the Baltic to the Black Sea; round one.

This stretch of land in particular has drawn my fascinations for ages, I came to decide that a heritage trip of sorts had to happen, and it had to happen on a bicycle.  I not only wanted to explore the landscape, but also wanted to explore/observe themes of home, longing, and belonging, for a potential long term project.  Last June I gathered the gumption, gear and gofundme guts for the long lonely ride from Warsaw to Istanbul.  I had applied to artist residencies everywhere in between these two outposts, and was granted a studio space at the exact halfway point.  Everything was falling into place in a terrifyingly perfect fashion.  The night before hopping on a plane, I received the news of a fellow cyclist and dear friend passing away.  I was swiftly overcome by a sharp prickle of caution, and the deepest desire to dedicate this upcoming journey to this incredibly soulful life that had left the world far, far too soon.

Toting 20 extra pounds of photo gear, I eagerly departed the crispy metropolitan Polish city with two-wheeled trajectories leading me to the lower Tatras mountain range in Slovakia.  Where I found myself in a place which possessed a crispness of air and water that only pristine primary old-growth forests can have.  Several little nooky banks on the Orava river became my dirtbag nest for a few nights.  Mosquitoes got so bad in the wee hours, that I just got into the habit of waking at four in the morning and kicking off by headlamp.  This was a moment of the day where the bakeries are freshest, tractors and trucks were still asnooze, and the roads are absolutely empty.  Uniquely, this summer provided deluges of relentlessly passing thunderstorms, which became an unexpected refreshment from the otherwise 105 degree days characteristic of every Slovakian summer, except for this one.   

On one of these damp days, I woke up nestled in my sleeping bag between two tractors at the Kral’ovany train station, which seemed an unmistakably perfect set for any upcoming Wes Anderson movie, and I was graciously greeted by food poisoning likely from a sketchy stack of pierogies.  I remember that day passing slower than most, as I assure myself how much I adore solo travel, being ill and alone is so, so far from ideal.  Things go wrong, they always just do, so I just weaseled my rickety rig onto a train that took me over the last 50km of the Tatras.  

As the landscape became more and more ironed flat, each and every village was signaled by an iconic Orthodox steeple and a water tower, pretty totems of higher powers and hydration. This poky preciousness continued all the way to bustling Bratislava, where I got to meet the Danube. 

Along this gargantuan river, I found such extensive highway systems created exclusively for bicycles, complete with teensy tiny dotted lines, lanes, little guardrails and stoplights.  A route that introduced me to cyclists of all types, 100 year old ferry boats made entirely of logs, and the impeccable charms of Hungary.  Lovely-ness is an understatement for the countryside and communities that I encountered on this leg of the trip, not to mention the river providing chilly dips and tiny secluded beaches to sleep.  Nearer to the larger cities, sometimes these posh apartment-buildings of ships would putter on by, and I remember noting that I probably always will prefer the perspective of being sandy and sore muscled on the beach rather than sitting in an air conditioned boat box.  

It is this exposure that I have found to love about cycle trips, a little surrender to subtle shifts in weather, terrains, people, breezes, birds, colors of rocks, tastes of food, you’re undoubtably “in it”, all of it, marinating and meandering.  Such meanders brought me to Budapest, where I indulged in a few days of old art admiration and the serendipitous path-crossing of an old friend with whom I last saw in Havana.  In huge places such as Budapest, it doesn’t take much city cycling to miss the freedoms and fearlessness of the forests.  Its literally and figuratively dodgy in a place where everyone is distracted on cellulars or the snappy urban stimulus, alas I was stoked to slip out of the outskirts before the sun came up the following day.  

A ferociously flat 400 kilometer luscious pancake of land lie ahead, and was swiftly finished in two cruisy days, and this former-ottoman outpost became where I hung my helmet for the next month.  Belgrade had a soul and a smell that tickled the senses, and few cities have had similar effects on me, Seattle, Detroit, Warsaw, cities with this sort of subtle vibrance and vibration.  Eastern Europe has a hard to explain frigid warmth about it, and those whom I met carried a similar quality of tough tenderness.

