Recently I started a project I'm calling the iPhone Photo Series. My goal for this series is to take a photo a day (or as close to it as possible) on my iPhone, editing on the device with only the editing tools provided in the photos app, and pairing it with a brief story or long description. My hope for this project is that it will provide practice in both storytelling and photographic technique, and challenge me in a few ways: creating and editing interesting photos with technological limitations, and finding something to tell a story about in the "mundane" every day.
This project is something I'm doing on Patreon (a crowd-funding platform). These posts are available in advance to patrons, and at the end of the month, every month, I will go through and select a handful of my favorites and post them here to my website. That's what follows below, my favorite 5 for the month of July.
Carl the Imposter
This is Carl the Imposter. He lives under the house of my next-door-neighbor, Kate. A good many months ago he appeared out of nowhere, scraggly and thin, wandering the neighborhood and always gravitating to her yard of dense and shady plant life. She started leaving food out for him, so he stuck around. He was skittish, though, and didn't get along with her indoor-outdoor cat Carl, the big man on the block.
Carl is where he gets his name from. Both cats are short-haired and grey, with barely-there tabby patterns. But Carl has white front paws; Carl the Imposter does not, hence his name.
The Imposter, as we call him for short, was frequently found to be wandering between Kate's house and ours, most often lounging in the side yard between the two. So Kate pulled off the vent cover to her crawl space, and it has become his home. He's looking healthier and more comfortable, though still won't let anyone closer than two arm lengths; but that's progress. Someday I hope he'll let me scratch his ears.
Growing up in the Central Valley, nothing quite screams summer to me like expansive, flat fields of tall, bone-dry grass. I didn't travel much outside of the Sacramento Valley and foothills as a kid. My dad was an outdoorsy kind of guy, with two girls and no sons, but he didn't let that stop him from doing the father-son activities with us so characteristic of rural Californians.
Summers were sitting in Dad's stained and dusty work truck in the early evening as he drove us to dry-grass fields like this one he'd seen on the way home from work: vacant lots off the side of the road, or undeveloped fields behind industrial workshops. We'd bring with us our hands, a "critter keeper" as Dad liked to call it, and our imaginations, trucking through the itchy grass hunting for snakes and lizards, periodically picking foxtails from our frill-edged fold-down socks (hand-me-downs from one of mom's coworkers) which stuck out high above the tops of our also hand-me-down hiking boots.
Sometimes we would be met with success, especially if there were rotting logs, piles of 2x4's or sheets of plywood, or large oak trees littering the ground with branches, affording a prime blue-belly habitat. On these evenings, our return home would be met with either fondness or resigned frustration by our mother, depending upon whether our hunt had yielded lizards to be released in the yard, or yet another snake to add to the growing occupancy of the "critter condo": an invention of my father's in the form of a 6 foot tall, 6 unit wooden critter cage on wheels.
The sight of the sometimes waist-high yellow grasses spanning the immediate horizon, glowing gold in the sunset light and waving with the breeze; the smell: dry, a bit grassy, and faintly stale, that's summertime in the Central Valley of California.
Davis was once known and lauded for its plethora of small and locally-owned businesses. The city council was once known for its aggressive push-back against corporations and big-box stores trying to worm their way into town.
Now, we have a Target; excuse me, Targét.
And small businesses have been disappearing left and right; A few years ago saw the departure of Little Prague, a Czech restaurant whose billboard along I-80 I remember passing as a very young child, long before I lived in Davis. It has been replaced by a New York style pizza chain, the second of its kind in the city, and the 12th pizza place.
Last year, De Luna Jewelers, a 40+ year hallmark of Downtown Davis, went out of business, a move prompted by the landlord's expressed desire to extensively develop the site. In a statement to the Sac Bee, Luna said, "I just didn't think I'd fit in." Barely a month or two later, across the street Preeti Girl, a clothing store, closed up shop. Both spaces remain empty still.
In this photograph is what has become well-known by townies as that sad row of commercial spaces in downtown by the Food Co-op. On the far-left was once Sweet Briar Books, a used book store that was also once a Davis hallmark. Farther down the row to the right was once the restaurant Monticello. These buildings have been empty not for weeks, not for month, but years. For some of these units, its been as long as 5.
Meanwhile, farmland on the edge of town is being turned into the Cannery: a ritzy, kitsch sustainable housing development with homes at a half-million on up. Developers are pushing to convert the Nishi farmland between I-80 and the university into an ultra modern sustainable-enough mixed-use space offering new commercial units, R&D space and market rate apartments and condos, bypassing the city's affordable housing requirements. Neither of these developments address the most pressing needs of Davis: the student housing crisis, the need for affordable housing, or the actual demand for commercial space.
I worry about what this means. I'm reminded too much of the years prior to the economic crash, of the gulf between demand and supply, between development and need. I see it more and more around the city; time will tell.
Panem Et Circenses
Recently my husband and I went down to Santa Cruz for an evening. We went to the beach and walked up and down the boardwalk, to which I'd never been before, eating cheap tacos and taking in the scenery.
