con·nect | \ kə-ˈnekt \
connected; connecting; connects
I can be quite the wall flower when it comes to connecting with people. Put me at a networking event and I'll be wilting away before your eyes, finding it hard to strike up conversations with strangers and doubting whether I have anything interesting to say (but get me going on my passion for polaroid, and I'll talk for hours, with eyes that glisten with excitement). Even my own mother describes me as a loner, and she is always right.
Out here in Bombay Beach, things are a lot easier. I have lost count of the number of conversations I have had with people I've just met in the street, and you don't want to know how many beers I've had with people I hardly know. 'Come in, do you want a Bud?' is a sentence I have grown accustomed to. There is always beer here. I have drunk more of the stuff in the past five weeks than I drank back in Belgium in the last five years. This newfound ease of connecting to people is fun. Just a few days ago I had a lovely evening with a German photographer who has been at Bombay Beach on and off for years, an amazing Californian artist who is one of the most remarkable and cleverest people I have ever met and a female Pullitzer prize nominated photographer/writer from NY who completely blew me away. It helps that there is no hierarchy here. We are all equal, we help each other out, share what we have and have one thing in common: we are all free spirits.
So this wallflower is slowly loosening up. Basking in the soul-enhancing rays of these new friendships. Forming bonds with the beautiful crazy souls who make this polluted piece of Mad Max desert a little paradise on earth.
Bombay Beach. Desert. Sand. Junk in every back and front garden. Mad Max wouldn't feel out of place here. But also community spirit. Sharing. Helping out. Free spirits. Tao's plot is the most colourful of all the places here, his yard filled with art, sculptures, plants, fresh grass mats. A few trailers filled with photographs. At night it is beautifully lit and turns into a tranquil haven of peace.
This desert oasis is also home to 6 chickens and a bunch of rabbits. It's a bit surreal to see bunnies hopping around, chasing each other, this really is the last place you would expect to find them. Unfortunately they are quite shy and every attempt at picking one up has been fruitless. The chickens just do what chickens do all day, and seem to look at me as their main feeder, which is quite funny. They will make it very clear when they are hungry and all 6 of them will follow me round the garden, to the bag of chicken feed.
If rabbits and chickens are out of place, then drugs are definitely more prevalent here. And so it was that a few nights ago I had my first experience with magic mushrooms. I have only smoked weed in my life, and have kept away from the 'harder' stuff. But this environment and the impact it is having on my life seemed the perfect place to try something a bit more psychedelic. I was with people I trusted, in a place I knew, ready to explore something completely new. And I wasn't disappointed. Whereas cannabis and alcohol would make me feel disoriented, confused and make my head feel cloudy, this was such a pure experience. I retreated to my own space a while after it kicked in. I remember sitting on my toilet for 20 minutes, the bath tub was breathing and the floor was alive. Geometrical patterns were forming on the wooden walls. I got into bed, fetal position, pulled the covers over my head and I was in a beautiful technicolour world. I wasn't confused. Just happy with an enormous sense of wellbeing. In the morning I felt fresh, the feeling of pure happiness still lingering.
I have read up on magic mushrooms, and would advise those worried or ready to condemn to do the same. They are not addictive, you can't really overdose and they don't make you more prone to depression or psychotic behaviour.
To be continued.
I don't remember whether the first time I met S. was actually the first time we met. What I do remember when I was introduced to him at the Ski Inn two weeks ago, were his first words to me and the fleeting feeling that our souls had met before. 'Welcome home' were his exact words, and they completely threw me. It was only a few days ago, when we met again, that I discovered his uncanny ability of being able to put his finger exactly where I hurt. And so it was that we were sitting at Charlotte's house, an impromptu party like so many of the parties here, and I ended up baring my soul to this man who reminds me of Donald Sutherland in Kate Bush's video of 'Cloudbusting'. I think I have touched on my desire to wander the world before and how I struggle to find my place in this world. These last three weeks at Bombay Beach have already been life changing, but so far I have been fighting that feeling. When S., who hardly knows me, managed to pick up on that and proceeded to lay bare some of my deepest emotions only known to me, I could do nothing but cry. Tears that came from a place deep down, a place that I may have been trying to avoid for a long time. So while everyone else in the house was getting high on alcohol and god knows what else, I was sobbing my heart out to a stranger, talking about my deepest fears and dreams. Admittedly, the vodka and ginger beer probably played a part in this cathartic release, but there was much more to it than a little too much alcohol. When I left this beautiful, crazy soul with the long trench coat, I felt cleansed and energised and ready to tackle the things that I will find on the long road ahead.