I checked in to my Artist residency in Dorcol, yet a strange string of events over a few weeks landed me in the living room of some beautifully scrappy skateboarders, and then to the back room of a squat on the other side of the city.  I had found the creative community thriving in ways no longer comprehensible in California, and had found what I had seeked.  I may have seen more live music in four weeks than I had in a year, biked, created and rambled for roughly a few dollars a day.  The squat building belonged to the government, and was a former instrument repair shop for the music of the Yugoslavian military, a history that was highlighted with an exhibit of images and artifacts found in the building. The space was created with so much of the tenderest loving care, yet found itself straddling this fine intimate line of legitimacy.  As a highly respected cultural center in Belgrade, the local university utilized the space for their MFA and BFA exhibition, and some disgruntled neighbor had shut off the electricity the evening before, so the whole operation had to be powered by generator.  Artists are among the greatest at facing opposition in great and graceful ways, yet to this magnitude, It made me feel like the biggest weenie.  A big weenie for doting on internal blockades that feed fears restricting creation, and finding myself surrounded by those who additionally battle an external aversion beast.  Even in the smoky cigarette haze of interior spaces, my privilege was to me as clear as a cloudless day.

Being an unfavorable stone in the sandal of a conservative government, then going on about your merry way is something I admire so much about squat culture, and while they certainly come in many shapes, sizes, and intentions, this particular one carried itself with a rumpus and gritty integrity that had earned its deserved respects from 98 percent of the folks that mattered. 

On the other corners of the city, I spent some days peeking potentials and projects at the numerous local refugee centers, according to research and articles I had read previous to this trip, Serbia has been allegedly one of the main thoroughfares into Europe for those seeking shelter or asylum from their home countries.  What I regarded firsthand was an extensive population of unaccompanied minors in the streets.  As this worldwide crisis has such a localized variability, and this city in particular a large population of children alone, I had an eagerness to bring something to the literal table at one of these children’s centers.  With limited time and the flexy nature of these open door centers, I managed to arrange an afternoon of collaboratively creating an art and assisting in the center for the rest of the day.  As such an eeny-meeny minor undertaking, a morsel of a sliver of the big picture, It felt a little more than alright to interact with these children and know that these particular ones were in such good hands.          

To complete my stay in Belgrade, with the assistance of new friends with photo labs and the movers and shakers of the squat, I swept together an exhibition and feast with a swiftness on the night before my departure onward to Bulgaria, Greece, Turkey.  A few people I had met over the month came through for my teeny show, and stayed after for drinks out on the roof.  At the very moment I was rambling on about wanting to stay, my steel frame stallion was being stolen by a savvy city scavenger.  I allowed myself a few day pity window and then flew home.  So it goes, to be continued as soon as time, moolah and circumstance can allow it.


Lastly, I’d like to bring some attentions to the many supportive friends, family, friend families, family friends, fellow scrappers, and strangers that were involved in the makeup of this trip. Namely, the great handful of those whom supported my campaign, those who highfived, heckled, and hosted me along the way, Norwegian airlines for turning a blind eye to my giant janky bike box and forgetting to charge me, The pretty Prvns boys of Beograd, Tunisian sardines, smoked sprats, my dear friends for consentually cyberbullying me into continually chugging along on this art dream, the inspiration and dear memory of Tatyana Schmid, and of course Kvaka 22.


now, images; first half is shot on 35mm (some of it old/dirty/damaged) and the second half are some digital snippets/snapshots from a canon and a select few from an iPhone.

 
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3500 miles in 35mm

 

I chose to revisit the ruthlessness of the ocean, the desert, and the winter all at once in my ’87 pickup.  She almost didn’t make it back, not to any mechanical faults, but to the undeniable fact that she had won the hearts of every fisherman that saw her bumble on by.  Trips like this have become so fundamental to living as an artist in a big crowded city, in making space and time to be dirty and wildly disengaged from pointy parameters of the urban environs.  Rigs of all shapes, sizes, and capabilities swarm the dry vastness that is the peninsula of Baja California, yet it’s not unusual to still find yourself surrounded by nothing but nothing.  Alas, images are shot with my rangefinder, and arguably more interesting than reading what’s been writ, so there:

 
 
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Detroit in June

Everyone from Detroit that I have had the pleasure of knowing, has this supreme quality about them, one of tender resilience.  People that can occupy these two oppositional, yet complementary qualities have always been those whom I find myself drawn towards.  Like a deep fried anything, crispy on the surface, yet warm and uniquely perfect inside.  

