The In-between

...Because "Tomorrow I Cross Over; Tonight I Drink", is too long a title for a blog.

Turning Chapters [or] A Farewell to Arms

It's a slightly busy evening at Comstock; Tuesday early evenings usually are.  Those that've been let loose from their offices mingle with one another. Office friends getting together over happy-hour drinks,  tech-bros and girls doing their after work mingle thing along with the rest.

I'm sitting in the corner, by the window with my whisky and a rock on the side passively observing it all as I work on what's mine.  The paddle fans above slowly move in their orbits, the bartender moving like a butterfly between the drinkers at the bar and his drink making, smiling and chatting occasionally, I remember meeting him at a Christmas morning cookout in Cole Valley what seems to be ages ago now; another lifetime perhaps. Looking at him, you'd think he'd just stepped out of a Hemingway novel. 

A pretty woman and her friend sitting at almost the center of the bar with her tan Louboutins and her orbital influence--feels like others bounce off this orbit of personality without knowing or feeling it giving her space as if it were deserved.  She seems a bit over dressed, even for Columbus Ave.  Maybe she's meeting someone after a quick drink with her friend, who's to say? A round of laughter from my left takes my mind off of creating a story for her.  Seems that there's a comedian in the group of friends sitting around the table next to me, or that they're collectively remembering something funny that happening; I don't know, I didn't pay attention, so I smile slightly to myself and back to my work I go.

It's been a very fast-paced eighteen months, sometimes even maelstrom-ish [to borrow a term from shakespeare's vocabulary].  I've bounced around corners of Mexico, America, and Syria, seen the same old thing dressed differently, I've seen the same misery in three different languages and cultures, the same emotional complications; the same drama play out over and over--no matter the pretty face, the place, and the conflict.  And it's dawned on me like an 18-wheeler broad-siding me that I'm done.

I've given enough of my sweat and blood to photojournalism.  I've done the same thing over and over on different stages with different faces.  I've been a fortunate son of a bitch at times and mad at others.  I've seen things that no one should.  It's time to move on while I still can.  It's time to do other things, try sitting still for a while; a long while maybe.

So, here's to what was, here's to the friends I made and lost, those I've watched interréd.  May it all be as it always has been.

Strange Songs Early in The Morning Near the Bosphorus [or] slowly making my way to Munich

   It's a pretty morning west of the Bosphorus--puffy, pregnant clouds in the sky; crisp though. It's even better to have both my eyes open...  Sitting at the Swissotel--gingerly, you see, left side still smarts a bit... the sun's in my eyes, but that's fine, great in fact.  Toggling through my music, I stopped on Black Rebel Motorcycle Club; nostalgia you think?  I remember these guys playing small venues in San Francisco, even The Great American Music Hall in the Tenderloin [no, back when hipsters and tech-bros would get the shyte kicked out of them there].  So, if misery loves company, then I'll love to share this song with the ether.

I see the rifles coming over the hill
And if you shout maybe they stop and won't kill
But if you think like me
You'll be as dead as he
I see the lion crawling over your bed
And if you stay he'll make you walk in your bed
To what you're gonna be
It never lets you be
I see the color in your eyes
I see the images I own
I see more color in your eyes
Than the reflections from purple skies
I won't let you take him away
And I won't give to you the fires of hate
So I will never see
What you've done to me
I see the color in your eyes
I see the images I own
I see more color in your eyes
Than the reflections from purple skies
Now
You come alive
With the world at your side
Now
You come alive
With the world at your side
I see the rifles coming over the hill
And if you shout maybe they stop and won't kill
But if you think like me
You'll be as dead as he
Some day
I see the color in your eyes
I see the images I own
I see more color in your eyes
Than the reflections from purple skies
Now
You come alive
With the world at your side

Pro Defunctis [or] Being Faithful to the nightmares of ones choosing II

Al Bab Actual, Syria
24/04/2017 1430
(Excerpt from a letter)

   I'm in central Al Bab, in what used to be a three story home I'm afforded a room on the third floor with cousins of one of the boys overlooking the main road out.  There are very few tarps and canvases here. People seem to be in better spirits and are beginning to rebuild their homes, slowly.

   Perhaps these things you mention ought to be alarming and hard to imagine and stomach to more people-- we may see less of war if more people thought twice before signing on to another armchair warrior's war.  Loss and sorrow the scale of which renders even someone as verbose as me silent. All I'm able to do is raise my camera to my eye and press the shutter.  Loss which I can only bear to witness this way, it's madness, it's the absence of reason, it's  absence of hope (hell was described to me this way once-- I believe in this hell).  How can I rationalise watching a child as he's crushed under rubble falling from a struck building? A man carrying his injured father to hospital cut down by gun fire? What am I supposed to do when I watch one of the boys I've grown close to die in front of me, others injured? how can I explain the fear on a mother's face as she clutches her son while bombs and rockets drop around us?  I can't do anything, I can't stop anything, I can't change any minds, so, I record.  

