Monday, September 17, 2012

A Common Sense Rant

2012 has not been an easy year for most people I know. Several friends of mine are divorcing, others have lost their homes or their jobs. Personally I've known over a dozen people who passed away since January alone. There have been debilitating illnesses, businesses lost, and dreams shattered. It doesn't matter what political affiliation you align yourself with, times have been tough, but they've also been tough a lot longer than most people will admit to.

But here's a secret that some people don't want to admit to: Things are getting better. And why are things getting better? Because they always do. History is cyclical. It may ebb and flow, but life always goes on. We've had it too easy for too long, and what's worse is we can't even appreciate that fact. Not only do we take our wonderful lives for granted, but the moment we face trouble, and I mean real, tangible trouble, we become whiny, spoiled children.

It's easy to blame others and use scapegoats to make ourselves feel better. It's comforting to blame the weak, the different, or the unknown. No one wants to admit they made a mistake last week or last month or last year that actually have repercussions today. That's Human Nature. But sometimes you have to shut the fuck up and take the hit. Sometimes it is your fault, and that's when its time to stop making excuses and clean up the dirty, ugly mess by getting on your knees and using some damn, simple elbow grease.

I'm frustrated. I'm angry. I'm tired of hearing the blame. I'm tired of hearing the excuses. You are selfish. We all are. More often than not we do what feels good instead of what is right. We choose the comfortable or flashy path instead of the tougher, complicated, healthier one. It happens. All the time. And that's fine, no one is perfect. But none of us are going to make things better by living in fear, hatred, or ignorance. Life isn't always fun and it certainly isn't fair; Life is just a series of random events that you navigate the best way you can. There are no easy answers here, but there are simple ones:

Do what needs to be done, not because someone is watching or forcing you; do it because its what needs to be done. Don't expect a trophy or your own reality show for doing the bare minimum; don't expect applause or even a chuck on the shoulder. Don't wait for someone else to come along, do it because you're the one who got there first.

Times are hard and they will be for a while. But the hard times won't last forever; they never do. Tomorrow the sun will still shine, children will still play, and we'll all be alright. Have a little faith. Have a little confidence. Have a little hope.

Now let's all get to work.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

My Comic Book Collection


(Photo: The “COMICS” cover of one of my comic book boxes, illustrated with pen and marker when I was about fourteen years old, along with some of the more important collectibles.) 

Almost everyone from my generation can claim to love Star Wars and comic books, but my brother and I really were those nerdy creative kids that rushed over to the comic store every two weeks or so to pick up the latest issues. We were also those lucky kids who had supportive parents, like our mom who signed us up for the first Star Wars fan club, Bantha Tracks, and made us themed birthday cakes with our favorite Marvel Comics characters. This weekend, after years of my dad bugging me to help clean some of my old boxes out of his garage, I finally decided to look through my old comic collection, the first time in over fifteen years.

Inside the two long boxes were priceless treasures: stories I’d read and lived a thousand times in my youth, whole series that I had all but forgotten, and a few rare collectibles from before my time that I had scrimped and saved up to purchase in my youth and rarely opened. It was a bit overwhelming and I will admit at times a little emotional.


Some people have told me that I should hurry to sell them, that the well-needed funds are easily attained simply by parting with these items I had all but ignored for over a decade now. But I don’t think they were ignored or neglected. As an adult I’ve reflected on the lessons they taught me countless times. The fights against injustice, the need for defining the gray areas between good and evil, doing what is right instead of what you personally desire. I learned about foreign languages, politics, geography, history, religions, and most importantly, human nature. I learned not to judge people simply by how they appeared, I learned about a world much larger than my own.

I think I have some rereading to do.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

"How do I know I'm in love?"


It's always been my role in life to be the bent ear, the person to call when advice or objectivity is needed. Though the requirements of such a role can be exhausting at times, for the most part I've taken the job willingly in order to share some of the hard-earned perspective I've gained in my life. In this role, a friend who often seeks my advice asked me a seemingly simple question yesterday via text message: "How do you know when you're really in love with someone?"

