The daily watering of Augusta Street

Local news outlets reported Tuesday that the City of Fresno would be implementing “Stage 2” water restrictions beginning Aug. 1, in response to our state’s historic drought. That means that not only will the city be limiting residents to outdoor watering only two days per week, but that the city would also be stepping up its monitoring and fines for violators.

The move to fewer watering days seems long overdue to me. But I have mixed feelings about the move to more monitoring and fines when the City of Fresno itself continues its wasteful watering all over town. Case in point: the daily watering of my block of Augusta Street, next to the thick, green grass surrounding the baseball diamonds at Cary Park behind Fashion Fair Mall.

I’ve been taking my morning walk at 5 a.m. every weekday this summer, and the city has faithfully been watering both the park and a big stretch of Augusta Street every weekday as well. Let’s ignore for a moment that the current water restrictions on residents limits them to three days per week and that the city breaks its own rules by watering every weekday from 5:15 until 6 a.m. Let’s focus instead on the persistent lack of lawn trimming around the sprinkler heads, to prevent puddling. Let’s focus on the misdirected streams of water that spray halfway into the street each and every day and that blanket the full street from curb to curb with sprays on days like today when there’s just a bit of a breeze. And let’s focus on the multiple pools of standing water throughout the park caused by daily overwatering, creating ideal conditions for Little Leaguers and walkers to sink into the mud, twist their ankles, and fear mosquitos. (Hello, paging vector control!)

Although “drought shaming” seems to be growing in popularity in California — TV stations all over the state and even The New York Times have widely reported on the trend — I’m not at all interested in spying on my neighbors. One of my neighbors, in fact, saw me making photos of the city’s wasteful watering this morning and felt the urge, without prompting, to defend his own watering habits for his putting-green perfect lawn. His water guilt is his own. But what I am most interested in is some basic accountability from our fair city.

Mayor Swearengin, City Manager Rudd, and all the parks employees out there: When are you going to follow your own rules? Please stop watering Augusta Street every day, and please stop overwatering Cary Park.

UPDATE: The city tweeted at me the following reply this morning, a couple hours after my post went up. Let’s hope their parks people follow up as quickly as their social media people do!
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Portrait project finds two new homes: Fowler and San Francisco

Intersection for the Arts interns install the 100 Days, 100 Portraits prints alongside the work of artist Joan Osato in late October for the Califas Festival, which runs Nov. 1-17 in San Francisco. (Photo by Rebecca Ahrens)

Intersection for the Arts interns install the 100 Days, 100 Portraits prints alongside the work of artist Joan Osato in late October for the Califas Festival, which runs Nov. 1-17 in San Francisco. (Photo by Rebecca Ahrens)

This past spring and early summer, I gave myself a photography assignment: Make 100 portraits in 100 days. After falling off the personal creativity wagon around the first of the year, while I immersed myself instead in teaching at Fresno City College and volunteering for Fresno Filmworks, I felt like I needed the challenge.

My friend and colleague Jes Therkelsen, a talented photographer and documentary filmmaker who came to the Central Valley this past January to teach digital media at Fresno State, inspired the assignment. In his intro to photojournalism class, he asked his students to make 100 portraits of strangers over the course of the semester. At the end of the term, their best photos were featured in a show at Arte Américas downtown. Jes’s students used his prompt to help them break out of their shells socially and get tuned-in to their visual literacy skills. I decided to modify the prompt a bit to allow myself to make photos of whomever I’d like — some strangers, and some people I knew — but I added the photo-a-day regimen to build self-discipline.

My portrait of AP journalist Gosia Wozniacka kicked off the series.

My portrait of AP journalist Gosia Wozniacka kicked off the series. (Photo by me)

I posted my first portrait on Feb. 24, a photograph of my friend and colleague Gosia Wozniacka from the Associated Press, while she worked on a documentary shoot with her new DSLR. (I served as her production assistant that day.) I decided to make all of my photographs using my iPhone 4S, to emphasize intimacy and mobility. I first published the photos on Instagram, using minimal filters and corrections, to emphasize immediacy. I also shared the photos with family and friends on Facebook and Twitter, and I collected the full project as I went along on Tumblr, where I also occasionally post to my ongoing Drugstore with Dad series. Occasionally, I worked ahead a few days, but I promised myself that I would not fall behind (and miraculously, I didn’t!). Most people, when I explained the project and asked if I could make their portrait, said yes without hesitation. Only a couple folks, most notably Jes, my sister, and my veterinarian, declined. I posted my last portrait on June 2, a selfie that I fittingly made while driving home past the rural intersection of Jefferson Avenue and Golden State Boulevard, north of Selma.

