Thursday, November 21, 2013

Gorneaux : Instagram Artist Douglas Gorney

Douglas Gorney is a writer, editor, ghostwriter, Internet start-up entrepreneur, marketing consultant and serious photographer, and in the past year he’s become an Instagram artist, and his work is worth examining.

            A few of his images are here on this post, but you can also go directly to: to see more of his work. The thousand words here are like the restaurant review, while his site is where you can find the actual meal.

            He lives in the Mission District of San Francisco, and as he exits his home every day he has his Android HTC smartphone with him, and a 2” by 2” frame in his head. He snaps photos of doors, gates, handles, rails, walls, windows, curbs, and garages. He likes the bright colors of the Mission, the twenty layers of paint on wood, stucco and metal, and he captures that interesting intersection where one piece of man made construction ends and the other begins.

            We often race past these details around us without noticing, but Gorney sees them whenever he steps outside, and then captures them in that small square on his Android screen. He’s always looking, and he can easily spend two hours going only three blocks, while snapping dozens of photos. What’s worth framing today? If you’re wandering in the Mission, you may see him lying on the cement sidewalk, peering at a mail slot, or examining a stucco wall for five minutes, his nose two inches from the plaster. Gorney doesn’t feel hampered by the limits of 2” by 2” frame -- he feels it both challenging and freeing. And pulling out an Android or iPhone is easy. It’s a way of seeing, and serious photographers who embrace the smartphone and the smaller frame it provides gain speed, access, flexibility and freedom from it.

            He’s engaged in urbex - urban exploration - but instead of crawling underground into the subway or climbing the outside of bridges, he goes “micro” and dives into the cracks of the city. Luckily, so far no one has confronted him, stepped on him, or opened a steel gate or window in his face. Once, at the Mission and 16th Street BART station however, an undercover SFPD police officer did grow suspicious and shadowed him for awhile. The officer let him off with a stern warning about drugs, which Gorney took in stride.

             Gorney describes himself as a minimalist, and he has been invited to be part of RSA Minimal and RSA Doors and Windows, where his work is often featured. Most minimalist photography is true abstract art -- it exists on its own, separate from the time and place where it was captured. Even the objects themselves disappear as the frame defines a new two-dimensional beauty. The time and place where it was captured no longer matter, only the resulting “discovered” art does.

            But what I like about Gorney’s work is that time and place still exist in all his photos, like a thick texture. Gorney admits that although he sometimes strives for that anonymous flatness of minimalism, you can’t help but feel the Mission District of San Francisco in his work. He loves what he calls the colorful grubbiness of his neighborhood, one of the oldest on the West Coast. Right now, the Mission is a mix of the original Hispanic neighborhood that flows with the street names -- MIssion, Valencia, Guerrero -- and the new hipster crowd who climb on Google commute buses that roll on those same streets. It’s a battle of gentrification, but this is still a place where it’s easier to add another spray of red stucco, another layer of pink paint, and another piece of blue trim rather than stripping it all bare and starting new. That would be like stripping away history, and it wouldn’t feel right.

            The images he finds are thick with those years of paint, which seem to add thickness to the photo itself. I feel the neighborhood around the edges; I sense people are walking past, just a foot out of frame, and that someone will walk through just after he snaps the photo. He also goes through stages: "X" patterns, mail slots, small windows, numbers, then blues and now reds. On his page, you can see where he finished with one inspiration and then moved on to the next.

            In terms of his work-flow, he used to feel compelled to take the photo and then instantly post, but now he’s slowing the process down. He collects images in the field, downloads them at home, and then tends to use the applications Pixl’r Express or Snapseed to reframe, crop, adjust color and saturation, and then carefully selects the ones worthy to post on-line.

