The Fountain of Youth

Posted on April 21, 2015 in Long-term Project, Personal Work

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This is the start of a new project on The Fountain of Youth Spa and RV Park in the middle of nowhere in the desert of Southern California, just 6.5 miles from the fish bone covered shore of the apocalyptic Salton Sea.

This group of photos is only from two days and two nights  that I spent at the RV park and it is the first project I’ve decided to shoot solely on film, with a little 35mm point and shoot camera that I have very little control over and a yellow Rolleicord. The film choice was a deliberate attempt to slow me down because I am a heavy shooter.

Within an hour of being in the park, I was welcomed. People waved, a woman helped me find a rock to try and hammer my tent stakes into the dirt, a man drove by and offered up a hammer to try to get the stubborn stakes into the ground, then I wandered a bit and a couple offered to let me sleep on the couch on their sun porch if the predicted rain happened and my tent didn’t hold up. (Yes, of course it would rain while I was camping in the desert. Luckily, I kept dry.)

The very first night, I was invited to a dinner of strangers, I sat between two RVs and talked politics and wanderlust with three Canadian couples under the stars. People had heard of me by then, the young woman carrying an old film camera who wanted to chat and wander and take photos. One man shouted out to me from his water volleyball game, “Kendrick! Glad you’re still here!”

Personal projects serve lots of purposes for photographers. The projects let us do something for ourselves, to work on something that we control how it is done and when it is done and something can be untouchable to a client if that’s what we want, it can re-spark creativity, it can be a meditation or refocusing on work, it can serve as a means of promotion. I needed to start this project for myself and had wanted to since I first visited the Salton Sea and drove past the billboard for The Fountain of Youth almost a year before. I made excuses for months before I got the push I needed to finally go because my curiosity about it and the people who go there kept lingering in my mind.

Yes, The Fountain of Youth is a place somewhat similar to Sun City, a place I’ve spent a lot of happy creative hours documenting for half a decade. It’s a place where retirees choose, of all places, to spend their time. And the name, what a name for a place! This place is different, it’s not an oasis, it’s not even all that beautiful in any traditional sense. It’s dry, it’s dusty, it isn’t glamorous, it doesn’t have state of the art gyms and a state of the art hospital. Yet, people drive all the way from Canada to spend half the year there. You pull up and there isn’t a lot to see beyond a beautiful pool, a laundry mat, a small store, a smaller restaurant, and block after block of RVs and trailers. Yet, I ask people “why here?” and they say there’s a lot to do: hiking, music, weekly talent night, bocce, horse shoes, crafts, volleyball, the list goes on. The community and the weather are the destination, and a hot spring to soak in at the end of the day is the cherry on that sundae.

I’m interested in aging. The older I get and the more time I spend with people decades older than me, I learn that we never feel old. Our bodies betray us and wrinkle and shrink and we slow down, but age is primarily a physical thing.

I’m interested in living a deliberate life seeking happiness, no matter the age, and I’m interested in people who rearrange their lives and seek out experiences that fulfill that. I’m interested in growing in a full, social, activity-filled way. I’m intrigued why this isn’t always the norm.

Gary, from British Columbia, told me he was 66. Then he said, “How the hell did I get to be 66? Where did my youth go?” to which his friend Walt replied, “Not only that, how did it go so fast? Enjoy it while you can.”

Enjoy it while you can. Enjoy it while you can. Enjoy it while you can.

That’s a sentiment I’ve heard before.

It’s something I feel.

It’s something I aspire to.

This is what I journaled the first night there:

“Y’wanna know what living the dream is? Living the dream is sleeping in a tent in the desert in a parking lot full of RV-ers, spending your own money that you don’t have that much of to pay for and develop the film you photograph them with, sleeping on the ground (more or less), because you think it’s interesting, and you think maybe it’s visually interesting. Because it is a story you want to tell. Because you pay for your beloved house in Atlanta that you don’t live in anymore to have the plumbing ripped up and restored; you pay for your cozy 2 bedroom house in LA with a tangerine tree in the driveway; you pay for all these things you can’t see, touch, talk to, grow from every month; you pay all that to sleep in a spot, on the ground, in a gravel parking lot, full of strangers, all with the money you made doing what you love, making pictures(!!!!!). That’s what living the dream is for me. Being a shy introvert who is asked over for a potluck dinner under the stars, in a gravel parking lot, with 65+-year-old Canadians who were complete strangers an hour ago and who all live out of homes on wheels and want to share their food and world experiences with you. That’s the whole point, for me. Struggle to do what you love (take pictures and meet people), so you can do what you love (take pictures and meet people). Pay for the dream, by working doing your dream job. It’s kinda crazy when I think about it. Crazy flippin’ beautiful. My heart bends and expands again. Thank you for this day. Thank you for this gravel under my back as I try to stop my spinning brain to go to sleep and do it all again tomorrow.”

