“New City for the Upper Class” (2012)
Goo-goo goo-goo goo-goo goo
Goo-goo goo-goo goo-goo
Googly, googly, googly goo:
That’s how we fill a column.
— GK Chesterton
Earlier this week, the San Francisco Chronicle published an article, authored by CW Nevius, that begins with Mercy Housing’s acquisition of some of my early photography, recently installed at the Arlington Hotel. What follows is a muddled retelling of my life story, refashioned by Nevius with cherry-picked facts to fit his doctrinaire point of view. In his eyes, success is synonymous with wealth and prosperity and is therefore quantifiable and attainable by upward striving. Misconstruing my perseverance in recovery with upward striving, he assumes that success is a corollary of self-redemption.
The truth is that I often must choose between necessities to survive, and that any recognition my work has received has in the long run made life no less difficult. Due to ongoing health problems, a lack of print sales and commissions has recently forced me to pawn all of my gear just to pay the bills. I simply cannot keep afloat on Social Security benefits alone. For now, until I recover my cameras, I am no longer a photographer. I cannot say where life goes from here. What I do know is that there are no easy answers. There never are.
If Nevius’ journalism is reviled and ridiculed (as indeed it often is), it is because his preconceptions so often preclude veracity. Accordingly, he compartmentalized and re-contextualized my personal history as a “success” story, using the template of a materialist ideology that interprets life as a race to the top and classifies people as winners or losers. Embracing change as the only certainty in life (even death can be regarded as a kind of change) allows me to view my existence as an ongoing process of unfolding and transformation. Insofar as my journey through life is a reflection of my boiling psyche, the highs and lows have been extreme, but this is not how I measure either failure or success. As a perennial student in the classroom of experience, success for me is a lesson well-learned.
By the way, if you would like to read a really well-written article about me and my work, “Histories Intertwined” by Maria La Ganga of the Los Angeles Times is superb.