HOMIES

IMAGES INTO THE MIX.

POSTCARD

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.

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Stephanie at Melberby Beach, Nova Scotia, June 23, 2011

ADAM AMENGUAL

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
struck again.

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…..

edward_mejia_mg_0666
Edward Mejia

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.

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Jose Ruiz

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
quotes.

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Cindy Hernandez

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.

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Jerry Montaque

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. 

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Adrian Caceres

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.

You will find more of Adam’s work here.
e-photo review just did a thing on Adam, too. See it here.

screen-shot-2011-07-15-at-120136-pm

RECENT EDITORIAL

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Basketball coach Charles Taffe, for CARLETON magazine

QUOTE

“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.”

Jim Jarmusch

VISITING STEPHANIE (two)

PREAMBLE

Another long post. I wonder if it’s boring.

The overt drama of the early days of this project is receding and
Steph (and I) are left with the dreary day-to-day struggle of the
recovering addict.

I know that she’s not free and clear yet, that there will be many
more struggles and small dramas to be played out. Maybe some
big ones too. We’ll see.

What follows is a chronology, a record of these two days. I’m just
keeping track…..

TUESDAY, JUNE 21. . . STEPH GETS UP AND VISITS A COAL MINE

I have so many fotos of Steph sleeping, getting up. That’s because
she spends a lot of time sleeping and getting her up is a constant
task.

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Steph sleeping

These days, once she’s up she’s not sick, she’s not hurting, she’s
not in a bad mood. She gets going fairly well.

44
Steph getting up

The first day I was in New Glasgow Steph took great delight in
pointing out a lot of her personal landmarks. So I suggested
we go to visit the house (trailer) she grew up in. We went.

51
Outside her childhood home

Afterwards we went to visit her mom, Karen. It was swell getting to
meet her again. She had spent a week with us in Ottawa when Steph
got out of the hospital, but those circumstances were fraught with
tension, not-knowing and, for the first 4 or 5 days at least, Steph
was kind of out of her mind, wild. It was like living with a child who
had been raised by wolves. Meeting Karen on her home turf, in a
much more relaxed (functional) setting I got to see the true family
dynamic. Matter of fact.

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Steph at her mom’s house

During that visit it came up that there’s an open pit coal mine
just down the road. I’m always up for a look at heavy industry
so I suggested to Steph we go and check it out.

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Steph and a big truck, Stellarton Mine

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Steph on the edge of an open pit, shooting

Steph was very excited to see the mine, she had lived in the area
for 16 or so years and never seen it. She took a whole bunch of
fotos. I’ll attach a slide show of them here. Click on the arrow,
bottom left, to see.

After seeing and shooting that pit we moved down the road to
the next pit. Steph moseyed right on up to the edge and then
pretended to loose her balance. I almost had a heart attack.
It’s good to see her joking around and laughing again. That
was something that was in short supply just 4 months ago
when she was, like, a total junkie.

10
Steph at Stellarton Mine

After that we went into “downtown” New Glasgow for some
dinner. Mostly New Glasgow has fast-food chain restaurants
but there are a few locally owned and operated spots as well.
Even those serve pretty much bad-calorie type of food. We
went to Acropole. I had pizza, Steph had a donair. Dr Pepper
for me and chocolate milk, as usual, for her.

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Then it was back to the motel. Every so often, during the time I’ve
been shooting Steph, she has wanted shots of her body, just to see
how it is changing. The last time we did this she weighed 88 pounds.
These days she’ll happily tell anyone who cares to listen that she’s
up to 117.

121

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Steph, The Tara Inn, New Glasgow

WEDNESDAY, JUNE 22. . . A TRIP TO THE BEACH, A GRADUATION CEREMONY

First order of business: see about a lawyer.

Steph has a number of outstanding warrants and, if she’s stopped
by the cops will go straight to jail. Wanted.

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Steph at Legal Aid

We went to Nova Scotia Legal Aid and were told that, because she’s
wanted, her only course of action is to turn herself in and then let
events unfold. Steph isn’t prepared to do that so we left and she’s
still on the run.

What do you do after getting that kind of news? We went to the beach.

Melmerby Beach is a place Steph went to a lot when she was growing
up. It’s only about 15 minutes from New Glasgow and is right on the
Atlantic Ocean.

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And here’s another slide show, fotos by Steph.

