The thing I enjoy most about subjecting myself to another photographer's lens, besides the obvious notion of vanity, is human perception. The fact that I, one constant being, can be perceived in countless ways is intoxicating. Because human perception involves the nervous system, I am interpreted uniquely to each human experience. Meaning, I am literally a different person to everyone I encounter. I believe this phenomenon unconsciously manifests itself through portrait photography. I find great delight in meeting my varying selves through the lens of my captors.
The strongest woman I know
is also the weakest.
Sipping liquid courage,
she does the best she can.
I can no longer blame her
for clutching on
to a can.
If her pain were mine,
I might just do the same
to pass the time.
But no matter how much time passes,
things remain unchanged.
The weakest woman I know
is also the strongest.
I love her regardless,
because that's my mama cat
just being Jayne.
Poem by Taylor Rico. September 2017.
I hope all your fears come true
and life rips you apart.
When the world crashes down on you,
I hope you notice your heartbeat
and continue to beat
as you stand alone in the dark.
I hope you realize how strong you are
and have been from the very start.
Notice the animal inside you take hold,
as you flail your limbs
forces out of your control.
Your resistance to pain is in vain.
This was always supposed to happen.
It's the middle of the night and you're talking in your sleep again. I listen intently, hoping to discover something you wouldn't normally share. No revelations, but it's entertaining nonetheless. I scoot a little closer and feel the warmth of your body radiate onto me. I smile at you though you can't see me. I close my eyes.
When I open them, we're in public. I feel insecure with a band-aid smack dab in the middle of my forehead. You don't seem to mind. Maybe because it wouldn't be there if it wasn't for you. You massage my throat and smell my hair. I feel warmth again, but this time it spreads from within me. In this moment, nobody exists but you. I close my eyes.
When I open them, you're sitting across from me. We're outside on a restaurant patio—intentionally placed near heat lamps. Artificial warmth. We're alone. I shiver while you look at me with repulsion. I hear myself push you away one word at a time. The more I succeed, the more loss I feel. The waiter jokingly tells us we're made for each other. I'm compelled to object, but I bite my tongue.
I glance back at you with curiosity. We're seated inside at a small table cloaked in white cloth. The lighting is dim and the background chatter, distracting. I hardly know you. Your arms are crossed, legs extended to the side. You're either extremely relaxed or horribly uncomfortable. It's hard to tell. You drink more water than the average person. I excuse myself to the bathroom.
I return to your bed. It's dark in your room, except for the lamp on your nightstand. I shyly join you under the covers. We talk for a while, inches apart. I've never been this close to you. I tell you we're not going to have sex. It was the first time I lied to you.
I hear my choppy breath as you thrust yourself inside me. I'm laying on my back with my legs extended to the side. I clutch my beige headboard with my toes for support. I grin as I watch you stand over me, grasping my hips. You're a little pink in the face. You've never looked sexier. I blissfully close my eyes.
I rapidly open and close my eyes to blink away tears. You don't seem to notice. I feel my heart breaking. You ask me if I'm still getting high. Please don't make me lie. I need you to hold me. You do. On your parent's couch. Aside from the TV, it's dark.
Your hot breath lingers on my neck as you spoon me. Tingles run up my spine. You've never held me for this long. There's a dry chill in my bedroom, but I feel warmth everywhere. Thanks to you. The urge to tell you I love you bubbles up inside of me. I wrestle with the thought until I fall asleep.
I open my eyes, smile and turn to face you. You're not there. A deep sorrow grows in my chest. I wonder how long you've been gone.
Marshall and I made giddy conversation as we strolled down the dark streets of Austin. We just left Side Bar, our bellies full of whiskey, to meet up with his friends. I played with my white scarf as he insisted I walk on the safer side of the street. I obeyed with a smirk, "what a gentleman!" Marshall sheepishly glanced back at me, "it's something my parents made me do as I kid. I can't break the habit." His expression changed when he looked passed me. "I'm only joking," I said, "it's quite admirable." Now squinting, he continued to stare at something in the distance. I stopped and leaned over the guardrail to see a large ditch down below us. It was surprisingly well lit and void of any water. Something about it beckoned me to come down and explore. I quickly turned back, "it looks awesome down there. Let's go check it out!" Being the adventurous type himself, Marshall wholeheartedly agreed and we made our way down a well defined trail.
