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?

mark velasquez,art,model,bravo,workofart,work of art
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.
mark velasquez,art,model,bravo,workofart,work of art

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.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

10 Days of Kacie

Coming home from a weird day at work and a long afternoon of running errands, I was pleasantly surprised by my home's odd transformation. As some of you may or may not know, I choose to have my little one bedroom duplex convey both a minimalist attitude and a Spartan aesthetic, baring very few decorations and almost nothing on the plain, vanilla, stucco walls. In my absence today my friend and model, Kacie, who is visiting for three weeks, had done some work. She had vacuumed, rearranged my entire kitchen drawer system, washed all of my dishes, reorganized my cabinets, decorated my window sills with bottles and flowers, bought a cilantro plant, and even had a bowl of freshly sliced oranges sitting on my living room table waiting for me. I found myself smiling, speechless.

If you haven't followed any of my previous postings about her, I stayed with Kacie in Philadelphia for one interesting evening of my cross country trip last summer. We had such a fun, productive time that we've kept in contact and created a pretty solid friendship. Much to my delight, she decided to come out to visit me in California for a few weeks in hopes of more good times.

Since her arrival last Monday we've shot almost five thousand images all over the central coast including beaches, a winery, rural train tracks, old houses, bars, farmer's markets, and cow pastures. We've had dinner with my family, played with my nieces, danced until midnight with some of my other models, talked for hours, and have drunken a fair amount of whiskey. So far I'd say her visit has been a complete success. I'm pleased to have also been able to make good on all the promises I had made to aid in her comfort here, such as getting the kinds of food she likes, touring places she'd like to go, etc.

Though she appears in photos as a soft, vintage pin-up model, I have made much about how outspoken she can be, how strong and almost macho she comes off in real life. Essentially, she's your typical straight talkin' South Philly broad. In preparation for her arrival I have described her to my friends as your typical tough guy-friend who just happens to inhabit the body of an attractive woman. Best of all, she's not only an excellent model, but the fact that she’s got her photography degree doesn’t hurt at all, leading to us having a wonderful shorthand for a myriad of conversations.

When Kacie goes down to LA for a few days next week I am sure we'll both enjoy the little break apart, for anyone in close quarters for too long can get tiresome. Still, I am extremely surprised and impressed by just how easily the whole encounter has been. I will be the first one to admit that I've never been at my best with many roommates, but the transition from bachelor photo-factory to a warm, inviting home has been fairly seamless. I'm learning a lot.

As I type this I am sipping on a glass of orange juice and whiskey with some muddled orange slices she just made me. We're listening to Beethoven while she makes stir fry in my kitchen and dances around. It smells wonderful. I have no complaints with my life right now.

I will leave you with a few of my favorite images from her visit so far, all of which came essentially straight out of the camera:

The Audrey Hepburn Look.

Kacie on my couch.
Kacie is a Lady.

Her "gypsy look" at Pismo Beach.

Kacie Getting Ready
Quick snap shot while she gets ready.

Kacie Likes Ribs.

The Oso Flaco stare.

Hugging the wall.

And lastly, one of my favorites.

I look forward to shooting thousands of more images in the next few days, stay tuned.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Don't Talk to Strangers

To my continued amazement, I have been fortunate to travel a lot these last several years. However, seeing many unknown faces and not getting a chance to talk in depth to most of them is one of the only two regrets I have about those excursions. Going through my archives while preparing to update my various websites for an important summer of self-promotion, I've been surprised to find so many simple and straight-forward images of complete strangers. Though I'm not known for my naturally lit images of real-life documentation, I usually find meeting new people and taking their photos far more rewarding than most other types of work I've done.

