Winter Salsa

Back to school, and Chicago once again makes good on its winter vows. But I’ll yield my rant to every other north-midwesterner in America who will tell you just as much about the cold, and instead pull out a small assemblage of photos I took at a salsa event last month. We can, at least, all pretend to be warm.

I have never danced salsa before, doubt I will anytime soon, but being a dancer myself (albeit of an entirely different genre) the invitation to photograph the event was too personally enjoyable to be labelled a task. In fact, I ended up taking numerous photos in monochrome for myself in addition to formal documentation, shared here. More are to come in a follow-up post.

On a somewhat related note, I now have an instagram account! So far the platform is a love-and-hate for me — especially in terms of the 1:1 composition and my lack of ability to handle a smartphone — but it’s great to be able to lay out some of the stuff I’ve been up to in the past few months. It feels as if I’m visualising for myself and others the work-in-progress that all this is. Speaking of which, the salsa photos will be uploaded on instagram as a mini-series.



Morning sluggishness is a given, especially after hours spent hovering over a paper. Being a procrastinator and an owl can get me in tight corners and lose me sleep, but if there’s anything I love about this unfortunate tendency, it’s the comfort of the night when I produce the most work.

Except it’s an odd comfort. The comfort of isolation, of solitude, of overthinking (although with this one it’s a love-and-hate). Of all things one might tuck away during the day to be a more sociable and cheery self. As of two years ago I can only read for myself during the night, or it doesn’t feel the same.

Yesterday’s was a revisit to Rilke.

People at Night
Rainer Maria Rilke

THE NIGHTS were not made for crowds, and they sever
You from your neighbour, and you shall never
Seek him, defiantly, at night.
But if you make your dark house light,
To look on strangers in your room,
You must reflect—on whom.

False lights that on men’s faces play
Distort them gruesomely.
You look upon a disarray,
A world that seems to reel and sway,
A waving, glittering sea.

On foreheads gleams a yellow shine,
Where thoughts are chased away,
Their glances flicker mad from wine,
And to the words they say
Strange heavy gestures make reply
That struggle in the buzzing room;
And they say always “I” and “I,”
And mean—they know not whom.


Until recently my intention in blogging has been to keep a shelf for the photos I take and my more coherent thoughts. If I limited what I wrote and expressed, I thought, I would cease to churn out half-completed pieces and for once be a more focused person.

A demi-year and five countries later, my modes of reflection are as scattered as ever. But as I’ve grown comfortable with myself, I’ve made sense of my own flitting from photography to dance to writing to music — and in doing so, considered that perhaps it was all right to let the corner slate be the personal space I’d meant for it to be in the first place.

Thoughts will be as I will be.

TIME: Humanity in Eight Eighths


SOUTH KOREA. Seoul. 2013.

It was a priceless half-hour crouched awkwardly across from this white bungalow. The set was taken at around Christmas time, on one of the coldest days of winter last year (fully charged batteries lasted no longer than 2-3 hours).

But work produced in memorable circumstances certainly take on more personal meaning.

Phil Cousineau, “For My Father Who Never Made it to Paris”

It was given to me on a bookmark, each word of the poem spilling onto the next on both densely writ-in cardboard sides. I’d got it from the old barber around the corner of the street I used to live on, who’d been keeping it for a friend and had told me he no longer had need of it. The gravity of that statement, I have only recently come to grasp.

I lost the bookmark on a rainy day a year ago today, but the poem has stuck with me. It’s a treasure, reposed in the author’s lifelong collection of poetry titled The Blue Museum.

The following belongs, in my traced memory, to the friend of the old barber who perhaps never made it to Paris.

For My Father Who Never Made it to Paris

Phil Cousineau, for Richard Beban

For my father who never made it to Paris
I meet friends late at night in smokey cafes
To drink frothy cappuccino and listen
To Coltrane sax solos on old jukeboxes
And talk of the wounds
Of fathers and sons

For fathers and sons
Who never returned home,
I reach down for words to express my grief,
Like an emergency ward surgeon groping
For stray sharpnel in the flesh
Of bleeding loved ones.

For all the words never found between men,
The buried burning words slowly infecting us,
I drop quarters in no-name bar telephones.
To call suicidal friends, distraught fathers,
Lone wolf sons who howl at the indifference of the moon,
And offer the round table of brotherhood.

For all the tumors caused by sorrow,
And all the ulcers formed by anger,
For all the nightmares wrought by rage,
And all the emptiness carved by despair,
I probe friends and family
For healing stories.

For my father and all fathers
Who never saw Paris,
One friend listens, reveals,
Reaches in an open wound,
Finds a piece of gold shrapnel,
Cashes it in for airfare,
Takes his father to the Left Bank.

So the healing
Can begin.

Paris, 1986

Photography: Alex J. | SOUTH KOREA. Seoul. 2013.

Urban Sunset

ILLINOIS. Chicago. 2013.

After a solid half a year of travels, Chicago is finally on the horizon! Those of you who recall my previous blog layouts may recognise this shot of Chicago’s cityscape at sunset. Not much of an anecdote for this one, unfortunately, other than that the cars weren’t particularly happy to find me in the middle of the road.

Chicago Skyline, Subjectivity, and the (lack of a) Wide-Angle

ILLINOIS. Chicago. 2013.

Due to both fortunate and unfortunate circumstances, I’ve had my fair share of travels over the past few years. But when it comes to urban skylines, Chicago is simply insurmountable.

The shot here was taken aboard a boat on Lake Michigan. It is always a challenge to do justice to what the beholder feels at the moment the shutter is pressed, and the above was no exception. Personally speaking, this shot was a failure: it only partly conveys what I meant for it to. I write this specifically because my choice of lens or image orientation is not nearly as based on aesthetic considerations as it is based on my subjective feeling.

The result would have been closer to my perception had it been captured with a wide-angle lens (my sole reason for lamenting the lack of an instrument, which I don’t tend to do too often). Unfortunately, I had none at the time. The hope is that, in the next few years, I’ll be able to return to the same spot a little better prepared.

Reflective Surface

FRANCE. Paris. 2014.

As always, consistency problems have caught up with me. The past two months (without a single post!) have been a cauldron of cheek and trouble somewhat typical of whatever travel-heavy period follows an existential lapse. Hence the graffiti wall that is my state of mind — with the new constantly replacing the old, yet with the old still buried underneath — a cluster of conflicted personalities, and sideway glances.

This post is a very honest one, and the shot, a personal one. It helps also that I’ve managed to fix the blog layout! I’ll keep up this time.