I had a vague idea that I might like to try and get the project into a local gallery for an Art Hop show at some future time, but I wasn’t sure how I would prepare and present 100 individual photographs. So I let the portraits sit there on my Tumblr for a few months, as I returned to making artsy fartsy, heavily filtered snapshots of my dog, my wife, and random still lifes from my day.

And then, performance artist Nikiko Masumoto called.

Performance artist and friend Nikiko Masumoto, at the Pixley community garden. (Photo by Andre Yang)

Performance artist and friend Nikiko Masumoto, at the Pixley community garden. (Photo by Andre Yang)

Yes, THAT Nikiko Masumoto, of Masumoto Family Farm fame. Nikiko calls herself an “agrarian artist and farm apprentice,” and her family is one of the most high-profile farm families in the Central Valley. I’ve been lucky to know her father, David Mas Masumoto, through his books over the years and through my time in the MFA program at Fresno State. I’ve also been lucky to eat the Masumoto family’s delicious organic peaches and nectarines. And in spring 2012, I was beyond lucky to produce a public radio feature story on Nikiko’s inaugural Valley Storytellers Project performance, two collaboratively written plays about hunger facilitated by Nikiko that included the voices of nearly two dozen community actors.

Nikiko invited me to present my 100 Days, 100 Portraits project as part of her second Valley Storytellers Project performance, a Central Valley Art-guided Bus Tour that took place on Oct. 19. The tour started at the Fowler branch of the Fresno County Public Library, where I helped kick off the day by projecting my portraits on the wall of the community room and reading the names of the participants aloud, like a poetic incantation. We then boarded the bus and made stops at the grassroots community garden in Pixley and at the Phillip S. Raine rest area along Highway 99 in Tipton. At each stop, the day’s six other artists — including Nikiko, my wife Tracy Stuntz, and my Chicana sister Teresa Flores — shared their creative offerings. You can see how the day unfolded live on Twitter by checking out the #ArtBusCenCal hashtag.

I take a walk through the rows of tomatoes, squash, and basil at the Pixley community garden. (Photo by Andre Yang)

I take a walk through the rows of tomatoes, squash, and basil at the Pixley community garden during the art bus tour. (Photo by Andre Yang)

The art bus was made possible by the folks at The Triangle Lab, an experimental art organization based in San Francisco, as part of their two-part Califas Festival, which celebrates the people and stories of the Golden State. The Triangle Lab’s director, Rebecca Novick, contacted me shortly after the bus tour and commissioned my portrait project to be included in the second half of the Califas celebration, which runs from Nov. 1-17 at Intersection for the Arts at 5th and Mission in San Francisco. The show includes an original play called Alleluia, The Road by L.A.-based Chicano performance artist Luis Alfaro. I was completely bowled over! The Triangle Lab folks even offered to make prints of all 100 portraits for the show, and the prints will be returning home to me in Fresno after the show’s run ends later this month. The portraits were installed last week next to the work of accomplished Bay Area visual artist and youth activist Joan Osato.

I am beyond grateful to everyone who has given my 100 Days, 100 Portraits project such warm feedback, both while it was first being produced and now that it is enjoying its second life. I am particularly grateful to Nikiko and to Rebecca for giving the project its first two physical homes, in Fowler and San Francisco. Where will these faces appear next?

Concert review: FUSE Fest 2012

When I was a kid, I used to love reading reviews in Rolling Stone and SPIN magazines. Movie reviews, concert reviews, album reviews, all kinds of reviews. My late grandmother, Dorothy, used to say that I’d surely grow up to be the Charles Kuralt of the arts, riding in my bus all over the country, interviewing filmmakers and musicians of all types in the style of the famous newsman’s folksy, human-interest style “On the Road” segments that used to air on the CBS Evening News.

