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Posts published in March 2009

01 – The Biker Kills a Mexican

The motorcycle purred beneath him as he ripped across the desolate highway stretching off into forever lit only by the single light on the front of the bike.  The wind whipped his hair against the worn leather of his jacket, singing the sweet song of freedom past his ears.  His beard collected whatever unfortunate insects happened to be in his way on this still, cold Southwestern night.  The pistol in his belt felt empowering, assuring, like three and a half pounds of steel confidence.  

Hell was in his veins.

Them Presidents, they so SEXY.

Are you serious? This is the greatest shit I have ever seen.

picture-43In Join Or Die, I paint myself having sex with the Presidents of the United States in chronological order. I am interested in humanizing and demythologizing the Presidents by addressing their public legacies and private lives. The presidency itself is a seemingly immortal and impenetrable institution; by inserting myself in its timeline, I attempt to locate something intimate and mortal. I use this intimacy to subvert authority, but it demands that I make myself vulnerable along with the Presidents. A power lies in rendering these patriarchal figures the possible object of shame, ridicule and desire, but it is a power that is constantly negotiated.

I approach the spectacle of sex and politics with a certain playfulness. It would be easy to let the images slide into territory that’s strictly pornographic—the lurid and hardcore, the predictably “controversial.” One could also imagine a series preoccupied with wearing its “Fuck the Man” symbolism on its sleeve. But I wish to move beyond these things and make something playful and tender and maybe a little ambiguous, but exuberantly so. This, I feel, is the most humanizing act I can do.

Check out all of them here: Justine Lai – Join or Die

Obviously, this is Not Safe For Work.

Isa in New York

My sister Elizabeth came to visit me for a few days last week here in New York. It was her first time, so we did all the normal touristy stuff you do on your first trip to New York City: we hit Central Park, we went to Times Square, Juli and Isa walked around Soho and Chinatown, we ate at John’s of Bleeker Street, we ate cannolis, we took the Staten Island Ferry, we went to the gigantic candy store on Third Ave, we went to Motor City, we ate Polish food, we hit McCarren Park, we drank coffee, we ate, we hung out. It was a successful trip, overall, with Isa already planning her return trip this summer with her roommates in tow.

Of course, it was an opportunity for me to be out and make some pictures.

Here are a few of my favorites:

Here’s the whole gallery: Isa Visits New York Gallery

I spent a lot of time during the development of this set playing with spot adjustments in Lightroom. I typically don’t like the photos to look TOO processed, but I like a crunchy richness to the final photo. I found there is a fine line between looking processed and looking natural with the paintbrush and graduated filter tools, and while they can definitely help an image maintain its focal point, they can really make things look cheeseball if used inelegantly.

When I sit in a telecine session watching the colorist color film, I’m always in awe of the ease with which he makes adjustments to specific color ranges within a defined area. He throws a window on the image, tells it only to color a certain value of red, feathers that, and makes whatever adjustment he likes. Awesome. The local adjustment tools in Lightroom are a little like that, without all the super powerful masking tools. It’s like telecine light. I would love to have a comparable toolset within Lightroom. I know I can do all that stuff and more in Photoshop, but that means I have to start Photoshop and that can go to hell. Lightroom has certainly matured since its 1.0 version, but it can be even better.

Now I just need a computer that doesn’t choke to death on my raw files.



Oh well. I can’t say I’m not disappointed by this news, but what are you going to do? It’s not fruitful to sit and fret about why I was not selected since there’s no possible way for me to ever know the truth. And, luckily, it was not the only thing going for me. Still, I’m bummed out about it. I don’t feel personally rejected, just disappointed not to be able to pursue something I was really excited about.

I guess there’s always the long shot that they come back to me as potential filler for a longer list if there are still empty spaces, but that’s an even slimmer chance than this was. I’m not even going to think about that.

There is, of course, always next year. I didn’t get into NYU the first time I applied either. Maybe history will repeat itself. Or not. Just got to keep creating, I suppose.

Now, let’s never talk about this again. Well, a few weeks at least.