Roger has been living in Bombay Beach for many years. I met him last week when I was walking past his trailer and his two small dogs started barking at me. He came out to see what all the fuss was about and before I knew it, he had told me half his life story. He seemed like a really friendly guy, so a couple of days later I went to see him again, and when I was complaining about not being able to buy fresh groceries in Bombay Beach, he offered to take me to a real supermarket in Indio, about a 50 minute drive north. I gladly took him up on the offer and so the next day I hopped in his pick-up truck and off we went. Roger is a bit lonely. He used to come to the area with his dad when he was a lot younger and remembers catching the most delicious tasting Corvino in the Salton Sea. He grew up in poverty, left school more or less illiterate and married young. His job as a truck driver brought in some good money and they lived very comfortably. But the marriage broke down, the kids didn't want anything to do with him, so he sold the house and ended up coming back to the area he knew from the visits from his dad and ended up settling in a trailer in Bombay Beach. When asked how he felt about living here, there was resignation in his sigh. The loneliness was the worst, he said, he did have a few friends, but there was very little to do around here, so boredom was hard to cope with. He would drive to the beach and sit in the same spot, pondering his fate. Or work in his yard, weeding and trying to get the trailer next door renovated to get it rented out. Depression seems to be holding him back from doing all the things he still wants to do, and that's such a shame for a guy who at 54 and single could enjoy life so much more. I've met up with him a few more times and been getting out my best pep-talk to get him going again. Yesterday he showed me his trailer, all brown and rustic inside, with a real fireplace, two en-suite bedrooms and a full kitchen. He takes good care of it, pride showing in his voice when he talks about how he keeps it clean and tidy. I discovered he also has a washing machine and dryer, so guess who is going to do some laundry today?
Here's a polaroid of Roger's trailer, as always on my favourite expired polaroid 669 film.
I am beginning to find my feet in Bombay Beach. Able to put names on faces, knowing enough people to have interesting conversations with, seeing the bigger picture. Last night Belgian DJ Charlotte De Cock played a set at the Ski Inn, which left me feeling completely chill. Charlotte recently moved here and apart from DJ work, she is a painter, free spirit and professional wanderer who belongs in the desert. It's funny what the desert does to you. When everything around you is reduced to sand and wide open spaces. I am beginning to think everyone should find their own personal Bombay Beach and spend time in it. I am a searcher. Constantly trying to find where my place in this world is. Where do I belong? How do I live my life? What are my values? Living here takes you right back to the basics. I have been able to leave so much behind (apart from my entire summer wardrobe, see yesterday's post). I am aware that the world would probably stop turning if we all just jumped on that plane to our own personal happy place and raved about how we don't need anything apart from the sun and some food every now and again. But I wish more people would sit down and think about the way they live their lives. About the consumerism that has taken over. Belgium is facing yet another general strike next week, because people think they are not getting enough. It's all about more, more, more, while it should be about how we can do things with less. About sharing and dividing things fairly and still be happy with what we have. Why does that seem so difficult?
I am freeing my mind, will the rest of you follow?
Leaving you with a polaroid I titled 'The fire inside'. Find your fire. I dare you.
Anyone who saw me arriving at LA airport must have thought 'what on earth is this woman up to?'. Rest assured, they were not alone, barely arrived in the USA, and I was already questioning myself. Let me elaborate a little. When one decides to spend 3 months abroad, they tend to make the mistake to pack 3 times more than they would for a traditional holiday. A small hand luggage trolley, filled to the brim with polaroid film (14kg), a backpack with my purse, travel documents, a case with two polaroid cameras and my analogue camera (4kg). My checked in luggage, one of those big ones that has an expander (which I had never had to use before), filled with all of my summer wardrobe, but plenty of long sleeves, running shoes (guess who hasn't been for a run yet...), my oh so comfy but worn out sneakers, the same sneaker but new and not broken in yet (weight 26kg). Considering my total hand luggage allowance was 12kg and my checked in allowance 23kg, I am lucky to not have been charged extra at Brussels airport (thank you KLM!). If I were a fashionista, you could probably understand why I was carrying my whole wardrobe with me, but I am not, worse even, I really can't dress myself and mostly wear black, all year round (yep, black is the only colour). What was I thinking?! Trying to balance pulling the small two-wheel trolley, while pushing the four-wheel big suitcase and with a backpack that made me break-out in a sweat. I was so relieved to make it to the Hertz shuttle bus stop in one piece, little did I know that the worst was still to come: I had to lift all this stuff onto the bus, while all the other people around me were scrambling to get onto the bus and find a seat. The kind bus driver saw me struggle and helped me take everything off the bus when we got to Hertz. Anyway, the irony of it all is that I am out here in the desert, and no one gives a shit about what I wear, least of all myself. Since arriving 10 days ago, I haven't changed out of the jeans I was wearing on day one, my doc Martens haven't left my feet, and I have taken to wearing the same t-shirt and jumper three days in a row. (yes, I shower every day and yes I change my underwear and socks on daily basis). It's quite liberating actually and one less thing to worry about. Unfortunately, there is no way I'll get away with all this extra weight when I fly back from LA, unless I pay a hefty fee, and I am not planning on doing that. If all goes well, my boyfriend flies out in four weeks to spend a month with me. He's the clever one and will probably just try to bring the bare minimum and travel with hand luggage only. Babe, when you read this, please check in an empty suitcase that I can fill with all the stuff I really shouldn't have brought, and take it back with you when you leave, will ya? I'll make it worth your while (wink, wink).