            He also feels his overall Instagram feed must have as much balance as each photo he creates. A photo is just one 2x2 shot that he fusses over, but the Instagram feed also shows his entire body of work, which he then must work on as well. The dozens of images flowing past must have the same balance as any individual photo, so the resulting whole is greater than the sum of its parts. It’s one of the quirks of Instagram, or any Internet feed -- as he adds to it, Gorney is forced to constantly analyze and edit a retrospective of his own work.            
                           Besides the RSA groups listed above that like him, Gorney recommends the Instagram groups Candy Minimal and Sundoors. He also likes MissUnderground, who is an urban explorer who snaps wonderful images of the London Tube. She has picked one formal theme -- the Tube -- and she never varies.            

             Calling all my cinematography, photography and fine artist friends! Let me know what you think of www.instagram/gorneaux and let’s get a dialogue going about his work, and then let’s discuss yours. I know you’re doing this too and that you have favorites of your own!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

A San Francisco Ghost Story

For a brief period of time, I lived in a house in San Francisco that had two ghosts who appeared late at night. I was haunted by one of these specters that frequented the attic, which had pitched walls and ran almost the entire length of the house, and was also my bedroom.
            There’s a famous photograph of a row of Victorian homes in San Francisco, The Painted Ladies, right on Alamo Square Park. The house I lived in is the old Victorian mansion on the corner of Steiner and Fulton Streets, but since the house hadn’t been gentrified yet, it never made it into any of those famous photos. The owner lived on the middle main floor, while she rented out the top two floors to Monica Stevens, who then rented out the four other bedrooms to a cadre of friends -- Steven Adams, Michael Ahearn, and others. The girl tenants would get the rooms on the main floor, while guys who rented got one of the two rooms one flight up, in the attic.

            In your 20‘s you are on the move, cycling through jobs, school, traveling, and romances, so there was often a room on one of the floors open for rent. It was a carousel of young adults in their 20’s, coming and going, who were all part of an extended tribe.
            This was over twenty years ago, so rent was cheaper, especially by the room. I remember it was well under $1000 a month. Rent for any one-bedroom in San Francisco in any neighborhood is $3000 a month now, so I can’t imagine what rent for a Victorian on Alamo Square would be today. Back then, Hayes Valley was in transition, so there were hip restaurants and coffee shops, but car alarms were often going off after 9 p.m., and there was yelling in the streets.

            The apartment itself was fun and funky.  It had high ceilings with electric wall heaters, thick coats of paint on ancient molding, and long staircases that led up to small rooms with squeaky doors and loose doorknobs. When you walked in the front door you’d climb twenty steps to get to the first landing, where there was a plastered-over hole in the wall molding. There was once a wooden lever that filled that hole, and when you yanked on it, it pulled a metal band that would unlatch the locked door down below, so you didn’t have to walk down twenty steps to let someone in.
            I remember seeing those levers in old San Francisco homes when I was very young, but they’re gone now, and now the plastered over holes and the rusty mechanisms inside probably don’t even exist any more. But the ghosts were still there. And when they were in the world of the living, they probably yanked on the levers all the time to let in visitors and loved ones ringing the bell twenty steps below.
            Monica’s place had good parties, and cocktails on Friday afternoons before the fun began. The English Beat, and The Smiths were on the turntable. Yes, turntable. You get the idea.
            I had already moved to Los Angeles to attend film school, but I would return to San Francisco when I couldn’t find work, or because I couldn’t fully commit to life in Los Angeles yet, and I would end up living in the city again for three to four months at a stretch. Twice I got lucky and got a room at Chez Monica.
             For seven months I had the upper room on the East side of the building, overlooking downtown and the bay. It was a small room, but it had a big window and you could step outside on the roof and stare at the city, and even climb up on the pitched roof and read a book -- until the cold drove you back inside.
            During another brief time the attic room came available for rent. It was the largest room in the house, but it was not high in demand, because of the rumor that it was haunted. Both men who had lived in the room before me had encountered ghosts.
            Steven Adams lived in the room the longest, and was most plagued by the haunting. He recounted how there was a malevolent male spirit in the room who would throw books at him while he slept, and who would hold him down and try to suffocate him.
            I heard that Steven and Monica and others had once held a séance in the house, in an effort to appease the spirit, but I don’t think that it worked.
            There would sometimes be raucous parties in the house that went late into the night, with couples crouching in corners having heart-to-heart conversations, or people arguing politics in the kitchen over beer and cigarettes. It was after these parties that the other ghost would appear.
            Michael Ahearn, who also lived in the upper attic room for a while, said the floating image of an older man with gray hair and a beard would appear on the staircase or at the entrance to his room and block his way. The specter would stand there pointing and silently shouting, as if scolding him for his behavior.
            Therefore, I was excited when the attic room was free on my next rotation through the house. Both Steven and Michael casually warned me about the ghosts. I shouldn’t put books on the built-in bookshelf right under the window -- the ghost would knock them down on you. And leave the window open. The noises of the traffic would keep me awake and the room would get cold, but I’d have peace.
            The room had pitched sidewalls because of the roof, so there was no choice but to put your bed in the middle of the room and against the west wall of the house -- under the window. And right under the small window was the one shelf built into the wall.