A blue-tinted light flooded the cold cement surrounding us. We stumbled about and admired the crude graffiti art on the walls. I spotted another pair off in the distance, most likely smoking weed, before I turned to Marshall and said, "we should probably get going." Marshall nodded. On our way out, we noticed a large tunnel resting in the cement wall—somehow we missed it before. "Whoa. Wait, look at this," I uttered as I activated my iPhone flashlight. Marshall stopped and we both looked down the tunnel in silence. It was vast, quiet, and damp. "What do you think is down there?" he asked. "I'm sure it just leads to another ditch," I confidently proclaimed. "Well we could find out," Marshall raised an eyebrow. I paused before laughing nervously, "I doubt we'll find anything good down there. Let's go." We both turned to leave. A few steps in, I felt pulled backwards. It was like a part of me was standing at the mouth of the tunnel, refusing to budge. I glanced back and stopped walking, "okay." Marshall followed suit, "okay what?" "Let's find out what's down there," I lifted my chin. "Alright let's go," Marshall smiled in disbelief. We shined our phones' flashlight into the tunnel, only seeing about ten feet in front of us. I took a deep breath before climbing inside, "here goes something." Marshall hesitated a second, looked around, and then continued in after me.
The further down the tunnel we got, the colder it became. We dodged spider webs and trash as we chattered on nonchalantly. I was thankful to have a distraction from my growing fear. Because my imagination was pulsating with possibilities, I couldn't bring myself to look ahead into the darkness anymore. I stared down at my black boots and placed one foot in front of the other. My eyes widened in wonder when a colorful piece of cloth found its way under my step. I stopped dead in my tracks. Marshall must've been looking down too because he bumped into me. I inspected the floral pattern of what appeared to be women's underwear. Marshall peered over my shoulder just as I asked him, "how do you think this got here? It looks too clean to have been brought by runoff." He scratched his head, "some people have weird fetishes I guess." "Is that why you brought me down here?" I grinned playfully. "Yeah, I'm a sick twisted fuck," Marshall said stoically, "wait... wasn't this was your idea?" I let out a sinister chuckle and continued walking with Marshall in tow. Time dragged on and we gained ground. Eventually, the tunnel spilled into a large concrete room. The ceiling was high and it's hexagonal shape adorned a new tunnel on each wall. There was something eerily beautiful about this space. We decided to take a break and lowered ourselves onto the ground.
"Maybe we should go back," I shamefully admitted. Surprised, Marshall probed, "why? I thought you were having fun?" "I was. At first," I said, "but we might not find the end of this tunnel anytime soon... and look at all of those options." I pointed to the newly revealed tunnels, "what if we get lost? Won't your friends be upset if we don't show?" "They'll be fine," Marshall shrugged. I glanced down at the glow of my phone, "My battery is at 50%. That will probably last another hour right?" "Yeah, maybe two," Marshall said, studying me closely. He scooted next to me and took my hand, "it's okay if you're afraid. We can go back." Pride bubbled up inside of me, oh great, he's white-knighting again, I thought to myself, but he is really cute. I'll just go with it. I rested my head on his shoulder and looked at him innocently, "let's just stay here a bit longer." He stroked my hair and lifted my head up to his. We kissed tenderly and I forgot where I was for a moment.
It took me a second to register the soft clacking that echoed off the walls. Footsteps. Multiple people. The noise increased in volume as they moved closer. I froze. "Oh my god. People are coming," I started to panic, "should we hide? What if they're dangerous?" Marshall helped me up. He thought for a moment before calmly explaining, "you should hide. I'll see who it is." "What?!" I gasped. "Listen closely," he was stern, "you're going to go down that tunnel, " he grabbed my shoulders and shifted me towards the opening, "until you come across a room on the right. Go into that room. There's furniture you can hide behind until I come get you." I could feel my heartbeat in my throat. "How do you know that?" I squeaked. "I'll explain later," his tone was cold, "go, now." He gently pushed me forward. I hunched like a skittish animal as I scurried down the dark tunnel.
