I’ve lived in LA for most of my life, never have I experienced a more reckless driver than Ashley. We had just got out of work in a small photography studio in an area I like to call the “Armpit of LA” and we had an hour to get across the City of Angels to Fairfax Avenue. Ashley works part time at the RVCA store in San Francisco and offered to get us a 50% discount at the LA retail store. The only problem is that the store is across town and it’s rush hour in LA. Fairfax might as well be across the country! The evening rush hour smog fills the warm LA air turning it into gold. Nostalgia is blowing through the windows, hitting my skin like a million needles filled with memories of growing up in the excitement of the city. "Pour It Up" is blasting on the car stereo as Ashley weaves in and out of traffic cutting off unsuspecting drivers, disregarding any idea of the freeway lanes. This girl was mad. I would occasionally deviate from co-piloting the fastest route to West LA and look in the back seat at the other co-workers. The roaring sound of the wind ripping through the car along with the music was too much to say anything. I’d look at Krystal, she’d smile. I’d look at Jake and he’d make one of his go to strange faces in order to get a laugh. We had just spent the past 9 hours working our asses off in a warehouse with no windows, a little excitement on our way to our retail therapy session would do us some good.
We made it to the store just before sunset, right as they were closing. The rollup riot doors were half closed when the people that work there agreed to let a member of their own and her friends stay a bit longer buy a few things. They were mad chill. I bought some shorts and a shirt to prepare for my return back to SoCal in two weeks to shoot the arts studio at the Coachella Festival, a gig I had got after spending some quality time in the desert the weekend before with two good friends of mine Alf Alpha and Sarah. I was all over the place, seeing Los Angeles with a new set of eyes. I had felt like a visitor in my own home city.
The store visit wasn’t enough to fill our appetite for adventure. I had became their guide and took them to a spot I had scouted months before thanks to a LA based photographer Marcello Ambriz. It’s a trash filled lot of what once was a building of sorts overlooking Downtown LA. Immediately upon arrival my co-workers were put into a trance as the city lights lured them out of the car out onto the empty lot. We are a group of young excited traveling photographers and I was the only one that brought my camera. I start shooting away at the night lit cityscape. Jake decides to leave the girls and walks down to an old dilapidated building foundation to sit and take in the city. Just days before I had brought him to this same location on a photo adventure, where he did the very same thing during sunset. This empty lot became his place in LA to think things over.
“Matt, what are you doing?” The girls walk down the grassy trash filled hill from the car and ask. “I’m capturing the city lights of my hometown. You should be my models, Jake is already doing one hell of a job.” I showed them a photo. Without question they run down to the foundation to join Jake. This was my chance, I had other intentions in mind. I call Ashley back to help me keep the camera balanced on an ice chest I found in the amongst the garbage filled lot. In all her excitement she keeps climbing as though she didn’t hear me. I call her back again with a sense of urgency in my voice and tell her I need some help keeping the camera steady. That was a complete lie. Having already had a bit trouble climbing up the narrow crumbling foundation, she comes over “What do you need help with?” “Nothing…” I replied “just watch!” I glance up and Jake and Krystal are sitting there on the foundation of what once was.
Sandbox Studio had brought together a small team of photographer from the NY, LA, SF and PDX studios to shoot over a thousand images in two weeks for Vans. During work I’d make faint flirtations towards Krystal, which made Jake even more uneasy. Little by little the man was falling deep within his solitude. Less and less he would talk. The only words that had the strength crawl out of the depths were for Krystal, arrows shot directly from cupid’s bow, aimed right at her heart to make her fall in love. With each humorous word that made her laugh made her all the more irresistible to Jake. Words... the power they hold. And though his words did make her laugh, none were the concise words that she wanted to hear. Mere words of entertainment, a distraction dancing letters floating around the truth in a dance hall of “just friends.” Everyone started to notice the self inflicting pain that came along with the love Jake had felt for Krystal, everyone except for the one person that he failed to tell the truth… the very person he loved. The insufferable beauty of Krystal was driving him mad. Back ended on each end by suffering, truth was the only way out. But Jake was too timid to confess the truth. She too, in all her shyness and innocence, was not ready to hear the truth.
