This post is long overdue. Alex and I visited West Cornwall last fall to experience New England autumn in all its glory. We stayed in a 3-story Victorian house situated on a 130-year old stone foundation behind a charming A-frame post office. One of the bedrooms had a small nook where the sun poured in at all hours of the day. We decided to shoot there one late afternoon and see what we come up with.
My last shoot with Alex depicted a fiercely independent woman who is as strong as she is endearing. For this shoot, we went with a slightly different approach – one that brings out her soft, delicate features and honors her selfless and tender personality. Enjoy.
We set out early afternoon on a Tuesday. Miles of sun-bleached asphalt spread before us as the 5 became the 210, the 210 became the 10, the 10 became the 62 – meanwhile, the landscape gave way to a whitewashed garden of industrial windmills and the mountains grew increasingly tapered and gnarled by the harsh climate ahead.
Before moving to New York City, these SoCal mountains were little more than tired backdrops to a painfully familiar suburban existence. “I want weather, I want greenery,” I would proclaim as I dreamt of dewy meadows and redwood trees soaring into the sky. But now, nearly eight years after moving away, my heart aches for these scorched giants silently baking under the sun. Bonfires, first kisses, horribly abstract stoner conversations all took place amidst these undulating mountains. For me, adolescence will always smell like cheap beer, sweet desert clay and hints of peppery sagebrush.
Driving deeper into the High Desert was as cathartic as it was nostalgic. The desert is a place of stark contradiction. Brittle shrubs adorn behemoth mountains. Scorching hot summers give way to frigid winters. The vast emptiness inexplicably fills a spiritual void. We stayed in a 1953 homestead in Joshua Tree National Park, a modest desert cabin complete with a south-facing porch and wood burning stove. We bundled up in layers and layers of blankets and cozied up by the crackling fire, watching the ripe red sun dip into the horizon.
After dark, we drove down to Pappy & Harriet’s, a roudy saloon/music venue in Pioneertown. The Solid Ray Woods played an incredible set as the clapboard dance floor was teeming full of happy-drunk locals and out-of-towners swaying back and forth to Ray Woods’ gravel baritone. We shared tables with a couple from Chicago and chatted about local finds and the Amboy ghost town about an hour away.
Upon our return to the cabin, we stoked the wood burning stove once again and fell into a deep liquid sleep. We woke to a quintessential desert sunrise – red like the sunset, comically theatrical yet thoroughly impressive. I stepped out onto the porch wrapped in a thick blanket and watched as the Joshua Trees emerged from the dark, casting long misshapen shadows onto the ground.
We stopped by Downtown Joshua Tree for a quick coffee and headed over to Noah Purifoy’s outdoor desert menagerie. After exploring Noah’s High Desert curios we headed to Amboy, a ghost town deep in the Californian Mojave. We were greeted by a bleached out gas station, a gaudy sign that read “Roy’s Gasoline” and an abandoned elementary school, all within a stone’s throw. It was dead quiet. We could see for miles in every direction. The ominous Amboy crater loomed in the distance. After exploring the area and taking photos ad nauseum, the large swollen sun began to wane. Damn short winter daylight. We begrudgingly headed back to LA, Neil Young playing on the tinny stereo.
The desert has a way of reminding us that we are but tiny blemishes in a mind-numbingly large narrative of time and space. As we made our away down the Twentynine Palms Highway, the overwhelmingly static landscape was only disrupted by tiny ramshackle houses and abandoned homesteads that could not stand the test of time. Here’s a rough photographic documentation of Joshua Tree and the surrounding areas in all its glory. Enjoy.
Last month I had the opportunity to meet and shoot with Paola Mathe of Fanm Djanm on assignment for Fields Magazine. Fanm Djanm – meaning “strong woman” in Haitian Kreyol – is a thriving headwrap boutique inspired by African and Asian textiles. Each piece is handcrafted in NYC and serves as a wearable motif of quiet independence and cultural awareness.
Paola and I met up at her East Harlem studio and draped her in a dazzling array of fabrics to capture her eclectic spirit. Stay tuned for the entire feature on the Fields Magazine website.
Ivory, obsidian, gold. Imminent shadows curtailed by flecks of shimmering white. Gilded metal plates and prayer beads. Her hands reach for the light.
For this shadow play session, we draped the stunning Boshia with an assortment of tapestries and fine furs to capture her eclectic spirit. As she closed her eyes in prayer, the waning sun filtered in through the window casting a gentle light on her delicate features. The earthy aroma of white sage enveloped us as the smudge stick burned silently in the corner. Thank you, Boshia, for allowing me to capture this tender moment.
Throughout human history, hair has signified much more than unruly strands of protein filaments. Native Americans have called it an “extension of one’s thoughts.” Devout Buddhists have believed that they signify worldly desires. Massai and Zulu tribes have considered it a way to communicate with the Divine Being, as it is the most elevated part of one’s body.
Naturally, the shaving of one’s head is a deep intimation of these cultural signifiers. In many cultures, it is a dichotomous act that connotes both liberation and repentance. In Tanya’s case, it signifies rebirth – and it is a quiet tribute to the loved ones that she lost last year.
Needless to say, I was deeply honored when Tanya asked me to document this pivotal moment in her life. To mark her 40th birthday (yep, you read that right), Tanya invited me over to her apartment in Bedstuy and we spent the morning shooting as she leaned over her bathroom sink with the razor set on high. Her facial expressions fluctuated between varying states of excitement and perplexity as swathes of hair fell onto her tiled floors. “I can’t believe I’m doing this,” she laughed as subtle striations began to emerge beneath the humming razor blade.
The toughest cities have the tenderest of hearts. Though Tanya and I have only met up a handful of times in the past, she was nothing short of honest and disarming as she recounted the events of the year and showed me a small shrine that she had dedicated to her loved ones. Grief can easily harden one’s soul into impermeable obscurity – but evidently Tanya took an alternative route, a route that I am not entirely sure I would have had the courage to take.