On the publication of Losers

Newly collated here in zine form, Losers represents a series of work first presented in 2015. If we are to count those early mockups, this volume represents the fourth incarnation of Losers. I thought I was done with the series, and ready to move on. But there is something about a book. In a sense, books have a certain finality, and I felt this book was the only way to conclude the series, truly presenting the work to the world.

As stated in the afterword, the work in Losers dates back to my earliest days in New York. While traversing the city as a paperboy delivering a Japanese newspaper, I began to photograph all the dead rats and pigeons flattened on the pavement, along with the endless refuse caught fluttering in the tree boughs overhead. (A macabre pastime, I admit.)

At the time, I didn’t really understand what compelled me to make these images. When compiling the series for initial publication in 2015, I still struggled to contextualize the work. My statement from 2015 ends:

“These carcasses resemble the shadows of the defeated, vanquished in their struggle for survival against this city. And I felt that their lives were far more compelling than mine.”

Honestly, I was never satisfied with this conclusion. I long felt it reeked of a cliché sentimentalism and ennui more at home in the enka ballads of yesteryear. Photography is a peculiarly voyeuristic medium, yet these images did not particularly seem to reveal the inner lives of the downtrodden hordes, beaten by the city.

Just as I did not understand what I had photographed, I did not then understand what I had written.

Some time passed, and I went on to create a series titled Libido. Published at the end of 2019, Libido is a chaotic collection documenting the various protests (including the early stages of the BLM movement) occupying New York’s streets, the nighttime vogue scene, drag queens, and leather festivals, along with portraits of my more intimate acquaintances. I intended the work as a “positive” (for lack of a better word) expression of their potent anger and power.

I don’t typically focus on one project at a time, but rather, simply snap images throughout the course of everyday life. Libido was no exception, and thus began organically in the context of a nascent (perhaps ongoing) struggle to explore a new direction. My work up until that point had been all too delicate, as if there were a thin membrane between myself and the world, ensconced in a nebulous bubble that might pop at the slightest touch. As pretentious as it sounds, I wanted to make a break from “beautiful” photography, and become a more “intellectual” photographer, one who saw the world with a slightly more journalistic perspective, and created images with more weight. I wanted to find subjects with deeper meaning. The lingering question was not so much the how, but rather, the what.

Although I continued my probing search, as the images piled up, I came to acknowledge my relative disinterest in politics and history. I’m certainly not one to comb through data, let alone pore through archival material or stay abreast of the latest academic treatises. In other words, I would make a poor excuse for a journalist.

Instead, I am interested in the moment, in the human drama that unfolds on every street corner each day. I couldn’t tear my eyes away from the outliers who, try as they might to hold on to a last remaining shred of conformity, are inevitably cast into the turbulent seas awaiting outside the protective sphere of the mainstream majority.

What does that make me? I’m not an activist. I haven’t “saved” anyone. Sometimes, I myself am the minority. Sometimes, I am an ally. Ultimately, I merely observe with empathy, and occasionally capture what I see in my camera’s frame.

At last, I finally understand the impetus behind Losers. On my paper route, I came to relate and interact most with a certain subset of society: the Mexicans delivering pizzas, the Chinese ferrying bags of Chinese takeout, the doormen posted in the lobbies of luxury apartments, and the construction workers dotting the city streets. Atop the photos of roadkill and arboreal trash, I had been subconsciously superimposing all the invisible people who have been marginalized by society. It took far too long for me to arrive at this realization, and even longer still to find the words to articulate what had developed as an instinctive feeling.

Of course, if I had developed this project more deliberately, I doubt that I would have consciously likened my fellow deliverymen and outsider denizens to such morbid subject matter. If any of them happen to encounter this book, I ask that they please forgive the title. I mean it with the utmost respect.

13th July 2020

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