It seems there is at least one dog behind every fence in Bombay Beach. And believe me when I say there are a lot of fences here. I guess most people aren't that bothered, as they all seem to use their cars to get around. But being carless at the moment, and a great believer that one sees more going on foot, means that I walk past all these fences on a daily basis. And so it was, early morning sometime last week, that I all of a sudden found myself surrounded by four dogs. Now, let me be clear, I love dogs, I have had several myself in the past, but I really am not keen on what I call those 'little rats', give me a 'real' dog any day. The four dogs I found myself surrounded by belonged, surprise surprise, to the 'little rats' category. They were angry, barking and started circling me, and I was, quite frankly, a little scared. Those little teeth can do a lot of damage, one nipped at my ankle, especially when there's 4 sets of them. But I tried to keep my cool, dogs can sense fear, and I didn't want them to go into full attack mode. So I yelled at them, kicked my feet and hoped that would scare them off. Thankfully, their owner showed up, and he managed to quickly get them back behind the fence they escaped from. The experience shook me and left me much more on my guard while walking around. Fast forward a few days later. I am literally sitting on the ground, trying to get a good shot of the oldtimers I talked about yesterday, when suddenly a large black dog appears out of the blue right next to me. Panic! Because I am sitting on the ground, his mouth is level with my throat and I feel very vulnerable. So I keep very still, thinking sudden movements might scare him, and hope he just gets bored and retreats back to where he came from. I am lucky, he doesn't seem to find me very interesting, and disappears. Turns out he belongs to the house opposite and he was lying on an old sofa outside all this time, and I just never noticed him. So I already have a knife under my pillow to scare of intruders, should I take to carrying a large stick to ward off dogs? And will I go all American and get a gun next? Find out in the next episode of 'Kirsten's adventures in the US of A.'
In the mean time I'll leave you with another shot of the old timer, the one I took after the big black dog turned up. Those sleek lines!
P.S. I hate guns and am completely against them, so I was obviously just joking ;)
So I have been at Bombay Beach just over a week now, and I have to admit I am totally out of my comfort zone. Don't get me wrong, I'm thrilled to be here, and I think it's probably not a bad thing to search and look at things in a new way.
I'll be very honest, I thought the inspiration would come rushing to me and I would be shooting like a woman possessed. But being 'stuck' in one place as opposed to being used to having a car and driving around, is proving to be a bit of a challenge. I have taken to walking the streets of Bombay Beach, armed with my cameras, trying to look at things from a different angle, but I am just not 'seeing' it. Guess I am just not the type of documentary photographer needed in this type of place. Which is perfectly alright of course, I'll quite happily stick to what I do best and shoot nudes, plenty of interesting places here to do so. Which leads to my next problem: finding the right people to shoot with. Considering Bombay Beach is three hours away from LA and San Diego, convincing someone to drive down to shoot with me, while all I can pay for is their gas, is a challenge. One I shall overcome, because that's what challenges are for, right?
Then there is my new home, the asylum, which is an old trailer. I'm enjoying the privacy, have my own bedroom, a shower that works, and a fridge to keep some food in. But the wifi doesn't come all the way down here, and last night the hotspot I created via my iPhone stopped working and I haven't been able to get it going again. It basically means I have to walk up to Tao's house to catch the wifi there, taking me away from the comfort of my own place. Again, not a big deal, but I was so comfy sitting on my bed with my macbook on my lap.
Talking about the trailer, it is rusty and noisy and the front door doesn't close properly and can't be locked. There is a thorny bush right outside my bedroom and last night during the wind storm, its branches were scratching against the trailer and it sounded really creepy. The front door blows open when it's windy, but I have now found a way to keep it closed. Confession: I slept with a knife under my pillow last night. All the noises were just freaking me out and I was getting a little paranoid about someone breaking in. I leave the lights on in the front part of the trailer but now I'm wondering whether that's a good idea, because it does make it stand out from the street. Mum, dad, don't worry, there's security cameras being installed soon!
Anyway, I shall leave you with a polaroid I shot a few days ago. There's two oldtimers parked here, remnants from the previous Biennale, and I just can't get enough of their sleek lines. Cheerio!