So, here are a few of my favorites, I apologize if you've seen some of them before. These are all people who stopped for only a moment to let me capture their likeness, but who I didn't really say much to and certainly have never seen again. They are strangers to me in every sense of the word. Interestingly, I've seen their faces enough in my archives that if I were to run into them again, I would probably freak them out by engaging them like a long lost friend. These are in no particular order:

"Menudo Guest", Pauma Valley Indian Reservation, CA 2009

"Paul Stanley from Kiss", Santa Maria, CA 2007

"Los Luchadores", Los Angeles, CA 2008

"Abortion Opponent", Santa Maria, CA 2008

"Civil War Reenactor", Gettysburg, PA 2009

Mark Velasquez photography
"Cuban Posers", Cocoa Beach, FL 2009

"Tourist Dork", San Francisco, CA 2006

"Head Flower Girl", Paso Robles, CA 2008

Mark Velasquez photography
"Not-So-Innocent Girls", Philadelphia, PA 2009

"Caribbean Mother and Child", Punta Uva, Costa Rica, 2004

Mark Velasquez photography
"Neighborhood Playas", Philadelphia, PA 2009

"Burlesque Dancer/Wrestler", Los Angeles, CA 2008

"Mennonite Boy Cutting Grass in the Rain", Intercourse, PA 2009

"Polar Bear Swimmers", Coney Island, NY 2010

"Photographers deal in things which are continually vanishing and when they have vanished there is no contrivance on earth which can make them come back again."
- Henri Cartier-Bresson

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Coming to Terms

Mark Velasquez
(Somewhere over Nevada, 2010)

My last eight days had been spent in sheer exhilaration. Though the last year has been admittedly remarkable in regards to just about every aspect of my life, the previous week still would probably win out for the largest amount of concentrated overall fun. I had been in New York City at dance parties, visited long desired museums, and met my artistic and musical heroes who volunteered their cell phone numbers. I spent time with dear friends, experienced more than my fair share of laughter and drunken hours, and above all, engaged in a much needed lack of responsibility. This made what my brother affectionately refers to as the "Year of Mark 2.0" seem to be an almost real and tangible thing. So here I was, not twenty four hours after returning to Santa Maria and reality, with an eighteen year old girl whose doctors give at most five years to live, crying in my arms on my faded second-hand couch while I attempted to answer her unanswerable questions about the fairness of life.

I've only known Jenna for a little over three months, but in that time she has shown me her joy, passion, and sweetness while never holding back the honesty of her flaws, fears, and regrettable past deeds. We spent a fun afternoon catching up and sharing photos, taking in a late lunch and frozen yogurt. We joked, discussed future plans, just hung out. It was nice. Having suffered with her illness for most of her life, she is strong and brave in a way most people will never have to experience until they are frail and grey. On this day however, she either finally felt comfortable enough with me or was too emotionally tired to contain her tears anymore.

Personally, I've almost completely suppressed my ability to cry in any real world setting. It takes a corny or courageous plot point of some artificial entertainment source to finally let me allow myself the five second burst of tears I manage to eek out from time to time. After such an emotionally charged previous week, on the plane ride back I could sense a good fifteen second cry coming soon. With Jenna in my arms I really wanted to cry, especially in those long moments of silence when the only sound in the room was her quiet sobbing muffled by my t-shirt and the bumping old-school jams of low-riders cruising by. But I didn't and still haven't.

I supposed I could talk at length about her horrific personal ordeals with men, the boxes of mandatory pills doctors have prescribed, her past experiences living in a wheel chair and now with the occasional use of a cane. There is too much to tell and I've put off writing about it for weeks. I want to share these stories, show the life that she has given me permission to display, but frankly, I'm not yet ready for all that. It is still too new to me and I don't yet know how to feel about it. Maybe these paragraphs are the first steps on that road.