I came across the room Marshall described. It was a small cement box compared to the previous room. With no additional tunnels, it led nowhere. I frantically scanned the space. On one side was a dingy mattress with a dim lantern nearby. On the other side, a torn up sofa. I ducked behind the sofa and listened intently. My hands trembled while I clutched my knees. I could hear different voices, but I couldn't make out the words. I took a few deep breaths to calm myself. Everything is fine. You're okay. Marshall is okay. Everything is fine. As I put my hand on the ground to regain balance, I felt a plastic tarp covered in liquid. I looked down to see the tarp extended around the corner of the couch, just past my view. I frantically wiped my hand on the couch's cloth before I noticed that I was leaving stains. My hand trembled while I inspected it in low light. I couldn't make out much, but the smell was strong. I slowly followed the mystery liquid's trail until my eyes discovered the source. I must've screamed when I saw her naked, dismembered body, because I heard myself, but I don't recall opening my mouth.
Her shrill scream rang through the tunnels just as Nick passed me a cigarette. I lit it, inhaled, and gave my best poker face. Nick and Gabe exchanged a look before Nick cleared his throat, "Uh Marshall, I thought you said she ran off?" I shrugged my shoulders and exhaled, "I guess she didn't get very far." Gabe unzipped his backpack and took out a few tall boys. He passed one to Nick, then turned toward me, "you want one?" I shook my head, "nah." A few moments passed without words exchanged. I broke the silence, "where's Ian?" Nick paced around the room, occasionally stopping for a drag or sip. Gabe spoke up, "isn't he already here?" "I haven't seen him," I muttered. Fuck, what if Ian found her? I thought. More silence. Nick stopped pacing uncomfortably close to me, "so Marshall, you gonna go get her or do Gabe and I have to do all the work?" Gabe looked towards the ground. I threw my cigarette down and scoffed, "all the work... I brought her didn't I? I'll go in a second. Get off my back." "How'd she get away again?" Nick sneered. "I told you, she just took off when I wasn't looking. I don't know why. She didn't say anything," I explained, obviously annoyed. "It's funny, we were just talking about how you seem to have a habit of losing girls lately," Nick said, "right Gabe?" Gabe nodded, still refusing to make eye contact. Nick continued, "you know what I think? I think you're telling lies again. We were watching you two in the ditch. She looked like she trusted you. I mean she came here willingly, right? You're probably keeping another one for yourself." Nick flicked his cigarette towards me, "selfish bastard." I lunged at Nick and grabbed the collar of his shirt, "say that again. After all the shit I've done for you." Nick shoved me hard, "get off me, man." Gabe stood between us, his arms extended, "come on, guys. Stop. You're going to piss off Ian again." Nick straightened his shirt and I ran my fingers through my hair. We both considered the gravity of Gabe's words. "I'll be back," I mumbled before I turned to walk away. I felt like I was walking in slow motion, but my thoughts were racing. I really hope Ian didn't find her.
I crept into the room I told her to hide in. I was half expecting to see Ian caressing her body while she slowly bled out; her gleaming white scarf now stained crimson. What I saw instead was a dark empty room. Where was the lantern I lit earlier today? I patrolled the room with my phone's flashlight. Sure enough, she wasn't anywhere to be found. I sighed, slightly relieved. My light illuminated another girl's corpse. All the fucking work? I thought, those assholes can't even clean up after themselves. I squatted next to her and took in her delicate, grey figure for a moment. This girl even looks beautiful in pieces. I scratched my head. Maybe she saw this? That's probably why she screamed! I bet she freaked and booked it. Fuck, how am I going to explain this one? I got up to leave when I heard his silky voice cut through the air behind me, "admiring your work?" I turned to see Ian, just standing there. How long was he watching me? I straightened up, "there you are." I glanced back at the girl, "come on. You know I'm not that sloppy." "You might not be sloppy, but you sure are stupid," Ian grinned, "Nick said another one got away." I rolled my eyes, "fuck Nick. She isn't far. Don't worry." I made my way for the door. "Oh I won't," Ian uttered before he casually fell onto the sofa.
