Sunday, February 28, 2010

shout out

yeah, i need to give a quick shout out to kinko's (which is now fedex/kinko's.  this transition has happened since the project started in june.)  today is the last day of a 2 month promotional campaign they ran where they charged only 1/2 price for oversized, b+w prints.  prices went from 75 cents per square foot to 37.5  how perfect was that?  thank y'all!

where i am now (letter today to a new, young friend)

i'm bummed.  i just lost my first response to your email.  here goes round 2...

i'll start by answering the question how a 52 year old black doctor started wheat pasting water tanks on the rez.  

afrika bambaata + the zulu nation.  i was into the early hip hop scene in nyc.  while doing my family practice residency in west virginia (of all god forsaken places), i started experimenting with graffiti and would take trips to nyc to check the scene there.  i visited fashion moda gallery in the bronx and keith haring's pop shop in soho.  i moved to toledo, ohio where i continued to do graffiti but it was text based.  i'd write things like "thank you dr. king.  i too am a dreamer" and anti-war slogans.  i did some stenciling work too but it was also text based.

in the early 90s in flagstaff i did a project i called urban guerrilla art assault where i'd tape b+w photos in public spaces in areas where bills were posted.  i developed a small following from this project as people started collecting images.  this project was influenced by the public art of diego rivera and keith haring.  then, i had my mind blown a year ago.  i spent 3 months in brasil on sabbatical.  it was my second trip.  i remember being strongly moved by the graffiti i saw on my first trip in 2004 and photographed a lot of it then.  however, during the last 3 weeks of my trip a year ago i hung out with street and performance artists.  one of the people i hung with was a graffiti artist who's work i noticed my first day in brasil.  for the next 2 months i saw his work everywhere around salvador.  then, as i said, i met hung - loved his energy and that of his friends.  he turned me on to the book "graffiti brasil" which turned me on to os gemeos.  about this same time i got turned on to "muto" by blu which lead to jr.

upon returning to the reservation, i wrote jr asking if he'd be interested in doing a project on the reservation.  while awaiting a reply, i began to envision the reservation as he might.  i wondered where he might place images and how he'd attempt to engage the local community about placing images of them up.  never hearing back from him (thank god), i thought - fuck it, i have 22 years of negatives.  i found a recipe for wheat paste on the internet, talked with a few people about using images of them for an art project i wanted to try and started pasting.

about this same time i was invited to participate in a show at munoz waxman gallery in santa fe during indian market week.  if you don't know the munoz waxman gallery, it's an old warehouse for repairing military tanks.  the space is huge.  the curator said she wanted big images to fill the space.  installing images over the first weekend in august last year ( was enlightening.  in fact, the weekend installation in santa fe was like a workshop for me in that this was the first time i'd "controlled" the background (by painting the wood panels), as well as piecing 2 or 3 panels together to create big pieces. 

in general, the feedback i received from people on the reservation has been positive.  i've learned a lot in pursuing the project however.  for example, one of my first pastings was of a hand holding a peyote button.  i learned that although a significant portion of the population is a member of the native american church, there's a deep division between christians and nac people.  that piece was the only one that was essentially buffed.  (too bad because it was a pretty piece.)

consequently, the project is interesting on several levels.  i've had to ask myself what it means to present street art in a community that has no tradition or history of it? what does it mean to have that street art be documentary photographs of people from the community?  how can i present them in such a way that some people don't feel this is a form of witchcraft?  

living here makes me remain responsible for the images i put up, sensitive to the people represented and their cultural mores.  if i didn't live here or know the value system, i'd put up more provocative work (like the "puppy love" series i placed in flagstaff), as opposed to straight documentary photographs.  whenever i talk with people from the community about the project and what i hope to accomplish with it, i emphasize my desire to share with them the elements of the culture i consider beautiful and/or at risk of being lost.  most people get that and are thankful for it.

so, it's totally liberating and invigorating for me to be able to express myself in this visual language.   the whole project has provided a new way for me to interact with the community, really feel like i'm giving them love in the form of this art and to question the ephemeral nature of life.  

anyway, this is an overview of where i am now.  i'm super excited that warm, dry weather is around the corner so i can get back outside to get work up.  i've an idea to partner with a local school on a piece this spring.  i have to remind myself that this project is based outdoors and on the rez.  it's all too easy to get caught up in the ego satisfying status of getting work on the international street art blogs such as wooster.  (that story is funny by the way.  i'd been submitting work to them since august and never got anything published until you sent photos to them.  i think that finally opened the door for the second set of images they ran 10 days later.)  i like that they never identify who is responsible for the images.  that's been a goal of the project as well - to have the focus of  everything be on the images, why they're there, what they represent, to challenge stereotypical beliefs about the culture without focusing on the person putting the pieces up.  so, my question to you is how would you approach documenting the project in light of the philosophy of the project?


(the old black doctor who loves street art)

Red Lake

The wheat pasting project started in June 2009.  One of my first pastings was of code talkers at the old Red Lake Trading Post (which incidentally was used in the 1991 adaptation of a Tony Hillerman novel "The Dark Wind."

