Chasing Photographs

Photo by Shawn Nee / discarted

It’s hard to remember this day, but it was sometime during the summer when it was still cold.

For the most part, I had been wasting my days in Hollywood photographing my friends that lived on the streets or in their cars. What had started as a documentary project about three years ago had turned into a lifestyle. And around mid-day, if you were looking for me, I could most likely be found at a friend’s van, overlooking the 101 Freeway.  Each day we’d cook a little bit of food on his propane burner and watch the rush-hour traffic pass below us, bullshitting about whatever helped pass the time. My friend is a skilled tinkerer and obsessed with cars, so the conversation would often involve him describing in great detail what he would do to fix up some shitty box-car like the Toyota Scion if he ever had some money.  I took a strange pride in pointing out his favorite cars before he had a chance to find them among the hundreds crawling below us.

Then Meg showed up.

Before then, I had never talked to Meg, but I would catch glimpses of her as she wandered Sunset Boulevard. I learned quickly that she was someone you wanted to be around because you knew something was going to happen. But then she would ditch you for the next random thought that burned through her head.

Throughout the summer, I would occasionally see her walking alone in the distance glancing at cars here and there as they crept by her—their break lights abruptly turning red and then blacking out as the car drove away.  One day, I saw her walking with some black guy I had never seen before. I asked around about him, but nobody knew who he was. Shortly after that, Meg disappeared. And as the weeks dragged on, rumors spread that she was clean. But people say all kinds of things out here, and you learn not to believe anything until you see it for yourself.  Since the only way anybody leaves this neighborhood is by going to jail or dying—and jail is only a temporary, yet cyclical, vacation.

Being attracted to the girls on the street who consist solely on meth and crack, is admittedly, a peculiar feeling that can’t be explained or understood.

It’s a habit that creates an oily, crumbling abyss that destroys smiles which most parents tried to perfect when these women were still just little girls.  With meth, open sores will often appear on the body, as tiny drops of yellowish liquid percolate through dime-sized scabs dotting the face.  And with crack, all it takes is a five-minute hand job or a dollar for some “short change” in order to see the “crack man dance.”

On the other hand, meth combined with the limited consumption of food will also often transform the female body into an architectural and biological phenomenon that would make Aphrodite jealous, and cause some men to digress.

I would describe the sensation of flirting with these impulses as similar to holding a rattlesnake or a loaded gun, or poking a black widow with your index finger in a way that actually pisses the thing off, so it wants to bite you. The rush of adrenaline and energy that stampedes through the body while your mind wrestles with every possible “what if” is insatiable. It’s addictive and no matter what you do after that, you’re always chasing that feeling and the roar of that shutter clicking.

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