Krystal is one of the most beautiful girls you will ever meet. She carries herself with a sense of shy confidence as though it is in her nature to reserve what she has to express, to make you wonder. The day I met her my boss and I had just checked into our hotel and were getting in the elevator. Right before the door closes a hand reaches in to stop the door from closing shut. “Oh hey, you made it!” the boss says. “Matt, this is Krystal. She is from the San Francisco studio.” The intro was brief as she had to exit seconds later onto her floor. I look over at Jake who is also in the elevator with us and in my disbelief brings up the fact of how beautiful I think she is. My boss lets out a subtle “ha…” and gets off on his floor without saying another word. Jake gets defensive and says “Oh I think the boss likes her so I’d watch out.” Still blinded by the veil of first impressions I respond, “Are you kidding me! Did you see how beautiful that girl is? We are here for two weeks! I am going to make a move whether I can help it or not. If the boss likes her then he better be prepared to put up a damn good fight!” Jake gets uneasy standing in the corner of the elevator. “Actually…” *ding* The elevator door opens. He pauses awkwardly as though he is unsure if the words will come out, my hand stops the door from closing, “it’s me, I like her.” We walk into the room we will be sharing for the next two weeks.
We became close during those two weeks. I learned more of this passion he had for her. There was more to their story than he was letting off. They had met months before in SF when they had got called to shoot for The North Face. They became close during that time, they had history. With this new knowledge I had to make a decision on what was more important in my pursuits. A testament of friendship and selfish desires. That is when we found ourselves on a hilltop over-looking Downtown LA.
“Okay you two!” I yell out from the top of the lookout, “I’m doing a long exposure. You both know you CANNOT move once I press the button, so don’t fuckin move!” I take the picture. Krystal’s silhouette is blending in with a palm tree right next to her. “Krystal, you have to get closer!” “WHAT?” she responds. Before I could say anything Ashley yells out “You’re too close to the tree girl. We can’t see you!” Ashley was now in on the plan. Krystal moves closer towards Jake. “Okay lets try this again.” I take the picture as they look off facing towards the city. Their bodies aren’t well defined enough to say anything to me. “You two have to face each other!” I yell out. “Look at each other in the eyes and don’t fucking move! If you move you will come out blurry.” I turn over my shoulder to look at Ashley and we both let out a slight giggle. I open the shutter and the hustle and bustle of the city goes quiet. They are still as can be, there on the ledge overlooking the big unrelentmenting moving city. Echo’s of the freeway below blend in with the soft blowing wind. I imagine it’s the sound of the thousands of Dodger fans at the studium just behind the hill cheering like they have those many games I went to as child with my grandfather. The snapping sound of the shutter closing brings me back, but I do not say a word. Neither does Ashley. We leave them there in the moment staring at each other in the eyes, hoping that the love they have back ended on both side by suffering squeezes out a moment of truth. Their whispers covered by the roaring sounds of the city make light as they drift off into the wind before could reach our ears.
I say to myself, “This is what it means to be young.” Being in the excitement of the city. When the past comes together with your perceived future, creating the present moment to make that future come a reality. And in that present moment you realize how terrifying but thrilling being in the moment really is. You are reminded by the necessity of heavy the decisions that you are alive. Each and every responsible decision sitting there on the foundation of the past is a decision that pushes you closer to what you want your future to be. All that is necessary is to recognize the significance of what is right in front of you.
Months have past, the empty lot from that night has since been gated off to make way for a new building. It is now only a memory in the image that was captured. A friend of mine convincingly enough enticed me to submit a slideshow for the Slideluck Pot Show, I couldn’t think of a better theme to use. The only issue was that when I finally got word that my work was going to to be in the Slideluck Pot Show PDX, it was the day before the show and I was in LA once again, not able to make it back to Portland in time. Instinctively, I didn't think they were going to show it. The night of the show I got an instagram message from a professional photographer here in Portland who I admire for her work named Nicolle Clemettson. The message simply said my images were beautiful... They took my original video and edited my images to the song I picked and showed the video anyways. I am just now realizing it's been on vimeo this whole time, which is the reason I have decided to write about it now. The response I got from everyone who has seen the video has been overwhelming. It brings so much meaning into my life to know that my work is reaching out and making a difference in people’s lives. I feel it is my responsibility as an artist to let you know the significance of what these photos hold on life. Currently, there are only one of each photo of the three part installation printed in large format. I have the photo of Jake and Krystal hanging on a wall in my house, being that it is my most prized photograph. Another, the one of Jake sitting alone at night, is hanging in the house of someone I owe my life to. And the last photo, the one of Jake sitting during sunset, is sitting in my studio waiting for the next person who understands "What It Means to Be Young."