Regular droolers will know that my recent trip to visit Stephanie was made
possible because of crowdfunding. All the folks who supported the trip got
daily email updates and will receive prints, too.
They also got a personal thank-you post-card from Steph and I……
Thanks to Andrew for sending along these snaps of the card we sent him.
Stephanie at Melberby Beach, Nova Scotia, June 23, 2011
drool has a short blog roll. Now, some bloggers will link indiscriminately
to aid their Google ranking. Others have compiled large lists of blogs
because they like a lot of blogs.
I have to admit that I only regularly read 6 or 8 fotoblogs and it’s been
over a year since I added one to drool’s list of links. And that would be
Los Angeles fotografer Adam Amengual’s Wandering Wayfarer.
The first I heard of Adam was when I saw his new series of portraits:
HOMIES. Struck, I headed over to check out his online presence. I was
Adam shoots for money, but he also shoots for the love of it. His web
site holds aspects of both these pursuits and his blog is a swell mix
what he’s up to now, some side projects in progress and so on.
There’s lots I could ask him but I want to stick with the HOMIES…..
drool: Adam, tell me a little about the genesis of this project. Why you
were interested, how you made contact, the hoops you had to jump
through to make it happen.
A.A.: I’ve been attracted to two stories for quite a long time. One is
the story of why people join gangs, cults, hardcore religious factions,
etc. The other is the story of positive change, how a human can go
from living a negative existence to a productive one.
I had several other projects that I was researching when I happened
to hear about Homeboy Industries on NPR (National Public Radio). I
had passed their building several times after moving to LA but I never
knew what it was or paid much attention to it. Both my wife and I were
listening to NPR and Kate says to me, “hey that’s that building next to
China town.” The story of Homeboy Industries, as a gang intervention
center sparked my interest instantly. So just like several other projects
I was researching, I cold emailed Homeboy Industries, but unlike the
other potential projects Homeboy got right back to me after one email.
I have to say that it was very cool of them to trust me right away. I hadn’t
photographed a project similar to this subject before and my current web
site had only pictures that were singles and one off portraits, no projects.
So I had to just describe my idea to my contact there and hope for the best.
Homeboy is a place that takes people in and sees the potential in them
when others do not, I could not have picked a better place to do my first
project like this. They were open to working with me from the beginning,
which was awesome and a good confidence boost for me. It took about 6
months after that initial contact to actually setup when to shoot, but still,
after our initial emails I knew something was going to happen at some point.
My good friend and fellow photographer Dylan Vitone (dylanvitone.com) has
worked in documentary photography for his entire career. He has been a
mentor and friend for about 10 years and has seen the direction of my
photography change a lot in that time. I had talked with him a lot about
shooting more project based work and not just shooting editorial port-
raiture. I think one of the best pieces of advice he had given me was
that you never know where a project will take you or how it will work
out, the most important thing is just to shoot it and let it take on it’s
own momentum and direction.
When I first contacted Homeboy I wanted to find a few people that would
allow me to start making documentary portraits in their home and/or out
in their own environment. After my first few email with my administrative
contacts there I realized that shooting out side of Homeboy wasn’t going
to happen immediately and that I would have to initially shoot on the org-
anization’s physical grounds. I then decided to do a “portrait day” where
anyone interested could come and sit for a “studio” portrait. This worked
out fantastic and really helped the project come together conceptually. I
love both environmental portraiture and studio portraiture. There are
strengths and weaknesses to both in how they tell a person’s story. For
“Homies”, I feel the studio style works because you get to concentrate
on the subjects and get to compare their similarities and differences with-
out distraction of the place that surrounds them.
Also, the shot begs the comparison to a mug shot of sorts but a beautiful
one. Almost all of these people have been arrested and have had a mug
shot taken of them. I feel like I have flipped that idea and made a more
beautiful version of an ugly picture from their past. Just like what the
subjects themselves are doing with their own lives. They’re taking what
they once were and making themselves better.
So after setting up my initial tour, emailing back and forth a dozen or
so times, I finally was able to setup a shoot day. I knew I could have
shot it a lot simpler, with a lot less gear but I decided to push that a
bit and created a black box studio in the lobby of the Homeboy Ind-
ustries building. I brought two assistants with me as well. I photo-
graphed 50 people that day.
Looking back, there were many factors that came together to make
this happen which molded the project in both look/feel and concept.
I took Dylan’s advice, and let it take its own path. I am hoping to have
a few spin off projects based around individuals whom I am following
up with. I have also gone back to interview some people to add some
drool: Okay. Wow. Lots of information. I’m asking this next question
because it’s something that comes up with USER. Do you think people
relate/react to your HOMIES fotos in a specific way because of who/what
the subjects are? Does this matter to you?
A.A.: Yes and Yes. I think that people relate/react to my subjects in
this series in a few specific ways. For one, gang culture is one of
those things in America that is oddly glorified, especially since the
90’s with the popularity of gangster rap. So there is the curiosity
of those that glorify that lifestyle. And then, unfortunately, I am
sure that there are also some that look at the people in Homies,
especially the ones that are heavily tattooed, that are curious
about them on some kind of freak show level. I am more annoyed
by this person than the person who glorifies gang life, but that kind
of viewer is generally unavoidable. Another type of person that
seems to be drawn to these pictures are lovers of tattoo culture. I
personally have been very interested in the ways tattoos have been
used around the world, whether its tribal, criminal, decorative, etc.,
so I can see this connection as well.
What I hope for the most, and what I’m trying to achieve is for people
to look at the Homies and see another human being, that they take a
minute/30 seconds to try to empathize with the person they are look-
ing at. My goal with portraiture like this is to have people connect with
another person on some kind of level. Although it may never be as real
as a physical, person to person interaction, I still think you can have some
kind of relation to a person through a picture. Many people would be far
less inclined to initially connect person to person with a subject like one
of the Homies because of the intimidation factor. I think it’s important
that portraits are made of something other than a celebrity or some other
demigod of modern culture that we “strive” to relate to. We see hundreds
of portraits everyday in magazines and billboards that people stare at and
wish they were as cool, beautiful, rich, etc… as. I hope when people look
at the Homies series or anything similar, that they connect on a more
human level, that they understand a piece of that person and gain a
respect for them. It is important to me that my subjects are represented
as proud and always shown in a respectful manner, even if they may be
at a tough spot in life.
drool: Thanks Adam, is there anything you’d like to add?
A.A.: I would just like to thank everyone who helped make this project
happen, Rebecca, Norma and Marissa at Homeboy Industries. Aly and
Mark at Milk Studios and David at OTMFC, John DuBois, Lauren Lemons
and my wife Kate, without her support of me as an artist and photographer
I don’t think I could put the time and effort into making this kind of work. If
you like my Homies series please take a second and donate to Homeboy Ind-
ustries, you can find out more about them here: Homeboy Industries. And
Thank you to you Tony! I really appreciate your interest in the project.
Basketball coach Charles Taffe, for CARLETON magazine
“Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with
inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new
films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams,
random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs,
trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select
only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul.
If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic.
Authenticity is invaluable; originality is non-existent.
And don’t bother concealing your thievery – celebrate
it if you feel like it. In any case, always remember what
Jean-Luc Godard said: “It’s not where you take things
from – it’s where you take them to.”