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Hey, Lyosha

There are prison tattoos on the backs of his hands. Faded, blotchy shapes and a finger that jabs at a phone. "Hey, Lyosha!" He shouts, as every face on the bus swings to him. There is no answer, no voice on the other side. "Lyosha." He says again, then stares angrily out the windows. I step on someone's foot by accident, apologizing quickly. The young man waves his hand as if to say I did not need to say anything. The man with the tattoos sips from a giant cup of soda from KFC that is balanced on the empty seat next to him.

We pass a hotel we used to live next to, where expensive escorts are ferried in and out like yachts in a harbor. There is a fresh line of flags snapping in a low wind, and an American one is curiously absent. Plenty of the businessmen behind those windows are from the states.

The man brandishes the phone and hands it to the young man in front of me. I did not see that one coming. The young man wipes invisible dust from it, a reserved frown …

leaving the party


I got kicked out of a photography group for saying "all art is political, in some way". Someone had posted an image of a protestor, and there was a consensus that politics should not be allowed in this community. People wrote all in caps, how they needed a safe space away from the headlines, to post their landscapes, their scantily clad women, their close-up pictures of flowers. I know it was no great loss, but the expat life is often a lonely one. No one wants to be told to leave the party.

Since then, I have paid much more attention to the role of politics in creative work. I took it as a given, a latent set of bones in the skeleton to flesh out. Social documentary work inspires no confusion. It is exactly what it is - elegant advocacy. Lights shine on unknown stories, bearing witness to events as they unfold. There is a sort of guarantee for this work, meaning - it has a place in the world. It is needed, the same as we need to know how many people died in the latest attack, how many citizens stepped up to defend a stranger, how many ran screaming into the street, how many bullets, how many wounded, how many days since the last attack.

The information can become overwhelming, as phones blink with silent alerts in the middle of the night. Of course I want to know. But how to wake up later, how to navigate the morning, how to decipher this reality and then pick up a camera or a pen, how to load another roll of film, or spread my hands across a fresh empty piece of paper. How to dig deep, and make something valuable? It seems like a very tall order. I live under a great deal of censorship here. I pick my words very carefully, even in private. I have a family.

My thoughts turn, holding up the work to the light wondering how irrelevant it may be. Who cares about some nuns in the street? Who wants to know the story behind that waiter rushing across the cobblestones with a glass in his hands? Are those young boys really smoking? What song are these men singing in the street, their heads tipped back, their mouths wide?

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