Friday, May 15, 2015
Basically there are two kinds of Road Warriors. The first you may know or, at least, have met. Call him on the phone and he will meet you anywhere in the world that serves food late at night. His name is Jim or Bob something. He is a photographer who travels all the time. Even in the best of circumstances that is no mean feat in today’s atmosphere. He may make a living taking pictures or he may be a trust fund baby. He shoots for magazines, or NGOs, or himself. He may not be smart but he’s smarter than God was at his age. He can be erudite, articulate and his pictures are often stunning.
The second kind of Road Warrior has a name spelled with all consonants or mostly vowels. But you won’t know him anyway. His accent is indistinguishable. And no one knows where he lives or even where he sleeps. But when you see his pictures you recognize them immediately even though you have never seen them before. On any rumored sighting he looks drab in different shades of winter brown.
All working photographers exist so far off the grid that there is no word for normal in their vocabulary. Being self-sufficient, not knowing where your next meal or dollar will come from is enough to make anyone cynical, but to be a Road Warrior you still have to be adroit at getting the phone to ring. Jim or Bob may have reputations that precede them. They get featured in interviews that profile their storied careers. Some have won awards or adapted to social networking in between fanning out all over the globe or chasing endangered species...animal, vegetable or mineral.
Rzx*%pqz’s pictures are of places that are obscure, dangerous, legendary, bizarre…and in black/white. One such told me that after his editor warned him she did not expect him to come back, he was beaten, and had his cameras stolen. He lamented “they even took my shoes”. He returned to the same location the next day with pawnshop equipment and borrowed shoes.
Being a Road Warrior requires tenacity, stamina, flexibility and a desire for being insecure. Some travel fast, some slow. Some enjoy creature comforts when they can get them but others train to stay hard and sinuous. They move from one civilization to the next without missing a beat. From one language to cuneiform.
The first keeps his visas, inoculations and passport up to date. Health and papers are his most precious possessions besides photographs. He knows which wines to serve with the fois gras. Which fork to use or how to properly eat with chopsticks. Number two has been close to death’s door with malaria...twice and lost his citizenship years ago. He drinks beer. He still shoots film. And he has never been known to pick up a check. Either may chase a cause, a dream, a whim, an assignment or romance in the middle of a sentence.
Their ethics are sketchy. I watched one Road Warrior sneak thousands of dollars in gold in his luggage through customs underneath a paper bag filled with greasy homemade salami. The salamis were confiscated. The gold got through. Another promised future earnings to his subjects then disappeared. Rules are for tourists.
Road Warriors work through pain, bad weather, pestilence and conflict. Bob Dylan, Bob Marley or Will.I.Am playing in the recesses of their brain. The first Road Warrior has embraced the world but meets it on his terms. He utilizes technology and the mechanisms that facilitate crossing alien frontiers. The second moves in and out of the shadows. Everything he owns is in his pockets. He does not trust you or your information but sizes you up and leases your value in the first twenty seconds. Then suddenly you hear his voice on the other end of the telephone with loud noises of gunfire or television in the background. “How you doing?” without waiting for the answer. He insists on a critical collaboration and then is gone like the Lone Ranger.
It is their mission to scourge the earth walking somewhere on the unlevel, gray landscape or insinuating themselves between reality and fantasy. It is futile for us to hope to live up to one while desiring to be the other.
If anyone lives through it eventually their scars amount to a scab of memories and stories that were critical at the time but only compelling in the telling. They laugh at some that were not funny then and cry intestinal tears they have held in too long until they realize the result.