Saturday, November 7, 2015

The Source Family Weekend

My undying, everlasting love for Halloween hasn't waned despite being well past the age when putting on a wig and assuming the identity of someone else can be considered normal. This year we were loyal disciples of Father Yod, members of the Source Family, a hippie new-age cult that opened the first organic health food/salad joint on Sunset Boulevard in the 70s. It was cutting edge stuff back then, and frequented by hollywood stars like Marlon Brando and Julie Christie. Their guru, Father Yod was a 6'5" WWII veteran trained in Jiu Jitsu, which basically made him the world's least likely figure to lead a bunch of pot smoking hippies to total spiritual enlightenment, but there you go. They lived together (all 150 of them) in Father Yod's home in the Hollywood Hills, and their spiritual practices included eating an organic, vegetarian diet, and healing themselves with crystals. Oh yeah, and old Father Yod had 14 wives, natch. He also fronted an experimental psychedelic rock band called YaHoWha 13, and they recorded 9 completely unlistenable albums that featured Father Yod banging various percussion instruments and wailing like an injured animal. 

But overall, The Source Family were pretty tame for a cult, especially a 70's cult. When Father Yod finally lost his marbles, he just killed himself instead arranging a mass suicide, which I guess is pretty considerate. There's a fascinating documentary about them on Netflix if you like that kind of thing.

Point Reyes served as the perfect mise en scène for the weekend. We rented a small family cabin and went hiking in the misty, deserted woods. The clocks fell back, plunging us into a darkness that felt premature and welcome at the same time. It rained one night, which if you live in California is a rare treat. It was a nice escape, both from my daily look and from my daily reality.

Monday, October 5, 2015

You're on Earth. There's no cure for that.

Apollo 17 Hasselbad images, 1969

Thousands of images of the Apollo moon missions up on Flickr.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Life Imitating Art

For anyone wanting to feel completely terrified by the unintended consequences of technology and its increasing dictatorship over our daily lives, may I humbly recommend the UK's Channel 4 series Black Mirror. What I find most startling about the show (which runs episodically with unconnected plots in a kind of twilight-zone-meets-tech-dystopia) is the fact that due to recent headlines, I'm convinced the show is prophetic in more ways than one.

First, British PM David Cameron makes headlines for doing sex things with a dead pig while a student at Oxford. This, according to an explosive tell-all book by the world's most Britishly named person, Lord Ashcroft. Sounds a lot like Episode 1, The National Anthem, which was actually filmed 4 years ago. If you haven't seen it, I don't want to give away too much, but let's just say it involves a really really fucked up "would you rather" type of situation.

The final episode of Series 2, The Waldo Moment, is about a popular cartoon character most known for hurling sophomoric insults and making off-color jokes whose creators ends up having him run for president. The episode is from 2012, but it's impossible to watch it without feeling an uneasy deja vu about a certain bloviating political caricature currently holding the coveted #1 spot in the polls for Republican nominee. In the end Waldo won't win, and his creators know it. That's not the point. His purpose is to upset the course of world events by trolling other candidates and swaying public opinion. It shouldn't work, but it does thanks to a mouth-breathing, anti-intellectual populace more concerned with entertainment than political ethos. The Donald Trump similarities are so striking as to be absurd.

Anyhoo, of everything I've seen on TV in the past 6 months (and believe me, there's been a lot) this is one of the only things that qualifies as must-watch. And apparently the series creator is writing new episodes as we speak that will hit the US sometime in 2016, so if you haven't gotten on the bandwagon yet, you better catch up on Netflix.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Ten Years Later (another Katrina reflection piece)

The apartment on Dublin St., 2005
In August of 2005, I had just moved into my own apartment in Uptown New Orleans, a 1 bedroom on a quiet street pock-marked with potholes. I had one semester left at Tulane, right on track in my 4 1/2 year plan. I was looking forward to quiet nights at home with my boyfriend and testing out living like a pseudo adult. But on Monday, August 29, 2005, as they inevitably tend to do, things took an unexpected turn. Hurricane Katrina came barreling in and kicked off a series of events that culminated in the city I had loved since childhood and adopted as my own being subjected to one of the most surreal tragedies in modern history--within hours the entire city was underwater.

