Posts Tagged ‘city’


Paris, France, November 15, 2015 © Jim Korpi

Our feet were on the dirt oval track and our backs against a wooden fence made of cut up telephone poles and worn 2×6 rails. A gap in the fence was our spot. Tickets in the stands are expensive, and you couldn’t get better seats to the Hollywood Stunt World Thrill Show than ours.
We were close enough to watch as the driver of one stunt truck turned the corner of the track and set it back down on two wheels. His face was calm as he sped within a foot of us, exploded into the wooden fence beside us, through the fried dough stand and onto the unsuspecting crowd.
Time does not stand still in these moments, it disappears. It’s rendered irrelevant. Time no longer ticks by with the secondhand of the clock on the wall, the gears of a gold wristwatch, or the electronic intervals of neatly divided moments measured by a computer in a cellphone.
The body enters a state of primal sensitivity to all that surrounds, every sound, movement, or smell.
The smell of car exhaust and frying dough mixed with screams of mothers whose children lay beneath unmovable steel and screaming vendors whose grease from tipped vats now covered them.
We ran. We ran past the 4-H barn of cows and sheep, past the vendors selling sausage with grilled peppers and onions, past the Ferris wheel and then slowed when we got to the rides where the youth mingled and plucked cotton candy and popcorn from their proud and careful hands.
Everything was normal. Carnies pried us to pop three balloons with three darts to win stuffed lions, fair music played, people laughed. No one knew what was happening at the Hollywood Stunt World Thrill Show.

The reviews online said the food was average but the atmosphere was authentically Parisian. I am not sure what is authentically Parisian, but there was something authentic about this restaurant. The tables were built in a decade when Parisians built tables. The artwork covering the walls could have been the collected gifts of patrons who could not pay their tabs over the past ten decades. A large, warm impressionist nude of a sleeping woman hung amongst a scattering of stilllifes of the same style.
We left the restaurant to walk the food off. Outside, a black car with a loud European police siren flung on the driver’s side roof passed us at a racing speed. “They always drive like that,” our friend said. His words were inaudible as a line of ambulances and police cars passed just then. The streets were filled with sirens and flashing blue lights. We followed the flow of emergency vehicles with our heads as if to see what they were going to. A man pushing a scooter along the sidewalk rode by and said calmly in English, ”Someone is shooting people up the street.” We humored him with, “Really?” “They just shot 10 people. I was just there,” he said. Somehow there was now a reality to this absurdity.
A crowd of Parisians now stood still beside us following the lights and perplexed by the activity. A black car stopped in the middle of the road and five armed and armored police jumped from the doors and yelled at us in French. Those who understood ran in the direction of the sirens, those who didn’t hesitated and then followed. The police yelled again, the crowd of the fleeing stopped and ran in the other direction, like a startled flock of sheep.
We ran. We ran to a subway station, boarded a train and quietly sat with passengers who laughed, sent messages on their phones, and knew nothing about what was happening to the city above.


Overcoming Fears


Shoppers from the Hip, Milan, Italy © Jim Korpi

A man walked into the therapy office of Viktor Frankl and his associate. For years he had writer’s cramp and was about to lose his job because of it. When this writer wrote he focused on perfect penmanship, the most elegant handwritten script. The therapists suggested the next time he wrote to scribble his words so they were nearly illegible. He was told to say to himself, “Now I will show people what a good scribbler I am.” When he sat down to write in a scribbled script he couldn’t. Within 48 hours his writing cramp was gone.

It was a writer’s cramp, only with photographs, a photographer’s cramp lasting weeks.

My delay before going out to make photographs for a project has been a period of neurotic anxiety, what Viktor Frankl might call a time of “hyper-reflection” where fears become inner realities. If I reflect too long I begin to question my intentions, my adequacy, as well as the meaning of life. “Am I a fake? Do I deserve to even own a camera? Can I make a photograph? Why are we here?” I freeze. Sometimes for weeks.

Normally I drive places to make photographs. In a foreign country it’s easy to make excuses of why I should not stop the car. There is not a good place to pull over, the person won’t understand my broken attempt of the language, they will think I am out to abduct their children. I drive without making an image.

My solution for this recent cramp was simple, a bicycle. In the morning haze I strapped my tripod to the back fender, put one camera bag on the back rack and one in the front basket. The cramp is gone.

No Power


Train Station, Santa Margherita Ligure, Italy © Jim Korpi

Wind from the storm blew branches onto the power lines. The electricity is out. Internet stopped.
They sit on the couch and notice this inconvenience, each with a computer in their lap, staring at unloading websites. For the past two hours they drifted through news stories about horrible things happening in the world and volleyed back and forth, “…Did you see the…?”
It won’t last. Power will return. It always does. The answering machine will beep as soon as it does. It doesn’t.
After an hour of fidgeting and aimless wandering around the house, they look at each other, and half state and ask “I wonder when it will turn back on.”
The sun sets. No power. The house darkens, but they can still see the warm, muted shapes of the interior of their home, familiar but in some way foreign. They both smile inside. There seems a relief in the detachment, an ease.
The candles on the mantel, more for novelty than utility, collect dust. They light them for some semblance of order. The occasion calls for wine. Glasses are poured until full and they toast to “Making the best of it.”
A guitar stands neglected facing the corner of the living room. He picks it up with a free hand and declares a needed move to the porch, where twilight and a cool air coat the outside in honest hues. A blue is blue.
He plays softly. Unplugged from the world, they both look at each other and take in a question unspoken but understood.
“What are we doing with our lives?”

Could Have


Store Fronts, Milan, Italy © Jim Korpi

“We used to only have Worcestershire sauce in the house,” Kent said recalling the condiments in the kitchen. “Then all the commercials came out for A1 steak sauce and my parents bought it. I can still remember the ads, ‘Why have just a burger when you can have a steak burger!”

language of stones


Poplars at Sunset, Caselle Landi, Italy © Jim Korpi

“A language is a flash of the human spirit. It’s a vehicle through which the soul of each particular culture comes into the material world. Every language is an old-growth forest of the mind, a watershed, a thought, an ecosystem of spiritual possibilities.” – Wade Davis, TED Talk, Dreams from Endangered Cultures

There are pockets, small bubbles, hidden in the crevices of the United States, where, if people stay long enough, their language takes on a character of their place. Time, weather, and the minerals in the soil form something unique, similar to the way these influences shape a jagged stone.
Urban life somehow polishes these rocks smooth, tumbled by movement into a conformity. One stone is undetectable from the next.