The essays below reflect my deep past, my darkest, bleakest hours and my struggle to hold onto hope. That fine silk thread of hope is the reason that I am here today. I would never change my past, it has shaped me into the human that I am today. I am and will always be grateful. I feel that I suffered through decades of PTSD, and only in these past few years have I even begun to turn the worm and redirect my life. Am I too sensitive? Yes. Am I too vulnerable? Yes. Am I too hard on myself? Yes. I will always feel that I have never given back enough, never created enough awareness and all for good reason. I've always been able to step onto a plane and leave. Behind me rests my past, I share it, simply to inform the present.
BELFAST + APARTHEID
Belfast, Northern Ireland and Apartheid South Africa have been inexorably joined since my boots first hit the pavement of the real world in the winter of 1987. In Belfast, I met many who self identified with the struggle of those living under and through Apartheid. One of the many murals during my time in Belfast, depicted Nelson Mandela and his fellow South Africans struggle for equality and freedom. The bleak oppression, the class and racial discrimination, the violence, the fear all simmered together in the same cauldron.
AIDS + FAMINE
Darfur and my AIDS story were literally seven days apart. Opposite ends of the world and opposite ends of my soul. I found myself wrung dry in terms of my already broken soul. Seeing the same ravaged bodies through the needle of my eye left my soul in ashes. More profoundly powerful women and men were there to take them across the river of life with a dignity and courage I could never possess.
AFTER THE FALL: EL SALVADOR + ROMANIA
Romania was a kaleidoscopic experience in the mid 90’s. I worked three stories: children with AIDS, a story on oil and then an essay on the homeless children living in the train station by day and the underground sewers by night. It was a tough country to work back then. I was arrested twice, kicked out of my hotel, kicked out of a restaurant and had film confiscated. It felt as if the weight of the country rested on each individuals shoulders. My goal was to shoulder that weight in an attempt to deeply understand what her people were living through. Of course I never could. El Salvador was another country in pieces, shredded, broken from the outside unlike Romania who broke from within. To arrive into a country of devastation, in such deep crisis is overwhelming. Millions of people had lost everything in a matter of seconds. They had lost their family, their home, their livelihood and they were scared, hungry, thirsty, and needing medical attention all at the same time. A camera is the worst thing to have in my hands at times, when all people need is unconditional love, empathy, reassurance and a kind soul to understand them.
RWANDA + SARAJEVO
Rwanda and Sarajevo took me over the precipice and left me there. Price of admission is something I’ll spend the rest of my life never getting over. My negatives will confirm that, my words, my memories and all the photographs I didn’t make. The toughest decisions in my life were both made in these countries. Both were about overcoming fear, my own. Confronting genocide, pushing up against everything I thought I knew about humanity, about myself. I felt I literally had to start my life over, because nothing ever could or would be the same ever again.
LEGACY WAR: ISRAEL + VIETNAM
I laid down the camera’s here in Israel. I’d obliterated the edge. Journalists were a 1/2 mile away in flak jackets and steel helmets, I was a foot away with nothing. Completely vulnerable was the only way in. As a photographer, I only bled from within. I was a master of concealment. Until the rooms of Agent Orange took me down under, down under the veil of the Vietnam War. Hidden ghosts from the afterlife surrounded me, swallowing me down into their world. Image after image are folded onto my negatives, until I find myself in tears behind my camera. I am broken. I leave their room, and for the first time in my career, I enter the room without my cameras. I embrace the light in their beautiful souls and I am now free.
HAVANA + HAITI
Havana and Haiti have always felt like two sisters; each a half shell of an oyster with an incandescent pearl that they share between them. I started working in both countries in 1991, knowing that I'd spend at least ten years working in both. For Cuba it was the Special Period, life after losing Russia's financial support after their own collapse. Haiti, well, she was left to stand on her own two feet after the ousting of Baby Doc and the long burnt shadow of a legacy left behind by the Duvalier family. At the core of both countries though resides a sacred devotion, a restless spirit in search of the infinite.
In 2012, I needed to bring my hand back to my photography. A decade plus in the nineties was spent in the darkroom, processing film and printing my images. Then emerged the digital age, when our cameras were converted into computers. My hand held the camera at the point of creation, and my hand waited to catch the print as it exited the printer. Every aspect is mechanical and software driven and photographs have become white noise, genetically modified pixels. The turning point was a flight home from San Francisco with a fourteen-year old pixie of a girl sitting next to me with ten differently painted fingernails using Photo Shack to dodge and burn her Chihuahua on her iPhone. Our craft was now gone.
A month later, I sat in my studio staring at an image I had just done for Vanity Fair of Robert Kennedy Jr.; and I just felt that there could be more, there had to be a new point of departure. Those initial thoughts drove me down to the art store, and I began experimenting until I landed on the right combination of elements. I began to slowly see an image render before me just as a print would, and felt I'd been birthed into a new darkroom. I have infused my spirit and love for the craft back into the process, and the photograph for me now feels completely different.
Tendrils of twisted carbon flow and ebb, spreading themselves, pushing their veins out onto the barren landscape. Ancient feathered indigo, the gentle filament, imprints and curls its way onto my cornea. Images unfold here in an effortless cycle, birthed into an afterworld where color mixes with the ethereal. The flow of water begins, the cycle collapses into itself.