Jenna and I have many plans for the future, both creatively and socially, for as long as her health holds up. I want to show her things that I think she might enjoy or find important. The questions she's asked about life being fair, about the how's and why's of things, can only be answered with the same directness my parents thankfully gave me: That's just the way it is. Life isn't fair, bad things happen to good people, and things might not ever get better. All we can do is live for the moment, take as much pleasure in life as possible without hurting others in the process, and hope that the memories we leave behind give comfort in some way to others when we're gone. The hardest thing for me is that I want to convince her that these hard lessons get easier to accept as time goes by, but sadly she doesn't have the amount of time it takes to come to terms with all of it, and that's the most unfair thing of all.
mark velasquez

The doctors say her physiology is that of someone in their sixties, and at the rate she's going she will have a fatal heart-attack before the age of twenty-three. Doctors have been wrong before. Unfortunately, no amount of prayer, luck, homeopathy or goodwill can make a difference in how to deal with such a situation the way acceptance can. Just thinking about Jenna can keep me up at night, filling me with sadness, hope, anger, regret, and joy. In the brief time I've known her I already feel changed, and for that I can't thank her enough. Maybe some day all of this will make sense, but the real tragedy is that deep down I know it never, ever will.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Art Appreciation

Mark Velasquez photography

Neff, Noah and I braved the snow to attend the Brooklyn Museum's Kiki Smith opening on Friday. Neff got in due to Noah's extra ticket while I was left to my own devices. Using my fake, photoshopped "press pass", which I had created to finagle my way into the Michael Jackson trial back in 2005, I easily convinced the matrons manning the front counter that I should be given entrance, and tada! Lamb ball hors d'oeuvres for me and free beer for my cohorts.

We saw the show, shmoozed with various friends and acquaintances, and of course I had my photo taken with Kiki, trying not to act like a silly school girl meeting one of the Jonas Brothers. I was pleased to see children at the show, a rare sight in the New York City area on a whole, let alone in an art world setting. There was a stroller here and there amidst the large-headed sculptures while Obama-voting parents held their toddlers up to the chine-collé prints, hoping to pass their love for this work onto the next generation.

In one of the rooms, we spied a boy of about seven or eight sitting on the floor of the crowded gallery amidst all the mingling adults. He had taken a liking to one of Smith's sculptures hanging from the ceiling and was intent on drawing it in this little book. Neff, Noah and I all were intrigued to see the kid in action, but before I could take a photo of him in the cramped space he was bolting up to proudly show his dad, an artist Noah turned out to know personally.
Mark Velasquez photography
About half an hour later we were done exploring the museum and were headed off to find some dinner and a well-needed drink, hopping into a quick-filling elevator. The last people to get in were the little boy who had been drawing and his parents. We stood fairly quiet in the elevator as the boy reviewed his night's work, clearly seeming disappointed. Finally he looked to his dad and said, loud enough for all of us to hear, "It took me so much time and I got such little pictures!" At this point we all smiled, and Noah commented on the boy's frustration for all of us, saying sympathetically, "Now you're thinking like an artist."

It was a light, fun moment that unfortunately illustrated a real frustration for creative people, whether they haven't reached double digits or are collecting social security. We all easily saw ourselves in that boy's disappointing realization, when this thing you start out doing for fun finally begins to feel like it is real work and thus less enjoyable.

This week spent in New York has been truly great in so many unnameable ways. Thankfully, in the last four years I've come full circle in my sensibilities, from entirely forsaking the art world and what it stands for to relenting passed the self-deprecating concept that there might actually be a place in there somehow for me. Either way, I'm ready for the next step, excited to get back to work, and look forward to the challenges from new realizations to come.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

June 25, 2009: The Breaking Point

Onikaa Strikes Again!!!  (Grand Ledge, MI, 2009)
("Onikaa Strikes Back!"2009)

It was the twenty-eighth day of what was beginning to feel like my never-ending cross country trip. I was leaving East Lansing, Michigan, pleasantly impressed with my model and host, Onikaa. She had proven to not only be as insane a model as she had promised, but also a wonderful host. In the one night I was there, she provided a great home-cooked meal, lively entertainment with her family and friends, and a fair amount of alcohol. Of course I hadn't slept very well on the floor of her spare room, but as usual by 9AM I was back on that ceaseless road. It was only a day after I had infamously been detained at the US/Canadian border, though so much had transpired since then that the incident already seemed like ancient history.