I’ve dabbled at writing arts reviews here and there in the past, but I haven’t pursued it seriously because a) it’s super tough to make a living as a professional arts reviewer, and b) you’ve got to have a lot of highly specialized knowledge to do it well. But lately, I’ve found myself more inspired to try and develop my skills in this area. I’ve been writing regular movie reviews for this blog since the first of the year, and I’ve written a couple of album reviews– most notably, for the Niilo Smeds record “Helicopter Circles”— for the citizen media site, where I used to be a regular contributor from 2005-2007.

This year, when the annual Fresno Urban Sound Experience came around, I decided to try documenting and reviewing all the shows I went to. Last year, I got inspired to put together an impromptu photo walk post during FUSE Fest 2011, so I wanted to try something new this time around. I live-posted photos to Instagram during the festival, and then I wrote day-after Twitter reviews (140 characters or less!) of each show. I got a lot of great feedback and encouragement on the posts– including many kind words from people I didn’t even know– so I thought I would aggregate everything here in one place.

Brother Luke & The Comrades – STANDING ROOM ONLY for this gospel.

B Rawcity feat. F.T.M. – Lyrical wizard turns up the funk w/ new “Check Your Head” style backing band. Plus: light show!

Strawberry Jam – Four chicks, glued to the ground, combine twang, surf, machine-gun grunge, and a dash of Peter Hook.

Restaurnaut – With brand new 9V battery, lonesome southern trucker plugs in electric uke; foot stomping, clapping ensue.

Sparklejet – Your smart, cool older brother & his two best friends consistently remind you that “rock” is both noun, verb.

Kat Jones – Lipstick hurricane sonic boom frequency.

Light Thieves – Lost in space, your earplugs fall out; then, the tiny girl on the bass hollows out your eustachian tube.

Blake Jones & Trike Shop – That moment when The Beatles, a theramin, an iron gargoyle, the Fresno PD seamlessly converge.

Actress – If John Mayer joined the Pet Shop Boys fan club and then started covering The Xx in his bedroom.

I also reviewed my dinner at the Dusty Buns Bistro Bus, which was parked outside of the Fresno Brewing Company on the Fulton Mall. Sadly, I ate the sandwich so fast between shows that there was no time to make a photograph! But here was my review:

Dusty Buns Bistro Bus – Le Grilled Cheese sandwich for Fresno Mayor 2016.

Big thanks to the Creative Fresno board and all the FUSE Fest 2012 musicians, volunteers, and fans for a great festival! My good friend Mike Osegueda from the Fresno Bee has his FUSE review up on the Beehive, with links to reviews by other good folks as well. If you were there and would like to leave a Twitter-inspired 140-character review of some of the shows I missed, feel free to add a comment.

Photo walk: On being discarded

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On the morning of Sept. 1, 2012, I went on a self-assigned photo walk on the Fresno State campus. I wanted to collaborate again with my friend Joseph Edgecomb, who previously made photographs with me in the Mural District and at the Big Fresno Flea Market. Neither of us had been on a photo walk for quite a while, so we were both a bit rusty in the idea department. My wife suggested trash as the theme; Joseph and I then chose the university as the location because we thought the juxtaposition of trash and higher learning might yield some unexpected results.

This was the first photo walk I’ve done since taking a series of photography and graphic design classes last year at Fresno City College. I learned a lot in those four classes, including basic manual controls in a digital camera and also basic adjustments in Photoshop. I made all of my exposures in the field this time using manual settings, and I then spent quite a bit of time processing the pictures in Photoshop’s “camera raw” converter, which works with a data-rich file format that preserves the full range of each photograph’s original color and detail. My final photos had only minimal touch-up work done on them in Photoshop itself; most of my adjustments– for color, white balance, exposure, brightness, contrast, etc.– came via the camera raw converter.

Check out Joseph’s beautiful gallery to compare and contrast with mine.