  I came to here not only to bear witness once again, but to say goodbye to my friend and his family, I feel a sense of guilt for them which I'll probably never rid myself of.  I could've done more.  At least, they won't suffer any longer nor will they see another day of war.  Their graves are still fresh, no one has time or resources for proper large headstones and the sort even though the dead don't care.  Still, it weighs on me, so I paid one of the boys to have proper stones made for them in turkey and bring them in the next time they're making a run across in turkey.  So, I carry on.  It's for the living to remember those that aren't, right?

    Idlib was the most intense fighting I've seen so far, street to street, block to block, house to house; felt the same adrenaline, narrowness of purpose and focus as I used to from Kosovo to Iraq... This time, it wore me out, I wasn't itching for more, I am getting older.  From the moment you and I lost touch and we turned right off the main trunk road into Idlib's outskirts until the moment we left, bombardments, gun fire, rockets, RPGs...  We got in as the sun was rising, and it was behind us thankfully as mortars were hitting nearby and so were bullets but the sun may have made it harder.  Getting into the FSA held sector I gathered where I could wander and where I was on my own.  I headed as far east in the city blocks as half a kilometre before three phosphorous rounds struck nearby, I saw their bright sparks and shrapnel of ignited phosphorus spread, turning back the way I came I sought cover; no more landed in the area but I heard contact further away... When you're surrounded by buildings, it's hard to pinpoint direction because, you see, sound echoes.  So, I backtracked and went slightly north but still west.  Smoke was rising from buildings struck, white helmets doing what they had to do.  I feel I walked a circle around the city ducking when I had to and goose-ing when I didn't (ha, ha, ha), I made my way up a few roof tops exchanging fire and felt the old familiar snaps of bullets near me, made the photos I felt I needed, the last roof top had water, I asked for some and the fighters were generous enough to give it as long as I got their good sides in the photos they joked...  This was the case until I got near the hospital - I saw a man run by me, I was unaware of him until I saw him by my shoulder and smelled that familiar smell of copper, blood...  He was carrying a girl with golden hair, I could see that and her legs, one mangled, I ran behind him to catch up... I did.  The man, her father, shirtless, covered in her blood, eyes wild with grief, pain and anger I cannot describe nor do I wish to.  She was in shock, her eyes open and darting, breathing, but as we got near the steps of the hospital she convulsed and began coughing, her father stopped me almost running into him I was close enough to get splatter of blood on me, my camera by my side, I couldn't move my arms, I couldn't... she took a breath, and there were no more breaths.  Her father never took his eyes off her and ran into the hospital, I stayed behind; In my bewilderment, in my inability, in my own head, in my own inability to pick up my camera and be a goddamned photographer...  Her mother ran by me as well in the meantime, her state no better than the fathers, her eyes, I couldnt see the pupils there was so much water in them, she was injured too, but I don't think she cared.  I made my way to a wall still trying to move past that moment but the girls father came back out this time sunken into himself, he fell to a car next to him with is back, head in his hands screaming and crying...

THIS. IS. MADNESS. THIS. IS. HELL.

I did muster the ability to photograph this. Why?

   Deciding to stick around the hospital so I could photograph the doctors, the injured, and the white helmets, I spent the rest of the day at the hospital until the 3 missiles struck the hospitals far wing.  I was walking from an operating theatre to a hallway when I felt the blast... the old familiar sledgehammer like thud one feels in their bones when a round goes off close as I was lifted off my feet and slammed into and through the plaster wall, it takes a bit to stop ones deafness and the head to stop spinning...  I looked down, my right ring finger is bent at an angle I haven't seen it bent before, my shirt is torn, and one of my cameras is smashed but I was lucky, three doctors and many more patients (I can't get a number, I will when I return) didn't make it.  I made my way out, trying to remember the way I came, somehow I made it back to the FSA base.  Everyone staring at me... I didn't know I was covered in white dust and where I was cut there was scabbing blood.  One of the men gave me a once over and splinted my finger.  I spent what time I had left at the base, the shelling and rockets had picked up pace to the west.  We left as the sun set.

