“There is a time to be born and time to die.”
In the natural world when a tree falls, the forces of nature begin the passage of disappearance. The tree is attacked by bugs, the sharp claws of animals searching for grubs, and a variety of mushrooms, mold, and such. Having seen this process on mountain trails in California, I sense the rightness of the process, for all things are subject to impermanence. Nothing lasts. Although I am always surprised when a I find that a tree that I treasured for many years gone, my sadness is brief because I know that “there is time to be born and time to die.” I also know that new life will emerge from the old.
The passage of disappearance also occurs in urban areas. I’ve gone on numerous photos shoots in the alleys and streets of L. A. to document abandoned stores, burned-out structures, broken windows and graffiti covered walls. I don’t fully understand why I am attracted to these subjects, but what I have seem attests to the truth of impermanence. Nothing lasts. Even the graffiti, which I consider to be a high form of urban art as well as a proverbial canary in the mineshaft of the poor, is muted by wind and polluted air. But recently, when I found an abandoned retail store in the area I live in, I was shaken. Here, near me. I was shaken even more by the realization that I had driven by this business numerous times. I hadn’t noticed.
I don’t know why this business disappeared. Perhaps the death of the owner, poor management, failure to pay taxes due, or the rise of on-line shopping. But for tires? Well, I have friends who have bought washing machines on-line. When I finally paid attention to the Firestone Tire Store, I didn’t dwell on the reasons for its closing. Instead, I found the work of the urban vultures to be of great interest. Why did they smash the front store window, deface the walls, and throw trash around? Who were they? I remembered playing pretend — cops and robbers as a child, of pointing a finger at one of my friends and yelling “bang, bang. The friend would fall over and pretend-die. Did that game and the work of the urban vultures share a common trait? Is the need to destroy ingrained? Is hate, war, killing natural in humans? And what will emerge from the store’s disappearance? Another fast-food store? Are the answers found in the images I made?
My series of photos ends with an image of one of the most controversial words in the English language, a word that I never heard used in the presence of women or children when I was a child. I do recall a cousin who came home from the Korean war. His mother finally put a jar on the dinner table and she collected a quarter every time he used that word. Now the “F” word is heard and seen everywhere. The beautiful swirls and curves of that word left on the window of this abandoned retail store have little to do a sexual activity. Instead, I think the image suggests another word: frustration. For the poor, the homeless, the gang members, the young men who feel society offers little for their future there is only frustration and what emerges is an “F” phrase: the failure of hope. And so they engage in the passage of disappearance. And what can emerge? Futility?