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Broadway in Oakland

July 22nd, 2001

Crazy Myself
There is a program on public radio called This American Life, created by a man named Ira Glass, that is probably the best media "writing" being done these days, with the possible exception, of course, of Ally McBeal. I say "writing" in the sense of creative writing, although it is a commentary/interview radio program done on a theme with, I assume, a preconceived story line going in ("hey, here's an idea...") that changes and matures during the interview process and becomes, through post production manipulation and editing a many layered "story" with fascinating and often disturbing results.

The program today began with a segment based on an interview with a woman artist who was raising insects and small mammals (bugs, crickets, mice, snakes) in her studio and then photographing them as they procreated and ate one another for supper, an up close examination, if you will, of a small slice of the food chain.

There is an "other worldly" quality here, a look from a slightly different, slightly disturbing, invariably illuminating perspective. The pacing is wonderful for what is said and what is left unsaid, for the story spoken and the unspoken subtext, the words as well as the silences. What was this "Animal" segment about: The artist? The animals? Cruelty? Obsession? Art? Life? The Politically Correct? It's good in that creepy introspective way that the very good often gets.

I've heard that no one would touch it when Glass was first shopping it around and public radio had no thought the program would be anything other than a hopefully interesting experiment. But the very small audience liked it. And the very small audience grew. And grew. You can see both why no one anticipated its popularity and why it became so popular. The infinitely perceptive moi would have not had a clue.

It is Sunday in the early evening. I spent the afternoon walking around the Market Street Oakland City Center concert area of downtown San Francisco having lunch and shooting pictures. I thought, this morning, well, I'll go over and walk around the Embarcadero again, the way I did last weekend, bring a telephoto lens with me this time and see what I can shoot. I got off at the Embarcadero station, the train packed with people going to the Giants game (forgot about the Giants game), wandered over the same ground as last weekend, which is almost always a mistake when you're looking for inspiration, and said the hell with it, walking up toward Union Square and a photography show I'd read about last weekend in the paper. Union Square is a main shopping area of San Francisco and there is a cable car station just at Powell and Market where there's always a long line of people waiting to get on the cable car and cross Nob Hill (ding, ding!) to Fisherman's Wharf.

San Francisco has become ever more crowded and sleazy, which I understand has not been the case in New York City, Los Angeles or other famous American slag pits. The Chamber of Commerce does not advertise this fact. I wonder how many first time tourists come here and decide not to come back? Yeah, it's still San Francisco, but it's expensive, it's crowded, it's dirty, it's full of aggressive crazy people that nobody wants to take care of and it has at least one lone photographer walking around, looking for photographs and watching his back, thinking, "maybe this is not the best idea I've had in a while". Maybe it's just late afternoon paranoia. Maybe I'm getting crazy myself.

The banner photograph was taken on the sidewalk in downtown Oakland in front of the Marriott hotel. The second photograph was taken at an Oakland City Center concert. The quote is from The Zen Koan, by Miura and Sasaki.