A Saturday afternoon spent wandering the hills of Los Feliz. Shooting midday in the harshest, brightest, most uneven light—the kind of light I always try to avoid because it’s impossible to manipulate. It falls too sharply across the skin. Everything is cast in abrupt highs and lows with nothing in between.
We don’t see each other as much as we used to or in the ways that we used to. Living in separate pockets of the same city is neither the forced proximity of a shared apartment on 59th and 1st, nor is it the pronounced absence of living on opposite sides of the world. Unlike the light, our distance now falls somewhere in the middle. We’re somehow both near and far, open and closed, together and very separate.
I keep a few friends so close they’re practically living under my skin. I’ve always been this way and I don’t think I’ll ever change. I’m sure at 85 I’ll still be making new friends and forcing them to sit with the light falling brightly across their faces, telling them to hold still or keep moving or do that again so my camera can get it just right. So I can capture the way it felt.
I photograph what I love, who I love, where I love. I photograph to hold on to a mood or a moment or an afternoon. I photograph to remember what it felt like to be twenty-nine together in California. The sudden warmth. The hills we climbed. What a terrible week she’d had. And mine, unexpectedly triumphant. How afterwards we sat in the shade eating gelato. Comfortable with the silence.
But I’m learning how to let people change. How to let them evolve and flourish in ways I might never have anticipated. I’m learning how to love the reality of a person, not the expectation. How to let them become unfamiliar, surprising, even unrecognizable. I’m learning how to let us both grow at will. Wildly. Spontaneously. And in whatever direction we please.
The start of spring: in-between days. I’m waiting for Sunday when the evening light returns, when I’ll walk outside at the end of the day and be greeted not by darkness but a glow. Nothing sweeter than the drive home with the sun still burning in my eyes.
One sip at a time. Savoring. Absorbing. Everything in sizable doses these days. I’m learning how to ration my energy and enthusiasm, how to harness it into greater sustainability. For years I created in huge bursts of energy that would keep me awake and obsessive for weeks on end. But the burnout that always came after was lonely and unforgiving. I’d race until my legs gave out and then wonder, fearfully, if they would ever work again.
I’m trying to teach myself something new. I’m trying to train my focus and the rhythm of my steps. A measured, steady pace. The alarm always at 5 and the smell of coffee already brewed. It’s a short cross from the bed to the window where I sit with the light until 7 hits and the switch flips and the other face of my life rolls in. But I carry that morning with me the whole day. I noticed it on Monday, the first day in a long while that I wrestled that wild animal of resistance down to the ground. I went about the rest of my day with the air of a conqueror. You look nice today, people kept saying. You look different.
I’m practicing now with small steps, nearly imperceptible. A few words. One thought, forcefully articulated. And then the next.
I can’t set myself aflame the way I used to. But a match struck each morning and burned down to its end? That, I can do.
All week I’m waiting for the rain. They say it will come Tuesday night. Then Wednesday morning. Then Wednesday night. They say there is a 100% chance. They’re promising us the rain.
When it begins it’s like an overture. Brief, a temptation. We’re mid-conversation and halfway through the wine and suddenly we both stop, rise to our feet and walk silently to the windows. We press our nose to the glass and squint through the early evening light. A few moments later, the air is quiet again.
In a few hours it comes for more. I’m in bed half asleep, restless, impatient. Something has been nudging me for days. Something buried deep, something difficult to unearth. I’m almost asleep and the drip drip rhythm pulls me from my dreams. I sit up in bed. I listen through the dark.
Not the next morning as promised, but the one after that, it comes in earnest and in full. The morning is flooded. We listen to it as we wake up, as we use the new coffee maker for the first time. I stand in the street waiting to cross, waiting for the cars to pass. My hair is soaked, my shoes, my coat is wrinkled from the damp. Near my house the trees are bare and spindly and the rain feels like the last stroke of winter. But I drive through the wet and when I stop again it’s beneath a canopy of trees so lush they’re practically fluorescent.
There’s no spring that comes to California without these initiating days of rain. They flood the city and for a few days we all remember what it felt like to live somewhere liquid and slick. For a few days this city is someplace else entirely.
This is the last photograph that my camera took before it died on our way back from Big Bear. You can already see the shutter defect closing in from the left side. I should have noticed it in the earlier photographs too—that haziness flooding into the frame.
