I’d been alarmed by the sheer flatness of Houston, then the rockyish heights of San Diego. This is La Jolla beach, pronounced la ho-ya, not la-jo-lla. And this is the seaside. 

I’d brought Steinbeck because that was the book I was nursing at the time. The book was about the West, I think, a trip West to California. The timing was apt.

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After days basking in a weather too cool for swimming and too warm for sweating, we took the continental train–Amtrak?– to Los Angeles. Hollywood, or, in Bojack’s world, Hollywoo. Disneyland. Warner Bros. The set of Friends. The set of Ellen. The set of Harry Potter. More Harry Potter. Beige walls and show sign plaques and red lights “do not enter, show in progress.”

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In a few months, I’ll be going back to Cali, this time a lot less grumpy than the first time around (hopefully). Even though I’ve just begun to relish staying put, a part of me itches to move, travel, sightsee. Mostly to photograph, honestly. Until then, I’ll simply continue to photographically revisit these cities– and memories!