For Robert Adams and Roberto Bolano
During December 2011, I traveled back to Denver with two goals in mind. First, I wanted to see the Robert Adams retrospective at the Denver Art Museum.
The second goal remains a bit more elusive and difficult to explain. But I was trying to retrace my youth, and discover the early well-springs of my work and life as an artist. I wanted to photograph, and to write.
The first section (really all I read in Denver) is narrated by a young poet named Juan Garcia Madero, and he relates his early life in Mexico City and his attempts to become an artist. He really wanders the city, looking for poetic companionship, and yet in many ways seems blind to the real meaning of his calling. Bolano, seems to me, was influenced by the Magical Realists of South America, The Beat poets in the United States, and the Surrealists. All these influences seem embodied in Juan Garcia Madero and his friends; they call themselves the Virtual Realists.
This was a great novel for me to read at the time, because in many ways I was recording something similar, looking back to my own youth when the roots of my practice today were sown. To a time when I walked the city streets of Denver imagining myself as an artist, with no sense of what that meant nor what I wanted to do (I made nothing then).
And so I’ve begun the preliminaries of pulling something of these photographs and writings together. It might be my next project, but I’m still negotiating this new feeling and approach to my work. I’ve given it all the working title Born in the New West, after the famous and influential book by Robert Adams (Adam’s photographs were made during my childhood in Denver, and record something so greatly familiar). The photographs I’ve pursued in these recent trips to Denver are deliberately made in a style reminiscent of these great works by Adams, largely for the reflection they hold in regards to my own childhood, the time I choose to reflect upon with these journey back home.
I like the pictures – I love making them – but mostly they seem unoriginal. There is much about the print palette to explore still, but in the end, the idea in mind is for the photographs to work more directly with some written fragments I am developing while photographing. The writings are anecdotal, and in another way document my early years in Denver. Ultimately, I hope for a book, and the real narrative will exist between the images and the text (I don’t see these pictures holding up an exhibition at all).
In recent weeks, I have begun a first edit of the photographs by scanning in the negatives. In this first selection of images, I am looking for photographs that have some metaphor about time, lose, or reinvention; or for a specific memory I associate with the location photographed; or some association I can make with my writings.
I read a lovely little book this summer by Nicholas Muellner, Amnesia Pavilions. Muellner’s work, in many ways, demonstrates the idea I pursue with Born in the New West. His book chronicles a trip back to Russia, in which he looks to again find an old love. The story comes in fragments, and the space between the image and word is like a rich harmony, suggesting so much more than it details.
The Kid, he had tagged all over the city, really hundreds if not thousands of times. Everywhere you went in the city, you saw it, The Kid. I knew him, too. In a way, we grew up together. We weren’t really friends, but we went to school together, elementary through high school. And he was a smart, creative guy, and we took a lot of classes together.
The Kid, his tag, it was great. He certainly had skills as a painter. The ‘I’ was an arrow pointing down, and the “D’ somehow suggested the devil.
There were lots of myths about his childhood and family life, but none of us knew for certain. I was friends with Daniel at school, but never saw him out of school. They said his dad travelled the country selling novelty items to adult stores – pocket pussies pocket and butt plugs, terms one relished in the 7th grade – and that he never really stayed at home. Can’t remember what we said about his mom, but I remember as being something broken.
We were desk mates in the 6th grade, took French, Algebra, and X-English together in middle school, and in high school AP biology and geometry.
Freshmen year at Manual High, he became what must have been the first Korean-American member of The Crips. The Kid was his gang tag and identity. At 16 he was given a life sentence for beating a woman to death will golf clubs, as part of an initiation or something.
Last I saw him was on public access television when home on a college break. It was a documentary about him, championing his gifts as an artist; apparently he used his time in prison to complete an arts education. The documentary tried to document his graffiti across the city, but by this time much of it had been tagged over or white washed.
The goal now is to return to Denver for a few weeks this summer to continue to photograph and write.