While we were there Steph started thinking about how great it
would be if she could bring her son, Cole, there, then. Couldn’t
get that idea out of her head. Problem is, she doesn’t have custody
of him, her Grandparents do.

So we went to her Grandparents place to see if we could bring
him to the beach. It wasn’t possible. You see, Steph can only
see Cole at her Grandparents or in public places under super-
vision.

b3
Steph and her mother

b1
Steph with a foto of her and newborn Cole

It was also the first time I had met Cole, seen Steph with her
son. You can just tell that Steph is so good with children and
see how he lights her up and how much they love each other.

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Steph and Cole

We were reminded that Cole was graduating from pre-school that
evening. There was going to be a big ceremony that we couldn’t
miss. So we headed back to the motel to change for the event
and headed on over.

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Getting dressed

c2
Brushing hair

I’m not exactly sure where the ceremony took place, besides the
fact it was in some school gym, in some small town close to New
Glasgow. I do know that it was quite interesting, being the outsider,
soaking up the small-town, East-coast juju.

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Graduation gym

d2
Detail

d4
Steph looking at Cole’s work book

There was a huge crowd of proud parents but none seemed prouder
than Steph. She was beside herself with excitement. Thinking back
to just 4 months ago this would have seemed impossible….to see
her so enthralled at this ceremony.

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Steph and Cole waiting for the event to begin

Seems to me that the fact that Steph gets to see Cole, that they get
to hang out is so good for both of them.

Here’s part of an email Steph sent me a couple of days ago:

Tony,
Hey buddie
whats up? not alot here I had alot of fun when
you were here you filled my days and made me
realize alot like when I was telling you about
what I would do if someone said here is a half
point of heroine and you said is it worth all that
work of getting off of it to see Cole to do a half
point and risk going off again and not seeing
Cole. So you answered my biggest question…

love you guys
love stephanie xoxoxoxo

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Cole and Steph

d7
Cole

Afterwards we went back to the motel. I give Steph “homework” to do.
I asked her to write down her recollections of how and when we first
met.

She wrote 2 pages, in her impeccable penmanship, and from that I asked
her to copy the middle few sentences. They seemed fitting and mysterious
enough. You can hear her voice.

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Steph doing homework at The Tara Inn

e4

And that brings us to Wednesday night. The next day, Thursday was my
last day.

Next week I’ll be thinking out loud about this trip, what was it? I’m still
trying to figure out the thoughts and feelings that this visit triggered
in me. I’ve got lots to think about. You (and I) will have to wait until
next week. Wait for my thoughts to settle, congeal.

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Steph and me, Wednesday night, The Tara Inn

THERE’S A RIOT GOING ON

USER

I did a “final” edit on USER, thinking about turning it into a
book. Sent that edit out to BLURB so I could actually see and
feel the sequence, the spreads and the turns. Got the BLURB
thingy back a few days ago….

a-001

There are some passages I’m quite pleased with, but sitting
down and thumbing thru the thing also showed me some
weak points. Not that I expected the first go-round to be
the be-all and end-all.

Even before I got the dummy back I started (restarted) the
whole exercise from scratch, anyway. This time I decided
to not hold the fotos, their original cropping and framing,
sacrosanct. Decided to crop and use bleeds. The thinking
being, fotos on the wall of a gallery are one thing, but a
book can actually be something else altogether.

Here are a couple of spreads from Version 2:

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I’m still in the middle of this Version 2 reconfiguration and
once that’s done am going to throw all the Stephanie images
into the mix and do a third version including those, just to see
how complicated I can make this exercise.

And, speaking of Steph……

STEPHANIE

Stephanie finally got access to a computer and she sent this
along for all you droolers to read:


Hey Guys,

Since the last time I wrote to you guys I was still
getting use to the amount of methadone I was
taking plus a few times I did screw up!

I was sort of missing the whole process of getting
the pill ready and the rush that I would do A pill
and get the same feeling as I did before the meth-
adone, but the joke was on me ! I did’nt feel a thing.
I guess this is the whole point of methadone is it
blocks out the feeling you get from the pills so I
learned quickley that the pills had to go! no point!.

Besides the slip with the pills I also had a slip with
cocaine shooting it and smoking it but its been
almost a month since I did anything stupid. I try
my best to take one day at a time and soon enough
I will be holding my little boy in my arms where he
should be!.

