My friend, Dave, died last week.
(Not long after I posted the column.)
It’s been rough.
I’m 48, yet lack significant experience with grief.
(Knock on wood.)
I hadn’t known anyone who suffered horribly from Covid, much less perished.
Man, what a shitty situation.
A million dead, here in the US, and so many friends and loved ones left with holes in their hearts.
This was particularly cruel, though, as I’d begged Dave to get a booster shot.
(He’d only had the J&J vaccine, last summer, due to an employer mandate.)
But he said no, despite knowing his lifestyle, weight-lifting at the gym, working security at the local bar, meant he was almost certain to contract the virus at some point.
Dave, who was conservative politically, and came from a religious background, wasn’t willing to engage in further vaccination.
We even spoke about what would happen if he got Covid.
That he would end up with unpayable medical bills.
That he might die, due to pre-existing conditions.
And now he’s gone.
(Such a bummer.)
In my mind, Dave was a hero.
He was kind, selfless, curious, and wise.
He went out of his way to help people, and took his job in security seriously.
(This week, I saw an FB comment that Dave used to walk a woman into work each day, at 4am, during his rounds.)
When we’d train in the public park, (for hours at a time,) unhoused, or very drunk people would stop to talk to us, or watch what we were doing.
Every time, Dave treated the person with so much respect and compassion.
It was amazing to see how polite he was, under the circumstances.
(An inspiration, really.)
When that neighbor pulled a gun on me last year, Dave was the first person I texted for advice.
When I had a beef with my Sifu, Dave pushed me to grow, repeatedly advising me to be humble, apologize, and move forward.
Dave was an action-movie hero, but in real life.
An experienced Aikidoka, and Wing Chun Kung Fu expert, (in addition to his knowledge of firearms,) Dave should have been the next Danny Trejo.
Dave lived through things, and it showed.
Plus, his deep, gravely voice, (from years of smoking cigarettes,) was a perfect complement to his massive biceps, and calm demeanor.
While training in the park last year, I pitched Dave on the idea of being an action-movie hero, for real.
I suggested we write a film, in which he could star, so we could get him the type of recognition he deserved.
He was dubious, but I developed plot points, and as we punched and kicked at each other, he began to see the possibilities.
But a fucking virus put a stop to that.
Hero is such a powerful word.
It gets tossed around, willy-nilly, but what does it mean?
Maybe it’s someone who does the right thing, even in difficult circumstances?
A person who rises to the challenge, lives by a code of honor, and tries to improve every day?
Maybe, like Spiderman, a hero believes she/he/they has a responsibility to help, and if blessed with being strong and powerful, uses that to the benefit of others?
(That can serve as a working definition, anyway.)
But as long as there have been humans who could walk and talk, there have been heroes.
The protagonists of our stories.
The leaders we admire.
The guideposts for how to live.
How do I know?
Just ask Joseph Campbell.
If you’re reading this, you likely work in a creative field, or are at least creative-adjacent.
So you’ve probably heard of Joseph Campbell.
He was a genius academic, writer, lecturer and researcher who, like Jung, delved deep into the human consciousness.
Predominantly, he did this by researching origin stories, myths, and cultural bedrock tales, from around the world, to look for commonalities.
Like pyramids being built in Egypt and Peru simultaneously, thousands of years ago, with no possibly of crossover, certain creation mythologies popped up again and again, across the world.
One of Campbell’s seminal books, “The Hero with a Thousand Faces,” breaks down traditional narratives structures, from different cultures through time, in the ancient world.
It’s fascinating, if you’ve never read it. (I have, in bits and pieces, but never cover-to-cover.)
And trust me, it’s relevant to today’s discussion.
Because I’m finally reviewing photo-book today!
Feels like it’s been a month, (or more,) since we last did a book review, but today, it’s back to the bread and butter.
And what book did I grab, randomly, from the book pile?
Glad you asked!
It’s “Hero,” by Shawn Records, published by aint bad, which turned up in the mail nearly a year ago.
(Thanks for your patience, Shawn!)
It’s a cool little book, for sure, but not one that needs deep analysis.
(No pun intended.)
Because it presents its structure in an obvious way, then tells the story abstractly, but in a manner that will make many a photo-book lover happy.
In this one, it’s all about the pictures, and many are very good.
(Not brilliant, but they don’t need be.)
There is almost no text in the book.
We have the end credits, and a crucial title page, which apes the structure of “The Hero’s Journey.”
Each supposed chapter has a page number, and that’s it. (And only those pages are numbered.)
So I looked at it twice.
First, I flipped slowly, taking it in.
There were strong photos, for sure.
Like the dog peeking its head out of a hole in a garage door, and the great monkey shot, (as we saw in Rich-Joseph Facun’s excellent “Black Diamonds,”) makes me wonder if that’s not the new “put a bird on it.”
But surely, I liked the images, because they are very photographic.
Implied narratives, cool compositions, impending drama, dynamic colors, well-captured light.
It’s all there.
As I said about John Hesketh’s work last week, what’s not to like?
On second viewing, I tracked the chapter titles to specific images, and sure, they are suggested in the photos.
Not screamed, or shouted.
(Perhaps murmured would be a better verb.)
The credits page tells us the images were made between 2006-19, so this strikes me as the product of a photographer who shot for years, and then found the through-line after-the-fact.
Nothing wrong with that methodology, and it likely adds to the ambiguity.
So, to wrap it up, as my brain is tired from grief, (and a long trip to the pediatric dentist in Los Alamos yesterday,) I think this is the kind of book that collectors, and photo lovers, will like a lot.
It’s smart in its allusions, but doesn’t make you think too hard.
You can just look, admire the quality, then move on with your day.
Speaking of which… see you next week.
If you’d like to submit a book for potential review, please email me at email@example.com. We are particularly interested in books by artists of color, and female photographers, so we may maintain a balanced program. And please be advised, we currently have a significant backlog of books for review.