Steven Falconer

The Other Side of the Tracks

 

     In the old days in America “the other side of the tracks” referred to the poor side of town.  It was thought of by many as a place to stay away from for it being plagued with poverty and infested with sin.  Be that as it may, blues music came from there, as did jazz, country, rock n’ roll, zydeco and hip hop.  New styles of dress emerged from the other side of the tracks along with new dances, new art forms, new expressions in language, and even new sports (skateboarding, for example). 

     These eruptions of creativity were often denounced as the brews of the devil by the protectors of society, and great efforts were exerted to stomp out the madness before it got out of hand.  Nature, thankfully, is oblivious to the laws of man, moral or otherwise, so when the right chord is struck in a person you simply can’t keep him away from the music!  Young people, especially, were irresistibly drawn to the unruly new forms of expression.  They thought it was great, and they threw tradition and caution to the wind!

     Today, the other side of the tracks refers to a place more symbolic than actual.  One can be certain, though, that wild and wonderful things are now cookin’ in the back streets and back woods of America, that new songs from the soul will come seemingly out of nowhere to burst onto the scene and take the world by storm.  For, on the other side of the tracks, the mind is restless for discovery, the heart longs to be heard, and the body is ever ready to dance, Darlin’!

 

 

Fashion (From the Other Side of the Tracks)

 

     I walked away from a career as a fashion photographer when I realized that I wanted my life’s work to be about something other than advertising, and, artistic as it can be, fashion photography is advertising.  I couldn’t, however, get my love for dressing up a pretty girl and then taking her picture to go away, so I kept making “fashion” photographs anyway.  These photographs advertised nothing, there was no budget for them, and, as far as I could tell, there was no market for them either. 

    Over time, though, I found myself creating my own world in pictures.  The people in these pictures were no longer models meticulously made up and attired by a team of stylists, but young people whom I imagined had their own ideas about style.  They dressed in vintage or thrift store clothes, in indigenous clothing made by hand, and in creations of their own design.  They liked lively colors, and they liked to mix things up in unconventional ways.  They got around not in fast cars, but in older, more soulful ones, or they rode bicycles or skateboards.  Often they traveled on foot.  These young mavericks could mostly be seen in rundown parts of town or in the country somewhere off the beaten path, and they occupied spaces no longer wanted by their busier, more ambitious contemporaries whose main preoccupation was success.  They made beautiful what they could.  They tried giving old places new life.

     They also had their own ideas about living.  They rejected many of the notions promoted by the economic icons of our world.  They had little interest, for example, in becoming rich and famous, and they weren’t too crazy about having their youthful energies used up for the purpose of helping some giant corporation grow bigger.  To spend the prime of their lives trying to please a hierarchy of bosses five days a week appealed to them not one bit!  Perhaps one could invent a more inspired and useful way to make a living!  So, instead of lusting for wealth, what they valued was time, and this time they spent doing what they loved to do, pursuing what truly interested them, and hanging out with human beings whose company delighted them!

    The audacity of some people!

 

 

The Faces of Eve

 

    The infamous Eve ate that apple from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  The snake said take a bite, and she did, in full defiance of God.  But maybe Eve was not so impressed with paradise.  Perhaps she was bored.  Maybe paradise lost is just another way of saying ignorance is bliss.  In any case, it was the eating of the apple that opened her eyes, or so it is written.  The snake had predicted as much, saying that it would make her more like God.  He also promised her that she would not die.  Snakes know about such things.  They know about being reborn.  They are born anew each time they shed their skin.  A Hindu myth tells that the snake lies at the base of the spine until awakened; then he climbs upward, activating the chakras, progressively higher levels consciousness, as he ascends.

     When questioned by God, Adam blames Eve for his disobedient act (chivalry was apparently not one his strong points).  Original sin is now the burden of all humanity.  Eve especially is condemned as evil, and witches are burned at the stake.

    But whether relegated to an inferior station, forced into servitude, into burkas, or thought of as good only for sex, Eve still has more power than Caesar.  For what strongman, tycoon or emperor, for all his sway in the world, can resist her charms?  And what subject has more inspired more poets, painters, sculptors or composers?  Eve is the original woman, the mother of all the living, a creator and nurturer of life.  She is nature, a work of art, a masterpiece by the Great Artist. 

