Wednesday, November 23, 2016

'til the veins run red and blue

August 24th 2015 | There's this snapshot in my head I took on Sunday that I keep thinking about: I'm at one of those restaurants by the side of the speedway a few blocks from home, the sun is bright red and the clouds are a hazy pink. The skies have been more or less the same color all weekend because of the smoke from wildfires in eastern Washington, filtering this side of the Cascades with soft, warm hues like the ones I used to edit my photos with. It wasn't the kind of moment that warrants a picture: the mundaneness of standing in a parking lot is almost overwhelming. This is the kind of moment that gets lost in catalogued memories, and the thing about blogging and sharing moments on social media in general is that people tend to be very self-conscious of capturing images of our lives that are more beautiful than they really are. It's moments like this where words do a better job of romanticizing the un-picturesque, because the act of communicating something like this requires that you pay attention to the details; acknowledging a moment like this requires you to care about it and try to understand what it means to you so you can tell someone else about it.
I found a note on my iPad the other day about a moment I had that time I lingered in the parking lot of a restaurant in my hometown to look at the sky on my last night in Seattle last summer. I guess I was right that this was the kind of moment I would have otherwise forgotten about because I honestly did until I reread this; it's coincidental that I actually did end up taking photos during sunset in a parking lot a year later in Arizona a few months ago under very different circumstances.

Anyway, here's my Arizona film photo diary. I've flown down to visit my best friend twice in the last 4 months now and those two trips have been some of my best weekends this entire year, filled with amazing food and late nights spent laughing 'til our ribs get tough and new friends. Even though there's still about a month left of 2016, my New Year's resolution for 2017 is to shoot more and have a more substantial photo diary to post here soon.

xoxo, vivian

Saturday, September 10, 2016

cruisin' faster than the light

I went to Arizona in the middle of the summer to visit my best friend of sixteen years (!!!) and it was as hot as you'd expect from a desert in mid-July. There are approximately three (maybe four) people I love so much I would voluntarily fly a budget airline with no TSA Pre-Check to visit in 117F temperatures for, and even though I certainly don't miss the heat, I miss my best friend. We've known each other since kindergarten and used to live three blocks away in our tiny hometown north of Seattle, but since starting college in different states three years ago, we only see each other a couple times a year at most. 

As is our tradition, Yvana and I ended up taking very few photos together in spite of the concerted effort I made to try to take pictures for once; I recently bought a new film camera (my Olympus point-and-shoot has some lens flare problems when it comes to outdoor shots but also, I really wanted to indulge in a new camera) and in my excitement I kind of forgot to read the manual, made some rookie mistakes, and as a result 80% of our shots that weekend were underexposed and unsalvageable. I really regret not getting to know my new camera better before going to Tempe, because I don't think I've ever laughed so hard or honestly, will ever have that much fun in a Safeway again.

It's been practically a bucket-list dream of mine to do a photoshoot in a grocery store ever since I discovered and became obsessed with Karl Lagerfeld's Chanel Fall 2014 Ready-to-Wear show when he transformed the Grand Palais into a giant Chanel-branded supermarket, so when we were coming up with indoor things to do, "photoshoot at a supermarket" made it onto our weekend itinerary somewhere in between listening to unreleased Lana Del Rey songs and eating our way through Scottsdale. We initially went to some bougie Whole Foods-style store called Sprouts but ended up feeling too self-conscious posing next to pineapples; we ultimately ended up at Safeway at 11:45pm on Sunday night, still slightly tipsy off of the grapefruit mojitos at Olive & Ivy.

If you've been reading this blog for a while, you probably already know that one of my favorite things is the intersection between mundanity and fantasy. I'm fascinated by being at everyday places at times when it feels like reality is just a little bit altered: Denny's at midnight, normally busy streets at dawn, rest stops after a long stretch of driving down I-5. Lately, I've discovered another reason I like to shoot in film is because it's not only a more honest depiction of a candid moment but it's also a medium in which you can capture that moment of altered reality. The blindingly bright flash creates an instantaneous contrast in light and color that doesn't exist beyond the split second the shutter clicked, and that ephemeral serendipity gets preserved in 35mm.

xoxo, vivian

10/29/2016 update: got my last roll of film from the end of this trip and the remaining shots turned out well! Pro tip: don't shoot 200 ISO film with a UV lens filter on indoors. 
Top two photos: Kodak Gold 200; bottom photos: Fujifilm Superia X-TRA 400

Monday, July 11, 2016

do you like where you've been

I decided to take a break from blogging last fall in part because I didn't know what I wanted to post about here anymore. For a while (and by "a while" I mean literally since I started this blog three years ago) I struggled with deciding on what kind of content I want to blog about, and over the months I've slowly transformed this space into one that's a lot more personal than what I was trying out when I first started as "seattleite fashionista." My priority is to write what matters to me, and usually that means documenting whatever I want to talk about at the moment: a song, a book, a film, a place, a person. I've never been comfortable with blogging for any niche audience (to the horror of every other blog that recommends doing in order to build a follower base) and I'm starting to make peace with myself over that. 