I'd been asked this many times before, requiring several minutes to at least explain the complications and flaws of the question itself, but yesterday was different. After hesitating only briefly, I responded with the first thing that came to mind. It was a stream-of-consciousness idea that was so direct and profound it surprised even me, and continually so because the more I think about it today, the more it feels right. My response was this: "You know you're in love with someone when you are content within yourself and happy alone, yet know you would be happier with that person complicating your world." Now keep in mind, I'm single and have technically been so for quite a while. However, with the experiences I've had, both firsthand and by viewing countless successful and failed relationships, I knew that what I told her was perfectly accurate to describe the reality of what being In Love is.

Let's make things clear, Lust is easy. It's primal, raw, and emotional, no real thought or over-analysis required. Any animal can thrust. It's our very modern concept of having a soul mate that is at the heart of why Love became so much more complicated, starting in the twentieth century. Even up until the 1950s, the idea of having your spouse be the perfect mate, "The One," was still not universally accepted and often considered a bit silly. It wasn't until the 1960s, when free love made it socially acceptable to be casual and irresponsible about love, that the concept of searching until you found your perfect match really came into vogue, yet was still not any easier than it is today. As a society, we've almost completely lost the very real notion that making a commitment to love someone day-in and day-out takes compromise, sacrifice, and a lot of hard work. I've known many couples who married young and divorced shortly after. They always lamented how hard the reality of it was, how average things like taste in tooth paste brands, paying bills on time, and which family to spend holidays with made things harder than they ever imagined. These people were in love with the concept of love. It never occurred to them that their spouse was a separate entity with a personal set of likes and dislikes that not always corresponded with their own. They expected the wedding ring to officially sanction their love, never realizing that "happily ever after" was only the beginning of the story, not the end of it.

There is no prince on a horse and no fair maiden that needs rescuing. People don't fit into tidy little types that easily filter through on dating websites. The right person may be short and chubby and have horrible taste in clothes, their music may grate on your ears and you may never like the same movies. But people in a stable relationship can tell you: when it works, it works. There is no truly perfect person out there; finding someone to sincerely fall in love with is just a wonderful and mysterious confluence of events. No amount of thinking, worrying, or praying is going to make that person's arrival in your life occur any faster, if at all. Making a commitment to truly be in love with someone, to want to share your life with someone, is not easy. If it were, the lifetimes spent on these complicated emotions, documented in our culture's countless films, books, and songs, would be unrecognizable to us. Nor is it easy to conclude if and when we are finally and definitely in love. The old adage rings as true as any other answer: when you know, you just know.

Simply put, being in love is a choice. The people I know to be honestly in love are happily miserable and choose to be so. I've known former frat boys that spend sleepless nights tending to their sick kids so their wives can sleep. I've seen ex-party girls enjoy rushing home to make their husband's favorite meal while still thankfully able to get household chores done. These are not roles you dream about as children. Most of these people have constant frustrations of monetary and familial requirements which precede each of their individual hopes and goals from an earlier age. Still, every day, those people kiss their significant others goodbye and head off to a job they probably don't like. Though they are groggy and worrying about how they are going to pay the mortgage this month, all they can think of is the contentment they'll feel when they come home in the evening to the person they love, even though they'll probably get yelled at for forgetting something at the store. There are no romantic comedies about being this In Love. There is no television show centered around a loyal spouse who reliably does the dishes every night, no romance novels praising the couple that makes lunches for their kids before getting to bed at a late hour. These are the unsung heroes from the Battle of the Sexes, but these are the ones who have won and are winning. Being in love like this can sometimes look embarrassingly easy to the outside observer, but it is worth all of the hard work. In my opinion, this is the kind of love we should all be seeking, the kind that challenges us to be the best of ourselves. These are people who know they are in love. These sad, miserable bastards have my respect, my appreciation, and my envy.


To read more about Modern Relationships, check out issue two of my publication, NSFW Magazine.


Sunday, April 3, 2011

Confessions of a Sleep-Deprived Photographer

(This was written in the pages of Zink Magazine somewhere over the Midwest around 2 a.m. on a red-eye from NYC to LA in February 2010.)