When I came back it was like entering a strange yet familiar dream world.  Landmarks were missing, askew, or burned to the ground. The stop lights didn't work. The population shrank from 500,000 to 20,000 overnight, resulting in large swaths of abandoned neighborhoods, areas crowded with memories but containing no one. Escaped dogs who had survived the storm formed packs and lived in piles of rubble in the neutral ground. Periodically you would walk down the street and encounter a pack of them trotting past you like they were on their way to an important dog convention now that they had officially taken over the city.

Wreckage. debris 3 months later in the Lakefront neighhborhood 
Abandoned home, with previous water levels visible
The remains of a building, Carrolton St., Uptown
Here's the thing: before Katrina, I had never really considered what it means to lose everything, and all the tiny things that make up everything. My friend Ed lost all of his family albums, which meant when the storm was over there wasn't a single photo of him before the age of 16. I remember that really struck me at the time. Something as simple as baby photos, poof, gone to the water.

My great-aunt Billye and her sister, both widows in their eighties who had lived next door to each other for their entire adult lives had to move into a small 2 bedroom rental that they shared, and hated sharing. Before their homes were eventually demolished I went to see if there was anything left to salvage. The strata of the receding water levels started well above my head and mold bloomed on the walls in an astonishing rainbow of disgusting, putrid colors. The refrigerator had floated into the living room. Every conceivable item of value, including a fur coat, was covered in black mold. There was nothing left.

My Great Aunt Billye's home after Katrina
How could New Orleans bounce back from this? How, when 9 months later the stop lights were still out, the debris from thousands of demolished homes was still piled 6 feet high on the streets, waiting to be carted off? By who? The national guard? As far as I could tell, their main job was to park their big ass humvees on the neutral ground and generally contribute to the atmosphere of war-torn desolation, which they did quite well.

Debris from Katrina cleanup and demolished homes (St. Bernard Ave??) 
One of the "dollhouses" after Katrina
Months later, cars grown into the jungle

And of course, it didn't so much bounce back as claw its way back...surviving through some animal-like resistance to annihilation. The 'recovery' was at times so slow as to be imperceptible. But recover it did.

10 years later. New Orleans is arguably, quantifiably better off than it was before the storm. There are more restaurants. The population is finally, at long last, 94% of what it was before Katrina. It's been called the fastest growing city in the U.S. by Forbes. Everything is good, or as good as it can be in a place that still prides itself on being a little bit third world. When I visit (because I am just a visitor now, as I maybe and probably always have been) I'm continually struck by how much newness there is in the city. New restaurants, new roads, new construction, new residents.

And yes, the inevitable conversation about change being 'good' or 'bad' is coming up as well. When asked whether he's concerned about New Orleans losing some of its authenticity in the face of rapid development and demographic changes (see: whiter, richer), mayor Mitch Landrieu proclaimed he's not worried about outsiders coming in and changing the culture of the city because "there's no way you can change this city before it changes you." I guess if that statement could be true for any city, it would have to be true for New Orleans. But of course change is always a 2-way street, whether there are still alligator tours and voodoo gift shops and live music being played on the streets or not. The New Orleans of today is the same, and completely different from the city it was in August of 2005. And that in itself is both an inevitable tragedy and a cause for celebration.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Something to Watch

Filmmaker Sean Dunne is directing some pretty killer documentaries that probably best fall in the "hillbilly porn" genre, but two of my favorites are Florida Man, a touching portrait of the oft maligned and frequently ridiculed Floridian underclass in his natural habitat outside of liquor stores, dive bars, and behind random dumpsters, and American Juggalo, a not entirely unsympathetic look at the infamous annual gathering of Insane Clown Posse fans. In both features, Dunne trains his lens on a specific breed of white underclass, but his depictions, while raw and at times unflattering, never devolve into pure spectacle. The stills from these docs are sort of beautiful portraits in and of themselves.

You can watch all of his work on his Vimeo page here.

Monday, August 3, 2015

I'm nobody, who are you?