Let's fast forward again. After returning back to Belgium mid November 2018, my birthday, christmas and new year seemed to fly by, and all that time I had only one thing on my mind: returning to Bombay Beach for my Artist Residency. And here I am. I flew into LA on January 28th, picked up my rental car and drove the 3.5 hours to Bombay Beach, where I was met by Tao Ruspoli and took up residence in his trailer at the back of his property. It's called The Asylum and features some pretty disturbing portraits of the criminally insane, taken by Robert Mack during a two year Artist Residency at a maximum security hospital. I have the back bedroom, consisting of a double bed, enough cupboard space for my clothes and a little desk area for my laptop and scanner. There is also a small bathroom with and old, rusty but fully working sink and bath/shower and a toilet. Another tiny double bedroom and then a kitchen with sink and fridge, but nowhere to cook so I might get a hotplate on Amazon. I've been here a week and I've only had two hot meals and I do miss something hot and hearthy in the evening. On Sunday I was out and about with my cameras when I got talking to Jorge, a day tourist from LA. He was shooting with the same Canon AE1 camera, and there's nothing like bonding over the things you have in common. So I took him on a walk round Bombay Beach, showed him the places I know while talking photography, road trips and life. Turns out he also shoots polaroid, lots of nudes, his work was really good. We decided to grab dinner at the Ski Inn, and continued our lively conversation over the delicious patty melt and fries we ordered. Last week I also bumped into a guy called Jason who has bought a house here which he is now renovating. He invited me in, and oh my god, what a hidden treasure! A lot of properties get looted here when they're not lived in, but his was virtually intact, with the interior dating back to the 70's. There was crockery in the kitchen cupboards, clothes in the wardrobe, a beautiful table in the lounge, an old yacht in the garage and even one of those silver airstream type caravans outside. The whole place was oozing a 70's vibe and if restored well would make an amazing film setting. I really had to chuckle to myself as I sat there, drinking beer from a can in the house of a stranger, that would never happen in Brussels. I will leave you with a polaroid I took of Jason in his crib, I gave him the original, he loved it.
When Polaroid icon Stefanie Schneider first asked me whether I'd be interested in showing my work at the Bombay Beach Biennale, I was convinced she was talking about a place near Bombay in India. A quick look at google led me to the Southern California desert, and a small town near the Salton Sea. And so it was that early 2018 some of my large polaroid prints ended up in the house of Tao Ruspoli, one of the Biennale's organisers and himself a keen photographer and filmmaker.
Fast forward to November 2018. I am road tripping in California and Bombay Beach is on my to-see list. Coming down from Palm Desert where I have been shooting with a model, I set up my tent on Mecca Beach, about 23km from Bombay Beach, and watch a glorious sunset. In the morning I pack up my stuff and set off full of anticipation at seeing the mysterious place that Bombay Beach has become in my head. It's much smaller than I thought, and definitely a lot dustier. A bit of research has taught me that it was once a flourishing seaside town, but the pollution of the Salton Sea scared both inhabitants and tourists away, and all that remains now is a bleached, rusted abandoned wasteland, in an apocalyptic landscape. As I take a stroll through the town, I am reminded of Mad Max. Desolation, destitution, I have never seen anything like this and I am fascinated. I head to the Ski Inn, the only bar in town, for some coffee. And that's when it happens. I walk in and I get this overwhelming feeling I have come home. Several hours go by, I drink more coffee, talk to a few locals, and I am so thrown by the effect this place has on me, that I drive to the nearest town and book myself into a motel, too tired and emotional to set up my tent. Feeling refreshed the following morning, I am determined to make it to Joshua Tree, the next destination on my road trip. But the inevitable happens, and instead of driving past Bombay Beach, I find myself pulling up at the Ski Inn again. It's 5pm before I leave the place and this time I do have the energy to set up my tent by the beach. I realise that I still haven't found a trace of my polaroid prints, which is what I came for in the first place, and before I go to sleep, I send a message to the organiser of the Biennale, letting him know I'm in the area and can he please tell me where to look for my polaroids. When I wake up in the morning, there's a reply from Tao, telling me he will be at Bombay Beach later in the day and let's meet up. Joshua Tree seems further away than ever. I drive around, shoot polaroids, drive around a little more, killing time before heading to the bar once again. Tao meets me a little later, his girlfriend and a friend in tow, and then following him through the door, Stefanie Schneider herself, such a nice surprise. We have lunch and then he guides us through Bombay Beach, I see the Opera House, the Petit Ermitage, graffiti, and marvel at the art installations and countless hidden treasures. When I utter my delight at all this creativity and express my desire to spend more time here, Tao explains there is an artist residency programme and offers me the opportunity to live and work there for a while, while creating a project for the Biennale. I say yes straight away, and then finally, as if this was what I was waiting for, I am ready to head to Joshua Tree.