It was sunset and colorful lights accenting each ride and attraction grew increasingly bright against the dimming sky. The golden hour cast everything in an amber hue. We passed by groups of local teens with season passes, delightedly shouting towards one another; families out on day trips with excitable children; and couples on dates, shoulder to shoulder with hands loosely clasped.
Carnivalesque music came within hearing range as we passed the carousel, while echoing cackles and screams could be heard passing the haunted house. Giant ice cream cones topped food stalls and bright pastel colored flags topped attractions. The signature white wooden roller coaster snaked along the boardwalk like a spine; screams and squeals of delight from riders periodically heard passing quickly by as a car rolled down a drop in the track.
This was the end of a week which bore witness to turmoil across an already fracturing Europe: stabbings on a German train outside Munich, possibly linked to extremism; the Bastille day terrorist attack in France, killing scores in gruesome fashion; and an attempted coup in Turkey which killed hundreds and threw thousands in jail. It was a week which bore witness to hundreds of injured and at least 375 deaths.
Not to mention the sociopolitical climate in America: the steady thrum of Black Lives Matter protests occurring nationwide and with regularity; the approach of the RNC, set to nominate as a presidential candidate a man repeatedly referred to by people in both parties as a "narcissist" and "fascist"; the ongoing war against ISIL.
Yet here, on the Boardwalk, people gaily rode bumper cars and ate ice cream in golden sunset light. Don't get me wrong, we had a great time. The sea breeze was wonderfully refreshing, especially in contrast to the hot and stale air of the valley, and the funnel cake was delicious.
But as the moon began to rise above the ocean and we walked deeper into the bright lights and colors and sounds, what consistently came to mind was the phrase "Panem et Circenses". It's a Latin phrase which means "bread and circuses", and refers to a system utilized as a political strategy in Rome to pacify the masses and strengthen political power. It involved entertaining the public through pleasurable activities (chariot races, distribution of food, displays of exotic animals) in an effort to keep the population peaceful, especially during times of turmoil or instability.
And that is what I couldn't help but see all around me: bread and a giant, perpetual circus. I can absolutely see the benefit to enjoyment and distraction in times of such strife. But more prominently, and now more than ever, I see the danger, and the readiness with which people seem willing to lose themselves in it.
2016 is the 20th anniversary of the Pokémon franchise. For those unfamiliar, Pokémon is a video game, card game, comic, television and movie franchise which revolves around children traveling various regions on a Pokémon journey, to learn about, collect, train, and battle animal-like creatures that inhabit their world.
It is the collective thread of youth that connects the 35-and-under crowd. We have all engaged in Pokémon in some form at some point in our childhoods. For me, it was the card game and the TV show in the '90s that hooked me. Like many people, I turned away from Pokémon during that awkward few years in middle and high school where I thought it wasn't cool anymore. Also like many people, I experienced a Pokémon renaissance in my adolescent/young adult years, and picked up a rose pink DS lite in time for the release of Heart Gold version (which I still sometimes play).
As part of their 20th anniversary celebrations, the Pokémon Company International has, along with a slough of other promos, released a new game--Pokémon Go--a geocaching-meets-augmented-reality free-to-play mobile app which, it seems from the first week or so of its release, to be ubiquitously popular.
Along with the rest of the country, Davis has become a hotbed of Pokémon trainer activity. Hordes of people, groups sized 3-10, wander through fields and back alleys tracking Pikachu and Evee. They are everywhere and at all times: Crowds gather at downtown pokéstops and haunt paths rich with pokéstops and gyms, even late into the night. Walking through downtown you'll hear snippets of conversation include keywords like "Scyther", "Bulbasaur", or "blue team". This photo was taken at a downtown pokéstop, and all three sets of people you see in this image are playing.
Part of me thinks it's a launch-week fad, but a larger part of me thinks the enthusiasm will keep. I remember in the late nineties hearing adults talk about how Pokémon had reached peak-fad when the first movie came out in theaters; now look at things.
I do wonder at its popularity and mass adoption rate, though. Pokémon as a whole has been gaining traction all year, as 20th anniversary collectibles find their way to store shelves and free legendaries find their way to player's handhelds. But It has always had something that resonates, filled with themes of exploration and adventure, of lasting friendship and camaraderie, of simple and straightforward joy.
As children, Pokémon provided a sort of refuge, opportunities to make new friends, and a world where friendship and goodness mattered most. As an adult, I've known and heard of more than a few people who have picked up their old GBA and booted up Fire Red, or pulled out their old DS Lite to play Pearl during periods of turmoil or emotional distress, or to create a safe space during recovery.
Maybe that's where we are now. Maybe, amidst the war on terror, economic and political instability, and the near-constant death, we have become so starved of these simple human qualities that people of all ages are flocking to a freemium app, dedicating hours and many miles walked to searching for made-up creatures, waving joyously to strangers sharing in this world, and proactively offering help to those embarking upon a shared adventure.
Perhaps this is the sign that we're all entrenched in turmoil and distress and, once more, Pokémon has become our safe space.
If you enjoyed this post, please visit my Patreon page and consider a $3/month pledge! At the $3 pledge tier you will receive early access to all of my iPhone Photo Series, as well as access to all previous posts not published on my website.