 

 

Out of Fashion

 

     I didn't know anything about the profession "Fashion Photographer" until it seized me like an obsession with a lover.  The obsession led me eventually to New York, to the heart of fashion.  I sometimes had to rent out my studio to survive; rent in that town is not of this world. 

     One day a crew showed up early.  Their shoot was for a fashion magazine, but a little-known one in the larger scheme of things.  I didn't notice the model when she showed up because I was occupied with the immediate needs of editors, stylists, the photographer and his assistants.  When things settled down, though, and after her make-up was done, she stepped out onto the set.  I had never seen a more beautiful creature, human or otherwise.  She had cat-shaped eyes that shone as if from an inner light.  Everything about her was delicate, from her beautiful ears to her long, slender fingers, and there was a magic to her face that to me was undeniable.  To my utter astonishment, however, no one else seemed to notice.  I soon found out that a top model had been originally booked for the shoot but had landed a higher-paying, more prestigious job at the last minute.  The entire crew was exasperated by this.  Their anger was directed towards the young replacement.  Except to bark commands at her when there was a clothing or hairstyle change, they treated her as if she were not there.  The photographer hardly spoke to her.

     I confess to being delighted when she told everybody off then walked off the shoot.  It was a justified but bold act that could well have ruined her future as a model.  The next morning, I called her agency and told them what I had seen happen, but it was too late.  They had already kicked her out.  A month later, she surfaced at the best model agency in New York, and I booked her right away for a shoot of my own.  Soon after that, she hit the big time.  She landed covers and editorial spreads with the top magazines and was chosen for major advertising campaigns and fashion shows.

     In a few short and fast moving years, we were both out of favor with the fashion world.  She for her independent and rebellious spirit, ironically not tolerated in an industry that thinks itself hip, and I for not caring about who or what was in fashion.  I've lost track of her now, many years later.  I can imagine, though, that she sometimes misses being in front of the camera, for she liked modeling and she was very good at it.  For my own part, I feel lucky to have worked with her.  She, and several others like her, young women who didn't lose their feminineness and beauty to ambition, are the ones who inspired me most as a photographer (and as a person).

     Fashion photographs date quickly.  Many of them, to me anyway, look rather ridiculous within a decade after they were shot.  The clothes and hairstyles often look silly, and the make-up and poses contrived.  Some fashion pictures, though, are interesting as documents of their time, a few have an aesthetic quality that is transcendent, others remain remarkable as portraits of a girl.  Behind the veneer, after all, she is a person, and she remains timeless, even if she has fallen out of fashion. 

 

 

Hope

 

     In a town lost to the world, where poverty has infected the soul, where drunks drink Lysol, where hope seems forgotten, a group of children approach me. They are Indian kids. Their ancestors were robbed, decimated and stripped of their gods. Big, black eyes search my face, survey my body and the wheelchair I am sitting in. The scruffy little urchins ask me questions. They are intensely curious. They ask what comes spontaneously to their young minds. They ask what they want to know, unreservedly. They laugh at some of my answers, turn silent listening to others. They jump up and down. They imagine other places, maybe. Surely they have hope for the future, maybe no less so than the child of a millionaire.

     When I return home and edit the photographs, I see that the kids from the reservation are joyful, and I also see that they are everything else. They are often contemplative, and in their faces I thrill to find a depth I hadn’t seen in my portraits before. Children are perpetually in motion, it goes without saying; sitting for them is torture, and this has worked to my advantage. The pictures are candid. They reveal what a posed picture cannot. Not even a child can look natural when asked to smile for the camera.

     I haven’t the personality to be a photojournalist or a paparazzi. I’m uncomfortable photographing people without their consent; I’m not sure I have the right to. Nonetheless, I try out shooting more candid pictures, mostly in crowded streets, at festivals, at outdoor markets, places where I don’t feel obtrusive, and I discover that I’m uniquely suited to photograph a certain segment of the population. I’m eye level with a seven year old. I live low to the ground like children.

     The forces in them seem formidable to me. Their energy is uncontainable, their will unrelenting, their awareness of the world around them is blooming. They are the opening buds of the tree of life, and they point to a dimension beyond what I’m capable of understanding yet of which we are all aware.

 

Steven Falconer