            I put books there, of course, and I waited. Nothing happened. Several weeks passed, and my room was warm and uneventful, and I forgot about all the stories.
            Then, one night, all six books landed on my head while I was sleeping. I assumed there had been an earthquake. Growing up in California, you know not to hang a painting or a mirror over your bed or headboard, and the same goes for books on a bookshelf, so I blamed myself ... until I found out there had been no quake.
            I put the books on the shelf again, and they were swept onto my head again the very next night. That’s when I felt the twinge. I started hearing creaks, and started to feel I wasn’t alone in the room at night. I stacked the books on the floor after that, and played my clock radio after sunset.
            Then the night came.
            I was sleeping and then had a dream that someone was sitting on my chest, until I realized I wasn’t dreaming. I was awake. I tried to sit up, but I couldn’t because the person then pushed me down even harder. I opened my eyes and saw nothing except the empty room, but I felt that someone was there. He was male, young, in his 20’s, around the same age as me, and he was enjoying crushing the air out of me. When he knew I was awake and scared he laughed, in fact, but I couldn’t hear it except in my mind. I tried to yell but couldn’t -- eventually I shook him off and he disappeared. I turned on all the lights and paced for a while, and then finally got back to sleep.
            From then on, I slept with the window open and I didn’t encounter the same problem again. I mentioned it to the other people in the house, and they confirmed that I had met the same ghost who bothered Steven so often, but for me it was only once.
            I’ve always loved ghost stories, so I did some research on the phenomenon, and it turns out that the haunting I experienced is the most common haunting there is. In fact, it’s so common there may even be a scientific explanation for it.
            Sleep paralysis is a phenomenon in which people, either when falling asleep or wakening, temporarily experience an inability to move. You are in between waking and sleep, usually disrupted REM sleep, which is when you dream. While sleeping, your body is smart enough to have muscle atonia, or muscle weakness, which is what prevents you from acting out your dreams. It’s a good thing we have it; otherwise we would all be sleepwalking every night. Sleepwalking, in fact, is when muscle atonia hasn’t kicked in, and people start wandering around while in REM sleep.
            The opposite is when muscle atonia lingers too long at the end of a dream, and that becomes sleep paralysis. You are waking up in the middle of a dream, before you have fully recovered your ability to move.
            Your dreaming brain is very good at creating imagery to explain outside stimulus, which is why when you are dreaming and someone shakes you, you often incorporate that shaking into your dream. You feel a tug on your arm, you look over and your brain creates an image from Star Trek, let’s say, of Spock grabbing your arm. Only after you emerge from REM sleep into wakefulness do you realize it’s your wife shaking you and not Leonard Nimoy.
            So what does your brain do when it’s still dreaming with protective muscle atonia, but then is suddenly awake? It creates a dream image to explain why it’s temporarily paralyzed, and we create an image in our brains of someone or something holding us down.

            It’s so common that it’s called the “Old Hag Syndrome,” and people would say that “the old hag visited you” when you experienced this feeling. There are paintings and sculptures through the centuries of demons and monsters and hags sitting on people’s chests and paralyzing them in their sleep.