FSA fighters shoot a suspected regime colaborator

FSA fighters shoot a suspected regime colaborator

Being Faithful to nightmares of ones choosing [or] letter from aleppo

Aleppo actual, Syria
19/04/2017 0800
(Excerpt from a letter written)

   It’s early in the morning here, cold-ish (evening there, I presume) I got a couple of hours of sleep but I don't like sleeping long in the field and it’s better the get out early in case of any action that may be coming down.  I’m at what used to be a very nice house on Badr St., east of the middle of Aleppo.  It’s now in tatters the house (if I’m allowed to use this term to describe a home) covered inside with dust, rubble, shrapnel, and bullet-holes— it’s safe enough now however, most of the shelling and bombing raids are happening to the western side of the city.  Good thing is that the house has two generators which allows me to charge my phone and my batteries which seem to frickin' die a lot— the kindness and generosity of the families living here is beyond measure.  Walking around the streets, I find something new which I didn’t see before— maybe because I was too busy running and ducking (ha); the outside and window areas of buildings and houses in which people still remain have tarp and heavy canvas draped over them to slow down glass, rebar, and other shrapnel.  Also it provides cover against pro-Assad snipers.

   I’m staying and tagging along with some FSA men I knew from my last trip here; they were kids then, the eldest one was 19 when I met them first.  Their faces show the weariness of the last few years, their bodies scared from the battles they’ve been in.  I crossed over into Syria with them in their truck before morning right after we last spoke.  We drove into Aleppo while it was still dark, and had morning tea with them — they wanted to know about my life since we last met, I asked about theirs; hung my head in my inability to do anything about the losses.  We walked around the streets adjacent and I could still smell the same smells I smelled when I was here last… Maybe it was my mind.

   I wanted to get into Al Bab east-ish of Aleppo to photograph activity there, it’s a smaller, denser city than Aleppo and it’s been targeted often recently.  One of the boys (I’m going to keep calling them boys, because they are, you see) got his friend and his SUV to drive me there, as it turns out there were some supplies that needed to get there anyway.  Kassim is a young man too, his beard barely making headway as it were. But, he liked my cigarettes and my music so, we smoked and drove. As we neared the city, we were stopped by artillery shells landing around us, specifically targetting a convoy of cars coming the opposite direction, we tried getting closer, I took photos, even one with my iPhone… but Kasim was getting nervous and I wasn't feeling brave enough to take on 155mm howitzers so, we turned around.  

"Cry Havoc; Let loose the Dogs of War"

Allepowest
ALEP
AlBab
KineticLinesAlep

Two Murders and a Couple of Whiskeys in Chihuahua

Chihuahua Actual, Mexico 

    I arrived earlier in the day into Chihuahua, a city two hundred miles or so south of Juárez.  Chihuahua has a lot of the same things going on for it that Juárez has— cartel related murders, kidnappings, extortion, carjacking and the casual robberies.  From local accounts they seem to be worse the further south one goes inside Chihuahua state, and this is evident from the bullet holes still not patched over in the walls and and the adobe houses I’ve seen so far.  
    No matter; I’ve expected this, even anticipated this… one could even say wanted to see it.  Is this too morbid of me? Macabre perhaps? No matter, one should always be faithful to the nightmares of ones choosing as Conrad would say.  Upshot; I’m pleasantly surprised when things aren’t as violent.  What can I say? I didn’t have to wait long.
    Two separate executions/killings occurred in quick succession to one another, multiple victims— two of the victims were teenagers, members of a gang running drugs shot down in a territory dispute, three more a two kilometers away. 
    One could and often would assume that they had it coming, or that they perhaps shouldn’t have been involved in drug running and gangs— sparing them this horrid end.  Take a moment however to consider that the poverty rate in Mexico is above forty five percent, the average family in Chihuahua earns roughly $832 dollar, enough teenagers have near full-time jobs on top of school to support their families, you might begin to understand why some teenage boys in Juárez and Chihuahua would fall into gang life, mule-ing, even playing look-out for cartels.  
    
    It’s easy to sit in a comfortably air-conditioned living room, office, bedroom, and cast judgement on people living in areas where nearly half the population is under the poverty line.

21:30, Boulevard Juan Pablo
    
    I make my way to the first of the two scenes.  Two boys lay face up within feet of each other, shot in the head and chest— their bodies lie in almost the middle of the road both of them having been checked for weapons and drugs, the police person in question not having taken the time to fix the corpse’s clothing back to how they were found [to be sure, the dead didn’t seam to mind]; the faces haven’t been covered yet.  
    I walk around the area to get a better vantage point of the scene.  Between the taped off area and the spectators, I don’t see any way to frame the scene from ground level which conveys the silence I feel in the middle of the obvious din of the police and the people watching.  The Pedestrian bridge above the road seems to give me the best view.  There’s nothing glorious about this, there isn’t any dignity in these deaths; there isn’t any peace in these finalities.  I climb down from the overpass as the blood begins the congeal on the road and head towards the second scene.