Tony who I would like to say is my best friend we are
in contact at least once a week and hes coming to visit
and I cant wait it will be so fun! He will get to see the
real Stephanie and not the doped up one. I look at
Tony as one of my familey members now because
witch one of my friends were their trying to get me
to stop heroine? no one was. my aquaitances were
their doing the heroine with me so that draws the
line right there friend/foe if I have money I’m their
my friend, if I dont I’m their foe.

Now that im living on my own I have alot of respons-
abilty like paying bills and getting food but mom and
nan always will help with that (lol) gotta love them. I
will keep ya up to date on how things are doing on
my end.

-STEPHANIE-

I’m flying out to Nova Scotia this morning to visit her and to continue
the project, now titled: LIVE THROUGH THIS.

I expect there will be a full account of that trip next week. In the
meantime, let me leave you with a shot I took of Steph a few days
after she left Hospital….April 7th, this year……

steph-april-7-2011-030

SOME THOUGHTS ON THE VANCOUVER RIOT AND FOTOGRAFY

A bit of a preamble for all you non-Canadians out there (and, yes, this
will eventually get to something foto-related):

This past Wednesday the Vancouver Canucks lost Game 7 of the National
Hockey League Stanley Cup Final. The Canucks were supposed to win but
the Boston Bruins had more heart, more desire, more grit and beat them,
fair and square.

It seemed that almost all Canadians were rooting for the “home” team,
seeing as its been so long since a Canadian team has won it all and, after
all, hockey is “our” game, right? Not that “home” team really has anything
to do with anything, these teams are just composed of mercenaries…..but
I digress. (Me, I like teams for their character, not the country they “come”
from.)

So, after the loss some of the 100,000 fans who had gathered in downtown
Vancouver rioted, big time. This, of course, resulted in a plethora of fotos.
One of those fotos seems to be getting an inordinate amount of play and
attention
. A foto, one of many, shot by Getty Images fotografer Rich Lam.

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© Rich Lam/Getty Images

Now, we all know, or should know, that fotografers submit a bunch of selects
to the powers that be. That selection is the fotografers’ first and last chance
at control (barring the whole where-do-I-stand-and-when-do-I-push-the-
button thing). The powers that be, I suppose, make further edits and send
the stuff out into the wide world, where the crowd makes up it’s own mind.
So the following thoughts are in no way related to Mr. Lam’s abilities, nor to
his selection process. Indeed, there are so many images of/from that riot
floating around that it’s preposterous to think that the working press foto-
grafer who produced this particular image was doing anything other that
his job. In fact, I’m singling out this foto because it has been singled out
so often.

I have to admit I’m a bit perplexed. What, really, does this image have to do
with what went on? It’s true that the event depicted in that shot did, in fact,
go on, but why has that particular foto gone viral?

I don’t get it. I suppose the over-the-top contrast of tenderness (or is that
sex?) in the midst of chaos is easy and palatable. It allows us to wonder,
wonder just what, exactly, is going on. And isn’t that one of the great things
about fotographs? drools usual stance is to embrace images that ask questions
rather than answer them. But in this case, for me, it just seems too pat, too glib.

To me the popularity of this image speaks to the same kinds of human
impulses that cause riots (or any other kind of mass hysteria) in the first
place, but without shedding any light. It doesn’t really explain or explore,
it just buys in.

CHRISTINA RILEY

Some people tell me I’m funny.

Example:

Tony: Do you think we should move over there?
Some people: You’re funny.
Tony: But I only said ˜Do you think we should move over there?
Some people: It’s the way you said it.

Funny, I guess.

I never really got it (being funny) until I met Christina, my assistant.
I’m pretty sure that she’s funny the way I’m funny…..just the way she
says stuff makes me laugh. Now I get it: funny.

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Christina and me, 2006

Christina and I have been funny together for a year and a half but
that’s all ending. She’s quitting to go surfing and then she’s going
on to do her own thing. I’m sure going to miss her funny.

I’ve only got about a million shots of her as she stood in, during
assignments, for shot blocking and lighting.

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The bit above was one of my first blog posts, from way back in
September, 2006. The reason I bring it up is because, after a few
years of surfing and hanging (with the occasional personal project
thrown in) Christina, one of the most talented fotografers I know
(quiet, modern, quirky) has decided to get back in the game.

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Christina and me, Pismo Beach, California, February, 2011

If you need a shooter in California, or are just interested, you
will find the details here.