I think it all started a week or so ago, when the hip Australian art
magazine – Lifelounge – published a spread of my USER photos.

They also put up a gallery from USER on their web site. Then, next thing
I know, my hits are going thru the roof.

A quick check of my web stats shows me that picked
up that portfolio and, from there, it turned into a Web 2.0 free-for-all.
All kinds of sites are throwing up whole bunches of USER pix.

Here’s a sampling of some of the sites I’ve found that are using USER.
(Click to enlarge these images, if you need/want to.)

Okay, where does that leave us?

First of all, let me say that I use other photographer’s images, from
time to time, here on drool. Always, though, within the context of
comment, description, comparison. (See below). I would never,
wholesale, lift a body of work and just plunk it down here. What
these sites are doing is taking my photos, copying them over to
their domain and placing them (in some cases) next to advertising.
Exploiting my work

But I don’t care. I want people to see these photos and if that’s what
it takes… be it. (For instance, the last time I looked at my stuff
on Trendhunter there had been over 6,000 gallery views.)

I’m also aware of an irony here. And that is: I’ve been accused of
exploiting the subjects in USER. To me that’s a non-issue; every
photographer who shoots people has to “exploit” his/her subjects.
That’s a given. And now, in turn, the people running these sites
are taking a whole body of my work and using it for their own ends.

(The difference is that all the people I photograph, in all my projects,
whether they be addicts, passers-by or people I bump in to on my
travels, are asked if they would like to participate. They are shown
samples of my work and, typically, a long conversation precedes the
actual photography. In a way, to paraphrase Alec Soth, I believe the
art of what I do is in my encounter with the subject. The photograph
is merely a document of that encounter.)

Edwin, Memphis, Tennessee

Now where was I? Oh yeah: Exploitation. And theft.

I exploit my subjects for personal gain. Others steal and exploit my
work for personal gain.

Welcome to Planet-Mother-Fucking-Earth.

(one of the) PLACES I’M COMING FROM (for example)

soldier by August Sander

displaced person by Walker Evans

protester by Diane Arbus

coal miner by Richard Avedon

Khymer Rouge mug shot by anonymous

soccer star by Martin Schoeller

crack addict by Tony Fouhse

I put this column of photos here not to put myself in the company of
these great photographers. No, today’s post is about theft.

When it comes to creative endeavors, well…..these days just about
nothing is new. We all have to/get to borrow from history. That’s a
fact. But, what separates the pros from the cons (as in professionals
from the con artists) is industry, effort, intent, brains and talent.

There’s a big difference between just ripping someone off and using
bits and pieces of what you know and what you’ve experienced to
produce work.

If you’re interested in certain things, if you work hard at uncovering
how and why and what you feel/think about those things, well…..that’s
the process that leads to progress. Theft is always going to be a part
of that process. Just make sure that, in the end, you make it your own.


This week, a few odds and ends from my trip down the Mississippi
Delta. Which, by the way, isn’t really a delta at all, that’s just what
they call it: The Mississippi Delta; It starts in Memphis and ends in
Vicksburg. Geologically speaking it’s really an alluvian plain. The
real, actual delta of the Mississippi River, is called The Mississippi
River Delta. Go figger.


Second last day of the trip we rolled into overcast Bobo, Mississippi
(pop 1,200). There, at the end of a street, picked cotton fields and
just plain country beyond, 2 girls were shooting hoops.

I pull over, walk up to them, say: “You know what I want to do?
I want to take a picture of you two. I want to stand way back
there and just take a picture of you playing. Is that okay with

They stared as though they’d never seen or heard a man like me
(perhaps they hadn’t) and said: “Sure”‘

I go on: “But, because you’re young I have to speak with your mom
or dad or whoever’s looking after you”.

At which point their uncle comes out of his house (trailer). I go up,
explain and he says: Yeah, sure”.

I love the lack of paranoia, the fact that folks in Mississippi take a
lot of things at face value.

Anyway, I take the shot:

Bobo, Mississippi

Afterwards I shoot a portrait of the 2 gals; Suge (pronounced like it’s short
for sugar) and Nukie.

Suge and Nukie, Bobo, Ms.

But that’s not my Bobo story. This is my Bobo story:

A short time later this little bull-like kid comes over to me, looks up and,
bossy, drawls: “Take my picture”. It sounds like: “Take ma pitchah”.

I say to him: “Is that any way to ask someone for something?”

