Posts Tagged 'poverty'

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.

You a Sneakin’ Mutha…


I sit in the driver’s seat of William’s truck as rush hour traffic collects just below us on the 101 freeway. It’s August and sweat collects on the back of my neck and arms as the first significant heat wave brings triple digits to Los Angeles. It’s so hot out that if you look at the pavement long enough, you can see the shadows of invisible nuclear vapors slithering across the sidewalk.

I’m bored and even more depressed, but can’t stop myself from coming here. I think about all of the things I’ve fucked up in my life. I think about my family that I’ve been away from for almost a decade. I think about my ex-girlfriend. I think about leaving L.A., so I can see my family and ex-girlfriend. I think about this prostitute I wanna photograph.

And then a cockroach pokes its body out from in between the bent pages of an 18 magazine that’s been dumped on the dashboard. It’s female and carrying eggs. I think about crushing it with my hand, but it zigzags across a collection of odd items and junk and then crawls into an empty Shasta can before I can make a decision. Growing up people would often say that a cockroach could survive the aftermath of an atomic bomb, but in Los Angeles, when you wake up in morning you can find dozens of them dead on the sidewalk.

I sit in the driver’s seat of William’s truck watching them, waiting for something to happen.

Me: That doesn’t hurt?

William: Fifteen yars locked up, whadda you think?


Joe: Ooh there he go again with that camera…sneakin’ mutha fucka takin’ my picture! Right when I’m takin’ a drink too! You a sneakin’ MUTHA FUCKA!

Williams shitty plastic razor scrapes across his neck. A drop of blood pokes through his skin.

Joe: WILLIAM! How come you don’t ever let me sit in the truck, but you let h-i-m?

Joe takes another big drink, consuming what’s left of his 211. He looks at me.

Joe: You still my boy.

Joe raises a tightened fist and pushes his arm through the driver’s window. I reciprocate and press my knuckles against a collection of open sores and wonder what diseases he might have.

The thought passes and the day drags on.

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