There are other places in which I have become aware of such tough and tender dispositions, Southeast US, India, Western Australia, Mexico, but the one unsuspecting place that I was reminded of the most, while walking the streets of Detroit, was Christchurch. 

 Not so many years ago, the New Zealand city had the misfortune of experiencing an immense earthquake that decimated the city’s structures, claimed many lives, terrified and demoralized those whose homes lie crumbled among the backbones of the South Island city.  This sense of empty, disheartened, and left-behind was shockingly similar in Detroit.  What shook this city to its core is undoubtedly of a different nature.  While, in the place of an earthquake was this severe industry crash, loss of jobs, alas the means in which the city was so gloriously built on, became no longer viable.  Rugged streets lined with houses, no longer homes, in disrepair, awaiting with uncertainty of what tomorrows tomorrow may bring.  

A little over a year ago, when I walked through Christchurch on some balmy day in April, I found the disaster to be the means to which the city identified itself, the place that had a massive earthquake.  With rubble on every block, I imagined how devastating it must be for those who moved away from where they once had called home.  Incidentally, many people relocated to the city, to pursue work provided by the hundreds if not thousands of reconstruction projects, to rebuild Christchurch.  I came to realize the unique opportunity it has to recreate itself with a clean slate, something that Detroit too possesses. 

I suppose that I found calm in a place that emanated paralleled uncertainties that I myself hold within. When starting fresh, reconstructing concepts of comfort is necessary but no easy task, and impermanence is inevitable.

My fondest regards are with the whole soul of these two places, and the ceaseless optimist in me believes that the thrive will be revived, with some sort of modern renaissance.  How to pump the brakes of hasty development, thoughtfully and gracefully pick itself back up?  I’d like to know, don't we all?

Romania in October

Transylvania has always been a charming region since my younger days, and if it wasn't for years of scheming and fantasizing with a dear old friend, I found myself there.  The convenient proximity that we each happened to be to Romania, had us meeting up in Bucharest this past Autumn.  Winter snuck up over the duration of the trip, and single shirts and shoes were quickly layered with everything we had to wear.  As a wildlife biologist, and frequent birder, Dave showed me the intricacies of the unique, yet familiar ecosystem of the Carpathian Mountains.  We spent a few days trawling canyons, ridges, meadows, for a Chamois.  These elusive goat cousins, are often busy battling for female attention in the end of Autumn.  It was a fruitless search, but I did find out that our modern "shammy" has origins in that of the skin of an actual chamois.  Soft and absorbent, it perhaps was used to polish royal paraphernalia in the castles that peppered the local hilltops.

We scampered up hills, creeks, under, over, around, seeking the rare species that populate Transylvania during this seasonal change.  The colors that characterize the anticipation of winter are beautiful, and these particular mountains had a rather magnificent display of reds, yellows, and deep greens.  Driving through small farm towns, the people were beautiful and hardy.  I've always found mountain people to possess the disposition of rugged calmness, much like that of their rocky homeland.

Every day, there was some abandoned structure to admire, whether it be a water tower, church, or unidentifiable concrete box in the middle of a swamp.  We climbed inside, around, upstairs, pondering the stories the walls and broken windows might tell if they could.   

We sustained ourselves on local haiducec (outlaw) sheep cheese, tripe soups, fruits from roadside stands, & not to forget the outrageously cheap, surprisingly un-filling, hot cheese-filled Luca.  

Here are some photos that I took. have a look.

    

Burning Man & Wife

I had been seeking a wedding to witness and shoot out on the playa, yet the floaty nature of the burn left me baffled on when/where a real one might be.  

As the right things always somehow find a way to present themselves, I was invited to one on a whim.  The union of Jenny and Chris.  They all were truly the loveliest crowd, many a happy tear was shed, and I got to have a little party with that ridiculously epic desert sunset light.  &&& to not much surprise, the gargantuan wooden orcas were promptly incinerated afterwards.