Our first discovery about the trash theme was that many of our photographs turned out to be small detail shots. Usually, we both like to push each other to look up, look down, and look all around while making pictures. But this assignment really had us focused on the ground, which I think forced us to work harder on composition, perspectives, and lighting in ways that we probably wouldn’t have otherwise. I also noticed that there’s an awful lot of trash of all shapes, colors, and sizes– especially cigarette butts and empty cups– just about everywhere. You might think that the ubiquity of trash would make it an easier subject, but for me it actually had the opposite effect. While looking through the viewfinder, I was constantly questioning myself about what would make a particular scene or piece of trash worthy of a picture. It forced me to really think about what kind of story I was trying to tell with the photos I was making.

The biggest thing I found, though, was a feeling of loneliness while walking around the campus. Joseph, as a former student, and I, as both a former student and former instructor, each have bittersweet feelings about the university and its place in both our own lives and in the community. On one hand, the campus, which is well-known nationally as a living arboretum, exudes a physical beauty that I think is truly stunning in its power and grace. Yet, when the physical turns to the intellectual, the campus also stirs feelings in me of corruption, scandal, rejection, and loss.

While photographing trash, the discarded detritus of everyday life, Joseph and I walked the entire campus with our heads down, searching for our subjects. In doing so, I realized for the first time that my connections with Fresno State– strong since I was a kid, but tempered and more complex as I grow older– will never be quite the same. It felt a little mournful.

On the Grandaddy reunion and indie rock karaoke

Under the red western lights of Merced, CA: Grandaddy at The Partisan Bar, 8/07/12. (Photo by Matt Orme)

When it comes to the legendary indie rock group Grandaddy, I’ve always found myself stuck somewhere between fawning journalist and fanboy collector. The Modesto boys definitely qualify as the band that has most changed my life. So, I was beyond excited when Grandaddy decided to reunite onstage this summer after a six-year hiatus. Thanks to shitty cell phone videos that keep on trickling in, the Internet has so far provided terrific lo-fi documentation of my favorite lo-fi band’s short 2012 tour.

Arm of Roger’s 2000 LP “The Ham and its Lily.”

My wife and I were lucky to catch Grandaddy at The Partisan Bar in Merced, CA on Aug. 7, at the start of their reunion. The show was billed as a performance by Arm of Roger, the screwball alter-egos of Grandaddy that put out one glorious LP in 2000 called “The Ham and its Lily.” The possibilities were tantalizing. Would the members of Grandaddy come out to play as Arm of Roger, and perform only foul-mouthed, nonsensical Arm of Roger originals like “Down With the Animals,” “One Time They Called and Asked for Freddy,” or “The Pussy Song”? Would they come out to play, in character, as Arm of Roger, but only perform fucked-up Grandaddy covers? Or would Grandaddy play as good ol’ Grandaddy after all, but maybe slip in a cover of an Arm of Roger classic like “Robot Escort” along the way?

More on all that in a minute.

First, allow me a trip down memory lane. I first discovered Grandaddy in the summer of 2000. Their sprawling second album, “The Sophtware Slump,” had just come out, and I was living in the band’s hometown of Modesto, CA. Hardly anybody I knew in Modesto seemed to care about Grandaddy, even though the boys were selling out shows all over Europe. But I immediately was hooked by the record’s melodic, dreamy first single, “The Crystal Lake.” I then spent hours and hours studying every word and every note of the full album, which felt to me then (and still feels to me now) like a consciously dazed, earnestly forlorn embrace of– and eulogy for– technology in modern life. For someone like me, who grew up in the same rich/poor central San Joaquin Valley that the band did, I could relate to it all.

My ticket stub from the 2000 Elliott Smith show at The Warfield in SF, where Grandaddy opened.

I then began my Grandaddy collecting binge, which includes all of their albums and EPs, nearly all of their singles and compilation appearances, and a random assortment of knickknack ephemera that includes stickers, patches, hats, T-shirts, posters, and even a bottle opener. I first saw them in 2000 at the Capitol Garage in Sacramento, where they covered 10cc and George Jones, and I picked up a rare copy of “The Windfall Varietal” after the show. I saw them later in 2000 at the Warfield in San Francisco opening for Elliott Smith, who died (way too soon) just a couple years later. And, I saw them on a scorching hot day in 2001 at the X Fest in downtown Modesto, where they covered the Pavement classic “Here” to my screeching delight. Later, in 2003, I reviewed Grandaddy’s third album, “Sumday,” for The Modesto Bee newspaper– my first ever published music review. (Regarding the album’s second single, “El Caminos in the West,” I wrote that the band had penned its “newest summertime jam” and that the song “promises to be a trademark Grandaddy singalong number.”)

