Posts in Category: Photo Essays

Mother days

Yeah, I know, Mother’s Day is quasi-holiday that is way too commercialized. But that doesn’t mean we can’t legitimately set aside one day per year to honor our mums for bringing us into this world and then doing their best not to fuck everything up after that. Motherhood is hard work, a lifetime of it. It’s 24/7 for at least 18 years but really it’s from the day you’re born until the day one of you dies. And for the rest of their life whoever remains has to do whatever it takes to keep from falling completely apart emotionally.

It’s vicious, it’s cruel, it’s love, and it’s life itself. If asked I bet most mothers would say they wouldn’t trade one good, great, bad, or horrible second of raising their children for anything. I hope that includes your mom.

To celebrate this day of Eggs Benedict, mimosas, and fresh-cut flowers I present a small gallery of photographs I’ve taken in the past few years of moms and their kids. I hope you enjoy it, and see the beauty and edginess in these people who share a human bond like no other…

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Brisbane, California, July 2015

Akagi Shrine, Kagurazaka, Tokyo 2015 (Story: http://www.brisbanegraphicartsmuseum.com/?p=116)

Kagurazaka, Tokyo, Japan, November 2015

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Sierra Point Yacht Club, Brisbane, California, September 2016

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Clarion Alley, San Francisco, March 2017

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Nijiya Market, Japantown, San Francisco, July 2017

(Photographed in Tokyo, Japan, and Brisbane and San Francisco, California. See my other work here and here.)

How a cat gets it done

My fuzzy espionage friend Mikazuki and I are pleased to present you with this brief visual guide illustrating The Four Stages of Kitty-Induced Aggravation, as established by famous Swiss animal behaviorists in the 1960s. However, be advised this is for educational purposes only. My cat is a professional. Please don’t try this at home…

Stage 1, Denial: “Mika, you son of a bitch, DO NOT even think about it!”

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Stage 2, Anger: “Goddamn it, Mika, get the FUCK down from there!!”

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Stage 3, Bargaining: “Mika-chan, please don’t do that. Mika, please come down. Mika-chan?”

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Stage 4, Acceptance: “Jesus Christ, he did it. I’m impressed. Now I need the step ladder.”

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(Brisbane, California, March 2018. See more of Mika-chan and his brother Kuro-chan here. And see my other work here and here.)

These crazy fucking cats

Lacking both the energy and ambition on Christmas Eve to present to you photographs and text covering my usual range of topics, I’ve decided to just show you some pictures of my cats. My insane, hyper-kinetic, fuzzy-beautiful fucking cats. I figure no matter where you are as a Scholars and Rogues reader on the American political spectrum, my 10-month-old cats will cause no offense and might even make you smile.

See, 2017 has been a rather shitty year for me. Two big reasons why are my wife was hospitalized in January, then we lost our beloved cat Indy on Valentine’s Day. Being the life-long cat ladies that we are, my wife and I intensely felt how empty both our lives and our house were after Indy. So even though we both felt emotionally that it was too soon after his death and the deep grief it caused to have new cats, we adopted two eight-week-old kittens on April 1st from some very nice folks up near Sacramento.

And these are they, Kuro and Mika, brothers from the same litter, furry brigands who chew on everything, routinely beat the shit out of each other, and haven’t a mean bone in their bodies even though the are ruthlessly lethal to the toy mice (with the rattling bits inside) that I keep finding under every goddamned piece of heavy furniture in our house. So it goes living with with the aggravating grace of the feline species…

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Mika, on the left, has white feet and a distinctive crescent moon patch on his neck. Kuro, on the right, is entirely jet black. They’re thrilled to meet you, as you can see.

Mika-chan (三日月ちゃん) in flight, Brisbane, California 2017

Mika also has white areas on his chest and belly. And he likes to leap over our bathroom door.

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They both like boxes, but Kuro is particularly fond of them.

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Kuro also likes to chew on shit, in this case my cigarette lighter.

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Mika loves toys, but wasn’t fast enough to eviscerate this pink one when I dropped it for him.

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This will be their first Christmas with us, or with anyone. They’re not entirely clear on that concept.

Merry holidays, kids. I hope you enjoyed this. See more of Kuro and Mika here. Photographed in Brisbane, California during November and December 2017. See my other work here and here. And stay fuzzy.

The decent thing on Ocean Avenue

A few weeks ago in San Francisco, I had just left my favorite comics shop and was in my car about to turn south onto Ocean Avenue when I saw an old lady had fallen to the concrete on the public transport platform in the middle of the street. Before I could pull my car over and jump out to help, a young man had already reached her. As I watched I knew I was witnessing newsworthy decency, and felt like I was seeing San Francisco write a song lyric about itself and the kindness built into the way this city moves.