I have these moments, as maybe all photographers do, when I am unfortunately without my chosen creative tool, my camera. Be it an unusual perspective or a special, candid moment in time, I know that specific instance will never be able to be recreated, as all truly real or great moments in life fail to be, and I am filled with regret that a beautiful thing could not have been preserved and shared.

The truth of the situation is that, even in a perfectly composed and technically proper image recording that moment, more often than not, no two-dimensional picture could ever capture the beauty, spectacle, and exact emotional mood I was in to have made that moment, and the supposed documentation of it for the viewer, as magical as actually living it would have.

I suppose this drive to document, and thus be able to share these special moments of life, has to do with a complicated mix of wanting to show or impress, wanting to not feel alone in the experiencing of something you felt was important. Either way, I feel robbed, and especially since, once I realize I will be unable to capture it because of lacking the proper equipment, I also immediately realize that I will probably forget the specific moment, which tends to always be the case.

Monday, February 21, 2011

"Could You Not Post That Photo?"


My dear fans and loyal followers, who I appreciate more than words can convey, often don't realize just how much work it takes to get a woman to pose for me. Though I've been credited often by friends and models for putting strangers at ease quickly and effortlessly, it is a constant struggle. Being located in a small, conservative town, it is already difficult to locate attractive women to model normally, let alone with their clothes partially or completely removed.

Usually, my best photos are with the women I've developed close friendships with, which of course requires a lot of time together in order to develop trust and create images where the model looks truly at ease. Still, they may be reluctant to show too much, and even when they do, it only complicated the matter more. Since they know I deal mainly with web-postings, some of these women do not have online accounts and don't fear the easy circulation that such publication implies. Those incidents are rare. More often than not, my models more active on the internet have a myriad of personal rules and guidelines for how I may use their photos. It's always a compromise.

The restrictions can range from wanting their nipples Photoshopped out of a bra-less t-shirt photo to not being afraid of showing their vagina as long as their face is covered. I've had women hamming it up for the camera naked and posing spread-legged as they enjoyed every moment, only to refuse having any of the images see the light of day. Other times I'm forced to take a photo down days or even months later due to second thoughts, reactions from boyfriends, or an upset phone call from a model's mother.

Realize, this is not a complaint. In all of these cases, I always comply, not because they are my friends, but because it is the right thing to do. I was raised to believe that a person, especially women, have the right to have No mean No, whether it is in the bedroom or in front of a camera.

Don't get me wrong, if a model's restrictions are somewhat silly or based in self-consciousness, i.e. "my face looks fat in that photo," then I will calmly and politely reassure them that I think the image is worthwhile and post it anyway. Still, there are times when I wonder if all photographers have to deal with this constant stream of concern and compromise, of never feeling one hundred percent secure that the images they take are not subject to being veto-controlled by a third party.

And to the models of mine who may read this and think I am referencing them: I am. But don't worry, I still love you and you know I'd do anything for you and will continue to do so.

Alright, enough of that. On with the show.

Check out the free previews to my personal publication, NSFW Magazine!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Good Old Days

mark velasquez,mark velasquez,art,art,model,model,bravo,bravo,workofart,workofart,work of art,work of art
(Sarah, 2010)

I've been awfully nostalgic lately. Times are tough right now, just about everyone can attest to that, but then again, if we're really honest with ourselves, things have always been tough in one way or another. I've always believed that being blind to the great complications of life, engaging in that innocence and naiveté so many people own day-to-day, is, of course, a much easier place to inhabit, but is that really where we want to be?

The realities of life have never been fair or easy, and though the recent economic crisis has hit most of the world fairly hard, I don't ever recall a time when people were consistently, fundamentally happy with everything. In especially the United States' highly politicized fear-mongering climate, it is far easier to sugarcoat the past and be fearful of the future. Hindsight is always 20-20, and when I sift through the twenty-four hour news cycle I am often shocked by the warm, glowing terms with which the past is discussed. Oddly, many of the loudest voices of fear and anger are the same people who vilified and demonized that same time period in the past as it was occurring.

