I think of the barbecue on July 4th last year, American Independence Day, San Francisco Mission, ideologically hollow hipsters, absolute truth in a can of PBR bullshit, and someone in an arabic Joy Division t-shirt asked me what I was thinking about, and I said the bombing of Cambodia, and how I knew that at that moment he, understandably, had no idea what I was talking about, and how I wanted to shove it down his throat to make him understand what I was talking about.

2,756,941 tons of ordinance. Operation Breakfast. More bombs in four years on tiny Cambodia than all of the allies combined during World War II. This is what I thought about on Independence Day.

I met with a friend today, a revolutionary, an exile from Burma facing life imprisonment, and we talked about the eradication of history, how the Burmese junta has distorted Burmese reality, and I thought of the Khmer Rouge, the proclamation of Day Zero on April 17th, 1975, the Orwellian nightmare, how the regime systematically wiped out Cambodian history and culture by executing the intelligentsia and artistic class, and how, as a refugee, as an immigrant raised in the states, entirely divorced from my culture, my people, my history, how I am a son of the enlightment, of Voltaire, David Hume, John Stuart Mill, and not Angkor Wat, that I am a direct product of that historical cleansing by Pol Pot, and I felt, for the first time, an intense sense of pain and guilt in my heart for being American.

Abandoned Seaview Hospital on Staten Island, once the largest and most expensive tuberculosis sanatorium in the country. Desolate and decrepit.

And I thought of all the frivolous things we’ll leave behind when we pass away, the objects we’ve accumulated over a lifetime of living, covered in our fingerprints, endowed with meaning because they belonged to us…

And I thought of how the sun is still rising in our young lives, how we are all slowly growing into our skins and the horizon for our potential seems utterly limitless…

And I thought of how in our intimate circle of friends, we have yet to confront tragedy…the tragedy of the sort that’s a tectonic shift in our universe: illness, divorce, death…

What soon will come. How blessed we are to be young and among the living.


Several months ago I wrote:

“I have moments of extreme and utter clarity and others of profound confusion and melancholy. The tempest of my sanity is that discord, that unbearable chasm, between my ideals and reality…that dark furrow between the world as I see it, as I feel it in my heart, and the world as it truly is.

And in that space I feel alone.”


I have been called a hopeless romantic. An idealist.

And somewhere in that chasm, in that furrow of youthful naivete, I found photography.


The semester has ended. Not with a bang but a whimper. And I am terribly reflective. Mixed feelings. Oscillation between supreme conviction and melancholic self-doubt. Lines of Prufrock on the kitchen table at 5am. Things did not proceed as I had expected. But what the $#%@ does. No, things tend to tear at the seams, tragically and beautifully, interspersed with moments of silence.

Father was hit by a car.

Mother’s house was burnt on Thanksgiving day.

And halfway through, when the photos never came (he said be patient, be patient, the photos will come in time) I was prepared to walk away and say #$%@ it all. Not from photography, but from New York, back to that long stretch of country road amidst strawberry fields bathed in sunlight.

So it is only fitting that I post on here what I wrote in my moleskin a week prior to starting at ICP.


There are certain pivotal moments in your life, junctures, where

Two roads diverged on a yellow wood

and a decision was made. And the colors of your existence, the contours of your life, have been singularly defined by it, leading to an infinite amount of contingent events that will make up the rest of your life.

In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse

I am here in New York, sitting alone in a quiet kitchen in Bushwick. Kate messages me “There is a tornado watch. Close the windows if you’re home.” The windows are closed and all I can hear is the hum hum from the old refrigerator and the occasional rattling of the JMZ train across the street. In less than a week, I officially start at ICP…the parties will end, the revelry, the excitement of being in New York, all of that will soon be replaced by pure photography.

I am here, sitting alone in this kitchen in Brooklyn, accompanied by the hum of my refrigerator, endowed with an incredible sense of optimism, uncertainty, and excitement, because a year ago, turning and turning in the widening gyre, I read an interview by Joseph Rodriguez in the New York Times Lens Blog that deeply and profoundly moved me.

I listened to that interview repeatedly and felt a deep affinity for his story and the purity of his ideas regarding the purpose of photography. We share, in a superficial way, similar life stories: inner-city, poverty, troubled youth, juvenile record, High School drop out…Joe went to ICP after his release from prison; I had never heard of ICP but decided shortly after that, I would attend the program myself in a year’s time. It was the only program I applied to.

Of course, I would learn, in the months following, that ICP is a major center of photography and one the largest center dedicated exclusively to the medium. Joe will also be my instructor in the months to come.

So here I am, committed to stay alive and snap some photos and maybe, perhaps, in a years time, I can piece it all together somehow into something meaningful. This is a #$%@en Hail Mary, a shotgun blast into the shadows of uncertainty, a prayer for Lucia at the end of the journey.

I have placed the entirety of my resources behind this endeavor and will have absolutely nothing left when the dust settles but my name, my work and my beloved friends and family. And a lot of debt.

Shooting for the Hyperlocal

From RJ Mickelson’s Shooting for the Hyperlocal weekend workshop.

“Following each class, I gave the students assignments and the second day coincided with Halloween so I had the class photograph the parade from 6 different points of view: going to the parade, watching the parade, participating in the parade, etc. Collectively, I thought the students executed the assignment exceptionally well.”


People who participated in the Halloween spirit rode the Staten Island Ferry on their way to Lower Manhattan on October 31, 2010 in New York, New York. (Steven Mora)
Straphangers dressed up in costume entered the Houston Street subway on the 1 line on October 31, 2010 in New York, New York. (Caro Patlis)
A group of parade participants entitled ‘The Superheros of Tomorrow’ waited to enter the parade along 6th Ave on October 31, 2010 in New York, New York. (Pete Pin)
Ghouls, goblins and Michael Jackson impersonators made their way up 6th Ave during New York’s Halloween Day Parade on October 31, 2010 in New York, New York. (Orly Kaufman)
Revelers and participants alike watched the Halloween Day Parade from all angles along 6th Ave on October 31, 2010 in New York, New York. (Javier Sirvent)
New York City’s Department of Sanitation cleaned up 6th Ave following New York’s Halloween Day Parade on October 31, 2010 in New York, New York. (Benjamin Petit)

On a clear day, I can see Manhattan in the horizon, dreamy and golden off in the distance; so near but so far away for the residents who have called my neighborhood home for generations. The JMZ rattles violently above Broadway on an elevated platform outside my window, ferrying people to and from the City.

They beat a man to death around the corner.

They shot a man in front of my door.

The Projects across the street, visible from the JMZ, tower over the Brooklyn skyline, piles of the poor stacked upwards to heaven.