Photography is how we secure a way of having seen.
My most recent trip to Los Angeles finally yielded a visit to the Watts Towers. I’m not sure what I expected to see but the effect of the towers rising, as their designer and builder Simon Rodia put it, “up to the sun,” was both breathtaking and calming. There, in the middle of a tidy, residential area, is the Watts Towers Arts Center, home to the single city block environed by the towers and their relevant structures, as well as a museum of contemporary art, a handfull of faded but still compelling murals, and some freestanding sculpture. It is a celebration of the neighborhood, the vibrancy of Watts, a full embrace of its past, and full advocacy of its present and future. There are artist residencies and music festivals, and jazz education and mentorship for emerging and developing youth musicians, but above all are the towers, Nuestro Pueblo.
[A note about the photos: I opted to develop the photos of the towers in black and white because my color versions were overwhelmed by the late-morning sunlight. The same light, of course, served ground-level photography quite well, making it possible to capture the brilliance and array of colors and textures that make up the rest of the work.]
My band, BELLS≥, recorded the first of our North American Spirituals this past weekend at the Magpie Cage in Baltimore. The piece is called “The First Ray.” We debuted it last year on tour, and although we’ve kept the overall structure intact from that version, there have been some significant changes that we hope familiar listeners will enjoy.
Among these changes is J. Robbins joining us on bass. We were all quite pleased working together on Solutions, Silence, and Affirmations and it seemed a natural move for us to include him on this and future recordings. We look forward to his contributions to the remaining Spirituals as we move towards composing and recording the entire cycle.
I was recently in my hometown for my high school reunion. I’ve never attended a reunion, in part because my attendance at high school in the first place was not very consistent, and in part because I never finished high school anyway, and in part because I thought of myself as either someone who didn’t need to attend a reunion or someone who might not be entirely welcome at such an event.
As it happens, however, I had a wonderful time. I enjoyed speaking to each of my friends and former classmates, whether at length or briefly, and hearing from them how the years have been, how adulthood has been, about their families, their work, their other interests, some of which remain from early in their lives.
Many of us have kept each other abreast via Facebook but not all of us, and the chance to catch up with those who reserve their social activity for less questionable platforms and whose lives are no less full for it was, in this case, unusual and inspiring. It’s easy to assume that the affect and effect of high school strata and adolescent turmoil can still reach us in our middle age, just as it’s easy to assume that Facebook is the only way to stay in touch anymore: in both assumptions we sell ourselves short, cut ourselves off from a freer, less mediated, and more satisfying exchange.
It was a joy to see firsthand the enthusiasm we maintain for each other for a single reason, a single association that endures precisely because it culminated at the commencement of our adulthood. Here are a handful of photos from the site of those parallel adolescences, that culmination.
However much the neighborhood has changed —and in its way suffered— with the last decade of gentrification, I still have a handful of favorites on the Lower East Side, relative newcomers CW Pencil Enterprise and Russ & Daughters Café, and stalwarts Economy Candy, and Katz’s Delicatessen among them.
But this handful of photos takes passing stock of some in-between stuff, things seen en route from one stop to another.