Old Box #4: Loco Foto Motion

One of my favorite, normal Florida things to do is to drive from St. Pete to Amtrak’s Tampa Union Station, park my car in the weakly fenced lot, take the commuter bus to Orlando, and ride the Silver Meteor north, overnight, to Washington, D.C., the place of my birth and New York City. Along the way, as they say, I met more people than I can remember but that is not true because I truly remember them all––their questions, expressions, the many ways they fell off the trapeze of travel into my lens like folksy feathers. As they walked through the aisle, sat in the cafe and dining cars eating or reading or playing cards, there I was with my mechanical eye, the camera. I saw them kissing on the platform, buying snacks in the station and scolding children for letting their hands go when crossing the tracks in Savannah. Eating, nursing, reading, arguing, parenting and sleeping. Like Calvino’s man in the wasteland, somewhere under that great zoo in the sky, I moved like a ghost zigzagging through Corsica, restless as a shutter on Speed––a bit lonely, a bit bit cold, more than a bit bitten by the god of choices. Tremendous was the tension. Terrible, the risk. The balancing act of not falling to either side of the aisle as the train shook through walls of time. Near lifeless limbs to hurdle, bodies longer than assigned seats. The way art invades public privacy, the photographer’s high-wire act between heaven and hell, a fear of being thrown off schedule in the middle of nowhere or forced to ride in the cold baggage car with the stowaway guitarist I once photographed leaving Devils Lake, North Dakota.

I am not a fan, per se, of choo choos, bullet trains or Acelas. Not a railfan or trainspotter. “Why,” my camera asked, “does the Caltrain commuter look like a Power Ranger?” I am interested in folk culture, folk ways, folk aesthetics, the sameness and difference between all aspects of Intelligent Design. As Walt Whitman says, “…the people who do their living and dying close to the ground.” Nor am I satisfied by the science of flight, its periodic table of turbulence. I prefer the arithmetic of the railways, the crisscrossing timetables, wheels obeying the pendulum of steel. Once the train hit a small truck crossing the tracks and we were delayed six hours, but I didn’t truly notice. To unravel travel––not the beginning and the end, only the process, the ever-changing storm of the mind. Draft, revision, abandonment. I like the way landscapes change, dry scorched ruin to shiny metropolis, the biological secrets of enormous rock, geography (like the human body) enforced by catastrophe and progress. One of the last human joys of the industrial revolution’s echo, travel is a form of healing. And like those proud passengers in desperate need of a smoking break, the soul is a real organ. A photograph might not contain the same amount of integrity as reality but the images I made in Havre, Montana, are full of thick, rising cloud-like exclamation points, white fountains springing from mouths, the personal evaporation of satisfaction.

Denver Smoke Break / California Zephyr / TSE / 2014

My lens of America was altered on the California Zephyr from Chicago to Emeryville, a suburb of Oakland. Amtrak does not cross the San Francisco Bay but if there is such a thing as a 3-day spiritual train ride then the leg of the Zephyr that begins in Denver, headed west, is absolutely vision quest trans-splended! The observation car, an observatory. Hearing about Donner Pass I thought, all cameras are cannibals. I stood in the back of the doorway at every stop to introduce shapes to shadows, shadows to shapes––camera above my head, camera on the ground. Chit chat with anyone who make eye contact. Hours of seat cinema: giant petrified tree stumps or mountains? Rivers like the rings of Saturn. Get thee behind me, Hubble, as I became something of an insatiable astronomer, gravity’s most fortunate Libra. From the Pluto of Colorado to the Venus of Nevada, every celestial consciousness visited me in my light years of sleep. Between Truckee and Winnemucca, Reno spat me out like a solar rebirth. Sacramento, is that where I woke long before Woke became a weapon? Wooden sidewalks and wagon rides make me wonder. First body of water in my lens in years. Calvino’s If on a winter’s night a traveler begins in a railway station. Thank you, Italo. The man who comes and goes between the bar and the telephone booth is watching me, the reader, so much so I dare not aim this paragraph at him. Softly focused, he sits next to me on the shuttle bus to San Francisco, “See that giant kidney stone over there, that’s Alcatraz Island. And since we don’t know each other and I am not Antonino, Anthony or Andre, not Ant, Tone or Dre, you better take a picture of it, not me.”

Chef / Lake Shore Limited / TSE / 2015

A star fort married a cathedral and they gave birth to the constellations of railway stations. Thus, there are more than 130 functioning Union Stations in America, each shared by two or more railway companies. My mind is full of pictures that interrupt sentences: a young naval recruit trying to look around me and my camera to view his sweetheart’s departure in the Great Hall of Chicago’s Union Station. The chef who invited me to sit at his table as he tallied the bills. Through the lens, my racial imagination ran wild––Grandmaster Flash, Master Mason, Klan Knight, cone head Templar and pristine, bling-less pontiff, all in one visual meal, one ritual, ceremonial outside Toledo. Connections force themselves into the camera. With a box tied with rope, an Amish couple seemed to be boarding a ship away from the New World. Where were they taking their knick-knacks and spells, I thought, shooting from the train window? In 2014, nineteen hours late, I got off the Southwest Chief in Lamy, New Mexico where I was surprised to find a quaint little community bookstore housed in a Spanish styled station. Before opening the bookstore for me, the station agent asked if it was okay if she, first, fed her two llamas. “Yes, you can, I’m in no rush. Can I photograph them!?” “You can try but if you get too close, they’ll spit at you.” I did (in medium format) and they did (in real life) for 1/2000 of a second. All that pictorial intimacy, years of getting comfortable enough to get close to the lives of strangers, rail-rolls of film, the constant running toward the loco underground of motion sickness and motion madness. Arrival and departure, one whistle for both. I was photographing the absence of knowing myself, a sort of ongoing longing, and the void of no longer having one person to constantly photograph but I did not know it yet.

Recruit in the Great Hall / Chicago Union Station / TSE / 2015

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