            There are a lot of explanations to why you get sleep paralysis -- most of them having to do with difficulty sleeping or exhaustion, which is when your brain chemicals go wacky. Being active, sleep-deprived, alcohol-drinking men in our 20’s, this answers some questions about our mutual sleep paralysis, but not all.
            Why did Steven and I experience paralysis only in that room? Why did Steven experience it more often than me? Why did our brains create the same image, of a young angry man who was gleeful as he punished us? How does that explain the books falling on our heads? How does it explain the angry older man who would shout at Michael on party nights when he tried to bring girls upstairs?
            There have also been studies that show that many hauntings have been linked to a build-up of carbon dioxide in homes.  When there is too much CO2, it’s poisonous and it can create hallucinations. In older homes it’s more common. Because heat rises, I speculate that that rising carbon dioxide rose with the warm air and collected in higher concentrations in the attic, the last room in the house. When you opened the window, the cold clean air would enter, and the noises would stop.
            This explains more -- perhaps that is why just one room was haunted in the house.
             At the same time there are still enough questions about my experience in the house to make me unsure about what really was going on. My next step in this investigation is to research, if possible, who lived in the house over the years. Perhaps an angry young man and a scolding older gentleman were previous tenants.
            I will keep you posted. If you have any thoughts or information, let me know!