 

 

 

 

Cuba in June

When I was 10, I remember stopping in Guantanamo Bay with my family when we would take gargantuan military cargo planes back to the states from the base we lived on in Puerto Rico. So technically this would have been my third or fourth time being in Cuba, but I’d like to count it as my first.    I spent most of every day (minus the daily cansado) getting lost in the streets and taking portraits.  There is this magnificent sass that the Cubanos emanate at all times of day, and they were an amazing demographic to capture.  Cuba is undoubtedly a challenging place to both live and travel in, but the concept of community is strong in this one. Centro Habana on the inside seems just like a small town, where everybody knows and takes care of one another.  This physical/verbal interconnectedness is what found myself missing from the internetted world we find ourselves in these days.  While those forms of communications can only happen in expensive hotels or public parks with wifi, you will not see one phone out at a bar or restaurant, people simply talk to eachother, which was something I found rather refreshing.

 

These are some of my favorite shots from a 10 day romp around the north and south central coast of the land of the finest tobacco, rum, and booty shakin’ music.

April in Western 'straia (Aus)

On my way home across the great big blue, I had the pleasure of visiting some old friends I met overseas over the past few years.  Three of us drove though hundreds of kilometers of a whole lotta ‘not-a-lot’, along the stupidly colorful rocky coast of northern W.A.; It got pretty feral in the truest Baja fashion: flies, sand, salty bodies and all that that accompanies. 

Australians are hardy individuals, with a vocabulary as vast and misinterpreted as the sharp scrubby outback that they hail from.  I always forget how magic the desert can be, & especially when it rains.  We had the cojones to stray from the coast, through mining towns of all varieties, where cockatoos strutted and squawked on every street.  A few deep, rocky swimming holes were jumped into, many a can of beans scarfed, and some midnight moments of rage towards mosquitoes, alas, I give it an A+.

These are a few gems from Karijini NP, the North Coast, the town of Fremantle, and the faces and places that lie between them.

Rasa, Selangor

RASA; räsä. (ruhs-uh) 1. Juice or essence 2. Ultimate pure emotional reaction that can be derived from a work of art 3. The enjoyment of flavors that arise from the proper preparation of ingredients, and their quality.

 

In trying to research anything about this adorable place I had hopped off a train into, I ended up restlessly reading about this Hindu concept of aesthetics, with regards to art, music, and theatre.  I always love when art can catalyze a true/raw emotional experience, sometimes by means of the small nuances.

 

There was a particular subtlety that inspired me about this little town that goes by the same name.  It seemed almost timeless, an old pharmacy with floor to ceiling hand-painted drawers containing hundreds of different Chinese herbs, worn down marble café tabletops that people have been playing cards and smoking cigarettes on for over a hundred years.  There was something so true and honest about the small community of people there, (Or, maybe I have been in the city too long, ha!) that makes a stranger farang like myself sense the sense many like to call wonder.  I have kind of a thing for old buildings and walls that have stories to tell, and this place is full of them.

Pulau Ketam

I escaped from the bustling city for 24 hours, to a little island named after a crab.   I was the only foreigner among the 10,000 predominantly Chinese residents.  I had some of the freshest seafood in my life, nearly tumbled off a dodgy walkway into garbage-y muck, and met some beautiful old fishermen.   I fell in love with the colorful buildings and custom-made bicycles that were everybody’s mode of transportation//cargo hauling.  Feels so great to be taking photos again, of one of my favorite subjects, Fish!  Alas, a successful break from the cars & chaos that is KL.

(re)connection

One of my fabulous choreographer friends recently had her first solo show in the Native American Forum at Humboldt State University.  It involved creative interpretations of technology addiction and the necessary reconnection to this exhilarating universe that surrounds us, including the real relationships with the people whom we share the experience with.  A basic explanation at that, you should have just been there.  

We appropriately had a shoot at arguably one of the best local climbing/scampering/general galavanting beaches in northern Humboldt.  

Warsaw in August

I did not expect myself to be galavanting the streets of Praga, Warsawa; which lives on the opposite side of the Vistula river than the more glamorous end of the city.  An enormous lightning storm couldn't keep me from wandering the little nooks and remaining evidence of World War II.  What i found so exciting was the fresh and creative spirit of the younger population of the area, one that I searched fruitlessly for in Paris  and Venice.  Maybe it's the clean slate left by the war, developing a necessity for something truly new.  Maybe it's just a whole lot of chain-smoking  hipsters reaping the benefits of cheap rent, but isn't that how they all started?  

Summer 2013 in 35mm

Still my favorite timeless combination to travel with, the 5D and a 35mm lens, this is a handful of Images I took whilst bike touring, sleeping on buses and eating sardines in central and eastern Europe on the summer of my 22nd year.