My friend Gardner is a huge dork.

But he also happens to be perfectly suited to his current line of work: a television host. I just saw this video linked on his Facebook page and I thought it too perfectly represented him not to post it for everyone (read: the 10 people who read this site) to see.

If you live in LA and have never seen his show, “1st Look” on NBC, check it out. I don’t know what it is or what it’s about except that it is an unquestionably perfect vehicle for his brand of lunacy.

And, if you haven’t yet, buy yourself a copy of the film he and I did together as director and editor respectively. Go now!

Update to the terms of The Year of 5000 Photos and 50 Short Stories

I’ve been thinking a lot about my progress on the Year of 5000 Photos and 50 Short Stories. So far, I am doing well on toward my total of 5000 photos for the year, currently at just under 40% after only 2 and a half months. That’s 1904 photos in 10 weeks. In 2008, before the arrival of my new camera and my decision to embark upon this theme for 2009, I only shot 2325 photos. After the new camera and my 2009 theme decision, the total was 2084 photos, but I think that the former count is more representative of my pace than the latter. 1904 photos in 10 weeks versus 2325 in 11 months. It is clear how much more productive I’ve been this year in regards to my photos.

I think that’s because I’ve not limited myself in any way regarding what constitutes a “photograph”. Well, I did make a differentiation between test photos and photos I keep, but that is, to me at least, quite clear. Test photos are just that—for testing new equipment or familiarizing myself with equipment I haven’t used in a little bit. Obviously I shoot more test photos with new equipment than with old, but test photos are test photos and don’t count toward the 5000. In case there is any curiosity, warm-up photos DO count. Specifically, warm-up photos are whatever photos I shoot at the beginning of a shoot while I am still getting into the feel of the thing. Sometimes they can be as many as 100 or as few as 10, but there are always warm-up photos. Since I shoot these with the same intent I do with later photos in the set, I count them. Test photos are shot with little concern for subject matter or composition; warm-up photos are just the bad photos early in a set while I’m getting my bearings.

What about my short story count, then? An astute reader would notice that the count in the box on the left has read “0/50” since I put the box there on January 14th. What is the difference? I’ve been cranking out the photos, but why not the fiction? After the creative submission for Hunter which I submitted on January 31st, I took a little breaky-poo from writing every day. Then I went on vacation for two weeks to CA. But, now I’m back, had plenty of time to get something done, yet there is still nothing to show.

Why not?

I think it comes down to the terms I set for myself initially. While my standards for photos are quite broad, my standards for short stories are much more regimented. I think the thing that’s fucking me up the most is the lower word limit. I have ideas, but then there’s this nagging voice in my head that says, “Well, can you really stretch that idea to 1500 words at a minimum?” and then I get stuck thinking about that stupid, arbitrary number I established. The point of the number was to get me thinking about what I’m writing, not to limit my output because I get hung up on it. It has served exactly the opposite of the intended purpose thus far. Not good.

Therefore, I submit this change to the terms of my definition of what constitutes a valid short story.

Here is the original definition:

Short story – a short story is any piece of narrative writing between 1500 and 10000 words. It can be about anything at all, but needs to fall roughly within those two limits. The upper limit is looser than the lower. 1500 words is a bare minimum, but ok since, once I get rolling, I’ll bang out 1500 to 2500 words in a sitting.

And here is my revised definition:

Short story – a short story is any piece of narrative writing up to 10000 words. It can be about anything at all and in any style, but it must be fiction.

Much better. Much less restrictive. Is it possible that some of my stories will be longer than the old minimum of 1500 words? Of course, but it’s just as likely that they’ll be 900 or 1000 words, below the old minimum, but nothing to scoff at. I have no intention of using this new lack of a lower limit as a way of copping-out on the assignment I’ve provided myself for the year. What would be the point? This is just a way of opening the door a little bit so I’m not artificially restricted, allowing my brain to breathe and focus on the task at hand—writing—rather than hitting 1500 words.