The level of exhaustion I had willingly pushed myself to at that point was as maddening as it was humorous. Still I continued, meeting necessary deadlines to fit the schedules of those left on my itinerary. All I could think about was home, my own bed, and not having the uncertainty of where I might lay my head that night. Choosing to listen to the radio, I welcomed the irregular DJs and weird local commercials that would keep me more focused than the drone of a familiar iPod playlist. The rest of Michigan didn't take too long, the northern tip of Indiana was pretty painless, and I was so groggy that the traffic of Chicago seemed like a pleasant break from the constantly shifting scenery. It also felt good later that day to cross Wisconsin and Minnesota off my list of states never visited, though I'll freely admit that I'm unable to remember anything specific about either one. I felt a constant rush against time, and afraid to risk slowing down for fear of losing what momentum I had left.

My main memory of that day was the endless entertainment reports. First was the report of the passing of Farrah Fawcett, then an hour later the all consuming media blitz reporting the death of Michael Jackson. Though I'd been the happiest and chubbiest Mexican kid on my block to wear a single white glove in the mid-80s, my current burnt out state left me feeling more surprised than disappointed, focused more on the task at hand than Pop Culture's loss. Almost immediately after hearing the news, as I put more and more tired miles behind me, I received modern society's version of a public eulogy: the dirty text-messaged joke. Some were just about Jackson, others wittily tried to incorporate Farrah's loss to colon cancer as well. I'm usually a loyal fan of a good off-colored joke, but given my emotional state at the time I could only think "ooh, too soon."

By nightfall I was almost falling asleep at the wheel. Then, like a shock to my system, an intriguing sign caught my eye: The Corn Palace. I had reached Mitchell, South Dakota, almost blindly breezing passed it as I had everywhere else that day, but my curiosity was piqued. I had heard of this legendary home of "Corn-as-Art" for years, and though I surely could have rested conformably on my death bed having never visited, I was glad for the excuse to stop. In my haze I almost missed the exit, having to dangerously skirt across several lanes at once to safely clear the off-ramp. The Corn Palace, surrounded on all four sides by its entertaining corn husk mosaics of historic sites, was a pleasant ten minute deviation that woke me up enough to carry on for a few more desperate hours.
Mark Velasquez,Santa Maria,Katie West,photography,art,woman,women

By this time it was after 11PM and my sore body's only goal was to cover as much ground as possible while maintaining my sanity. During the entire trip I was averaging about 4 hours of sleep a night, some in hotel rooms and nice spare rooms, but many more in strangers' makeshift guest areas. One night it would be a mattress on the floor, the next a sunken velvet couch or a small child's bed. The funniest part was that I inflicted all of this upon myself. As I look back on it many months later, I must admit I really, truly enjoyed the experience, though at the time I might not have agreed. But 1:30AM, I was done. Still an hour outside of my intended destination of Rapid City, the site of Mount Rushmore, my vehicle was the only light in a far-reaching black horizon. I had covered about twenty percent of the length of the country in one day under the strain of exhaustion, and I didn't know how much more I could take. Finally, like a beacon of hope, I was greeted by a closed gas station's illuminated marquee as I sped over a slight grade. In what felt like an eternity, I slowly pulled alongside the building to check the security of the surrounds, decided I didn't care, parked, threw my seat back, and fell asleep immediately.

I awoke in what felt like just a few minutes, my whole body aching and unexpectedly shivering. In my sleep I must have covered myself with the thin, white robe worn by my models during breaks from physically revealing photo shoots, but it just wasn't enough to keep me warm. With my eyes throbbing and head spinning, I couldn't understand why the sun had already begun to rise over the flat landscape. It appeared to be one of the loveliest sights I had witnessed in years, or at least that was the perception through my sore, crusted-over eyes.