The most common example cited: the 1950s. That period after World War II is often touted as a utopian age, when children in nuclear families grew up in happy homes occupied by a working father, a stay-at-home mother, and zero complications. None of the talking heads on television now will ever reference the open racism, back-alley abortions, or anti-Communist jingoism that alienated and, more often than not, caused great physical and philosophical harm to our society as a whole. Interestingly enough, not many people realize the word "utopia" derives from the Greek language, literally translated as "not a place," as in "somewhere that does not exist." Today, many politicians use the 1950s as a benchmark of what we need to get back to, yet they recite the same phrases that politicians have used for millennia. There are quotes from two thousand years ago of Roman senators decrying a need for their culture to get back to the ideals of "financial responsibility" and "family values." It appears the we as a species haven't evolved that much since the time of ancient conquests and the bacchanalia.

I believe all of this comes from a lack of perspective. The old lyric "you don't know what you've got till it's gone" pretty much sums up major aspects of human nature. In my case, I'm not nostalgic for the past, I'm nostalgic for the present. My own life is full of uncertainty, be it professional, personal, financial, and even spiritual. I can't say what is going to happen tomorrow, but I do know that I will eventually look back on these days and think fondly of the good moments, ignore the tough times, and wish I could be back where I currently am. The problems I am dealing with today, the stress and pressures, will have all been resolved and forgotten in a week or a month. It won't matter what rude e-mail I got, what driver cut me off, or what deadlines have been forced upon me. All I'll recall is the smiles on my nieces' faces, my nephew's first words, and all the crazy, silly situations I put myself in through my photography. Everything else is a waste of time and energy, and though that is a belief easier declared than practiced, we all need to be reminded that it is actually true.

The answer is simple: the reason we are all nostalgic for the past is because we know how it ended up. The Cuban Missile Crisis: resolved. The war in Vietnam: over. The turbulent 6Os: forgotten in a drug-addled haze. As a society, we're still here fighting and fucking and having backyard barbecues, just like we've always had. In the grand scheme of things, human life is "business as usual." I'm sorry to remind you, but there will always be uncertainty. Sure, life is not a video game, you don't get a second chance, but just try to appreciate life for what it is, not for what you'd like it to be. Do your best, take some risks, and get some sleep. Tomorrow is a new and unexpected day.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Size Matters?

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I can't tell you how many times people have derided me for the size of my models' waistlines. Adjectives like skinny, waifish, and even Anorexic have been used, often accompanied by a not-so-subtle accusation that those are the only kind of women that I desire to take photos of. Yes, the fashion and glamour industry does lend itself to smaller, leaner looking women, that is not a secret. Sex sells and I will be the first one to admit that thin bodies are what our society currently regards as the ideal form of attractiveness. In elaborately staged imagery I've often used those kinds of models to illustrate a point, using them in an ironic context in hopes of continuing a dialog about the industry as a whole. Whether you believe that or think that dialog was successful or not is something only you as the observer can judge.

Either way, please know that I personally love women of all shapes and sizes. Being a large person myself, and coming from a long line of heftier people, I've appreciated the beauty of curves and extra skin my whole life. I have sketch books full of fleshy, folded women confidently displaying themselves, whose bodies, you may or may not know, are far more fun and interesting to draw and paint than those of taut sinew and muscle. I've often tried to convince larger women to model in a revealing manner for me, getting excited by their initial bold and fearless interest. Unfortunately, when the time finally comes, these ladies always seem to back out with one excuse or another.

Consider my excitement then when I finally got to shoot the lovely and engaging Mockingbird Girl, whose real name will be withheld to protect the innocent. She is a well known model who has worked with very talented and high profile photographers for years, and after three separate attempts we finally managed to meet up in Brooklyn last month. Though our schedule was rushed due to the complications of life, Kacie and I spent a few hours with her on a Friday evening sharing stories, drinking Bulleit Whiskey, and of course, taking a few photos.

Her eccentric and complicated personal history was intriguing, hearing of her Persian ancestry and growing up all over the globe, tales of her family and weird modeling experiences, etc. The fact that all of that was delivered with her very sultry British accent while naked and sipping whiskey made the event only that much more amazing. She is the kind of woman who exudes an aura of sexiness without trying, that sensual appeal that can never be manufactured. She was funny, honest, self-deprecating, and completely comfortable, not just with herself, but with Kacie and I, which is always half the battle when working with a virtual stranger.