In Memoriam – Round (December 25, 2003 – March 12, 2009)


Beloved bunny, fluff-ball, and happy-dancing poop-machine Round passed away this morning after a brief, but sudden, illness. She was 5 1/2 years old.


It was a bright, cold Valentine’s Day when Juli, her brother Peter, and I were walking along Houston street where it provides the northern border of the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Where we were going, I don’t know, nor does it matter. What does matter is that as we walked, we passed a mysterious pet store that never seemed to be open. On this day, there was a small glass terrarium at about eye level that nothing but a tiny grayish brown lop-eared bunny and some wood shavings. Maybe 6 inches long, the little fluff pressed her face against the glass, catching Juli’s eye. We stood and admired the adorable little thing for a moment before continuing on our way.

Two weeks passed during which Juli brought the bunny up as often as she could.

“Do you remember that bunny?”

“Wasn’t that bunny at the pet store cute?”

“It lives in a terrarium, like a turtle!”

“I wonder what the bunny is doing right now?”


One morning we were on our way to the library at NYU to work on something when she asked, “Can we stop by the pet store?”

“It’s out of the way,” I said.

“Pppplllleeeeeeeeaaassssseeeeeee!!!!” she argued.

“Ok,” I said, and off we went, out of our way along Houston from her apartment on E 6th and Avenue A. As we approached the pet store, she noticed that, for once, it was actually open. Of course we went in. Juli asked the crazy lady who ran the store all about the bunny in the window. She went over to the little glass box holding the bunny and pulled it out. She told us that she had picked this bunny especially and then asked if Juli wanted to hold it.

She looked at me with a “should I?” look in her eyes and then took the baby rabbit in her hands and held it against her chest. In that instant she melted and I knew that we were walking away with that rabbit. Round was so small that she fit in her hand from the tip of her fingers to the heel of her palm. She was a ball of wild, unbelievably soft fur with ridiculous dangling ears. Juli was in love.

Tucked into a cardboard box, we brought the rabbit directly back to Juli’s apartment and set up all her various accessories. I don’t think we ever made it to the library that day, but I’m not sure that it was meant to happen. I think that we accomplished that day what we were supposed to and the school work was unimportant. It seems like a lot of important things in my life happen like that.


One of my favorite memories is of my brother Nicholas chasing you down the hallway at Mom and John’s house, you scampering away from him as he ambled behind you, his arms out like some menacing creature from a Japanese monster movie. You spent a lot of that day trying not to be humped by my Mom’s Yorkie, Duffy.

I also remember the first time you flopped in your cage. We were living at 175 Stockholm street and eating dinner and you decided that was a good time to unveil this new trick you’d figured out. It had me and Juli laughing for hours.

I remember when you were very little and Juli still lived on East 6th Street. We would take you into her little backyard area that had some planters and you would tear ass around in the dirt, digging like crazy. One day a cat was stalking you on the fence and you went flat to hide. Juli chased the cat away. You never really had any cause to worry.

Round, you were indomitably sweet even if you could be a cantankerous old bitch, but you were a member of our little family here in Brooklyn and we will miss you. Though your life was not ideal by bunny rabbit standards, we took as good care of you as we were able, providing you with all the greens you could eat, space to run around, a spacious (kind of) hutch to live in, and as much affection as we could give. I will miss the way you would run up and nudge my ankles while I was cooking dinner, hoping that I would get you a treat. I will miss the way that you would lay by the toilet on hot days, earning yourself the nickname “white trash bunny”. I will miss the way that you could be sitting on the floor looking utterly normal and then explode into a body-twisting happy dance and then bounce off. I will miss the way you would take your treats and run off like a dog. I will miss the way you would force your head into my hand when I stopped petting you because, god damn it, you weren’t done being petted yet. And most of all, I will miss the life you brought to our tiny, dark Brooklyn apartment.


I never knew a bunny before you, Round, but I suspect that you were something special. You were certainly special to us. It was good of you to wait for Juli to come home this morning. Her heart aches for you, but at least she got to say goodbye. We will miss you.