Reacting solely through force of habit, I reached to the open camera bag on my passenger seat and blindly slipped my hand through the camera strap, knowing what I needed was attached to it. I clumsily reached to open the driver's side door, falling out onto the asphalt in the cold morning air like a bumbling drunk, instinctively slinging my camera over my shoulder in one fluid motion for its protection. Attempting to stand like a baby fawn on newborn legs, I inadvertently slammed my face into the thick layer of dust that had been building up on my truck for weeks. Steadying myself as best I could, I awkwardly took two more steps toward the back of the vehicle, again losing my balance and hitting the side of the dirty truck. I remember sorely leaning there for a moment, actively seeking muscle memories to relearn the concept of bipedal stability, wiping my eyes in a desperate attempt for any sort of clarity. When I finally reached the back bumper, I placed a precarious knee for balance and fired my camera wildly at the sunrise, adjusting the zoom lens to shoot as wide a scene as possible in a vain attempt to capture anything worthwhile.

Once my brain registered some unknown feeling of accomplishment, I stumbled back, swinging my camera back into its bag. I fell back into the comparative warmth of the truck's cab and onto the still-reclined seat, slamming the door behind me. Reaching for my cell phone to check the always important time, I saw it was already 5:17AM, which for some reason led me to briefly whimper unintelligibly. It was at that moment I made the unusual decision to allow myself to fall back asleep, which I did for a necessary and undisturbed four hours. It was that simple, and I felt relieved.

I knew finally that I had reached my physical breaking point, but I was also thankfully aware that it could only get better. When I did eventually wake up hours later I felt ready to finish what I had started weeks before. I had seen so much and traveled so far, but I was ready to be done. It was the beginning of the end and I was finally on my way home.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Forsaking All Others

He's one of the goofiest guys I've ever known, a dorky "white trash" kid with nothing more to offer a woman than sincerity and a good heart, which has always been about enough in my opinion. She is the eldest child of a very old-fashioned, working class Mexican family, the daughter they had pinned a lot of their hopes for the future on. Her family has never really approved of their three year relationship, with the language barrier being the smallest of the numerous handicaps to overcome. In spite of the dissension, the couple finally got married last weekend, roping me into being the lucky photographer for the festivities.

Neither the ceremony nor the after-party would have been described as formal or extravagant, with the reception being held at the groom's family home. The six-foot subs laid out on the pool table beneath the collection of Budweiser memorabilia still didn't prepare me for the joke wedding cake topper of a plastic bride dragging her squeamish groom to an unwanted future. Though I had been terribly reluctant to be there at all and remained unenthusiastic the entire time, I did my job well and in hindsight I'm very glad I was able to witness the spectacle.
mark velasquez santa maria

Love, passion, overcoming odds, reality over desire, and destiny versus dumb luck are all topics that occupy my thoughts most of the time. Even with the palpable tension that day, dirty looks across family lines, and the groom's mother as disturbingly and maniacally overwhelmed with excitement as much as the bride's father was miserably uncomfortable, I found an inspiring sense of truth and beauty amidst the chaos. There in the 20' by 30' basement "reception hall", surrounded by the tenuously taped ceiling balloons, with the DJ blaring loud Spanish Banda music, complete with colored light show and smoke machine, the couple reminded us all in their two minute dance what the occasion was about.

They laughed and kissed and cried, whispering in each others' ears despite the maelstrom of both real and perceived distractions in the room. For that very brief time they illustrated what the whole concept of these kinds of ceremonies are about: the most optimistic sense of Hope. Of course it only lasted as long as the groom's mother could prevent herself from interrupting, beer in hand, to take over the dance floor. Still, it made an impact, if only on me. They were finally together, and no matter what vocal or unspoken objections anyone might have had that day, these two people were emotionally and now legally committed to each other. Whether blissfully ignorant of what the future holds for them or willful, they had at least ventured to take that first step on the path of a life together, and in this day and age you have to at least respect that.
mark velasquez santa maria

All told, it was the most awkward, uncomfortable family gathering I had experienced since my extended family's 1990 reunion was abruptly ended by a drunk cousin picking a fight with the band leader. Experience has proven that even the strongest of relationships can not always hold up against the kind of countless obstacles these two young people will have to tackle together. All that they have is their promise to each other and the hope that they each can deliver. I, for one, wish them all the luck and happiness possible. Here's hoping they make it.