23:15, Calle 29

    Getting to Calle 29 was harder than I imagined at this time of night on a Wednesday, this scene was very different from its predecessor— local police were having trouble keeping the onlookers and those known to the victims away from the affected area.  Two men, if I could call them that, lay dead on the north side of the street, a young woman who was also killed lay near them, but, for reasons not known to me at the time was covered with cardboard and paper.  The three had been walking down the street as gunfire broke out killing the them.  It wasn’t apparent if they were targete, nothing in the vicinity of the killing suggested to me that there was any illicit activity prior to the shooting.
    The inevitable pools of blood that gathered had foot steps in them, around them, most made by those running to and away from the victims— the acrid smell of copper that seems to follow blood lingers in the area, something I’ve become all to familiar to, even mine own, but this is now and that is if for another time.  Snapping back, the angry voices nearby become clearer over the ambient noise of music, police car engines, other cars, I make out that the mother of one of the victim has lost consciousness and her husband has begun arguing with the local constabulary.  One can, if one took a second or two smell the grief and anger equally as much as the smell of the blood.

    Winding back the film roll inside the camera as I walk back away from the scene I didn’t ask any further about the victims nor did I ask about suspects and or if there were a history of violence in this street and area.  I didn’t want to, I didn’t feel it needed be known to me, or to these frames.  The silver halide won’t care about the back story.  This roll of 400TX film will develop in the light tight tank as it ought to, without judgement, without apathy or empathy; caring little if at all about the fall out from any of this.  

I make my way to a bar; live band being a live band there; I order two whiskeys and drink.

In the beginning

     So, in-between the Mexico project I've starting going through 1994 and my first assignment--Sarajevo.  Talking enough about that time made it so.
     No place or assignment has shaped my life more than this war and genocide.  Nothing prepared me for this, and to this day I'm amazed that I made it out of the siege alive and relatively unscathed; I lost a few friends, my naiveté, and a few rolls of film; I learned about the capacity of one person--man or woman--to commit atrocities on another in the name of nation and religion, that there is no end to this, and that I for some fucked up reason like chasing this.

I'll write more as the words come to me, without rambling and tilting and windmills that is.

 

The trouble with El Paso

El Paso Actual, 08:30

     Two days in, El Paso seems sedate, but I’ve a feeling this isn’t unusual.  Streets seem clear and clean; wholesome. Very suburban Americana, school buses begin running their routes.  To say that this could be hometown USA is an understatement.  Football fields, wal-marts, Macdonalds, the lot.
     These streets and their calmness belie what happens just a few miles and a river away.  Some say that it’s because of the strict penalties on murder Texas employs; yet others believe that the reason there isn’t violence on these streets is that the network on this side isn’t yet disrupted, or, that no one’s tried disrupting it.

19:00(ish)  

      A neat whiskey in hand, sitting at the bar in Vitola's (a nice seeming bar in El Paso), I talk to the man sitting a few stools down.  Being a stranger in a strange land, I ask him about El Paso in the last eight years.  He tells me he moved up here from the valley a couple of years ago so he couldn't hazard a guess, but, it's nice here, more modern, and the women are pretty.  I buy the man a whisky, and drink mine with him.  After all, what else there for me to do here now but drink?  Whisky is that little bit of comfort, that little bit of softening of the edge that makes these boring [highly subjective] nights go by smoothly.  Those times when all I want to do is run, to be back in the moments in which the shape of my life depends on the next few steps I take; this urge, this want for the adrenalin, this want for being in those moments where everything else is forgotten except what's in front of me; around me; this immediacy of life, the swift collision of man and man; where the ground beneath you is shifting, shaking from the ordinance falling; eschewing all the first world frivolities .  So, I drink, I talk, I listen to the stories of the man who moved here.  His family, the bartender chimes in... And I realize that tomorrow I cross over.

Juarez and Churros

Juarez, actual. 17:30

     The night’s tense between the frequent gunshots, sirens and loud Norteño music coming from nearby bars.  I’m on Calle Ignacio de la Peña, heading towards a Churreria (I learned soon).  I hear a group of teenagers, they get closer and see me; boys, two on BMXs; I imagine the ages range from fourteen to sixteen years old; they see my cameras… Ask me what I’m doing in the area— I tell them I’m a reporter working on stories of people in Juárez— they immediately to take photos of them, I oblige asking them during this process to tell me about the neighborhood and what they’re doing out; quick glances at one another from the boys— looks and uncomfortable silence continue; I might lose these boys.  When I smell fried sweets, I ask if anyone wants a churro and a coke… One boy quips that he’d prefer beer, I laugh and say sure, if they have them.  We turn towards the shop crossing C. Ramón Corona.  

