photo of the day 1/28/12. photo © Mark I Chester "Cal - in memory of dead friends" from the series Diary of a Thought Criminal, 12/1989
I realized that when I posted this on FB, that FB might remove this photo for being indecent. But it didn't matter, I thought it was worth the risk.
So many people I know are hurting right now. I know a number of people who have lost family or friends just recently. And others who watch helplessly as loved ones decline; too soon to join the departed. Those of us who are survivors have dealt with so much death that we are numb. But the truth is that there is no bottom to the well of sorrow. I always wonder, how any of us are still sane. How do we get up in the morning and just put one foot in front of the other? It just seems beyond comprehension to me, how much loss and pain and grief we have absorbed and there is still no end.
Cal Yeomans was a writer, poet and playwright. I didn't get to see Cal often but I always knew that we were connected. It didn't matter how much time had passed, we just seemed to be able to start up, right where we left off. Cal appreciated the sexual component in my work and he understood personally what it cost an artist to insist on speaking from the heart and speaking as a whole person. And believe me, there is a very big cost.
Cal was in San Francisco to do a reading at A Different Light, once a gay bookstore in the Castro. He had come to town with Berndt, a young German man/boy who was hanging out and traveling with him. There was an undercurrent of tumultuous interplay between them. Hot and good and complicated and not always so good. But life is what it is. We ended up at my studio, although it has been over 20 years so I don't remember if we shot photos that night or one soon after. My fantasy is that we did it after his reading. I photographed Cal and I photographed Berndt and I photographed Cal and Berndt together.
And then Cal looked at me and said, "Just photograph me." He didn't tell me what he was going to do. He took off all his clothes and then created one of the most moving and heartbreaking experiences that anyone has ever poured out in front of my camera. It is hard to explain because he didn't do anything and he didn't say anything. He just walked back and forth. But it was one of these magical moments that you remember for the rest of your life. Somehow the music playing was perfect - sad, slow and emotional like sorrow on the wind. There were no sounds except for the music, the sound of Cal's bare feet on my wood floor, the click of the camera and the sound of our breathing, which was deafening in my ears, like waves breaking upon the shore. His grief was so real and so palpable, like some figure from some tragic play who had suffered tragedy after tragedy until there was nothing left but an empty shell of a man, so battered by fate that you couldn't understand how he could still be standing. It was one of the greatest performances I have ever seen and yet it wasn't a performance at all. It was gut wrenchingly real. We didn't talk about it afterwards. I didn't have to ask what it was about. Or who he was mourning.
When I saw the contact sheets I immediately chose this image and titled it "Cal - in memory of dead friends." I made two copies and sent Cal one, which is now in his archives and I kept the other. I am still amazed that Cal knew my work enough and trusted me enough to share such raw and painful personal emotions in front of my camera.
Little more than two years later, the building next door was damaged by arson and some of my negatives were destroyed including this image. I always felt that it was like the universe saying that the pain in this image was too much even for an omnipotent being. When I put together "Diary of a Thought Criminal" I knew I had to include this image because in order to tell the truth of our lives, we have to talk of lives filled with sex and death, love and grief, and so much joy and so much sorrow.