In classical poetics class this spring, Professor Ferrari introduced his lecture on "the Beautiful" (in aesthetics) with Immanuel Kant's Critique of Judgment by saying that beauty–along with the sublime–are "subjective universal" experiences, a paradox that suggests while someone judging something to be beautiful can be agreed upon by many, not everyone will judge the same thing to be beautiful, and even if they do, they don't necessarily judge beauty in the same way. This subjective universal paradox is the reason why "Plato can find the grand unifying theory [to what makes an object beautiful] but then he'll tell you why that's not enough: you have to love [the object] instead of just trying to understand it." At the end of the day, I don't have the authority to tell you why you should love the things I love; all I can do is try to help you understand me through my writing about what I find beautiful and hope that it means something to you too. 

I realized that the thing I always end up looking for in all my favorite fashion, film, book, and music reviews online is not so much why a collection/movie/book/song is good (or bad, or somewhere in between) for some universal reason or set of reasons that everyone is supposed to be able to relate to; I want to know what the means to the person writing the review, what personal experiences the thing they're reviewing evoked, and why the piece matters to them in particular. I'm interested in creating a record of what things have mattered to me in part because I know how quickly and imperceptibly people can change; I feel responsible for representing myself because if I don't write me, who will?

I talk a lot about Lana Del Rey songs on this blog because she's the artist I listen to on repeat the most, and one of my favorites from her latest album, Honeymoon, is "Swan Song." It's a hypnotic, velvety affair about the end of an era and a promise to never sing again, so c'mon, put your white tennis shoes on and follow me. The lyrics to "Swan Song" are the kind of words you whisper into your lover's ear trying to coax him to run away with you, pulling him away from the security of the life and the world you knew to follow you into the dark. In the bridge, Lana hits the highest notes of the song with the question "do you like where you've been and where you're going to?" and in the weeks after the album was released last fall I couldn't stop thinking about whether I like who I was and who I will be or not. 

Over the course of the last six years that I've spent writing about my life on various corners of the internet, I've created an unadulterated record of who I was with every time I hit "publish," and every few months I go back through my archives to remind myself of who I used to be. As much as I cringe at some of the things I've said and opinions I've held, I've also grown to respect my past in ways that I probably wouldn't have if I never started writing in the first place. 

I have Mr. Nickerson, my 9th grade English teacher, to thank for inspiring me to seriously start writing my freshman year of high school; I'm sad to say that I found out that he passed away from cancer last week. His class was my first period of my first year at Kamiak, and he was notorious for being the harshest essay grader in the entire English department. Although I was generally a pretty average student first quarter, I worked hard on my first essay to write something that not only challenged the expectations of the prompt (what kind of person writes about buying designer sunglasses as a "personal odyssey"? Your girl, apparently) but also challenged me to find my voice and own it. I wanted to prove to myself that I could write well if I put my mind to it, and after I aced that essay, I spent the rest of the school year trying to ace the class. Mr. Nickerson taught literature in a way that made me feel like I earned my knowledge and his class was a formative moment in my academic career. 

One of the shorter units I had toward the end of the first semester was on song lyric analysis. We were given the lyrics to Elton John's "Candle in the Wind" and The Eagles' "Hotel California" and told to compare them to the poems we studied the week before, and then come back the next day with a song of our choosing to discuss the lyrics of. I don't remember what song I ended up choosing for that assignment (I distinctly remember taking to Facebook to ask for recommendations because I was clueless about that kind of stuff), but I do remember learning to listen beyond the melodies for narrative construction in verses and choruses. Six years later, I'm thinking and writing about the songs I listen to all the time, partly because it's something to do on my walk to the bus stop, and partly because it already felt instinctual. 
Rest in peace, Mr. Nickerson, and thank you for everything.

xoxo, vivian

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

until the sky gets big

Listen to my LA playlist here*
I got into film photography on a whim a few months ago when I was actually in the market for a new digital camera. Photography seemed like a natural alternative to writing: I wanted to develop a more visual form of expression because there are some things that words (or at least my words) fall short of capturing, and I was growing frustrated with how few photos I have to go along with the moments I wanted to write about the most. One of the fundamental reasons why I've kept up blogging for so long (three years here, six years total as of this month) is because I'm kind of obsessive about documenting memories as they were at that point in time. I want to have some tangible record of the person I used to be, as if these posts are proof that I was here and this was real and it's not all just some figment of my imagination.

Even though I lived through those years of transition when millions of people converted from film to digital, I was too young to have been trusted with my parents' film camera because of how precious each exposure is when your roll can only capture 24 shots. I'm used to the instant gratification of digital and phone camera photos that can be taken by the dozen to get the right shot. In the four rolls I've shot and developed so far, I've had to learn a lot about trust and imperfection. There's no way of knowing how the picture turned out until you rewind the roll and get it developed; you have one chance of getting it right, and it feels more true to life to not be able to do things over if you didn't like it the first time.

