17 November 2013


I was wandering the bonsai at the Huntington when I came upon a gay couple in mid-selfie with a point & shoot camera (not a phone, which as everyone knows, makes the job a lot easier). Out of queer solidarity as much as anything else, I offered to take the picture for them. When I was done, they asked if I wanted mine taken. Oh sure... why not?

I had been pondering a resurrection of this project now that I am part-time in Southern California. I thought it might be an interesting lens for exploration of this new place & its inhabitants, who seem so different from folks back home. I seem different here too; living in a neighborhood that is mostly Asian, am I more visible? Less visible? Both, I think.

Now in the age of the selfie, I wonder what will happen to the convention of strangers taking pictures of each other? Is this project already a relic of an age gone by? Does it more firmly mark me as middle-aged, or even old?

Am I back in the saddle again? Maybe.

13 November 2011



I was stricken with a wretched cold/flu thing for most of October, so was out in the world as little as possible, & when I was out there, believe me, having my picture taken by a stranger was the last thing on my mind.

We shall see if this project revives now that I am well & out & about. I suspect that it will just trickle along with occasional posts. For one thing, I don’t see how I could ever top the perfect storm of the Chinatown shoot. Having attained such heights beyond my wildest dreams, I am pretty content to do some laurel-resting. But who knows?

Anyway… today I felt was my last possible chance to get sweetpeas in the ground, so off I dashed to the market to nab seedlings, only to be stopped in my tracks by the heaps of luscious grapes. My photographer held a tiny girl easily in one arm, his other hand free. I asked him to take a picture of me “in front of the fruit.”

Instead of “say cheese” he said, “say fruit!”

“Fruit!” I sang out, & he snapped the picture.

As I left, he was trying to teach his daughter to say “fruit.” Fruit! FRUIT!!

30 September 2011

13 September 2011


Sorry for the long silence while I wandered other paths… I even thought for a moment that maybe this project was Over, but perhaps it just needed a little nap.

So, the Safeway near me is slated for an extreme makeover, which is quite controversial in the neighborhood. All the fuss has drawn my attention to the fact that indeed, it does look like a relic of a bygone era—the era when all Safeways looked like this. Do you remember?

I was walking by today when I thought it would be a good place for a shoot. I hung about for a couple minutes until my photographer showed up.

“In front of the Safeway?!”

“Yeah, I think it’s gonna go away… well actually I’m sure it’s going away.”

“The Safeway is going away,” he repeated with amusement. I’m sure he thought I was a total nutcase, but a harmless one, at least.

He snapped it & then looked at the image, muttering almost to himself, “is the Safeway in there? Oh yeah, it’s in there….”

I like this picture quite a lot.

12 August 2011

The other side of Looking Glass

Two old guys were smoking on the little back steps of Looking Glass. They seemed a bit out of place for no reason that I can really explain, but they were perfect for asking to take my picture. I asked them as a pair; one immediately deflected it onto the other, who got up, put his cigarette down & asked where I wanted the picture. He seemed surprised when I said, just here. I don’t know where he expected me to take him. I wonder how far he would have moved from his comfortable perch to take my picture for me.

Cause that’s where the sun is, I guess, he muttered, more to himself than to me. Sometimes people seem almost afraid to ask me what my reasons are. It’s so odd; like somehow the stranger-level boundaries remain intact when I approach & speak to them, ask them to do me this small favor, hand them my camera, & then oftentimes they have to stand up or otherwise accommodate the needs of the photo, or more accurately their own perception of those requirements. All of that is fine but then somehow it would be a boundary violation for them to ask me why I want the picture?

Which direction does the boundary violation go? Do they feel tasked with maintaining the boundary because I am pushing up against it with my request, or are they afraid to cross into my personal/emotional terrain of why I want the picture? Or both?

Curiouser & curiouser….

03 August 2011

Grant Avenue, USA

Of course I had to do this sometime: Grant Avenue in August is a mindblowing vortex of Chinese (mis)representation & tourism, so how perfect is it that I, a San Francisco-born Chinese American, go & ask a white tourist to take my picture? It was a family waiting to cross the street; I initially approached the 50-something mom but she asked her 30ish daughter to take the picture instead. When the flash went off I was disappointed, thinking it would ruin the picture, but the surreal, hamfisted result totally makes me laugh. Eyes closed, even better! After they took the photo, the dad asked me if I’d taken the cable car yet & do you pay in cash or what? Sadly, I had no freakin clue.

This may be the best Camera Shy picture yet. I’m gonna have to do this Chinatown tourist thing again. Asian Image, indeed!

28 July 2011

Clement & 6th

I was at Green Apple & hoped to get my picture taken in front, but there were no photographers available when I wanted them. So I crossed the street & somehow intuited that my photographer was simply a brisk walker, as opposed to someone in a hurry. I was right; she took her time & carefully composed two shots for me.

24 July 2011


Well, first I was not in the mood. Then I went away for a week in which there was no talking, let alone talking to strangers. After that, for a few days I found I was almost never alone in public. Then I wasn’t in the mood, again.

During my week away I really bonded with my cowboy hat’s shadow, so that’s partly where today’s self-portrait came from.

Another part is, I’ve been thinking a lot about my relationship to photography, what I might want to take pictures of, & the idea of control & some of my control issues, & so it makes sense I had the urge to take my own picture for a change.

29 June 2011

The Harrow & The Harvest

It’s been eight long years since Gillian Welch put out a new album. To say that she’s a prominent figure in my personal pantheon of country goddesses would be, perhaps, a bit of an understatement. Yesterday being the much-anticipated day for The Harrow & The Harvest to drop, I went after dinner to pick it up, but found Amoeba & Rasputin both shut. Arg!

Today I swooped in to snatch it, then went wandering around the aisles of Amoeba looking for my photographer du jour. A lot of record shoppers are very intense & give off a “don’t talk to me, I’m shopping for music” vibe. I can relate; looking for your next musical drug is serious business. Lucky for me, I had mine firmly in hand.

Finally I found someone approachable. She asked how I wanted it & I made my usual vague gesture toward the general surroundings; she totally got it & said, “you want the store more than you want you.” Yep.

Starting to shoot, she asked, “So are you in from out of town…?”

“No, actually it’s an art project.”

Still snapping, she said, “Oh! I teach photography… hopefully it will show…”

Then she asked which art program I was in. I explained that I’m not a student, I’m an artist, & told her more about the project, we exchanged cards, & she’ll probably read this, so hello Bonita!

Noted: that’s the second photographer who 1) wanted to know what I was doing, enough to ask me questions about it & 2) has an identity as an actual photographer out in the world, apart from my project. I wonder if this is a new trend in the project… I don’t think 2 makes a trend, but 3 might! Lately I have been thinking more about my relationship to photography, & maybe this is how it’s showing up.

At the checkout counter, I asked the guy, “So have you been selling a few of these?”

Oh yeah. Like every other person is getting it.”

He also told me they changed to the earlier closing time about 2 or 3 months ago. Still open late on Fridays & Saturdays, though, in case you wanted to know.

26 June 2011

Peach Pride

I stayed home from the parade, but at least I got a dyke to take my picture while I was at Temescal replenishing our fruit supply. This also (like yesterday’s) is one of the closer shots in the project, but not because of any zooming on my part or hers. We were just kinda packed in among the fruit & the crowds—maybe not so different from what I might’ve gotten at the parade.