In recent years, I saw Jim Fairchild perform in 2007 with his band All Smiles, opening for Menomena at the Cellar Door in Visalia. I saw Jason Lytle perform twice on his 2009 solo tour– first as the headliner at The Partisan in Merced, and a few days later as the opener for Neko Case at The Warfield in San Francisco. And in 2010, I got the chance to do a phone interview with Lytle and Aaron Espinoza on the eve of their show as supergroup Admiral Radley at the historic Star Palace in downtown Fresno. (I will never forget drummer Aaron Burtch pedaling his bicycle through the crowd that was gathered on the checkerboard dance floor, as local band Rademacher covered the Panty Lions classic “Herndon and 99” on stage behind him.)

I tell you all of that to tell you this: I believe that I am well-qualified to conclude that the Grandaddy reunion show in Merced on Aug. 7, 2012, was absolutely flawless. The set list was a fan’s dream– heavy on “The Sophtware Slump” and “Sumday,” but packed with early and obscure gems from throughout the band’s catalog. Arm of Roger didn’t show up after all, but nobody seemed to mind.

Grandaddy reunion set list 8/07/12
The Partisan Bar in Merced, CA

1. El Caminos in the West
2. Now It’s On
3. Yeah is What We Had
4. Our Dying Brains
5. The Crystal Lake
6. A.M. 180
7. Lost On Yer Merry Way
8. Laughing Stock
9. My Small Love
10. Levitz (Birdless)
11. Chartsengrafs
12. Fare Thee Not Well Mutineer
13. The Go in the Go For It
14. Jed’s Other Poem (Beautiful Ground)
15. Stray Dog and the Chocolate Shake
16. Hewlett’s Daughter
17. Summer Here Kids
18. He’s Simple, He’s Dumb, He’s the Pilot
19. Here [Pavement cover]

The first six songs went by in a blur: Every song was a singalong, and every song was a dance party. After the band played “A.M. 180,” Lytle quipped: “Pretty impressive, this karaoke business.” I can only imagine how surreal the karaoke business must have been to these five musicians– small-town guys who seldom got the time of day from hometown crowds in the days they were “popular,” but who were now surrounded by a hundred or so dedicated locals pressing in on them on the tiny stage at The Partisan, reciting every “doo-doo, doooo, duh-doo” that came out of their mouths. (The fit was so tight that I didn’t realize until seeing photos the day after the show that keyboardist Tim Dryden was actually onstage with the band; he was hunkered down in the far corner.)

Yes, it was THE show! (Photo by Tracy Stuntz)

Other highlights:
• In the middle of the set, the band thundered into the b-side “Chartsengrafs” but the song fell apart after the first part. They shrugged, laughed, and picked it up again right where it had fallen apart.
• They played rare track “Fare Thee Not Well Mutineer” for the first time live. Lytle confirmed the occasion, saying: “Take that to the bank and cash it for two dollars and twelve cents.”
• At the stroke of midnight, after playing for 90+ minutes, Lytle joked: “I think we’ve got one more left in us.” Then Grandaddy audaciously launched into the 9-minute deep cut “He’s Simple, He’s Dumb, He’s the Pilot.” Brilliant.
• The band covered Pavement’s “Here” as the encore, giving a shout-out to their college rock brethren formerly of Stockton, and featuring Kevin Garcia on backing vocals.

There was a moment late in the set, during the singalong to “Beautiful Ground,” when my good friend and Fresno musician James Brittain-Gore came up to me and gave me a hug, and we stood there together while the audience sang along with the band about their iconic robot, Jed. (“You said I’d wake up dead drunk, alone in the park. I called you a liar, but how right you were.”) For just an instant, I felt very old. I must admit, I had a bad thought: With all the indie rock karaoke and nostalgia in the air, I flashed forward to a vision of Grandaddy playing another reunion tour many, many years from now at the Stanislaus County Fair in Turlock. They were older, they were more grizzled, and they were still playing their sweet, sad little songs about the 2000 Man being adrift again.

I decided that I would like that feeling anyway.