And so from my car I saw the young man render aid to the fallen woman. He was gentle with her and handled her firmly but without aggravating her obviously fragile state…

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Then he helped the lady get her legs back under her, and reclaim the clearly-necessary cane that had somehow failed her in the first place. While this happened drivers passed by oblivious, not necessarily out of callousness but because San Francisco is a body and it’s sometimes hard or risky to step outside one’s place in its street-artery flow…

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When she got to her feet, the old lady checked her hands for injuries while the young man stood by to ensure her well-being. After a few moments the woman stopped trembling and stood firm but relaxed, which in turn caused the young man to relax. When I realized everything would be okay I started my car and finally turned south onto Ocean Avenue to continue my way home…

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All of this happened literally within the space of 15 seconds. I checked the time stamps on my photographs to be sure. It was a hell of a thing seeing the kind of small but powerful human episode I’ve only read about in the news or seen dramatized on TV. But this is the way we orbit each other, and sometimes need’s gravity pulls us closer together than we would ordinarily prefer because there’s a life to be saved or changed for the better.

It’s how we’re built, thankfully, and I’ll remember that and celebrate it even if this kind of decency never unfolds before my eyes again.

(On Ocean Avenue @ San Leandro Way, San Francisco, California, November 2017. See my other work here and here.)

The laundromat is a lovely-shiny-golden human place.

My wife and I live in an 88-year-old house which has never been adequately retrofitted to accommodate the installation of a washer and dryer for laundry. We’re slowly setting aside the cash to one day solve that problem, but in the meantime once or twice a month we schlep our dirty duds to a local laundromat. Now, you’ll get no argument from me that the process of driving (or walking) five or six pillow cases full of laundry to the laundromat then spending two or more hours washing, drying, and folding your wardrobe is basically a pain in the ass.

It is, particularly if the laundromat is crowded and you have to wait for dryers. So, yes, laundromats are as mundane as a library card. But they’re also rich, warm places in which to be in the thick of humanity’s ebb and flow. At least the one I use is. And yesterday, the last Monday in September, was a very rewarding day for me as a photographer washing socks and capturing human moments at the laundromat…

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Tiny twin girls, who were as adorable as their big, burly father was good-natured and easy with a laugh. I learned what a easy-going fellow he was when I asked his permission to take this photograph.

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Miles the laid-back Chihuahua, in the arms of his primary human and receiving loads of adoration from his fan club on the left.

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Edgar the relaxed Malamute, with a nice lady who coincidentally is the mother-in-law of a friend of mine. The lady rescued Edgar from a Malamute breeder who beat him the first two years of his life and kept him in a small cage with ten other dogs.

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This is Brenda. She’s 72 and undergoing cancer chemotherapy for the first time in her life. She just started the chemo, that very morning in fact, but won’t know if it takes until some time this November. She’s happy to be getting treatment, because the cancer was making her very sick. She’s originally from North Carolina, but she and her man are moving to San Diego to settle while Brenda undergoes further cancer treatments. Her pink ribbon hat caught my eye, but her candor and aura of optimism and hope held my attention.

At the laundromat, there’s always more life and hope and joy and pain than you think.

(Super Coin Laundry, Brisbane, California, September 2017)

Spaceman and Mickey pants…

My wife has been in the hospital for almost two weeks. Thankfully, she should be home in a couple of days. It’s a dicey thing shooting photos in an hospital. Ethically (and morally, and legally), hospitals have very justifiably strict rules about whom and where you can take pictures. You can’t infringe upon a person’s privacy, nor endanger anyone’s patient confidentiality.

Fortunately, today I encountered a couple of good sports who allowed me to photograph them. I’m and grateful and happy to have the opportunity to showcase their visual distinctiveness…

An hospital technician in airborne disease precautionary headgear…

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A fellow in Mickey Mouse pants who I happened to see in an hospital hallway…

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Kaiser Permanente, South San Francisco, California 2017

Kaiser, my baby

I’m a lousy husband. I find it impossible to hang around my wife’s hospital room for hours watching her writhe in pain while the nurses and her doctor wait for her condition to stabilize. When it does, they’ll determine if she needs surgery. In the meantime, I’ve been bringing her things that she needs, and drinking too much when I’m home. This is all new and overwhelming to me. My wife’s the toughest son of a bitch I’ve ever known, and I can’t take away her pain. I can’t do anything at all right now but love her.

And take a few pictures, to maybe make some good come of this in the form of my inadequate art…

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South San Francisco and the El Camino Real from the roof of the Kaiser Permanente parking garage.

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Colma Creek from the roof of the parking garage.