The rarity of finding a voluptuous woman who is comfortable posing for photos, let alone completely nude, is like winning the lottery, though I still wasn't one hundred percent satisfied with the situation. My two main regrets from that evening were the limited schedule and my lack of proper equipment. After Mockingbird Girl had gotten stuck so long in traffic, and with Kacie and I having a party to attend immediately after we got done, I continually felt rushed, trying to make the most of the time we did have. Also, due to the lateness of the hour, natural light was clearly ruled out, and having had to travel compactly to NYC, I was lacking any artificial light other than my small flash. True, a lack of professional equipment is never a deal breaker if you know what you're doing. However, I still wished I could have had a whole bevy of complicated lighting to make the special moment that much more extraordinary. Ah well, such is life.

Once we were done, we quickly helped carry her bags to her vehicle and all went our separate ways. Only a few days later, when Kacie and I had a bit of down time in Philadelphia, did I finally get a chance to look through the images we had shot that night. For the lack of creative lighting and rushed schedule, I found the bare bones images we captured together pretty intriguing. Maybe you think I'm biased or that I find the sheer novelty of the model alluring, but I don't think that's it. We captured something simple, sweet and special that night, and I for one look forward to finding an excuse for getting back to Brooklyn to work with her again soon.
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Saturday, June 19, 2010

Keep In Touch

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(Kacie Waits, 2010)

Though I consider myself to be a caring person and a decent friend, I will freely admit to being horrible about keeping in touch with people that I don't deal with in my daily life. It is a struggle that I have to actively work at, making little reminders to myself in order to let those that I care about in different states and countries know that I am thinking of them. To put it a simpler way, the phrase I've unintentionally subscribed to my whole life is "out of sight, out of mind," and I don't like it.

We've all had people come in and out of our lives, some of whom have names we can't remember, while others have names we wish we could forget. At some point you will run into these people again, whether at the store, on vacation, or dating your sister. So often I've had to be momentarily polite and then avoid their desire to reconnect as quickly as possible, never once feeling bad about not sharing their interests in rekindling our association.

To be even more blunt, I've never understood how having a shared experience with someone for a brief period, such as an academic class or working together at a part-time job, allows that person to pretend that they have a close relationship with you years later. Now that's not to say that people whose social lives revolve around work, school, or some other organization is a bad thing, because it isn't. However, if that's the only thing you have in common, I think it might be a bit silly to want to stay in contact to share stories of your grandkids thirty years later.

We've all lived diverse chapters in our lives, from attending schools in different states, working in many different job fields, and traveling in ever-changing social circles. There are a lot of great people that I always wished I could stay connected to, and there are three times as many that I wish I could avoid indefinitely.

So, with the dawn of life-consuming social networking sites, my fear of this "keep in touch" phenomenon has only been heightened. For a long time I was apprehensive about becoming fully engaged in sites like Facebook and MySpace, fearing that the only people that would find me were my disgruntled ex-girlfriends or the jealous boyfriends of past models. Surprisingly, I have been excited and inspired by finding people from my past who I truly enjoyed knowing back then or have sincerely missed from my life.

In the last three years, I've found people I've been searching for or have been thinking of for years. We've had dinners, worked on projects together, and, at the very least, been able to stay in touch with the aid of all of this amazing modern technology. Just today I shot family portraits for an old boy scout and high school friend who, up until two years ago, I hadn't heard from in over fifteen years. I've been lucky enough to see his son grow and change every time they come back to visit our home town. Even though we weren't and aren't the closest of friends, having that small piece of my past life, which I practically ignore and rarely think about, makes me feel more complete in a way I never knew was lacking. That is just one of at least a dozen examples I could cite, and I am curiously optimistic about who else might come out of the ether.

At best, maybe I'm becoming more mature and am able to handle more complex friendships and relationships than I ever have before. At worst, I've become nostalgic and am perhaps glossing over the past. Either way, I can't deny that it feels right.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Getting Ready For Summer

Getting Ready For Summer

Some will see this as an objectification of a woman. I see this simply as a study, a light test with water, which I've rarely ever used and feel the need to experiment with.