Friday, November 8, 2013

My Most Memorable Trip to Disneyland

I’ve been to Disneyland many times in my life. Living in California you end up going a lot as a kid, then a few times as a young adult, and then there’s a long stretch of years until you start going again with your own kids.
            But only one trip can be the most memorable, and now whenever I return I always remember that one visit that qualifies as mine. I’m not saying it was the best trip, but it was the most memorable.
            Sometimes I produce TV shows, and if money is left over after a many episode season, instead of having a “wrap” party, I like to host a paid “hooky day.”  I rent a bus or vans and I bring the staff and crew to a baseball game or theme park. It’s cheaper and more fun than renting a nightclub with a DJ and pounding music, silly dancing, cheap drinks and bad hors d’oeuvres, and it’s an all day adventure.
            One year on one show we chose Disneyland, and the excitement in the office built to a fever pitch. It was a beautiful spring morning, and as we gathered in the office before loading up, I noticed that it was an even mix of men and women; married and single and people in their 20s and 30s. The field crew was mixing with the office crew, the night crew was mixing with the day crew and we were all bonding. It was nice.
            I then noticed other mixing going on: the contents of hip flasks poured into soda cans, and rolling papers and cigarette packages being passed back and forth.
            I have a very good grasp of the obvious, while some people don’t, so I decided to speak up.
            “There’s no alcohol allowed anywhere in Disneyland, in the park or in the parking lots,” I said. “We represent a TV show, and by extension, a TV network. Most of all do nothing illegal. I am watching you. Understood?”
            Everyone nodded, and we all headed downstairs and loaded into vans -- but no one wanted to get into the van I was in. Two full vans loaded and drove away before mine was even filled, and I heard sighing as the final stragglers came on in and sat around me. Someone has to sit with mean old dad.
            “I know a place in the park we can go,” someone said to his friend.
            Subtext: “Once we get to the park, we can ditch dad and get high in the bathroom by Space Mountain.” 
            Although we left last, our van passed the other two vans on the 5 Freeway. They seemed to be having fun, but it was hard to see through the smoky windows.
            We all got there safely and found the front entrance without injury. With enough cold water and breath mints, everyone was presentable and spoke clearly when I addressed them.
            A TV crew and staff is like a pirate crew -- if they feel you’re taking advantage of them, or you’re denying them their grog, they may mutiny on you the next time your back is turned, so I didn’t press the issue. Besides, I knew that bags and pack backs would be examined, so there was little risk from this point on.
            So I thought.
            We posed for some group photos for the Disneyland photographers, including one where we all looked in amazement at Ben Flood, the assistant editor, as he held his hand out. Tinker Bell would be superimposed into the photo, floating on Ben’s palm. I was excited, and some of our staff was so thrilled they couldn’t stop laughing…ever.
I said “Tinker Bell” sporadically to them throughout the day, and they’d laugh until they lost control and had to run away.
            The lines weren’t long, people were well behaved and no one got a sunburn. We split up into several roaming packs that intersected over the course of the day at different rides and at lunch. The day was great. Then, it was time to go home ... but why not have one drink first? In the Disney shopping mall, which sits between Disneyland and California Adventure, there is one outdoor restaurant that has a bar.
            I then realized I hadn’t gotten the group photo yet, and I wanted a memento of the day. Everyone wanted to get their drink on, so I told them to go ahead and start without me. I’d pop over to Main Street, hand in my ticket, buy the photos, and then dash over and meet them.
            They disappeared, giggling and laughing, arms around each other. Hook-ups were happening, thanks to Mickey Mouse, Uncle Walt and me.
            When I got to the photo store, I realize I should have gone earlier. The sun was setting, and a line of 50 people in shorts, T-shirts and flip flops from the twenty Western United States snaked and looped through the brass posts and chains. We rocked on the balls of our feet, nodding at each other.
            “Where you from?” one would ask.
            “Cincinnati,” he’d answer.
            “Long way,” I’d say.
            “Got to do it once,” he’d say.
            And while we were all staring at each other, my office staff and crew were in some open air restaurant, drinking. A lot.
            I got the two photos and they were worth the wait. Like the nerdy Boy Scout I am down deep inside, I was proud of myself for doing my duty and I rushed to the mall to find the bar so I could show everyone.
            I could hear them before I saw them. I rounded a corner and found the open-air restaurant and bar in the middle of the shopping mall. It was actually an outdoor pizza restaurant, with a gated metal fence around it, and there just happened to be a small well-lit bar in the middle. Marcus Aguilar, my main field producer, was standing on the bar screaming. I think he was trying to do the French can can dance. Monica Bigler was trying to climb up on a bar stool to join him and she kicked a glass into the restaurant and it smashed on the floor.
            The bartender was smiling, but as I got closer I could see he was grimacing. There were a least ten empty shot glasses and beer bottles on the bar. My pirates had made good use of their time. Six of them were singing Thriller, while another six did the Michael Jackson zombie dance. It was twenty-two people crowded in a space suitable for ten.  It was like a biker bar had been dropped into Fairyland.
            I edged past an outside circle of moms and dads with strollers, hanging back on the edge of darkness and pointing at the crazy young people. I heard disdain in six different languages: See that? That’s how the Americans behave.
              As I got to a metal fence that defined the restaurant, I saw couples sitting at tables with plates of pizza and deep fried mozzarella balls, guarding their food against flying glass and staggering human bodies. 
