True confession: I was a stalker. Briefly. My target was Samuel Beckett. On my first visit to Paris, I wanted to see the great Irish writer in person. Not get his autograph or have my photo taken with him. I simply wanted to see a genius, a writer whom I revered, in the flesh.

I did some detective work. Of course, Beckett’s name was not in the telephone directory. The casino he was said to favor had a membership fee far out of my budget.

But I reasoned that he’d visit his publisher, Éditions de Minuit. So I staked it out. The office is on quiet street. From the outside, it seems appropriately austere. I smoked cigarettes, prowling back and forth, feeling as if I were playing some role.

Over the next few days, I haunted the street (my fleabag hotel was close, and it did boast actual fleas as part of its charms). I didn’t see him, or Marguerite Duras, just a harassed-looking man in his thirties smoking a Gauloise.

I waited and waited.

It took a long time, and yet, I finally to a realization.

I had turned into a Beckett character.

Virtual influencers

China’s celebrity influencers Viya and Li Jiaqi — alias Austin Li, the “lipstick king” — used to attract millions of shoppers to ecommerce platforms, but scandals and their subsequent disappearances exposed the risks of crossing the Chinese Communist party.

Enter the virtual idols. Computer-generated avatars are considered a safer option by companies as Beijing cracks down on human celebrities deemed politically outspoken or with questionable morals.

Over the past year, Chinese investment and tech groups, including Ten-cent and ByteDance, have ploughed hundreds of millions of dollars into companies that develop digital influencers. China’s virtual idol industry is predicted to jump sevenfold from Rmb6.2bn ($870mn) in 2021 to Rmb48bn in 2025, according to Guangzhou-based iiMedia Research.

Financial Times, 13 October 2022

Table Mesa King Soopers Reopens

Table Mesa King Soopers, where the mass shootings happened almost exactly a year ago, reopened last week. 

I avoided the grand reopening ceremony. It was at 9:00 am, and featured the governor of the state and other local officials, as well as Kroger representatives. A marching band quickstepped in, playing the “Battle Hymn of the Republic”. That’s a detail the news outlets skipped over, but which appeared in a few Instagram stories.

My son went that evening. He said that a young woman burst into tears by the entrance, and her friend led her away. 

I finally visited a few days ago. It is resolutely normal. Any possible reminder of the slaughter has been erased. 

On the one hand, and on a low level, I am happy to be able to buy beef and broccoli without being assailed by waves of grief. On the other hand, I have a problem with this. It is, in fact, a brutal reminder of how temporary even the largest tragedy can be. 

I Go to Paris Photo

It’s big. Really big.

I survived Paris Photo and left with a head full of questions.

Paris Photo is perhaps the most important fair for the photography world. More than 130 exhibitors show work on the main floor. These are the biggest cats in the jungle: Gagosian, Marlboro, and Magnum are among the illustrious hawking the work of the greats, the famous, and the soon-to-celebrated.

In a second section, more than 30 publishers have booths, and, again, these are the big names. For photography, anyway.

I arrived early. It was before the great wave of aficionados and boho hoi polloi swamped the hall. A club-like atmosphere hovered in the air. Old friends exchanged embraces. For many, it was the first time they’d seen in other in months, thanks to the restrictions of Covid-19. Bonhomie all around.

It was like being in a high-end restaurant — a sense of glamour and exclusivity washes over you, along with the happiness of being someplace special.

In other words, the scent of money was in the air. I felt the business of photography in my nerves in a way I never had. It’s a fair, a market. At its core, the scene at Paris Photo is another version of the open air market a few blocks away at La Motte Picquet where hawkers sell fish, cheese, scarves, and even postcards.

Armed with my trusty notebook and iPhone, I set out to make discoveries.

Photo by Paul Cupido

Three qualities stood out:

Narrative. Several photographers are making tableaux vivants, or movie stills from films that haven’t been made. Some of these are in series, others a single image. Many books use text to tell stories parallel to the images.

Photo by Kinsco Bede, an emerging talent

Anti-representation. Or, pushing the plain old photo into painterly territory. Distorting, collaging, bending and twisting the printing process, or putting paint on the photograph itself. 

Photo by Sergio Larrain – an old favorite

Variety. Despite what I’ve pointed out, I couldn’t discern any overarching tendencies. Any example you could cite would be undercut by another set of work.