Phone flashlight still in hand, I sprinted through the tunnels. The light cheerfully bounced off the walls with my every stride. I knew each tunnel intimately and I checked every square inch, but I couldn't find her anywhere. I finally made my way to the tunnel's only entrance/exit. I stepped outside and sighed, she got away. I sat around for a while lost in thought. Should I play this off as another accident? With my mind made up, I retreated back into the tunnels. When I came to the hexagonal room, my stomach dropped. There she stood, trembling in the middle of the room with my missing lantern in hand. I stood paralyzed before her frigid words broke my trance, "I guess you weren't kidding. You really are a sick twisted fuck." My face contorted and I took a step towards her. She gasped in horror. "Please let me explain," I pleaded, "I'm not going to hurt you." "Just like the girl in that room over there?" she snapped, "you knew what I was walking into. You didn't stop me." Tears welled up in her eyes, "if you're going to kill me, do it quickly. I don't want to be tortured." My demeanor softened and I slowly made my way closer, "hey, please don't cry. I promise I'll get you out of here, but we don't have much time." She started to sob, "what is this place?" I sighed deeply, "look, I know the way out. I can show you," I took her hand. "Why should I trust you?" she snarled, retracting her hand. I looked her dead in the eye and softly said, "because you don't have another option."
She wiped her tears away and took a few deep breaths, "okay." "Okay?" I pepped up, "let's go." Just as I turned towards the exit, I felt a twinge of pain in my side. I looked down to see her hand twist and yank Ian's knife from my body. I watched my shirt absorb the blood that was now pouring out. She dropped the knife and took a step back in shock. Feeling suddenly cold and exposed, I placed my hands over the gash. Petrified, she stared at her work. "You fucking bitch!" I screamed in pain. She didn't even notice that Ian had entered the room. He was now standing right behind her. "My dear I must say, I didn't think you had it in you," Ian interjected. She didn't dare speak. I bent over in pain as my blood steadily drained onto the ground. Ian appeared next to me, "you know what Marshall? I thought I was tired of your games, but this was actually fun." "Ian, please," I groaned. "Save your energy," Ian advised. She crumpled to the ground when she saw Nick and Gabe march into the room, their footsteps in sync. She screamed at Ian before they grabbed her and dragged her off, "we made a deal! You have to let me go!" Ian ignored her. I started to black out—either from the blood loss or raging anger. "Stop! She's mine!" I screamed with all my force. "Yours, right." Ian teased, "we're supposed to be team players, remember Marshall?" "She's... mine." I gasped. I now laid on the ground shivering uncontrollably. "Such a shame," Ian chuckled, "oh and I must say you've really outdone yourself this time. This girl is the loveliest one yet." Ian whistled as he strolled out of the room. Now alone, I began to whimper.
This collage was created using 35mm film photos, an X-Acto knife, and rubber cement. Photos were captured in San Francisco (namely MoMA and Lombard Street).
Mary’s eyes are mostly blue, but I studied the yellow and green flakes as I pinned her against a brick wall. I stared hard into her eyes, our faces inches away, while searching for a response. I stroked her curly crimson hair as a line of millennials cruised by us. Some glanced with a perverted curiosity, but most were too excited to get into the music venue to care. With tiny pupils she looked back at me, but she didn’t see me. She usually has this doll-like look about her. Like she’s partially lost in her mind while she listens to you speak. This was different.
Mary’s eyes rolled back and she slumped to the side. I tightened my grip and concealed my panic. This was my fault. I had given her the drugs. I fucked up the dosage. As I imagined the pending nightmare of an ambulance ride, thunder broke my concentration. Fluffy smog clouds dissipated as a rock-star angel floated down from the heavens on a vintage guitar. His blond locks furiously fought the wind while he extended a bottled water and granola bar.
His voice embraced me, like the hug from my dad that I always wanted, but never received. Do you have a medical condition? He casually asked her question after question, mostly to get her talking. I kept quiet, though I knew every answer. Instead, I studied Mary with a mask of confusion and disbelief. I really had no business being shocked though. This was a pretty typical outcome for us.
I turned to rock-star angel and confessed that Mary's condition was my doing, my head hung in shame. He lifted my chin and looked at me lovingly before he played a riff so perfect, only a holy being could concoct it. And just like that Mary was healthier than she’d ever been. A smile broke from my face and a tear fell down my cheek before we boarded his guitar. The crowd halfheartedly cheered between cigarette drags as we slowly floated into the dark and damp abyss of the rock show.