WHILE I WAIT
In July of 2016, I was convinced my life as a photographer was over. I had this feeling before in 2007 when I lost my Leica M3 to a thief in NYC. The rangefinder-style camera had allowed me to overcome my crippling social anxiety. I do not know what it is about the miniature window to the world but unlike SLRs and TLRs that both heighten my anxiety and make me seasick, the rangefinder allowed me to become a street photographer. As a mentally ill individual in a world that doesn’t exactly recognize that sentiment as anything but an excuse or the product of a weak will, I understand how unbelievably lucky I am to have found that miracle made of brass and glass. The M3 was not, at that time in my life, the only secret that allowed me to overcome my maladies and work among the living as I did. The other ingredient was one that had been around since puberty and had defined my existence for over two decades. I used alcohol as any sick person would use his medicine. There was no difference between my alcohol consumption and a diabetics use of insulin-it kept me in the game but sometimes caused unwanted changes in my personality. The most unwanted change in my personality was to occur around 2014 when I decided to stop eating. It took some work but by 2015 I was five foot seven and weighed eighty-two pounds. That is a bit below the average for a 35-year-old man with all four limbs(average for a 35-year-old my height is between 118-160 and without legs 116-140). Obviously, when a thirteen to fourteen-year-old consumes alcohol on a daily basis in order to feel like a normal person and to cope with other problems like anxiety, paranoia, and depression and especially when it works, he eventually develops a dependency problem on top of all the other shit in his life. Such was my case, and even though I, at times, wanted to give it up it was not as easy as putting down a bottle. Not when putting down the bottle causes massive seizures and you nearly bite your tongue off, or pop your arm out of its socket, or fall down flights of stairs, and on and on. It was not until early July of 2015 that I knew, due to my inability to step up a curb, brush my hair, and the trouble I had every morning lifting my eyelids to see the day, that if I did not cease my alcohol consumption I would die. Not as an old man someday but in an hour or so, and if not then, then tomorrow, first thing. I had no insurance, but I cooked up a scheme that ensured I would remain in the ER for at least 48hrs and then in a psych ward for a week or so. Just enough time to dry up with the needed medical professionals to assist me during those pesky tongue biting seizures. So, by late July of 2015, I was sober. For real sober, and that was the death of my number two trick to overcome my anxiety and all the other evils that don’t allow me to behave as an adult. How was I going to do this, any of this, and not just photography but the basic shit- living?
I knew I had to get my hands on a rangefinder. I knew I could not afford another Leica, but maybe there was something else?
A year had passed. I was able to find a usable alternative to an actual rangefinder. It had an optical viewfinder but the experience of focusing was different; odd and clumsy. I tried using autofocus. I tried the EVF. I tried, and the camera did the trick for a while. I managed to get to the point where I could go out and shoot with this camera without freaking out, and for a while I thought that maybe this could work. I don't know what happened, but one day the magic just rubbed off. My fear came back, the anxiety, the voices around me- all laughing, pointing, whispering their hatred at me. Taking photos became impossible. Leica was a part of how I made images. At that time, even if I could afford it there was not a Leica that was digital (film was out of the question as it was too expensive and I could not afford to do a thing much less buy and process film) that functioned as a real pro camera (the way my M3 made in 1954 had). Then there was a whisper in the wind. A calling of sorts that sounded familiar. Rumors of something to come, something new, and by January of 2017 Leica had released the M10-the answer to my problem. Half the answer.
