Mark I. Chester

images from Outcasts

Jack
2/1983

 

Jack was in some ways the sexiest, most handsome man I had ever seen.  He was an artist, photographer, vegetarian, and did various things including construction/repair work to pay the bills.  There was something about his dark Ukrainian looks, his even darker hair and beard and his piercing eyes.  They were deep pools that you could get lost in.  We met at the Ambush and hung out together, finding a common interest in art.  We also went on photographic expeditions.  There are two photographs that were taken with my camera at the bunkers at the SF Presidio; my photograph of Jack and Jackís photograph of me.  His photo of me is one of only three photographs of myself that I have ever liked.  The bunkers were littered with graffiti from local punk bands including one called Minor Threat.  I couldnít help myself.

Only three months later I received a call from Jack telling me that he was burned out.  I didnít understand thinking he meant that he had had a rough night.  But less than two years after the Folsom St. Fire, he and his lover Roger lost their apartment in a big overnight fire that heavily damaged their apartment building.  He asked me to come and photograph them in their burned out apartment.  Why take photographs in a burned out apartment?  They would be symbols of sorrow;  documenting the sadness and the devastation.  But they would also be symbols of life.  Life after tragedy.  Life despite the universe turning your world upside down.  Like shaking your fist at the sky............  Literally rising like the phoenix out of the ashes of what once was.

And when we approached the apartment building, I nearly turned and ran away.  You see, the smell of wet burnt wood is the kind of smell that you never forget.  It was that emotionally devastating.  That frightening.  But I forced myself to go with them.  Their apartment was almost a total loss.  About all that was left was the basic framing of the unit.  Everything seemed wet and/or charred.  We took personal portraits in the ruins and afterwards did this little ritual of sex and finality.  Then Jack showed me his studio, which was just a wreck.  His specialty was these large abstract drawings.  And while abstract art usually has little effect on me, I somehow understood Jackís drawings.  The normal chaos of abstractionism came thru in Jackís drawings as shapes compelled by unseen forces.  I was touched emotionally by things I didnít intellectually understand.

All these large drawings were wet.  Jack said that it would be impossible to save them.  That there wasnít any way to dry them out.  And even if there were, they were already too water damaged to be worth saving.  So he began to roll them out.  We stood in silence while these drawings were unrolled out for the very last time.  We could barely breathe as drawing covered drawing, its beauty still radiating from this soggy paper, now torn and fragile.

I should have documented them.  But I couldnít.  I just couldnít take any photographs.  I know that must seem strange.  But it seemed like too much of a violation.  Or too disrespectful of this beautifully sad and painful ritual.  Jack knew how much I had lost in the Folsom St. Fire and how abused I had been by the aftermath.  He knew that I would understand and respect the depth of his loss.

You move on with your life, but you never recover.  You're never the same.