I made this picture a year ago, and that year has gone by sofast.
This IS one of my favorite images of one of my favorite people. But that's not the only reason why I made it.
This is a portrait of a person who has been fighting and chasing his dream of becoming an American citizen, and it hasn't been easy for him.
Also not surprisingly, I got some crap when I posted it originally, and when I entered it into a few shows. It was up until that point, unlike other images people were used to from me, except for maybe the use of natural light. But the truth is, I did think about it when I made it, and it does show many things about the situation as it was and still is.
First, this person is a strong man, mentally and physically, but I wanted this picture to show how I saw him at the time, which was vulnerable and human. Therefore, he had to be shirtless. I caught some flak when I first posted this shot and a few others from the session because I think people assumed I just wanted to take a picture of a shirtless dude with a tattoo who I liked. Not quite so, although that's totally fine too. But the seeming absence of clothing, along with his body language, needed to reflect how I saw him at the time: tired of waiting for a clear answer and path, trying to do "the right thing," and vulnerable in regards to having no idea about what was coming next. Not scared, just waiting, but waiting without having any clear indication of what would happen and being willing to start over again ... and again.
Also, it couldn't be in color. I love black and white, but not everything fits black and white. When making this, it wasn't even a question. There were many things going through my head, but vulnerability = a sort of innocence = risking it all = the need for white or light. Black did not equal evil or darkness or depression, but instead a type of void, a question, or the unknown. It needed a lot of negative space, and it needed to be dark as night. Moody.
When making this picture, I couldn't help thinking of a poem that I have taught to my high school students a bajillion times: "The Hound" by Robert Francis:
Totally. Right? Yep. Funny how things link together.
Going along with that, I wanted to think that the outcome of the situation wasn't going to be as simple as black and white, but I think we both could guess, and probably already knew, what it would be. And it was. Although there are a few avenues one can take to immigrate legally to America, they are honestly now fewer, more strict, and in some peoples' opinions, not always fair. I didn't know much about it until last year. But, the black and white IS black and white. Once a decision is given, there isn't much one can do about it unless there is some luck and the possibility of having a little help. Meanwhile, one can waste time, energy, and many resources trying to make a dream come true.
The title. "Tribal" seemed fitting immediately yes, because of the tattoo, but also because of the battle ahead, and that meant to figure out what to do with whatever came his way, to keep going, and to try to stay positive. It's a strong-sounding title for a strong person. He's done better than I would.
I’ve learned there are lots of unexpected connections people make. Was my constant playing of "Africa" on this red Playskool musical phone when I was 3 or 4 and the ensuing life-long obsession with the song coincidence? Not really sure.
But maybe. I also played "Centerfold" constantly, and so far nothing's become of that. Doesn't really matter. Just "holding thumbs" that this guy ends up being able to do what he wants and hears the news he wants to hear within the next couple of weeks.
And that's "Tribal."