I had to get in shape or get my eye in shape. I needed proof that I could perform at a professional level. I needed to start working again on anything and with what I had. This meant that without alcohol I had to swim upstream through the rapids of my mental illness. I knew that if I did not make something good I would never have a chance to once again feel whole. I would never be able to perform at my best, and I need to be at my best being that I am not that great but my best is passable. I would have to prove to someone or many that I was worth the investment. I needed that camera and the only way I was going to get it was to convince someone else to buy it for me. No matter what I saved there was no way I could work enough hours to save that much. Hell during this period the camera I was using spent as much time in the pawnshop paying my rent as it did in my hands working on this project. Ironically, the only way I could earn enough money to purchase the camera I needed was with the camera I needed, and there is the rub. Now I had a reason. I had motivation, and I did not stop to think. I went out to the places where there are people and started shooting every chance I got. I also started my old habit of studying other artists, dynamic symmetry, gestalt psychology, along with reading philosophy, poetry, and using those other hours to write and think. This was the beginning of this project without my knowing that I had begun a project. I just thought, “I need to sharpen my skills while I wait.”
By the end of 2018, I realized, “I guess this is my new project, huh.”
I knew it was not exiting, groundbreaking work, but I thought then as I do now, “anyone who knows a thing about street work and who has some intelligence will be able to realize what I am doing with these photos, and how they illustrate my potential. If I can create from this chaos ordered beauty that shares the qualities of so many masterpieces we hang in museums and deem priceless then imagine what I could do in the streets of Tokyo, Bangkok, Paris, London, or any of those cities that on their own are works of art.”
“Fuck NYC, if you can do it here, in Las Vegas, you can make it anywhere. NYC is beautiful, classic, and a no miss kind of town, but Las Vegas? Unless you like to poke fun of people, or you do not mind making your money off of the misery of others, this is a hard town to make art. I would say it is one of the hardest. That is what makes me a damn fine artist. I am getting blood from stones here. I am squeezing the fuck out of this town, and I am about to stroke out, but I am getting there. I am making strides.”
2019 was coming to a close. I knew I could get the needed money to purchase the M10, but I would have to compromise. I couldn’t just exist as a street photographer, obviously. I needed to use my talent the way most do, to make more money than I needed doing something I despised so others would like me and view me as a human. I developed my niche business plan, did my research, and promised to actually go through with this plan that really was foolproof. The start-up capital was, for the income potential, basically nothing at all. Most businesses that earn what I had projected would, even though it would be unnecessary, fudge the start-up numbers as no one in their right mind would question a company such as the one I had thought up. Not me, though, and not that I am a stickler for the truth but I just can’t rip people off. So, in normal fashion, I lowballed myself. Still, it would be enough. It could work, but more important than anything else, I would have the camera that would allow me to create without the pain, anxiety, and paranoia that plagues my existence.
What happens? Do I get the start-up money? That lower than low amount I needed to begin a new life? Almost. I was $10,000 short of what I needed to barely not have enough to do things correctly, but, hey, it was something, for that I am grateful, and I could still make it happen. I would have to do some shit I didn’t want to, and I would have to cut some corners with risky moves like buying used gear(fine for a lot but when it comes to digital gear I like to make sure it is my name on everything from the beginning and especially when we are talking a 9k investment). It was early March of 2020, and I was reworking my numbers to see if I could stretch what I was loaned. I got it done, and the first thing I did was ordered the M10 and announced to myself that this project was nearly over as the only thing I was waiting for was FedEx to deliver my M10.
The date was March 16th of 2020, and for the past few months, I had been focused on my life, my future business, and my art. I was not up to date with what had been going on in the world, and since I was(am) a loner there was no one to clue me in as to what was brewing. I sat down to catch up on what I had missed, and, "What? What? This is a joke! Oh, Fuck you!….”
The next day, March 17 2020 was the day I received my Leica in the mail and it was the day that not just my world but "The World", changed.
"While I Wait", the project, was complete, and with my new camera/apparent lease on life, I had to start working on something new. The world was not going to make this easy, and everything I had planned for was circling the drain. No longer was my life some simple 80-minute movie. It had turned Shakespearian, and that meant it would either be tragedy or comedy but either way it wouldn't work itself out simply or soon.
These are the images that led to my present. This is the first project I completed sober, therefore it was painful, trying, and full of failure. All I can do is hope that you enjoy it, and either decide to purchase prints and /or to donate to my cause.