Getting to know these people gets me closer and I’ve only just barely scratched the surface. Read More

The Houston Brothers

Posted on April 3, 2015 in Editorial, Portraits

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I photographed brothers Mark and Jonnie Houston in their restaurant and bar Butchers and Barbers, as well as Dirty Laundry, which is a bar downstairs in the same building. Both spots have completely different vibes and this duo is amazing at transforming and curating spaces in a themed way. Read More

Baby2Baby for New York Times Style

Posted on March 30, 2015 in Portraits

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I photographed Kelly Sawyer Patricof and Norah Weinstein, the presidents of Baby2Baby for The New York Times Style. Baby2Baby is a charity that supplies low income families with clothing, diapers and toys. Read More

Record Sea Lion Pups Wash Ashore for The New York Times

Posted on March 20, 2015 in Editorial

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People often ask me what my favorite shoot I’ve done is but every single shoot I do is different. Variables like light and personality and the environment and the client play a big part in the variety, but this shoot was amped up because I had more than 100 barking subjects. I headed to Laguna Beach to The Pacific Marine Mammal Center for The New York Times where an amazing team was rehabbing a record number of sea lion pups that were abandoned and rescued on the Pacific Coast. The young new rescues barely resembled sea lions, they looked more like thin, weak otters and I was just stunned by the dedication the staff and volunteers had to get the pups well so they’d be the chubby and playful animals they are meant to be. To say I love animals is a bit of an understatement so we can file this shoot under one of my thousands of favorites. Read More

UFC 184 Fan Portraits for ESPN

Posted on March 11, 2015 in Editorial, Portraits

Although I set up my makeshift studio near the concessions and wasn’t near the actual ring, this is the closest I’ve ever come to a UFC fight. This fight, UFC 184 in Los Angeles, was the first UFC fight in history with women competitors headlining, which is cool from a historical perspective, but also meant the crowd was a little more diverse than the average UFC fight and was great for me.

I had to set up in a 10×10 foot area, which was very limiting in terms of the space I’d ideally need for lights and stands to shoot portraits on a seamless. I also had to factor in that I would be in a heavy trafficked area alone at times and could not have multiple lights that people could bump into or trip over. So I went with the smallest black roll of paper and a ring flash and when I saw where I’d be shooting I was glad I did. Read More

Almost Famous, or Surrounded by Fake Paparazzi For A Day, for OZY

Posted on March 10, 2015 in Editorial

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I spent my Valentine’s Day shooting what has to be the strangest assignment I’ve ever had. My job was to photograph an OZY editor as she walked Hollywood Boulevard through crowds of tourists pretending to be a celebrity, which was amped up by the fact that she was standing next to an actor playing a bodyguard and surrounded by a crowd of screaming hired extras with cameras pretending to be paparazzi. And, as you can see in this photo, people bought the con. It was especially strange for me because I was in the crowd of fake paparazzi photographing the fake celebrity and I was the only real one in that mix, though watching the scene you’d never know that.

I’ve never laughed more or ran backwards more on a shoot. Read about Sanjena’s surreal experience as a (pseudo) celebrity for an afternoon HERE: Almost Famous

Read More

American Apparel’s New CEO

Posted on February 10, 2015 in Editorial, Portraits

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I had the utmost pleasure photographing American Apparel’s new CEO Paula Schneider at the American Apparel HQ in Los Angeles for The New York Times. Read the article HERE.

We shot on the roof, in the sewing room of the factory, in her office, a conference room, and a waiting room and it’s rare shoots like this where I’m so happy and completely spoiled by my photo subject. She is clearly a very busy woman and was so easygoing and easy to photograph and she gave me a lot of time. Read More

After the Golden Globes for New York Times Style

Posted on January 19, 2015 in Uncategorized

I desperately needed to be cloned on the night of the Golden Globes. Read More

Travel: California Central Coast for The San Francisco Chronicle, Part II

Posted on January 6, 2015 in Editorial, Travel

This is the second blog post of images I shot while working on a travel story on the California Central Coast for The San Francisco Chronicle. Read More