I want to talk about this photo (taken in April 2010), because it made me nostalgic for a set of memories I fear will return to me with more difficulty as I age. What I mean by this, though, is not that I am overly sentimental, miss the characters, or will lose my mental capacity for recall. What I mean is that thinking about the times and the contexts required for this moment to happen, are likely relics of a different human era, and if I attempt to recall these episodes with any more frequency, they will only hurt.
This is a photo taken by Rie, a dear friend who lives in Tokyo, raised in a town in Miyagi Prefecture which among other things, is known for having born the brunt of the Fukushima nuclear disaster and tsunami of 2011, a year almost to the day, from when this photo was taken. She is one of my favorite people on earth, and this photo was taken on one of our first encounters with each other.
Pictured are Gary and Kevin. Gary is half-Italian half-Mexican, grew up in Chicago but now lives in Bangkok. When I met him he was spending most of his year in Thai rural monasteries, but this is not to suggest a life of asceticism. I don’t think I know anyone who has done more drugs than him. He is primarily a painter, but he is also an obsessive tinkerer, carpenter, musician. In this photo he is pictured tattooing a Thai mantra into Kevin, using stick and poke techniques he learned in the monastery.
Kevin is a photographer, who used to work privately for Damon Dash, and went on to become an advertising “guy”—the person who was never seen in an office. He is a very good portraitist. He’s half Korean and Japanese like me, and I’ll never forget that when Gary first met me he remarked that I looked eerily like Kevin’s sister (this turned out to be true, and Kevin surely looks like someone I could be related to, but lucky for us that does not bother me).
We’re in Gary’s apartment in the midtown west neighborhood of Manhattan on this occasion, where at the time, one would find only gas stations, tire shops and horse stables operating after 5pm. I don’t add this detail to suggest prideful grit, but there was a lot of sex work transacting on the block at the time. I know this because I eventually move into this building through Gary’s introduction, and we become neighbors and life long friends. The activities of his building become the activities of my building. I still hold this lease.
That block is now a part of Hudson Yards. Gone are all of the tire shops, stables and dark corners. I am gobsmacked every single time I walk up the street today. I’m within spitting distance of a Peloton recording studio, Whole Foods, Equinox, and a $$$$$ Jose Andres restaurant.
As a microcosm of the development that would take place in the area, but with no tax credits, Gary ritually converted the entire layout of his apartment with pristine aplomb, once a year. He built a swing, a loft bed, a painting rig and all of the storage units in his 400 square foot apartment, from scratch. It was always amazing to watch him at work. If I were a building developer I would lease to only Garys and ask them to reimagine the lived spaces of the whole building. I loved being his neighbor, even during his mercurial highs when he’d call at 1am asking to borrow quart containers and sugar.
We met because I was dating Kevin at the time, and I met Rie because the morning after my first sleepover at his place, she arrived at his door with a huge suitcase just as I was getting ready to leave for work. So let’s take a second to visualize this—I actually thought that Kevin was so efficient in dating that he was having his next date start the morning that our date was ending. I was so surprised that I didn’t care, but I think it was because I found Rie so ravishing and interesting.
I left in a hurry to give them some privacy, and Kevin came running out in nothing but pants, to reassure me that she was just a friend and he’d forgotten she was arriving that day to crash while visiting from Tokyo. I reassured him I did not care, but that I was happy to be hanging with him and looked forward to coming back soon.
Kevin and I were ensconced in each others’ lives for the duration of our relationship. We shared so many friends in common it would have been impossible not to. In fact, my now husband was a fringe part of this friend ecosystem. We were everywhere together for months. Every single day and night was a group friend activity. We were never alone. I actually do not remember sleeping at all in 2010. Going to Gary’s was just another night in the duration of that continuous party. On this particular night, I was meeting Gary for the first time. They talked about a band they’d started called The Faces of Death Faces (it was as bad as it was ironic). We tinkered on Gary’s instruments and made curry. They smoked opium. I put on headphones and sunk into his keyboard. Rie started shooting. I might’ve pulled out my field recorder or digital harinezumi.
Looking back, I feel like I knew nights like this were not long for the world. I was 30, the city was rapidly changing, people were leaving New York to start families in California. In a confluence of age, culture and the slow end of the Anthropocene, I look at this photograph with new awe. I worry that at the time, I might’ve considered a high speed photo of two topless men in the middle of tattoo parlor improvised out of a Manhattan artist’s loft was “trying too hard,” and pedestrian from the point of view of the “true” artist I was trying to become, but had I known how bad the world would be today, and how badly I want to sit in a swarm of friends making art, I wouldn’t have second guessed the sheer joy and amount of life we were living.
I hope to keep seeing photographs like this of my life and not to worry if I’ve been enough of an artist.