Women. Pictures by female photographers were highlighted; you could even follow a preset “female path” through the exhibits. This is a useful and valuable idea. The excellent photographs by Deborah Turbeville, Zoë Ghertner, and Mona Schulzek — among others — were so strong they deserved as large an audience as possible.

One percent. This is an event for the global elite. The organizers made several attempts to open it up to those who can’t afford to buy, say, an Irving Penn photo. Still, how many people are ready to purchase a photobook? Starting $50 per copy, even the books have the feel of a luxury item, no matter what’s inside the pages.

The day wore on. I realized that relying on serendipity was foolish. More people kept pouring in. I was toast.

Next time, I’ll have a strategy and stick to it. I’ll spread out the fun over two or even three days, and be sure to read the critiques and reports that appear after the opening. Frankly, with so many photographers and so many exhibits, I need all the help I can get.

Let me tell you a dirty secret: Hardly any one spent more than 15 seconds in front of any photo. All that hard work, all that creativity, and, in some cases, physical danger to produce an inspired image merited less time than you’d spend on a kitty video on Instagram.

Of course, you hope that — later, in private — someone will linger over a photo for at least a minute or two. I’d like to believe that.

You wonder what the purpose of all this highly skilled image making is. In a world saturated with images, why add to the deluge? At what point does it all descend into visual noise? Yeah, I was one overwhelmed pup panting under the curved roof of Le Grand Palais Ephemere.

But aren’t we all? Nearly everyone I see stares at their smartphone whenever they can. In a short session on Instagram, I see more photos than Life magazine published in a year. How do we stop the restless, hungry, and bored eye?

Who dwells with a painting or photograph? How do we make images that matter, that stick in the mind, that make for an experience, esthetic or not?

These are questions that would take a career to respond to — assuming they can be answered at all.

Another Set of First Impressions: Paris

rainbow over les invalides paris by tim  roessler

I’ve  been lucky enough not only to visit Paris but also to return pretty often.

Each time I come here, I’m surprised by the same set of contrasts with my home town of Boulder. Even though I should know better and remember, I’m still dazzled. I’ll list them here.

Now, my Parisian friends would read this skeptically, present counter examples, and scoff, lightly but politely, but they’d scoff. Familiarity breeds knowledge as well as contempt. But first impressions bring a freshness with them that can fade over time.

So here’s what struck me this time, straight out of the gates of Charles de Gaulle airport.

Thin. Parisians are slender, slim, thin and fat free. As a group. Old men all look like The Rolling Stones, only with regular clothes. Women of a certain age weigh what they must have as blushing girls at high school. Sure, not all of them are whippet thin. But you don’t see the supersized bodies you see down at the local shopping mall. 

Warm. Couples are physically affectionate. Pairs walk arm-in-arm, hand-in-hand, or one arm draped over a shoulder. They lean languorously on each other, share private jokes. Back home, sure, you’ll see teenagers all over each other, hungry. But here, it’s an all-ages pastime, and there’s an easy sensuality and warmth. This includes same sex couples now.

Smoke. Cigarettes and cigarette smoke. Far fewer people smoke than even a few years ago. But far more smoke here than in my crunchy hometown. All ages, too — college-aged girls, crusty and creaky old guys, nervous middle-aged ladies in navy blue. 

Dress. People, generally, dress deliberately. You don’t see a lot of tailoring or suits. But it does look as if most people figured out how to look good, spent a few minutes before a mirror, and made an effort. You have high end ladies of a ferocious and strict elegance with large sunglasses, discreet pearls, Hermes scarves, wool skirts and so on. You also see your dandified dudes. 

On the other extreme, you see track suits here and there. Dammit. But then to balance these out: Miniskirts. Really short miniskirts.

Warm, part two. The women at the bakery hand you fresh baguettes still warm from the oven.

Scent. Olfactory feast. In Colorado, we live in a semi-arid climate. The air’s so dry, it doesn’t carry many fragrances. Some, yes, and the good ones include pine after rain, sage, earth, stone, and, if you’re close enough, Chanel 19. One of the stenches is weed. Or car exhaust.

But apart from those, it’s a fairly sterile, odorless place. Here, in Paris, you’re overwhelmed.

Yeast and sugar from bakeries. Cigars. Perfumes, nice ones from Hermes and Guerlain, linger on the air. Linden leaves, a leathery cologne, thyme, and, whew, a cheese store.

