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.

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