I enlisted Katie's help via text message. She gladly stopped by after a long day of work just now, a wide assortment of bathing suits awaiting approval in her bag. In total, we shot for no more than ten minutes in front of my garage. The whole time I tried to figure out the proper amount of water pressure, make sure she wasn't freezing, and constantly worried about electrocuting her with all the power cords I had laying in the new puddles forming in my driveway. After changing and briefly looking at the samples of what we got, she laughed, gave me a hug, and went home to cook dinner for her dad. She was maybe at my place for a total of twenty minutes, tops.

This is the typical kind of afternoon I have after spending the day working at my family burger restaurant, Tom's Take Out. Some people say my life is crazy and wild and fun, and I suppose from their perspective it is. From my point of view, I'm just trying to avoid becoming yet another clever, creative person in a small town who isn't making full use of their talent or artistic drive. It's a daily struggle, and I'm doing my best.

(To purchase a copy of my first photo book, please CLICK HERE!)

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Don't Take This Personally

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(Jenna, 2010)

The other day I overheard a conversation that ended with a common exchange. One person said,"So that's how I feel, don't take it personally." The other responded, "How could I not take that personally?"

Whether it be from our siblings, opposing political parties, or a darker sense of humor, words and actions seem to be taken far too personally these days, which only seems to make life that much harder. What I've discovered is, aside from the rare jackass who goes to great lengths to be intentionally spiteful, most people's actions are based purely on self-serving reasons that have nothing to do with anybody else. Let me repeat that: the actions of others do not revolve around anyone else, and that includes all of us. A person reacts to situations and makes choices because they are thinking of their best interest, their own happiness and self-preservation that they have every right to seek out. Sure, you don't have to like it, and you may not even agree with their choice, nor do you really have to support it. That is your right. On the other hand, you are also not allowed to be individually slighted by another's decisions nor feel personally attacked.

It happens daily. We've all seen a perceived offense get interpreted badly and have witnessed the horrible repercussions that come from reacting to it. Greed, spite, jealousy; in my neck of the woods it is simply called Drama. I'm sorry to say that in my youth I gained experience on both sides of this topic but now go out of my way to avoid it every chance I get.

I grew up as a Catholic and a Mexican, both groups that, though not the original creators of Guilt, are today still two of the largest manufacturers of it. While away at college so many years ago, I learned that nothing is really personal, and if you take it so, the guilt you try to project on others in order to validate your wrongly perceived feelings only makes things worse.

A lot of my views on the world have to do with perception. By simply perceiving a situation differently you can easily alter it, dealing with any problem or challenge in a faster, more logical way. By taking out emotion, your choices become clear and easy to defend, and thus your possibility of feeling guilt diminishes greatly.

Many have told me that they can't be as emotionless as I am in situations, but they have it wrong. I'm not a very cool or collected person. That I can remain calm in just about any given situation doesn't mean I'm not a raging torrent of highs and lows, it just means I can mask my reactions better. I have very strong opinions on any topic you can come up with, but I just happen to know when to pick my battles.

If all the anger, frustration, and bitterness generated from taking things personally was turned into enthusiastic support and positive inspiration, we as a society might get a lot more done and finally see some real, tangible change for the better. Why be petty? If others seem to be living their life to a fuller potential than you are, it should not be your goal to tear them down, but to push yourself to a higher level. If your lover rejects you, it wasn't meant to be, so move on accordingly. If your co-worker got the promotion you feel you deserved, work harder or find a better job.

I know this is all easier said than done, but the attempt alone is important in these matters. Sadly, what bothers me most is that a lot of people don't even want to try, they are happy with the status quo. Thankfully I never am. Sometimes my high standards leave a lot of room for disappointment, but I tend to keep that to myself as well. All I'm saying is we as a society need to loosen up, work a little harder, and keep on truckin'. At the end of the day, may we all lie in bed with the notion that we were our best selves, and that will be good enough. Feel free to take that personally.