      Few churros, cokes, and other sweets later we’re standing around and talking, ‘Max’ tells me he’s getting ready to run errands for his work and has to get going, and with that he bikes off.  I remain with the rest of the boys.  I ask them if they all work at night, I get unsure nods and I leave it at that.  ‘Juan’ takes a pack of cigarettes from his hoodies pocket and lights a cigarette, so do I.  We without words start walking up the street.  I’m not feeling any reason to feel unsure, they’re not overly concerned about me, but want to get to their spot to smoke pot. 

      Ten minute walk later we’re on a bluff and ‘Jason’ lights up, as he’s doing that a helicopter flies over closer than usual, ‘Juan’ looks up, I take a photo.  'Juan' tells me that the Federalés patrol through often at night.   

The Juarez Connection (cont'd) [or] Pushing and Pulling Focus in Juárez

    I first entered Juarez in earnest in September of 2016— Juárez stuck out to me among the border towns peppered on the US/Mexico border between California and Texas.  Unlike the equally known Nogales and perhaps the more famous Tijuana, I felt Juárez is unique; there's an equally bustling city on the U.S. side. Juárez and El Paso are only divided by the Rio Grande and two checkpoint; the cities are so close together that one can stand in the government building in El Paso and view downtown Juárez.  
    Yet, these two cities couldn’t be further apart— El Paso being one of the safest cities in America, boasting a low crime rate and an easy almost sedate way of living. Juárez, a city of roughly 1,5 million has been a battleground for cartels trying to maintain and gain control, not to say anything about the ancillary crimes; carjacking, kidnapping, extortion, armed robbery, and governmental corruption have also soared, all since roughly 2009— leaving local authorities beleaguered as they try to respond.  "One lives with fear over here; pure insecurity." I’ve been told by locals.  
    It’s amazing to feel the tension in the air rise as evening sets in Juárez, this is a very familiar sense of insecurity and uncertainty which fills the air; I’ve felt this before in war-zones.  Only, this isn’t a war-zone, is it? I see no bombed out buildings, craters, people huddling from shelter to shelter as they move through main streets.  Yet, people are afraid, and this fear seems to rise as night falls on the city. 
    El Paso, however, is another world altogether, roughly five miles away… One of the safest cities in the U.S.[…]

The Juarez Connection

Juarez, the more time I spend here, the more I realize that it's become a cemetery; not just for the abundance of shallow graves found here, but also for those that've gone missing and possibly won't be found again.  A cemetery where the living inhabit space right along with those that aren't; where one can find just as many celebrations for those still tied to this mortal coil as one can find sorrow for those found murdered or gone missing-- maybe more.
I've obviously arrived here after the city, which is just across the border from El Paso-- and I mean  just across-- has gone through years of small scale wars between the drug cartels and the drug cartels and the Federal police.  Add onto this a massive uptick in kidnappings, drug related crimes, and endemic poverty and one could be surprised that the people that live here are still here.

(more to follow)

Into Mexico

I've been working on a cross-border project within Mexico and the U.S. (focusing on areas from Sinaloa to Juarez and southern Texas Rio Grande valley).  My effort in reporting and documenting is to photograph the extent to which life in the affected regions in Mexico has changed, and how the existing cross border migration has been affected.  This is to date my first project in North America, as I've mainly focused my efforts outside of the Americas.
Initially, I had success; traveling between Juarez and Sinaloa I came across the obvious signs of ongoing turf and influence wars between the Sinaloan, Zeta, and the even more ruthless and violent CJNG (Jalisco New Generation Cartel).  Let's be perfectly clear here: CJNG may sound like a funny attempt at rebranding by someone having attended a few marketing and advertising seminars--  This all bellies the ruthlessness and hyper-violence they've employed in carrying out their brand of enforcement, expansion, and revenge.
A famous example being the execution of 35 members of a rival gang including women and the subsequent dumping of the bodies in the middle of an interstate during rush hour (as reported in the Daily Beast's Cartel Watch). 
More recently, they've taken up the tactic of bringing the war to the authorities; from brazen guerrilla-style attacks on police to shooting down an army helicopter and executing the survivors.

The Fog of war; or the beginning of the In-between

Beginning of this blog, I'm wrestling with a title for this post... Nothing catchy comes to mind.  I shouldn't venture being a copywriter-- unless of course I want to flame out in the most glorious fashion.

This blog will endeavour to give glimpses of the in-between; what is behind every effort to photograph the moments I'm present for.

AleppoBombing.jpg