I was 14 and entirely engaged in capturing nature with a broken down Kodak Instamatic. My parents, bless them, had gotten it brand new when I was 4 because they saw talent in me. We lived in a two-bedroom trailer outside the Palomino city limits and my father had picked up an extra day a week at the quarries to make payments on the camera. It had been dropped, kicked, thrown, and beaten by my youth; rarely if ever scoring a photograph worthy of displaying on my mother's fireplace mantle.
I took to cinema during this time. A friend of mine had an older brother who would sneak us into the art of cinema class on Thursdays at the community college. It was here that I was exposed to directors such as Jacques Rivette and Luis Bunuel, of whose work I'm still in awe of. The films were usually quite surreal and brilliant. I would stare, breathless, at the screen while Manuel tried his best at laying the college girls. I'd come home, only to be interogated by my parents, who refused to believe I was chatting about French cinema with the college kids at the Big Room Cafe.
My photography got better. One of every three photographs ended up on the fireplace. My father added a second shelf and later a third. Times were getting rougher in the household and it lead to my father being fired from the quarries. We, as a family became desperate for any form of income; to the point where my mother started selling my photography to local coffee shoppes and jazz clubs. The attempt was brave, but was only good for purchasing rice at the Korean grocery store. Rice, after starving for weeks, became the best meal, then the common meal, then the only meal. Rice on Mondays tasted exactly like Rice on Fridays, save for every day it had less taste, less salt as we slowly ran out. My father would just lay in bed all day long, only coming out to read the paper from the day previous, which I would steal from the library every morning.
Manuel got bored with the cinema class, so I got bored with the cinema class. We started hanging around the music store in the Jamaican district and became acquainted with this guy by the name of Rawce.
Rawce had done time in every prison in the county of Delroy. He had been pinched for dealing drugs mostly. The police knew he pimped, but they could never get anyone to come forward. He was also very photogenic. Manuel and I would hang out with him just about every afternoon. And if I had my camera, I knew I was going to get some good shots of Rawce mistreating women. My mother hated the photographs, but that didn't excuse the fact that the cafes were paying twice as much for the photographs of Rawce than pictures of flowers and trees.
Then Taxi Driver came out.
Directly after my 15th birthday, I convinced my father to take me to see Taxi Driver. We took a bus to Palomino and stood in line for half an hour, only to wait in line again after purchasing the tickets. I had never seen so many people in one room before. I watched the entire film trying not to blink out of fear of missing something. At one point during the film, my father reached over to shield my eyes and I moved over a seat before he could reach me. Even today, I make my crews watch Taxi Driver at least once during production on a film. We got home from the movie and I still had visuals of the movie in my head. That night was filled with dreams of Robert Deniro kicking TVs over. Beautiful.
I had not touched my camera in a while, thinking of motion pictures, when Manuel came by the trailer and told me he had something to show me. Bring your camera he said. We walked toward the Jamaican district, where we met up with Rawce, who looked sort of pale. I looked back at Manuel and noticed he was pale, too. I followed both of them into a building and up some stairs, my camera wrapped around my neck. There, in front of us, was a girl I had photographed with Rawce before. I recognized her because Rawce's girls never changed clothes. She was curled up in a corner panting and reaching for the walls, same pale look on her skin. Rawce and Manuel then grabbed the girl by her arms and slammed her against the wet concrete. They started raping her, battering her face and ribs. I was terrified but couldn't make myself look away. They kept yelling for me to take pictures, which I did eventually. The look on her face after they were finished was both innocent and intense. Her eyes were nearly swollen shut, all I could see were her pupils. Her clothes were torn to pieces around her naked body, which was discolored from the punches she had received. The only images I had to compare to her were pictures of defeated boxers in the paper. It was with the photographs I took that evening that I was able to buy myself a better camera.