We were taking the steep, curving road down the mountain and everything was clear in the afternoon light. Our drive up a few days earlier had been full of a heavy, magic-feeling fog that narrowed our vision and restricted the landscape. But on Sunday afternoon the air was clear and we could see for miles. The precision of the clouds. Mountain peaks like a crown across the sky. A coastal horizon.
I was trying to time my camera with the breaks in the trees, trying to catch the full scope of the view. The shutter clicked and then the camera let out a loud, incessant growl. The motor ran and refused to stop. And then—nothing. I pressed the shutter and the camera made only a half-hearted grunt.
I can’t count how many film cameras I’ve found, rescued, sought, or searched for over the years. All of them old and eventually succumbing to some sudden defect, in the way that should be expected of well-worn things.
The first one—a Yashica FX-3 I bought at a camera store on 5th and 31st for $60—came into my life when I needed it most. It sounds silly to say but there was a synergy, a companionship, and I carried it with me everywhere. All over New York, to Connecticut, to Boston, on my first trip to Los Angeles. I hiked up a mountain in Spain with it strung around my neck. It captured friends and lovers, brunches and bedrooms, airplane wings and hotel windows, snowstorms, rainstorms, summer skies, bare legs, my own two feet standing firmly beneath me.
I can remember any period of my life by whatever camera I was using at the time: the Yashica FX-3 for my New York years, a Yashica T4 when I first moved to Los Angeles, a Contax ii when I realized that Los Angeles had become my home. A Polaroid Land, a Nikon F90, a Mamiya C330, all in fairly quick succession. There was another twin lens reflex somewhere in there too, an early gift from D, and which fell from a shelf and broke in a sad and ominous way.
I wonder if all the cameras that came after that first Yashica were simply an attempt to replace its perfect fit. But I never quite felt devoted to any of them in the same way. I never gave myself the opportunity to learn them as instruments or tools. I didn’t get to know their quirks or their strengths. I rushed rolls of film through them in a hasty way, as if expecting them to prove something to me. I’d get bored quickly and move on to something new. I’m not really sure what I was looking for.
And finally, this summer, the Contax G2. I remember when it came in the mail and I first held it in my hands and how much I loved that it was slightly larger than the rest. Slim, but it felt like there was really something there to hold on to. I didn’t have it long, but it helped me through a few unforgiving months of abrupt transition. It saw my friend’s empty LA apartment, my first studio space, the hot creek at Mammoth Lakes, and a cabin in the woods for my twenty-ninth birthday.
It took a few days for me to realize that it wasn’t just the camera that had died, but a whole element of my relationship to image-making. Something was suddenly outgrown. I’m still figuring out exactly what that is but in the mean time… I’m relishing these last few photographs.
We left the city mid-afternoon and didn’t reach the cabin until well after dark. We drove up the mountain through a thick, bluish fog, stopping for tissues and NyQuil at a liquor store in one of those small splatters of roadside towns. It was dark by the time we arrived and we searched with bleary eyes, carefully circling around narrow trees and tiny cabins until we found the one at the end of the road with the few steps up and the skull hanging crooked above the door.
Usually I come back from these trips with my head newly plentiful—wisps of ideas, of words, sentences, phrases, deeper thoughts, new clarity. The distance wipes away the cobwebs I’ve accumulated in the weeks or months since my last escape and everything is suddenly clear. I see a new place halfway through my words and halfway through my camera and then, somehow, return to my own life with fresh perspective, renewed energy, and a deeper understanding of my place in it all.
But being sick does funny things to your brain. You fall through some tunnel of your imagination and sometimes it can feel like you’ll never tumble back out the other end. We spent the weekend in rotations of sleep and sick, daytime naps and foil packs of cold medicine. A failed attempt at an afternoon hike. A birthday cake I couldn’t stomach, only blow out the candles and push back in the fridge. But we saw a few tepid breaths of snow and made our beds in an old cabin that used to belong to a solitary pioneer woman. I carried around an old plaid blanket like a second skin and took as many hot baths a day as I could stand.
It may not have been the birthday I imagined nor the kind of birthday D had tried to plan, but it was another celebration of sorts. Life lived in overlapping, harmonious orbits. A togetherness of a different kind.