            I came in through the gate and the waitress said, “I’m sorry, we can’t serve you right now, we are full.”
            “I’m with the people at the bar,” I said.
            Her eyes lit up.
            “Really? Can you get them under control? They may cause an accident.”
            I was relieved that we hadn’t had any promotional swag made up yet, so no one was wearing hats or T-shirts emblazoned with the logo of the show or the network. We were assholes in Disneyland, but anonymous assholes, thank god. All I had to do was get them to the parking structure and into the vans, and find three sober drivers.
            I was able to pull Monica and Marcus down from their perch, I paid for the drinks with my credit card and I herded everyone out into the walking area. I knew if I could steer the ringleaders, Monica and Marcus, others would follow.
            “Marcus, help me out, I need everyone walking that way, okay?” I begged.
            “Piggy back rides!” Marcus shouted, and Monica immediately jumped on his back, and Marcus went zig zagging around the walkway, slaloming between the families with strollers. Heads whipped around and I heard more confused comments. He looped around and rejoined our group, cackling and encouraging others to join in.
            Two more guys lined up with Marcus and then three girls jumped on their backs, so then three drunken men were careening through the crowd with drunk laughing women on their backs, all making zooming World War I bi-plane noises.
            I wasn’t happy, but it was working. My staff followed Marcus and his fellow flyboys as we weaved our way up to the parking structure. The loudest bi-plane was Victor, a tall, lanky and quiet editor from Texas. The howling woman on his back was Eleanor, the music supervisor who gives the editors music cues. I wasn’t surprised that they were partners in crime; Eleanor has been spending extra time in Victor’s bay helping him with his cues, enough for people to comment. Everyone on staff sensed a romance brewing.
            Then Victor tripped. He was drunk, and his hands were busy clutching Eleanor’s thighs close to his body, so he couldn’t get his hands out in front of him fast enough to block his fall. He hit the concrete face first. I heard the thump and looked over, and I saw Victor convulsing on the ground, face down in a widening pool of blood. Everyone fell silent as I rushed back. The strollers kept going, too wary to approach.
            Victor was unconscious for five seconds. He was in pain but mostly embarrassed, and he just wanted to leave, but I encouraged Eleanor and his best friend, Peter, to keep him seated. I looked for someone official to call a doctor, but I saw a security guard was already talking into his walkie-talkie. We pulled out T-shirts and handed them to Victor so he could sop up the stream of blood pouring down his face.
            Less than a minute after impact, something amazing happened. Ten security guards appeared and created a phalanx around him so none of the tourists could see.
Then a doctor arrived and examined him.
            Victor answered his questions correctly -- name, age, year, president, color, day of the week. His pupils were the same size. He needed stitches, but his bleeding had stopped. 
            “Who’s in charge here?” the doctor asked.
            “I am,’ I admitted.
            “Get him out of here,” he said, and pointed towards the exit.
            My drunken piggyback pirate biker gang fell silent and was compliant as we trudged for the exits. I looked back and saw that three janitors were already mopping up Victors blood.
            We were almost at the trams when someone tapped me on the shoulder.
            “You’re in charge of this group?” the official Disneyland rep asked.
            “Yes I am,” I said.
            “Can I get your name, address and phone number and your birthday?”
            “What do you need my birthday for?” I asked.
            “So we can send you a Disneyland discount for your next trip here.”
            I gave him fake information, just in case I was being put on a watch list for jerks, idiots and drunken morons.
            Although I was embarrassed and ashamed, I was also impressed - there’s a reason why the Disney Corporation is the number 1 entertainment company in the world and on the Dow Jones. They can handle my hellions and me in less than a minute.
            In the van, on the way home I explained to Victor that even though he didn’t like the idea, we were going to go to a hospital. He needed to be examined by another doctor, this was an official company trip, and there were liability risks...
            “I’ll take him,” said Eleanor.
            Then I had another ten-minute discussion. Eleanor assured me she was sober, she had a car, she would take him the emergency room.
            “This isn’t how I wanted to her to know me!” howled Victor.
            He’d stopped bleeding, but there was now a bump above his eyebrow that was as big as an egg.
            “He could have a concussion. He has to stay awake, and he has to see a doctor,” I explained.
            “I’m not going!” howled Victor.
            We compromised. Once we all got back to Los Angeles, Eleanor took him in her car to Cedars Sinai, while I followed. In the emergency room, the doctors and nurses looked at him and were unimpressed. It would be an hour wait at least.
            “You can go home, I’ll stay with him,” Eleanor assured me.
            I left them in the waiting area. He was rolling his head and moaning while she held his hand and stared into space.
            I left the hospital feeling waves of relief, regret, amazement and amusement sweep over me. Gradually it all turned into affection, which I still hold for that day, especially considering the eventual ending:
            Victor and Eleanor fell in love and moved in together a few months later. When the season ended, Eleanor moved on, and sent me a nice hand written note thanking me for the job, the trip and for being a good boss, they’re now happily married and they have two children.
            I still have the note, and the group photo.

The names have been changed, and the photo is from a different hooky day trip to Disneyland, at the request of Victor and Eleanor, who don’t want their kids to learn about their parents through this blog. They’ll tell the story their own way.