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Hallway on my wife’s ward.

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Hospital gift shop couture.

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My wife is in the hospital on her birthday…

She entered the hospital last night, for an ailment that is hers to disclose. Not life-threatening, but perhaps life-changing. She’s the best person I’ve ever known, so it was agony to see her writhing and shifting for hours in emergency room pain. I would have taken that nerve-lashing unto myself if I could.

And today is her 63rd birthday. I should be making her a favorite dinner, but she’s in a hospital bed on Opiate Street. “Time’s passing so slow” morphine-she said to me this morning. We both have less time than we used to have, but its savory quality has increased as we’ve aged.

I could’ve grown old with myself. I will likely grow old longer because of her. Not knowing what to do, and being a poor hospital tourist, I took some photographs when my wife didn’t need my attention. There will likely be more; but on her birthday when she can eat no cake on the inpatient ward, these will do…

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The admitting technician was a fine fellow of compassionate demeanor.

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A dinosaur-child in the hallway as my wife was moved from the ER to her room.

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No names on the screen means no pain in a hallway for healing professionals.

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She’s in bed and waiting, and monitoring time.

Kaiser Permanente, South San Francisco, California 2017

25 Days in Tokyo—5: Halloween

In late October, 2015, I was in Tokyo, Japan for 25 days. I shot many photographs, and this series presents the most interesting, compelling, or touching scene I saw each day I was there. Click here to see the previous entries in this series.

Halloween in Tokyo, 2015 was a gas. I had not been in the city for this holiday since 1987. Back then Halloween wasn’t a big deal in Japan, and you were lucky to be invited to a gaijin friend’s costume party or find an American horror movie from the ‘30s on Japanese TV. Anyway, in 2015 I bopped all over the city, from Nakano to Ueno to Shinjuku and back to Nakano. I was delighted to see many people dressed up for Halloween, and not surprised the Japanese had adopted it and turned it into a marketing revenue stream.

Here’s some of the sights I saw during my Tokyo Halloween…

Nakano 5-chome, Tokyo 2015

A neighbor living next to the Nakano apartment building I stayed in. He’s not in Halloween costume, but I love his face.

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Young men on the Yamanote Line platform in Ueno Station.

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On the Yamanote Line near Ōtsuka. The fellow wearing the bloody white tie spoke excellent English.

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Costume problems for the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man somewhere on the edge of Kabukichō at 11 p.m.

(Various locations, Tokyo, Halloween 2015)

How a man dies: Jess at the End

My father-in-law Jesse passed away three years ago today. The photograph just below is of him and my mother-in-law on August 1st, 2014, a week before he died.

I miss him, more than I often admit. A year after his death my wife and I weren’t dealing with it very well. Three years on and the sting and sorrow are easier for us to bear. But during the past few years months my mother-in-law has been remarkable, a steady, consistent rock who as endured rather than fall apart. Having her around gives my life needed perspective since I’m 53 and starting to wonder more often when the ride’s going to end.

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Several days before Jess died, I got to really see what champions my family are. I wasn’t born into a particularly close family. But my wife, the woman below on the right, had better luck. That’s her sister on the left. My brother-in-law is in the next photograph, holding his father’s hand four days before the end.

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You only think about the dying when death is near, not the people you look to after someone’s gone and say out loud “Shit, I guess we should have a drink.” My wife, her sister and brother, and my mother-in-law showed me how to face the fading and passing of a human life. At the time I didn’t cope with it well and hid behind my camera. Thankfully I had superior family examples from which to draw strength.

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On the day Jess died, August 8th, 2014, my wife was a genius of calm. She was collected and circumspect. The old man passed about five hours before I shot the picture immediately above. I had never before been in a room with a deceased person who wasn’t shut tight in a coffin.

I was uncomfortable and squeamish about it. My wife’s behavior showed me how to man-up and deal with it. Women can be so superior in this department, probably for the same reasons that men make war while women clean up the emotional messes afterward.

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My wife’s sister, above on the right, and my wife’s step-sister, on the left, also showed me how to confront the death in the room, and how the love of siblings not born of the same parents can be a source of connection and strength.

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About six hours after Jess died, two nice men came to his house, put him on a stretcher, covered him, and walked him down to their hearse.

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After Jess was secured, I told the undertaker, pictured above, that I was squeamish about my father-in-law’s death. I asked him how he dealt with hauling corpses for a living. He looked at me with genuine sympathy and said “You get used to it.”

Yeah, I guess you do. Or maybe you don’t. I don’t fucking know if I could. I just had to take the man’s word for it.

(Photographs taken in Brisbane, California in August, 2014. Text updated on August 8th, 2017.)

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