That’s all in one long city block.

Oh, and the whole body odor cliché? It’s November, so it’s unlikely. But in general, it’s exaggerated, especially lately.

Covid. Not so much. The rules here are the same as at home. You wear a mask indoors in shops and offices and on public transportation. You show your sanitary pass, or health passport, a QR code, and you can eat a meal without a mask or sip coffee outside, no problem. Tents for rapid testing have popped up outside of some pharmacies. You roll in, get the test and receive the results in 10 minutes. 

Juice. This is a tricky one, so hang in with me here. First, all people deserve freedom and dignity, and people should be able express themselves and their gender as they wish. But I have to say, Frenchmen seem more masculine and Frenchwomen much more feminine than in Boulder and Denver. In general. They have more … juice.

As the Russians say, the men seem like cats that can still catch mice. The women, too.

That’s enough for now. If you were to get off a flight and stroll around a few avenues and boulevards, you might have a completely different set of impressions.

And you should. Fly on over. Sniff the air, walk a little, and tell me what you think. We’ll both be richer for it.

Aftermath Interview

The Boulder Weekly’s managing editor, Caitlin Rockett, was kind enough to sit down with me and ask me questions about my photobook.

You can read the article here.

Caitlin is a gifted interviewer. She has an amazing ability to put you at ease immediately. How she shaped such a good piece out of my ramblings is a real testament to her skill as a writer.

I’m very grateful she met with me, and even more thankful for the resulting piece.

You can still order Aftermath from Blurb.

Aftermath 2: A modest proposal for gun patriots

image of a cross at King Soopers Table Mesa by Timothy Tim Roessler

A lot of arguments for and again gun control hit the media after the shootings in Boulder, Colorado. Advocates on both sides repeat the same set of polemics after every big slaughter. 

One caught me off guard, though. It goes like this: The deaths are sad, but that’s the price you pay for liberty. Freedom involves risk. Some people will suffer or die, but our right to bear arms under the Second Amendment of the Constitution justifies that possibility. Victims of mass shootings, therefore, died for our freedoms.

Now, the guys making this argument are obviously still alive. Up until now, they can only laud the dead. You can’t really ask them or their loved ones to make the same sacrifice themselves, now, can you? It’s simply not practical to wander around shopping malls or churches or outside of dance clubs with a sign pinned on your back saying “Shoot Me! I support your Right to Bear Arms!! Kill Me Now!!!

But still, what enthusiasm! What commitment!!

Now I’m sure these guys want to do more. And show how much they really, really care. A donation to the National Rifle Association and a vote for gun rights advocates seems too petty for these patriots. It’s too damned easy, and they know it.

So I propose a program, funded out of gun sales, to help them truly show their commitment. And, because they say the Right to Bear Arms is a life or death issue, they should be eager to join. Put it on the line, I say!

Here’s how it’d work: Second Amendment gun patriots sign up for a lottery to enter the Freedom Cleanser and Comforter Squad (FCCS). This qualifies them for a chance at the glorious duty of caring for the dead and the grieving in the wake of a mass slaughter.

After the shooting, the agency holds a drawing. Then our Gun Patriot receives his summons. He arrives on the scene of the carnage— trailer park, grocery store, business office, dance club, church, plaza, wherever.

Once the forensic professionals have finished, he has the duty to clean up the bodies. Lift the blood and feces-stained corpses into the waiting ambulances.  Scrape the bits of bone and brain from the linoleum or concrete. Wipe the blood from the floor. There will be a lot of blood; the average human holds about five liters. 

A little advertised fact of violent death is that the victim’s bowels release. So our sturdy gun patriot will have to wipe up the shit and the piss as well, and ensure that the steps or the pews or the aisles are properly disinfected.

You might think this would be enough for a dedicated Second Amendment advocate, but I know he’ll want to do even more to help defend our freedom.

So he’ll be eager for the next job: comforting the families of the victims. He’ll go with a professional to help break the news to the mothers, the fathers, the sisters, the brothers, and perhaps the grandmothers and grandfathers. He will watch as they receive news that will shatter their lives and scar them with grief for the the rest of their lives.

Because it’s a little too easy just to bat out some platitudes about freedom and sacrifice on a keyboard. And I bet they know it, somewhere inside, and instead of repeating something about death they heard, they can now be in it, in the very heart of darkness and pain and grief.

It seems like the very least those stalwarts could do.