Vintage photo postcards, purchased at the Vintage Paper Show

Man, it's crazy isn't it? That endless spin cycle between life/death and the strange and sometimes inscrutable moments that end up being captured by cameras and then find their way into bargain bins at estate sales, flea markets, and trash cans. Who are these people? What are their stories? Take the lady (well-dressed for a farm visit, natch) kneeling in the mud next to a pig. Whose pig was it? Were they on friendly terms or did they grin and bear it for the camera? (The pig seems pretty relaxed, so perhaps they had some kind of report). What about the odd trio of two women and a man posing for a picture together...I so very much hope they were in some sort of sordid love triangle, but perhaps they were related, or childhood friends. Or maybe the tall lady on the right, who looks a little older, was the overbearing mother-in-law who insisted on doling out un asked-for household advice and criticizing everything about her daughter-in-law's cooking. And the lady chugging some kind of adult beverage in the first photo while "driving" seems like she knew how to have a good time. I'd go on a carriage ride with her any day.

I find myself pondering these questions and a bunch of other unknowable shit. I wonder if there will be any physical evidence left after I hit the Exit button. Somehow unearthing a forgotten hard drive and finding a machine that can still decipher its antiquated binary code seems a a lot less romantic and a lot less interesting than finding shoeboxes full of old photos. What will be left of us when we're gone? Who will wonder at my stupid duck face photos and think 'she seems fun, I wonder what ever became of her?' Probably no one.

Friday, July 17, 2015


Because it's Friday or whatever...we all deserve a little trip back in time to twenty aught-ten to see Ciara undulate and squirm like an extremely athletic cat in heat. I LOVE this video.

Gurl, get IT.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

The swell of the hills soft like the flanks of massive animals

Her favorite artist was James Turrell.

On Friday a couple of friends and I are going to the De Young museum to sit in the sculpture garden with his "Three Gems" and a bottle of champagne.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Summa Ope

I am still here. How can I be here and you not be here? How can I feel the sun on my back and smooth lake pebbles under my feet and you are Not Here? Where are you? It is unthinkable that time will move on without you. Unfathomable that fashions will change, celebrities will hook up and get divorced, internet fads will come and go. I've been cut from my moorings and set adrift and I didn't get my fill of your magic. So selfish of me to even think of it that way, but it's true. I needed more, and now all I have is a voicemail on my phone that speaks in your voice when I press a button, a book you lent me that I finished but never got to discuss with you, a dream-catcher I made at your house the last time I saw you. The last time I ever saw you.

I remember hearing somewhere that worrying about what happens when you die is as pointless as worrying about what happened before you were born. That may be true for you, but you were born, and you left a deep, warm impression on people's souls, and the silence left by your absence is a constant reminder that we're going to have to figure out how to negotiate a new reality now that you are Not Here.

Where are you?

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Flo Fox

I became acquainted with the work of photographer Flo Fox after watching 'Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work'. Joan meets her while delivering a Thanksgiving meal as part of her volunteer work for God's Love, We Deliver. Flo is legally blind and wheelchair bound from symptoms of MS, and started taking photos with an auto-focus camera in the late 70s after failing eyesight made it impossible to continue working as a costume designer.  She has taken, by her estimation, over 100,000 photographs of life in New York since the late 70's. She shows Joan a series of photos she took of the same drugstore for 25 years, documenting the rise in the price of cigarettes. "Check me out," she says, before saying, very slowly and deliberately, "Flo-Fox-Dot-Com."

Her photos are moody, subtle, and always somehow shot through with a pang of raw humor (police blockades creating an accidental Star of David, man in assless leather chaps eating alone at a diner). Also, lots of dick pics, which she's been compiling for her yet-to-be-published tome, 'Dicthology'. She claims every man who has entered her apartment since the mid-70's has posed for the book. 'Atta girl.

In spite of some obsessive internet detective work, I wasn't able to find very many of her photographs online. Her website features a few, but sadly looks like it hasn't been updated since 1999, and hardly does them justice. She has created only one self-published book of her work, 'Asphalt Gardens: 69 Photographs by Flo Fox,' but it is long out-of-print (ps if you can find me one, I'll send you a puppy).

My favorite series is one she self-photographed for Playboy magazine. She was already nearly legally blind when these photos were taken. There's some nudity so I've hidden them after the jump.