For the latest roll, I wanted to work on becoming more comfortable in front of the camera instead of behind it like I usually am. In high school, I used to see myself as a supporting role in the story of other people's lives and not the heroine of my own narrative; now, I like to think I've developed a degree of confidence where I'm much more comfortable with being visible than I used to be. I still don't share much of my life on social media because I don't want to feel the pressure of validation from other people double-tapping and clicking like, but I do regret the years I refused to have pictures of me taken in the first place and am trying to find ways to document who I am before I inevitably grow.

I visited LA for the first time a couple weeks ago, running across the city to see and do and eat as much as I could in the four days I was there. These pictures don't really summarize my spring break because I was too busy soaking it all in to get snapshots of everything I did while I was there, and someday I want to be able to strike that balance between pausing to take a photo and really living the moment. I did more of the latter this time around, and it was a necessary break after what was probably the worst week of my entire five and a half semesters at Berkeley (a story for a different time). I needed to get away and out of my head for a bit before coming back to reality.

xoxo, vivian

*I added "No Better" by Lorde to the playlist because 8tracks requires that playlists consist of at least 8 tracks. I'm not entirely satisfied with having "Step" "No Better" and "Radio" on it but I couldn't come up with other songs that I felt were appropriate for what story I wanted to tell. I think about "Afraid" by Lana Del Rey a lot (particularly the line "it's not love that keeps me here") and almost added it instead of "Radio." 

Film photos shot on Kodak Ektar 100 color negative; others on iPhone 5S.

Friday, March 18, 2016

I've got a war in my mind

Every once in a while I still wake up with the desire to run.

I've gotten as far as looking up random flights to places I've never been to and double checking my schedule if I can make it the day the flights or buses are cheapest (because I'm apparently responsible enough to not want to miss an important day of school or something), but as of yet I've never come close to actually booking the next flight out of here like I half-daydream about doing. I always manage to convince myself that I can (re)learn to love where I am already, and I made it one of my New Year's resolutions this year to stay grounded. As much as running away is about leaving what you know behind, it's also about where and what you're trying to get to; any time you run away from one thing you are inevitably running toward something else, even if you have no idea where you'll end up.

Catherine Lacey's novel Nobody Is Ever Missing tells the story of Elyria, a woman who runs away to New Zealand without warning and leaves her life in Manhattan with her husband behind indefinitely. Her life Down Under puts her at the mercy of the kindness of strangers: she hitchhikes her way across the country, occasionally works the odd job for a few weeks at a time, and sleeps in parks and fields on nights when she has nowhere else to go. The strangers she meets are mostly hesitant to ask too much about where she came from and why this American woman is sitting in their passenger seat looking for a ride to town; there's nothing immediately striking about her that could explain why she ended up like this, but maybe that's what makes this story all the more puzzling. How could someone who seemed to be living her life as she should bewith her steady job, her steady husband, and steady lifestyleso suddenly feel compelled to abandon it all?

Lacey's novel is a postmodern contemplation about being in the world with enough of an understanding about how things should be but not enough understanding about why that is. All she knows is that the disconnect is there and it's real.
I had a general feeling of needing to leave, of needing to be the first to go, of needing to barricade myself from living life the way everyone else seemed to be living it, the way that seemed obvious, intuitive, clear and easy, and easy and clear to everyone who was not me, to everyone who was on the other side of this place called I. 
Her stream-of-conscious style dives deep into the melancholic mind of someone who's lost: lost in her past and the death of her sister, a shared tragedy that brought her and her husband together; lost in her present with no money and no place to go; and lost in the possibilities of what-if's and why-not's that will never be truly resolved.

This novel was haunting because it articulated so many of the thoughts and conversations that I've had before, and it made me stop and think about what it means to run away and what exactly I want to run from to begin with. Ultimately, it's never really been about the loneliness or even just boredom that I sometimes associate with a particular time and place, but rather this inescapable sense that the common denominator of insufficiency is me, and I will never be able to run fast enough away from myself.
I could never be missing to myself, I could never delete my own history, and I would always know exactly where I was and where I had been and I would never wake up not being who I was and it didn't matter how much or how little I thought I understood the mess of myself, because I would never, no matter what I did, be missing to myself and that was what I wanted all this time, to go fully missing...but I would never be able to go fully missingnobody is missing like that, no one has ever had that luxury and no one ever will.
Perhaps the crux of why this was a difficult book for me has less to do with being able to relate to Elly than it does with the way this story ends. It's simultaneously a huge relief and immensely frustrating that it's as if the last chapter of the novel was the in medias res beginning to an entirely different story. We're left in the dark about where Elly is going and what she will do next in spite of how intimately we know her mind. The ending of this novel provides no sense of closure or completenessonly the idea that things just are and that it doesn't matter if that's supposed to be a satisfying and cathartic end or not.

xoxo, vivian