Looking back at that pasting, it's refreshing to see the bits of color and shapes I added to the background.  Bahe, the first code talker in the photo, is leaning backwards and the piece is small for this wall.  At this point in the project I was still pasting at night so no one knew who was responsible for the work.

Shortly after getting it up, I was talking with a patient from Red Lake.  She was an middle-aged Navajo woman.  I asked whether she'd noticed the art work of the code talkers.  She acknowledged she had and said she didn't like it.  She also mentioned that the piece had caused controversy at the Red Lake Chapter Meeting as people there were confused by the piece.  If it were meant as a tribute, why didn't the person putting it up have wordage saying "this is a tribute to code talkers," they wondered.  Such is the life of a street artist in a community with no tradition for street art.  It seemed from talking with the patient that the community was split over the mysterious appearance of the art.

tribute to code talkers outside tuba city

Yesterday, I returned to Red Lake Trading Post to speak with the owner about putting a large piece on the side of his building.   I met with him in his office which is also a vaulted safe with a heavy, thick steel door in the back of the store.  He sat at his desk counting money wearing mirrored shades as I walked in.  I passed a full lenght mirror in route to his office where I quickly confirmed I looked as shitty as I felt fighting a cold. (My hair was uncombed, shirt tail out, bags under my eyes.)   We exchanged a brief handshake and I introduced myself as Dr. Thomas from the clinic to which he responded "...that's unusual.  I've never seen you over there but then again, I don't get sick much."  I presented my proposal and showed him a photo of the image I'd like to paste.  He listened attentively and asked whether I was the one who pasted the code talkers to the old post office.  I conceded it was me.  He said he'd think about my proposal.   We didn't talk about the community's mixed response to the first pasting.

As I got up to leave I asked him his name.  "Lorenzo Fowler," he said.  I asked in he knows a woman named Brenda Fowler, a co-worker of mine.  He answered that she's his sister.  I laughed and said I take care of both his parents.  The mood shifted.  He took off his shades and for the next 20 minutes we talked about people in his family that I know.  As I rose to leave a second time he said he had no problem with my proposal and that he didn't care what others in the community might say.

Boom, there it is.  I'm just waiting for the weather to ripen a bit more.  As a friend observed, it's because of my stature in the community and the trust that people have in me that Lorenzo consented to the proposal.  With that comes responsibility.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

the holy grail...

i found it today!   woo hoo!  i give thanks!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

return to cameron

i returned to cameron today after pasting images there 2 days ago.  because my big piece was on the east side of the tank, most of it appeared in shadow when i photographed it after pasting it.  so i wanted to return this morning to catch it in morning light.  but, it was so overcast today. (snow is forecasted for the next couple days.)  the light was flat and so subtle.  it made for nice shooting...

land of the free
outside tuba city


minnie, ii


Friday, February 19, 2010

scouting tuba city, january 2010

tom gray skating kayenta, november 1995

(tuba city, navajo nation  02.18.10)

yesterday remixed today

more exposure

Thursday, February 18, 2010

it feels so nice (like a samba by jobiM)...

to be back outdoors on the rez pasting.  today over at cameron it was about 60 degrees at 3 in the afternoon.  i worked in a tee shirt and had sweat rolling off of me at one point.  i hung a 10 footer by myself with relative ease.  woo hoo!  (over the winter i figured out a system for getting big images up alone.)  

the skater is in tuba city.  this image isn't so big, though it is in 2 parts.  it's about 6 feet tall from top to bottom.  (and to think, i almost carried my small ladder.)  i would have been a shitoutofluck mofo twice today if i hadn't carried my mid size ladder.  

o it felt so good, to be in the sun, the wind.  two honeybees got into my paste today.  i was just happy to see them (though the world is minus 2 more bees today.  i ended up putting them up on the minnie piece.)

sk8! tuba city

there's so many things about this image i love, like the colors, that natural, earthen wall, the juxtaposition of the old school skater image with "fuck the buff."  I love "fuck the buff" and have to admit  i was attracted to this wall because of it. 

fuck the buff!! this is my protest

that, over old school, bubble-lettered "skum."  "skum."

so i got up on tuba city's walls of fame.  this one is on the is the south side of the road.  the north side is sweet as well.  it's a warehouse with corrugated metal which i want to go big on.

regardless, it was a good day.  i give thanks for that.

Sunday, February 14, 2010


no loving this valentine's day but i did get love in the form of getting up on wooster for the first time.  i give thanks for that.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Limpo's going away party

One of the more memorable events during my sabbatical last year in Brazil was meeting and spending time with street artist, Limpo.  It was a dynamic time.  I got to spend quality time with Limpo, his community of fellow street artists and several other artists from the UK, France, Italy and Canada.  I dare say that if I hadn't spent that time with them, I wound't be doing the wheat pasting project now.

Before Limpo left Salvador to spend time with his expecting girlfriend in Sweden we threw him a wonderful going away party.  The highlight was Katie Browne doing an interpretive dance to live music while Limpo did a body painting of her.

It's great seeing these images again.  Hopefully this will provide the motivation I need to get back into the darkroom to finish developing the 80 rolls of film I shot last year.  Besides, I can't wheat paste now since it's so cold and snowy!  

Brazil.  Thanks again for the inspiration.