I can see his brain working, he’s trying to figure out how to ask nicely.
This is what he comes up with: “May you take ma pitchah?”

Of course I will. I ask his name, he says a word I don’t understand. I ask him
again. Same thing. So I look over to his dad, who’s standing there. He just
shrugs and says: “We can’t pronounce his name. We call him Boo-man”.

Boo-man, Bobo, Ms


Just press the arrow, bottom left. (If you’re a regular drool reader
you’ll have seen a few of these shots last week. Oh well.)


Finally, just to give you an idea of the openness, grace and accent
of the folks in the Mississippi Delta, here’s a short video. The dude
is Jesse Fox, who we met in Leland and took to lunch.

Some of Jesse’s words you may not understand: “dialysis”, “wrasslin’/tusslin'”
and “violence”.


Because I’m feeling geeky this morning:

All these photos were shot using my Mamiya 6, medium format, range-
finder camera. I use Kodak Portra 160 VC film and scan the negatives
with a Microtek Artixscan M1 scanner. The scanner is a bit finicky with
the Mac OS (10.5.6), but the way it renders tones and colors makes it
all worth it.

The Mamiya is a great walking around camera because it’s real light and
portable. The optical viewfinder takes a bit of getting used to but the lens
is amazingly sharp. Besides, using a different tool every so often is, if you
ask me, a good thing.

I like film for the way it renders things and for the fact that you don’t get to
see what you’ve just shot…….it forces you to just shoot, if you know what I


Flew to Memphis just before Christmas.

The plan was for Cindy and me to spend a day there and then, on Christmas
Day, head south. A tour of the Mississippi Delta.

They say that the Mississippi Delta begins in the lobby of the Peabody Hotel
in Memphis and ends on Catfish Row in Vicksburg. That’s just over 200 miles
down famous Highway 61. We were gonna drive slow, poke around and see
what would happen.

De-icing in Detroit

Baggage label, Memphis

Somehow or other we ended up setting out towards a Christmas Day of desolation.
Call it an experiment. Call it foolhardy. Call me craaaazy. I was looking, I think, to
find myself in a place where the outward manifestation would reflect what I feel on
the inside, Christmas Day. A place not exactly hopeless or void of form, but certainly
forlorn. Cindy, I’m pretty sure, just wanted a holiday.

You see, I’ve never really been a fan of Christmas. It kind of reminds me of premature
ejaculation. All that build up and, whoops, it’s over. Or, at least, it’s all over but the
crying. Right?

Anyway, Christmas Day we drove from Memphis to West Memphis, Arkansas.
West Memphis is a trap, man. There are off ramps on the highway to there
where you can get off but you can’t get back on. You get stuck. Lost. You’re

Christmas Day, West Memphis, Arkansas

After a while we made it back to Mississippi and drove south along Highway
61 to Powell. There we crossed the bridge to Helena, Arkansas, as blown away
a town as I’ve ever seen. Vacant.

Waiting, Christmas Day, Helena, Arkansas

Main Street, Christmas Day, Helena, Arkansas

The point that day, though, was to get to Clarksdale, Mississippi, famous
for being the place where legendary blues musician Robert Johnson sold
his soul to the Devil.

Robert Johnson was a young black man, living in rural Mississippi, with a
burning desire to become a great blues musician. He was instructed to go
to the crossroads, where Highway 61 intersects Highway 49, at midnight.
There he met and made a deal with the Devil; Johnson traded his soul to
become the greatest blues musician anyone had ever heard. He recorded
a total of 30 songs in his short (27 year) life. You don’t last long when the
Devil owns your soul.

Back in the early 1930’s, when all this was taking place, these Crossroads
would have been in the country, on the edge of town. These days Clarksdale
is a bit bigger, with a weird commercial strip there. Or, at least, a small-
Mississippi-town kind of strip. A tire store, donut shop, vacant buildings, a
car wash and so on. But, if you try, you can still feel it, feel the past.

The Crossroads, Christmas Day, Clarksdale, Mississippi

I went down to the crossroads, fell down on my knees
I went down to the crossroads, fell down on my knees
Asked the Lord above, have mercy now
Save poor Bob if you please.

Robert Johnson, 1934

We rolled into Clarksdale Christmas Night. The sun was setting,
everything was looking blue. I went down to the Crossroads, fell
down on my knees. Nothing. Nothing is what I wanted. Nothing is
what I expected. Nothing is what I got. This Christmas Day.

Detail, The Crossroads, Christmas Day, Clarksdale, Mississippi