Photography by Thomas McGovern/Poetry by Juan Delgado
2013 Heyday Books
Vital Signs is a documentary photography project on the hand-painted signs and murals throughout the Inland Empire region of Southern California, starting with the city of San Bernardino. The great Mexican muralist tradition has an obvious influence, but these signs and murals also suggest the economics of a poor city where immigrants and established locals alike set up shop and try to provide for themselves and their communities. The signage is mostly about local businesses and while a few of them are masterfully done, most are crude and some barely legible. Advertising is an age-old tradition and as these pictures attest, if all you have is a brush and some paint, you make the most of it.
Hard Boys + Bad Girls
Schiffer Publishing 2010
with an Essay by Tim B. Wride
HARD BOYS & BAD GIRLS is a photography project about young people who live their fantasies of greatness through professional wrestling. Working mundane day jobs as truck drivers, cashiers and secretaries, these men and women seek to realize their goals of fame and super-stardom within the economically and socially depressed city of San Bernardino, California.
As youngsters who grew up with MTV, tabloid journalism and 24-hour news cycles, the subjects collaborate with me in the conscious construction of their chosen personas. They inherently understand how photography creates a public identity and blurs fiction into fact. As performance artists, they preen and strike poses for the camera that mock famous TV wrestlers while simultaneously admiring them, all for the magic of being captured in the pain and glory of their chosen alter egos. They eagerly await the pictures and use them to critique their characters, striving for a convincing manifestation of their fantasies of greatness.
Professional wrestling's choreographed scenarios, contrived characters and violent, sexual themes have an obvious appeal to this short attention span generation. But Look beneath the surface of their bravado and there are signs of the vulnerable and slight young person, trying desperately to find his or her way in a world where image rules.
Bearing Witness (to AIDS)
Visual AIDS/A.R.T. Press 1999
Introduction by Nick Debs
In 1986 I learned that a group of men with whom I had lived in college in the 1970s had all died from AIDS. They were gay and rented space to me in their large suburban home outside of Washington, D.C., and the news of their deaths left me shaken– not only because of my fond memories of them but because we had all participated in the promiscuous sex and drug use of the time. To this day I wonder why I was spared the fate of my friends.
Due to this unanswerable question I decided to focus my work as a photographer on people living with AIDS. As I met and photographed more and more people with the disease, I became struck with their diversity and uniqueness. I have come to feel that the stories I am told and the picture that I make are precious objects and mementos of a rapidly changing time and place. My role has shifted from documentarian to historian and from observer to caretaker.
While I have photographed many aspects of the crisis since 1987, it is the portraits of people with AIDS that are central to this project and it is around these that the photographs of events revolve. One without the other is less complete, in terms of history and life, and so I ask you to view this project's elements, portraiture and reportage, as symbiotic. And it is within this relationship that the crux of the project is evident– it is the sense of waiting and the passage of time. It is this aspect which is central to understanding the crisis as I know it.
The work for this project has taken ten years and so the quotes and statements are necessarily dated. As with any dated material, circumstances change and people may not feel today as they did when I first met them. Sadly, Some people pictured may have died or made important contributions that I'm not aware of and so haven't mentioned.
Within the complexity of the crisis lies the political, and reading United States Senator Jesse Helms' 1995 remark that people with AIDS are such because of "deliberate, disgusting, revolting conduct" does not sit well with me. History will be the judge of disgusting and revolting conduct. Look into the faces that I am showing you and the fourteen-year-old from Missouri and the gay artist from New York seem more like members of a vanishing tribe than deviants from the Senator's treasured norm.
Parker Publishing 2010
Forward by Carla Williams
Faith in anything demands the suspension of disbelief, the willingness to forgo the innate human reaction to be suspicious and distrustful. Religious faith requires something even more, the belief that one’s faith is eternal truth. This faith is most successfully instilled in the young by their parents, and when it is, it become incredibly hard to break, a conditioned and learned state of mind that surfaces even in the most cynical in their times of crisis. It can also be a crutch, an easy escape from any complicated problem that requires us to examine our ethics, moral positions and confront selfishness and hypocrisy. It is at once a great virtue and terrible vice, a tool for self-reflection and generosity or for self-righteousness and cruelty. How do we know when our faith, and the faith of others, is justified or not? We don’t, which is what makes it amazing.
Faith is sometimes misplaced. Not lost, but sometimes placed unjustly in someone or something that proves itself unworthy. The recognition of misplaced faith can be devastating and cause one to turn away from trusting again, but it is also an opportunity to rediscover faith, requiring life long reexamination of our motives and perceptions.
While both love and faith are hard to make photographs about, many pictures are about both. The act of photographing takes some confidence in one’s ability to see things that aren’t always really there, but suggested through gesture and juxtaposition, and the belief that pictures sometimes resonate with others in larger ways than we imagine. Pictures can do good things, move us to empathize, reveal goodness and evil, and sometimes provoke us to act. They can also humiliate us, denigrate others, and insulate us from the truth. Like faith and people, pictures have to be experienced and judged for themselves, one by one.
I have been lucky that my pictures have sometimes shown me the faith of others and supported my own belief in people’s ability to care for one another, to be generous. The certainty that life can be, and often is, good. It is not that all my pictures are always truthful, or even good, but sometimes they are. I think the pictures I made of two small African American Evangelical churches are good. They’re good because they are true to my experiences with the congregations and because they show the warmth and generosity extended to me, a stranger with a camera.
What I found in those churches was great faith. In the racially tense neighborhood of Bensonhurst, and on a dismal corner on a desolate street in East New York, the congregations of Christ Temple United Baptist Church and International House of Prayer warmly embraced me and offered unfettered access to their most private and passionate expressions. On my first visit, I witnessed the transformation of two pastors from the shy personal selves known to me, into charismatic, public conduits for their congregations’ fervent and physical expressions of faith. Congregants shouted, wept, studied and listened carefully to the lessons imparted as I moved around the rooms quietly, watching, kneeling before them, and pushing myself to imagine and photograph the mystery of their great faith. Their faith moved them to ecstatic physical expressions that provoked overwhelming joy, convulsions and ultimately, exhaustion. That experience was the privileged space of the faithful. Witnessing, recording, sharing, and in a small way participating in those intimate moments was mine.