Saturday, June 14, 2008

California Gothic

I watched The Third Man on DVD the other night. Photographically, It was a really beautiful film, but I have to admit that I didn't care for the story. Everything was very tight and interesting for the first half or so, but then it sort of lost its momentum and the characters became uninteresting. Still, it had in spades that undeniable romance of postwar Europe and film noir. It makes me wonder where in the world that magic might be hiding today. Maybe in Uganda, or so I once believed.

A month before I graduated from college, I applied for a fellowship that would have sent me to work as a photojournalist for The New Vision, a state-controlled newspaper based in Kampala. I was asked to submit a small, relevant portfolio, which was tricky because most of recent stuff was edgy graphic design work that I had heavily Photoshopped . I eventually settled on some photographs I had taken at a skate park during the summer after my freshman year, when I was first becoming interested in photography.

The photos were for a class I was taking through UCSD Extension. My final project was a series on skaters, surfers, and other punk kids hanging out around the various concrete jungles that comprise San Diego. I called the series "Youth Culture", which pretty much just meant that I had wandered around town taking pictures of people who were roughly my age. Still, I remember selecting these images because they all shared a certain feeling of stillness and sadness- a California Gothic, if you will. In retrospect, this sentiment was likely a projection of my own longing to break out of the isolation I found myself in at the time. I had (and often still have) a desire to decode the enchanting bits of knowledge that skaters share and surfers share but the uninitiated can only dream about.

I knew the portfolio I had submitted for the photojournalist position wasn't very strong, so I was very surprised when I learned that I had got the job. In fact, I was happier than I had been in a very long time- photojournalist in Africa is one of those dream jobs that goes right up there with astronaut or rockstar or president. It was a chance to escape the banality of doing something awful and ordinary. It was an opportunity to travel and meet people and have my mind blown. It was exactly what I'd been needing and wanting for a very long time.

A few days later, my mother threatened to sue the people who had awarded me the fellowship, so I lost the job. I was furious at the time, and I still get a little crushed whenever I think about it. I remember being somewhat consoled when a wise and venerable professor told me that it must have happened because the fates had other things in store for me.

I'm still wondering what those other things might be.

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