I, like anyone else of my vintage, have stacked up a lot of memories, memories that I enjoy, and naturally nothing jogs them like a photo. I have taken pictures of thousands of people since I first began shooting and it seems like those are the shots that most coax out those memories. Of course, there are two sides to every portrait: my side of the camera and their side of the camera. When I look at these shots regularly, as I do and as I have done, an entirely one-sided relationship develops, and all of it is on my side. I’d wager that few of the older subjects would even remember that time when I snapped the shutter in their faces, and yet for my part I feel like they’ve almost become one of the family. This gulf between our awarenesses is even more pronounced because only a hand full of them ever even saw the photo I took of them.
Well, I appreciate each and every one of these souls and I hope they have been blessed many times over for all the pleasure I have derived from that split second encounter. Even though many have surely forgotten me, I will never forget them and they have been immortalized whether they know it or not.
In this first post of the New Year I wish to honor some of these people and make eternal (I hope) how they appeared to me in that short flash of time during their lives. Now where to begin? . . . . . .
The Ami are one of the sixteen aboriginal tribes of Taiwan, there long before the Han (Chinese), and now there are about 200,000 left. The women traditionally tattooed their faces the painful way but these days many of the girls draw their tattoos with ink, presumably so they can be wiped off when they want to hang out at the mall. This elderly lady has seen a lot of life and perhaps looks slightly bored at being photographed yet once again. This photo was taken sometime around 1988 so chances are she’s no longer with us.
This photo sets in motion a whole train of memories. There was a time when Pan American Airlines ran a promotion called “Around the World in 80 Days”. You would buy your fixed price ticket and then had 80 days to circumnavigate the world, which was easily done on Pan Am. A writer friend, Dave DeRoche, and I went for it, although I recall we did it in far fewer than the 80 days allotted to us. We first flew from SF to Tokyo, then on to Hong Kong, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, and up to Bangkok on the train, and then to New Delhi. France was one of the last stops before heading home via London and Ireland, and that was when I met M. Legras, a well known restauranteur in Caen, who graciously put us up in his hotel. The wedding of his beautiful daughter was a pull-out-all-the-stops affair and we both left feeling immensely lucky to have arrived in time for it. (Who else misses Pan Am and TWA?)
There’s not a lot I know about this fellow. I assumed he was reading religious scriptures but it could just as easily been a well-worn copy of Moby Dick in Hindi. And those little cylindrical objects on the ground next to the book have me perplexed as well. For a long time I assumed they were hand rolled cigarettes (joints?) but it’s hard to tell. He appears to be healthy and happy whatever the case and I hope he did well in life. This was another product from our around-the-world trip and for me, the India layover was the highlight.
Winning a scholarship to Kiribati from the Pacific Area Travel Association was definitely one of the highlights of my career. Tarawa is the capital atoll of the group and it’s where I landed. Those of you who think history is important will remember it as the site of one of the hardest battles fought in the Pacific Theatre in WW2, and once there one must wonder how in the world such a huge battle could have taken place on such a small island, particularly given the typical South Pacific conditions of sweltering heat and unbearable humidity. What an inferno that bloody battle turned this peaceful and isolated paradise into! It took me four days to get there via Honolulu, Johnston Island, Majuro and finally Tarawa. (By the way, it’s pronounced Kiri-bahss.)
As I recall, none of these guys spoke English without a heavy Italian accent so they were clearly first generation. I finally got them to stand still a bit to get this shot. After teasing me for a while they suddenly got serious, which is what one does when having one’s portrait taken. I doubt there are any more like them in San Francisco and more’s the shame.
These were two good friends from my life in Mexico City in the early ’70s. José Roberto was known for his telenovela career and was one of those bigger than life personalities, always the optimist. We used to have some good times with our little “pandilla” of five amigos. Some time ago, while doing a search on the web, I discovered that he had been murdered in 2005. I couldn’t find many details and I guess there still hasn’t been much learned. His wife Margarita had begun to make some headway in her career as a folk singer in those days and had a significant following. I find mention of her when searching the web and there are a few videos of her on YouTube. I’ve also noticed that the picture above has been used many times, even in Wikipedia. I think they would like that.
It has become obvious to me that the subject for this post is much more worthy of attention than I had figured so I’m going to call this Part One. I invite you to come back and see the next part!